How does it feel?” I asked him, on the July humid night, holding his hunting rifle. I clenched the heavy gun tighter in my delicate hands. “How do you like it?”
He opened his eyes from his sleep, blinked in disbelief, and stared at me wide-eyed, as if he saw the Devil himself. He glanced down at the long, black barrel at the tip of his nose, and then back up at me, like a sick puppy. I loved that look. I loved making him scared and fear for his life, like he had done to me, to Pearl, and all the other slaves he owned on his plantation. It was very satisfying, for a moment.
“Woman, you done lost your wits?” he slurred, slowly sitting halfway up on our bed. Maybe I had. Maybe I was crazy, or even psychotic, but he was the cause of my distress. He was the cause of my pain, and I couldn’t take much more of it.
I was tired.
Tired of him sneaking trips in the slave shack night after night for Pearl, tired of the beatings upon my barren body, his drinking, and his false love and broken promises. Just the slight pressure on the trigger . . . could end it all.
I clicked the hammer and raised the barrel toward his head. That rough, drunk man rose to the surface, like some kind of monster.
His forehead creased with wrinkles, his piercing olive eyes enlarged and filled with aggression. “You put that gun down, Hattie. Put it down!”
“No,” I said meekly. My eyes teared up, my thin body shaking. I was about to kill a well-known man in town, and my soul was aware of the great punishment I could face later. Women didn’t get fair trials.
I closed my eyes tightly.
The gun went off.
Then my trembling hands dropped it on the hardwood floor, and the next sight I saw was my husband laid out, the blood oozing from his head and soaking his pillow. And yet, a shiver of fear of him still went through me.
I stepped up closer and looked at his still face, startled with a gasp by the appearance of his vigilant demise. His eyes were still open, and I was sure he would clutch his strong hand to my throat any second like he had many times before. But he didn’t. He didn’t move a muscle. He was like a bump on a log, as still as a wooden manikin.
My husband was dead.
Footsteps came scuffling.
It was Dula, our house slave. She stood in the doorway of our mansion bedroom, holding a lantern and dressed in her white nightcap and gown. “Misses? What was that noise? You alright? What done hap–”
I slowly looked over at the older, black woman, my heart racing in my chest with guilt. “My husband . . . he . . . he shot himself,” I said, though I knew she didn’t believe me.
Dula walked over to me with her lantern and look from Wade’s dead body to me. She wore a perplexed look “I find dat hard to believe, Misses. You can trust me. I won’t tell.” How could I not trust her? She lived right in the home. She knew the pressure I was under, and she heard my screams, the slaps and booms, and the broken glass from last night’s quarrel, only she couldn’t do anything about it but be silent. The way I had been for the past thirteen years since Wade and I married.
I lowered my head and cover my eyes with my hands. “I killed him, Dula. I killed him.”
Dula sighed, her nostrils flared. “Good Lord. Whatcha gonna do now, Misses?”
“I have to get his body out of here some how. Help me wrap him in the sheets.”
“Yessum,” Dula said. She placed her lantern on the wooden dresser in the room and helped me waddle my husband’s body in the white sheets, when suddenly a knock came from the front door.
“Who’d that be, Misses?” Dula asked with a frown.
“I don’t know. I gotta look and see. Keep still, be sure to keep him covered,” I said.
I exited the bedroom and closed the door, groping in the dark until I reached the front of the house. During another knock, I fixed up my robe to ensure I was decent, and then I answered.
“Hattie, are you alright?” Mr. Noah Sheppard stood on the front porch with a lantern in his hand. He was a shy, talented artist who lived alone up on a grassy hill not far from where me and my husband lived; a kindhearted, bright redhead, who although a little younger, I knew cared and loved me very much. He was also Wade’s cousin, who belittled him for his weak, “sissy” pastimes. But I didn’t care. I loved him too. Noah was good to me, and was the man I was meant to be with.
“Yes,” I answered.
“You sure? I heard a gunshot, and it sounded mighty close. How’s Wade doing?”
My mouth hung open, thinking. “He’s . . . he’s sleeping. He’s fine. Just fine.”
Noah nodded. “Well, I just thought to check. You stay safe now, ya hear?”
“Yes, you too,” I said.
I closed the door and leaned my back against it, hoping my secret wasn’t out. I reentered the bedroom where Dula was and we finished wrapping up my husband like a mummy. Now it was a matter of carrying him outside to be buried off.
“He’s too heavy. We’ll need help. Tell Randy to come in.”
“Yessum,” Dula said. She left the room and went outside to the shack, bringing Randy with her. Randy was a field slave. He was tall, strong, and of a powerful built, a sure help to removing my husband’s body from the bed. The three of us scooped Wade up and carried him outside to the wagon behind the house. Then I told Randy to take his body in the woods to be buried, but in the following days, trouble came to my doorstep.