The One That Came Back

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Chapter 18 Nobody’s baby now

Jack’s funeral was a week later. Porter came to watch. He blended in, as he did on most days.

The funeral didn’t go on too long.

It wasn’t overly dramatic; it wasn’t raining; no one cried. The priest said his part and they put Jack in the ground and threw dirt on him.

When it was over, Porter watched Jack’s family walk to their cars. A blond-haired kid that looked like Johnny got in the driver’s seat of a Lincoln. Peggy and her husband, Brandon helped Angela into the passenger side. They were ready to set off when Porter reached them.

Peggy clocked him straight away and her irises shrunk to full stops.

“You remember me?”

“I remember you. You’re that detective, right? The one who took Johnny for the interview?” She looked curious but cautious, and she hung on to the edge of the car door, half-in, half-out.

“What did your father do to you?”

“Excuse me?”

“Did he touch you?”

She scoffed and started to get into the car. Brandon approached and balled up a skinny fist.

“I don’t have time for this, Peggy said as she sat down.

“I found him. It is him, isn’t it? Buried in the backyard of your old house?” he said and he watched Brandon shrink as he said it. All the strength drained out of his skinny limbs.

Her face got long and she looked as if she wanted to be sick.

“You get the hell out of here!” Brandon screeched. His eyes were like steel ball bearings in his head.

“Stop,” Peggy sighed.

Brandon stepped back.

Peggy got out of the car.

The cemetery wasn’t that big or old. It was just a patch of land, in the middle of all that Texas nothing, dolled up to look like a tasteful oasis of trees and restful sleep. Peggy was standing under a large oak tree.

He approached her slowly.

“He was yours? Johnny?”

“I don’t know where you’d get an idea like that,” she said, folding her arms indignantly.

“I have my story; you have yours.” He lit a cigarette and waited.

“Let’s hear your story first,” she said, cocking her head to one side and plucking the cigarette from his mouth, to take a slow pull.

“I think he had his fun with you, and you got pregnant, and Jack found out and killed him for it.” He stood and waited for her anger. When it didn’t come, he went on. “Then, when Johnny was old enough, he found out. Then he found what was buried in the garden. There was a fight and he had an accident,” Porter said, checking off boxes in his head. He waited for his pat on the back.

He expected tears and bitterness and denials, but she sat down at the base of the tree and stared up at him, squinting as the sun dipped in the sky.

“You heard that story before or did you come up with that on your own?” She breathed out and cocked her jaw, as if she was trying to cry. “He wasn’t a bad man, my daddy. He was just a drunk. He didn’t know better and I wanted a baby so bad.”

Porter walked to a gravestone and sat against it, like a teenager cutting class. He had started the tap running now; she’d go until she was spent. “It was my fault. He was drunk. But I couldn’t tell Jack or my momma that.” She took a puff from the cigarette and said, “You know the rest, or close to it.” She looked at him with lidded, deep-set eyes.

“Is that all?” he said flatly.

Her eyes focused on nothing in particular. They were shaky, getting heavy like clouds about to rain.

She looked up and smiled and said, “This really bugs you, doesn’t it? Not knowing? It kills you, not being there, not seeing it yourself, having to trust me and every other idiot you ask.”

He looked at her and smiled back, focusing on little details, the stain on her collar, the yellowing of her teeth, the pitch of her voice, the split ends anything to stop him from boiling over and breaking her nose with the flat of his shoe. She continued. “Right now, you’re thinking you can hurt me and make me tell you everything, but you can’t. You know you can’t, not really, and it won’t make a difference anyway. I can’t tell you everything because I don’t know, I can’t know.” She said it without looking at him. She looked off at the horizon, like it was some grand epiphany. She knew she was getting under his skin, she wouldn’t be the first.

She smoked and said, “You know, the funniest thing about all this is that people think we took in a complete stranger to cover up Johnny’s death.” She stopped again to pull on the cigarette in her shaking hand. “But in all that time, we were the only ones who gave a damn about him.” The water-works started slow and built from there, her voice shaking with cool anger and bitter tears. “When he disappeared, it didn’t even make local news because they knew how he was; we did too. He was like that Bart Simpson kid, always getting in trouble, terrorizing the neighborhood.” She wiped her tears with the edge of her hand, the skin taut and pale. “They thought he’d turn up in a couple of days and the whole thing would have been nothing, but he didn’t”.

“What happened to your father?”

“I don’t need to tell you anything. You know why? Because if you had anything, I’d be talking to the cops right now.” She was indignant now, her face wet. “And even that wouldn’t do any good since the only people that really know the truth won’t say a damn thing to anyone about it.” She swallowed. “One is my momma and the other is buried under our feet.” She stopped and shook her legs, as if to check they were still there. Her movements were light and fast, like a moth under a lamp. “So you’re wasting your time; he took it to his grave and so will Momma.” She smiled, but at what he couldn’t say. “I can tell you one thing, I’m glad of whatever happened to that French piece of shit. You ever find him? That’s what I want to know.” She shook her head and put her hand on her hip and looked like a cartoon character for a second.

“I looked” Porter breathed in, sealing his lips tight.

“What did you find?” She asked wistful, suddenly not interested in the answer.

“Blood and feathers, he said.

“Is that supposed to mean something to me?” She looked up at him, scrunching up her brow, her temper fraying.

“Doesn’t it?”

“No, it doesn’t, not a goddamn bit,” she spat.

“He had a place, Jack, way out in the boonies, a little trapper shack.” He finished his cigarette and flicked it.

“So? What does it mean to me?” She folded her arms again, getting catty.

“Blood and feathers.”

Peggy grimaced and turned away.

“Well, if that’s everything, I think I’ll be on my way.”

“Is that good enough for you?” There was a challenge in Porter’s voice, but his eyes stayed fixed on the gravestone, as if the challenge was open to all takers.

“It’s enough for me. I can live with not knowing; it’s the only way. But this isn’t about me, and you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think I see that itch you got.” She smiled cockily and started to walk away, and turned her head to watch him as she walked, shouting back to him. “Is it enough for you?”

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