'54 — A. L. ERWIN

Cold.  Cold like when God ain’t round.  People go confusing it, thinking it should be hot.  Absence don’t generate no heat.  It’s cold for my Momma and me.  
            “Wanted rid of his ass soon as I laid up on him.”
            First time I heard ‘em words slip out her lips were in that winter of ’53.  Ground done took to freezing in the mere mentioning of a wind’s swell.  No room for hold in that sheet of ice.  Meant ‘em crops died, went by the wayside along with ‘em cows, taken sick by a rogue that’d got loose in the field.  Left us hungry and thin.  Daddy went that year too.  Weather didn’t have nothing to do with that’n. 
            Second time were after she’d spotted him.  Spewed it out over a pot of boiling taters.  ‘Bout the only thing ever touched our lips anymore, ever since that winter of ’53.  ‘Em bruises, one’s used to call on her arms, one’s Daddy used to give her, they’s long forgot.  Like purple and black weren’t never seen.  Met this new fella near Trudy’s.  Right where the bend gives way to that old hickory.  Right where that sign reads in seared black, “GOD WATCHES ALL.”  Daddy’d hung that after a man in a tent sprayed visions of fire.  Slightest things labeled aversions to God afterwards.    
            Called hisself Lynn, this new one.  Momma muttered it with plops of wet on her cheek while that water popped and bubbled below.  Called me “SUGA,” first time I met him.  Said, “C’mon over here SUGA, let me lay my eyes on ya.”  
            Smelled of stink he did, but Momma hollered out, “Connie, honey, ya be nice now.” Shared in that same cut he did.  Same tan on his skin from working in the sun.  Same glow of yellow combed on his head.  Same look as Daddy.
            Mud smeared over my Momma’s clean walls from his flinging dirty boots in the corner.  Didn’t say a word that woman did.   Not even a full year since Daddy’s accident ‘fore that “SUGA” man’s living with us.  Not three months after ‘til  ‘em purples and blues came back on ‘em skinny arms of hers.  Weeds jumping out from long sleeves as she wiped stains off her table and emptied smokes from our only nice bowl.  
            When it assured, it’d have to be done again. 
            I done knowed how to kill, skin, cook, and cure since ’50.  Weren’t no other way for it to go on a farm.   In ’53, as my feet grazed over that crunch of white, whispers of, “flesh is flesh,” cut back against my tongue.  Held it there between my teeth as I opened that shed out back, that place where metal’s kept.  My Momma’d showed me how to gut a pig not two weeks ‘fore Daddy’s accident.  My hand still shook, though.  But it needed to be done.  Couldn’t take the listening of ‘em beatings anymore.  In ’54, my hands were still. 


A. L. Erwin writes Southern Pulp.  Sometimes, she does it well.  Mostly, she bides her time slinging drinks until the day comes that she doesn't.  Her debut novel, A Ballad Concerning Black Betty or the Retelling of a Man Killer and Her Machete, is out soon.