Sometimes it’s not better to have loved and lost …
QUEEN OF HEARTS
By Robert White
The bar lighting was perfect for her. Not that she had aged much in the three years I was away, but it hid the crow’s-feet around her eyes and put her perfect ass on display. When her set went into one of those guitar riffs in the middle, she’d strike a pose like some starlet from the ’50s while clinging to the pole. On most women it would look ridiculous, but not on my big-titted, raven-haired, slutty wife. My ex-wife, I mean, because I wasn’t three months into my three-year sentence before her lawyer sent me the papers. I did three weeks in the SHU for ramming my cellie’s face into sink for putting out the word in my cellblock. Those fucking animals in prison never stop looking for a man’s weakness.
I watched her cavort across the stage when the lyrics resumed. Now and then, she’d stoop over some redneck’s gaping face and shake her breasts at him — paradise just out of reach. Watching her, I thought how the blue stage light tinted her skin with a sheen like polished gun-bluing. Or, even more, of an almost nude woman coming out of ice-cold water.
She pranced over to me like a pony, a half-beat off from the music, some ’70s tune when guys used to wear mullets and which some of these backassward hicks still cultivated. She did a kind of scissor-stretch and leaned down and grabbed her tits from beneath and held them out close to the tip of my nose. I stared at her eyes instead. She wasn’t looking at me: just another dick to tease during her set.
Maybe she felt my stare, or maybe being close to the man she married, had a child with, and abandoned — something might have ticked in her brain. She cut her eyes to mine, and I k new she knew. The shocked look evaporated and she put that evil smirk back on — that’s my girl, I thought.
“What the fuck y’all doin’ here, Coy?”
“Just looking,” I said. “Passing through this shithole — Pigeon Dick, Pigeon Fuck, whatever — what do y’all call it — on my way.”
“Pigeon Forge,” she said. “That’s real funny, like. You must be talkin’ about your own cock.”
All heads had swiveled our way now. The boys around all sensing this wasn’t part of the show.
“See that guy at the corner of the bar?”
I had taken him in as soon as I entered the place; he was big enough to eat apples off my head and his crossed arms were full of the kind of helter-skelter tattoos you see on some of the real psychos in the penitentiary.
“He’s got him a big ol’ ten-inch cock and he knows how to fuckin’ use it, Coy. Maybe he’ll let you suck it like you probably done in prison.”
She always said “probably” like “prolly,” a really uncouth hillbilly bitch from the hills of West Virginia. But in prison, you learn how to count to ten slowly-like, because you got assholes rising up on you all the time in there. And me, I’m an epileptic, so I got the problem of being labeled a freak to boot.
“I don’t think there’d be room enough for the two of us,” I said.
By now, the place was becoming agitated like when a foreign drone enters the hive. I could see the big man moving in my direction. The clown with missing teeth behind me tapped me on the shoulder and growled, “What’s your fuckin’ problem, man. Leave the lady alone.”
The big man loomed in my peripheral vision. “Hit the road, asshole,” he said.
I stood up, sipped the last of my can of beer, which doesn’t go all that well with my seizure medication but fuck it. I half-turned my bare shoulder in her direction. “Check it out,” I told her.
“You got a fuckin’ tattoo. So what? I got one of a unicorn on my pussy,” she said. “Why don’t you come on up here and throw yourself a fit, Coy? Give us all a good laugh.”
She made these twitching motions with her hands up by her face. She seen my attacks often enough, but the bitch knew how to stick a knife in a man’s heart, I give her that.
What she said up there by the dance pole broke the tension all around and some men nearby laughed at me.
“See you around, Dolly,” I said. Her name was Regina Mathilda, but she went by Dolly.
Outside in the parking lot, I noticed my hands shaking on the wheel. A blinding, crimson-red rage overwhelmed me for a moment, and I had to fight to get my breathing under control. If that goddamned ringing in my ears turns into a fit, all the seizure medicine will do is make me so nauseated I’ll puke up everything I just drank.
I drove to the trailer we used to share, the one I bought with two jobs and wound up going to prison over when the mine closed. The one where our daughter Cinda-May was born and died. She died choking on her own vomit because her mother was too busy fucking her shift supervisor in the next bedroom and didn’t go to her.
Around three in the morning, a Shelby Mustang pulled in front of the trailer. Music blasted the night air then died with an echo of some word that might have been “love.” The big man and Dolly emerged, both laughing and drunk.
I waited an hour until the lights went out.
I used a filed-down bump key to enter. I knew where they’d be and didn’t need any light to find my way down the hallway, past the photos of our dead daughter.
I stood for a while looking down at them; one drape left open let a shaft of pale moonlight into the bedroom. He lay on his stomach nearest the doorway. Dolly, snuggled right beside him, on her back, naked as usual with her breasts flattened out and hanging down by her armpits. She had shaved off her pubic hair for her new man, I guessed. I used to call it her Mohawk hairdo when we were cuddling in bed.
I knew to the inch how much leeway the ceiling would allow my swing, but it had as much torque as I could put into it. The axe burst his spine open right in the center. The roar from his throat was chilling even though I had prepared myself for it. My next swing sheared his head open from scalp to jawline. A geyser of blood, black in the moonlight, shot over the bedspread and pillows and speckled Dolly’s chest like I’d all of a sudden opened a can of freckles on her. The warmth of his blood spray must have awakened her from her stupor. He was making soft gagging noises into the pillow.
She jolted upright against the headboard, her big, cock-teasing boobs jiggling from the suddenness of it. I was prepared for her, too.
“Don’t, Coy. Please, Oh God,” she begged me in this throaty whisper she used to use when we made love, only now it wasn’t love on my mind. No, not by a long shot, and she knew that even if she couldn’t see it in my eyes in the half-dark of the room.
I held the axe in front of me. Some blood had covered my hands. The room was still. I heard a mourning dove calling its flutelike three notes in the woods behind us.
“My tattoo is a black rose, Dolly. I had to pay a guy in Brushy Mountain a lot of money for this. He didn’t want to do it. He said it’s a gypsy curse. ‘Whoever sees that tattoo first, man, that person gonna die bad—man, woman, or child. It don’t make no difference,’ he said to me. I made him put three red drops of blood coming from it. One for each of us — you, me and Cinda-May.”
“No, Coy, no, please, don’t . . .”
I took a last look at her. She was still so beautiful it made my heart ache. She didn’t scream but her eyes had the glazed look of a dead bird’s, like she knew it wasn’t going to do any good to plead.
My last six months in an honor farm working outdoors with a scythe had perfected my swing. The blade took her through the mouth — a mouth that so many men besides me had used — and sent teeth and bone fragments clattering against the fiberboard walls and scattering in all directions across the hardwood floor, the one I had put in myself. Her body was stuck between the bed and the wall with only the axe handle sticking up. I couldn’t get the axe blade unstuck from her face so I left it like that. I wasn’t trying to shock the first people in the door, whoever that would be. I thought of her onstage only hours ago, swiveling her hips and shaking her fine tits to the pulsating music in of “Queen of Hearts.” I sat there on the edge of the bed until dawn listening to the chirping of the birds.
I lifted the keys from the bouncer’s pants. His Shelby roared to life. I do love the sound of a big old engine like that. It’s like those epileptic fits I used to get before they gave me Tegretol in the joint to keep it under control. The doc who made the prison visits told me my face might swell up like a balloon, but I wouldn’t have to worry about smashing into a tree while driving. I told that dumbass they don’t give driver’s licenses to epileptics in any state I ever been in, although that never did stop me from driving since I was fourteen. I told him I always knew when a fit was coming on because I felt things changing right in front of me. He called it “an aura.” That’s the same way I always thought about Dolly: she was horrible — and she was perfect. In those few moments before the fit knocked me to the ground, I gave up all my free will. There’s nothing you can do but let it happen and let those sounds, and images, and even smells come into your head like somebody opened up a doorway you never knew was there. The smell of the woods when I went hunting with my old man, prison smells, the smell of Dolly’s skin after we made love.
I changed his Sirius channel set to country-rock and found me an AM station that played gospel. It’s a three-mile ride to the rock quarry where the cliffs fall away sheer a hundred feet straight to muddy green water.
One time I read this French guy in lockup. His name was Camus only you don’t say the s, according to some old con I knew in stir who used to sell me his books when he got done reading them. This Camus fellow said the only question of life that mattered was suicide. Whether you was going to do it or not. I don’t know. I guess I’ll be giving that question some thought on my way to the quarry.
Robb White has published two hardboiled detective-fiction novels: Haftmann’s Rules in 2011 and Saraband for a Runaway in 2013. His noir, crime and mainstream stories have appeared in several webzines. When You Run with Wolves, a heist novel, was published by Number Thirteen Press in February. A fourth crime story won the Electronic Book Competition sponsored by Mankato State University in 2014 and will be published in August. He also writes book reviews for the print magazine Boxing World. Red Giant Press of Cleveland brought out his first collection of literary stories: “Out of Breath” and Other Stories in 2013.