Aphelion Issue 245, Volume 23
November 2019
 
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The Picture

by Tammy Huffman




The room smelled like death. The stench was a mix of linseed oil and turpentine and old, dried paint that let off fumes of ammonia and formaldehyde, and something else, something alive but dying, like shed skin or afterbirth or fresh-let blood.

Oh, Lordy. Zee arched an eyebrow and watched her friend add brush strokes to the picture. She had a certain soft, restrained, yet vicious touch.

“He has another girlfriend, Zee,” Bonnie told her. She sliced the brush across the canvas and left a long, gaping wound in a skin of blue-gray sky.

Zee chewed her lips and kept her voice calm; she felt perspiration bubble the liquid makeup on her forehead. “Another? I'm sure you're mistaken.”

“No. It's true. All the signs are there. And the signs don't lie.” Bonnie flung the brush hard and splattered charcoal pellets like a shotgun blast.

“Well, I don't believe a word of it. Nothing like that from your husband. Not from Abe. Good old honest Abe. Calm down. Relax. Stop mutilating your picture, for heaven‘s sake. You‘d think you was wielding a butcher knife stead of hog hair.”

"Horse. The bristles are made of horse hair. That‘s the point for me." Bonnie clenched the brush between her teeth. “Letting off aggression is the whole point of my painting.”

Zee shuddered, but not from a draft. Bonnie's private studio was warm, even humid. The walls were paneled in knotty pine. Dormers channeled end-of-day sunlight and the windows reflected an outside world of buds, butterflies and bluebirds. Her friend losing control was what sent shivers down her spine. If hyper-vigilance and paranoia and passive-aggressive outbursts were signs of somebody getting ready to blow, then Bonnie was about to rocket sky-high.

“He's done gone and got hisself another honey,” said Bonnie.

Hmm. The southern accent. The bad grammar. Zee rankled. Was the hoity-toity belle of the ball poking fun at her poor country cousin?

Bonnie went on: “He's the parfait gentleman these days. He opens doors and pulls out my chair. He brings me fresh-cut flowers and charm bracelets and leaves darling little notes for me to find. He seems interested in whatever I'm saying. Just like when we first dated. But I’m not fooled. He’s seeing someone else and this behavior towards me, it's only a cover up and a sign of guilt.”

Parfait. Phht. Fancy talk. Zee said: “Those pesky signs. My lord. Who told you to watch for signs? Your astrologist? Your therapist? Or is that high-dollar palm reader of yours obsessed with signs?”

"We had a model marriage once," Bonnie said, not paying any mind to Zee at all, off in her own little world, tripping. "The truth is, we‘ve drifted apart. Two little lost ships. We don't talk. We don't go out to eat. We sleep in separate bedrooms so never mind the other stuff.” Bonnie sniffed and cleaned her brush with a paint-caked rag and a spritz bottle coated with red and yellow fingerprints. She rubbed so hard the wooden brush squeaked. “Abe's staying late at the office again. First he works on a Sunday, then he stays late. I'm so mad I could break his neck.”

Another flurry of paint strokes. She laid it on thick, all right. Whose fault was it if Abe had lost interest in the ’other stuff'? Suave, good-looking, hot-blooded guy like that; he must have found bouffed and big-bottomed Bonnie with all her hamperings and hangups as cold and stiff as an ice-packed fish.

“What is this painting of?” Zee asked.

The question distracted and diffused her friend‘s anger. Momentarily. Bonnie sighed and leaned back to observe her own work. “My art is my first and truest love, you know. This particular piece is called Rescinding. It’s illusion art. It's whatever you think it is. It's whatever you see in it. Tell me what you see in it, Zee.”

Zee tipped her head and curled a ring of hair around her finger and studied it. What did she see besides double? It looked like chicken scratches and cat scratches to her. She felt like she needed a tetanus shot after staring at it for a few minutes. Who would believe Bonnie was a halfway famous artist? There were people out there who took this junk seriously. Bonnie held art shows and got features written up in slick magazines. This mishmash was all a part of the artist's horrible SUFFERING. She had a MESSAGE. She was making a STATEMENT about the human condition. Good luck figuring any of that out. Bonnie opened her mind to let loose her deepest most profound thoughts and all that popped out was this hooey.

“It looks like hell to me,” Zee said.

"Then hell it is," Bonnie said. “It’s hell I’m in and no way out. Well, there’s one way, I suppose.”

Yes. One way. Dear Lord. And she might just be off her nut enough to try it. Again. Zee had a little jade Buddha figurine hanging from a braided leather necklace. Her hand went to her neck; she rubbed the Buddha’s belly to calm herself. Mesmerized by the monotony of Bonnie's paint job and her own dull thoughts, she had almost reached serene when she heard caterwauling through the walls. Her head jerked up and she gasped. “Was that a scream?”

“What scream? What has gotten into you, Zee, honey? You look so funny. Your throat was working. Like you swallowed strict-nine.”

“I thought I heard — It was probably a cat.”

“It was probably Ike. It's probably one of those computer games of his. Maybe it's time you checked on him, my love.”

Using that tone on her. That servant to master, superior to inferior tone.

“Of course,” Zee said. It took all her utmost control sometimes.

Ike's room was down the hall. Zee walked in without knocking. What she saw on the young man's computer screen made her freeze in her tracks. Blood. Gee willikers. Blood splattering the screen in droplets and smears. Kids these days. Her face, paled by the painting, now surged bright red. She had seen this before. Where? In a late-night horror movie? In a dream? Then as now, she just stood there, speechless, totally discombobulated.

“Ike,” she managed. “What on earth are you doing?”

He looked at her with those wide, pinwheeling orbs of alien eyes. "I was looking at different works of the beheading of John the Baptist, Zee," he said, patiently. "It's a pretty common theme in art. This one happens to be by Giovanni di Paolo. There are others I like equally well, Fabritius, Rubens, Caravaggio."

"Sound like venereal diseases. That's ghastly. Disgusting. Turn it off."

Kid gave her the creeps sometimes. People called him The Preacher. They said he had read the Bible forward and back. Memorized scripture. Mercy. Young kid wasting his time like that. Was he stoned? Or just loopy? How could anyone know he was wacko, with that innocent face, those guileless eyes? He gaped at her…like she were the creature from another planet.

She heard Bonnie's steps crossing the wooden floor in the art room. Hastily, she said: "You don't need to be looking at stuff like that, Ike. My Lord. Can't you find something useful to watch? Aren't there any good slasher or zombie movies on the TV? Those crime shows can teach you how to commit the perfect murder in one single episode, land's sake." Zee switched off the machine. Ike slowly rose in that trance-like way he had, like somebody was pulling him up by the hair. He floated off. Doomed little flying monkey. Pitiful.

Footsteps in the hallway now.

Zee took up a basket of laundry and folded clothes.

Bonnie came into the room. “Is Ike okay?”

“Oh, he's fine. He went downstairs, I think.”

"Such a sweet boy," Bonnie said. "Always so kind and respectful to his folks. We really don't deserve him."

They folded laundry together. Just like two old homebodies.

“What would you do if you were me?” Bonnie asked her.

Zee folded in a slow and mechanical way. She lined up creases with thumb and forefinger. “I'm sorry?”

“Would you confront Abe? Make him tell you who she is? Or keep your mouth shut? Pretend nothing’s happened at all? Everything’s honky-dory?”

“Depends on what kind of evidence I had to present before the judge. Good old Judge Abe. All you have are those silly signs. You don't have any proof about him having an affair.”

Bonnie folded in a sloppy and crumpled way that made Zee want to slap her hands away and do it all over again herself. “Well....”

“You do? You have proof?” Zee stopped. She held Abe's boxer shorts in a tangled knot to her breast. "What evidence do you have, exactly?"

“Oh, nothing anybody would call proof, exactly,” Bonnie said. "Forget I said anything."

Lord. Zee expelled breath. "Nothing really? Ok. What gave you the notion he was tomcatting in the first place?”

“Sweetie, you've only been married to Wiley — what? Has it been two years? When you've lived with a man for twenty years you can tell when things have changed. You can just tell. You'll see something different in his eyes. You'll hear something new in his voice.”

Zee said: "If I were you and I caught my husband fooling around, I know exactly what I'd do. I'd fill their hides with buckshot, that's what I'd do."

"Oh, my, Zee. How direct."

Zee said: “All right. You want roundabout? Sue for divorce.”

“Abe will never divorce me. That would be bad for his career. The judge has political aspirations. No. He prefers a more diplomatic solution. He wants all his girlfriends out of the way and he wants me to drop dead. He's tried it before, you know."

"Tried what?"

"Why, tried killing me, of course, silly goose. Making it look like suicide. Remember last summer when I was rushed to the hospital. And the glass of wine disappeared? That was Abe.”

“Oh, Bonnie, you're over --”

“And he'll try again, bet your boots. Not in a direct way. In a roundabout way. He’ll make it look like I’ve been murdered by a jealous boyfriend, or I’ll fall down the stairs, or he’ll poison my drink —." Bonnie took a shaky breath. "I know I sound insane."

"You sound dead-bodies-hidden-in-the-basement bat-shit-crazy insane. It's all in your head, Bonnie. You've got to get a grip."

"Yes, you're probably right. Of course you're right. I'm imagining things. Overreacting. I mean, there's nothing sinister about flowers and chocolates, is there? He could even actually, honestly want to save our marriage. Maybe that's it. Maybe it's all some last ditch effort to save our marriage." Bonnie gave a trembling smile. “Oh, Zee, I’m so mixed up. You'll help me get through this terrible time, won't you, love?”

Poor Bonnie. She was delusional. The idea of Bonnie and Abe saving their sham of a marriage was a joke. But she couldn't let Bonnie know she felt that way. Not in the condition she was in. She was sure her friend was on the brink of a nervous breakdown. One more little push and she’d snap clean from all reality, and then, well, she'd take a slide and who knew how far down the rabbit hole she'd go a-tumbling?

Zee reached out and took Bonnie's hand. “Of course I will,” she said.

Her own hands were cold as ice.


*****



Zee called her husband at the auto and tire shop and quickly went over all that had transpired. He cursed under his breath and was his grumpy and irritable self, but agreed to drive out after work. Now, still in his mechanic's coveralls and work boots, he listened to Zee give a slower and more detailed explanation while she rummaged through the refrigerator and made him a sandwich.

“Are you saying you’re going to stay here all night?” he whined.

Wiley had a red and black tattoo of a diamondback rattlesnake on his upper arm. He liked to bulge his biceps so the snake stuck out its forked tongue and the tail wriggled. Wiley had spent seven years in prison for killing a man in a bar fight. It was a fit of jealous rage over a woman. Not Zee. Some woman before Zee. He’d gotten dozens of tattoos in jail. Zee didn’t know what they were all supposed to mean. Except for the obvious ones, like DINOMYTE, to warn people he had a hot temper and a short fuse and could explode just like that. Poor Wiley. Couldn't even spell it right. Boob.

“Ain't it enough you babysit that delinquent on a Sunday? Now you gotta work overtime babysitting that delinquent‘s mother?”

“Just a few hours. Abe will be back this evening. I'd be afraid to leave her to her own devices even for a little while.” Zee dropped her voice to a whisper. “Bonnie's tried killing herself before in one of these depressed moods and today she dropped hints. Remember the episode last summer?”

“The bottle of hemlock or whatever the cops never found. Yeah, I remember. Where's she hiding out now?”

“In the basement with Ike. She‘s teaching him how to bake little clay angels in a kiln. Angel baking. Imagine that for mother-son bonding.”

“Beats teaching him nudes, I guess. Tell me more about this picture. And what's this crazy talk about Abe wanting to do her harm?”

“Oh, I really can't explain it in words.” How could she explain to someone as emotionally throttled and mentally missing as Wiley the secret, hidden messages of despair and vengeance that throbbed from the painting?

"She thinks Abe has hired someone to kill her," Zee said.

"No kidding. It says that, this picture?" Wiley sounded surprised, even a tad shocked. He looked actually thoughtful as he polished off the ham sandwich. He swigged down the milk. He wiped his mouth with a sleeve. He belched. “That's in this here painting, huh? This hit man? Let's go have a look-see."

They walked up the flight of stairs and into the art room.

“Be careful, Wiley, don't touch anything,” Zee said.

She shouldn't have said it. But the room was so pretty with its sun drenched walls, and his coveralls were so filthy, and his boots had a bright blue paint blob right on the toe, and his hands were so grimy with grease caked under his fingernails. He smelled like sweat and ashes and gasoline.

His temper instantly flared and he glared at her and balled a fist.

“Oh, Wiley. I mean just don't rub off on anything.”

“Yeah. Maybe your rich bosses are the ones rubbing off on me.” He stood in front of the easel of Bonnie's latest painting. He smacked a fist into a palm. He flexed his biceps. The snake’s mouth revealed its fangs and flicked its tail at her. Then, unaccountably, the angry skewer on his lips relaxed, tweaked into an idiotic grin.

“Wiley?” Zee said. “You see what I mean? She's on the verge of a breakdown.”

The illustrated man shrugged. “She's lonely. Who could blame her for going stir crazy? What with Abe at work all the time. Her out here in this creepy old house in the middle of no place. Just her and that loony brat. She gets wind of some gossip and takes it for gospel.”

“Even about Abe having an affair?” Zee rubbed the Buddha belly and allowed herself to sound mildly hopeful.

“'About Abe hiring a gunman to kill her. No way you can you get that from -- from this load of crap. You women, always gossiping and stirring up the pot over nothing.”

“Wiley, Bonnie is not right in the head. Do you think we should call a specialist? A therapist. A meditation expert or a reflexologist or —”

“No. Let me take a shot at her first. In private. Try to talk some sense into her head. She can‘t be going around accusing Abe of wanting to do her in for money. She can get people in big trouble for that.”

They climbed down the flight of steps.

Bonnie had come up from the basement den and was standing in the living room, wobbling slightly, with a whiskey glass in her hand. Her eyes glittered. Three sheets in the wind already. Scandalous.

“Zee, be a darling and get dinner ready.” The honey voice slurred. “Try to find some use for Ike.”

“Of course.” Ever the obedient servant, Zee fetched the youth and steered him into the kitchen. He listened to some silly little gadget with headphones. Not music, though, a sermon. He stood at the sink and scraped carrots and listened all-rapt to some preacher droning on and on. Zee slipped into a little side closet. The house was Victorian and it had one of those old-fashioned dumb waiters. Zee could hear voices through the wall vent. If she stood in the right spot and tipped her head just so and held her jaw just so.....


*****



“What were you thinking, my little Bonnie bird?” Wiley's deep baritone vibrated to Zee through the duct vent. "Why you mouthing about hiring trigger men? What's got into you?" He sounded hurt.

Bonnie's voice was husky and strained. “I can‘t keep my balance on this gangplank anymore, Wiley. It’s a struggle to just keep up a normal conversation with Abe. To have coffee with him over breakfast. To discuss the day with him when he comes home from work. He knows. I can read it on his face. The anger and hate building and building in his eyes. It's sharks and gators and pythons just waiting to eat me alive.”

“What does he know, exactly? That his old lady prefers an ex-con to a judge? I got a lot to lose, you know, if you blab about us. My job. Abe gets mad, he's got pull. He's got friends at the sheriff's office and the courthouse. He could throw me in jail and lock me up for good. Jealousy can eat a man alive. Make him do crazy stuff. I know. We gotta watch our step.”

“Wiley, must you smoke? It's such an unpleasant personal habit. I can't keep it up. The constant worry. What evil little schemes are going round in his head? What diabolical plots? He wants to be rid of me so bad. He's had one dry run already.”

“Right. The knock out drops.”

“This time, he'll make it look like murder by some deranged someone-I-know or an accident or an accidental overdose — Did you buy it for him?”

Wiley laughed. “No, I didn’t buy it. They don’t sell guns to felons. I stole it. Don’t ask questions.”

“But you have it?”

“I have it. It's in my tool box. Don't worry, baby. Your wuss of a husband doesn't need a gun. I'll protect you."

“Oh, Wiley, sometimes I ache to let it out about us, confess, just scream it from the rooftops. Bare my soul, naked and raw before the whole wide world. Let the bodies fall where they may.”

“Yeah, that would be fun. Not naked, but I fantasize about it, too. I mean just to see the look on Abe's face when he finds out. All this time it's been me getting the better of hotshot Abe. But we can’t. Least not yet. We gotta play it cool till the time‘s right. By the way, who's Abe messing with on the side?”

Bea's voice was suddenly biting and cold. “Some two-bit hussy. I found signs of her when I came back from rehab. The gall that took. A panty under the bed. I never wear thongs. Long blond hairs on the pillowcase. And the worst -- purple lipstick on his robe. Oh, Wiley, I've taken about all the abuses from that man I can stand.”

”Sure, little darling, sure, everybody's gonna get their comeuppance.”

Sloppy, wet kisses and fumbling sounds followed. Zee turned. In the kitchen Ike held the knife in a high arc. For a second, neither of them moved. It was out. There it was. A true, stark confession. All the evidence anyone needed to convict. She was shocked by how horrible she was sickened by it. The news coming out of the blindside that way, such a bitter pill to swallow. She squeezed her eyes tight and took long, unsteady breaths, and then -- Ike came down on a carrot and went whack, whack, whack.


*****



They were having dinner in the kitchen. Dinner was roast beef stew with caramelized onions and carrots. Zee served the adults a red wine.

“It's a healing type of therapy,” Bonnie said. “I take my repressed emotions, the bitterness and frustration and resentments and such, and express them in my art. All the things I can't talk about. Or act out.”

“What can’t you talk about or act out, Mom?” Ike looked at his mother across the table, his big blue eyes wide as wheels within wheels.

"Oh, Ike." Bonnie gave an embarrassed little laugh. "I've said too much in front of you. Don't worry your little head about such grown up nonsense."

Ike said: “You take all that bitterness and frustration and direct it into your paintings. Otherwise, it would fester inside and come out in yelling and breaking things and --"

"Murder." Bonnie gasped.

"Hives," Ike finished.

Was that a smirk?

Zee swirled her wine and kept her head down. Imagine having a son talk to you that way. His own mother. In her own home. At her own table. Company sitting around. Outrageous.

Bonnie reached for butter. Wiley hurried to hand it to her. Their fingertips touched. Bonnie jerked away like she'd been snake bit.

“This stew is good,” Wiley said. “The meat is so tender and moist.”

“Thank your wife,” Bonnie said. “I don't know how I'd manage without her.”

As though on cue, they both turned to look at her. Right at that moment Ike got up as though he'd seen a ghost and shoved the table and tipped over his glass of grape juice. Land of the living, such drama, Zee thought, as she watched him go off in one of his famous trances. They needed to get that boy some medication. Or give him a sound whupping. Or exile him to some island. She'd be happy to pack his bags.

“I'm sorry, my mind was a million miles away, what did you say?” Zee asked.

Zee sopped up the spill and nodded with witless agreement at whatever it was they were going on about. She heard every trailing sentence, but not a syllable sank in. She scrubbed at the stain on the table cloth.

They heard the car pull into the drive.

“Oh.” said Bonnie in that breathy voice. “I'd better start on my chalk. I'm on commission, you know. Deadlines.” She ran off to her hidey-hole of an art room. Coward.

Zee's smile was so forced it hurt her cheeks. “Why don't I meet Abe outside, Wiley? Tell him why we're both here now? Explain the situation.”

“Sure, Kid. Yeah. Some situation. Go easy." He thumped his chest. "His bad ticker, remember? Otherwise, spit it all out. Any dessert in the fridge?”


*****



Zee stepped out the door. The evening air was muggy and breezeless. She heard a roll of distant thunder; lightning flashed on the horizon. Abe had put the car in the garage. He was coming across the drive.

“Hello, Zee. You haven't gone home for the day? Why not? Is everything okay?”

Zee kept her back to Wiley and the house and raised her voice and told Abe everything. All of it. He listened without expression, leaning against the porch post.

“Zee,” Abe stopped. He sighed. “I've known about it for some time now. Wiley and Bonnie have been sneaking around behind our backs for about a year.”

“What! A year!” Zee was suddenly lightheaded. She swooned. Abe helped her to a porch swing. He sat beside her, patted her arm.

He continued: “My wife knows I don't want a divorce. She's found another way out of our marriage. Wiley — that crazy hothead.”

“What?” Zee looked up at him with her wet lashes, blinking. "Wiley?"

“Of course. You don't think she's in love with your husband, do you? With Wiley? All she wants from him is his gun — which I bought at her insistence, by the way — and his willingness to use it. And his temper. And his suggestibility. Why should she pay a professional assassin to kill me when she can get Wiley to do it for free?”

Zee gasped. “You can't be serious.”

“I am dead serious. She is, too. Think about it. With his criminal history, he‘s the perfect patsy. And the perfect fool. Push the right buttons and I'm a dead man. And once I‘m dead and he‘s in jail for murdering me, she‘ll replace us both with the lover she really wants.”

“No!”

“Oh, yes. My own heart surgeon. A guy who cuts out hearts. Figures. Bonnie doesn't want Wiley and never has. She's going to x him out of the picture along with me. Poor dumb slob.”

A spoon dropped, a dish shattered.

“Oh, well, my land.”

“Yes. I feel sorry for us all,” said Abe. “I should have done something, I suppose. Put a stop to it somehow. I should have talked to Wiley, let him know what my wife was up to, how he was being used and manipulated.”

“It's not your fault, Abe. We were neighbors neighing.”

Zee glanced over her shoulder through the patio windows. Wiley's shadow had disappeared from the kitchen. She wiped her eyes impatiently with Abe's pocket hanky. “Nice job, Abe,” she said. “I never knew you were such a story teller. Did you rehearse or come up with all that on the fly?”

“Not too melodramatic or contrived? Not over the top? That part about the heart surgeon? That was a last minute touch. Think any of it sank in?”

“Oh. Who knows? He's thick as hops. But I loved it. What about me? Neighbors neighing! Where on earth did I get that?”

Holding hands, giggling and giddy as teenagers, Zee and Abe went inside. Zee swept up the shattered dish shards and found the spoon under the stove; she cleaned dribbles of ice cream off the counter. She heard voices upstairs, then shouting.

Abe mixed whiskey and tonic and plopped in ice. Zee took a gulp then set her glass on the counter. The shots sounded in the insulated upstairs art room like two…no three…quick ringing pops. Pop-ring, pop-ring, pop-ring.

"What in the hell was that?" Abe said. "You don't suppose — ?"

"I'll go look," Zee said.

She trotted upstairs. The bodies had fallen in awkward heaps. The pretty room was ruined — blood droplets on the carpet and smears on the walls — just ruined.

"Oh, my land!" Zee said. "My land!"

Bonnie’s fall knocked over the easel with that ugly morbid painting. Zee righted it and that‘s when she saw the gun and saw, too, that Bonnie had a little ceramic angel on her breast. Funny.

The gun felt sticky. Wiley had been carrying it around in his tool box. The sticky was not blood or paint. It was motor oil, maybe, or antifreeze. She spritzed the gun with the water bottle and wiped it clean with the rag. She went down the hall and slipped on Abe's robe from the bedroom wardrobe and got back as far as the landing.

Abe was standing at the top of the stairs.

"Dear God," he said.

"I'm telling ya," Zee said. She wrapped the loose robe a little tighter. "Abe?"

Abe was staring with a sort of shocked fascination at the mess in the art room.

"Abe, do you recognize this robe? The one with the purple lipstick smudge on the collar? Bonnie asked me to get the stain out. But I wasn't able to get it out, Abe. Even though I used a pumice and scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. Abe?”

“My pills," Abe said. He started clawing at his heart. He began going through his pockets like a squirrel, digging out change and cards and keys and tossing things every which way. He was squinting and his face was screwed up in a grimace. "My heart pills. My pills!"

“Who's the blond?”

That got his attention. He turned his head to look squarely at her. “The who?”

“The young blond chickadee you've been carrying on with right under your wife's nose? Right under my nose? Abe, what's her name?”

“Zee, are you —”

Zee, who was every inch a red-head, pulled her hand out of the robe's deep pockets. She had her finger on the trigger of the gun. Abe started to take a step back in a hurry. He tripped over his own big clumsy feet. And down he went.

Zee followed him down the steps. Poor Abe. His head was turned on his neck at an impossible angle. She went to the living room and sat on a bar stool. She was winded for some reason and felt like she needed to rest. She gulped her drink. She laid the gun on the counter. She thought she had cleaned it, but something sticky had worked into the crease of her palm. Was it motor oil, grape juice or ice cream? She tried to rub it off with a napkin dipped in booze. Feeling hot and flushed, she left it abruptly and got up and went to the patio windows. Was the air conditioning not working or had it not been turned on? The house was sultry hot. Felt like a hot house. The coming storm.

She listened. My land. The house was quiet as the grave.

She was warm, way past warm, burning up, and rubbery-kneed. She couldn't get air. Her lungs were pulling hard for air, making a whistling sound. She needed air. What was happening to her? A stinging pain, first in her throat, now in her stomach. Her heart was doing a ring-around and bright red lights were flaring on the edge of her vision. Had the drink not tasted bitter? Her nerves snapped alert and hummed over her whole body like a hive of roused wasps. Poison. Was it possible? Panicked, she dashed blindly up the stairs, threw the art room door open wide.

But no. They were still there, exactly as they'd fallen.

Back down the stairs, nearly stumbling over Abe. Poor Abe. The pills. His pills. Of course. Then she saw it. Abe had one of those little angels on his chest, too. Funny. Like a funeral honor. It was touching, that he would do that one last little thing for his mother and father — the thought struck her, even though it was getting hard to hold a thought, hard to breathe.

Walking across the floor took all her strength.

And there was Ike. He was standing in the outside doorway in a halo of buds, butterflies and bluebirds. He turned away from her. His arms were stretched out, as though to welcome in a whole flock of fellow prophets.

“Ike,” she whispered. “You forgot one, Goddamn it.”



THE END


2019 Tammy Huffman

Bio: Tammy Huffman has a degree in English/Journalism and has worked as a reporter on a home-town newspaper for 25 years. She lives in the rolling hills of northwest Missouri. She currently resides on the same farm she grew up on. Her family includes Jonas, Sharon Rose and Belle.

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