By Lucy Jane Dixon


Irene's fingers abruptly stopped sewing.  She rocked slowly forward, straining to hear the sound of a car crunching the gravel in her driveway.  She rose, her knees creaking in stereo, and peeked between the curtains.  Sunlight flashed, glinting off the windshield of a rusty red pickup as it crept out of the shadows and into the open patch of dirt in front of the house.  Raw metal screeched as the dented truck door was forced open.  Irene's back stiffened.

"Aunt Irene! Aunt Irene! You home?"

"Horace, don't shout so," whined a voice from inside the pickup.

"Shut up, Ramona." Horace hissed back at the pickup. "Aunt Irene!" Sing-songed Horace. "Are you home?"

The man slowly advanced toward the house, his eyes darting back and forth from the door to the windows.  Irene saw that his once boyish face with the sprinkling of freckles had aged to sun wrinkled features molded into a deadly frown.  His hands twitched nervously. 

"Hell no, Horace.  I ain't home to the likes of you, you no good piece of trash," Irene shouted through the screen door.

"Aw, Aunt Irene, you are home and I am so glad to hear your sweet voice. Why all the way down from Montgomery I been telling Ramona, ‘I cain't wait to hear sweet Aunt Irene's voice. Why it'll be like hearin' Mama’s voice again.’”

"Get off my property, you son of a bitch."

"Uh huh, just like Mama." Horace's booted foot reached the first step of the porch.  Abruptly he heard the all too familiar sound of two shells being dropped into the business end of a 12 gauge.  "Now easy does it, Irene. We're just here to pay a friendly little family visit.”

"I ain't no family to the likes of you, you thieving bastard."

The boards creaked as Horace brought his second boot firmly onto the porch.  Twenty years of nourishment from a whiskey bottle had added soft fleshy pounds to his otherwise wiry frame.

"Aunt Irene?" squeaked a voice from the cab of the truck. "It's Ramona. Remember me?"

Of course Irene remembered Ramona.  She remembered when both of them were born just a few weeks apart, one to each of her sisters.  The family hadn’t acknowledged the cousins since they'd heard that Ramona had become Horace's common law wife.  Thank God Ramona hadn't gotten pregnant and had one them monster babies. 

"I sure as hell remember you both," Irene said, noisily sliding the safety off the 12 gauge as the sun slipped behind a cloud.

At the sound of the gun safety, Horace leapt off the porch, scuttled back to the truck, and yanked Ramona out the door.

"Yeah, Aunt Irene, I got Ramona with me. She wants to see you so bad. Don't you, Ramona?"

Ramona looked worse than Horace. Her stringy red hair draped loosely over her acne scarred forehead. Her dirty jeans and ragged t-shirt hung over her bony frame.

Horace yanked Ramona across the yard.  She whined in protest until Horace abruptly slapped her, causing a small steam of blood to trickle from nose.  Thunder rolled across the horizon.

"I see you Ramona and you are one pitiful sight." Irene squinted through the screen.

"She's been sick, Aunt Irene.  Dog sick!  Don’t you want to let her come in, maybe get a nice cold drink of water?"

"Well, you can forget that, Horace, 'cause I ain't falling for that load of crap. You two get off my property before I blow a hole in both of you!"

Ramona tried to back away but Horace held her fast his meaty fingers digging in to her pale arm.

"Aw come on, Irene. Look at the poor kid. You said yourself she was a pitiful sight."  Horace stepped on the porch again dragging Ramona along.  He kicked at the screen door with the toe of his boot.

"Come on, Aunt Irene, we just want to catch up on things. We only need to stay for a day or two.”

“Yeah, just ‘til the cops-” whimpered Ramona.

“Shut up, Ramona!” Horace growled. “Come on, Irene, let us in the house.”  

Irene saw Ramona cut her eyes at Horace.  He tightened his grip on her.  It was warning enough for Irene. She slammed the door and shot the deadbolt into place.

"Damn, Irene, open the door!"

Horace threw Ramona back down the steps onto the dirt.  He wrenched the screen door open and beat the wooden door with his fist.

"Irene, you witch, open the door or you'll have hell to pay!"

“Pay? Why don’t you pay me that three hundred dollars you stole from me the last time you came to visit?"

The pounding on the door stopped.  Silent moments passed broken only by a steady rumbling of thunder in the distance.

"Speaking of money,” wheedled Horace, “Ramona and me sure could use a couple hundred more right now.  Traveling money.  I know you got money stashed away in there.  It'd get us outta your hair…in a hurry, Irene."

“That’s just what I expected from you, Horace.  Now get on your way before something terrible happens to you … in a hurry."  Irene gritted her teeth.

"Something terrible is gonna’ happen to you right now if you don't open this damn door!"

Horace hauled off and kicked the wooden door as hard as he could.  He staggered back and the screen door slammed shut in his face.

"Ow, ow, ow!  Irene, my ankle's broke. I think I done broke my ankle!"

"Good, now crawl on outta here!"  Irene shouted.

She pushed a curtain aside with the tip of the shotgun. Horace was sitting on the porch cussing as he tried to yank his boot off.  Lightning shattered the sky.

Ramona crept up on the porch toward Horace but he shoved her away.  He attempted to stand as if to charge the door when Irene suddenly swung it open and stepped back into the shadow of the house.

"Now that's more like it." snarled Horace adding under his breath, “Say goodbye to your auntie, Ramona.”

Irene waited until Horace hobbled in front of the screen door before giving him both blasts from the shotgun, sending him flying backwards, clean off the porch and onto the hard dirt. Ramona screamed.  Irene stepped out onto the porch and looked down at Horace who was producing a large red puddle on the hard dirt. Irene walked to Ramona and silenced her continuous screaming with a slap. Fresh blood poured from Ramona's nose. 

Wiping her nose with the edge of her t-shirt, Ramona looked at Horace, then at Irene.  Suddenly she ran to the truck and jumped in.  Slamming it into reverse, the truck sprayed gravel as Ramona sped down the drive.

When the sound of the truck faded, Irene looked down at Horace and shook her head.  "Worthless," she muttered.

Leaning the shotgun against the wall, she grabbed him by his ankles, noting with approval, the wobbly one.

Stopping once to rest, Irene dragged Horace’s body around the side of the house and up the hill to a cistern. Pushing the massive wooden cover off, she looked down to the blackness below. She picked up a rock and tossed it in listening for the thunk to echo back. Nodding with satisfaction, she reached for Horace. Groaning with exertion, she rolled him head first into the cistern. She waited for the thud.  With a grunt, she heaved the cover back into place.

Irene trudged back to the house, slipping a little in the mud as the storm broke. She reckoned the rain would take care of the mess in the yard.

As she entered the house she reminded herself to visit the hardware store for screening in the morning.  She replaced the shotgun over the mantle and picked up her sewing taking up where she had left off.

Seven months later a postcard arrived.  It had a picture of an alligator with a pink bikini bra in its mouth.  One sentence was scrawled in a childish curlicue across the postcard.

"Florida has cute boys.  R.”

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