“Hear you a mama now” he said. They had sat in silence, as they always did on this day. She hadn’t come back for years, and he had expected that, and when she did come back she didn’t make excuses or apologize and he didn’t expected her to make any.
“Horses look good.” She said looking out over the paddock. “Mare’s pregnant.” She kept an eye on the mutt that lay at the man’s feet. It didn’t look like it was quite sane.
“Dog’s a good person, just don’t much like people.”
“Does he know who I am?” she asked.
“Yeah, yeah, I think he does, or you’d know if he didn’t.”
“I want to bring my daughter to you,” she said “I understand if you don’t want to see her.”
“Your man know of me?”
“Yes, I told him what I could, and he’s a good man, you’d like him, as much as you could, but he understands very little of this, he just knows this is part of who I am, and what I have to do.” She make a clicking noise with her mouth and the dog stood up, and almost wagged his tail, shook the dust off his coat and went to snuffle her outstretched hand.
“Mind yer manners, dog!” He commanded and the dog’s tail swished gently.
“Your…man, is he still here?”
“Always, that was the bargain.”
“You regret it any?”
You never asked that before.” He said. “Why now?”
“Got a young’un, Roy, puts a focus on things.” She looked away and then looked at him again. “Owe you, or your man, everything. You once told me I had a part in this bargain. You told me you’d let me know when the time come. I need to know if my daughter has anything to do with this, Roy.”
He pursed his lips and shook his head as if the question pained him. They sat in silence while he rocked in his chair, and she sat with her back to the porch rail. The dog snuffled her face, and licked her, and she pulled his ears for it, petting him.
“He don’t take to strangers.”
“Wonder why that is, Roy?”
“Jill, you bring that little girl here and she’ll be safe.” Roy told her, “But leave your man home, now, and I mean that.”
“What does he want with my daughter?” Jill asked softly.
“Nothing.” Roy said. “I just want to see that part of you.”
“I’m not sure I want you and Maddie going out there alone.” Don said. “There isn’t even a driveway to the house anymore. You won’t ever go out there alone anymore you said you wouldn’t.”
“I wouldn’t be alive right now if not for that man.” Jill replied. “He put more on the line that day than we will by taking Maddie to see him.”
“You ever going to tell me what happened?” Don asked.
“No, no Don, I’m not, and one day, I hope you won’t wake up and realize how much you owe me for not telling you.” Jill tied her hair back. “I told you I wouldn’t married you if you weren’t a man of God, and I told you I would never cleave to any family that weren’t and I told you that God Himself put His hand on me that day. “ Jill picked her daughter up. “But that man out there in that shack with that dog and them horses put his hand on the devil for me, and you owe him for that, even if you never understand it.”
Jill approached the shack even though the dog was barking furiously from inside. The horses whinnied and nickered from the paddock, and Jill felt it again.
“Mommy?” Mattie felt it too. Jill closed her eyes, and the dogs were barking, and the horses were making their noises, and there was screaming.
“Mommy!” Jill screamed
Jill felt the knife against her throat and felt his hands on her. Her daddy was yelling at him, and her mama was screaming but there was that knife, and the point was already drawing blood. He was backing up towards his truck with her, and she knew if he put her in that truck she would never leave it, at least not alive, and even at seven years old, she understood what he wanted with her.
“Put her down.”
Jill knew that voice, Roy’s voice, the loner in the shack, the man her daddy hired to feed the horses and look after the fences. She was always afraid of Roy Weatherspoon and now he was holding a pistol.
“I’ll cut her!” the man said, and this was one of daddy’s friends from work, smiling, well dressed, and one day he had grabbed her, and all hell broke loose when her daddy saw what happened. The man had pulled out a knife, and tried to take her away, but Roy was there.
“Put her down.” Roy said, and his voice never rose.
“I’ll kill her, I swear it, I’ll slit her open right in front of you!”
Jill remembered how her mama screamed at Roy to put the gun down, and her daddy had shouted at him, but Roy took a step forward with the pistol held out, and aimed it right at her eye. She looked down the barrel of the gun, and she knew, she knew, Roy was not going to let that man take her.
“Do it.” She said.
“I’ll kill her…I swear…” the man had yelled but Roy was almost whispering.
“I feel it. I feel what is inside of you now, I feel it too. It’s a bit of freedom, isn’t it?’ Roy whispered.
The man stopped yelling and Jill looked down the barrel of the gun.
“Do it.” Jill said, and she knew if the gun went off right then she would die, but it was better, and suddenly she understood what Roy was saying to her.
“You feel like you have nothing at all to lose now, and I don’t either. You think that this day, what you’ll get from this one day, will be worth it, and so do I. So you and I, we’ll make a bargain right here and now, and one day, we’ll be even.” Roy whispered but Jill didn’t know who he was talking to, or who was talking.
“Do it” Jill said.
“I’m not afraid to die!” the man yelled at Roy, but Jill could feel it. Fear. There was real fear in the man now, more than the fear of death, more than the fear of the gun.
“I’m not going to kill you.” Roy told him. “I’m going to put a bullet in that little girl’s head before I let you take her. And then I’ll save one for me, but before the law gets here, before anyone calls the sheriff, me and that man over there, “ Roy motioned towards Jill’s daddy with the gun, “ is going to take you over to my shack, and I’m going to show you a few things I saw in ‘Nam. I seen some things over there. Take a while, you know, to get to know the place real good.”
“Do it” Jill said.
“Was a night we got overrun.” Roy whispered. “And we had to go, we had to run, and there was Comers, who was wounded bad, and he told me to shoot him, so they wouldn’t take him, and he told me…”
“Do it” Jill said.
“…he weren’t gonna be taken like that, like I seen them take men, and turn them into something else, and I told God I was done killing after I left that place, and I promised him if’n he let me get away from people I wouldn’t kill no more people, but here you are, and I don’t think God is going to help you. I don’t think He even knows your name.”
“Do it” Jill said.
“Charlie showed me, and before I pay for killing that little girl, I’ll make sure you see your share of what I seen, and then you’ll know a bit of freedom too. No fear. No god. No good. No evil. No laws. No prison. No judge. No nothing out there but you and me, and Charlie.” Roy came close to the man and lowered the gun and took another step forward. “You go ahead and cut her open, Mister, and that way I can say it was a crime of passion, but me and you and Charlie goin’ to my shack…”
“Do it” Jill said.
Roy raised the gun suddenly and fired a shot into the man’s forehead. Jill’s mama picked her up from the blood and dirt and she saw Roy kneeling in the dirt, one hand raised high over his head and other with the gun down by his side. Roy screamed, and it was a sound Jill carried with her as her mother swept her away inside.
“You turn fifty this year, Roy” Jill said.
“Yes ma’am, I do.” Roy said.
“You weren’t never in Nam.”
“No ma’am, I was fifteen when the war ended, I was in High School, first year, too.”
“So that day, “ Jill said, “That was someone else, your man, who saved me.”
“Yes ma’am, it was.”
“I knew then it wasn’t you, and…” Jill hesitated, “…it isn’t you now, is it Roy?”
“Who are you?” Jill asked.
“Just someone needing a place to be, and someone to look after.” He said.
“What did Roy promise you for helping me that day?” she asked.
“Everything, but he and I were already…friends.” He said. “ I just wanted him to feel like his life meant something, and after that day, it did.”
“What’cha want with my daughter?” Jill demanded.
“Nothing.” He said, “But Roy likes to think she wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t done his part, and in a very big way, he is right. Saving you is how he defines his life, and that isn’t a bad way to define who you are, you know.”
“So,” she asked, “me and you, we’re even? You don’t want nothing from me…ever?”
“Come to see him.” He replied. “Let him teach your daughter how to ride horses. And bring that man of yours in slowly. I don’t like much company, but I do like you.”
“Is Roy okay?”
“He’s better off than when I found him. He hasn’t had a drink since that day, you know, because he told God he wouldn’t anymore. Roy was damaged early in life in ways that you cannot guess, thanks to him. It has been a long slow life for him, but he’s better. He’s been flirting with the woman at the feed store for a few months now, and I may have to leave.”
“Where will you go?” Jill asked suddenly. “How come you show yourself to me again, after all these years?”
“I have no interest in you, or in your family, Jill.” He said, and Jill heard the truth of the words.
“Who are you?” Jill demanded.
“Well, I’m Roy, “ Roy said, “say, how’d you get up here without me seeing you, and damn, but she looks a lot like you.”