2015 Winter Writing Contest Winner - Amber Box!

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Amber Box is the winner of our 2015 Winter Writing Contest. Here is her submission, entitled, "Lucky." Great job, Amber!

Lucky
by Amber Box

 

“They called her Lucky.” “Why?” I asked. “I dunno. Because it was ironic. Because she was black. Because who cares, she’s dead now.” “We have to bury her, ya know.” “Why?” “We can’t just leave her out here. It’s a hundred degrees. She’ll…I dunno—melt.” “Cats don’t melt, dumbass.” “Well, shit. I dunno but we can’t just leave her here,” I replied. “Fine. Any ideas?” “No.” “You can’t just say we got to bury it and not have any idea how to do it.” “Fuck you. I never said it was a good suggestion,” I said throwing a rock at her left arm. It hit her near the shoulder. “Ow!” she said rubbing at the small red welt that it left behind. “What the hell, J.D?” “What the hell, J.D.” I said in my most condescending voice, mimicking her. The truth was I didn’t know why I did it. “Don’t be a baby, Books. Help me bury the damn cat.” “Don’t call me that!” “Fine. Alberta. Now help me bury Lucky. She’s starting to smell.”

***

Twenty years ago I killed a cat. My sister helped me bury it. We found an old shoebox and filled it with grass. The cat barely fit so we duct taped it closed. It bulged like an overstuffed suitcase. I dug a hole under a big tree out by the creek behind our land, and we took great care to cover the freshly disturbed dirt with leaves and rocks. No ceremony. No tears. Ms. Luna looked for that damned cat ‘til the day she died.

I couldn’t help but think about that cat—that shoebox—when I looked down at her waxen face. She was covered in makeup to hide the gray effects of death. It was unnatural. Books didn’t wear makeup. “You alright there, Boy?” he said patting my shoulder. “Yeah Dad. I’m fine.” He nodded and made his way to the front pew and sat down next to Momma. I could hear her sobbing beneath her black veil. I walked over and pressed a dry tissue into her hand. She nodded but never looked up. I sat down next to her. I didn’t want to be there. “We’re gonna catch that sonofabitch, J.D.” “Dad. She had a heart attack. No one killed her. Would you let it go already.” “Ain’t no way my baby girl died of no heart attack. She was fit as a fiddle.” “Dad, no one says that anymore.” “I do,” he said defiantly. I laughed. “You think it’s funny that Albie’s been killed?” he said accusingly. “No, Dad,” I said, the muscles in my neck stiffening. “It’s not funny that she’s dead. None of this is funny.” “Damn right it ain’t. And you best not forget that, Boy. Not while you are here with your momma grievin’ like she is.” “Alright. You’re right. I’m sorry.” “It’s just like that damned old cat.”

I shifted in the hard wooden pew as Dad went on about Lucky and Ms. Luna and how he was sure someone killed it just like they did Albie. “Betcha it was the same damn person, too, J.D. I’d swear it to any Bible.” Mom flinched. “You’ll do nothing of the sort, Frank,” she said in a jumble of piety and sobs. He patted her arm. I breathed a heavy sigh as the preacher made his way to the podium.

For an hour I sat there and listened to people talk about Books like they knew her. Albie was so sweet, she had a heart of gold. Albie was so quiet and reserved. Alberta was such a beautiful young woman. Her ex-husband spoke as though he still loved her. As though he never slept with that whore from the grocery store. As though he let her keep her children in court. Bastard. Her neighbor spoke as though he never gave her dirty looks when she didn’t keep up with her yard after working eighty hours a week. As though he didn’t assume she worked as a hooker because she worked at night. As though he didn’t judge her every chance he got. Books wasn’t sweet. She was bitter. She was tough and angry and scarred. She didn’t smile. She wasn’t quiet. She was tired. And she would punch the first person who called her a ‘beautiful young woman’ to her face. She didn’t associate with labels. She didn’t want to be known as pretty or lovely or enchanting. These people didn’t know her.

I sat in the lobby and waited for everyone to leave after the service. There would be a graveside ceremony next. I flipped through the program and thought about my baby sister. Books had always been mature for her age. Tall and smart, but stupid once upon a time. When she was eleven, the year before the cat incident, she ran off with Billy Prosper. He was eighteen. He promised her things. Love. Affection. Things she didn’t understand. Things she never had enough of with a mother who always had her nose stuck in some Bible and a father who was only home long enough to punish us for something far less sinister than killing a cat. They made it as far as the East Creek, two counties over, before the police caught up with them. Billy was arrested, but the damage had already been done. The day after he was released from prison, he came back for his things and was found the next morning with a bullet through his chest. No one knew who did it, and no one cared.

Later that summer, Uncle Johnny came to visit and he took an immediate liking to Books. I tried to keep them apart as best I could, but he always seemed to find her alone. By then Books was nearly as tall as him, especially since he was rather short. She managed to get out of his grip, but the bruising he left on her wrists would never go away.

“You coming or what, Boy?” “Yeah,” I mumbled. “Your momma’s already in the car.” I followed him to a caravan of black sedans and made my way into the back of the second car, just behind the hearse. We rode through town like a black train, headed for the second service. Ceremony. Something Books never liked either. She would want to be buried under a big tree. No ceremony. No tears. When we pulled up, the rain had begun. I watched the pallbearers grapple with her casket as it pelted against polished wood and bald heads. The ex-husband. My father. Uncle Johnny. “Shit, there’s mud everywhere!” “Deal with it Johnny-Boy. Ain’t no mud ever hurt anyone,” said my father. Hiding beneath my umbrella, I walked away as they bickered around my sister’s body. Bastards. I stood at the hole in the ground. Perfect edges. Black. Deep. Nothing like the one we dug for Lucky. I looked up to find Ms. Luna staring me down. She stood in the rain with her floral muumuu, her now gray hair matted to her forehead. “Hello, Ms. Luna. I didn’t think you’d be here today.” “Your sister killed my cat.” “What makes you think it was her?” I asked. “I just know.”

I laughed from across the grave. Crazy bitch. Just as crazy now as she was twenty years ago. Walking up and down Main Street hollering for Lucky. She did it for weeks, yelling then pausing for a reply. Books always felt guilty so she avoided Ms. Luna whenever she could. Even taking the long way by the back creek to and from school to avoid her house. Anything to drown out her sad, lonely voice echoing down the streets of down.

***

“It was an accident, Books.” “I can’t believe that stupid cat is dead,” she said. “It was an accident.” “I know. But it could’ve been worse.” “How?” I asked. “I dunno. She could’ve drank all the whiskey.” “Ain’t whiskey that killed her, you know that Books.” For the first time in months, Books cried. “I never meant to hurt it.” “I know.” “She wasn’t supposed to drink the whiskey.” “I know.” I held her tight as she sobbed into my shoulder. I didn’t know what else to say and neither did she. That night we went out to the big tree by the creek. Books made up a sign out of a piece of scrap wood she found and some white paint. “Sorry cat. I didn’t mean to hurt you. Guess you ain’t so lucky after all,” she said. She told me she felt better after that. She stopped carrying the guilt that I never carried. Ms. Luna never did stop looking for that cat.

***

Books and I moved out to the city when I was twenty-two. She worked as an aide at the hospital, and I was doing well at the downtown bank. We got us an apartment with two rooms. She worked the nightshifts, and I was gone by the time she got home. It worked out well since we hardly ever saw each other. After nearly two years she moved out. Said she found her a man and was gonna get married. Our parents hated him, but she was in love so they let it be. She had a baby not long after. Then another. Then another. I visited them often. He was an asshole. They fought all the time. Throwing things, slamming doors. By the time she was pregnant with her fourth child he had left her for another woman. A cashier at Donny’s Groceries. He took her to court and took their kids right from under her. Even the one that hadn’t been born yet. Said she was ‘messed up in the head’ and ‘she wasn’t no kind of mother to them children.’ After he left, she went back to school. She wanted to turn her anger into helping other people. Got a degree in nursing and moved up quickly at the community hospital. She told me she liked working the night shift because she didn’t have to pretend to be normal like day-time people did.

“Boy, you paying any attention?” I hadn’t realized the ceremony had already begun and her casket was being lowered into the hole in the ground. He and Momma each threw a white rose down on the casket. Her children took turns tossing in various mementos. The neighbor tossed in a clump of dirt. Her ex-husband threw his old wedding band. I reached into the chest pocket of my black suit and pulled out an old wooden sign with the words RIP LUCKY painted in white. It settled on her casket in a cloud of dust, splintering into a dozen pieces. Just like Books. “I knew it!” Ms. Luna gasped from across the grave. “She didn’t kill your cat, Ms. Luna. I did,” I said without so much as a flinch. The small crowd was silent.

“Boy, you best explain yourself.” “Alright, Dad. Calm down,” I replied. “Lucky got a hold of a glass of whiskey with rat poison in it. Knocked it over. She drank enough to make her sick, but she didn’t die. I suffocated her to put her out of her misery.” Ms. Luna’s face drew inward. A deep red set in her cheeks, visible even through the rain. “Why would you give my cat poisoned whiskey?” she asked carefully. “It wasn’t meant for her,” I said shooting a hot glance at Uncle Johnny. “It was meant for the sonofabitch who couldn’t keep his hands off Books. The man who finally broke her.”

I turned to make my way back to the parking lot, satisfied. I would walk home from here. Behind me I heard what I suspected to be Dad’s fist making direct contact with Uncle Johnny’s face. I looked back just in time to see Johnny fly back into the ex-husband. I smiled. “By the way,” I yelled across the green lawn. “She shot Billy too.” They all froze, unsure of what to say next. “Best not be calling her a ‘beautiful young woman’ no more,” I said. I knew she was smiling now.