Alannah is talking and cracking pistachios open with her teeth. She’d smoked all the cigarettes and the butts sit in a Styrofoam cup by the open window turning yellow in the little bit of water she was snuffing them out in. She’s jittery from sitting in the hotel room all day and cracking shells with her teeth and now she’s talking.
You work any today? she says.
No, couldn’t find nothing. Besides, we’re still sitting on some cash.
She sits crisscrossed next to a pile of empty shells and green dust on the white bed sheets.
So you’ll just go to bed and forget all about this and we’ll just do the same thing tomorrow, is that it? Thought you said we came here because you had a job to do?
I don’t say nothing to her and sit at the desk by the open window and straighten out a half-smoked cigarette she was saving.
I have a plan, I tell her.
And what’s that.
We’re going to drink tonight and make love and sleep.
I’m bored, Jamie, she says and she cracks a closed shell open with her back teeth. It’s boring here. You said it would be fun, that we’d live a good life and be happy if we came here. But it’s just the same as it was back home. It’s just as boring.
It’s boring everywhere, I say.
Where are we going to go drink tonight? She talks around the nuts that are in her cheeks and she looks like a squirrel and widens her eyes, sticking out her salty tongue at me. I don’t feel much like laughing but can’t help it. How about The Lodge, she says.
We can go to the The Lodge.
Or maybe Harlem’s, over on Seventh?
We can go wherever you’d like, babe.
She stops chewing and suddenly looks out the window past me and past time.
I want to go home, Jamie.
We are home, babe. This is where we live now.
No, my real home. Momma is probably planting flowers for the spring. I used to help her with that every year. I want that again, Jamie.
It’s gone, I say. There ain’t no real home, no planting or any of that. This is where we live now.
She goes quiet and dusts off her jeans onto the sheets and gets up and walks to the bathroom. She leaves the door open and I can see her bent knees and I drop the cigarette into the cup of murky looking water.
Then when do we leave? she says from the bathroom as she messes with her hair in the mirror.
Soon as I take care of what I came here for.
You don’t have to, you know.
I do. And we’ll be getting on after that. We can get married after that.
In a church? she says, coming out of the bathroom and she sits on my lap.
If that’s where you’d like to get married.
And flowers, lots of flowers.
Sure, flowers too.
You’re not going to really do it though, are you.
That’s what I came here for. I have to do it.
I was talking about marrying me, Jamie.
Sure I will. That whole time I was locked up I was only thinking about them two things, marrying you and killing him.
But you’ll just go right back to jail. That’s what you want, isn’t it? To go back for another five years, only this time it would be forever.
I ain’t going back, never will.
Promise me you won’t never leave me again.
No one can promise something like that, babe.
Promise me, she says.
Promises only lead to someone getting upset.
She stands and pulls off her shirt and looks through the drawers for something clean to wear out.
What about that place that does karaoke? she says. I want to sing.
We can go there.
Are you really going to kill him, Jamie?
Sure I am.
. . . . .
I sit outside of Miller’s Pub and drink a bottle of cold beer as Alannah stands at the bar talking to a woman with bleached hair and a tattooed guy hanging close by her shoulder. Alannah used to be a hairdresser so she thinks that gives her the right to talk to anyone and ask them all sorts of gossip. Sometimes it does.
I sit and think about the last time I saw Henry Baxter. Almost five years now. He’d come and seen me when I was locked up, just to laugh at me really. He was going with my sister then and had beat on her pretty good one night. There had been plenty of nights before that, plenty of other fellas she’d gone with who all did the same, but Henry was the worst of them. Has this look in his eyes that is just as hollow as the devil hisself. First time I ever saw him in town, something in me knew I’d kill him one day. That’s the only reason I got locked up the first time. When the law found me sitting in my car outside Henry’s place and asked me what I was planning to do with the gun on my lap, I told them, just like I told everyone else. Said, I’m going to kill him. I’d been planning on killing him for some time, and today is the day.
Inside, Alannah tosses her head back as she does a shot with the woman and her tattooed boyfriend and the bartender. I watch them through the window and bum a smoke from this lady sitting on a bench by the door outside with me. A car pulls up to the curb and a guy gets out, starts unloading speakers and a laptop and a case full of microphones. They do karaoke here on Fridays and every drunk in a five-mile radius comes out and they butcher all the songs we hold dear. But not Alannah. She has the voice of an angel, plays guitar and piano some. She’d always dreamed of becoming a real singer. Playing shows and having her pretty face on the cover of an album. She could do it too. Could have, anyway. But I guess I took that away from her too. Same day I told her I was going to marry her and took her away from home.
She always said that as soon as she saved up enough money she was going to move to Nashville. After that, it would be just a matter of time before she became a star. Before she got “discovered.” There were only two ways out of Jackson County where she grew up: leaving and never looking back, or dying. And dying’s a whole lot easier than leaving, she said, seemed to be what most folks did anyway. She said that part of why she loves to sing is because she doesn’t have to think about living all that much, she doesn’t have to think about her momma or the sisters I made her leave, doesn’t have to think about me. She always had songs to escape to. She said her daddy always knew she’d become a real singer. Just before he took off on Alannah and her family to move across the country, he told her that he’d always listen to the radio so that he would hear her voice one day. I think Alannah still imagines him sitting in his house somewhere in Santa Fe browsing all the country stations for his little girl.
You singing tonight? the lady says to me.
Not much of a performer, I say.
Hell, if that was the requirement, this shit wouldn’t ever happen. I wouldn’t mind that one bit. She lets out a rasping laugh, one that makes my eyes water. I want to tell her to go ahead and cough up whatever shit is in her.
What about you? I say.
No, I can’t sing. I’m fighting a sore throat and going through a divorce.
All right then, I say.
He was a real bastard, but he loved me, that was for sure.
Not sure those can go together, I tell her.
Sure they can, she says. He loved me so much it was killing him. He would get all worked up about it and start drinking and telling me how much he loved me. That’s when he’d get mean. One time he dragged me around the living room by my hair and just kept saying, I love you, you bitch, I love you, don’t you see! And he was shouting and all the rest. That’s the sort of man he was, the bastard. He started coming home saying that one day soon he was just going to kill the both of us so we would die at the same time, like in Romeo and Juliet.
Romeo and Juliet?
He was a romantic, she says talking slowly with each syllable. But when he started not sleeping and just staying up to watch me sleep, I got a little creeped out.
I can understand that.
But that’s love, that’s what that is.
I don’t see how.
It’s something a little different. Darker, maybe, but still love, she says. Thinking this one person is the only reason you’re alive, that they give your life salvation, they give it light, well that’s enough reason to keep on living.
She stands up and walks back inside and I look through the windows at the guy setting up the stage.
I wonder if that’s what I’m doing to Alannah. Killing her because I have no other path but her.
I watch as she takes the stage first and a Fleetwood Mac song plays and she lets her voice ring out. She sings great but she’d never make it in Nashville. She wouldn’t make it anywhere, I tell myself. She can’t see it but I can. She knows we’re not going there, least I hope she does. I just couldn’t put her in that position, building up her hopes and all. Because I can’t do what I’d planned to do by myself. She could be a star, could bring people real joy with a voice like she’s got. Only no one will ever hear it. Not the crowds in Nashville, not her old man sitting on his couch somewhere out in Santa Fe, not after I do what I came to do. They’ll all have to just forgive me for that.
. . . . .
It’s late when we get back to the hotel room and Alannah is a little drunk and she won’t look at me. The revolver pokes in my pocket and I take it out and set it on the desk near the window. She’s on the bed with her legs crossed and her head tapping against the dirty wall behind her. She stares straight ahead and I pour us some left over wine and she takes a drink. My hands won’t quit shaking and I hide them from her in my pockets, walking into the bathroom. I run cold water and hold my hands under the faucet and look at myself. I look different somehow, a little meaner, not dead but closer to dying.
I can hear her cracking pistachios with her teeth and I walk out and sit at the chair by the window.
You didn’t have to do it, she says.
It’s all over now, I say. No use talking about it.
I can still hear the sound of her crying from the car. Can see Henry Baxter’s hands reaching out to shake mine and that’s when I gave him three to the chest. He seemed both glad and frightened to see me. I had a brief thought of getting back in the car and forgetting about Henry and the gun, about taking Alannah to Nashville and finding a church.
It’s over now, he’s dead. We can go anywhere we want now, I tell her.
I want to go home, she says.
We can’t go home, babe.
What about the mountains?
We can go to the mountains.
We can find a little church and get married.
We can find a church, babe.
And we can fall in love all over again?
We are in love, I tell her.
How can you go and do something like that and say you love me? She won’t look at me and cracks shells with her teeth and turns on the television.
I love you more than you know, babe. I love you so much it kills me sometimes.
I just want to go home now, Jamie. Back to my momma’s house. I just want to go back and live like we used to live.
No, you can’t leave, we’re here now. We’re free to go anywhere. Anywhere babe. Where do you want to go?
She doesn’t say anything and drinks her wine. I reach for a cigarette and my hand brushes against the gun on the desk. I drag a smoke from the pack and pick up the revolver and hold it up to my temple. She looks over and I blow air out of my mouth, pantomime pulling the trigger and she smiles.
We can go anywhere? she says.
Anywhere, I say.
She smiles and cracks a shell with her teeth and crosses her eyes making a face at me. I light my smoke and she gets up and walks over to me, kisses me on my forehead. She goes to the bathroom and runs the shower and pulls off her clothes, leaving a pile on the floor. She closes the bathroom door and locks it behind her. The shower curtain rings scream against the metal rod and I can hear her crying under the hot water. She starts singing to herself and I sit and smoke and listen to her sweet voice. I listen and know no one else will ever get to hear it, not her daddy, not Henry Baxter. Only me. She cries and sings and I wonder if she will ever forgive me.