SmokeLong Quarterly

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Love and Murder

Story by Rusty Barnes (Read author interview) December 15, 2004

Katherine waited as Gallow puttered with the tackle box in the bed of the truck. He always took so long about things. She heard a vague noise, some music, start up from one of the nicer picnic grounds on the hill above them, but she didn’t listen to music anymore other than what Gallow played on his guitar. It was one of the prices you paid for marriage, losing part of yourself, your music. She’d noticed this, and other things, as soon as she started in with Brady Bragg.

“I brought along some stuff to keep you company.” Gallow wagged a newly burned CD at her, then thrust it into the truck’s player. It took a moment to reach her, a crawling and skittery rockabilly riff that the truck’s sound system rattled all the way across the water. Someone would be calling the park rangers in about it, no doubt, but they would be on the lake already. The rangers would just reach into the truck and turn it off. She watched Gallow in his cutoff jeans as he lumbered down the boat ramp and into the hip-high water. She held the boat with an oar to the bottom against the slight current. “Shit. You didn’t have to let it drift so far,” Gallow said. He got in smoothly, but the boat dipped under his weight, became unsteady.

“I didn’t. The boat’s right where you told me to keep it. It just moved a little.” She planted the oar more firmly. Brady was somewhere here too, she knew. They’d planned it loosely, that Gallow would get preoccupied with fishing, that she would get hot, feel faint, and have to go back in, where Brady would be waiting. Already she could almost feel Brady watching her from somewhere in the pines along the shore, wondering how much longer it would be before she’d force Gallow to take her back in, and that knowledge was a cold thing she kept in her heart for when she would need it.

Gallow pulled at the oars and took them to the far side of the lake, into the shade where he said the bass were. Katherine didn’t know if that was true or not—how could he know where the fish were?—but she knew the sun on his bulky shoulders had to be punishing him, so shade made sense. While she felt badly for him, it didn’t seem to matter that within a half hour or so, she would be messing with Brady Bragg somewhere in those cooler woods. She and Gallow had been through it all, the permutations of what will you do for me, why can’t you do this, will you change this, this isn’t how it’s supposed to be, and they seemed to agree to this uneasy equilibrium in which he would ask no questions of her and in return she would go on taking care of Ricky and Meurine and Josette. She periodically opened her legs and let him fumble between them in his well-meaning way. She pretended to smile when he wrote love songs for her on that long beaten-up guitar. But Gallow’s love for her now was a virus she hoped she wouldn’t catch and return, the way common illnesses like colds and love spread.

Gallow shipped the oars and let the boat drift, waves lapping at the sides now in a parody of tranquility, and all she could think of was Brady rocking into her as he pinned her hands over her head. Gallow picked his pole up and grinned at her, cast his line into the water and waited for a bite. Gallow would never pin her, imply violence in any way—he was too kind by far—and it had been something she immediately felt as a need that might be difficult to express to him, though in his way, he might have tried for her, which would have made the point moot, the fantasy unreal. Nor did she want to explain this to Gallow, so it made a sort of futile, tiring sense that the thing she might feel most comfortable getting from someone she trusted, she got from someone she was unsure of. Maybe that was part of the thrill too. Not only was it an affair, this thing with Brady, Katherine told herself, it was passionate and maybe violent, like waves crashing or something, like a romance novel, except real.

She reached a decision quickly, stood and dove into the water, into the cool depths to the limit of her lungs, then arched her body like a boomerang and shot herself back toward the air, where she broke the surface to Gallow swearing. “Kate,” he said. “I mean, what the fuck?”

“I’m hot. This fucking trip was your idea.” She moved her hair from her eyes while treading water.

“I wanted to spend time with you.”

“Fish, Gallow. Go catch something, anything. I’m going in to take a nap now that I’m cooled off.” Katherine started the swim to the shore in a quick crawl, not waiting to hear what he said, nor caring. When she reached the shore and sloshed her way up the boat ramp, picking at her clinging shorts, Brady was already there at the truck, waiting for her. She looked back quickly over her shoulder, where Gallow, as always, would do what she’d told him to—let her cool out, he would think—and fish, mull over whatever it was he could imagine he had done to deserve this. He was a pale dot now on the larger green of the lake, casting toward the shore over and over, as if his line wouldn’t play.

“Mmmm,” Brady said, as he reached into Gallow’s truck and turned off the music. He put his face between her breasts and licked. “Cocoa butter and fish-shit. Fucking A.”

“Brady. Don’t talk.” Katherine took him by the hands, walked to the back of the truck and helped him in, bringing him to her. She could hear the tick of the steel in the truck bed, and as she lay there with Brady she imagined Gallow coming back to discover them; it would be a murder, maybe, as if in a movie, the crunch of footsteps in the gravel, the adrenal rush. She imagined all the gory details even as Brady pinned her wrists to the spare tire and pushed into her; she closed her eyes against the thoughts, shifted under him, a bolt pushing into her lower back. Brady grunted, whispered something guttural into her ear, and against her will she thought of Gallow fishing now in the middle of the lake, all that dark green water around him, and of the sound love might make if it were like the water pushing against the boat, ceaseless, forever.

About the Author

Rusty Barnes co-founded and oversees Night Train, a twice-yearly fiction journal.

About the Artist

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison’s work here.

This story appeared in Issue Seven of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seven

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