The May Editor's Pick is Ardath Mayhar
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AUTHOR’S NOTE: I consider this a horror story to make the blood run cold, for this was the attitude among too many East Texans when I was young. Not only that, but in this day of supposed enlightenment it still can be found among those who treasure their ignorance and their prejudices.
First published in “Stories to be Read With the Lights On” Hitchcock anthology, 1973
It’s chill, down there in the river, I reckon. She don’t know, though. Can’t know. Them big innocent brown eyes are starin’ away down there, unless the crawfish…. God, I wish I didn’t know nothin’ about crawfish.
She’s got this soft white skin, like to a baby rabbit or some baby animal, sort of. It shined even through the muddy old river water. I could see her, shinin’ and shinin’ as she sank. Her hair moved all out loose on the water, dark and curling in the moonlight. It kept moving in the water, all the way down….them crawfish….
Must have been born that way. She was just fourteen when I hitched up with her, and hadn’t had time to learn nothing about men, then. Just naturally bad, flirting when we went into town, smiling at them tellers in the bank, in their white shirts and city suits. Looking with eyes of lust and fornication at them. First time, when I got her home, I beat the living daylights outen her.
Way she cried and took on, you’d of reckoned she was crazy. Her Pa never had no gumption with his womenfolks. Let ’em have their own way clear to ruination, seems like. His woman even had money to spend, when she felt like it. So I guess Mattie wasn’t all the way to blame for her sinful ways.
Still, beating didn’t do no good – not to last. She’d go round with her head down and her eyes on the ground like is fitten, for a while. Then she’d see something, maybe just a flower or a bird or some such sinful uselessness. All that decency would be gone in a minute, and she’d be laughin’ to herself. And when she laughed, any man would be starin’ at her like they knowed her already.
Next day, Miz Rogers down the road met me at the end of the row and asked me, real sly like, who’d been visitin’ Mattie yesterday. Seemed like I got hot all over – it just seemed to rise up from my feet clean to my head, and I was so mad I could of busted. Miz Rogers, she looked at me kind of scared-like and took off afore I could answer.
I slapped all her lies back into her teeth. She was gabblin’ about flat tires and women with thirsty children, but she quit that, soon enough. She wasn’t so all-fired pretty after I got through with her. Her nose as all lop-sided and her eyes was so swoke you couldn’t see what color thtat was. I figured, Hell, I might as well of married a homely woman, iffen I was goin’ to have to keep mine all bunged up to keep the men away from her.
Next day I went down to see Pa. Didn’t let on what was goin’ on, but Pa. He’s read the Bible and helled around some, so he guessed pretty close. He told me he knowed of some land that was for rent, down close to the river. Said iffen I wanted, he could find somebody to take over my place and finish my crop It was still early in the spring, so’s I had to make a crop down there in the wetlands.
So we moved. There was a fair cabin on the place. Not fancy.… she started sayin’ something about havin’ to carry water so far, but I just had to look at her mean, by then, and she shut right up. I broke a garden patch, and she put in a nice garden, but seemed as if she didn’t care iffen it growed or not. She didn’t put in no more flowers round the front, neither, so’s I knowed she ‘d done it t’other place just so she could bend over and show her legs to the men on the road. She didn’t fix up the cabin none, neither. Just went around like she was listenin’ to somthin’ inside her head. Her Maw come, a time or two, but I didn’t care about havin’ her come round givin’ Mattie fancy notions, so I got ride of her quick as I could.
Got so I hated to come in, after fishin’ work. I’d stay out till dark, near, or go night- fishin’ with the niggers down the river. She kind of looked at me like I was somethin’ scary. Give me funny feelings, the way she looked at me.
No sir, when I took her where she couldn’t go smilin’ at the men and flirtin’ all over town on Saturday, she kind of dried up. Never even tried to talk to me no more. I might even of let her, so’s to liven up the quiet come, but she kept her lips tight shut over her broke tooth and let the mosquitoes buzz.
Her eyes got queerer and queerer. They was big to start with, but it got so that they was deep as the pool down at the river and just as full of strange things. I’d go in at night and she’d watch me, starin’ and starin’ like I was a bug or a snake. She was crazy, I tell you.
While I was eatin’ supper. She was standin’ by the wash pan, waitin’ for the dishes. All of a sudden, she turned round with the meat knife in her hand and started for me. Iffen I hadn’t of looked up, she’d of killed me where I set. Seems like, when she done that, everything just come together, like. I took her round the neck and shut my hands tight, and when I opened ‘em up she was dead.
My folks has always been mighty proud and upstandin’ people, round here. And Pa, why it’d kill Pa iffen they hung me over a woman. So I took her through the woods, down t the river.
I could hear the snakes slidin’ off in font of me while I carried her down the path. The gators was bellowin’, and the moon was comin’ up full. It was right hard, getting’ her down the bank to the deep water. She was right smart tall, If she was so slim. I got her down, though, and tied on some weights offen the nets we’d been settin’ that day. They wasn’t too heavy, but nobody never come there, no way. So I put her down in the water, and she sank, slow, and the moon made her go down shinin’ and shinin’, real soft, like a dream.
Wasn’t till the next day I started thinkin’ about them crawfish. Iffen you never seen a body that’s been et by crawfish, you don’t want to. It’s a sight to turn a goat’s stomach, let alone a man’s. I kept thinkin’ abut her, down there with them things eatin’ out her eyes, nibblin’ on that soft skin. Seems like I couldn’t rightly stand it. For two days I held myself down. I took out and went with the niggers down the river and never come back till the morning of the third day. This morning – seems like forever.
Something drug me down there to the big pool. It’s like I couldn’t help myself at all. And when I got there, I couldn’t see nothin’. I would of thought she’d of rizen some by then. Seems like I had to see what they’d done t o her, though. Thinkin’ was a lot worse than knowin’. I took a sweet-gum sapling and started dredgin’ around in the deep water, wadin’ out far as I could. I didn’t want to, couldn’t hardly stand it, but something made me keep pokin’ and feelin’ around with that pole, till it caught her.
Must’ve been caught on a snag or something, cause when the pole hooked her, up she come, slow and easy, just like she gone down. And I throwed up in the water until my insides like to of come out my mouth. Then I had to go and git rocks and rope and sink her good, so’s I couldn’t never see what they’d done to her, never no more.
I guess I must’ve went off my head, like. I come to wanderin’ round in the woods, all black and blue from bupin’ into things. I went back to the house, but it stared at me outen its windows till I couldn’t even go nigh it.
Then I went up to Pa’s. Course, I didn’t tell him nothin’ about what had happened, but I could see him wonderin’. He loaned me a clean pair of khakis and five dollars, and I come on into town. Seems like I had to see people, be away from them woods.
So I went with him. Guess he didn’t get much of that jug. I must’ve drunk most of it. Next thing I remember, Will was lookin’ at me with his eyes bugged out and his face fish-belly white.
And now I'm locked up in here, and they’re all down there, right now, fixin’ to drag her out. And you’re lookin’ at me like I was the one that was crazy and sinful. And they’re goin’ to see what I seen when she come up.
Damn them crawfish!
Ardath Mayhar was born a poet, writing verse as soon as she could hold a pencil. Not until she neared the age of forty did she begin writing novels, which a this point number over sixty, most of them now being reprinted by Borgo Press, an imprint of Wildside Press. Ardath writes in a true Southern Style with an East Texas slant.
Just turned eighty-one in February, she lives alone in the woods of East Texas, supervised by six cats and an array of opossums, raccoons, coyotes, and other wild creatures.
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