by Sandra Seamans
Widmore Cemetery. I can feel the chilling thoughts of the dead creeping out of their graves and into the frigid air of a full moon midnight. You know the kind of night -- frost on the pumpkins, cold shimmering off granite headstones and ice in the blood.
While I was being released from prison this afternoon, they buried my childhood friend, Arnie Tate, somewhere in all this bleakness. Missing the funeral services didn’t bother me none. Arnie killed our friendship years ago.
I've managed to hang onto a few good memories. Me and Arnie riding our bikes out to Skidder's Pond, skinny dipping with the Anderson twins, sampling our first taste of a girl's body. Those were the growing up days. Days full of sunshine and wonderment. Good memories that I pushed aside to nurse the bruise of memories Arnie smashed into my skull. Arnie, my friend, whose appetite for sampling shredded my life.
For twenty years, I fondled those fetid memories, savoring the hatred knocking about in my brain. Prison years, spent honing my revenge on those Polaroid moments of my wife, in bed with my best friend. Arnie, screaming "sorry" as I shouldered the shotgun. Arnie, tripping as he tried to pull on his jeans. Arnie, running out of the house as I pulled the trigger. Arnie, leaving me alone to watch Cora Sue’s blood splatter across the soiled sheets.
Never once during my trial did I point a finger in Arnie's direction. My silence convicting me. What else could I do? Arnie was married to my kid sister, Emmy. I couldn't destroy Arnie without killing my sister’s happiness. Family is all the truth a man can count on in this world. Family is what roots a man, gives him hope, keeps him steady when he’s facing the storms of life.
Arnie never understood that the only reason he wasn't dead, was Emmy. I couldn't believe it when he came traipsing up to the prison, trying to beg my forgiveness. Telling me, he'd found Jesus. Jesus. Hell, every convict in a prison cell finds Jesus. He's the patron saint of parole board hearings. I held my temper, something prison life has taught me well, along with patience. I told Arnie that if he'd really found Jesus, he ought to be begging Emmy's forgiveness, not mine.
Arnie's grave ain't hard to find. The glare of the moonlight shining the way to a pile of hard scrabble dirt hidden by a crazy quilt of wilted florist's flowers. I ain't the only one who's come out for a midnight stroll in this cold bit of hell. Emmy's here, waiting for me, knowing I’d come when no one else was around. I wrap her in my arms, trying to warm us both.
“What Arnie did was wrong, Jesse,” said Emmy, breaking the silence that hung between us.
“You think I don’t know that?”
“You should have told me.”
“Yeah, right, Emmy. You were pregnant with Billy. Was I supposed to risk your baby just to even things up with Arnie?”
“No, I guess not. You know, I put up with Arnie’s skirting around for twenty years, Jesse. Him bedding every woman in the county, me forgiving him. When he got down on his knees and confessed that he'd slept with Cora Sue, well, I just couldn’t find it in me to forgive him anymore.”
“I guess it’s good he’s dead then.”
“I suppose so. I do find it comforting though, that Arnie found Jesus before he won that hunting trip. At least God could forgive him, even if we couldn’t," said Emmy. "Do you remember your friend, Carl, the prison guard who almost got killed in the prison riot? He came to the funeral today. Such a kind man, paying to have Arnie’s body shipped home. I tried to thank him, but he just shrugged it off. Said he owed you one, for saving his life."
Emmy took my hand as we walked toward the cemetery gate. “Don’t you find it strange that a friend of yours owned the hunting lodge where Arnie was killed?”
“Life’s pretty strange, all on its own, without trying to make sense of how the pieces fall together. There's just no way of knowing up front, how the twists in your life are gonna play out.”
BIO: Sandra's stories can be found in "The Ex Factor Anthology", Mouth Full of Bullets, and Crime and Suspense.