It was the first day of summer when we burned Daddy’s body. I know because I looked at the calendar in the pantry right before doin it. I wanted to remember the day. We decided to burn him because we knew diggin a hole would take too goddamn long and he sure as hell wasn’t ever fit for a proper grave in the first place, and we knew the County would come lookin for a buried body anyhow. We could reason away the suspiciousness of a fire pit still smokin by the time they’d show up. We always had something burnin in the pit, but a fresh grave is hard to hide. I reckon we could’ve cut him up into pieces and fed him to the pigs, but that seemed awfully gruesome, and Lord knows how long it’d have taken us. Daddy was a fat man.
Burnin seemed the right combination of easy and thorough, and to be quite damn honest, I didn’t want to have to look at his sorry-ass corpse any longer than I had to. There was no need for a drawn out ritual, I wasn’t emotional about it. He just needed to be gone, and fast. Jim was comin home soon, maybe the next day.
“Push him into the pit, turn your back, and let him burn.” That’s what I told myself as I was doin my damndest to carry his fat ass across the back yard by his feet. Ellie had him by the neck and head, but she was walkin with her eyes closed and stumblin around. I did most of the draggin. She was always a bit of a wisp, couldn’t chop firewood like me or Jim, hell she could barely carry a feed bag and I’d shoulder two at a time. Weren’t her fault though. She bore the brunt of their attention. They were bold by the time she was born, nobody paid any damn mind anyhow. They never made her help with the farm stuff. At first I was jealous. Eventually I realized how much luckier I was to be doin the chores. Every minute workin was a minute not in the house.
Anyhow we got his fat body over to the fire pit and just kinda tossed him in. He rolled a couple times and stopped pretty well on top of coals. I threw a bunch more wood in there and walked away. Turns out it takes a little longer than you might expect for a body to burn enough to break up into pieces like burnt wood. When I finally walked back to the pit, I could still see the figure of a corpse, and I could smell the burning fat. I threw more wood on. I made a whiskey bomb out of one of Daddy’s moonshine jars and threw it on as well, trying to hit the body directly, hoping for a flare up that’d get rid of his sorry ass a little faster. I drank about half of another jar and got real sick right there by the pit. I was drunker than hell but weren’t nothin blurry, I remember every goddamn minute. I was pissed I let myself drink too much, cursin Daddy for makin me sick again, probably not for the last time. Even in death, even now, he still hurts me.
I fell asleep by the pit for a few minutes or more I guess, all I know is when I woke up, he was still there, burnin, but lookin less like a body.
When I came upstairs, Ellie was in their bedroom. Couldn’t tell you why she’d decide to go in there, honestly. Don’t make no sense. But there she was, sittin on a wooden chair from the kitchen. Mama’s body sat there propped up in the bed where she had been readin when she slipped away, and Ellie was sittin with her back turned to Mama, prayin in a whisper. She was always faithful. I never understood that, but I let her hang on to it. I knew the truth. If there was a God, he’d forsaken us before we’d ever been born. We were doomed kids, the unlucky forgotten trailer trash of Gilmer County, predestined to live in hell on earth with no hope for deliverance or redemption.
I let Ellie finish her prayer and then gave her an easy job to do while I took care of Mama, told her to get rid of the poison in the creek, and she obliged. I couldn’t get a read on her. She should have been relieved, but she was still as timid as ever. I guess I couldn’t blame her, but I wanted to shake her. I wanted her to wake the fuck up and buck up and move a little faster because Jim was comin home soon and we had to make this right and right then. And we were finally free! If we could just be careful and thorough, we’d be free of the hell we’d been born into, or at least free to make our own version of hell to live in with the choices we made, and we could only have done that one way. For years, every goddamn one of us in that house knew that with all that hurt, eventually someone was going to die. I always expected it’d be me first, when I finally got the guts to kill myself. I never could though. I guess I coudn’t leave Ellie behind, even with Jim around. She’d need another girl to help her with things eventually. Mama weren’t ever goin to be any kind of a decent mother, that’s for damn sure.
Daddy’s shotgun was already loaded, all I had to do was stand in the doorway and fire once. Mama’s body shifted towards the nightstand a little but she stayed mostly upright, it actually looked pretty natural. I left the shotgun there on the floor. By the time Ellie came back, I’d moved the chair back to the kitchen, and then we left with nothing. We went about three miles into the woods to the spot I’d scouted and stayed there, waiting.
By the time the County found us, we’d stayed there in the woods in the same spot for nearly four days and were ragged, starving, and thirsty to death. We were also sure as hell traumatized, even if for a different reason than they believed, and so it weren’t hard to play the part they expected.
We became news for a time.
Everything pretty much happened as planned. Jim came home and found Mama and called the County, who eventually assumed that Daddy killed her and ran off, a fugitive. They were suspicious of the fire pit at first and asked Jim about it, he said they grilled him for a long time as if he had something to do with it, but he just told them what I knew he would, that we always had the burn pit goin and there was no reason why it wouldn’t have been goin the whole time he was away in Franklin. He had been away to meet with a few banks about another loan for equipment repairs. I think he ended up getting turned down by every damn one, but I can’t remember, we stopped carin about the farm after that first day of summer.
A bunch of reporters came to talk to us over the next few months. I talked to a lot of them at first, tryin not to look too suspicious, but eventually I got sick of their greedy fake pity. I was a story to them, and they made off well while I was still in hell. Ellie never said much to anyone, letting me speak for her, but she sat next to me during each interview and for the photographs. We never smiled, we only ever acted appropriately sad about our poor poor mother, murdered by our fat alcoholic father, leaving us alone with our brother to face the music and sign the papers and clean up the mess.
It’s a hell of a thing gettin rid of your tormentors only to have to say nice, mournful bullshit about them for months afterwards. Daddy was a tortured man. He had an addiction. Mama was a sweet lady but she never trusted him. She hounded him. He hated her. They fought about booze and money. No, he never hurt us. Not us. No, never.
Once we stopped giving interviews, we faded from the public spotlight almost as quickly as we were shoved in it. I weren’t particularly surprised though. Nobody much cares about poor trailer trash orphans on a shit farm that don’t make no money. Fine with me, I was tired of the questions and tired in general, and I just wanted to sleep for once without havin to be on guard.
Shortly after, Jim said Ellie and me could have the farm, which was a fine joke since we couldn’t afford the bank payments anyway. We sold most anything of value and paid a few more months after he took off, but eventually the bank came and we left.
The County didn’t spend much time lookin for Daddy, everyone knew he was a deadbeat drunk and there isn’t exactly a public outcry when it comes to deadbeat drunks who disappear. As far as everyone else in Gilmer County was concerned, he was gone and that was good enough. Jim kept lookin for him though. I heard from him a few times the first year he was gone, he’d send postcards to our old PO box, which the County let us keep without payment on account of pity I guess. Eventually I didn’t hear from him at all, didn’t know where he was, and figured he didn’t want us to know. We were broken. What can family do to help when you grow up in a family like ours?
When Jim found me last month, he’d been searchin for Daddy for goin on seven years. He looked like shit. His eyes were wild. I could see it before he even got close to me, I recognized it. I was workin on a farm as a hand with a bunch of men, sleepin with one eye open again but for the most part doin okay and savin a few dollars. It was late afternoon when he showed up, almost the end of my day. He walked right up to me in the middle of the goddamn field and gave me a hug. He said he loved me. I told him I loved him too and he started crying. He said he never found Daddy, he said he tried. He said all he wanted to do was find Daddy and kill him, but he couldn’t find him. And I told him it was okay. And then he shot me.
When I came to, I was in the farmhouse gettin the bullet removed as best as possible. Jim was already in lockup in that cell right there, one of the other farmhands clipped him right after he shot me I guess, and called the law right after the doctor. The doctor told me I asked for Ellie first thing, but he didn’t know who she was or where to find her. Truth was, I didn’t either.
Ellie did show up though. She heard what happened and I guess felt it was time to make peace with one or both of us if possible. She came to see me first, and we came down here together to talk to Jim. Jim didn’t say anything to me for the longest time, only talking to Ellie politely about what she’d been up to (nothing) and how she’d been (fine). I didn’t say anything. Finally, he looked at me. I guess he couldn’t take it anymore, and he was ready to face me, alive, against his most well laid plans, to confess that he hated me. He told me he knew what happened. He told me he guessed what I had done to Mama and Daddy a couple years back but denied it until he couldn’t anymore. He told me I’d burn in hell for what I did to Mama and Daddy and what I did to Poor Ellie, leaving her orphaned. He told me he knew I shot Mama and pushed Daddy into the fire pit. He told me he knew I tricked Ellie into keeping my secret and that I was why she was so fucked up and quiet and scared all the time. He said I was an evil bitch that deserved to die.
That was the first time I’d ever heard Ellie speak without fear. Timid, small, Baby Ellie, the easy prey, the ultimate target. The prayerful, faithful little girl who couldn’t look as she helped her big sister carry her Daddy’s corpse to the fire pit. She stood up and stared down at Jimmy and told him to shut the hell up. He was surprised, by God. I guess he wasn’t expecting her to do much more than cower at my side as she’d always done. He looked up at her with his wild damn eyes, even bigger than at the moment he shot me, and just stared at her as she spoke.
“Mama was an evil bitch,” she said. I’ll never forget it, her saying it out loud.
“She was twisted and bitter and she deserved to die for what she did and for what she let Daddy do. And Daddy was a sick motherfucker, and you know it. He was the goddamned Devil,” she said. “If he died a hundred times it still wouldn’t pay us back for what he did. He killed us a long time ago.”
She told him every gory detail, most of it he knew already but always refused to believe, and by the time she was finished, he was no longer lookin up at her, just down at the table. I guess he felt ashamed, I don’t know. But as I was sitting there, watching Ellie finally say out loud what she’d kept inside her whole life, and watching Jimmy come to terms with the situation he’d lived alongside for so long, I think they both made some kind of strange damn peace at that moment. I think they found closure and were ready to move on.
Ellie didn’t really say anything specific about our crime to Jimmy on that visit. She told him about all the hell we went through and let Jimmy keep on thinkin what he was thinkin but she never really confirmed or denied what Jimmy accused me of, so Jimmy died last week never knowin that he got some of the details wrong.
We killed Daddy and Mama with poison first, the night before the first day of summer. It was easy enough. We waited until late that night around Mama’s bedtime. Mama’s in her warm milk and Daddy’s in anything with alcohol in it, we knew he’d get to it that night sooner or later. After they’d both slipped, we carried him to the fire, and then I made it look like he shot Mama and took off. But anyhow, they were both well dead before the fire and the gunshot.
When Ellie and I went our separate ways a few years ago, we were already both drunks ourselves. I’ve found that drinkin is really a decent way of copin when there’s hardly anyone else around to hurt but yourself. It’s when you got family and friends that drinkin gets to be irresponsible, admittedly, but there’s no harm in quietin the demons when you got nobody but yourself to fuck up. Me and Ellie had each other at first, but we were both so goddamn broken that we weren’t equipped to help each other any more than we could help ourselves. It was only natural we’d eventually split up and do whatever came easiest. For me, that was workin and drinkin. For Ellie, it was just drinkin and doin not much else I suppose.
I guess once she’d said what she needed to to Jim, she was fine with movin on, and y’all know how that turned out. She musta been a hell of a drinker toward the end too, almost the whole bottle was gone by the time she’d passed out, from the exhaust fumes and not the booze no doubt. She could hold her liquor, by God.
Then Jimmy hung himself right there in that cell two days later, right under y’all’s dumbass supervision, before we could even get a damn funeral together for Ellie. I don’t know if he even knew about Ellie or not, I’m sure one of y’all told him, couldn’t help yourselves, but he’d have done it anyway. You could tell he was fully broken too by the time Ellie was finally free.
In case you’re wonderin, I ended up crematin’ both Ellie and Jimmy too, but the right way, and I spread their ashes in the creek that runs by our old farm. I figured it would take a hell of a long time to worry about diggin holes, and besides who’d be comin to visit anyway? All they got left is me, and now here I am.
I could’ve gone on and let this all pass, but I felt like I owed it to my brother and sister to tell the truth. I don’t know why really. I don’t believe in God or Heaven or Hell or any sort of peace that they’ll find in death. Our Hell was here on Earth. We escaped it, or at least I thought we did. Now that I am the only one left, I see now that we really were doomed, that there is no escape for me. We were always the Unlucky Forgotten Trailer Trash of Gilmer County, and that’s what we stayed even after Mama and Daddy were gone. Broken, and impossible to fix.
I’m sorry about a lot of things, not about Mama and Daddy bein dead, shit no I’m not sorry about that. But about draggin Ellie into the thick of it, for sure. I’m sure as hell sorry I drove Jim wild. I’m sorry I let All That Awful Shit happen as long as it did, that I didn’t buck up and take care of business on my own sooner and maybe spared Jimmy and Ellie a life of torment. Maybe. I don’t know.
I’m sorry we never found peace.
There may be no peace in death either, I mean I’m pretty damn sure there ain’t. Otherwise I’d have probably killed myself too. But I guess maybe I do pray to a God I don’t honestly believe in that my brother and sister, and maybe me too, eventually, will find some peace and remembrance in the truth.
And so I confess.
Now what happens?