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Queen of Swords: a novel

Chapter VII – The Fool

Safely accepted for jury duty, I felt free to become…myself. How ecstatic are my beauty routines! I make love to myself with every unguent, every potion. No medieval knight encased in chain mail could feel as protected as I do, standing naked in front of the full length mirror with a paintbrush in my hand. I am I own greatest creation. I celebrate myself.

Every time I make myself beautiful, I am spitting on my stepfather’s grave. My stepfather, whose first gift to me was a spiral fracture of the arm when I was seven, was a skinny, worthless loser despised by the universe as well as by yours truly. I was eleven when he told me it was his duty to teach me about sex. He said that was what stepfathers were for. Don’t tell me my mother didn’t know what was going on; her cooperation (or at least her silence, she was too fat for cooperation) could always be ensured by a carton of Little Debbies.

Weirdly, he never wanted me to look beautiful, or even attractive. I suppose he feared I’d grow up and leave him. When my girlfriends and I streaked our hair one sleepover, he acted as if I had set the house on fire. Luckily it was the innocent kind that washes out; otherwise I think he really would have shaved my head.

I remember exactly how scared I felt the first time I decided to ignore my stepfather’s diktats about how I should look and dress. It was the kind of terror that makes you wet yourself; but what the enemy forgets is that can be the rocket fuel of rebellion. His own possessive rage became the engine of his death.

I recall my motivation, too; all those memories are crystal clear. Nothing that happened a week ago can retain that kind of power. It was my first day of high school, my first day among the Grown-Up People, and I wasn’t going in there looking like some Amish refugee. I knew I could make up my face and change my skirt at Deirdre’s house; her parents were never home. Contrary to what he tried to make me to believe, I knew in my heart my stepfather could not read minds, had no eyes in the back of his head, could not see through walls, did not have spies everywhere, was not connected to the Mafia and the CIA. He expected me to worship him. He apparently thought that if he could convince one poor slave that he was superman that would make him immortal.

But I discovered that what he didn’t know couldn’t hurt me. Makeup was not too radioactive a substance to keep me from shoplifting it – I built an impressive secret stash at Deirdre’s house. Deirdre’s parents didn’t care how much makeup she used or how trampy she looked. They wanted her gone and off the teat, and they welcomed the universal solution: transfer her grip to some poor guy.

In that year Saturn and Mars were equally fiery, it was dry and there had been a comet. According to Nostradamus such are times potent for revolution. In the first few weeks of school, Deirdre found her guy and I found mine. Paul. I have never forgotten him. I often wonder where he is and what he’s doing. To break the spell I try imagining him as a fat old businessman, but in the Eden of first love he will always represent manhood to me. You remind me of him.

I thought we would be happy ever after. I was too young to realize how expensive love can be. Dating I did not even aspire to: that would get my stepfather involved. All I wanted was someone else’s hand to take away the stain of his touch. It worked the very first time, and I could tell that, just as with any incantation, it would work better and better the more we practiced.

Paul had a car. This is probably the whole reason the sight of black leather so arouses me. Here in our time capsule we could be alone, and when I was alone with Paul, he was touching me, and I was touching him. Every caress added to the fund of courage I would need to kill the man who tried so hard to convince me of my imprisonment. Self-defense, your Honor.

I began by attempting to poison him with chokecherries, then yew berries. I would have tried deadly nightshade if I had known what it looked like, but our high school science teachers were beginning to look askance at all my questions. Mark Twain said, if the desire to kill and the opportunity to kill always came together, who among us would escape hanging?

Alas, he suffered no ill results. A horrible feeling crept over me that in some satanic way, these poisons were actually improving his health. He became more vigilant, and I noticed he was drinking less. Uh oh. But opposing him was beginning to become addictive for both of us. Our battles were escalating. I was as tall as he was now; he must have felt his fists and his penis were no longer sufficient to control me. One day he produced a gun. His idea was that we were now a threesome, little me, paralyzed with fear, and Superman with his two dicks. My idea was different.
He knew I was afraid of the cellar. He locked me down there as a punishment when I was little. I thought it was the mouth of hell; a dirt hole clawed beneath the bowels of the house that stank like a sewer. I never even passed the top step but clung to the doorknob, eye pressed to the light crack, wailing for release.

My expanding mind saw will as a muscle; you can train it just the way you train the body. I had transcended so many fears already; why couldn’t I outgrow this fear of confrontation? Previously I concentrated on making his death look like an accident; but what if he simply disappeared? He wasn’t employed, my mom was scared of him, nobody except his bar buddies would even notice he was missing. And they were way too fuzzyheaded to stage a meaningful inquiry. The only drawback I could see was that unlike poison, a gun guarantees your presence while he dies. I had to convince myself this was better, more immediate. Pop, pop, pop, you’re gone. I knew how to cock the pistol; I knew how to release the safety because I’d seen him do it countless times. If the cellar was dirty and stinky, and no one ever went down there, why couldn’t I bury him where nobody would ever look?

While my stepfather was out buying smokes I took a flashlight down to check it out. The wooden staircase rocked as if it would collapse, no problem, it had only to bear us up for two or three more times. Just as I had feared, there were bugs, centipedes and worms, but now I saw them as my friends. Let them eviscerate his corpse; if only they could chew the bones as well. The walls were rough stone, probably offering less support after all these years than the roots I saw sticking out between them. Then I saw the blessing of the Goddess. A wooden well cover, and I knew the time was now.

I was about six years old when the county forced us to go on public water and sewer. I recalled the furor as my stepfather raged against fluoridation and my mother pled abject poverty. Finally the town officials, after a desultory snoop into all our business or its lack, agreed to waive the co-pay.
And all this time that old well was down there. The water in the bottom reflected the flashlight as I leaned over. It was even set flush with the floor; what could be easier? I practiced moving the wooden cover; no problem. The only difficulty now was to get him down here with the gun.
No problemo. All I had to say was that there were rats down there; he was longing for something to shoot. At first he was a little suspicious, knowing how I avoided the place, but when I said I heard them scratching at the door, he was convinced.

He liked to be considered a man of surprises. I was surprised when he made me go down first, carrying the flashlight and a garbage bag. That meant I couldn’t push him from behind the way I’d planned. It also cut down on my time, because as I think I said before, the place was just a tiny hole.

But if he had surprises, I had ideas. The garbage bag gave me another one.
I’ve met people who believe that hauntings are triggered by scenes of desperate violence. If that is true, then that cellar is haunted forever by me in a red sweater, red kilt and matching tights and my stepfather wearing a garbage bag over his head, struggling with a gun. I had to drop the flashlight which shot its crazy, useless stream of light across the floor.

He was wiry and amazingly strong, but I had the gun two-handed and I would not have let it go if the world around me exploded into flames. I discovered in that moment the secret of power, which is that if you want something with your whole being, if you have not one cell of doubt, you are invincible. I had to stomp on his instep to loosen his grip, but the gun came to me pre-cocked. I shot him right through the bag. That gun kicked like a rattlesnake. I shot him again and again and again, and one of the bullets somehow came back to graze me in the face. Doesn’t bother me. I wear that tiny chip along my cheekbone as a badge of honor.

I hadn’t expected all the blood. I guess I thought the bag would somehow contain it, but the bullets tore through that bag like tissue paper. I rolled him to the well, tipped him in, threw the gun and what was left of the bag in after him. I put the wooden cover back on, and I fled up the stairs. I had to throw out all my clothes, even my bra and underpants. Put them right in the garbage. Then I took a hot bath, reveling in making it deeper than my stepfather ever approved of, hotter than he ever allowed, using so much bubble bath that if he had looked in the door he would have accused me of “playing with myself”. Well, he could never look at my body again. In my innocence, I thought it was all Paul’s now. I did not know the Queen has many courtiers.

My mother was cooking a double shift at the diner; she would be gone for hours. Once I redressed I looked around carefully, but there was nothing to see. A little dirt from the cellar was easily swept up, but I saw no blood. He probably went into the water with his truck keys in his pocket, but I knew where he hid his spare. I drove his truck to the bus stop and called Paul for a ride home. Ironically, that call marked the beginning of the end of Paul’s and my relationship; he never would believe my story about what I was doing there.

My mother never even reported him missing. She acted mad that he was gone, but she cashed his VA checks just the same. She must have realized something had happened to him when they told her the truck was in the impound, but instead of paying the fine she signed it over to the lot owner. She never mentioned it to me.

I walked out of that house a year later when I was sixteen years old, and I’ve never been back. Fled Louisiana for Texas where I even changed my name. Mom and I were not what you could call “close.”

Consulting the power of my second sight, I like to think my mom guaranteed herself a (short) retirement of unlimited Little Debbies by selling out to lake property developers, and when they uncovered the skeleton they weighed the opportunity to rename the property Skeletal Acres, rejected it, and sold the trophy to med students. I don’t feel the need to test the veracity of this vision, nor have I regretted what I did for one single second. My stepfather’s card is The Fool. He was a born victim. The universe constantly offers us the challenge to believe in ourselves. Acceptance, and creation of our new world, is the key to inner peace.

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