Morning Gun.

By Briana Wipf.

Good morning. This is Marion Roinestad. I’d like you to send a sheriff’s deputy to my house. I just shot my husband.

Artwork by Nina Ždanovič.

           “911. What’s your emergency?”

“Good morning. This is Marion Roinestad. I’d like you to send a sheriff’s deputy to my house. I just shot my husband. The address is 45 Roinestad Road,” Marion said, her voice calm and even.

            “You shot your husband? What is his condition?” the dispatcher, alarmed, hiccupped. Marion recognized the voice; it belonged to the Scott girl who went to the ELCA church.

            “Oh he’s dead, dear,” Marion said with a light laugh. “I know how to use a gun.”

            The line went silent for a moment, then the dispatcher’s voice came back.  “I’ve notified a sheriff’s deputy, and we’ll send an ambulance.”

            “Send one if you like, but he’s dead.”

            “What is your condition, ma’am?”

            “I’m feeling fine,” Marion smiled.

            “But did he hurt you?”

            “No.  He didn’t know a thing. I shot him through the head,” Marion said. She had rehearsed this so many times that the words, as she finally formed them in her mouth, had very little meaning. Perhaps this is what it’s like to be an actor, she thought.

            After hanging up the telephone, she looked around the house, a Queen Anne style built in the 1940s by Bob’s parents. A pair of his work gloves sat on the table next to the front door. Bob had had thick, stubby fingers.

            Marion walked out to the front porch. Today was the fifteenth of August, and it was going to be hot. Bob’s body lay out in the front yard, one blank eye gazing toward the sky. The other was gone, pushed out of the socket by the bullet. He was quite dead.

            Quite dead. Sitting down precariously in a rocking chair on the porch, Marion allowed a curl of a smile to cross her lips. The gun, which she had loaded with two bullets, but only used one, was on the porch railing in front of her. From her position, she could see the slats of the porch railing and the gun, but she could not see Bob’s body. 

            Marion sat in the rocking chair, using her toes to propel herself back and forth, and waited twenty-two minutes before she saw the high, acrid dust kicked up by two sheriff’s cars coming up the county road, named after the Roinestads because they were the first homesteaders in this particular area.

As she watched the black cars scream into the yard, Marion, for the first time, felt a little nervous. She hoped they didn’t throw her to the ground. She had osteoporosis and the last thing she needed was a broken hip.

            Marion recognized both the deputies, who exited their cars and circled Bob’s body, cautiously deliberate. They danced awkwardly around it, one had his right hand ready to draw his gun. Marion recognized him as a nice young man who sometimes came to church with his family, a wife and two little girls with hair so blond it was almost white.

            “What happened here?” the deputy asked, standing at the bottom of the stairs to the porch.

            “I shot him,” Marion said, still not getting up.

            “Why did you shoot him?”

            “Because he was a mean son-of-a-bitch whose nonsense I’ve put up with for fifty-six years,” Marion responded. “There’s the gun.” She indicated the revolver on the railing.

            The blare of the ambulance now was audible, its sirens carried with the omnipresent wind that whipped off the mountains and through the coulees and creek beds. 

            “He’s dead,” the second deputy said, having taken his pulse.

            The first deputy, father of the adorable toe-headed girls, sighed heavily.  “I’m going to arrest you, Mrs. Roinestad.”

            “Yes, of course. I’m all ready,” Marion said.

            “I have to put handcuffs on you.” the first deputy said.

            Marion walked down to meet them and turned so the deputy could put the handcuffs on behind her back. She felt the deputy place the metal cuffs around her wrists, felt the heavy metal hang on her bones uncomfortably. The deputy was saying words about her arrest, but she couldn’t hear them over the sirens of the ambulance, zooming into the front yard. The first deputy took her to the car and opened the back door.

            “I apologize, but I don’t think I can sit down in the seat without using my hands,” Marion said.

            She saw momentary panic on the deputy’s face.

            “Gunlock, would you come help,” the deputy said.

            The second deputy, who had been speaking to an EMT, jogged over to the car. He wore sunglasses and had a shaved head. He was good-looking, Marion thought. She didn’t know him.

            “Would you get in the backseat to help Mrs. Roinestad in the car,” the first deputy said.

            “Oh, sure,” Deputy Gunlock said with what Marion thought was sheepishness. He climbed in the back of the car and reached his hand out.  Gingerly, with the first deputy on her left side and Deputy Gunlock on the other, Marion placed on foot in the car and began to lower her body sideways into a sitting position.

            “I got you, ma’am,” the seated deputy said, wrapping his huge hand around her biceps.

            As Marion sat, she felt the standing deputy holding her other arm tight, and the delicate handover began, and she lowered herself cautiously onto the seat. At last she felt her bottom hit the seat, and she swung her other foot in the car.

“Thank you,” she said, looking at both deputies. She was only slightly mortified.

How different she had been the day Bob Roinestad brought her out here as his wife. Twenty-seven years old and on the verge of being an old maid, she had one last chance for a husband, and that had been Bob Roinestad. Not that she had had many chances. Marion had never been a great beauty, never been prized by the boys. She had gone to a secretarial school out of high school and lived with her parents in town, spending her days working for a law practice and her evenings dutifully split between the Lutheran ladies, quilt guild, and being sociable with the vague hope of getting a husband.

            Bob Roinestad, three years older than she, was the son of Scandinavian homesteaders and ornery as hell. That was, very likely, why he had lived so long without marrying, and why, on the best days of their courtship, they never really got on. Marion always said she preferred Bob when he didn’t talk. As she sat in the back of the deputy’s car, watching in the rear view mirror the paramedics collecting the body, she remembered the first night she and Bob Roinestad had danced together at a harvest dinner, in the fall of – it would have been 1958. He had come up to her awkwardly, walking straight toward her but stopping and starting so many times she guessed he was carefully weighing his action.

            “Would you dance with me, Miss Hammond?” he had asked. His tone reminded her of a little boy who was forced to apologize. His attitude, coupled with his prematurely receding hairline and buzzed hair, made him look so ridiculous that he was almost funny.

            Marion hadn’t said yes. She merely smiled and moved away from the wall where she had been standing. They danced together to a bluegrass tune. Bob Roinestad was not a very good dancer.

            They dated for a while, and Marion always expected it to come up in their conversations that they did not care for each other. It never did. She hadn’t expected to marry him but discovered she was pregnant. Even Bob Roinestad was decent enough to know that if he got a girl pregnant, he ought to marry her.

            She remembered her mother’s response when she told her. “You said you didn’t like him!” Anna Hammond had exclaimed. Marion had just shrugged. She didn’t want to admit to her mother that she was planning on breaking it off with Bob just as soon as she had had her fill of sex. She had wanted to find out what it was like, and Bob was the only person around. Not that it was particularly thrilling, but she had been curious.

They married and went to the mountains for a weekend for a honeymoon. Bob had spent much of the time at a dark saloon built in an old trapper’s cabin because she had been too nauseous to do much of anything. Instead, she spent her time lying in bed with the windows open, the effervescent pine smell small consolation for her misery.

            At present, Deputy Gunlock put the car in drive and rolled out of the yard. Bob had done most of the farming, with the help of some nephews whose land abutted theirs. Marion and Bob’s only child, a son named Frank, was killed in a car accident when he was sixteen. Bob had emptied Frank’s room of all his effects, down to his letterman’s jacket, the day after the funeral. He piled it all in the back where they normally burned garbage, dowsed it with gasoline, and set it aflame. Marion watched him do it from the kitchen window.

            Was that it? Was that the moment that she finally hated him irredeemably? After so many years, Marion was not sure. She watched the brown prairie rushing past. The deputy did not speak. That was fine with her: she never liked idle conversation. She recalled the first time she and Bob had driven this road – in the opposite direction, of course – as husband and wife. She had been to the farm before, but on that day in late June of 1960, she watched with aversion the modestly rolling hills, the splotches of sage brush surrounded by rough prairie grass that reminded her of four- or five-day-old leg hair. She had never before had what she found out later was a panic attack, but she had one then, fighting hard not to let Bob see it, as she sat in the passenger seat of his big green Chevrolet car. She remembered wondering how she could get out of it – could she have the marriage annulled? Was that a law somewhere, if you did it quickly enough? She couldn’t go through the scandal of a divorce, not in this town. She had looked from the passing prairie to Bob, who was driving and chewing on his thumb nail. He would chew that nail to bleeding.

            Today, as she headed to town with the deputy, she felt, for the first time since before her marriage, like a young woman. A carefree woman who could breathe without the heaviness of the thoughts of Bob Roinestad in her head. She had originally hoped he would die suddenly of a heart attack – the same way his father had died. She hoped he would do it when she was still young enough that she could move south to Arizona and enjoy life a bit. But at eighty-eight years old, Bob Roinestad didn’t seem to have been planning to go anywhere, and he wasn’t getting any less ornery. His always colorful language was becoming downright crude and disgusting, and he sat in the living room watching Fox News with the volume blaring, and he would not die.

            So Marion shot him. She had begun thinking about it five or six years ago, after they had had lunch at the diner in town and he had berated the cute little waitress who clearly had just started and was trying her best. When Marion had asked him to be nicer to her, he had looked straight at her, and said so the entire dining room could hear, “Don’t give me no orders, you old cunt.”

He had called her a cunt countless times before, but never like this in such a public place. A woman’s voice said, “Sir, excuse me,” but was interrupted by a loud “Shhhhhhh.” After half a beat, the dining room returned to its former volume. The woman who had tried to interject was an English teacher in the middle school. Whenever Marion saw her after that, she felt simultaneously anger toward her for pointing out Bob’s behavior and a strong desire to hug her.  

            On their way back to the farm that day, she had rehearsed in her head for the first time what she would say when she called the dispatcher. Over the ensuing years, she thought about it, fantasized about it. She would shoot him, be charged with murder, be found guilty, be sent to the women’s prison and live out her life with some peace. She didn’t have to go back to the house she had lived in for more than forty years, a house she had grown to hate because it smelled of Bob Roinestad, echoed with the voice of Bob Roinestad, creaked under the steps of Bob Roinestad. Nothing in prison could be as bad as Bob Roinestad, she thought. And she was an old woman anyway. Who would bother her?

            She had decided yesterday to shoot him. There was no special reason: he had not been especially mean. But she could not bear the thought of going through another harvest season with him, and the custom cutters would be arriving soon. He was a bear during harvest; the stress and long days wore him down, and his reaction to any adverse situation had always been to get angry at her. After harvest would be winter, and she would have to fight with him about going into town to cook lefse for the Lutheran dinner in December. She wouldn’t be able to cook lefse again. That made her sad. She enjoyed spending the day rolling and frying the delicate dough with the other ladies in the church basement. Perhaps she could work in the prison kitchen, she thought, and she smiled.

 

Two days after her arrest, Bob Roinestad’s nephew, Royce, came to visit Marion at the county jail. The Lutheran ladies had tried to arrange to pay Marion’s bond, but Marion refused. “Give that money to the food pantry,” she said. “I’m an old woman.”

            Marion and Royce sat across from each other in the visitors’ area, a greenish room with long tables that reminded Marion of the elementary school lunch room, where she and other Lutheran ladies would eat with the children when they volunteered for the reading program.

            “I’ll bail you out, Aunt Marion,” Royce said. His bushy eyebrows were lifted high on his forehead, giving him the look of a sad bulldog. Royce had the same hairline as Bob, and he buzzed his hair in the same way. She had no idea why the Roinestad men chose to accentuate such a horrible physical trait with that stupid haircut. “I know whatever happened, you didn’t mean to do it.”

            “No, Royce. I don’t want to be bailed out. I’m fine here,” Marion said. “It’s almost like a little vacation.”

            Royce made a noise in his throat and looked at his hands.

            “I meant to do it,” she added gently.

            Royce lifted his gaze, and his eyebrows.

            “What about a lawyer? I’ve been talking to lawyers, and they said you might have a defense,” Royce said.

            “I’ve hired a lawyer already. We talked yesterday,” Marion said.

            “Oh?” Royce said, perking up. “What strategy are you going to take?”

            Marion shrugged. “I wanted to plead guilty and have it done with, but he had some legal reason he didn’t want to do that – something about getting a lesser sentence, which I don’t care about. I’ll die in prison anyway, you know? Anyway, he’s a young one, just passed the bar and said he needs a case. So I said, ‘All right, I’ll plead not guilty and let you defend me. But I want you to let me testify.’”

            “Why’s that? If you testify, they’ll cross-examine you and you’ll have to admit you shot him,” Royce said.

            “Because I want to testify,” Marion said. The idea of sitting in that witness box appealed to her. “And I know what I’ve done, Royce. I deserve to go to prison. I don’t want to get off.”

            “Why not? Uncle Bob was a mean son-of-a-bitch. We know how he treated you. I’m sure whatever happened, he had it coming. Did he try to hit you?” Royce said.

            “Oh dear, no. Bob was a coward when it came down to it. He never would have hit me because I might hit him back. His strategy was to get you with papercuts. What’s that saying? Death by a thousand papercuts? That’s how it’s been, for fifty-six years. Ten thousand papercuts. A hundred thousand. I know what I’ve done, and I don’t deny it. I only hope I can square it with Saint Peter before I die,” Marion said.

            “But see, right there. Maybe that can be your defense,” Royce persisted. “I always meant to say something to Uncle Bob about the way he treated you. I always did.”

            He really was a nice man, Marion thought. Bob’s other nephew, Tom, she didn’t care for. But Royce was a good man. He was Bob’s sister’s boy. The orneriness in the family must not have extended beyond the Y chromosome. She hadn’t minded Bob’s mother, either. His father didn’t talk much because his English was not very good, but he knew every English curse word and any word that could be used to insult women.

            “No, Royce. I shot Bob, and I will be punished for it. Besides, I never want to set foot in that house again. I spent more than fifty years there, and I don’t need to spend another day,” Marion had said.

            Royce looked at her pleadingly but did not respond. Finally, he said, “Can I do anything for you?”

            Marion shrugged. “If you can bring some books or magazines, that would be nice. But I really don’t need anything here.”

            He had gone after that, and Marion was returned to the women’s holding cell. She didn’t mind it at all. It wasn’t comfortable, by any stretch, but it was better than her house. The jailers seemed very nice. One of them had been a little boy in the reading program years ago. He and Marion used to read those funny horror books for children together.

            She would make her initial appearance tomorrow, and then the wheels of justice would begin to turn. She smiled as she thought of it, picturing the enormous black tires of a combine rolling slowly and inexorably through a wheat field.

            The newspaper would carry a story about the event. Perhaps her booking photo would be included in the story. She had had to bite her cheek as they took the photo so she did not smile. She thought that might be tasteless. She didn’t care now if anyone knew what she had done. She thought it was funny, as she sat in the holding cell, that she had been so mortified at the thought of divorcing Bob Roinestad fifty-six years ago, but now she did not care how many people knew that she had committed his murder.

 

            Marion lived until the following February in the county jail. A group of Lutheran ladies would gather in front of the Courthouse on Sunday afternoons with signs that said, “We stand with Marion R.” and cars would honk as they drove past. Marion thought this was in poor taste. Reporters were requesting interviews, but she declined them all. She found that, besides her upcoming testimony, she really did not care to justify herself to anyone. On the mornings when she awoke at four a.m. and could not go back to sleep, she would lie in the uncomfortable bed and imagine her life without having married Bob Roinestad. At twenty-seven, she couldn’t think of any option besides marrying the man who was the father of her child, but she had come to understand years ago that she had given herself a false choice: the choice was not between shame and respectability; it was between peace of mind as an impoverished unwed mother and committing murder as an embittered old woman. In those mornings, she sometimes became so disgusted with how she had lived her life that she thought of finding some way to kill herself. But she needed to testify. Maybe she would kill herself after the trial. They would find her guilty, Bob would get his justice, and she would kill herself with a butcher knife in the prison kitchen.

            The ladies from the church brought her two suits to wear during the trial. The one she wore on the second day, when she testified, was a black and white houndstooth with a blue blouse underneath. The suit fit loosely: the food in the jail had not been very good, and Marion found the experience of living there more stressful than she had expected. Some of the other inmates had mental problems or drug problems, and they could be tiresome. She worried about them. She had lost a good deal of weight since last summer.

            During the first day of the trial, the prosecution had presented its case, reading into the record Marion’s 911 call in which she admitted to shooting Bob. The two deputies testified that Marion had admitted to shooting him. The prosecution was seeking life in prison. The county attorney who presented the case was the daughter of Marion’s best friend, Sharon, who had died of breast cancer about ten years before. The day of Sharon’s funeral, Marion had taken her for soft ice cream. They had eaten their cones together and talked about Sharon’s habit of losing her keys.

            On the second day of the trial, the prosecution rested and Marion’s lawyer, a gangly man in his late twenties, with blondish hair and bangs, called her to the stand around ten in the morning. Marion had hoped there would be excited chatter after he called her name, but she heard nothing in the cavernous courtroom as she rose from her chair and walked to the witness stand. She swore on a Bible and sat down in a plush blue chair. A couple of flashes went off, and Marion looked out to see television cameras set up against the wall on the same side as the jury box. She looked to the jury: seven women and five men, all of whom she knew.

            “Marion,” her lawyer said, “would you please tell us your relationship with your husband, Bob Roinestad?”

            “Yes. We were married for fifty-six years. We lived on a farm north of town. We had one son, Frank, who was killed in a car accident when he was sixteen. We had no other children,” Marion said.

            She looked out to the audience and saw Royce and his brother, Tom, sitting next to each other. Royce still looked like that sad bulldog. Tom had his arms crossed over his chest and his forehead fixed in a scowl that made his hairline look like Dracula’s.

            “What kind of relationship did you have?” the lawyer asked.

            “We didn’t care for each other,” she said.

            “You mean, you grew apart?”

            “No, we never cared for each other. I married him when I got pregnant with my son, Frank. I had no other choice,” she said, realizing for the first time as she said the last sentence that it was not true.

            “Was he physically abusive?”

            “No, he never hit me. But he called me names, never helped me with Frank, and after Frank died, I never remember a kind word from him,” Marion said.

            “Why did you shoot him?” the lawyer asked.

            “I could not bear another day with him,” she said, looking at the jury. She had been surprised when she saw who was on that jury – she had always thought that jurors had to be complete strangers. But who was a complete stranger in this town, anyway? One juror grew up on a farm near theirs and was a horrible drunk. He had tried to take over the family farm but had failed, so now he worked in town. Another was the daughter of one of the Lutheran ladies who stood outside the Courthouse with those signs. One was a piano teacher whom Marion always spoke to when they ran into each other at the grocery store. Then there was the nice young man who worked at the seed store.

            After her testimony, the county attorney, Sharon’s daughter, half rose.

            “So Mrs. Roinestad, you do not dispute the facts of this case?” she said. “That you shot your husband?”

            “No, I do not,” Marion said.

            “No more questions, your honor,” the county attorney said and sat down.

            After Marion left the stand, her lawyer called a half dozen more witnesses; she had not known he was going to do this. Royce was one of the witnesses, as was their neighbor to the south, Leroy Kemp, and a couple women from the church. They testified to Bob’s cruelty. He even called that middle school teacher to the stand, the one who had tried to intervene that day at the diner.

            “Mrs. Mellon, you say that you heard Mr. Roinestad call his wife a ‘cunt,’ in front of the entire restaurant?” Marion’s lawyer asked.

            Marion propped her hand over her forehead when the lawyer said the word “cunt.” She didn’t want that experience brought up again.

            “Yes, sir. I tried to say something but someone told me to quiet down,” Mrs. Mellon said. “Everyone knew that Bob was mean to Marion, and nobody cared. People in this town let Bob Roinestad do whatever he wanted, I guess because they were all afraid of him. I’m not from here, so I didn’t care.”

            “Thank you, Mrs. Mellon, just answer the questions please,” the lawyer said. “Were you afraid of Bob Roinestad?”

            “I didn’t really know him, but I wouldn’t want to deal with him by myself. I saw him on his own a couple weeks after this all happened, and I thought, ‘I should say something to him,’ but I was afraid it would turn into a shouting match. We were in the parking lot of the bank,” she said.

            “Why do you think people let Mr. Roinestad do whatever he wanted, as you put it?” the lawyer asked.

            “He ran a good farm. He was mean. His parents homesteaded here. I think people just mind their own business, which is nice most of the time,” Mrs. Mellon said. “But that doesn’t always work.”

            “I have no more questions, your honor,” the lawyer said.

            Each of the witnesses the lawyer called mentioned that they had thought about saying something to Bob about the way he treated Marion. She had never realized how obvious her situation had been to everyone. Did the entire town know? The thought of so many people knowing her humiliation made her nauseous. Why had she cared so long about the embarrassment of getting a divorce when everyone already knew what a bastard Bob had been? What if she had left when Frank was a little boy and they had moved into town and he had never been driving on that narrow highway the night he was killed?

            The defense rested near five o’clock that day. Marion returned to the jail where the jailer whom she had read books with said “Good luck” as he closed and locked the cell door.

            Marion sat on the edge of her bed, hunched over, thinking about how differently her life may have been if she had left Bob years ago. She and Frank could have had a nice little life together. She could have gotten a job as a secretary somewhere. They wouldn’t have had much, but they would be together and be happy. Perhaps she had worried too much about everyone else. She sat, too tired and drained to cry, wondering how everyone knew and wondering how she had not realized they knew. Now she wanted it to be over. She wanted to be carted off to the state prison, where she would wear an orange jumpsuit and read old books and maybe do crossword puzzles. She would get up early and brush her teeth when it was her turn. She would never curl her hair again. She would find some other nice old ladies to play pinochle with. She hoped the commissary had good licorice.

            “Mrs. Roinestad.” The jailer’s voice woke her from her daydream. “They’re ready for you.”

            “Already?” she asked.

            “It’s been two hours,” he said. “It’s a bit past seven o’clock.”

            He led her by the arm through strangely labyrinthine hallways to the courthouse and up to the court room on the third floor. Her lawyer waited. He looked hopeful. She stood next to him at the table and watched as the jury filed in. The windows showed a darkened world outside lit by streetlights.  

            “We have reached a verdict, your honor,” said the head juror, a woman who had gone to school with Frank.

            “And what is your verdict?” asked the judge, who had grown up a farm kid just down the road from Marion’s and Bob’s place.

            “We find the defendant not guilty of the homicide of Robert Karl Roinestad,” the head juror said.

            Marion felt as if she were underwater for a moment. She could hear gasps behind her – some of the ladies from the church and Bob’s nephews were there – and she felt the heavy hands of her lawyer on her shoulders.

            “Did you hear that?” the lawyer said, almost laughing. “Did you hear that?”

            Marion covered her face with her hands and sobbed. She felt sick. She felt empty.

 

            Royce said he would take her home.

            While in the jail, Marion had noticed she had lost stamina. She couldn’t walk as much as she did at the farm. So when she approached his Ford diesel truck in the courthouse parking lot, she thought it looked like it was about two miles off the ground.

            “I’m afraid I’m going to need some help,” she said.

            “Of course, Aunt Marion,” he said and opened the door and lifted her in. It was humiliating. The cameras had followed them from the courtroom.

            He started the truck. “I suppose we’ll have to get some dinner. There’s nothing at the house,” he said. “Do you want a burger?”

            Nothing sounded good.

            “Let’s just get some bread and eggs from the grocery store,” she said.

            He drove down the quiet main street, where there were more empty storefronts than those housing businesses, and to the grocery store. They went inside the store, and Marion took a cart so she had something to lean on as they walked up and down the aisles.

            “You’ll need some milk,” Royce said as they walked past the dairy cooler. “You’ll need some butter.”

            “You’ll need some flour,” he said as they walked down the baking aisle. “You’ll need some sugar for your coffee. And you’ll need some coffee. We emptied the kitchen because we didn’t know,” he trailed off.

            “Of course,” she said, feeling increasingly fatigued and confused. How could this have happened?

            As they walked through the produce section, with Royce picking out oranges and some very green bananas, Marion saw the head juror come around the corner, a basket on her elbow. Tanna, her name was Tanna. She had been part of a small vocal ensemble and they had sung at Frank’s funeral.

            “Hello, Mrs. Roinestad,” Tanna – her last name was Harris before she married – said to Marion, a warm smile on her face.

            “Hello,” Marion said. She had no idea how to respond to this woman and her smile.

            “I didn’t expect I’d run into you here. I was going to come out and visit with you. We just couldn’t – after everything you went through. We all knew. We just couldn’t,” Tanna said, reaching out with her free hand to touch Marion’s arm. “If you need anything at all, don’t hesitate to call me. I’m in the book.”

            Tanna used-to-be Harris walked away.

            Marion and Royce checked out – Royce paid her bill – and piled the groceries into the back seat of his truck. He lifted Marion into the passenger seat. She felt frightened suddenly of going back to that house. It was completely dark now. The farm was so dark at night.

            “That’s what we all expected,” Royce said as he drove out of the parking lot and toward the north highway. “Nobody in town thought they would find you guilty.”

            “Why on earth not?” Marion asked. It was the first full sentence she had said. The shrillness of her voice surprised her.

            “Because you’re eighty-five years old and because nobody in town liked Uncle Bob,” Royce said. “I’m sad he went the way he did, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think he deserved it. Even Tom said so the other day.”

            “I see,” she said.

            “I’m sure you’re tired,” Royce said.

            “Yes,” she said.

            They drove north toward the farm in silence. Marion watched as the darkened fields, sometimes streaked with naked shelter belts, flew past. Some cold, lackluster snowflakes were falling and swirled against Royce’s windshield. She was going back to that house, back to the house that smelled of Bob Roinestad, was full of Bob Roinestad’s things, was held together by Bob Roinestad’s shoddy repairs.

            Royce brought the groceries into the kitchen. Someone had been through the house to clean it and turn on the furnace, which was burning off a layer of dust and emitting a stale odor. The Lutheran ladies, perhaps. Bob’s stubby-fingered gloves still sat on the table next to the front door.

            “Do you need anything else, Aunt Marion?” Royce asked.

            “No, you’ve done enough. I’d like to get some sleep,” she said.

            “Remember to eat something for dinner. I’ll stop by tomorrow,” he said.

            He left, and Marion heard the heaving of the diesel engine as it started and then grunted out of the yard. She was alone in the house for the first time in her life, and the darkness closed in from the corners and the closets. She had been alone during the fifty-six years of her marriage. But now she was locked in a house full of its memories. 

 

 

                                                                                                                                   

 

The Blood Pudding – September 4, 2020

Briana Wipf is a PhD student studying medieval literature and the digital humanities. A Montana native, she is a former journalist who spent five years covering her home state before returning to school to pursue advanced degrees in literature; she earned her master’s degree from the University of Montana in 2017. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband, Jesse.

Artwork: Nina Zdanovic is originally from Vilnius, Lithuania, and is currently based in Tokyo. Her work reflects her belief that humans don’t live in an objective world, that the reality that surrounds us always reflects what we are going through. She explores how our memories, thoughts, and experiences affect how we perceive reality and searches for the intersection between the real and mystical, between the inner and the outer worlds. You can find her and buy her work at ninazdanovic.Arcom.