Gorge

I backed the Ford up to the cliff and hung the tail bed over the gorge. Popping the e-brake in place, I took a draw on the Camel, down to the butt, and flicked it out the window. When it flicked, I nearly popped a nail. The edges were coming up. Damn press-ons. The money would be enough to get manicures every month. I felt my own edges coming up. And that’s why I was there, on that cliff, in the moonlight. On the edge.

It was Jerry. I was done with him.

The rocky ground felt solid, felt real, when I jumped out of the truck. Nothing else had, after I’d taken the deal. My senses had been in overdrive. It’d been two hours since I’d called him from my cell, asked him to come to the gorge. It was a place he went to think, or at least to throw beer bottles five hundred feet down. He’d said he watched them smash against the rocks and land amidst other beer bottles, used condoms, and panties lust-flung from cars up on the cliff.

When we were dating, we’d come up here a lot to fuck. And when I called that night, I was sure he’d think I wanted to get it on, to somehow relive, maybe revive, the past. I won’t say I didn’t think about fucking him one last time—clamping my teeth on the top of his shoulder like he likes, but sinking them in harder than usual. I may have thought about that.

I’d walked a mile and a half to the gorge that night, before I saw Jerry. Brought a few beers. I laced two with sleeping pills. Those weren’t for me. On the walk, that’s when the hyper-alive feeling started, that tingle in the skin after my foot’s been asleep. By the time I reached the cliff, my entire body felt like an electric wire. Compared to how dulled I’d felt the last three years, it hurt like a bitch. I didn’t want to be cliché about it, but damn, I actually felt alive.

I crunched to the back of the truck, enjoying the texture of the rocks under my boots, then crouched down and made sure there was enough truck-end hanging over. I would be done with it, done with him. I’d take a photo with the disposable she had given me, would mail it to her with no return address, wait for it all to blow over, then hope she would wire the rest of the cash into my fake-name bank account. A hundred grand sounded like too much for his sorry ass, if you asked me. But, I wasn’t going to argue with her.

The side of the truck was cold on my palms as I grabbed it and climbed into the bed. I relished the cold, and knew the hot water on my hands later would feel wonderful. Jerry was still knocked out. He really was the dumbest guy ever. He never once thought I’d retaliate, but how could I not? After enduring three years of broken ribs and bruises, police side-glances, and the fear in Terrence’s small eyes? I could have dealt with everything but that.

Three weeks previous, he’d grabbed Terrence and threw him onto the couch, for nothing but running through the room, yelling like kids do. That’s what finally did it, Terrence’s frail body sailing through the air. I wondered what would have happened to him if Jerry had aimed him at the wall, instead. After that, I’d kept Terrence at my Mama’s. I’d been biding my time since.

Jerry’s legs were splayed, jean bottoms half-tucked in his boots. I hated that, and had always asked him to untuck them. He’d been out for a while before I backed the truck up to the cliff. After he passed out, I just sat there, looking at him, thinking about our life. The yellowing stacks of unpaid bills, our decrepit little trailer with the broken toilet and hole in the wall, covered over with duct tape, the yard with rusted carcasses of his “projects”: piles of car batteries, engines, transmissions. Things that I didn’t give a rat’s ass about, didn’t want there for everyone and God to see. But every time I’d asked him if I could clean up the yard, he got pissed. He punched me in the face just for moving a pile of batteries into the shed. After I’d returned from the hospital, a splint on my nose and “I fell down the back steps” mutterings still burning my lips, he kneeled in front of me and blubbered about how he and his dad used to work on cars together. He said that was the only fun he ever had as a kid, and that’s why he’d snapped. His dad was an abusive drunk, too. “The apples don’t ever fall far,” my Mama always said. I forgave him, of course. But not really.

Because he was lying near the front of the truck bed when he passed out, I had had to roll him to the end. Every time I’d pushed him over, his head would thunk, and I tittered to myself. I even stood up, in a brief fit, and stomped my boot right into his stomach. I wasn’t too concerned about keeping his body pristine. I’d given him so many sleeping pills in the beer that he didn’t come close to waking. Being friends with the deputy sheriff helped, and he’d heard me crying enough, had seen my cuts and bruises.

In the hospital a few months before, the deputy sheriff had come to take my statement. He pulled the curtain to, and lowered his voice.

Jenny, are you going to press charges against this asshole, now?”

Bill, I can’t do that.”

Ah yeah, you love him too much? Same story as every other battered woman? Look, if your Pa was alive, he already would have taken care of Jerry. Your dad was a good man, and he loved the hell out of you. I think you can do better.”

He put his hand on my shoulder. I wiped the hot tears away as soon as they welled up, then said, “Thanks for that.”

Look, you let me know if I can do anything, okay? Let me know if I can…take care of anything.”

I glanced up quicklike, stopped crying. “What if I take care of it myself?”

He regarded me for a second, then, “If you do, just clean it up real good.”

When Jerry had shown up at the gorge, I was sitting on the cliff edge, reveling in the wind blowing across my vibrating skin, looking down in the dizzying depths. I was thinking about how water had covered this entire area many many years before. About how fish, hungry fish, swam at the bottom of this gorge. Just swam, waiting. Then Jerry pulled in, and the very-alive feeling faded, and a deep, dark pressure replaced it. It was settled. I was positive I could go through with what I’d set out to do.

We sat in the back of the truck. I pretended to pop the cap off one of the laced beers, handed it to him, and we stared at the hills beyond town. I remembered how we’d always talk about getting beyond those hills. There was no talk, that night. Jerry was real quiet, more so than he’d been in a long time. He’d just greeted me with a slightly buzzed-sounding, “Hey babe, where you been all my life?” and that stupid gap-toothed smile. It got to me a little, but only a little. I knew it was just because I was lonely. Pretty soon, he’d laid back in the bed and started snoring.

Two weeks before that night, his mama and I had gotten drunk on sloe gin fizzes and sat together beneath her peach trees. I took in the fruity smell, grabbed one that looked ripe, and held it to my nose. It was nice to have time away from Jerry. He was off at the fights with that smarmy guy, Bishop. I heard he got the nickname when he lost a game of chess, and stuffed that piece down the winner’s throat. I didn’t believe it. No way in hell that guy played chess. Anyway, Jerry never had a job, but he sure could spend his Mama’s money at the “boxing” matches. Which amounted to a bunch of drunk hicks punching each other. No gloves or mouth guards. Idiots.

I was sloppy drunk by the time I told her what he did to Terrence. I cried that I was afraid he’d do more, and I didn’t know what to do. It was real emotion, sure, but there had been something cold growing inside me since the first time Jerry’d hit me. And it became a block of ice in my heart. After he threw Terrence, I became a thing at the very bottom of the sea. I was blind with fury, my luring lantern. Teeth, jagged and traplike, jaws wide with instinct. I was waiting.

His mama got real quiet, adjusted the cardigan around her shoulders, then said, “I should have drowned him in the creek after he killed Blue. He tortured that poor dog, then lit him on fire. I asked him, ‘Why in the hell did you do that, Gerald? What did old Blue do to you?’ He turned to me and said, ‘Mama, that dog was useless. He didn’t do nothin’ but lay around and scratch at fleas. I did him a service. And us.’ It was then that I knew there was something wrong with that boy. And it just got worse as he got older. Don’t think I haven’t seen your bruises.”

She looked pained and I glanced down, nodded.

I don’t even want to talk about that girl, the one that was only fifteen. You probably never heard about her… I’m tired of cleaning up his messes. I’ve had to speak to the deputy sheriff too many times for him. Pay him off. Something has to be done.”

It was what I was waiting for.

So we made a plan. It was unthinkable, a mama plotting her son’s death. She did it so calmly, so coldly. I couldn’t imagine being that way. But my Terrence is so sweet. I have no idea how I’d react if I had a monster. It seemed like that coldness had been growing in her for a long time, too.

The plan was the gorge. It was easy enough to think of. The gorge was the spot for accidents in our small town. More teens and drunks fell off the edge of that cliff than died in bar brawls, car crashes, and domestic disputes, combined. Hell, Jerry himself had almost fallen off it one night early in our relationship. This was before he’d ever hit me, before I’d hope he would fall off.

I kneeled down in the back of the truck, peered into Jerry’s unshaved face. His rank breath in rhythm with my own. How many nights I’d smelled that same breath. He never brushed his teeth, and they were rotting out of his head. I softened for a second, thinking how he’d cover his mouth if I wrinkled my nose, then gargle some Scope from the bottle he kept in our cinderblock nightstand. I remembered when he proposed. He did odd jobs for months to pay for it. Mowing lawns, selling garbage bags door-to-door, even washing cars. It was the hardest I’d ever seen him work. And he was so pleased with himself when he gave it to me, stuck into my Freddy G’s burger. I’d thought it was an onion at first, and almost bit down.

I’d already pawned the engagement ring, but the circle of untanned skin was still there on my finger. With time, it would tan over.

Jerry opened his eyes and groaned. Then he seemed to focus, saw me over him, and said, “Aw shit, did I pass out on you? Damn, I’m sorry. We weren’t fuckin’, were we?” He laughed, and groggily grabbed at my tit.

No Jerry, we weren’t fucking. But you’re about to get fucked.”

Before he could do anything, I sat down hard on the truckbed. Using all the strength in my legs, I pushed on his side. His face registered fright, then anger. He screamed, “What the hell!” and grabbed my right ankle before his legs charged off the tailgate. I had the presence of mind just then to roll over onto my stomach.

His full weight pulled me toward the edge. I was sliding, grappling for any handhold. I hooked my fingers into the space between the tailgate and bed and held on. It felt like he was wishboning my body. I had to get him off me.

So I kicked with my free left foot, got him in the face. The recoil made him jerk hard on my ankle, and I felt a searing pain up my leg. Biting my lip to keep from screaming, I tried to shake the leg back and forth to get him off, his full weight threatening to pull my whole leg out of socket. It was excruciating, and I had to breathe deep so I didn’t pass out. I could feel him slipping, and he started shouting, “You fucking bitch! I loved you!”

Finally his grip loosened, then let go, and he hurtled down into the gorge. He screamed, “Jennnnyy!” on his way down and hit with a thud that, I swear, bounced back and forth between the hills for a full half-minute. Or maybe I just hoped it did. I squinted down at his broken body, to make sure he didn’t get up like that guy in The Terminator. That would’ve been just my luck, with Jerry.

As Sheriff Bill had suggested, I cleaned everything up as best as I could, hopping around. I made it look like he’d come to the gorge by himself and, in a drunken stupor, had just fallen off the cliff. The alive feeling came back strong, as soon as I saw Jerry dead down in the gorge. Everyone who knew him didn’t think twice about it. It’s exactly something that he would have done. Fallen to his death. That’s why the plan had been brilliant.

 

Jerry’s fall happened years ago. I played the distraught fiancée bit just fine. And the hundred grand showed up in my account a month later. I’ve never spoken to Jerry’s Mama about it, as we agreed. But I know she’s glad I did it.

I laugh about it to myself at odd times. Like when Terrence and I go to the beach in North Carolina. Or our home high in the mountains, when I look down into the valley from my bedroom balcony. Even sometimes when I do dishes, plunging my hands down into the murky water.

It just gets me how unaware Jerry was. How brazen his ego. How, all that time, he had no idea he was lying beside a great gaping, cold thing.

About the Author

Heather L. Nelson

Heather L. Nelson (hlnelson.com) is head of the online magazine Cease, Cows. Her publications include Writer’s Digest, Nightmare, Lunch Ticket, PANK, plus over 50 others in the last year. Her fiction chapbook, The Sea is Only Meat, will be out this summer (Sundress Publications), and she’s busy co-editing Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up to No Good (Upper Rubber Boot Books, 2015).

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