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Authors: Zillah Bethell

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BOOK: Girl in Profile
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The Christmas season is upon us. It gets crazy as heck over here with all the shoppers, people decorating inside and out with lights, lamps, sleighs and reindeer. There's a lot of time and money spent on decorations and such.

Sounds like my dad's not doing real well. My aunt keeps me up to date on him. He refuses to have anything to do with me as well as my kids. Spent his life smoking cool cigarettes, when he got about sixty he wound up in hospital with gallstones. Doctor told him then if you want to live a little longer he needed to quit. It's your choice, live or die, it's up to you. I should add he drove a truck, and it was as much a nervous habit as well as a physical. I'd say he smoked between 4 to 5 packs a day. I don't remember him without a cigarette in his hand or mouth. Never had much to do with my brother or me. He's got emphysema bad, and he's on oxygen. He's a likeable guy, but he never took care of the ones who'd take care of him one day. I hate to see him suffer, but we all make our choices then we have to live with them. How well I know that.

Around here you get a little stir-crazy. I read and write, listen to music on my iPod. My ex-wife writes me once in a while, she never speaks of my kids or my relationship. She tells me how they're doing, sends me a few pictures. She said I could call but I had to pay for it. I guess it's a sad world all round. Guess I'm done rambling…



The girl in a blue dress brings eggs and milk from the farm. I call her Gloria though it is not her real name. But she is glorious. She has the kind of beauty that could live in a sonnet – that dark wing of hair, the straight brows, heavy lidded eyes, lily delicacy of skin. She is so fresh she reminds me of a clean-swept room. Promise of a new day. The chortling dawn. Her lover is a soldier. But he will not return, she says, which is why she wears blue – his favourite colour. Wherever he is, we are looking at the same sky. She has cried a river of tears over him. I shall paint her waiting for her lover, her soul and body dry as chalk, her dress the riverbed.


Punching Air

“Did you get an education?” The words still bite me and I spend the rest of the week researching Rodin and Gwen John. Order thirty-two postcards of the
and then, two days later, thirty-two postcards of
Girl in Profile
. Show them to Drew.

“Why thirty-two?” His eyebrows are halfway over his scalp.

I shrug. “My age.”

“So you're telling me,” he sighs, “that by the time you're sixty-five we'll have a hundred and thirty of these fuckers in the house?”

I try to laugh but I can't and, seeing the look on my face, Drew does the clichéd thing and takes me in his arms.



To persist through all wrong turnings, dead ends, false starts, set backs. TO PERSIST IS EVERYTHING.


I'm a middle-aged spinster. Uptight. Loose down there. Very loose. Oh God, give me some moral fibre.


First Day

Gruffalo rucksack. Plaits. Slightly too large uniform. New shoes. I flick an imaginary speck from her red cardigan.

“I wish I was coming with you.”

“You can't. You're an adult. You're not allowed.”

“I know.”

“You will be a little bit bored. You will walk Freckles,” (we settled on Freckles), “probably have a cheese sandwich for lunch. I will have fish fingers and green custard.”


We stand aloof amidst a maelstrom of mothers shouting, weeping, wailing, snotting – not to mention the children. When it's time to go, Dove allows me to pat her on the head then walks quickly to the open door. I raise my hand to wave, but she doesn't look back. I strain to see beyond the door. I think that's her hanging her coat and bag on the peg. Her small shape moving away down the long dark corridor. To a new world. As if all her life's been leading to this point. This new world. This death.

Turning to go, I remember how she kicked like fuck in the stomach. Testing her boundaries, her parameters. Wanting to get out even then.



The urge I got every spring to go mushroom hunting. You may not have them over there, but in warm wet weather it makes the mushrooms explode out the ground, and for a few weeks every spring there's a mad rush in Missouri to go and pick mushrooms. They're the best eating thing on the planet. At least a lot of Midwest USA people think so. I used to turkey hunt every spring and fall as well, and fish some in the summer. I was active once a year round fourth of July in our annual illegal hand fishing get together. Like I say, changing seasons I'm reminded of my past life.

13 inch TV, a radio, and two tubs stuffed full. That's all I got now.

Even though the Bible says how beautiful heaven is, it's tough to give up this life we have on earth. One day I'm ready, next day I have my doubts.

Mary my ex-wife is struggling to get by. Two teenagers are expensive. Another year, John starts to drive and Skyla in two. Car insurance is high and I don't want the kids suffering any more than they have. My way of helping would be to go on the way I'm headed. That way they could draw social security benefits. They can't draw if I'm alive. Besides, my case was so grotesque or brutal that there isn't a jury around that would forget seeing that. Give me involuntary manslaughter or murder second. Plus for armed criminal action I've got two twenty-year sentences that have to be served as well. Diminished capacity could bring a charge as low as involuntary manslaughter or as high as murder second, which is paroleable as well, but I'm sure it wouldn't come back as murder one – but even with a murder second it would be a lot of years. Going my way would at least get the kids raised.

The kind of peace I feel doesn't come from medication. We get as impatient as heck and God just laughs at us because he knows.

They locked my cellie up because his antenna was broken. He broke it that morning cleaning house and they locked us all down and he never had a chance to report it. He's looking at rule 3, dangerous contraband, which means nine months to a year in the hole. He and I had grown real close. He brightened my day and was upbeat and positive. That's another reason I don't want to spend the rest of my life here in prison. Life here is so unstable. Buckwheat would never hurt no one. Someone would use the antenna as a knife or a shank to stab someone, but Buckwheat never would as he's a super person.

There's a lot I never got to do like cliff diving in Acapulco or swimming and snorkelling or scuba diving in the Caribbean or the Bahamas. I never noticed how much water had to do with my life. I guess being raised by the mighty Mississippi had a long-term effect on my life. I was always at home in the water, swimming like a fish, only I had to surface to breathe once in a while.

Ex-wife and kids are coming to see me Friday. It'll be behind glass, I won't be able to hug them or shake their hand, but I'll get to see them nonetheless after three years. I kind of feel like I need to tell them something that will stick with them the rest of their life. I guess ‘I love you' will probably have to do. I'm sure by now they know I screwed up…

It was super, but after they left and I got back into the housing unit, it occurred to me that they still carried the same expressions on their faces that they had when they were little. John would make Skyla a little mad and she'd have that same mad look on her face she had when she was little. How glad I am that I was a part of their life at least for a while. It was truly a blessing.

Things have moved on with my case finally, and they have now locked me up. At 2.30 p.m. to be exact. They've set the date for 12.01 a.m. Wednesday week. It shocked me a little, but I've known it was coming. I don't think you're ever ready for something like this even when you know it's coming. I'll take it as it comes though. Mizpah.

Cardinals trying to catch the Arizona Diamond bucks for home field advantage.

Have you ever ate pumpkin blossoms? My aunt fixes them real good. In your country, do you all raise soybeans and field corn? Over here in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and Nebraska, we have miles and miles of them both. The Midwest is also referred to as the corn belt, which is where most of our corn and beans are raised. I was thinking about pumpkin blossoms and it got me thinking about your country.

I really couldn't afford the meds on the street, but then again I really couldn't afford not to buy them either.

Not a lot going on here except time.

So jazzed up with medication I couldn't tell you where I was, but Ma said we spent a few years in the UK. Dad ran off and set up a new family. The first one didn't measure up in his eyes.


Flowers and Cats


I suspect that this shall be the last letter I shall write to you. You're not going to receive a letter from me ever again. If you do not want to visit me then that is your choice, but I should like to say that I think it is the wrong choice. If I did anything to offend you in the past then I am sorry. I didn't mean it. At least, if I meant it then, I don't mean it now. We are both a little more âgé than we were. I, as you predicted, am a spinster who arranges flowers and keeps cats. You are the great man who will be buried with the statue of the Thinker in your pocket. Blasting your way into immortality. Imagine if I'd gone back to Wales. Spent my days in a Welsh valley, the mountains closing like seas over my head, my life cupped like a canary's in blackened hands. I would never have met you. Never have felt you mould my soul with your short, strong, slippery fingers. Without you, I would have just been singing in the dark.

(Oh Gwen, Gwen, do not send…)


The Truth

Dear Elizabeth,

Thank you for the truth. The truth shall set you free, Jesus says. It sounds like you've done a lot of good in your life. It's my turn now I guess. I stabbed my girlfriend twenty-six times. Before she died she managed to write my name in blood on the floor so they could track me down. Afterwards I just drove around till they got me. The prosecuting judge made a big thing of me taking my shoes off and creeping into the house, saying it was premeditated. I suppose it was. I knew she was going to leave me and I wanted to stop her. I guess I went about it the wrong way. It'll take me seven minutes to die in the chamber of execution. They'll give me an injection first to put me to sleep then some potassium chloride to stop the heart. There will be onlookers pressing their faces to the glass. My girlfriend's family will applaud when I go. I don't blame them. God bless you…


Fuck Off

Dear Rodin,

This is the last letter I shall send. Oh, go to fucking hell. Go to hell with your bag of clay and God's piss and sculpt a few fallen angels for yourself. Fuck those singed and hairy cunts while you're burning up. Off you go now.


Just Because I Can

Amazing how much grime accumulates in nine years of children. I'm a whirlwind of dishcloths, soapsuds, rubber gloves, elbow grease. I do more in two hours than I've done in two years. And I get a lunchbreak. Cheese sandwich, cup of tea, banana and biscuit. Wonder if she's having fish fingers. Take Freckles for a walk in the land of sniffs and smells. Feel the rain on my face without having to discuss it. My hands deep deep in my pockets. It's so very quiet.

The house is so big. I do a dance move in the kitchen just because I can. Spread out on the settee just because I can. Soak my feet in an old herbal teabag, trim and shape my fingernails because hands and feet are the first to go. Beware ye women BC. Hands and feet are the first to go.

Rearrange the coffee table. It's so elegant. Wave at Hellboy rubbing his brass knocker. Nana rushing back home because little cunt's done a shart. I'm a glossy advert for the perfect wife and mother in my shiny as a new pincushion house.

I drive to collect Dove, planning my jobs for tomorrow.



The last few moments of his life are captured on film footage. It's all on the CCTV of the Golden Gate Bridge. His body was so broken up underneath that we had to check it to make sure it was him. There he was, strolling along … small, dark-haired figure … puts something in his mouth – a stick of gum I think, though why you take a stick of gum to stop smoking when you're going to kill yourself…? He just looks like a guy strolling leisurely up and down. Then suddenly, real quick, he sits up on the side and back rolls off. It's real graceful, real beautiful, like he's taking a back flip off a high board. What got me was how he was just leisurely strolling then, as if he got the guts, up and made a dash for it before he could change his mind. I don't know why he did it. He never got over my dad leaving I think. God bless us all.

Thank you for giving me some of your time. Thank you for not turning your head away. Thank you for bearing to look beneath the surface.

BOOK: Girl in Profile
3.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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