Flies buzzed lazily against the sunlit window in the late afternoon heat. The black walnuts and shagbark hickories drooped their branches in defeat; a silent prayer for rain, for relief from the heat wave that had gripped the countryside.
Bob sat on the swing on his porch, hoping the breeze would lift, but the air was still. The smell of tobacco from his neighbor’s fields hung in the humid air. It made his head pound; the veins in his neck and on his temple beat a tattoo against the rage he felt welling up inside him.
The screen door squeaked open behind him, then banged shut. He could barely be bothered to crank his head around to see who it was. He knew it was Molly. His Molly, who knew trees by their Latin names, and birds and what things to plant and when. The girl he had married a hundred years ago. Molly who had slept by his side every night, who cooked his food, who cleaned the house and who put up with his fractious moods and bitter tongue.
She knew when he muttered and ranted to let him be, but now she came up behind him and gently placed her hand on his shoulder. He felt the warmth of her hand, an unwanted warmth in this heat, but he didn’t shrug it off as he would have done on other occasions when irritation with her gentle ways drove him crazy.
Molly could skin a deer, pluck a goose, wring a chicken’s neck. But those very self same hands could heal a fevered brow, soothe a child’s sorrow and bring comfort to an ailing elderly neighbor. Molly, his Molly, was a saint. How he hated her sometimes. Hated that others needed her and that she put their needs above his.
She had looked like Doris Day when she was eighteen. A freckled blond with a big smile that would melt a man’s heart.
“Sam killed a copperhead this morning,” Molly said, breaking the silence.
“It crawled out from the woodpile behind the house. Them snakes are a mighty menace,” she said placidly.
He grunted. Sam liked shooting. He was a good old country boy. Still had a decal of the old flag on the back of his truck.
“I’m going to lie down a bit again,” she said.
Bob was silent. Her hand caressed the back of his head and she leaned down and kissed him on the bald spot on the top of his head. She lifted the pistol she had in her right hand, the one she had kept hidden all these years, pressed it against his skull, and fired.
Molly staggered as she turned away, and reached out to steady herself by holding on to the rickety porch door for a second.
“The hospice nurse said she would be by in a bit.” Her voice sounded as if it was coming from far, far away . Talking to herself. “Such a bad habit,” she thought. Bob always made fun of her silly ways.
She stepped back into the house, welcoming the cooler air as the window unit suddenly blasted forth a stream of frigid air. She shivered and lay down on the sofa, pulled the faded blue afghan over her feet. She patted her carefully curled and lacquered hair, proud of the fetching “do” she had managed to achieve in spite of her weakness. Molly ran a tongue over her painted lips. She crossed her hands over her stomach and she smiled wistfully.
She was ready…
Shagbark hickory: http://ortravelexperience.com/oregon-heritage-trees/shagbark-
Tobacco field: http://www.tobacconistuniversity.org/curriculum_tobacco_college.php