Martinmas Time

Lebanon High School is a brick building on the corner of School and Main Streets. That morning she’d gotten up and to the school early, and she was waiting to meet him. There was a prep class for the SAT. She hadn’t washed her hair; she’d put it up. She often got comments on her hair, positive and negative. Some loved it, and others called her names. Her boyfriend liked it. 

“Hey,” he said when they met. “You ready to get into this.” 

They’d been studying together. She’d done everything she could do. Drill team, activities, studying, and practicing for the test. She was tired. Something about all this wasn’t right; it didn’t make sense, including him. He was too perfect. It was wrong. 

“Yes,” she said. “We’re gonna kick this test’s ass!” 

“Do you always have to swear?” he said. “I mean, you know.” 

“Like saying ‘fuck you’ when you say shit like that?” she asked. 

“Whatever,” he said. 

They’d do well in the town if she could keep her family under control. There was a delicate balance in town. Everyone knew her dad and brothers. She knew everyone else’s dad and brothers. There was a currency here, a way of doing things, and it wasn’t more moral or wholesome than anywhere else. What they had was a system, and she was doing what she could to manage it and live in it. 

It was November, and farm equipment would rumble on to the highway. People were focused on the harvest. A light snow had fallen the night before, crusting everything with a white frost. 

That night, as the sun was setting, they drove in his truck south of town, past the railroad tracks to the corn fields and the huge radio antenna that stood like a sentinel, looming over the road into town. 

It was what they did. They did everything but have sex. As the sun slipped behind the horizon and a rich and deep darkness embraced them, she quizzed him. 

“You love me, right?” she asked. 

“Of course, yes,” he said. 

“It doesn’t matter if you do or not,” she said, stroking his hair. “It doesn’t even matter.” 

They heard something loud hit the truck. It happened again. They heard voices. 

“Hey, look,” someone said. “He’s out here with her. Are they fucking?”

There was laughter from many of voices. There was a crowd. A flashlight was shining through the windshield. 

“There she is,” a voice said. “Kinky hair is in there with him!” 

“Where’s you’re fucking gun,” she asked him. “Where’s the gun?” 

“Hey, baby,” he said. “Let’s just get out of here.” 

“Fuck that!” she said. “I’m tired of this shit.” 

She reached behind the seat and searched around and pulled out a pistol. 

“Fuck, honey,” he said. “No! Goddamit, no!” 

She opened the door of the truck and got out. 

“Hey you fuckers,” she yelled and fired a shot in the air. 

She could see their faces in the glow of their flashlights. There was one kid she had heard from over and over, since middle school. She could see his fat face. “Hey, you little shit,” she said. “Where’s you’re fucking mama?” 

She fired over his head. 

“Jesus Christ, you fuckin’ whore!” he yelled. 

She ran at him and took the pistol and hit him in the face with it once, then again, then again, then again. 

“Stop!” the boy cried. 

“One of you stupid motherfuckers shine your light over here so I can get a clear shot at this fuckers head!” she said. 

The flashlights lit her and the boy, lying on the ground in front of stalks of corn. Her boyfriend was still in the truck, with the dome light on, watching in a panic. All the lights shined on her. She held the gun pointed to the ground, blood on her hands. 

“Beg, motherfucker,” she said. “Beg! Or I swear to God, I’ll kill you!” 

It was quiet except for crickets. The silence seemed to last forever. 

“Please,” the boy said. “Please, you crazy fuck. Please.” 

“Get up!” she said. “Get up and walk.” 

He walked toward the others. Their flashlights followed them and the boy held his hands up as they all walked past the truck. 

“Now all you fuckers get the fuck outta here!” and she fired over their heads. 

The lights all scrambled away, north, back toward the tracks, the voices and laughter fading. 

She climbed back in the truck and dropped the gun on the floor. She wiped her hands on her shirt. 

“Those fuckin’ redneck motherfuckers have something to talk about now,” she said. 

“Jesus Christ,” he said. “What have you done?” 

The dome light was still on. She could see his face. He was scared. He was angry. 

“You’ve,” he stopped. “You’ve ruined me. You made me look like a fool here.” 

Lots of things went through her mind. For one, she felt like she’d dealt a well-deserved blow to the monster that lived in the town, the one that stalked around and didn’t kill or stomp or squash but nibbled and picked and scratched. She felt like she’d kicked that motherfucker right in the nuts. 

Then she looked at this cowering boy, worried, she knew, about his manhood and what he’d say tomorrow. Then she knew she’d lost. She’d pushed the monster back for a moment, she’d scared it, and she had even maybe worried it a bit about its existence. When she looked at this boy’s face, she knew it was not only alive, but this incident would feed it, make it stronger. 

She wanted to take the gun and kill him, right there. Then she saw the headline. And she saw herself in prison, maybe on death row. And for less than a second, the time that it takes for one heartbeat, she was fine with that. Then she thought about the test, and her mother, and her future. And then, the desire switched off. 

“Take me home,” she said. “Take me home.” 

It wasn’t a long trip. She got out wordlessly, walked toward her house, and went through the door. Her dad was passed out on the couch. She went right to the bathroom and closed the door. She washed her hands. 

Her dad had an electric razor with different settings to cut hair. She picked it up and looked at it. She took off the guard. 

She turned on the radio. 

“Hope you’ve had a great Veterans Day. Here’s another one from Waylon Jennings, this one is called, ‘What You’ll Do When I’m Gone,’” the voice said. “Remember tomorrow morning be the 10th caller and you’ll win tickets to his show in Kansas City.” 

Staring at the door
Every night I’m thinking more and more
About walking out that door.

I know some day I will
Although I’m standing still someday I will
I know someday I will.

She started shaving her head, right down to her scalp. She twirled her hair into one tight pony tail, then holding it, plunged the razor into the base of it. When she’d gotten through it, she held the big bunch of hair up to the light like Cicero’s Orion.

She dropped it to the floor then shaved as close to the skin as she could, and with each stroke she felt more and more free. She looked at her face in the mirror, at her eyes, blazing green. She felt her scalp and it felt wonderful. She looked like boy, like a soldier. She could see herself for the first time, not “the girl with the hair.”

She gathered up the hair, and as she did, she felt a jolt of regret, she felt something like falling, like she’d shot that kid in the face and buried him in the field. For a moment, like a lightning bolt, like that moment she’d wanted to kill someone, she felt like putting the hair back on her head.

But that feeling was like the lightening bugs she’d catch in summer. Their lights would go on then off. It felt like forever, but the regret was gone. Then she felt like she’d cut off being a girl, and when her hair grew back, it would grow back on a woman’s head, not a girl’s.

She put all the hair in the garbage except for one bunch which she held together with a hair tie. She took the garbage bag in her hand and walked out of the bathroom. 

“Jesus Christ,” her dad said. “I’ve gotta pee. Thought you’d never get out of there.” 

“Sorry,” she said, and let him go past.

She walked out into the cold evening. A light snow was beginning to fall.

She emptied the trash into a big bin and walked back to the house. 

Her dad was bent over in the refrigerator. 

“Goddamit,” he said. “We’re damn near out of beer!” 

He took one out and looked at her. He flicked on the kitchen light. 

“What the hell have you done, honey,” he said. He opened the can. Then he reached into the refrigerator and pulled out another one. 

“These are the last damned beers,” he said as he opened the second one and handed it to her. 

He stood there and looked at her. He took his beer and held it up to her to toast. They touched beer cans. 

“You’re as beautiful as ever,” he said. “Now all I can see is those goddamned eyes. The hair, well, that was a distraction.” 

“I can only imagine what happened,” he said. 

“It’s quite the fucking story,” she said.