Unforgiving Memories

By Glen Bush

Pete McCoy sat on the edge of his wife’s queen bed.   Milly McCoy had passed five years earlier.   A box of faded photographs sat next to him.  Fifty-some years of his life lay jumbled in that worn cardboard box.  Picking the pictures up one by one, examining each one carefully, trying to remember who the people were and where they were taken, McCoy fumbled from one to the next.  Here he was in his Marine fatigues the morning he shipped out for Vietnam.  His hands, trembling, could not steady the picture.  Silently, Agent Orange had followed him home, gnawing away, year after year, at his nerves.  Setting the photo to the side, he recognized a black-and-white photograph of Milly Cash, before she became Milly McCoy.  He was fond of telling his barroom buddies his life began the day he met Milly Cash.  It was a lie.  Casually, he slipped Milly’s picture into his shirt pocket and reached for another piece of the past. 

All that had been good and clean from the first two pictures was now negated.  The third picture triggered unforgiving memories.  Salty tears of loss and regret filled his eyes.  Vietnam, Milly, and now this forgotten, faded picture.

Pete McCoy tried to drop the photo, but he could not let it go.  It clung to him like the glue in a rat trap, and he was the rat.  The black-and-white picture of two children standing in front of Hebert Elementary School taunted the Vietnam Marine.  Pete finally hurled the picture across the bedroom letting it fall next to his recliner in the corner.  He did not want to see that picture.  But like an evil temptation, he could not resist it.  Pushing himself up from the bed, he walked toward the recliner and eased himself down into the comfortable seat.  Dropping his left hand, he clutched the Kodak image.  This time he brought it up even with his face and stared directly at it. 

“It wasn’t my fault!  I was just a kid.”  No one was left to hear his words.

Why did he have to see it again?  Why hadn’t he thrown it away?  Wasn’t it enough that the memories of those days still burned in his heart?  Memories that he never spoke about to anyone.  He was the boy, and the girl was his first love, CaroLynne Masters.  The picture was the story of lost innocence and an unspeakable revulsion, and the guilt that had followed him the rest of his life, and the single worded question, “Why?”

Pete McCoy leaned back in the recliner and continued staring at the snapshot of CaroLynne and himself.   They were both the same age, both in seventh grade when the picture had been taken by Mrs. Sankowski, their teacher.  CaroLynne had been so lovely, angelic, and, yet, grown-up, wearing her tight-fitting beige skirt matched with that white cotton blouse, and those damn, ugly brown penny loafers with a new copper penny tucked into each saddle slot of her loafers.   No Minnie Mouse tee-shirt and little girl peddle-pushers for her.

Leaning back further against the recliner’s pillow and causing the old chair to squeak, the Vietnam veteran closed his eyes and let his mind drift back to when he first met CaroLynne, before Vietnam, before Milly, before the loss, before the guilt.  But even with his eyes closed, Pete McCoy knew he could not recall those days without going into the darkness, a place that denied him all light.  It had always remained, haunting his memories, seeking to disrupt.

                                                          ***

After putting her change in her purse, she turned and stared straight into Pete’s face.  Soft, warm blue eyes, her blue eyes—deceptive—seared the surface of his cheeks with their cool heat.   

Pete McCoy fell hard, face first, in love. 

Did she know this was a special moment?  Had her world stopped when she saw him?

 “Hi.  Youse Tony’s cousin, ain’tcha?”  The words tumbled out of his cotton mouth.  

“That’s right.  Tony Masters is my cousin.”  Surprisingly, her words were not as smooth as he had imagined they would be.

“I think I saw ya at school.  Ain’tcha new?  Youse just move here or sumthin’?”

“Yeah, me and my folks moved up here a couple of weeks ago from New Madrid.  We still got family down there, but a bunch of us up here now.   What’s ya’ll’s name?  Mine’s CaroLynne Masters.”

“Pete.  Pete McCoy.  My family’s . . . .”

Before Pete could continue, CaroLynne clutched her purse in her right hand and the paper sack in her left, and took a step toward the front door, halting Pete’s conversation.

“Pete?  Ummm.  Nice.  Glad to meet’cha, Pete McCoy.”

While still biting his lower lip, he heard her, “Nice talkin’ to ya.  I got to get home.  My daddy’s waitin’ for me, and he don’t like me keepin’ him waitin’.  Y’all be sweet.”  Noiselessly, she left, just like that, she left.  

Leaning against the dark green chipped and battered door jamb, he stared until she turned into a gangway halfway down the block and disappeared. 

At school, he started finding excuses to be close to her.  In the lunchroom he noticed she always brought the same kind of sandwich—cheese and catsup on white bread—and bought a chocolate milk.  He often brought his lunch as well, but at times his mother gave him the money for a hot lunch.  CaroLynne’s folks did not seem to think about hot lunches.  Maybe down in New Madrid kids always brought their sandwiches wrapped in wax paper stuffed into little brown paper bags. When CaroLynne finished her sandwich, she would lay the little brown sack on the lunch table, smooth it out with her right hand while her left held the bag in place.  When she was satisfied that it was smooth enough, she carefully, with both hands, folded the bag in thirds.  It was all very neat.  Once, before she placed the neatly folded bag in her purse, she held it out in front of her and examined it carefully.  Turning it up, then to the right, and back to the left, and then back on the table. 

“Whacha doin’?”

“Pete McCoy, don’tcha know a lady has got to have everything jest right or she won’t ever get herself a good husband.  That’s what my mama tells me, and I don’t plan on gettin’ a no-account husband.  Nope.  I want a good husband just like my daddy.  Exactly like my daddy.”

“And folding that little bag is gonna get ya that husband? Ummm.” Pete’s twelve-year old brain, lacking in the husband-finding business, tried imagining what a good husband might look like.  Could he be one?   All he could come up with were those husbands he watched on the sit-coms, My Three Sons, Father Knows Best, The Rifleman.  He never thought about the husbands and fathers in North St. Louis.  They were just “regglar” men. 

“Patience and practice is what my daddy always tells me.  Just take ya time, CaroLynne, practice.” Her smile and wink put the final seal on their lunchroom conversation.  She then neatly put the little confectionary sack in her purse for the next day’s lunch. 

                                                               ***

Young Pete made it a point to be outside the school’s front door before CaroLynne walked out.  No one said it out loud, but Pete was beginning to feel as though CaroLynne was his girl.  At a fresh twelve, McCoy struggled with his two changing personalities, the boy who thought girls had cooties and the budding teenager who wanted to be James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (if he only had that red jacket). 

When CaroLynne didn’t have to get right home, they took longer routes to her flat, sometimes going through Stradt Park.  On those days they would stop and swing.  Pete pushed CaroLynne as hard as he could so she could fly as high as the linked chain swing could arc.  Laughing was more important than talking during these swingings. 

“My arms are tired of pushin’ ya.  I’m gonna swing next to ya.  I bet I can swing higher than youse!”

“Just try, smarty pants.  Ha, ha, ha!”

 Reaching the apex of their arcs, for a quiet moment everything stopped, the swings were caught between going up and coming down, there were no sounds of birds or cars, not even their breath pierced the quiet.  In that moment Pete turned his head so he could look into CaroLynne’s blue eyes, everything was just like it should be—perfect.  Then, just as unexpectedly, gravity had its way, and the swings dropped toward the ground.  The perfection was replaced with their excited laughter—and imperfection.

“That was sooo cooool!”

“Yeah, it was,” replied Pete, his feet scraping the dusty yellowish clay. 

                                                           ***

Later that evening, after supper, while Pete was helping his mother wash and dry the dishes, he screwed up enough courage to ask her about his new feelings toward CaroLynne Masters.   Shyly, his eyes darted about the kitchen, lingering for a moment on his mother’s cart of house plants then quickly over to the window overlooking their small brick and grassless backyard, and then back around the kitchen. 

“What is it, Petey?  I know something’s bothering you.” Softly, she reassured him, “I won’t laugh.”

Hesitantly, Pete slowed his drying, letting his towel drop to his side.  “Mom, how old does a guy hafta be to have a girlfriend?”

Continuing to scrub her cake pan, she spoke slowly, “Pete, some boys don’t get to that point until they’re about fifteen or sixteen while others find a girl that captures their heart when they’re about your age.  There ain’t no set time or rule about matters of the heart and soul.  It’s one of them things nature controls and folks follow.”

“So’s it’s okay for me to like a girl, maybe even have a girlfriend?”

“Why, of course, darlin’.  There’s not a thing wrong with likin’ a sweet little girl.  What’s her name, Petey?”

“CaroLynne.  CaroLynne Masters.  She’s just moved up her from New Madrid.  But she don’t act like no hoosier.”

“Hoosier? Petey, ya been listenin’ to your dad too much.  It don’t make no nevermind about where’s she from.  If she’s a nice girl, then that’s good enough for ya.  Now, you wanna talk more about CaroLynne?”

“Nah, not now, I jest needed to know if ya thought it was okay for me to like her.  Maybe some other time we can talk a little more.  Right now, I gotta do my English and History homework.”

                                                                    ***

CaroLynne, watching her favorite comedy, curled herself into the corner of her favorite overstuffed chair.  Her penny loafers had been tossed carelessly beneath the coffee table, and her feet twisted under her girlish thighs.  Letting out a slight laugh, she tried not to wake her father who was taking his evening nap on the sofa.  A soft snoring worked its way from his half-buried face wedged into the sofa pillow.  An empty Falstaff beer lay on the floor next to the sofa leg.  It was another evening in the Masters’ home.  CaroLynne could hear her mother and little brother cleaning the kitchen of their supper dishes.  This week was Jerry’s turn, hers would be next week.  At a particularly funny joke CaroLynne laughed a little louder than earlier.  Her father stirred and turned away from the back of the sofa and toward the TV.

“CaroLynne, whacha laughin’ at, girly?”

“I’m sorry, Daddy, I didn’t mean to wake ya up.”

“Aw, it’s alright, sweetie.  Come on over here and sit next to Daddy.  I want to hold my little girl.”

“Right now, Daddy?”

“Of course, right now, ya know I ain’t ‘bout to bite my sweet little girl.  Come here and sit right here and tell me about your day at school.  Did’ya learn anything today?”

CaroLynne uncurled her twisted body from the comfortable chair and walked slowly over to the sofa.  Patting his hand on the sofa in front of his oversize USA belt buckle, his words were a nick above a whisper, “Sit your little fanny right here next to yer ol’ daddy.”  As CaroLynne sat down, the man turned his body a little more toward the TV and farther away from the sofa pillow behind him.  His daughter’s narrow buttocks rubbed against his patriotic buckle.  Smiling, he let his left arm rest effortlessly along the top of his outstretched left leg while his right arm slipped across CaroLynne’s lap.  His fingers gently tapped the side of his daughter’s left thigh.  “Now, there’s where my CaroLynne likes to be, don’tcha sweetie?”

Looking down at his right hand on her lap and feeling the warmth of the man’s groin against her, CaroLynne smiled and let the words come slowly and cautiously, “Yes, Daddy.  Just like you like the way I sit.”  Then she bent forward and kissed her father’s unshaven cheek. 

Smiling, the man said, “Thank you, young lady.  But that’s not how I taught you to show your real love for your Daddy, is it?  D’ya remember?”

Without a word, CaroLynne bent over again, this time placing her young lips on the man’s cracked and scarred lips.  His right hand moved up and held her small frame against his chest.  She could smell the stench of the beer and nicotine on his breath.  Although only a few seconds, CaroLynne felt as though the exchange had been longer, too long, no, it couldn’t be too long, this was Daddy, her daddy, her flesh and blood, he loved her and she loved him because that’s the way it is with real family. 

Just as CaroLynne was raising up and re-situating her hips, her mother walked into the living room.  The man’s wife looked at her husband lying on the sofa, legs outstretched, his arms laying lightly against his daughter, then turned to looked at the TV.

“Oh, I just love that show.  It’s so funny, don’t you think so, CaroLynne?” The woman’s eyes then cautiously moved back toward her husband and daughter.

“Oh, yes, mama, I love this show.  She is so funny when she dresses up like the old beggar woman, ha, ha, ha.”

The man did not say anything.  He meekly smiled and turned to face the TV.

“CaroLynne, why don’tcha walk down to the confectionary with me?  I need to pick up a few things I forgot at the market Friday and y’all can help me carry them.  My arm’s been hurtin’ somethin’ terrible today from the arthritis.”

“Okay, mama.”  As CaroLynne got up, her father gently slapped her buttocks and said, “Be good, sweetie.”

“Well, Mr. Masters, ya don’t ever give me one of those little taps or call me sweetie.”  Her words were spoken, part jokingly.

“That’s because y’know I love that big ol’ butt of yours, mama.  But I don’t want CaroLynne to ever forget I love the shit outta her and her little skinny butt, ha, ha, ha.”  He tried to flick CaroLynne’s rump with the back of his hand, but laughingly she had skipped out of his reach.

Mama put her hand in her daughter’s hand and the two walked toward the kitchen to get the market money and leave by the back door.

“Mama, bring me home a pack of Lucky Strikes and a six pack of Falstaff.”

                                                                ***

Autumn was slipping away, and the days were turning from crisp to cold.  Those lingering walks home in the sunny late afternoon were now walks home in the eerie twilight.  Side trips to the swings or Sweet Dreams Malt Shop were less common.  

“Let’s stop by Sweet Dreams and get a malt before we go home.:

“You know my daddy doesn’t want me lollygagging around the malt shop.  He likes me to be right home.” “I thought’cha said your daddy was down in New Madrid doing a construction job this week.  Your mom won’t care.  She ain’t like your daddy.”  Pete squeezed CaroLynne’s small, soft hand and begged her with his easy-going eyes.  Looking down at her hand engulfed in his, she smiled, and turned toward the malt shop and the busy stretch of local shops and stores.  The three blocks passed with a nearly wordless conversation.  An occasional comment about a lone starling or Mrs. Blume, the office secretary and lunch monitor, but nothing more.  Anyone overhearing the two walking may not have realized how their feelings for one another had grown over the past autumn months.  Their slow pace toward the malt shop was all the conversation they needed.  When CaroLynne’s barrette slipped from her blonde hair and fell to the ground, Pete stopped and quickly picked it up.

“D’ya want me to put it back in your hair?”

“No, silly, y’all don’t know anything about how to fix a girl’s hair.  I’ll do it.  Ha, ha, ha.”

While holding her books and watching her place the barrette in her hair, a loud laughing and yelling came from across the street. 

“Daddy’s girl.  Daddy’s girl.  Ooooo!  Daddy’s girl.  Better watch out, McCoy, Daddy’ll get your hoosier ass!  Ha, ha, ha!”  Then the tall, red-headed boy in the middle, made several obscene gestures at CaroLynne before the three ran off.

“Drop dead, you damn hoosiers,” cried Pete as he threw a piece of brick after the running hooligans.  “What the hell was that all about, CaroLynne?  Daddy’s girl?  What’s that mean?”

“Those boys are my cousins on my Aunt Wilma’s side of the family.  They’re all a bunch of white trash.  Always talkin’ ignorant.  I hate ‘em!  I wish they’d go back to the country.”  CaroLynne’s face had turned a deep crimson and tears were running down her cheeks. 

“Don’t cry, CaroLynne.  I promise I’ll kick their hoosier asses when I see ‘em at school.  Nobody’s gonna talk that way to my girl, nobody, ever.”  Pete McCoy’s hands were shaking with anger. “No, Pete, don’t do nuthin’.  I’ll tell my daddy when he gets back from New Madrid.  He’ll take care of ‘em.  Its family business, Pete, and y’all ain’t family.   Daddy knows what to do about that side of the family.”  A slight smile, almost sinister, crossed CaroLynne’s face, ever so briefly.  “Let’s get that malt you promised me.”  Then CaroLynne bent forward and kissed Pete on the lips.  “Y’know, you are my hero.”  She said the words slowly, distinctly.  “Hero Pete McCoy.”

                                                                   ***

Several weeks had passed since the name-calling incident.  When Pete asked about CaroLynne’s cousins, all he got from her was “It’s over, my daddy took care of it.”  That is when Pete realized he had not seen the three boys at school since Mr. Masters had returned from his construction job.   Now, sitting on CaroLynne’s front stoop in the warm November sun, talking about the coming holidays, Pete and CaroLynne were laughing and joking.  There were no gray skies, just sunshine and fluff.   Standing inside the flat, looking out the front window, half hid by the dark drapes, was Mr. Masters, looking down at his little girl and Pete McCoy.   His eyes were steady, piercing, his facial muscles tense.  The drape and his still, erect body were one.  The darkness behind him and the shadows outside did not allow for enough light to differentiate between cloth and flesh.  

Pete spied a tennis ball on the ground next to the limestone stoop.  Reaching down, he held it up to CaroLynne as though it were a trophy being brought back from a harrowing battle to his queen.  She smiled at his mock heroics. 

“Let’s play!” And before CaroLynne could answer, Pete was up and tossing the ball at the steps.  On one toss the ball flew over Pete’s head, causing him to jump to make a one-handed grab while another toss resulted in a direct bounce back to him.  “I betcha I can catch more’n youse can before missin’ one.  Wanna try?”

“No, Peter McCoy, young ladies do not spend their afternoons playing with tennis balls on the sidewalk.”

“Well, la de da, and here I thought I had me a girlfriend who liked doin’ stuff, not some stuck-up Southern belle tryin’ to be another plantation floozy.  Ha, ha, ha.”

“Hey, just watch who y’all calliin’ a floozy or I’ll have Daddy tie your tail in a knot y’all won’t ever get undone.  So, take that, Mr. Maybe-My-Boyfriend!  Ha, ha, ha.”  Their joking and laughing grew as Pete continued his game of stepball. 

Neither child had noticed CaroLynne’s father step from inside the house and stand quietly in the back of the darkly, shaded enclosed porch.  “CaroLynne, it’s time for supper.  Y’all need to come inside now.”  The man stepped out of the shadow, never looking at Pete.  Instead, he kept his eyes on his daughter.  With a surprised flinch CaroLynne looked around at her father.  “Ok, Daddy, I’ll be right there.”  Then, hesitantly, as a second thought, CaroLynne asked, “Daddy, can Pete stay for supper?”  Without acknowledging the question or looking in Pete’s direction, the man held open the front door and said, “Supper’s gettin’ cold.  Let’s go.”

Standing up on the top step, CaroLynne smiled at Pete, “I’ll see y’all at school.  Thanks for coming over.” “CaroLynne!  I’m not going to stand here all evenin’ holdin’ this here door for ya.  Let’s get to it!” The coldness in his voice did not disturb CaroLynne, but it did cause Pete to look hard at the tall man in the shadows.  “You bet, CaroLynne, I had a lot of fun.  See ya tomorrow!”  Before Pete turned away, he looked back just long enough to see CaroLynne’s father tap her on her butt and turn his look straight at Pete and smile, a drop of nicotined spittle hanging precariously in the corner of his mouth.

                                                                 ***

A week later, just as Pete passed the old Polish barber’s dreary shop, he saw two St. Louis City police officers leaving CaroLynne’s home.  At the top of the stoop stood CaroLynne and her father.  The two police officers stood next to their patrol car, looking up at Mr. Masters.  

“Don’t make us come back here again, Masters, or it won’t go as easy as it did this time.  We don’t like this kind of crap up here in the city.”  CaroLynne leaned against her father’s hip, her eyes were red from crying. 

“Y’all need to get on about y’all’s business and leave me and my mine alone.  We ain’t no concern of yours.  Just goddamn let us be.”

“We’ve told you, Mr. Masters,” replied the Sergeant, “we will let you be as long as you don’t break any laws concerning your children.  Like my partner said, if we get any more calls from your neighbors or CaroLynne’s school, you’ll be coming with us next time.”

Pete was now standing a few feet from the stoop, looking up at CaroLynne, seeing her red eyes and tear stained cheeks.  As the police drove off, he heard Mr. Masters say, half under his breath, “Fuck them sumbitches.  They’d best stay the fuck away from me and mines if they know what’s good for ‘em.  That gun and badge don’t scare me none a‘tall.”

“CaroLynne!  What’s wrong?  Can I . . .”  Before Pete could finish his questions, Masters grabbed his daughter by the shoulders and turned her around and shoved her toward the front door.  She turned to look at Pete, but her father pushed her a little more through the doorway.    As CaroLynne disappeared into the darkening, her father turned and took a step toward Pete.  “Listen to me, ya little punk.  Y’all stay the hell away from my little girl, she’s my daughter, and I don’t want the likes of y’all kind around us.”  He then took the last steps toward the front door.

“But, Mr. Masters, I just wanted to talk to CaroLynne,” said Pete, fighting back his tears.

Without turning to look back at Pete, the old man replied in his cold, clear monotone, “I already said what I’m gonna say, now, get yer ass off my property, punk.”  And the quiet and the dark swallowed the closing scarred, oak door.

                                                               ***

Pete never saw CaroLynne again.  The incident with the police happened on a Friday evening.  The several times Pete called CaroLynne’s house, no one answered the phone.  On Sunday afternoon he went to her house.  He knocked on the front door and with no answer he went around the back and knocked on the screen door.  Still no reply.  He could see through a tear in the yellowing window shade the empty kitchen and on into the narrow, lightless shotgun flat.  Nothing.  No signs of life.  Even CaroLynne’s mutt, Skipper, was not to be seen or heard.

On Monday morning, Pete went straight to the area of the schoolyard where he and CaroLynne always met before class.  She was not there.  No one had seen her.  It was the same story in class, nothing, nothing at all.  Where could she be?  Was she sick?  Did her father hurt her?  Did the police come back and take both her and her father?  At 3:15, after a long day of wondering where she could be and what could have happened, Pete ran straight to CaroLynne’s house.

He went quickly up the stoop and began knocking at the heavy oak door.  Even if her father got mad at him, it was worth it, at least then he would know somebody was at home.  He had to find CaroLynne!  After several minutes of knocking, he collapsed on the top of the stoop.  Sitting with his face buried in his hands, tears started filling his eyes.

“What’s da madder wit’ya, my young boy?”

It was the old Polish barber.  Pete wiped his eyes. “I was just trying to find my girlfriend, CaroLynne, but I can’t find her.  I haven’t talked to her since Friday.  I don’t know where she could be.”  His words tumbled rapidly out of his mouth, pleadingly, trying desperately for an answer.

“Oh, ya mean da sweet little girl who lives here wit her little brother?  The mudder, so quiet, never a peep.”

“Yeah, that’s right, CaroLynne!  Have ya seen them?”

“Dat fadder, no good!”

“So, do ya know or not?”

“Yah, I know.  Old man Johnson who lives upstairs here, right up there,” pointing his finger at the upstairs flat above CaroLynne’s.  “He tol’ me dey went back to de country.  Johnson said dey left Saturday morning witout telling nobody, not even the landlord. Believe dat?  He real mad!  Dem hoosiers didn’t pay dis month’s rent.  Yah, he real mad!  But he glad to see dem gone.  Said the fadder was no good.  He was handsy with his little girl.  Johnson also tol’ me da police was looking for de fadder.  Too much trouble.  I’m glad dey gone.  No good.”

Pete did not wait for any more explanations.  He got up and ran as fast as he could back to his house.  Leaping up the three steps to the back porch and into the kitchen doorway, Pete did not stop to say anything to his mother.  She caught a glimpse of him as she was pouring a cup of milk into the iron skillet, making her white gravy for the fried pork chops and mashed potatoes.   The smell of frying pork chops had always made Pete stop and look at the skillet and talk to his mother about how much he loved her cooking.  Not today, though.  Instead, he ran straight to the living room and flopped on the worn sofa.  Staring at the blank television screen, he could feel his skin burning and the tears welling up in his eyes.  Unable to restrain his pain any longer, burning tears rolled down his cheeks.  Visions of CaroLynne filled his mind. 

Why?  Why? I hate Old Man Masters!  He’s a monster!  A no good hoosier!  Why couldn’t he just go back to the country by hisself?  Why didn’t the police catch him before he left?  Someday I’ll get even with him. Oh, dammit!  Why? Why?

The questions rolled from one side of his mind to the other, colliding with fleeting visions of CaroLynne and him walking home from school and sitting in the park playfully arguing about their favorite music.  And then he saw him, Masters, standing on his front porch shoving CaroLynne into the house, saw him tapping her behind with his dirty, meaty hand

Why?

“Petey, darlin’, what’s the matter?  You’re crying?  What happened at school?”  his mother’s voice tried to offer some sense of solace.

“Nuthin’” was Pete’s only reply.

“Don’t be like that, darlin’.  Tell me what’s wrong.  I can help you.”

Choking back the tears and heartache long enough to string a reply together, the twelve-year old mumbled, “CaroLynne.  CaroLynne’s gone.  Her daddy took her back to New Madrid.  She couldn’t even tell me.  He just up and took her over the weekend.  Just like that!  I hate that hoosier!” 

Pete’s mother sat down next to him and pulled his head to her breast and patted his sweaty hair.  “Well, maybe they just went for a visit.  Ya don’t know, it mighta been a family emergency, she’ll probably be back in no time at all.”

“No, no, no!  Ya don’t understand.  He took her because the police found out what he’d been doin’ to CaroLynne and he didn’t want to go to jail.  I was right there in front of her house last week when the police came out and told him they would come back and arrest him if they heard any more things about him.  CaroLynne was standing next to her daddy cryin’.  Cops said they knew about him, but they let him take her back to the country.”

“Police?  Last week?  Petey, why didn’t you say somethin’ to me or your dad?  Maybe we could’ve helped.”

“Helped?  What could youse done?”

Pete’s father walked into the living room and started to turn on the television, but when he heard Pete’s words, he stopped.  “Whaddya talkin’ about?”

“Frank, honey, I’m glad you’re home.  Pete’s heartbroken.  CaroLynne’s family just moved back to the country and Pete just found out.  He didn’t know anything about it.  And it looks like CaroLynne’s father was in some kind of trouble with the police.  That’s why they left so sudden last weekend.”

Frank McCoy didn’t say anything.  Standing in front of the television set, he looked down at his wife and son.  His chiseled facial muscles were motionless.  Then his words cut through the quiet and into Pete’s gut, “Get over it, kid!  Ya twelve years old.  Ya gotta lotta of pain ahead of ya.  Might as well get used to it now.  Besides, iffen the police was lookin’ for the old man, it’s best you’re nowhere around.  Don’t get mixed up in other folks’ problems.  Ya got yer own problems.  Ya don’t need theirs.”  His mouth moved, but his eyes and facial muscles remained still and firm.

“What’dya know anyway?”  burst Pete, looking into his father’s deadening eyes.

“Watch yer tongue or I’ll give ya sumthin’ to really cry about!” hesitating a minute, he added, “So, why the police lookin’ for the old man?”

“I ain’t for sure.  I saw ‘em leavin’ her house last week and heard the police tell Mr. Masters that they’d be back if they heard anything more about him.  CaroLynne was standing right there next to him, cryin’, but he wouldn’t let her talk to me.  That Polack barber said the man who lived upstairs above CaroLynne said her daddy was hannsy.’”

“Handsy,” corrected his mother. Then she and her husband looked at one another.  She bowed her eyes.

“What’s that, mom, handsy?  What’s that mean?”

His father spoke before his wife could say anything, “It means forget about it.  What he’s been doin’ ain’t right, but it ain’t our business.  That’s business for her family folk to take care of.   If the police didn’t arrest him, they either didn’t care enough to get involved or they waitin’ for more information.  Either way, it don’t concern us.  Who knows, maybe that’s the way her daddy and his menfolk do things down there in New Madrid.”  Frank McCoy, for the first time showing any sign of tenderness, walked over to the side of the sofa and looked down at his son’s tear stained face and gently placed his hand on his son’s shoulder.  “When ya get older, you’ll learn about men like that bastard, that don’t mean you’ll understand ‘em, but you’ll learn about ‘em.  We all do.  It’s one of the ugly things in life.”

“But . . . but . . . but what can I do?  I want to see CaroLynne and I want to . . . .”

“Pete, it’s time for supper.  Those pork chops and gravy are gettin’ cold.”  Frank McCoy then tenderly lifted his son up by the arm and the three of them walked toward the back of the three-room flat into the kitchen.

                                                               ***

Pete McCoy opened his eyes and lifted the picture back up even with his line of vision.  There were tears in his eyes.  Holding the picture lengthwise, he started to tear it in half, but hesitated, and looked at the images again.  Tearing it in half would not remove the pain of the memories.  The pain had not left in fifty years, it was not going to leave now.  Instead, McCoy stood up from his recliner and walked to his bed.  Sitting down next to the cardboard box of memories, he laid the photograph on top of the other photographs, and lay down on his side, facing the dresser mirror, and closed his eyes.  In a shallow whisper, he let escape his lingering question,

Why?

                                                       –The End–


Bio: Glen Bush is a retired teacher living in the Missouri Ozarks. He enjoys writing crime noir short stories and novels. In his spare time he teaches as an Adjunct Professor, walks his Lab, Ty, and reads. He has another story on The Yard: Crime Blog, entitled “Simple Pleasures

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