Red Flannel Shirts

by | Aug 10, 2021 | Fiction, Issue Twenty Two

Donald came to me on a quiet night. I was reading by candlelight. The full moon out the window was big and round like one dead eye. I never liked to be disturbed on such nights, but Donald could wreck me anytime he pleased.

            Three frenzied knock knock knocks on the door, a whimper – a cry.

            I dog-eared my page and rushed over, my chest thumping something lethal; not used to excitement at this hour, not to mention a plot thread about to make its full disclosure.

            My battered-Donald stood in the doorway. The moonlight on his face revealed a final damage had been done.

            “Looks like your woman’s at it again,” I said.

            “She loves me,” he said, wheezing. “I know she does. We’re just like that. But it has to stop. I know it does. You’re the only one who can make it stop.”

            I wanted a hug. Permission to touch his back and stick my nose on his sweaty head.

            “Go get my pistol,” I said. “You know where I keep it.”

            He lunged and placed his arms around my neck. For reasons only the dead moon could figure, I kept my hands by my side.

                                                                        #

            “Still no electricity?” Donald said, as he filled the chamber of my .45.

            “Thought you’d choose the Glock,” I said. “You always liked me with a Glock.”

            “I need a drink,” he said. “Something strong.”

            I filled a glass: one part well water, four parts Beam.

            When Donald tipped back to drink, his hair swept away from his face exposing a deep swell of agony. In the candlelight it appeared some sick doctor grafted someone else’s swollen skin to his sweet face, like displacing a cancerous tumor and attaching it where it never dreamed to be. A lump, a purple bruise, a lightning bolt slice from eyebrow to nostril. His other nostril had a trail of dried blood above his upper lip.

            “She sure did a number on you,” I said.

            “Never again,” he said and drank more.

I wanted to go back in time, when we were younger, thinner; before the cheating and drinking; when we had that old sheep dog called Donald’s Pride. DP liked to dig up the voles and offer them to barn cats.

            He handed me the loaded .45 and kissed me with his bloody mouth: metallic and foul and good. Evil things can taste like that.

            “Go down to the river, babe,” quoting the song. “I’ll meet you there.”

            “Don’t hurt her,” said Donald, now sobbing, covering his broken face. “Please don’t make it bad.”

            “How else is there?”

            “She’s drunk,” he said clinging to my shirt. His hands had little cuts on his white knuckles. “She shouldn’t feel it if you aim for her heart and then maybe you could shoot her in the temple. I want it quick and dead. Will you do that for me? I’ll never ask for anything ever again. I promise.”

            “Down by the river,” I said and grabbed his wrists, forcing his hands off me. “Make sure you pack my book. Don’t drink all the whiskey, I’d like to share a sip when this is over.”

            “Please, one more thing! This is all I ask. Just one more thing.”

            I turned and placed the pistol in the waist of my jeans. He picked up the candle and put it under his chin so that his face was light in the parts that were usually shadowed and shadowed in the parts that were usually light.

            “You look like an owl,” I said.

            “In her bottom dresser drawer you’ll find a red flannel shirt.”

            “I got plenty of those.”

            “No, please. Please get me that shirt. I love sleeping in that shirt. I bet it still smells like her.”

            I told him once more to meet me down by the river and then walked out the door. The night’s air was not flannel wearing weather. It was humid and buggy.                                                                                                        #

She was passed out on a bloody bed – a clenched fist, white leg hanging over the edge, and grinding her teeth.

I didn’t hurt her more than I could. Shot to the heart. Shot through the temple, just as Donald wished. But even after the temple shot those molars were still grinding away. Felt like maybe she was trying to say something. Maybe she was trying to get out a last word.

I thought I heard a voice in my head say, He’ll never love you as much as he loved me.

“At least you’re dead,” I said.

Every time you look at him you’ll be reminded of me.

“We’ll see.”

                                                            #

The red flannel was folded in his bottom drawer like arms crossed in a coffin. Didn’t smell like much to me, maybe a little pine, a hint of wet dog. Who didn’t have a red flannel shirt? I had three in my bottom drawer.

I laid his flannel flat on the wood floor and put a bullet through the breast pocket. There’s some things I had to shoot for myself.

                                                            #

There sat Donald on the bank of the river, shirtless, angelic, the moonlight on his bare chest. His face was bright, clean, as if it were restoring itself before my eyes. As I approached his crooked smile chipped away at me like a hatchet.

It’d been so long since I’d been drunk. I could almost taste the Beam. The killing was over; all that was left was love making and drinking.

I began to trot, and then I ran to him, my Donald! The blood in my heart pounded warm and true. But by the time I arrived, the bottle lay empty in the grass, his doughy arms (and eyes) reaching only for the flannel shirt balled up in my soiled hands.

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