All That Raylene Business

06/12/24

Judy stood at the bay window with an old mystery novel she’d checked out from the library, watching as her husband Frank eased the Buick up the gravel driveway. The car radio was blaring a country ballad from the 1980s, one she couldn’t put a finger on. She couldn’t remember things like song titles anymore, and sometimes it worried her—just another one of those things she avoided asking her doctor about lest she manifest bad news.

Frank sat and let the song play out. The tune had made him sad, and as his old eyes grew wet, Judy remembered how endearing he was when he cried. He pawed his eyes with his fingertips and studied himself in the rearview. When he climbed out to check the mailbox, Judy wandered to the car and gathered the groceries from the back seat. They watched each other from across the driveway for a moment.

They didn’t wave or smile or say a word.

• • •

When he left the house again, she went into the kitchen and poured a gin and tonic. She could see that he wasn’t actually leaving, but gathering up the gardening tools so he could work on the planter box. He’d set up a Bluetooth speaker and was listening to a gardening podcast while he gardened. This made Judy snicker—he had so many little quirks like that.

She returned to her favorite chair and drank her gin and read the old mystery novel. When she woke hours later, she was surprised that she’d fallen asleep and that it was now dark. Frank had bookmarked the book for her and placed a blanket over her legs so she wouldn’t get cold. She rose and drifted down the hall and peered into the bedroom where she saw him lying in bed, softly crying again. She stood listening at the door until he finally fell asleep.

• • •

 It was after midnight when Judy pulled up to the house across town.

The windows were dark and the door was locked—but she knew where the key was hidden. She crept down the hall and toed open the bedroom door where a middle-aged woman lay sleeping and snoring loudly. She knelt beside the woman and flicked on the bedside lamp. The woman woke and gave a hard squint as if looking into the sun.

“Christ! That you, Judy?” said the woman.

“Hey Raylene,” said Judy. “It’s me, alright.”

Judy lifted a .45 caliber revolver from her coat pocket and shot the woman in the forehead. Blood darkened the bedding and fanned up along the wall. Some of it reached all the way to the ceiling and stuck there like jelly. It was the first time she’d killed anyone since her time in the service and she’d never done it this close up before.

She flicked off the lamp and left through the front door. She returned the key exactly where she’d found it. It wasn’t yet one o’clock when she pulled up to her house and slipped off Frank’s gardening gloves and dropped them in the gardening bucket.

She’d left the half-full glass of gin by the chair and she brought it to the kitchen to refresh it with a new ice cube. When she shut the freezer door, Frank shuffled into the kitchen, half-asleep.

“Getting a glass of water, honey?” she said.

He jerked his head and gave a surprised look. She knew he couldn’t see her very well without his glasses.

“Uh-huh,” he said, cautiously.

“Let me get it for you.”

She poured a glass from the tap and passed it to him.

“What’s this about, hon?” he said. “You haven’t spoken a word since—”

“I think it’s gone on long enough,” she said, sipping from her drink. “I want to tell you I love you and miss you. I forgive you for all that Raylene business.”

His eyes drained again—this time it looked something like relief.

“Oh, Judy-jude.” He got down low and hugged her legs and kissed her hand. “I don’t deserve your kindness, baby. You’re all I ever wanted in this lonely old world.”

“All but that one time,” she reminded him.

~ fin ~

CW-Blackwell-300dpi

C.W. Blackwell is an American author from the Central Coast of California. His recent work has appeared with Down and Out Books, Shotgun Honey, Tough Magazine, and Reckon Review. He is a 2021 Derringer award winner and 2022 Derringer finalist. His debut fiction novella Song of the Red Squire was published in 2022 from Nosetouch Press, followed by Hard Mountain Clay from Shotgun Honey Books.