Jane Marie hadn’t slept since her eleventh birthday, but neither Mama or Aunt Becky knew it. They liked a drink, the two of them, and they liked a game of cards. If she waited til midnight and then sneaked down the hall, Jane could listen to the two of them talk. It made her feel better, the way that they had. Made her feel safe.

But tonight they were different. You could tell they hadn’t touched the whiskey, and their voices were hard. Jane almost went back to her room, and maybe she would have done if she hadn’t heard Mama say who she killed.

“You shoulda called me,” said Aunt Becky, after a long, still quiet. Jane didn’t dare to move. “I’d of come.”

“From Pete’s phone?” asked Mama. “I’m that stupid?”

Aunt Becky said nothing.

“I had to come get you,” said Mama. “He’s too big to move on my own.”

There was only one Pete. He lived a mile up the road, and it was his dog that got her. His dog that chewed off Jane’s ear and half her scalp. Then it was Aunt Becky that got Pete’s dog.

“Should of set a fire,” said Aunt Becky. Jane heard a lighter strike, then smelled the cigarette.

“They’d know it was me,” said Mama. “Still might, even if we bury him. But I got him clean, Becky. No blood.”

Aunt Becky laughed, then, but not the warm, wet laugh after a glass of whiskey.

“How’s that?”

“Couple Tasers and a plastic bag.”

Jane pictured Pete lying flat on the floor, holes burnt in his favorite shirt. Most people, if they had a dog that hurt a kid, paid some money and went to jail. County would come to get the dog, and put it down, too. But most people weren’t kin to the sheriff.

“Shoulda left it alone,” said Aunt Becky. “Raymond said we was square.”

“Raymond’s a sack of shit.”

“And he’s the law.”

At school the kids laughed. Not the first day, and not to what was left of her face. But soon they whispered, and then they laughed, and they made like she couldn’t hear them so long as they stuck by her missing ear. But she could. And now instead of sleeping she thought up ways to make them scared.

“If you ain’t going to help, quit wasting my time,” said Mama.

“I’ll help,” said Aunt Becky. Jane heard the sound of wooden legs slide across the hardwood floor. “Let me get my coat.”

Pete didn’t know it was Jane Marie’s birthday when he brought his dog around. He was just showing off. His dog was a fighter, he said, but oh how that dog would mind. Killer to puppy at just his command. Maybe Pete was sweet on Mama, that’s what Aunt Becky thought. That’s why he kept coming around. That’s why tonight he opened his door, when maybe he should have thought better.

Jane waited til they left to get Mama’s revolver. Sweet little .38 special, a gun she’d grown into. She could have brought it to school, but she didn’t. Now she was glad.

Nobody would wonder who killed Pete. That was not the problem. The problem was that nobody would care except the man with the means to do something about it. To Jane’s way of thinking, Pete’s family had done hers enough trouble. If the dog and Pete were dead, there was just one sonofabitch left to deal with.

Jane went into the kitchen and picked up the phone from its cradle. On a small yellowed card, taped just beneath, three phone number were written in pen. Fire. Ambulance. Sheriff. Jane dialed the last and listened to it ring, phone pressed up to her scarred mound of ear. This would scare them, she thought, when they heard what she’d done. And for the first time since her birthday, since she felt that dog’s teeth, Jane felt her scars stretch as she smiled.

~ fin ~

Alex Mattingly lives and works in the Midwest. Read more (or drop him a note) here.