The Shotgun Waltz


The day melted before them and turned the earth to thick unforgiving mud. Black night swallowed day as branches moved on the dead cottonwood out side the window, the curtains stained yellow with a film from a lifetime of heavy smoke and light cleaning.

Daddy pushed his rocking chair back and forth with a slow rhythm that would either set you to sleep or keep you awake, but the rocking slowed when his dirty wife brought supper. A plate with two biscuits and a pile of burnt potatoes covered in onions, and watered down ketchup that looked more like blood than even the thinnest ketchup could ever look. The rocking stopped and Daddy made a grumble in his throat; he hacked up a wad of soft yellow and turned his head to spit through the half open window. Some of the phlegm chunks made it out, but most lay deposited on the sill, where the sun from the east would find it come morning and bake it and sear it until it was crusty like scorched bird shit.

“What the hell’s this?”

She pushed the plate into his palm. “Take it.”

“But there ain’t no goddamn gravy. I want gravy’n biscuits, not taters’n biscuits.”

“You bes take it,” Mama said. “If you ain’t gonna eat it, give it to the boy.”

Daddy looked at the sturdy women with shoulders too broad to hug and shook his head. Told her he’d eat it, but next time she best have gravy.

She let out what amounted to a snort then stomped across the living room with heavy feet into the kitchen, picked up where she’d left off before the old man started screaming for his fill.

Mama set Wayne Lundy’s arm on the cutting board and peeled cold meat from the bone. She used her Grandmother’s knife and it made soft easy sounds as shed peelings dropped into the ancient sink. The arm had been thawing all morning but was still hard, covered in a lean veneer of ice. She wrestled with it as best she could then stuck it in the microwave on timed defrost.

Mama cursed her husband for cutting through the bicep like he had, wasting good meat.

“That was Junior!” Daddy yelled. “Wasn’t me that done it woman, now you know better’n that.”

The big woman looked up to see headlights and dropped the knife into the sink. “Now what’a we got here?”
Daddy watched a homemade movie on the television of him and a girl they kept in the basement. Her lips sewn shut, but the sounds she made were worse than any sound she could’ve made had her lips been able. Daddy shoved a forkful of tatters into his face and thin lines of ketchup burst from his mouth and rushed over his gray stubbly chin.

Daddy was giving it to the girl on the T.V. as hard as he could give when Mama came back into the room, told him they had company.

Daddy set his plate down fast on an end table filled with magazines and it slipped onto the floor as he stood. “Company?”

His wife of many years went to shove him when she saw the mess he’d made, but Daddy side-stepped her, drove an uppercut into one of her big sagging tits and she screamed as she hit the floor. Daddy told her to shut the fuck up and to pick up those biscuits. He didn’t want ‘em, but she was free to give what was left to the boy. He asked where he could find him? If there was company, there was work to be done.

Mama rolled onto her back, her cheeks ripe with fresh blood pumping beneath the surface of her bulky jowl. Flaccid red cheeks blew out powerful breaths that brought tears to her eyes. “You ought’n know better than ta try some shit like that on me woman. We done been down this road before, and if mind serves correct, you don’t like where that road goes.”

Mama pulled herself up and put her back to a tall stack of yellow newspapers. She held her tit with both hands and drew hard breath through her mouth.

Daddy grabbed his shotgun and danced a waltz to the front door like a man with purpose.

~ fin ~

Matthew McBride is a former assembly-line worker living in rural Missouri. In his words, “These people are the people I know and see every day, and this is the world I know.” He is the author of the cult hit Frank Sinatra in a Blender and newly released A Swollen Red Sun.