The girl who
knew too much
In the summer of 1963, Billie Rose Mancini’s husband celebrated his twenty-first birthday in the fashion of mountain folk, lounging in a lawn chair under rotten cottonwoods, firing his pistol at anything that moved. Mose Mancini’s targets included blackbirds, a black cat, and even a black boy who came walking up the mountain road. After Mose emptied his box of ammunition, he was struck twice by bullets fired from his own gun. How that happened would become of great interest to the sheriff of Garland County, Arkansas, and — as one thing led to another in the manner of flapping butterflies causing hurricanes — it would ultimately alter the lives of every person on earth.
The shooting occurred on an abandoned logging road behind the honeymoon cabin where the Mancinis had lived since their marriage, when Billie Rose was just sixteen. The sunny day had become rainy, the dusty road muddy, and a domestic dispute had arisen involving accusations of infidelity, criminality, and stupidity.
After Mose was shot, Billie Rose crawled over to him.
“Mose, you said there wasn’t no bullets left. You remember that, sweetie?” She shook his arm. “Mosie, you awake?”
His body shuddered and something flickered across his chest. Was it his immortal soul flying off, or just a flicker of sunlight through the trees? God help me, Billie thought. He’s dead and they’ll think I killed him. I’ll go to jail with a bunch of husband killers and never get out.
But Mose wasn’t dead, for now his eyes cracked open and his lips moved soundlessly.
She leaned over him. “What’d you say, Mosie?”
He swallowed and tried again: “Bitch.”
“Oh Mosie,” she said, sitting up and wiping an eye. “Don’t say that. Please don’t say that!”
As he was clearly out of sorts, she began singing to him as she often did when he was drunk and injured. She’d sing Elvis as soft as lullabies, his anger would melt away, and sometimes he’d smile as he rolled over and fell asleep. And sometimes she’d uncap a marker and draw on his back where he couldn’t see it. Two days before she’d drawn a likeness of herself with the words “He only loves me, SLUT” underneath. Slut was an ugly word, but a woman at the grocery told her not to mess around.
“Call em for what they is, honeybee.”
Billie regretted taking advice from a checkout clerk, for now there was no fluttering of eyes and no falling asleep, and when Mose rolled over, she saw that awful word on his muddy back. And she saw the dark and foamy fluid that had pooled under his legs. She touched it and held up her hand, studying drops trickling down her fingers like melted raspberry sherbet.
“Mose? You having your period?”
But what was she saying? Men didn’t bleed once a month like women. They bled every Saturday night outside bars, where they occasionally bled out and died. And if Mose bled out, what then? Could she just leave him here? What if his friends came over? What if they found him with his face frozen in some awful contortion, flies swarming in his nostrils? They’d get all sarcastic. They’d ask if she even noticed her husband was dead, or was he just an inconvenience to be stepped over as she went to the movies?
Is that all he is to you, Billie Rose? Just a bump in the road?
Gossips would make it sound even worse than it was. People who’d felt sorry for her before would now hate her. She thought of dragging him by his ankles down the logging road to the beaver pond and covering him with rocks. She went skinny dipping there every day, so she could spend time with him. She could sing to him. But what if some hunter came along and noticed a sun-bleached thigh bone jutting out, how could she explain it? That an avalanche musta kilt him? Her father had said he could fix Mose if she needed him to. But now her father wasn’t fixing anything. Not for her. Not for anyone.
I’m trapped here on this mountain with Mose. There’s no escape.
She wiped her bloody fingers on his back, stood and yelled, “Damn you, Mosie!”
To which he replied, “Bitch! Bitch! Bit-uh!”
The last “bitch” was cut short by a kick to the ribs.
She picked up his muddy Colt revolver and ran back to the cabin, splashing through puddles and slipping on gravel. Flinging open the screen door, she stumbled into the kitchen and set his gun next to the phone. Mose had once told her to call his father if something bad happened, but never the cops.
“Never! You hear me?”
She washed and dried her hands, picked up the handset and had her finger in the dial when she remembered how unpleasantly Renzo had acted the last time, so she hung up and looked around for the phonebook. Where was it? She pulled out kitchen drawers, dumping them out on the floor. Fuck, no phonebook, but she found the pack of needles she’d looked for that morning, now that she no longer needed them. She was always throwing things away the day before she needed them or finding them the day after. If God had given her a psychic gift like her grandmother Zoey claimed, it had gone in backwards and upside down. And thus was totally useless.
Finally she noticed the phonebook next to the phone, where it was all along. Under Mosie’s pistol, in fact. She pushed the gun aside, wiped off a streak of mud with her forearm, flipped the book open to the yellow pages and ran a finger down the listings with her hair dripping and spotting the paper, then picked up the receiver and dialed. With her fingers trembling and her vision blurry, she dialed several wrong numbers before getting the right one.
The woman who picked up had the snotty voice of a parole officer who would never believe anything you told her. She asked ridiculous questions like, was he bleeding?
“Of course he’s bleeding! He’s shot!”
Then she wanted a street address, but there wasn’t one.
“It’s the last honeymoon cabin on Coldwater Mountain, and his name is Moses Mancini! Everybody knows him!”
“If he dies, that’s your fault. So hurry, please.”
“He’s not already dead, is he?”
“Then can I speak to him?”
“He can’t come to the phone. He’s shot. I told you that.”
Mose began yelling again and Billie turned away from the window with a hand over the mouthpiece.
“Is that him I hear screaming?” the woman asked. “Saying a bitch shot him?”
“That’s a lie!” Billie slammed the handset down and stared at a half-torn fingernail.
“Stupid,” she said finally, for she hated torn fingernails.
© 2021 Lou Dischler