Now’s when you tell me why you killed me, the man says from his resting place, slumped and halved and bleeding against the wall of the cabin.
The walls and floors and roof are cedar, and they smell fragrant in the summertime, but in the winter they smell like the bitter, indifferent cold which possesses them.
She, the lady that is, bends to her knee a safe distance from the man. Her knees, along with feet and shins and legs entire are made amorphous by the dark brown cloak of her long skirt. Squatting there, her skirt is like a round sprout of fertile earth. The black shawl that hangs about her shoulders she clutches with her left hand, an act which always seems to occur instinctually, intrinsically, while her right hand that clutches the man’s own knife appears anything but.
The blade shines in orange fire-light. It shines through the man’s blood, still wet and dripping.
Do you want a drink?
The man breathes hard for a long minute, but he doesn’t say a word.
The lady cranks her neck sideways, stiffly like an old bird, and gives the slightest of nods.
The weakling steals from where he had been pacing furiously, arms crossed with fingers drumming, head wilting forward on a long, bent neck atop the question-mark of a spine, steals forward and grabs up the bottle of shine from the table, and the glass.
He comes forward a few more steps and stops abreast with the lady’s radius of safety from the man. He pours a drink and sets it on the floor of the cabin, then backs away.
I can’t reach that.
The weakling comes forward, pauses at the lady’s side.
Come on, the man hangs his head and mumbles the words into his chest. He wheezes, and coughs, and spits.
The lady grips the hilt of the knife tighter, and the weakling creeps in and picks up the glass and reaches it forward a foot.
The man doesn’t move, just lays there crumpled and bleeding and breathing hard. The glass goes forward another half foot.
The man’s right arm, the one closest to home, shoots out like a rattlesnake, shoots out and nabs the weakling’s wrist. The man’s hand clamps an iron-grip, as steady and remorseless as the weather-rusted animal traps that hang from the cabin’s ceiling.
His eyes which moments before sagged in sunken sockets, half-closed and glassy and a thousand miles from shore, now glow with a brilliantly terrifying luminance, a hate-filled inferno with dark grey pupils surrounded by a crackle of rose and crimson.
The large and hard hand of the man grips the other, fair and frail, as the weakling pulls, the leather soles of his shoes planted on cedar planks, body bent backward and away like a tree rocked by wind but anchored unrelentingly to the ground in the face of its death.
The man forms a hideous grin of victory and gives not an inch for all the weakling’s feeble pulling and bent-bodied contortions. A word begins to form on the man’s red, grinning lips but before it can croak out, the knife whips out like cruel, sharp lightning.
It cuts the air itself and then the skin, and thin, stringy muscle of the man’s wrist.
He lets out a yelp like a winged coyote, sharp and fierce and over as quick as it starts, and he lets go of the weakling’s hand and retracts the wounded limb deep into the tartan wool of his bosom. The other hand leaves the bloody mess at the man’s side and goes to hold his wrist, but the wound now pulses with new fervor as a result of this newest flash of effort.
He closes his eyes and goes back into himself. His red lips quiver, the muttering of curses can be heard rumbling like a hive of angry bees from deep in the man’s heaving chest.
I’ll cut you up all day and never tire, the lady says. You want in? I’m game. Tomorrow is Sunday.
The man continues to mutter under breath, eyes closed and head back against the cedar wall of the cabin. The muttering becomes a groan which pitches into a fit of raspy laughter.
Look at me.
The fit quiets on the man, and his head still back on the wall he lets it flop to the side, to face the lady dead-on, and he opens his eyes.
Do you know who I am?
I know, he says and spit runs in a string from his bottom lip. You’re a bitch. You’re just some stupid bitch. You’re angry at me. Probably because I beat up your husband. Or your father. Or your brother, or your boyfriend. Or maybe you don’t even know me. Maybe you think I got some gold hiding under the floor. Maybe you think you get some nice treasure by doing me in. What’s it matter who you are, I don’t care a shit for you. Or your two pups!
He kicks his leg out, and it stamps down on the cabin floor.
He curses the new pain in his side the action births with a fury, but seems to feed from its heat, gaining a measure of power, for his eyes become clearer, wider, with a strange calm that seems alien in the chaotic scene unfolding.
The kick was meant for the ox, whose over two hundred-pound body lay face-down, just out of reach of the man’s boot, in a pool of dark blood, his dull and pale face mercifully hidden from sight by stark shadows cast sideways from the brightly burning wood-stove.
I’m going to tell you who I am, the lady says.