I killed my husband by pushing him out the haymow door. He didn’t have no idea I was gonna do it. He was up there straightening the hay bales left over from winter. It was a fine spring morning the day I done it. I was downstairs in the barn sweeping out the feed way and the idea just come over me. I climbed up the ladder to the loft and pushed him right out. He landed on a pile of rocks we was saving to fix the foundation with. The fall broke his neck and crinkled his head pretty good. I climbed back down and finished my sweeping. Then I fed the chickens, gathered my eggs, and started dinner for the chil’ren. They only had half a day of school that day and when they come home I sent them out to fetch their pa to eat. George is the one who found him.
George is the oldest, after Henry. George come running into the house screaming that his pa was dead. I sent Jenny around the road to use the neighbor’s telephone to call the doctor. The doctor said their pa broke his neck and crinkled his head pretty good. No one ever suspected I was the one done it. We buried him with a fine Christian service and that was that. I’d have liked it better if he’d had some insurance, though.
Agnes Hazlowe is seventy-four years old. She dips snuff and is bald from a childhood bout with typhus. She wears a nightcap, even on Sundays when she dresses for church. She does not sleep well and__when looked in on at night__is often found awake and staring up at the ceiling. Her eyes are the size, shape, and color of ripe blueberries.
Jenny! You stay away from that springhouse before you fall in and drown. That’s what I used to yell at her. If I yelled it at her once that summer I yelled it at her a hunderd times. Stay away from that spring! But Jenny didn’t listen. She was out there looking at herself in the water. She thought I didn’t know what she was doing, but I did. Mothers have a way of knowing things. I knew she was looking to see what that new boy from around the road saw.
I knew she sneaked off to see him on the sly, too. Letting him put his hands on her and her liking it. I knew. I could see it in her eyes. The girl had no modesty. No sense of shame. Between times with that boy she’d sit in the springhouse looking at herself in the water. Making herself pretty. She’d fall in and drown one day, I told her. But Jenny never listened. She did fall in, too. One Saturday. And I held her under with a mop handle until there weren’t no more bubbles. Henry and George had gone to the store for me.
When they come back I sent them out to look for their sister. George is the one who found her. George is the oldest, after Henry. George come running into the house screaming Jenny was dead. I sent Henry around the road to that new boy’s house to use the telephone and call the doctor. The doctor said she must have hit her head on something and drowned. They never once thought I helped. We had a very nice funeral. That new boy from around the road cried and cried and cried. But I knew it was only because he missed touching Jenny.
Agnes Hazlowe drools from one corner of her mouth when she talks. Cataracts have formed in her left eye, giving it a milky look and causing her to squint. She sits most days with a Bible clutched in her lap. When left unattended she fingers a tattered, velvet-ribbon bookmark imprinted with the words Jesus Loves Me.
Henry was too much like his pa. That was the problem. He begun to bossing George and me around like of a sudden things had become his responsibility. He prob’ly did it because he was the oldest. He started to cussing sometimes, too, and he was all the time after me about frittering away my egg money. That’s what he called it whenever I walked down to the store. Frittering away my egg money, he’d say. I told Henry he was getting to be just like his pa. He thought I meant it as a compliment. That’s why I burned him up. I told him and I told him he was getting more like his pa every day. But Henry didn’t listen.
So I finally burned him up. He was out to the barn currying his horse. We was having a hot, dry summer that year. It was the driest summer anybody could remember. Fires was very common. I went out to the barn and hit him over the head with a chunk of firewood. Then I closed up all the doors and piled loose straw against one wall. I thew a lit match in the straw and the barn went up like you’d soaked it with kerosene. Woof, and just like that it was all flames. The fire roared so loud it hurt my ears.
I never even once heard Henry scream. I went back to the house and laid down for my nap. George is the one saw the barn burning. George was the oldest, after Henry. He come running into my bedroom yelling that the barn was on fire. I sent him around the road to telephone for help. Volunteer firemen come and used water from the well to wet down everything in sight, but they was too late to save the barn. They didn’t know Henry was in there till they begun to poke around in the ashes. Everybody knew how Henry smoked cigarettes. They never once thought the fire was set. I used some of my egg money to buy him a nice headstone.
Agnes Hazlowe has all the infirmities of her age and sex. Her medication is measured and constant, dosed with and between her meals. Her speech is monotonous, but not slurred, and she speaks as if from a prepared text. While she talks she unconsciously plucks at the bodice of her dress with arthritic, grapevine-knotted fingers.
George is a good son. George was the oldest, after Henry. He always minded me and still does. He pays all my bills so I don’t have to fret over them. I have a little money of my own, but George won’t take it. He makes me spend it on myself. He’s not a bit like his pa. George is a good child. Not like Jenny and Henry. He’s got a daughter, though, and she’s been a trial to him. Her name is Susan. She’s real snotty and has a smart mouth. George makes her come visit me sometimes, but I can tell she hates it. Susan doesn’t like to visit her granny. She doesn’t wear any underclothes, either. She says she does, but I know better.
She wears tight pants and puts her hair in pigtails. She wears makeup, too, and her only thirteen. She always has a lollipop stuck in her mouth. Slurping on it and talking around it in that snotty voice of hers. When George makes her come visit she sits in that chair and stares at me like I’m a fly on the wall. Just sits and stares with that lollipop sticking out her mouth. Susan, I tell her, Susan, you’re indecent. Put some underclothes on. Don’t look so trashy. She just laughs at me. Susan, I tell her, one of these days you’re gonna to fall down with that sucker in your mouth. Fall and choke to death. That thing’ll get shoved down your throat and you’ll strangle, girl. It’ll be the best thing for your pa, too. Save him a lot of trouble when you get older. You’re gonna cause your pa heartache, Susan, and don’t I know it. That’s what you’ll do, cause him heartache. Unless you choke to death first. When I tell her that she just laughs at me. She won’t get it shoved down her throat, she says. She says she knows better. I know better, too, but she won’t listen to me. She don’t believe her granny.
Agnes Hazlowe picks at her food. She talks to whoever is nearby, seeming not to care whether they listen. She fantasizes, the doctors say, and is unable to differentiate reality. She is often recalcitrant, almost childish. She suffers from progressive senility, the doctors say. Recalcitrance and senility, though, are standard diagnoses for the aged. Although difficult to manage at times Agnes is__the doctors assure us__otherwise well mannered and harmless.
Do me a favor, won’t you please? On your way out tell that cleaning lady I need my floor waxed again. Tell her she’s got to wax it every single day like I told her. The slick wears off so quick when she don’t wax it every day. Tell her I want it waxed every single day between now and Friday. Friday’s the last day Susan is coming to visit her granny. And thank you for stopping by. You be real careful on your way out, hear? That floor is slippery as sin when it’s been waxed and I don’t want you to fall and hurt yourself.