Queens of Golconda
by J.T. LEDBETTER
“ There’s nothing like a woman in red!”
-Cousin Rose from Cincinnati
Getting the 12 gauge down was the easy part, but when she found she could load and fire the thing without falling on her back, she practiced by blowing out all the windows in the shed behind the barn,-- and when chickens scurried out of the tall horse weeds she blew them into feathers, just missing a rabbit crossing the railroad tracks. It was sometime that fall when he came home drunker than usual and threatened to beat her senseless if his biscuits and gravy were not on the table in five minutes, that she snapped. The hot coffee went onto his head and the shotgun was down from its rack above the door and both hammers pulled back before he finished screaming. “Woman, what the hell have you done? Get me a towel, quick! You’ve liked to blind me with that damned coffee. I’ll take that strap to you!” But she had cut up the black razor strap to reinforce the bottom of her work shoes so the cow pies, always soft in summer, would not squish through when she went to the barn to gather the eggs from the nasty setting-hens who always pecked the back of her hand as she reached beneath their warm feathers to turn their eggs, marveling at the life beating beneath the dream-thin skin. The barn, with its rich heavy smell of warm milk and fresh-cut hay was the only place on that “shit-hole” of a Tennessee farm, as Cousin Rose from Cincinnati called it, where she could find any peace and quiet. The evening before, sitting out on the porch, watching the thin column of smoke in the valley from the night train to Louisville, she looked at the picture of her sisters in bright red dresses, and wide red hats on their heads, standing in front of the sign that read: The Golconda Hotel: “Pleasure Palace on the Ohio River, Just a few Happy Miles North of Paducah.” She looked up at the hat they sent her for her birthday hanging on the peg next to the picture of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. She wondered if he noticed that Jesus did not glow in the dark anymore. That night, after he came to her, smelling of the silo, she pushed him away and left the bedroom and stood on the landing, curling her toes away from the cold wood, then went down the stairs and through the closed rooms to the kitchen where she fixed a cup of tea and watched the first snow outline the barn and the old horse he forgot to put up. She knew she would have to give in again, and she knew she was not going to do that anymore, so she took down the red hat and looked at Jesus, but all she saw was the white outline of the silo reflected in the Garden of Gethsemane. He pawed at his face with the towel and screamed, “Woman, get over here and let me see you before I knock you silly.” So now, with both hammers back and him standing there looking bewildered and mad at the same time, she found it was not so easy to just blow his head off as she thought it would be, and she hesitated when he reached his hand to the barrel and held it. They were two statues. The kind a museum somewhere in New York would have liked, she thought. Then the little dog barked behind her, and her hand jerked once. When she pulled the old pickup around the white-rock road to the four lane, she shifted out of low, ground into second, then into third before she breathed easier. She looked back to watch the farm narrow to a point and disappear behind her, and patted a map of Kentucky beside her. When she looked up she saw the large white moon sitting in the middle of the highway, and it took but a moment to sweep her hair back off her face and run her red lipstick over her mouth before she hit it. When the authorities finally stopped looking for her, the farm with sheds and the one silo leaning against the rotting barn was sold at auction. Some said she moved to California and worked as a script girl for Warner Bros. Others say they saw her going into a hotel with a tall, dark man in New Orleans, but all they knew for sure was a dead man on the kitchen floor, and the white outline on the wall where a picture had hung.
J.T. LEDBETTER's fiction credits include ROSEBUD, LAKE EFFECT, THE BITTER OLEANDER, BATEAU, HELIX, INERTIA, KNOCK, CROSSCURRENTS, SATIRE, NANO FICTION, others.