Jennifer Green “Keeping a Dead Mule Down”
“Don’t be using Papaw’s saw.”
Chills jaunt up my back and down my arms at the same time. My eyes close and I grimace. I’m not sure if it’s the genuine sound of my sister’s voice or just conditioning from doing it for years. I set my face straight and shift my head to her. She stands at the barn entrance, the sunlight illuminating her from behind as if if she were one of Heaven’s angels sent straight from the Lord to remind me not to use the good tools.
“I’m not.” My voice is dull and ragged, like the lowly moral I am. I’m thirsty. Hard work and lack of supplies made it so. Molly interrupts our mild conversation with an abrasive groan, snapping her jaws in my direction. The mule attempts to crawl towards me, her two front legs were broken from one of my previous visits. It makes movement difficult.
My sister’s silhouette moves from the blessing of the angelic glow, that we all know that she rightly deserves, to a more earthly shade as she joins my side. She looks to Molly, her lip curls. “That thing is gross.” Something she would have been inclined to say even before the infection.
Molly wasn’t always, well, gross. The mule’s hair was once a smiling bay, but nowadays I can only akin the color to old fecal matter. I don’t know if it was virus that made it change color or the constant killing I gotta do to her. The killing at least explains the broken bones and patches of bare skin.
“It’d be simpler if I got to use a saw. Or a knife” I tell her, but won’t look at her judgmental expression. I feel sorry for Molly. I’ve killed her twice today, seven times this month total. Shovel, hammer, lead pipe, Billy’s guitar, shovel again, locking her in the garage the Chrysler running ’till it ran out of gas, shovel a third time and now number eight is the old wrench we use to keep the big freezer door from popping open. “Or a gun?” I ask with hope. My self-righteous sibling and I have never agreed on a thing, but I know she’s got some goodness in her. “She’s in pain.”
I see out of the corner of my eye that she’s also refusing to look at me. She’s also refusing to address a direct appeal to her morality. “Papaw said he don’t want the sick germs on his saw.”
“Peachy.” I can only sigh. I step forward, dodging the now carnivorous jaws of the mule as she tries to attack. I use the wrench to put her to sleep.
My thinking goes to the pastor and the day that he got ill. Daddy and Uncle Tom took care of him before he reached the third pew. Now Sundays mornings are free. I’m pretty sure the only thing Daddy regrets is that it had to happen after the cable company got runned over by the sick things.
The dark work now done, I let the wrench hang at my side. My gaze is on the mule, but my mind is on that day. My sister, in her infinite wisdom, seemed to read my mind. “You couldn’t have stopped it. No one knew he had the sickness.”
Molly’s back leg twitches. The groan is from my own mouth this time. I raise the wrench once more, but the grasp of a soft hand on my arm stops me from making a blow. The wrench falls from my hand with a clang and I back up. I grip my arm where she touched me. I know it’s in my head, but her touch burned like acid.
“You’re not to lay a finger on me!” I shriek, backing from her until I hit a wall. “We decided that when the pastor got me, you ignorant bitch!”
“No!” Her scowl matches my own. Always the demanding one, always the one to had to make the decisions, “You decided that. It’s been over a month.”
My eyes fall to my forearm. The bite the pastor gave me has healed now, I don’t even bandage it anymore. As if it mattered, I know the virus runs within my veins. Molly jerks. She’s going to wake again. “The TV said it can take up to four weeks to turn you.” I push off the wall to go grab the wrench again. Molly won’t get up this time, I won’t let her. The only thing I’ll allow is for me to be left alone to let this infection run it’s course.
“It’s been five weeks.” She snatches the wrench up before I do, holding it behind her back. I pause in front of her. I try to will the infection to come out, just to prove the hateful woman wrong.
Our standoff lasts for about ten minutes before she shakes her head. The wrench falls from her grip, freeing up a hand that she offers to me. “Mama made a roast.”
I glance at her offering. Clean, pale, perfect. She was always the spoiled one, never had to do a hard day’s work. She’d never stay behind to kill a mule eight times in a row. She wouldn’t have it in her. If she were infected, the entitled brat wouldn’t quarantine herself. She’d merely spend the rest of her days with her… Oh.
I extend the silence by twenty seconds. My supplies have dwindled, I really could use a good meal. “… She makes the best roast.”
Our hands grasp and she escorts me back to the house. “Yeah, she does.”
It’s one thing we do agree on.