Near Miss, by Gary Clifton
Sissy bolted through the screen door in a swirl of August East Texas red dust. “Man comin’ up the lane, Mama.” Skinny, her sandy blonde hair was freshly combed, her blue eyes wide with terror.
“Man…walkin’?” Merrylee wiped flour on her apron and bent forward to peer outside. Slender, 29, with hair the color of her daughter’s, stress and hardship showed in her prematurely lined face.
“Mama…it’s Daddy,” Sissy hissed. “He gonna kill us?”
Merrylee stepped onto the porch, the screen banging shut behind her. “Early, you ought not to be comin’ here.” She shuddered and involuntarily touched the scar across her forehead.
“Jes wanted to see Sissy, Merrylee. She mine too, you know.”
“We was never legal married up, Early. Did you…?”
“No…paroled out…two day ago,” he was lean and prison-pale with close cropped jailhouse hair.
“After only eight year?”
“Eight year a long damn time in that hellhole, Merrylee.” He’d aged twenty in eight years and was missing his front teeth, but he looked as mean as ever.
“Buck be comin’ home any minute. Best you ain’t here,” she struggled to hide the fear in her voice.
“Ain’t wantin’ no trouble,” he leaned aside to see Sissy hiding behind her mother’s dress. “I ain’t meant to kill your brother, Marylee. He jes’ showed up at Mama’s.”
“Was you meanin’ it when you was whalen’ on me, Early? That’s whut brung the dammed fool lookin’ for you.”
Early studied his dusty boots. “Jes’ wanted to see how Sissy be. Marylee, I’m…I’m sorry for everthin’ I done.”
“Early, I brung her over to see you at that Beto Prison…even come twice to the nervous hospital at Rusk.”
“I’m grateful…be stayin’ over at Mama’s, Merrylee. Jes’ wanted to know how Sissy was,” he looked up. The venom in his eyes glowed yellow, like a water-moccasin caught on a bass hook.
“She jes’ fine, Earl. You go on now. Me n’ Buck bring her by your Mama’s Sunday for a spell.”
Without a word, Early, bathed in summer sweat, turned and started back down the lane, his heavy boots kicking up dust before disappearing at a bend in the lane.
Merrylee reached in her apron pocket and touched the .38. “Don’t be a comin’ back out here, Early,” she said softly as he disappeared in the tall pines. “Not never.”
Clifton, forty years a cop, has been shot at, shot, stabbed, sued, lied to and about, and often misunderstood. He’s retired to a dusty north Texas ranch waiting to see what happens next. He has an M.S. from Abilene Christian University.
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Tags: dysfunctional, family, Gary Clifton, mothers, relationships