Brie: It's What's For Breakfast

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Ode to Billy Joe

“Hello?”

“Hey, Mattie.”

“Who is this?”

“You know.”

“Billy Joe?”

“Yeah.”

“I didn’t think I’d ever hear your voice again.”

“I’m taking a chance calling you.”

“Where are you?”

“You know I can’t tell you that.”

“Are you in the country or out of the country?”

“I can’t tell you that, either.”

“Okay, then, how are you?”

“I’m okay. I miss you.”

Mattie snorted softly into the phone. “Then why’d you wait a year to call me? It’s been more than a year. And you didn’t even say goodbye. I had to hear your bullshit suicide story from Mama over dinner that day. I nearly threw up right there at the table.”

“I don’t know how long I can talk. They may cut me off.”

“I swear, even I thought you were dead until Fred Fields brought me into his stupid Star Chamber and started in on me. And I wasn’t real sure until Tom admitted it. Why didn’t you call, Billy Joe? ”

“I couldn’t. If you knew you might have let something slip.”

“You were supposed to take me with you, or had you forgotten that little detail?”

“I didn’t forget. I couldn’t.”

“Why not? That was the plan, remember?”

“I remember. I’m sorry. I am, really.”

“Are you using one of their safe phones?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“After they quit dragging the river for your body Fred Fields decided I might know something. For all I know he still thinks something’s up. At Daddy’s funeral he even said I should call him if I remember anything about you.”

“Your daddy’s funeral?”

“In the spring. He got the flu and it turned into pneumonia and he wouldn’t go to the doctor. You know what a mule he was.”

Billy Joe was silent for a moment. “What did you tell Fred?” he finally asked.

“Nothing.”

“What, you just sat there silent while he was questioning you?”

“No. I told him I didn’t know anything.”

“Did he talk to Tom, too?”

“Yes. Tom had to swear out an affidavit that he’d seen you jump off the Tallahatchie Bridge. Fred said he’d prosecute him if he didn’t. Says he’ll still prosecute him if it turns out not to be true.”

“What does he think was going on if he says I didn’t jump off the bridge?”

“He wanted to know why the FBI might have been interested in you.”

“Oh, hell. The background check. I forgot. Why did he talk to you?”

“Remember that new preacher that came just before you left? Brother Taylor?”

“Uh-huh.”

“He told Mama that I’d been up at the bridge with you a couple days before you allegedly jumped.”

“He saw us?”

“Yeah. And he saw us throw something off it, too, he told Mama. But I don’t think Mama told Fred that.”

“Your mama told Fred? She told the damn sheriff? Why?”

“Because the sheriff let it be known that he didn’t think they were going to find your body in the river. He told me flat out he thought you never jumped off that bridge.”

“Did they look for me in the river?”

“Yes.”

“How long?”

“Four days. Fred didn’t believe you’d jumped, though. He said that more than once, even the day they started dragging it.”

“Then why’d he search the river?”

“Your aunt Susie pitched a hissy fit and threatened to call the governor if they didn’t.”

“Did they ever find … anything else?”

Mattie knew what he meant. “No.”

Billy Joe let out a sigh of relief. “Good.”

“I don’t know what the water might do to ….”

“You know what to do if they ever do find it, don’t you?”

“Well, it’s not like I’m going to forget.”

“You didn’t forget me, did you?”

“Oh, honestly, Billy Joe.”

“You seeing someone?”

“Why do you care?”

“I care.”

“You aren’t going to do anything about it. You can’t.”

“I might come get you someday.”

“Sure. I’ll hold my breath.”

“I might, Mattie. I won’t have to be undercover forever.”

“Right. Just until the freaking CIA decides they don’t need you anymore.”

“Ricky isn’t messing with you, is he?”

“No. But I don’t think he’d take kindly to you showing back up after what you and Tom did to his place. He threatened Tom with a gun and got locked up for his efforts a few days after you left.”

“He knew it was Tom and me?”

“He had a pretty good idea. He said something to Charlie about it, too, but Charlie told him to fuck off. He said he didn’t know what Rick was talking about.

“He shouldn’t have messed with you in the first place. Then Tom and I wouldn’t have had to do what we did. How is Tom, anyway?”

“Mary Lou had another baby a couple of weeks ago. He’s fine. He’s got another mouth to feed. And he’s thinking about running for mayor.”

Billy Joe laughed. “Yeah, Tom’s a born politician.”

“And you’re a born… whatever. Why couldn’t you take me with you? I thought you had cleared it with them.”

Billy Joe was silent. “They said we had to be married. Your daddy wouldn’t have stood for it.”

“My daddy’s gone, Billy Joe, and if I was gone, too, then he couldn’t say much about it, now could he?”

“Well, maybe you could come to where I am someday soon.”

“Where’s that?”

“Not here, not where I am now. You couldn’t come here. But I won’t be here forever. Then you can join me. ”

Mattie’s voice was still bitter. “Where’s that going to be? And when? Anyway, somebody’s got to take care of Mama.”

“Where’s Charlie?”

“He and Becky Thompson got married and bought a convenience store on the highway over by Tupelo. They moved up there to run it.”

“If Charlie’s got a store and your daddy’s gone, who’s farming your land?”

“I am. Dickie Johnson helps sometimes.”

“Is that who you’re seeing? Dickie Johnson?” Billy Joe was incredulous.

“I’m not seeing Dickie Johnson.”

“I hope not. God. Dickie Johnson.”

“What do you care? You left me here. You didn’t even say goodbye.”

“Mattie, I couldn’t. If you didn’t know anything you couldn’t tell anything. You already knew more than you should. You still know more than you should.”

“It’s not like I could forget it.”

“No, I guess you couldn’t.”

Silence again, then, “Mattie, I’m sorry.”

“Sure.”

“I should be the one helping you farm.”

Mattie snorted. “You wouldn’t make much of a farmer.”

“Why not? A farm, a couple of kids. We’d raise them just like we were raised, send them to school up at Choctaw Ridge…”

“Right. Why’d you call, Billy Joe?”

“Because I miss you.”

“Why now? Are you going on some undercover death mission or something? Are you afraid you’re going to die for real this time?”

“I’m sorry, Mattie.”

“Sure you are. Have you decided that the life of a spook isn’t all that great or something?”

“I have to go.”

“Don’t call me again, Billy Joe, unless you’re telling me where to pick up my plane ticket. I already buried you once.”

A tear rolled down her cheek as she cut the connection.

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November 21, 2008 - Posted by | Creative Writing, Fiction

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