It was just a Saturday night. The pretty girls wore their short skirts and flip flops at the bar. I was working a double shift and my waitress's dress needed laundered. I cleaned their tables and said things like, "I hear the ribeyes we got in are real good" and "Can I interest anyone in dessert?". I scraped change from the table into my palm. I read the last chapter of my book when things got slow in between the lunch crowd and the dinner rush. I redid my make-up and hair twice. I walked home like I always do. And I killed Jimmy Newman.
Jimmy was my neighbor, a big man in a small house on the shore almost exactly like mine except I don't have a garage. When he was sober enough to work, he fixed the rides and the games in the arcades along the board walk. I guess we weren't all that different from the tourists point of view. We both served in the kingdom of vacations and getaways where nothing breaks. It's always our pleasure to clean up a mess. People don't even notice us. We are like the inner cogs of the Tilt-A-Whirl. We make things run smoothly because we know that one slight jerk of reality ruins the ride.
Jimmy had a daughter. A pretty little thing about 12 years old. I never had any children except the little girl that Momma made me put up for adoption all those years ago. I can remember her face as if I were staring at it. It was like looking at a dress made just for you that you'd never be able to afford. I held my baby and kissed her for an hour before the nurses made me give her up. I engraved her scent in my nostrils. I still keep her hospital bracelets in my jewelery box. Looking back, I can't say that Momma was right or wrong for making me give her up. I was only 13 years old and I didn't know what a wicked place the world is. When I saw Jimmy's little Diana, I was almost convinced that she was mine. The only thing that stopped me from claiming her right then and there is that the math didn't add up. I was 18 when I moved in next to Jimmy. Diana was only 2. But everything else tied my heartstrings to that little girl. Her eyes were the same blue, her hair the same blonde. I instantly loved her.
Jimmy's wife had run out on him years ago on account of his drinking and various other offenses. Diana must not have meant much to her because I saw that woman leave in the middle of the night and she never once turned around. I took it upon myself to make sure that Diana got fed and clothed and cared for. Jimmy too. I guess it was the Christian thing to do and Jimmy sure as hell didn't mind me dropping by with a meatloaf or a freshly folded basket of laundry. He didn't mind Diana coming to my house to do homework. As long as he didn't care (and even if he did), I was, for all intents and purposes, Diana's mother. We giggled at the tourists with lumps of fat spilling out of their bikinis. We painted our toenails and confided in eachother. I told her of my past and made her promise me that she wouldn't make those same mistakes.
All of a sudden, a few months ago, Diana stopped coming over. I still went over with food and clean clothes, but that girl would barely speak a word to me. I thought about cornering her, asking if she needed something, if something was wrong. I never did. Not until last weekend. Jimmy had a couple of guys down from the pier over to play cards so I figured he was too busy to notice me sneaking around his house, checking for signs of Diana's mother or a boyfriend or something to explain to me why I was losing my girl. I was not at all prepared for what I found.
I turned the handle to the bathroom and saw my Diana. Her hair was hanging in greasy strings, speckled with dandruff, as if it hadn't been washed in a month. She was gaunt and thin and her eyes were red and swollen. Oh, those eyes! Those almond shaped vessels that shone the color of a twilight sky had turned gray and glassy. I ran to her and wrapped her in my arms. She let out a cry that seemed to come from a place so deep that it broke over me like a tidal wave, knocking me down.
"What's happened? Darlin' please! You must tell me," the words spilled out of my lips.
She couldn't answer, she just raised a shaking finger and pointed to the linen closet. I opened the door to find a dozen blood soaked pairs of underwear. My heart took up residence in my heels. My mouth became a rigid line, strained at holding back the instant rage that consumed me like a wheat stalk in a fire.
"The p-p-poker game," Diana's voice shook as if she were vomiting the words instead of speaking them. "Daddy didn't have enough money. I know I told you I wouldn't do those things. Daddy said they'd kill me if I didn't..."
I ran her a bath and washed her as if she was a newborn baby. My hands were steady and strong but the rest of my body seemed to be crumbling. I asked her to be brave and I gave her the pepper spray I kept in my purse to ward off the creeps that hang around the boardwalk late at night. I brushed her hair and dressed her and put clean sheets on her bed. As I did all of this, I uttered a silent prayer to God to forgive me for what I had to do.
As I headed down the stairs, Jimmy stopped me. My heart froze in my chest for a minute. He was unpleasant enough sober and I wasn't equipt to deal with him stone drunk. I felt his hand reach for my breast but in his stupor, he wound up grabbing my shoulder. I pulled away but then thought of Diana. If I turned him away, would he head to her room as soon as I left? I spent the night under the weight of a monster, but contented as I could hear through the wall to Diana's room. Jimmy must have gotten a good hand that night because that child slept peacefully through the night.
It took 3 days for me to come up with a plan. Coincidentally, the diner was also infested with rats and an exterminator had to be called. He left his van unlocked. I took this as a sign from god. I filled the pockets of my apron with little baggies of poisons and pesticides. I went to the market and filled my cart with hamburger meat, cake mixes, potatoes, and chicken wings. Saturday morning I went into the kitchen. I cooked like I had an army to feed, generously sprinkling on my secret ingredients. Around noon I took the food out to Jimmy. He was barely awake but happy as hell to receive the feast. That man ate and ate while I watched, hoping that I used enough. When he started on dessert, I ran up and got Diana. I packed her a bag and told her to go through the back door and go into the garage and get into her father's truck. I bid farewell to Jimmy who was now vomiting and wheezing all over the table. I pulled him up by his hair and shot him in the forehead before fishing into his pocket and retrieving his keys. I hurried to tidy up the kitchen and threw the soiled linens into the bed of the truck.
We drove and drove along the coastal highway. We never stopped and we barely spoke. I drove down the coast from Rhode Island to Delaware and found a quiet town with a little beach. I pulled the truck up to the dune grass and parked it. I laid a small picnic on a blanket in the sand and watched Diana eat. She ate those sandwiches as if she had never seen food before. I made a small fire and stroked her hair until she went to sleep. Then, with my legs heavy with the weight of my actions, I slowly climbed to my feet to discard the puke covered towels and tablecloth into the dark ocean. The waves were waiting, obliged to swallow them. I waited until the ugly plaid of the table cloth was beyond the scope of my eyes and then laid down my heavy head next to Diana. I stayed awake that whole night, watching the dawn soak up the stars like a sponge and when Diana woke up, we went into town for some breakfast and then headed home.
Cobwebs of police tape and sirens swirled in the twilight. It almost reminded me of the lights from the Drown-a-Clown water gun games Jimmy used to fix. They had a siren and light that went off if the clown's water balloon burst. I suppose that these were my sirens of victory and Jimmy was my clown. Diana looked without crying at the house, dark and cold with policemen trampling the begonias we had planted that spring.
Diana and I put on a fantastic spectacle for the detectives who interviewed us. I told them that Diana had accompanied me to Delaware to look for a house for the weekend. We left Saturday morning and returned Sunday evening to find a murder scene. We acted as if Jimmy was a saint and carried on. I lied that I was Diana's aunt on her mother's side and no one questioned my claim to her. The official story of Jimmy's death was a poker game gone awry. A couple of college kids that rented the place across the street said they saw those poker playing kiddie fuckers run out of the house and drive off as fast as they could.
I still work at the diner on the boardwalk. I still recommend the ribeye. But my heart is fuller now. I don't mind the tourists so much now. In the college girls, I see Diana in a few years. I don't mind cleaning up after families either. Because of Jimmy Newman I got to have one. The way I see it, I did God's work. I am an angel walking this wicked, heartless, beautiful earth.