I expect her to answer me, but she turns her face away.
“It was him, wasn’t it?”
She nods, her jaw clenched. “We went to pick her up, caught her on her granny’s street. She wouldn’t get in the car…”
I think of Nevaeh. I’d never seen her be defiant, never seen her disrespectful.
“Steve got out to grab her,” Lyndee says. “He was … rough. She screamed real loud and tried to run. We had to drive off real fast.”
I have to close my eyes, the scene playing out graphically in my mind. A little girl’s terror, her need to run to her grandmother who gave her a sense of love and permanence. Her mother’s boyfriend, always resentful, always watching, wishing she weren’t there. Nevaeh knowing and living with the fact that her mother chose someone else over her daily. Sent her away as often as possible to salvage her relationship with a man who couldn’t tolerate her child.
“What then?” I say, impatient for the story to be over. I want to know how she died, so I can bring Lyndee Anthony to justice.
“He gave her some juice, to calm her down. Didn’t tell me there was sleeping pills in there until after. He was just gonna make her sleep ‘til we got to Portland. We went back to the house to get some things before Tom got home from work. Tom owns the house, he’s Steve’s friend. We wanted to be out before the morning so we didn’t have to pay rent. We owed a couple months, you know. We packed up the car with our shit. Before we left I looked back at her. She looked funny. When I reached back and felt her neck, she was cold. And she wasn’t breathing.” She lets out a pitiful sob. “I ain’t meant for her to die!” Her story is wobbling from “he” to “I,” and I wonder how much of her account is truth. How much of it was her plan, and how much of it was Steve’s?
“Why didn’t you take her to the hospital? There could have been time to save her. She could have been in a coma!”
Lyndee’s eyes shift from side to side, trying to find an adequate excuse, or perhaps a way out of the shed. She is trying, I realize, to answer me in the way she thinks I want.
“It was too late,” she says. “There was no heartbeat.” I know that’s not true by the look on her face. Nevaeh’s heartbeat may have been barely discernible, but there was still time to get her to a hospital.
“So you drove her to the woods and burned her?”
My heart rate is rising as I realize Nevaeh could have been alive when they burned her. Trapped inside her own mind, in a coma. Lyndee and her idiot boyfriend too high and stupid to know that a person’s heart rate can drop so low that even a stethoscope can struggle to pick it up.
“Steve said the mistake was already made. We could make it look like someone took her. I didn’t want to go to prison because of an accident!” She’s so insistent. So desperate for me to see her broken reasoning.
“An accident?” I ask. “What about the rest of the days? Not just the day you killed her. All the days you chose your piece of shit boyfriend over her, the nights she put herself to bed because you were too drunk to stand up, the nights she made herself dinner, the days she had to take care of YOU. You were her mother!”
Lyndee is temporarily stunned, her lips moving without sound.
“You knew her,” she finally says. “Did she tell you that?”
She did. Stories on the bus. Little things Nevaeh would say. Never accusatory in regards to her mother, just simple facts that slipped in during our conversations.
“Bambi was scared last night. She cried ‘til she fell asleep.”
“Why was she scared?”
“We were home alone.”
“Where was your mom?”
“Somewhere with Steve…”
“I ate brownies for dinner, and I felt so funny after.”
“You did? Was it someone’s birthday?”
“Naw. It was dinnertime. Mama was asleep, so I ate the brownies I found. But after that I felt dizzy and weird…”
“It was my birthday this weekend.”
‘What did you do? Did you go somewhere special?”
“No. Mama had to go somewhere important with Steve. She said we would go to a movie next week.”
“So you didn’t do anything for your birthday?”
“They sang to me at school, and Granny brought me over a cupcake.”
I try to find my humanity. There is forgiveness, even in the hardest human heart. I could hand her over to the police, but there’s no evidence. If they pushed her, perhaps she’d confess like she did with me, but if she didn’t, then what? Without proof, they’d have to let her go. Judah is right. There is no justice for the poor.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I can’t do that. From one murderess to another, you should understand.”
She whimpers. She was a little girl once. Just like Nevaeh, with pigtails and innocence and hopes for a life of love. Maybe if I picture her like that, I can forgive her. I try, but all I see is a murdering whore. She was born to be a murderess, just like me. Plus, I like the way this feels. Cleaning up. The satisfaction is deep. A warm shower when you’re cold. I pick up Bambi from where Lyndee dropped her, and tuck her under my arm.
I empty the gas can around her; it splashes on her arms and legs, the smell of petroleum burning my nose and making me light-headed. She yells and begs, brilliant, thick tears streaming down her face. All I can think is how she never cried for Nevaeh, not once, but here she is crying for herself. She stands up and rushes me, but the chain around her ankle yanks her back. She falls, but for a moment she is suspended in the air. I slip the book of matches from my back pocket. Heat flares across the shed. Lyndee screams. I close the door behind me. I burn her. One match from a book that I bought from the Quickie Corner—the ones with the teddy bear on them—and a locked room soaked in gasoline. An eye for an eye. A burn for a burn. Vengeance for Nevaeh.
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