COUNT THE STARS
They said I killed her. They were screaming it now. They said I broke her door down, a crazy act of strength brought on by lust and rage. I ain’t never felt no rage, can barely remember the last time I was cross with someone. I lust from time to time but I never had no luck with women and didn’t expect that to change neither. They had walked me through the house, rub my nose in what they say I done. Like I said, the door was knocked straight off the iron hinges, as if the house could no longer hide the horror inside, and I can tell you it was a horror beyond anything I could ever imagine.
It was just a one room shack, nothing special, but better than anything I ever lived in. The first five steps were fine, I was looking at my feet as they walked me in, arms held behind my back. Then my boots began to push into dark slippery dirt, and I smelled blood. I heard gags from behind me and I looked to my left before I looked forward. I wanted to see their faces. I wanted to ready myself for what they thought I done.
The sheriff’s eyes were unmoving, looking straight ahead. His jaw clenched, tightening up his whole face, like he had gone and tried to eat a lemon whole. The deputy wasn’t ready though, he hadn’t been with the sheriff when discovered this. Me and him were the same in that way, it was our first time walking into this hell. He was on his hands and knees heavin something fierce, no mess yet though, but he was still at it. I tore my eyes away from the pair, and looked back to my boots. That gnawing pit of worry in my stomach started to twist and turn, getting that feeling like when I hadn’t relieved myself in a long while. I began to believe that I was standing in blood.
I been on this earth thirty eight years and I ain’t never seen anything like it, and I doubt I ever will again. She was young, young enough to be considered beautiful by a grown man but she... she was just starting out on life. My mind screamed at my eyes to look away but eyes grow greedy when they see something they ain’t never seen before. They gotta see everything they can before they get scolded. She had no clothes, lying on that straw mattress all splayed out. Didn’t even look human, not with that suit of red and brown on. It was dried blood that covered nearly every piece of skin, only her feet showed the chalk white color of death. My greedy eyes were drawn to the deep red line cross her neck, a second mouf, it had talked an awful lot of blood. Little lines from a blade dotted her chest and arms, the rough handiwork of a violent man. I know I am not that man. Her eyes were gone, only black pits, where shadow and gore made out to be a haunting nothingness.
That’s what bothered me the most, he had taken her eyes. I began to feel faint. Leaning forward against the sheriff’s grip, I was just thankful he was there to keep me from putting my knees in that poor girls blood that soaked the dirt.
I done went numb, like some kind of dream, like my brain gone and switched off without me giving it permission to. They took me back to the cell, asked me if I was ready to confess. I could only shake my head, trying clear my head of that terrible thing I seent. That poor girl was all I could think of. Every time I clothes my eyes I see the holes were hers once was. I couldn’t of formed a good thought to save my life but even if I was thinkin clearly, I wouldn’t much care to speak round people. I wanted to say I was innocent, scream it, but I couldn’t. I never been able to say nothing most times. It weren’t no use, the men had blind justice in their eyes, I could see the hate burning there. Folks eyes will tell all you want to know bout what they thinking.
It’s my mouth. I can’t blame em, I still ain’t comfortable with it neither and I’ve had for thirty eight years. A harelips what they call it, on account of that gap down from my nose resembles a hares face, though people don’t mind hares so the name can’t fit the problem that well. It makes it hard to speak, and I spit an awful lot when I do. My front teeth are always showing, I make this constant offputting grin though I don’t mean to. It robs me of a real smile but I like to think people smile more genuine in their eyes. Maybe I say that cause that’s how I tend read people. I don’t know. But I do know that poor girl wasn’t none too fond of my mouf.
She was pacing the right side of the bar, cleaning glasses and giving patrons wild looks, asking simple questions in a low hushed voice, she knew her job well. She was easy on the eyes, though as I think back my pesky mind won’t picture her before the evil, only her coated in that layer of dried blood. My stomach grows sick everytime I close my eyes now. I sat off on the opposite side of the room, enjoying my drink and the piano that played in the corner. I had only been in town for two days and two nights, running cattle through with my employer. I had a room upstairs and enjoyed the drink when the day was done. I thought it was a nice time in my life, hadn’t gone one comment yet on my mouf. I wore my collar high and hat low, to avoid stares, but there ain’t nothing I can do beyond wearing a mask to hide it.
I drift off with some drink in me, helps me relax. I suppose this time I shoulda watched where my greedy eyes went. I was watching without really watching but I had been looking in her direction too long. She grew uncomfortable. My lopsided grin, made only worse when I tried to actually smile in forgiveness when I realized I was starin, did little to reassure her that I meant no harm. She had a quick word with the bartender and before I knew it I was asked to go upstairs to my room. Terse words with a firm hand on my arm. I shrugged him off and in with my head down and hand over my mouf I muttered I would leave for a walk. My hand is always over my mouf when I speak, on account of the drool I can’t control. When those men had my hands behind my back I felt more naked than if they taken my clothes.
Out the doors I went. The hot stale air that stank of men and beer was left behind and I took a deep breath through my nose. The saloon sat at the head of the town, with one street coming right out its swingin doors. Stores and shops were on either side, closed now for the night. Their owners lived on the second floors, windows flickerin with life. A strange sight it was, a town of floating houses. The nights fog set in and the warm wood nestled in it was painted white. It looked like heaven but I had to leave it. I walked two miles down the middle of the dirt street until I got to our rented cattle field. Counted the calves, the horses and once satisfied I lay on the soft grass and began counting the stars. I fell asleep in that field, as peaceful as you like. Weren’t the same waking up, no sir it was not.
She had been murdered in that still summer night. Raped and killed they said, by that stranger with an evil grin. It must have been just minutes before the sun was gonna announce the morn when the sheriff and his deputy grabbed me. They tied my hands behind my back, pulling tight, letting me know the rope was not there just to subdue me. Deputy couldn’t help but be a bit rough with me, can’t blame the man, justice is an emotional thing. I didn’t let it get to me, I heard them words to many times before.
They marched me to the only cell they had, just two bunks and a bucket inside. The locked me in, never bothered to untie my hands though. They began leading in an array of the town’s peoples. The bartender came in and after a hushed discussion followed by some pointing and feverish nods he left. He was quickly followed by the piano player and even a woman I had simply walked by on the way to the field the night before. My employer was the last to walk in. I tried to read his eyes, to show him mine, but he turned from me. I heard him say I never returned to my room that night. Heard him say I never talked much. Heard him say I have a devil's grin. Satisfied with their evidence them two lawman took me outta the cell and led me to that horror I told you about.
They are screaming for me now. Screaming how I killed her. Raped her. I look out at the crowd and try to see what they are feeling, I look to their eyes, it’s what I am good at. God had to give me some gift since he gone and gave me this smile. All men are created equal they said, right? Or maybe... maybe it is the destiny of some men to suffer so others can go on to do great things. Jesus was that way wasn’t he? I don’t know, but then again we ain’t supposed to.
The deputy steps forward across the wooden stage and puts the rope round my neck. He works the knot as tight as the bindings keepin my hands together, I can’t blame him. He begins reading my crimes and I reckon that Pontius Pilate musta looked an awful lot like this man. Well if he is Pilate in this play, well then that makes me Jesus himself. I smile at the thought, I couldn’t help myself. The crowd don’t like that none. I know what it looks like when I smile. Only if they would bother to look at my eyes, they would know. Guess not everyone got a gift like I do.
Some are startin to throw rocks. Some of them rocks are startin to land. I try to pull my lips tight shut, hide my teeth. It never works, just makes some drool start to creep its way out. I bend my shoulders forward, trying to block what I can. I don’t blame them, I know what it looks like when I smile, it ain’t pretty. I snatch glance away from my boots, out into the sun. Heads silhouetted by the glow. Halos on each head. Dust floats behind only leaving the shadows of the town. The rotten wood creaks with movement to my left and I look back down.
The sheriff approaches with a black bag and I relax. I couldn’t say anything that matters now and I don’t intend to get stoned to death. The rocks stop hitting me, they know what’s coming as much as I do. As it slides over my head and rests on my shoulders I relax my mouf, the dark wool is the only blessing the good Lord seems fit to give me. It evens help to muffle the crowd, a general hum of that can barely be distinguished.
That poor girl and I, we are one in the same, two of God’s innocents’ sentenced death for the way we look. But some must suffer for others to do great things, I tell myself. I am like Jesus, yet they think me the leper.
I wonder if God sees a man’s smile in his eyes instead of his mouf.