By Samuel Ligon
Featured Art: The Large Plane Trees (Road Menders at Saint-Rémy) by Vincent van Gogh
We killed Kitty’s husband with a harpoon her grandfather had given her, but it could have been a skillet or the steel ashtray from her kitchen table. The band would sit around that table at night, smoking and drinking and filling the house with music, and as it got late, Billy Wayne would make Kitty feel bad about who she was and what was best in her, calling her ignorant hillbilly trash and blaming her for everything that was small in him. He married her when she was fifteen, two months after he discovered her in Spokane, though everybody knew she didn’t need to be discovered. She only needed to sing the sweet, sad songs we wrote, and America’s heart would melt.
Our first single, “A Stone of Ice,” told the story of Billy Wayne trampling Kitty’s love with whiskey and womanizing, leaching all the goodness from her once pure soul. Every song we sang was about him. We wrote “This Bed You’ve Made” a month before he died, with the chorus that would make Kitty famous:
This bed you’ve made of cheating nights
This bed you’ve made of sin
This bed you’ve made of drunken lies
Is the bed I’m in with him
It broke our hearts to sing such mournful words, tears staining our cheeks as we wove our haunting hillbilly harmonies. We’d never even kissed, and here we were crying and singing and spitting in each other’s faces, as close as we could get to kissing, since Billy Wayne’s office was right beside the kitchen.
We sang it again. We sang it till Billy Wayne came out and stood before us with his arms across his chest. “Don’t think I don’t know what y’all are doing here,” he said.
“We ain’t doing nothing here,” I said, and it was true, sort of.
“This song’s gonna be a monster hit,” I said.
“Don’t tell me what’s gonna be a monster hit,” Billy Wayne said.
“Start it again, Blaze,” Kitty said, and Billy Wayne stormed out the back door.
We sang it again, spitting all over each other, the air between us heavy and thick, our shiny faces inches apart, our voices ringing in the humid air. “I’m a married woman,” Kitty said as I leaned in to kiss her. “A married woman,” she said as we drove out the Washburne road, sharing pulls from a bottle. “A woman on the edge,” she said at the Wagon Wheel, where I hid my truck out back. “Oh, Blaze,” she said as we rolled into bed, onto the floor, up against walls, all over that room.
Most folks don’t realize how close a man and woman can get once they wake up to the fact of their own rotting. Kitty and I came alive through our wickedness for weeks, meeting at the Wagon Wheel and whispering beautiful, filthy things to each other.
“I’m a fallen woman,” she said one afternoon, “no good to anyone.”
“You’re good to me,” I said.
“Good as dead,” she said. “He’ll be coming for us.”
And he did come, weeks later, slurring and wobbling into the kitchen where Kitty and I sat writing a song.
“You’re drunk,” Kitty said, and Billy Wayne said, “You’re a harlot,” and I said, “You can’t call her that,” and Billy Wayne said, “I can and I will.”
I stood from the table, trying to loom.
He snarled, stumbling back to his office.
It felt good running him off like that, but he returned with Kitty’s harpoon, charging her like a bull elephant.
I jumped from my chair and took him to the floor.
“This love’s killing me!” he cried.
I put my knee to his back. “It’s not love’s gonna kill you!”
“My heart’s a leaking sieve,” he blubbered.
“A black and shriveled thing,” I said.
“Please,” he finally whimpered. “I just want my lonesome bed.”
“Let him go,” Kitty said, and we watched him crawl out of the kitchen.
“Awful,” she said, “what love can do.”
“That ain’t love,” I said, and Kitty said, “Don’t tell me what love is, Blaze,” and Billy Wayne burst into the kitchen with his Navy Colt revolver.
I grabbed the harpoon from the floor. Billy Wayne fired and I harpooned him through the side, then twisted into his heart and lungs, killing him deader than hell. The righteousness I felt as he dropped to the floor, burbling and bleeding, Kitty beside him crying tears of joy and love and hatred! I picked her up so she wouldn’t be stained by his leakage. “Oh, baby,” she said, as I kissed her and petted her.
“Oh, darling,” she said, as she ran her hands over me. There was no doubt that she was mine and I was hers, that no one in the world would tear us asunder. You can’t get closer than killing for love. In fact, you’ll never get that close again, though you’ll think it’s all just beginning.
At the Wagon Wheel, we wrapped ourselves around each other for days, free and gorging, until Kitty started making herself famous, returning phone calls to the newspapers and record labels. You probably know that room as 319, from our monster hit, “That’s Not Love Leaking From the Harpoon Hole in Your Heart,” but there was no room 319. The Wagon Wheel had just thirteen rooms, each a shrine to the love we shared when we were writing monster hits nobody knew—“This Bed You’ve Made,” and “Whiskey Tears,” and “(If You’re) Here for Love (Come Back When You’re Dead and Gone).” Those songs proved our love, were our love. Everything was our love.
Even our hatred. Even our fear. Even the harpoon we killed Billy Wayne with. We’d be burning with it still, if only we had Billy Wayne to hate and hide from and murder forever. If only we’d been arrested and sentenced to death. But the police couldn’t let us go fast enough. Everyone knew Billy Wayne deserved that harpoon. But nobody deserves love. Or everyone does. It comes and it goes of its own free will. Like fever. Like flood. Like the greatest thing you’re ever gonna lose, whether you harpoon a man or not. Oh, Kitty, my baby darling. And once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.
Samuel Ligon’s most recent novel—Miller Cane: A True & Exact History—was serialized for a year in Spokane’s weekly newspaper, The Inlander, as well as on Spokane Public Radio. The author of four previous books of fiction, including Wonderland and Safe in Heaven Dead, Ligon is also co-editor, with Kate Lebo, of Pie & Whiskey: Writers Under the Influence of Butter & Booze.
Originally published in NOR 18: Fall 2015