There are a lot of things that get passed down in a family without the benefit of genetics. 

But a darkness like this can spread far beyond the family tree.

Alma by Beau Johnson

The piece of shit sitting in front of Alma and me was not the man who’d wronged us.  Close, sure, but not He Who Made Mommy Go Away.  This one was thin, for one, and had close kept eyes for another.  Little patches of hair sprouted from his face as well, stuff which reminded me of the squiggly things my grandmother eventually grew---not really a beard at all.  Struggling against the duct tape, he looks from me to Alma and back again; had actually been doing it since I took the burlap sack from his head.  Led me to believe I had the right man.  That he’d been released this very morning, well, that was just in case there is in fact a God.

“You gonna behave yourself, Joel?  You promise me that, I remove the gag.  Sound good?” 

Joel nods yes, slowly, like he might think his life depended on it.   Each of us were where we needed to be, my basement, around a card table I knew I would never again use for cards.  Quiet, patient, Alma is to my left, her hair uneven but in the best possible braid I could manage.  Behind us the refrigerator kicks on and off and then goes through the entire cycle again.  Mental note: must get that fixed.  Above us, a lone 40 watt bulb gives us the shadow I believe we require---what a man like Joel and all his kind deserve. 

You still sure about this? My wife says from somewhere in the back of my mind.  It’s sudden, this voice, and loud, and the only place the woman I’d married now lived.  That’s not true of course, not really.  Not once I look into the eyes of the daughter we created.  Big and brown, they pool just like Arlene’s.  In them I see everything I’ve ever needed and all the things she will ever become.  It is a curse, the type of parent I am now, but it is also the reason things like this needed to be done.


I grasp that I’ve been standing there, my hands out, the gag still within the piece of shit’s mouth.  It is happening more often this way, me zoning out with my thoughts like this.  I make another mental note: rectify this.  Alma has already been through too much.

“Sorry, baby, just thinking about your mom.” 

At this my little girl smiles, and for a moment all is again right with the world, not a hair out of place.  It’s as I look back to the garbage in front me that my stomach turns and I once more become something I never thought I could be. 

Truth be told, there are not enough flames in hell.

Gag removed, I give him my speech, the words I have practiced.  I want to know, I tell him.  I must know.  Just give me a reason and I will let you go.  It doesn’t come, what I want.  But it’s not really a want, not if I’m honest.  It’s more of a need.  To know and somehow understand how another human being could do the things he’d done.   “I mean, really, what is it?  What excites you enough to do that to boys?  I mean, seriously?”  He babbles, cries, weeps and pleads.  Nothing of this was new.  Not one part original.  Made me angry is what this did, there with Alma looking on.  It’s now, in this exact moment, that I realize I have given too much up, too much time, but it’s then that the true monster comes out, the one who understands he has nothing left to lose.

“And you think I’m fucked up?  Dude, what about you?  What is this kid, seven?  Eight?  You think something like this ain’t gonna scar her for life?  I got news for you, fuckwad: time to get a clue!”  His voice has become hard, a snarl, thick lines of vein now out upon his neck.  “But if it was me who’d done your wife, I’d have took my time.  You got that!  Made sure she felt every bit of pain I could give her.  I would fuck her hard and I would rip her wide!  And you want to know why, right?  That’s your fucking question?”  Feral.  Vile.  Little goops of spittle in the corners of his mouth.  In the blink of an eye different but yet the very same.  Again I paused to think of God.

“I’ll tell you the fucking reason…” he barks, but the moment passes.  It’s not me who shuts him down though, my gun still in the back of my pants, my eyes still holding the evil in his.  It’s only when the eyes holding mine are gone that I look over to Alma, her .32 drawn, her hand steady.

I ask: “How did it feel this time?”

“Better.”  She says, and my heart fills up with something I can’t yet describe.  Righteousness perhaps, but even then I’m still not quite sure.

“Come on, then, let’s get you to bed.  I’ll clean up once I’ve tucked you in.”

“Carry me?” 

And it’s here, as Alma holds her arms up, that I lose myself in the eyes I helped create; that I see everything I want to see and everything I need to see.  I see her mother.  Her father.  And everything that men like the one now missing half his face will never again take away.  Not if I could help it.

“Sure, baby,” I say.  “Sure.”

In Canada, with his wife and three boys, Beau Johnson lives, writes and breathes. He has been published before, on the darker side of town. Such places might include Underground Voices, the Molotov Cocktail, and Shotgun Honey. He would like it to be known that it is an honor to be here, down in the Gutter.