Good Blood by Eric Ramirez

The cicadas hummed in the trees around the house— so rhythmic and steady it was like a machine warming up. The orange glow of the porch light reflected off the screen, creating a dense black wall that shut out any color from the night.

Carmen wiped the beaded sweat off her upper lip with her index finger pointed like a gun. The wicker chair creaked as she leaned forward to pick up her napkin-wrapped glass and took a loud sip, smacking her lips while setting it down. She tucked the swollen fingers of her fat hands into her armpits and let her arms rest over her colossal breasts and breathed heavily through her nose. The flesh on the back of her upper arms was white and pliable as bread dough and spilled down over her hands.

"I think that what Maggie Vance's girl Amy did is dis-gusting," she said.

Inez brought her hand up to her mouth and propped her elbow on the chipped red arm of the glider.

"Say?" she replied.

The heat slithered under Inez's dress and coated her skin and she fanned her sleeves in an attempt for relief. The sweat building up under her arms trailed down like insects crawling under her clothes down the sides her body.

"Well, you know Maggie ain’t nothin but Partell trash, and you could always see it in that Amy girl. "

"Carmen!" Inez exclaimed, "That's ugly! You know Maggie’s momma Ruby had trouble with all them kids and that husband of hers was never around,” Inez grimaced when she mentioned Ruby’s husband, pausing before continuing, “The Lord has His reasons why He give so many trials to that family, and in particular that woman."

Carmen crossed and then re-crossed her massive ankles under the frayed hem of her faded purple dress.

"Well I can tell you this much, Inez, Amy Vance takin’ up with a married couple ain't got nothin to do with the Lord and everything to do with the trash in Partell blood." Just saying the Partell name made the inside of her mouth feel sullied.

Inez sucked her teeth at Carmen and looked away, crossing her left arm over her abdomen, and resting her head in her hand, thumb under her chin and fingers cupping her jaw. Carmen started again.

“I was reading in the Meridian Register that there are doctors saying that addiction runs in genes, in the blood, and they couldn’t print something like that if it weren’t a fact.” Carmen settled back into her fat. She was silent for a moment before she continued,” And you and me both know that the people you come from always tells what kinda person you are. It’s in the blood.”

Inez sighed and glanced down, picking a piece of fuzz off the knee of her light pink housedress. She stretched her legs out, placing one leg over the other, and re-crossed her arms.

“M-Hmm, “was all Inez replied, looking towards Carmen.

“Well, you know my momma was a Broadus. “Carmen started,” And momma used to say that there was a time she could stand on the porch and every tree and hill she could see was Broadus.”

When Carmen talked about the names the flowed through the blood in her veins she swelled inside, like a balloon inflating in her chest. On the sideboard in the dining room sat an old leather Holy Bible with gold leaf and full pages of wood-cut illustrations that her family had brought over in a trunk from England before the Civil War. In the front of the Bible was a family tree dating back to the 1700’s.

“”And her momma was a Manley, and before the Broaduses, wadn’t nobody bigger around here than a Manley.” Carmen leaned forward and looked pointedly at Inez who nodded along with Carmen while she talked.

“’Course, time it got to momma passin the land it’d been stoled or sold off,” Carmen said with a chill moving down her spine. Most of the Broadus land, and most of everybody else’s land who fell in debt to the county, was bought by a man named Toby Cotton. Hugh Lee Cotton and his family had moved to the county from Scottsdale in the early 60’s and started a land-buying grab that continued through Hugh’s son, Toby. Toby made trips out to Inez’s place regularly to clear the tall grass and he made a point to mention this at the Fish Camp whenever he could, leaving out that he baled the hay for a profit.

“Course her passing the land don’t matter as much as passing the blood, Toby Cotton may take my family’s name off the land but he can’t take the name from my blood and he will always just be a Cotton from north of Birmingham and I will always be a Broadus.”

Carmen scowled at a tickle in the back of her mind.

“All this talk about blood, we sound like a couple a girls on the tv goin’ on about vampires;” Inez said chuckling.

"Gotta have teeth to be a vampire,” Carmen said back, grinning and wiggling her tongue through the gap where she had four teeth pulled last year.

“Oh! Shh!” Inez suppressed a smile and the glider creaked as she rose. The glider continued to swing slowly as Inez walked back into the house carrying her glass, leaving Carmen laughing coarsely with her tongue still stuck out. Her laughter died down slowly and she sighed heavily with all of her bulk and started tapping her left foot.

Her legs had fallen asleep and immediately pain shot up her to her knee and she winced. Her legs felt like bags of concrete, and there were tiny points of pain like ants crawling up and biting her. “It’s gettin’ on time to get home and soak ‘em,” she thought to herself.

Every night before bed she pulled a chair next to the tub, filled it with scalding water and Epsom salt, rolled up the hem of her housedress and soaked her legs from the knees down in the steamy water. She would soak and read magazines until her legs were an angry red and then she would have to call her husband Buddy to help her pull them out. He’d come in, wearing his dirty gray jumpsuit from the mill, gray hair sticking out like wings under his hat and thick-framed glasses taking up most of his face. He’d lean down next to her and scoop one long skinny tanned arm under her shapeless bulging knees and the other around her lower back. She’d put one arm around his shoulders and grip the chair with the other. Moving her legs after her soak always made her wince and cry out and complain, slapping Buddy on his back. “Goddammit Carmen," he’d say, grunting,“ I’m gonna cut your legs off at the knees and sell ‘em to faggots from Atlanta as gen-u-wine country hams.” She would chuckle every time and they would make their way down the hall to the bedroom.

Carmen smirked and, taking a deep breath, pushed herself up gut first out of the wicker chair and its arms bent out and creaked. She knocked on the lower half of the stable-style back door and it rattled. The doorway opened into a wide hall that ran to the front of the house and Inez’s kitchen was just in on the right. She could see Inez’s shoulder moving as she rinsed the glass over the white double cast-iron sink.

“I have to be getting on before Buddy get’s himself all worked up thinking somebody run off with his wife,” Carmen shouted.

“Well hold on,” Inez shouted back as she bent under the sink, propping herself up by her elbows on her knees, and opened a cabinet door.

“There’re some boxes of jackets I got to run over the Methodist church in Choctaw in the morning,” Carmen yelled back.

Inez walked back out of the kitchen, throwing a yellow striped dishcloth over her shoulder, and leaned against the doorframe without opening the lower half of the door.

“Well, you tell the Reverend Linden and Tammy Linden I say hello,” Inez said and then crossed her arms.

“M-Hmm,” Carmen said back, passing through the screen door that led off the porch and it shut behind her with a slam. She waddled side to side as she made her way slowly down the creaking wooden stairs one step at a time. She set her foot flat on the ground with a grunt.
Pulling her keychain out of her side pocket she stomped heavily over the flat broken pieces of buried brick that were the pathway to the red dirt driveway and her car.

The interior lights came on when she opened the unlocked door and the long boat of a car rocked back and forth as she squeezed in and settled into the driver’s seat. The overhead light went off when she started the engine and she was instantly lit by the dashboard lights, which made her skin look like it had been painted a pale green.

Three tan-colored pit bulls that lay in a jumbled heap in the carport poked their heads up when Carmen started the engine. She glanced at them briefly in her rearview as they were lit by the red light of her tail lights. The pit bulls lay and watched with silent black faces as Carmen pulled out of Inez’s driveway and on to the gravel road until her tail lights disappeared into the trees around a bend.

Carmen leaned forward as she drove, peering over the steering wheel. The headlights cut a bright circle out of the blackness, illuminating the gray rocks of the road and on either side, rows of pine trees. She slowed as she approached the county road and then pulled out on to the asphalt. She gradually sped up until she noticed a figure walking on the right side of the road. She slowed and turned her head just as she passed the figure and thought to herself “Good Lord, That’s Amy Vance!” and pulled over on to the gravel embankment.

Carmen turned the car around across the two lanes, drove slightly into the tall grass on the side of the road and drove back towards Amy. When she got back to her, Amy was still walking down the side of the road. Carmen grunted and then turned the car around again, slowly pulling up next to Amy. She pushed the lever of the passenger-side window switch and it slid down with a buzzing noise before disappearing down into the door with a squeak.

“Amy-girl, it’s me Carmen Eg, from Beecham? I know your momma and daddy,” Carmen called out as stopped next to Amy.

Amy slowed and turned towards Carmen. She took a couple steps towards the car and bent down into the open window. Carmen pushed the switch on the overhead light and it popped on, lighting Amy’s face. Carmen sucked her teeth and felt her guts freeze. Amy looked sick. The light illuminated her face in a harsh glow, spotlighting the tight and dry skin across her cheeks and her swollen and cracked lips.

“Amy, honey, you, you, you---“Carmen trailed off and then coughed,” You need me to take you someplace—?” She felt her voice rise to a high pitch as she finished her question and she coughed again.

Amy licked her lips and ground her teeth together as she stood there, hands on the window frame.

“Ok,” she muttered and pulled the door open. The seat creaked as she settled into it and slammed the door beside her so hard that the car shook. She leaned forward and hugged her knees and stared straight ahead through the windshield.

“You want me to run you over your momma’s house?” Carmen asked, still speaking in a high-pitched affected tone.

“Now why the fuck would I wanna go to that old cunt’s place?” Amy growled back at her.
“Hu-heh-Huh,” Carmen’s laugh caught in her tight throat.

“Amy-girl’ you shouldn’t talk about your momma like that, she’s a good wo—,”

“What the fuck do you know about it, you fat fucking cow?” Amy snapped, turning her face sharply towards Carmen.

Carmen gripped the steering wheel tightly with both hands and started shaking her head back and forth. She was muttering and her eyes bulged out of her face.

“Amy, your momma, she-she--“ Carmen started to say before Amy cut off her again.

“She-She-She what? She’s a stupid broke down old drunk so why don’t you just shut the fuck up about it.” Amy sat up straight and stared forward after making her last statement. She ground her teeth loudly for a second and then cut her eyes back at Carmen, sticking her hand in one of the front pockets of her purple hooded sweatshirt.

The two of them sat without speaking for a few seconds, Carmen’s hot breath coming out fast and shallow and Amy staring at her with narrow eyes.

“Jesus –fuckin-Christ, can you even breathe? You sound like a fucking dog with its tongue stuck out!” Amy shouted at Carmen and and leaned forward with her tongue sticking out and started panting into Carmen’s face. She started laughing coarsely for a few moments and sat back as her laughter faded and scowled at Carmen.

“You got any money?” Amy grunted at her.

Carmen could feel the sweat beading up on her face and catching on the fine frog hairs of her upper lip.

“Where’s your fuckin purse, you stupid fat bitch?” Amy shouted, pulling a hunting knife with a camouflaged handle and a saw-back blade out of her pocket and pointing it towards Carmen. Carmen stared down at the knife and started screaming.

“Shut up!”Amy barked at Carmen but her screams got louder and she started violently shaking the steering wheel.

“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” Amy screeched at her and shoved the knife into Carmen’s side, burying her hand up to her wrist in Carmen. When she pulled the knife back out, her hand, part of her sleeve and the entire knife was a mix of reds with chunks of a glistening yellowish substance. She slammed the knife in a second and then a third time. Carmen kept screaming, grunting with each impact of the knife going into her and heaved forward over the steering when Amy pulled the knife out a fourth time.

Carmen sucked in deeply and spit blood through the gaps in her teeth, holding her stomach with both hands. Wet spread down the front of her dress, warming her legs. There were spots of light flashing in the corners of her vision and she was dimly aware that her hands were wet. She looked down at them, spreading out her fingers. Her palms were covered in blood and she saw names written in the blood. The names glowed with gold writing and at first she recognized them-Broadus, Manley- then there were names she had seen written in the front of her Bible-Farnham, Elleridge-and then other names she didn’t recognize-MacBroain, Cuillin- the writing began to change and the names became words without vowels-Rgnhldr, Gyllngrn-, and then the letters stretched and warped into characters her eyes didn’t recognize. She quickly wiped at the blood on her wet dress and brought her hands back out in front of her but the names were gone, lost in the wash of blackish blood.

Amy yanked open the passenger side door and ran off into the tall grass, disappearing into the darkness in the pine trees next to the road. The “Door Ajar” chime pinged as Carmen
wrapped her arms around her swollen midsection trying to slow the blood slopping between the flesh of her arms.

“Oh Lord Jesus, momma, momma,” she slurred weakly, slumping against the steering wheel and smearing blood across the green lights of the dashboard instruments."

Story by Eric Ramirez. Born in Texas and raised between rural Alabama and Florida, Eric grew up with an interest in the Southern Gothic Macabre.