Human Blood ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
School was out and Betty Fray walked home by herself through the quiet streets of the town. It was a cloudy, too-warm day in late October. The wind, holding the promise of rain later on, blew the leaves frantically along the sidewalk. Betty turned her head to the side to keep the wind from stealing her breath.
When she got home, the house was still and deserted, her mother and sister gone. She went into the kitchen and helped herself to a chocolate chip cookie and a drink of cold water and then left again. She didn’t feel like sitting still and waiting for somebody to come home and ask her what she was doing. She would walk down to Jesus Saves and when she came back her mother and sister would be there.
Jesus Saves was a good turning-around place because it was at the bottom of a hill, where the street dead-ended. People were always using the Jesus Saves parking lot for turning around because they didn’t realize until they go to the bottom of the hill that the street didn’t go any farther.
She saw a girl she knew from school, Jessie Lime, walking on the other side of the street in the opposite direction. She really didn’t like Jessie very much; her teeth were rotten stumps and she was already starting to get fat because she ate candy all the time. She would have to go on a diet and get dentures by eighth grade if she ever expected to have a boyfriend after that.
An old man, whose yard was higher than the street, was raking leaves. He turned and watched Betty suspiciously as she walked by. She wanted to give him the finger or at least stick her tongue out at him, but she did neither. He was trash and it was best to just ignore him.
The parking lot at Jesus Saves was deserted; no cars and no people. The windows were blank and dark. Tonight there would be no prayer meeting or other service. Nobody being cleansed of their sins.
She skirted the parking lot and walked to the far edge where there was a low concrete wall. She hadn’t completed the circuit until she touched the wall with her foot; she did this and whirled around to walk back the way she came when something caught her eye: a dark spot on the faded asphalt, dark and wet as if somebody had spilled a bucket of paint and gone off and left it. Curiosity got the best of her and she approached the spot to see what it was. She was looking down at it when the door of Jesus Saves opened and a man came running out. He clapped his hands to get her attention.
“Here! Here, girl!” he said. “You get away from there!”
She looked from the spot on the asphalt to the man and back at the spot. “What is this?” she asked, realizing at that moment that it was blood. “Did a dog get run over by a car?”
“No, no!” he said. “You get on away from here! There’s nothing here for you!”
It was Reverend Upjohn, a fussy little man in black who preached at funerals and saved stray souls from going to hell. He wore glasses on a string around his neck and, as she looked down at his feet, she couldn’t help noticing sandals with red socks.
“What is it?” she persisted. “It’s blood, isn’t it?”
“It isn’t any of your business what it is!” Reverend Upjohn said. “You get on home now! It’s going to rain and your people are probably wondering where you are!”
The door of Jesus Saves opened again and Reverend Upjohn swiveled his head nervously. Two Sisters of the Church were coming out, lugging buckets of water and mops. One of them held the door for the other one. They were large women and homely, both wearing loose, sack-like dresses and a white covering on their heads as if their hair looked too terrible to be seen.
“Over here!” Reverend Upjohn said to the women. “Let’s get this cleaned up!”
The Sisters of the Church went to work obediently on the spot, swabbing at it with the mops. They moved the blood around until they had a sloppy pink mess.
“We need something to soak it up,” Reverend Upjohn said. “All you’re doing is making it worse.”
They dipped their mops into the buckets of water and then the water looked like blood.
“Dump this water out and go inside and get some fresh,” he said. “Jesus! I never saw so much blood in my life! The police were here, but they left the mess for us to clean up! How do you like that?”
Betty stood back a few feet and watched the Sisters of the Church move the blood around. When Reverend Upjohn realized she was still there, he turned on her.
“Didn’t I tell you to get on home just now?” he said. “There’s nothing here for you to see! Didn’t your mother ever teach you any manners?”
One of the Sisters of the Church stopped mopping and leaned over and whispered into Reverend Upjohn’s ear, shielding her mouth behind her hand.
“Oh!” Reverend Upjohn said, looking at Betty. He went and put his hand on her shoulder. “You be a good girl now and run on home.”
“What did that woman say about me?” Betty asked. “She whispered something in your ear about me, didn’t she?”
Reverend Upjohn sighed and bent his wrinkled old face toward her. “I can run you home in my car if you want,” he said.
“No, thank you!” Betty said. She felt like telling him and the Sisters of the Church to kiss her ass, but they weren’t worth the effort.
As she began walking up the hill toward home, a troubling thought occurred to her: Momma didn’t come home last night. Could the blood on the Jesus Saves parking lot having anything to do with that? The Sister of the Church seemed to recognize Betty and, recognizing her, whispered something into Reverend Upjohn’s ear. What might she have said?
Momma’s new boyfriend was a man named Shelton Barnett. He was sexy and dangerous, Momma said, and that’s a combination you just can’t beat. Betty had only seen him about three times, but she didn’t like him. He reminded her of a snake. He was dark and narrow-hipped and his upper lip curled back over his teeth. He always wore suits and ties and shiny shoes. Momma wasn’t sure what he did for a living but, whatever it was, it couldn’t be good. To Betty he looked like a gangster from the movies, with his slicked-back hair and two days’ growth of dark stubble on his face. Maybe he and momma parked on the Jesus Saves lot to kiss and talk in the middle of the night before he dropped her off at home, and she said something he didn’t like. Maybe she laughed at him, telling him he wasn’t much of a man, and made him mad and he stuck a knife in her heart and dumped her out on the Jesus Saves lot and took off. Don’t things like that happen between lovers all the time?
She became very nervous as she got closer to home. She knew that something terrible was wrong, or why else would that Sister of the Church whisper something about Betty into Reverend Upjohn’s ear? She wasn’t stupid. She had been able to figure things out on her own since third grade. Shelton Barnett had killed momma and she was as certain of that as she was that the sun was up in the sky. As she thought about the terrible loss she had sustained, it expanded into anger. If Shelton Barnett had killed momma, she would kill Shelton Barnett, even if it took forever. He wasn’t going to get away with it.
Up the hill she almost ran, shaky and out of breath and nauseated. She hoped that when she opened the door momma would be standing there smiling at her, but she knew that wasn’t going to happen. Momma was dead and that was her blood on the ground at Jesus Saves. Nothing had ever been so clear to her before in all her life.
Her older sister Wanda was sitting on the couch and when Betty opened the door, Wanda jumped up.
“Where have you been?” Wanda asked.
“Momma’s dead, isn’t she?” Betty said.
“I said momma’s dead, isn’t she?”
“I want to know where you’ve been!”
“You’re not my boss! I went for a walk down to Jesus Saves.”
“Two policemen were just here,” Wanda said.
“To tell us momma’s dead?”
“No, to tell us momma’s being held in custody. I think that’s a fancy way of saying she’s in jail.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You remember that man that momma’s been dating? That Shelton whatever-his-name-is?”
“Yeah, that’s him. Somebody murdered him and dumped his body on the parking lot at Jesus Saves.”
“I was just there. I saw the blood. The people there were acting funny when they saw me. I didn’t know why.”
“They think Momma had something to do with it. They’re holding her until they find out if she did the murder.”
“I don’t think she did it.”
“Maybe she had a good reason.”
“I’d rather have her in jail than dead,” Betty said.
“The policemen asked me if we had a relative to stay with,” Wanda said, “and I lied and told him we did. They won’t let us stay here by ourselves because we’re minors. We have to have an adult living with us until momma comes back.”
Betty’s legs gave way and she fell back on the couch. “What are we having for dinner?” she asked. “I’m starved.”
Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp