Maybe Tomorrow, Miss Pigeon ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
We had just finished supper when we heard a car out front. The kids went tearing out the door as if their britches were on fire. I went out, too, with ma right behind me, drying her hands, and we saw right off that it was a new-looking Ford car with my brother Tafford driving. The next thing I saw was that he had somebody sitting next to him in the car and that somebody was a girl with yellow hair.
“Oh, Tafford got him a wife!” ma said.
“He got him a new car!” I said.
Lupe, Willoughby, and Wiley were jumping up and down screaming. As soon as Tafford stopped the car, they were all over him, wanting to know what he had brought them. They opened up the back of the car and started pulling boxes and packages out like it was Santa’s sleigh.
Ma went running to Tafford and threw her arms around him and started crying. “I was afraid you was dead, son!” she said.
Tafford laughed. “Why would I be dead?”
“When we don’t hear from you for so long, I imagine all sorts of things.”
When Ma let go of him, she pointed to the girl, still sitting in the car. “Who is this?” she asked.
“She’s going to be staying with us for a few days,” Tafford said. “Don’t worry about her.”
“Well, she’s got a name, don’t she?”
The girl stepped out of the car and extended her hand to ma. “My name is Pigeon,” she said. “I hope I’m not putting you out any.”
“Of course not,” Ma said. “I just thought for a minute you were Tafford’s wife.”
“I haven’t got one of those, ma,” Tafford said. “Don’t go getting me married off, now.”
“Well, when you show up with a strange woman like that, what am I to think?”
“Don’t think anything,” Tafford said.
The girl stood there awkwardly with her handbag in one hand and her hat in the other. She seemed a little embarrassed about ma believing she was somebody she wasn’t.
“I was sick on the way down,” she said. “Car sick.”
“Do you feel better now?” ma asked.
“Yes, some. But I need a drink of water and some rest.”
Ma put her arm over the girl’s shoulder and led her into the house.
“Is she your girlfriend?” I asked as I was helping Tafford carry the stuff into the house. He had brought us lots of food, as usual.
“I already said it’s not like that,” he said.
“Who is she, then? Why is she here?”
“We’ll talk later.”
We had already finished with supper, but Ma heated up the leftovers. Tafford ate hungrily but Pigeon wouldn’t come to the table. She said she couldn’t stand to even look at food. She reclined on the sofa in the parlor where ma had put her with a wet cloth on her head and a pitcher of ice water beside her.
“Who is she?” ma whispered to Tafford as he ate.
“Just somebody who needs a place to stay for a few days.”
“And the two of you are not…”
“Now, just get that idea right out of your head! I only just met her.”
“Well, what does it mean when you bring somebody home and you won’t tell your mother anything about who she is?”
“It’s all right, ma. I promise. She’s all right. I wouldn’t bring a bad person under your roof.”
“I didn’t say she was a bad person. I just asked who she was.”
“It’s nothing for you to worry about.”
“I’m not worried.”
I had to give my room over to Pigeon but I didn’t mind. Tafford and I would sleep in the attic room. I had missed him and it would give me a chance to talk to him. The more I could find out from him, the better were my chances to get away the way he did.
“How’s your job?” I asked after we were in bed.
“I’m fine. My job is fine. Everything is fine.”
“Ma worries that every time you go away you won’t come back again.”
He turned and looked at me in the dark. “I drove three hundred miles today,” he said, just above a whisper. “I’m tired and I want to go to sleep now.”
“So, you’re not going to tell me anything?”
I never knew exactly what Tafford’s job was. I know he didn’t work in a factory or an office the way other people do. He said he worked for a couple of businessmen, making him a businessman, and that he did what he was told, minded his own business, and kept his mouth shut. I knew from the way he said it that I was supposed to keep my mouth shut, too.
The next day after breakfast (Pigeon didn’t come downstairs), Tafford and I went for a drive in his new car. He pulled off the old river road and, after he had parked the car facing the river, he lit a cigarette and slumped down in the seat.
“Glad to see the old place again?” I asked.
“Guess so,” he said.
“Does ma seem different?”
“A little crazier than the last time.”
“If she dies,” I said, “I’m not staying and taking care of the kids. They’ll have to go to an orphanage.”
“Do you think she’s fixing to die?”
“She talks about dying all the time. She thinks her time is about up.”
“I wonder why she had so many kids that she couldn’t take care of?”
“Well, you know how that goes.”
“I’m not ever having any kids.”
“Me neither,” I said.
He smoked his cigarette down to the end and lit another one. “There’s something I need to tell you,” he said.
I felt a little rush of pleasure that he would confide in me and nobody else. “What is it?” I asked.
“It’s about Pigeon.”
“What about her?”
“I’m supposed to pop her.”
“You’re supposed to do what?”
“I’m supposed to kill her and make sure her body is never found.”
For a moment I couldn’t find any words. “What did she do?” was the first thing I could think of to say.
“She’s the only witness in a murder case. If she’s removed, a certain party charged with murder will go free.”
“Who is it?” I asked.
“It’s nobody you know. And, anyway, I can’t have you asking inappropriate questions.”
“Are you going to go through with it?”
“I don’t have any choice. If I don’t do the deed, the deed will be done on me. I was supposed to have already done it by now.”
“Does Pigeon know?”
“Of course she doesn’t! Don’t you think she’d try to get away if she did? She was told she just needed to go into hiding for a couple of weeks. She thinks the whole thing will have blown over by the time she goes back home. She’ll believe whatever she’s told.”
“Why are you telling me this?” I asked.
“I need your help.”
“I’m not helping you kill someone!”
“What I want you to do is not tell anybody that Pigeon was ever here or that you ever saw her. I also want you to smooth it over with ma and make sure she doesn’t blab anything to anybody.”
“She won’t blab if she doesn’t have anything to blab.”
“That’s it exactly,” he said. “Make sure she doesn’t suspect anything and we’ll all be fine.”
“How are you going to do it?” I asked.
“If you don’t know, nobody will ever get it out of you.”
“When the time is right.”
That evening at supper Pigeon had perked up a lot. She had taken a bath and washed her hair. It hung loosely to her shoulders. I swear, I had never seen hair that color before. It was like the color of straw, only more vivid like lemons. A cross between straw and lemons.
“Are you feeling better now?” I asked her.
“Honestly, I feel like a tree fell on me,” she said. “Everything hurts. Did you ever feel that way?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” I said.
“She helped with supper,” ma said.
“I stirred the gravy.”
“After you’ve been sick that way, it takes a day or two to get over it.”
“It’s so quiet down here in the country, away from everything,” Pigeon said with a faraway look in her eye. “I hear the crickets all night long and the rooster wakes me up at dawn.”
“Takes some getting used to,” ma said.
“You go to bed at night without locking the doors.”
“Do you notice anything different about me?” Lupe asked.
“No,” I said.
“I’m wearing lipstick! Pigeon put it on me!”
“There’s nobody here to see you,” ma said. “And, anyway, you’re too young for lipstick.”
“She’s going to let me try on some of her clothes!”
“Isn’t Tafford eating?” I asked.
“He left out a while ago,” ma said. “You know he never tells me anything.”
I couldn’t look at Pigeon the same way I looked at other people. I didn’t want ma to think there was anything wrong with me, so I tried not to look at Pigeon at all. I could not stop thinking, though, that in a few days—or maybe tomorrow—she was going to be dead. How was I going to keep something like that to myself? The question answered itself as soon as it was asked. I would keep it to myself to protect Tafford.
Pigeon played the piano a little, so after supper she gave us a few selections, singing along in a quavering soprano as she played. Her playing—and especially her singing—made me cringe, but ma and the kids thought she was really good. They weren’t used to having a golden-haired, piano-playing, gravy-stirring girl from the city in the house.
In the days that followed, ma took quite a liking to Pigeon and even started calling her Miss Pigeon. When I was in the front room, I could hear the two of them in the kitchen, ma telling Pigeon her life story, all the way back to when she was born in a carnival in Kansas City. It was a story fit to wring tears from a stone.
Anytime I was alone with Tafford, I hoped he would confide in me again, but when he spoke it was about ordinary things. I guess I was hoping he would tell me there had been a change of plan and he wasn’t going to have to kill Pigeon after all. Short of that, maybe Pigeon would know somehow, without being told, what was going to happen and would run away on her own. Of course, that would cause trouble for Tafford but I knew he was smart and would be able to sort it all out.
After a few days of idyllic country living, Pigeon was gone. She was there when we went to bed that night, and in the morning when we woke up she was gone. Her bed was a tangled mess and all her things were gone.
“What happened to her?” ma asked, looking like a madwoman, having just fallen out of bed.
“She woke me up in the night and wanted me to take her into town to the bus station,” Tafford said. “She left in a hurry.”
“I was going to show her how to make biscuits for breakfast this morning.”
“Well, you know. Something came up. I think she got a telephone call late last night, after we all went to bed.”
“We don’t have a telephone,” Lupe said.
“Maybe it was a letter, then.”
“She didn’t even say goodbye,” ma said.
Lupe cried and the boys were sad and silent but were whooping it up in the yard again ten minutes later.
The next time Tafford and I were alone, all I had to do was look at him.
“It’s all taken care of,” he said. “We won’t ever speak of it again.”
Tafford went away a couple days later and the next time he came to see us he was alone. Ma asked him about Pigeon and he said she was fine the last time he saw her.
“You be sure and bring her for another visit sometime real soon,” ma said.
“You can be sure I will,” he said.
Several months later, in the winter, we were in town on Saturday, walking on Main Street. All the farmers and their families come into town on Saturday and there were a lot more people than usual. The sidewalks were thick with farm families. Up ahead, in the middle of the next block, I saw a woman with yellow hair exactly like Pigeon’s. The hair like no other. I left Lupe and the boys standing there and ran on ahead to try to see if it was really her and to speak to her if I could. By the time I got to the place where she had been walking, she was gone and I didn’t see which way she went. I told myself it was really her, though, because I didn’t want to believe that Tafford had killed her.
Copyright 2013 by Allen Kopp