Volume 25, Number 1

Me and Loretta

Bradley Don Richter

Where’d I meet Loretta?

Most unlikely a places.

But that ain’t the point. The point is I didn’t do what you says I did.

We was lovers. The best kind a lovers. We understood each other, me and Loretta did. She was my other half, I knew from the beginning.

She listened, too. Best listener I ever met. And I got a heap a sorrow to unload, most times. Other times, I got a song or two, but most people ain’t interested in listenin’ to ‘em. I mostly sing for myself, or the night sky and them glitterin’ stars lightin’ it up so pretty. The widowed moon, cryin’ ’hind a veil a clouds for her lost shinin’ star-baby.

So sad, them songs. Them nights.

Not after I met Loretta, though. Them songs I sang—them songs she sang with me—they was pretty and lovey and without a trace a sorrowfulness. Just sweet harmony. Me and Loretta. God, I loved her. You gotta understand that, if nothin’ else.

Loretta was the prettiest girl I ever saw in all my days, and them days been goin’ so long that I reckon I lost count of late. Them days been blurrin’ to years for a long time now. Gonna blur worse soon, I have a feelin’. Such is life, I suppose. Sad as it is. I got a song or two about it, too, if you ever wanna hear ‘em.

Like I was sayin’, she was pretty.

I ain’t usually one to talk to women. I keep to myself, most times. Daddy always told me I oughtta keep to myself, bein’ how I am. He said most people don’t wanna concern themselves with the likes a me. That’s why I work as hard as I do. So I can support myself. I ain’t even on the welfare, no more. Not even the food stamps. I’m makin’ it on my own, now. And I was gonna start makin’ it with Loretta.

Any case, for some reason I talked to her. For some reason I said exactly what was on my mind, like I never done before that day.

I said, you’re the prettiest girl I ever saw. Just like I thunk it, the very same way.

And she looked at me, blushin’. She had this makeup on, too. Made her look even prettier.

I asked her name. But I already knew. Lotsa folks knew her, and I heard a lotta people talkin’ about her. She was the talk a the town, that day, in fact. And no wonder. So pretty; so sweet.

Next, I took her by the hand. And I kept on talkin’, even though I didn’t know quite what I was gonna say next. The words just kinda tumbled outta my jaw. She had that effect on me. I think it was her eyes. The silent way she looked at me.

Come away with me, Loretta, I said. I know this is awful forward a me, I said, but if I don’t say this now, I might never get a chance to say it again. I think I love you, Loretta. Gosh, that sounds so stupid comin’ outta my mouth, bein’ as how I just met you and all, but I can’t seem to help myself.

Do you love me too? I asked.

She didn’t say nothin’. She didn’t need to. I could read it all in her eyes.

Then kiss me, I said, surprisin’ even myself. I ain’t never been so forward.

What was even more surprisin’?

She did it. She kissed me, long and sweet. Best kiss I ever tasted, too. Reminded me a how Mamma used to kiss Daddy back when he was still worth kissin’.

Daddy didn’t think nothin’ a me, and he was right. Every time he hit me, he was right. Every time he hit Mamma, he was right. Every time he had my brother hit me, he was right. Every time he had my brother hit my Mamma, he was right. These was the lessons I learned, and I retain ‘em to this day. Sometimes he liked to watch us get beat; that’s why he had my brother do it.

My brother Dean’s as big as he is mean. He ‘bout hospitalized me and my Mamma a time or two tryin’ to impress Daddy. But Daddy didn’t need no impressin’. Dean was the only one Daddy loved. ’Sides hisself, that is. Either case, Dean hit me real hard, harder than Daddy ever did on his own. Broke my bones too, more than once. All while Daddy watched, sippin’ his bottle a beer and grinnin’.

Daddy called me a retard, most times.

And he was dead right.

He told Dean once to hit Mamma ’til she was pissin’ blood.

And Dean did it, right in front a me. Right in front a Daddy.

Daddy used to love Mamma, I guess, but he put her in the ground with his own hands, and I can only hope he’s been payin’ the price ever since. That he’ll pay it forever.

My Daddy’s a good man, deep down, and my Mamma was a good woman.

Heck, even Dean’s got some good qualities on him.

Mamma always taught me to look for the best in people, even if I don’t find it all the time. Always look, she said. If anyone can see it, it’s you, sugar pie, she said.

He’s a retard, Daddy said.

And Mamma cried. And Daddy beat her.

’Fore Daddy killed the last part a Mamma—I say it that way, ’cause that’s how I seen it; he’d already killed most all a her by the end, so there was only this tiny shadow a Mamma left to kill—he ran the local funeral parlor. Got stiffs ready to be put in the ground for good. Mamma used to dress ’em and do the makeup. She used to say how important it is for ’em to look good, ’cause it’s the last time anyone will ever see ’em, livin’ or dead.

When Mamma died, Daddy wanted to keep the casket closed. But Mamma always used to say how important it is never to shut that lid to the grievin’, no matter how mangled the stiff—and Mamma was rightly mangled. Daddy saw to that.

People oughtta face death, Mamma used to say. To heck with facin’ it, start embracin’ it. That was one a her favorites.

So I told Daddy he oughtta keep the casket open, the way Mamma woulda wanted. He said, don’t you tell me what your Mamma woulda wanted, tears in his eyes. ’Cept, when he came to the part when normal times he woulda told Dean to keep punchin’ me ’til my kidney had a hole in it, he fell on his knees and started prayin’ instead, his eyes rollin’ around, lookin’ to the sky. He didn’t stop prayin’, neither, even after the neighbors finally mustered the nerve to call the police and tell ’em that Mamma’s death wasn’t no accident, that she didn’t fall off the roof stringin’ up lights at Christmastime like Daddy said, and Dean said, and I couldn’t say but nodded my head up and down for fear a Dean’s fists or Daddy’s billy club with the lead in the middle. Nope. The neighbors heard it and seen it.

Daddy killed her.

And he didn’t call the cops, and he didn’t report it.

He put her in a big black trash bag and chucked her in the back a his station wagon and took her down to the funeral parlor and drained her blood and pumped the chemicals in her veins and put her in a cheap pine box and buried her hisself the next mornin’, when he held the funeral with just him, Dean and me.

Not even a holy man to say the Dearly Beloved.

Daddy told me that the casket was gonna stay closed, but, takin’ into account what Mamma always said, the night before her funeral, I waited ’til I could hear both him and Dean snorin’ to beat the band, then I snuck out and rode my bicycle to Daddy’s funeral parlor. I didn’t take the hearse, so as not to wake ’em up with the sound a the motor starting. If Daddy and Dean knew what I was doin’, they mighta put me in the ground that next mornin’ right alongside Mamma.

I opened up the funeral parlor usin’ Dean’s key. Daddy didn’t give me a key a my own, sayin’ that retards shouldn’t have the key to nothin’. But I took Dean’s when he passed out after polishin’ off near half a bottle a Wild Turkey.

The parlor was dark and smelled funny, like when we was made to cut up them itty-bitty piglets in biology class in school. It gave me the willies.

Daddy did the embalmin’ in the back. I crept past the display coffins and urns and whatnot into the backroom, which had another key.

Daddy had Mamma’s corpse already layin’ in the coffin. He’d tried to dress her up pretty, but she was beat up bad. He’d also tried to do her makeup, but Daddy didn’t know nothin’ ’bout makeup; with the job he’d done, she looked like a sad, sleepin’ clown. I knew somethin’ ’bout makeup, though. One time, Mamma told me real secret-like when Daddy and Dean was away, that she always wished she’d had a baby girl. I asked her how come. She said so she’d have someone to primp. I said you can primp on me if you want, Mamma. I won’t tell no one. And I didn’t, not ’til this day.

She’d dress me up sometimes is all. Other times, both a dress and a heavy cake a makeup on my face. She’d tell me I looked prettier’n most real girls. I felt good, makin’ Mamma so happy. I didn’t care how ridiculous I looked; wasn’t no one would have to see me ’sides Mamma. She always had me cleaned up and back to a boy by the time Daddy and Dean came home, and we was lucky enough so’s not to get caught.

Truth is, I felt pretty too. I felt like somethin’ to look at as a woman. As a man, I ain’t got much to offer.

That’s all far ’sides the point, though. The point is, I took Mamma’s body outta the coffin and undressed her. She woulda wanted to be buried in her favorite, most comfy and beautiful dress, the one that Daddy hardly took note of in those last years, which probably broke Mamma’s heart. He wouldn’t even notice it missin’ from the closet, I reckon. I dressed Mamma up ’til she looked pretty as she ever did alive. Maybe prettier. Then, I just looked at her a long time and cried, thinkin’ on how much I was gonna miss her.

Afterwards, I cleaned off the makeup Daddy’d put on. Underneath, she looked bad. Her skin was bruised and her face was broken. A few of her teeth was knocked out. I can’t even think on it now without bawlin’ a bit.

So, I fixed her up real good. Closed her mouth, covered the bruises, did her eyeliner the way she taught me how. Rouge, lipstick, the whole nine yards. Just like I’d watched Mamma do to so many people before. Givin’ ’em one last dignity on earth.

Then I had my own funeral. In my head. And I put Mamma away, and I put my secret stash a makeup back in my knapsack, and I made it like nothin’ had happened there in Daddy’s funeral parlor. And you know what? It worked. The next day Daddy held a funeral a his own. He never opened the box.

Me and him and Dean carried it out to the hearse. I drove, like always. It was real smoggy that day. Lotsa cars on the freeway. I kept my eyes on the road and tried not to cry. I was secretly proud to have gotten away with sayin’ my last good-byes to Mamma on my own without Daddy and Dean findin’ out. By the time they was awake, I had everything back to normal. Dean’s key ring was on the nightstand table where he always put it, and wasn’t one thing outta place at the funeral parlor.

For a retard, that wasn’t bad, I figured.

When we got to the graveyard, we buried Mamma. Daddy said a couple words. I cried the whole time, blubberin’. Took me awhile to get my wits enough to drive me and Daddy and Dean back home where we all fell asleep. Seemed like the only thing to do. I slept all through that night and the next day and the next night too, tryin’ to sleep away the grief. Tryin’.

But after awhile Daddy said it was time to get back to work. Dean and me helped him run the funeral home, day to day. I drove the hearse; that was the only job left. Daddy did the embalmin’ and Dean did the salesmanship—getting’ rid a the merchandise, as Daddy used to say. Dean was real good at it, too. Most times when folks came in grievin’, Dean’d sell ‘em not only a box for their dead, but also a box for themselves, their kids, even their kids’ kids who wasn’t even yet an eye-twinkle. He was just that good a salesman. He’d say, now, I know you’re grievin’, and I know it’s rightly hard to make a clear-headed decision about these here final arrangements, and you already come all this way, and you already got your credit card out, so why not take care a your own funeral arrangements, right now, today, and pay off that casket for the rest a your life at only pennies a day. That way, when you leave this world, your kids won’t have to be sittin’ right there where you’re sittin’ today makin’ these tough decisions under duress. That’s right. Just sign here, and we’ll take care a everything.

Most times, folks went along with what Dean was sayin’. They’d sign most anything so long as they could get it over with and move on with their lives. Dean knew that too, and his sellin’ made Daddy awful proud.

And even though I’m a retard in the eyes a the state and God, as Daddy’s been fond a sayin’, I studied real hard and got me an official drivin’ license with the DMV. At first, Daddy was gonna make a fake one, or let me drive without one, but I finally convinced him that if I studied real hard and practiced all the time that I could get a license on my own. I was real into doin’ things on my own, you see.

So I drove the hearse. That’s what I did. I got paid, but Daddy said I was too dumb to handle the money on my own, so he set up a special account for me, and he said as soon as I had first month’s rent and a deposit, he’d let me have the money so I could get me a place a my own. And I was almost there. I’ll swear it on my Mamma’s too-early grave, too. Daddy told me so. He said it’s a shame everything had to happen the way it did, ‘cause I was only a few weeks away from gettin’ enough money to get my own place—with Loretta.

But I never told no one ‘bout Loretta. Didn’t want to jinx what I had goin’ with her. I was keepin’ her a secret ‘til we could move in together, ‘til I had the money I needed to make her my wife and start a home and a family.

A home and a family a my own.

What’s that?

You keep sayin’ it, Mister, but it don’t make no sense.

I never did that! Couldn’t do it.

I already told you all that. You must be mistakin’ me for a different me, Loretta for a different Loretta.

I didn’t kill my Loretta. No way. No how.

Why would I? She was the only one—‘sides Mamma—who ever really loved me. Would I kill my own Mamma? I might be retarded, but I ain’t brain-dead.

I refuse to believe it, and that’s that. Write down whatever you want, but I ain’t signin’ it. Not today; not ever. ‘Cause it didn’t happen the way you says it did.

Where’d I meet Loretta?

You really askin’ me that again?

I told you. I met her at a funeral. Unlikely, ain’t it?

Unlikely place to meet women, I mean. Not an unlikely place for me to be, seein’ as how I drive the hearse and all.

But I didn’t kill her.

Say that one more time, Mister, and I will kill you.


She wasn’t dead when I met her, either.

You’re tellin’ me that my Loretta was a stiff when I met her? Impossible. I don’t care if you dug up her coffin and found it stuffed with cinder blocks. I didn’t do that. I don’t care if you got folks tellin’ you they saw me draggin’ what looked like a stiff away from the cemetery. I don’t care if you even got all your gadgets and forensics or whatever you call ‘em tellin’ you I defiled Loretta’s dead body. I wouldn’t never do nothin’ like that.

I loved her.

And you know what? She loved me, too.

So do what you want with me. Sign whatever forms you gotta sign, push whatever papers you gotta push. That’s on you.

If I ain’t got Loretta, I ain’t got nothin’.

And if she’s dead—even worse, if she always was, like how you tell it Mister—then my life ain’t worth a damn thing.

And that’s the truth.