All My Eye And Betty Martin

The prison cell was cold and dark, like they were supposed to be, and the priest sat on a chair facing a man who was talking low and deliberate.  A final confession was evolving with the sort of details only a condemned killer would know.  

So, I took him into the woods, below the bridge, and we walked through a thicket and finally came to an open spot.   There were yellow leaves all around.  I’d tied his hands, so it was easy enough to force him down.  He was young Father, real young.  I should have shot him in the back of the head, but I walked around instead, and stood in front of him.  He looked up at me kind of funny like he wasn’t there and I said, I got no choice.  And he just kept staring somewhere over me or right through me and then he said, all my eye and Betty Martin.  I thought I’d heard him wrong, but I didn’t care so much and shot him in the face and put one more in him when he slumped over.

Father, I’ve killed lots of men, maybe fifty, I’ve lost track, but this one was different. 

Why is that, the priest asked.

Well, it was what he said.  It’s plagued me for years and I’d wake up hearing his voice.  Men usually beg and cry and offer money, but this guy was different.  Tell me Father, what does it mean?  Was it a message?  A curse?

The priest took a deep breath and said, I have no idea.

They hanged the killer at midnight.  The priest walked with him to the scaffold and the killer sobbed down the hall, through the doors, at the reading of the verdict, up the steps and onto the platform.  Sobbing.  Sobbing.  At the end of the rope came the neck snap and it was over.

The priest kept his head down as he returned to his car.  Pushing through the protesters, he wondered why he’d lied to the condemned man and his confusion pressed against him.  

Back at the rectory, he drank with an old friend.  Of course, it’s a sin for a priest to lie at a final confession, but it just came out, and I think I didn’t want to give him the comfort of understanding a victim’s last words.  Don’t get me wrong, I helped him die and he went out as best he could, but I drew the line at Betty Martin.  I wanted him to die without knowing. 

What does it mean, asked the friend.  The priest just stared straight ahead and you could feel the loss of his faith wilting in the face of absurdity.  The friend spoke, but the priest could not hear since he was in the distance somewhere, frozen under the regime of a different clock. 

Two days later, the priest was sitting on a bench at the zoo.  He was writing in his diary while waiting for his secret lover.   She was a seventeen-year-old who was in his parish and he had only recently begun having sex with her.  They were both fulfilled by the act of sweating, hiding, groaning, but he knew it was a gamble and couldn’t last. 

He looked down the sidewalk and saw her coming with purposeful strides.  Her red hair twisting in the breeze.  As he walked to meet her, he slipped on a banana peel in front of the monkey cage.  When he hit the concrete, his neck snapped just like the condemned man.   By the time she reached him, he was dead, but there lay the diary on the ground, and instinctually, she slipped it into her backpack.

Alone in her room she read the final page of his thoughts.  There were four entries.

You know you’re in trouble when the hardest thing you do everyday is get out of bed.

You know you’re in trouble if you look forward to cleaning the cat’s litter box.

You know you’re in trouble if you can’t recall why in the first place you took revenge.

The final line read: all my eye and Betty Martin … all my eye.

The red-haired girl took the final line and placed it in a box deep inside her brain and over the months she would take it out and contemplate how it stood there in her sight. Smiling at her. Wanting her to question all that existed. And so she did, why are you the last thought my lover wrote? Explain yourself. Please, you must.

At some point, she burned the diary and then she began to hear the voices of victims, the sobbing of killers, the sounds of guns, the torment of priests moaning in the night.  Her dead father and mother came to visit.  They would sit on her bed, breathing heavily, asking for coffee and cigarettes. 

Plagued by her thoughts, the recurring sounds, the dreams, she would go forth without sleep.  Tottering along beneath sun and moon, trying to be invisible.  Sometimes in the public parks and expansive gardens, she would pull up sharply, paralyzed by the strike of a toxic snake.  Motionlessly she would stand, looking into the distance as the world passed her by, everyone floating on the surface of pure hogwash.  But slowly, she would put one foot in front of the other, keeping to the plot.  Laughing, crying, faltering … the star of a movie she knew nothing about.        

5 thoughts on “All My Eye And Betty Martin

  1. The utter absurdity of life. Duke nails it again. My mother used to say “my eye.” If you Google Eye and Betty Martin it’ll take you down some wonderful rabbit holes. Reading DM is better than drugs.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice, Duke! I hope this is a taste of your next novel. I’m a huge believer in doing away with quotation marks by embedding dialogue, cleverly, into the running narrative. Great fucking work. Also, this reminds me of GGM in a fresh but familiar way. Really great stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

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