Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born and raised in South Carolina. I didn’t learn to love her until long after I’d left her. I dashed out the sweet lilt of an accent in my voice with over enunciated consonants, diligently rounded vowels, but I find I can’t hide it in my writing. Casey Clough is a former video game marketer who got sick of selling virtual cartoon guns to teenagers. In 2022, she fled LA and her former life for a “Walden year” in rural Washington. Legend has it, she’s been writing ever since.
I was bashful the first day I saw you, elbow deep in a gopher hole in my mother’s backyard. It was high summer, the Florida heat shimmering on the breeze, the air so humid you could practically feel the drops of water going in as you breathed. You were sweating through a gray t-shirt, the back of it blooming a decaying black-brown as you dug through the hard, dry earth, picking up traps.
My mother told you we didn’t need to see the dead animals. You’d offered, with some obvious excitement, and my mother responded, alarmed. No thank you, she’d said in a clipped tone, and then, as you spoke again, she spoke over you. No thank you, she’d said more firmly. You’d nodded and gone back to work, knee deep in the front lawn, but then the next week, when you came back to check the traps, you lifted up the small, brown animal you’d caught, waving it at me where I sat on the front porch.
“Got one,” you said, brushing your face with the back of your hand and daubing the bridge of your nose in soil.
“Nice job,” I said, because I didn’t know what else to say. It felt like talking to my house cat, a surly gray matron who prowled the neighborhood at night, leaving me gifts of half-eaten birds. The cat would prance up, eyes alight like yours were, and drop her prize at my feet, or just beyond the threshold of the front door. She would watch me as I picked it up, and I learned not to act afraid or disgusted. When someone gave you a gift, that’s not how you behaved, even if you disliked it.
I told my mother about it that night over dinner, spooning up green beans almondine onto my plate.
“Imagine taking such pride in violence,” she said, shaking her head. “Imagine you kill something small, something defenseless, and then thinking that thing you killed is something to brag about.”
I don’t have to imagine. I see your smile as you dangle the limp creature in front of me. I want to tell her that she hired you, that it is at her behest you are killing the small, defenseless animal. Imagine ordering someone dead and then judging the person who killed them for you. Instead, I mutter a half-truth through a mouthful of green beans chewed to paste.
“These are good,” I say. They’re better than the last time she made them, but still flavorless. They’re good in context. Good next to a week’s worth of inedible dinners.
“Thank you,” she says, and the smile plays across her lips for the rest of the meal.
That night, I dream of you, dangling a tiny rodent like a broken doll from one large callused hand, its neck at an odd angle. In the dream, I’m sitting on the porch in my new swimsuit. You come closer, and I open my mouth like a baby bird, swallowing the limp gopher whole like a sacrament. I genuflect, make the sign of the cross on my shoulders, and let the lump of bones and fur slide down my throat like medicine.