The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature

The Recidivist by John Branscum


“I used to be bad, baby, but no more.”

“I can’t imagine you ever being bad, baby.”

“But I stole, baby. Bold as brass, I stole from the dresser drawers of my friend’s parents, rummaged in their soft night things, shuffled through their secret photographs, worked my fingers to the back of the drawers and found their kruggerands, fondled them like cold icebox plums, took them as my own.”

“But darling, I know that’s all in the past. It’s sweet of you to confess, to confide in me so, but I know you’ve changed.”


“Yes, baby?”

“There’s more, baby.”

“Doesn’t matter. Don’t nothing change how I feel about you. Whatever you were, you ain’t no more.”

“Yeah, but I hurt women, baby. Hurt them bad. Promised them love and forever and babies, baby. Some of them women I hit, baby. Slapped the shit out of them. Hell, don’t half remember why. Some of them I left knocked up while I hot-footed it to Mexico and Salt Lake City. I think about them babies sometimes, baby. When I think about them, they’re still babies no matter how long ago everything was, hungry babies too, always crying, always rolling their heads in that broken but not broken way babies have. It’s so long ago. I mean they could have grown up and started having babies of their own – even while I was still bad. Maybe they were my lovers, baby. Maybe they were my lovers, and I didn’t even recognize them.”

“Don’t say that, baby.”

“But could be. I could have made love to my own babies, baby. You know how when a man and a woman are attracted to each other it’s like they recognize something in each other? It has to be that way with children too, don’t it?”

“Maybe, baby. But it’s over now. And if it bothers you, look them babies up. Ain’t none of that too late. Not ‘til you’re dead.”

“I could, but there’s other things I might wake up too. Is it okay if I just let it go, baby? Forget about it? Can you still love me knowing what I’ve done?”

“Of course. I mean I can’t say I’m happy. I’m not going to fib. And the way you’ve said some of these things, the way you worded them —- it could across as creepy. But that’s okay. I know you’re just trying to set things straight. And that makes me love you more.

“That’s good. I feel like I can tell you the rest then, baby.”

“The rest?”

“During the war, the one before the last, I killed men.”

“That’s what you do during war.”

“Nah, it ain’t just that I killed them, baby. It’s how I killed them. Slow. Creatively. Like I was building something instead of tearing it down. It’s how much I enjoyed it. Ain’t nothing makes you feel like that, baby. It’s like standing stark naked in one of those big electrical winds that come with a storm. It’s like taking the perfect piss – that’s what killing is. And it ain’t just that I killed them. It ain’t that I killed their wives, their husbands, their children, their friends. It ain’t that I took the butt of my gun and bashed their dogs’ heads in. It’s that I organized all of it, baby. It’s that I was the one that said they should die. It’s that I was the one that said they were genetically wrong, that they were blasphemers. It’s that I wrote the manifesto. It’s that I was the general.”

“Shhh. What’s that line about the plank and the splinter? Who has the right to judge you? If others ain’t done it, you know they’ve still committed the sins in their hearts. And it was cowardice that stopped them I bet you, not that they were actually better. Don’t you worry about it, baby.”

“Yeah, but did I mention the programs of rapes I instituted, my numerous violations of the sin against the Holy Spirit? Did I tell about my use of dark magics, my pacts with demons, about the small business owners I drove to suicide? About the wives I stole and discarded, weeping and stinking of my seed? Did I tell you about these, baby? And those noises, the snuffling choking noises earlier you thought were coming from the pipes? It wasn’t the pipes. It was your mother dying in the basement – taking her sweet time as always. She came by earlier with some banana bread and started in on me. I busted her up good baby. With the axe. The good one. Now, the handle’s all messed up. And I ate the banana bread. All of it. In one go. I did. I feel so bad about it all, baby. I do. Truly. Not a crumb left. I feel so bad about the kind of man I was. It’s been hours now, but still the guilt just eats away at me.”

“Shhh. Shhh. That’s the past, baby. The past.”