A Song She Heard In Her Head by William Panara

Part One – Solitary

“You play geetar, huh?” the officer asked, his eyes fixed on the black case. “You any good?”

“Yeah,” Thomas Moon said, keeping his voice low. “I can play all right.”

The officer moved over to his guitar case and flipped the latches. “Mind if I take a look at yer geetar? I always wanted to play but my momma says it’s too loud. Hurts her hearin’.”

He should’ve stopped him, but he didn’t. Thomas stood there and watched the cop open the case and look inside. He thought about what the old lady said.

“Oh, what we got here, geetar man?” the cops said, spinning around, smiling ear to ear. “Looks like we got ourselves a little piece of evidence, don’t it?”

Thomas looked around the room. The other officers were laughing.

“You put that there, damnit!” he yelled in vain. “You son of a bitch you put that in there!”

The cop didn’t say anything. He held up a silver bracelet. It sparkled in the sunshine. There was a gleam off the chain, and the name plate sparkled. Thomas already knew what it said.

Marietta.

*

“I invented you,” Marietta told him. “When I was all alone all those days in solitary. By myself in the dark. That’s when I first heard that song you was playing. I made it up for you. That’s when I first gave you your name. How I knew it. I made your whole life in there. I know it all, Thomas. I know how you’ll die.”

*

“They put me in solitary confinement cause I saw what they did to her,” the old woman said. Her face was covered in wrinkles and her head was no bigger than a grapefruit. She hardly had any hair. “It’s true, Thomas. I saw what they did to Marietta Hardbutton, and that’s why they put me in there! All by myself! So they could say I was crazy! But Thomas I saw it!”

Thomas lit a cigarette and nodded. “Who the hell’s Marietta Hardbutton? That don’t sound like a real person.”

The old woman sat up. “She was my friend. Best friend I ever had, Thomas. She came to the penitentiary back in August of 1953. We became friends real fast, her and I did. But Marietta’s days was numbered, on account they were gonna do her in. Said they was gonna use the electric chair, but it ain’t what they did.”

“What’d they do?”

“I saw them do it, swear I did,” the old woman said, her eyes big. “They took Marietta down to the yard, cause none of them that worked in the prison liked her none. She had a bag over her head they put on her, but I knew it was Marietta. There was a hole in the ground that they dug, and the big one, he made Marietta stand up and bend over and put her head down in the hole. He made her put her hands on the ground with her palms down.”

“And then what happened to good old Marietta?” Thomas asked.

The old woman wasn’t looking at him. “They hated her something awful. A bunch of ‘em held her like that, with her head down in the hole. And that’s when the big one, he came over and he done dropped hi s pants. He was standing there with his pecker out in the moonlight, and he started taking a urination down into that hole. They was all laughing while he did it. When he was done, the next one went and did the same thing.”

“They was pissin’ on her,” he laughed. “And she didn’t even know’d it cause her head was in a bag!”

The old woman shook her head slowly. “They took turns and they held her down. She tried to fight. Marietta wouldn’t lie down like that. But she couldn’t beat them, there was too many. They filled that hole right up with urine, and that’s how they killed her. Poor Marietta drown in it.”

“Where was you when you was watchin’ all that?” Thomas asked her.

“I don’t remember,” the old woman said. “It was a long time ago. They knew I saw though. That’s why they put me in solitary, and it’s how come I made you up.”

*

Part Two – Meeting

Marietta looked around with her 94 year old eyes, and that’s when she realized the world wasn’t like it was before. There was no place for an old woman to go. She had been released from prison earlier in the morning. A bus had picked her up and brought her to town. It was the first time she’d seen a bus. The cold air inside the bus made her lips hurt. She first entered prison in 1927, and hadn’t seen the outside world since.

Getting to town, she walked slowly down the sidewalk. She didn’t have any money or anywhere to stay. Her flowered dress blew in the wind and she held onto her hat so it wouldn’t fly away. All her hair had fallen out while she was inside. The darkness. The hard water. She didn’t want anyone to see her bald scalp.

People passed her but no one said ‘hello.’ A few children looked up at her and she pulled her tight lips into a smile.

That’s when she heard it – the music coming from a young man playing guitar out on the street. Her blue eyes darted in its direction and she walked quickly over to it. The young man had short black hair and smoked while he played. He finished the song, and then he looked at her.

“I know that song!” the old woman said. “I’ve heard it.”

He shrugged. “I wrote that song myself. You must be thinkin’ of something else, lady.”

She shook her head, her yellow teeth showing. “No, no,” she said. “I heard it in my head.”

“In your head?” he said, licking his lower lip. “What you talkin’ about, lady?”

“When I was in solitary confinement, I heard that song in my head almost every day.”

“Solitary confinement?” the man said, strumming his guitar. “You was in prison?”

She nodded. “I know that song. I remember it!”

“Well,” he said, “since I wrote it and all, can you maybe give me a few bucks for it? You know. Royalties?”

The old woman’s face grew serious. She walked hurriedly to the young man and put her hand on his cheek. Her eyes met his.

“Is that you, Thomas?” she asked. “Is it really you?”

The young man backed away. “How’d you know my name? What is this, some kind of a joke or something?”

The old woman took her hat off. Her heart fluttered.

“I invented you,” she said. “When it was dark and I was alone.”

*

“I been to jail,” Thomas said. “Ain’t no place for old ladies.”

“I wasn’t old when they put me there,” she said. They sat together on a bench outside in the sun. “I was a little girl when they took me away.”

“Jail ain’t no place for little girls neither,” he said. “Say, what’s your name.”

“Marietta,” she said. “They had to put me in there, on account of all the people I killed.”

Thomas Moon burst out in laughter. He didn’t know why he was sitting with this crazy old lady. Listening to her talk amused him.

“Damn, you don’t got no money or nothin’?” he asked her, then saw a glimmer in the sunlight. “Say, that’s a real pretty bracelet you got there. Bet that would be worth a penny or two.”

The old woman shook her head. “Aren’t you going to ask me how many people I killed?”

“How many?”

“31,” she said. “I killed 31 people.”

He stared at her. Her eyes were so sharp and blue.

“Lady,” he said, “you sure you wanna tell me this stuff.”

“Of course,” she said. “I know everything about you. You must know these things about me.”

“You don’t know nothin’ about me, lady.”

“Nonsense,” she said, scowling. “By the end of the day today, I promise to tell you how you’re going to die.”

Thomas lit a cigarette. He thought of his friends. They could have some fun with this one.

“I ain’t gonna die,” he said. “I’m a mean son-of-a-bitch, lady. Nobody gonna kill me.”

She put her hand on his knee and laughed. “I know you are! I made you that way!”

Thomas didn’t say anything. He blew the smoke out into the air, and then went and made a few phone calls to the boys.

*

“We lived in a small little town,” she said. “I had a friend that lived eleven blocks away. One time I went to visit her, and that’s when I found the neighborhood I didn’t like. There were houses and many people. I decided I hated them.”

Thomas sat on the couch and watched her while she talked. He had to keep her with him. Otherwise, the night would be ruined.

“I baked brownies,” she said, “and I went back to the bad neighborhood. I knocked on each door and I told them that my family just moved in. I had them take a brownie and all they thanked me. I said that I would see them shortly and that I was so happy to move into the neighborhood.”

“That’s a weird thing to do,” he said. “Go around handing out brownies and you ain’t even moved in. You was just lying.”

The old woman nodded. “I put arsenic in the brownies. It was a bad neighborhood, Thomas.”

“You did what?” he asked. She didn’t answer.

“I’m so glad I didn’t move there,” she said.

“Is that how all them people died?” he asked. “31?”

“Imagine all the empty rooms,” she said. “All of them in that bad place. I got them all.”

*

Part Three – Death

“We’re just gonna stop for a little bit,” Thomas said, his smile like a devil’s. He had driven her into the middle of nowhere. “You know I’m a bad man, right? Since you invented me and all.”

The old woman stepped out of the car and into the dead of night. The headlights lit the empty land ahead of them. She felt the wind, colder than it had been in the morning, blow against her bones.

“Say,” Thomas said, “what was your friend’s name again? Marietta Hardwood or something?”

“Hardbutton,” the old woman said. “Why are we out here?”

The engines roared out of the darkness. Headlights like moonlights. Two other cars coming out of the emptiness. She felt afraid.

“Thomas…”

“Hey,” he said, the cars getting closer to them, “how am I gonna die, anyways?”

*

The group of men drank whisky. The old woman lied on the ground, her body bound with rope. Music blared from one of the cars.

“You got two choices,” Thomas shouted to her. “We gonna do whatever you wish.”

They all laughed. One started getting the spades out from the trunk.

“You can either be buried, or you can be cremated. Your choice.”

The old woman shook with cold and terror. “What does it matter,” she said. “I’ll be dead either way.”

Thomas took a long drink. “No,” he said. “We ain’t gonna kill you first. You gotta tell us. Buried, or cremated?”

She watched all the young man dancing around. This was no place for her.

“Burn me,” she screamed. “I pray you never forget the smell of it!”

Thomas walked over to her with the can of gasoline. “How am I gonna die, Marietta? You gotta tell me now? It’s your last chance.”

“I already told you,” she said. “If you ain’t figured it out, it’s in your guitar case.”

He shook his head. “I’m gonna miss you.”

Thomas poured the gasoline all over her. He lit the match and dropped it on her. Then he stood a few feet away, so he could see her old skin when it burned.

*

Part Four – Death, Again

Thomas Moon was arrested for abducting a 94 year old woman and burning her alive. His trial was over quickly, and he was sentenced to death. The damning piece of evidence was a bracelet the old woman used to wear. The police found it in his guitar case. Guards from the penitentiary where she spent most of her life recognized it as hers. They remembered her wearing it.

“It’s a shame,” one of the guards said. “She was such a nice old lady. Everyone loved her here.”

Thomas Moon howled to his lawyer. “That ain’t true! It ain’t! They put her in solitary! Ask them about what happened to Marietta Hardbutton.”

And his lawyer did. The response, however, was not what Thomas expected. “There isn’t such a person,” his lawyer said. “Mariette Hardbutton never existed.”

Thomas somehow felt betrayed.

“Now I’m going to try to get your sentence moved to another state,” his lawyer said. “They really hate you here, Thomas. They really, really hate you.”

*

On the night of his scheduled execution, Thomas was led by several guards down the prison hallway. When they had passed all the cells and no eyes were on them, the guards started talking.

“Put it on him,” one said, and a black hood was thrown over Thomas’ head. He was then lead out of the prison. He knew this because he could feel the cold air on his skin. They led him a good distance away, and then ordered him down on the ground.

He recognized one of the voices. It was the officer that had arrested him. “Now listen here, you little geetar man. We dug us a little hole down here. You’re gonna be a good boy and put your head down in it, understand?”

He understood. He shook his head ‘no.’

“Stick his head down in there and hold his arms!” the officer yelled. Thomas felt a strong hand push his head down. He tried to fight but couldn’t.

The next thing he heard was the officer’s voice, one last time. “Listen geetar man, you gonna die. Do you know that?”

He knew the answer was ‘yes,’ and he took one last deep breath.

*

William Panara has back problems and sometimes his toes itch. He has published several short stories in journals such as Thirst for Fire and Flashquake. Mr. Panara also writes a blog which he is quite fond of(https://topiclessbar.wordpress.com/). He currently lives in Incheon, South Korea.

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