When I was forty, I had a girlfriend who was a lot younger. She had red hair, like me, and the difference was enough that some people thought she was my daughter. It didn’t bother me then, but it does now, with all the time I have to think about it in this house, trying to hear what she might say. What was it like for her, our being together? Did she feel as important in our relationship as she was to me, or less, because I was older? Was she unhappier than she seemed but didn’t want to tell to me? Did it remind her of other relationships she’d had? Maria didn’t have much money, but she was scrappy, and for about a year she bartered with a guy for what she needed — car repairs, appliances, a TV. At one point, she agreed (I told her I’d help — I wanted her to know how much she meant to me) to clean the inside walls of a house off “E” Street, that really tough part of town. Iron bars on windows, cracked stucco, dead lawns, dogs with scarred faces, all of that. There were reddish streaks on one of the walls in the house. We scrubbed and scrubbed, but they wouldn’t go away. A neighbor, a big woman, dropped by twice and stared at us, especially Maria. We heard later that a young red-haired woman who looked like Maria — no husband, a young daughter, miserable in life — had been screwing the husbands in the neighborhood and finally been killed by two of the wives and in this very house. With knives. It was her blood on the walls, we were told, and no one could get it out. “If you can find someone who looks like her and make them do it,” an old woman on the block had said, “it just might work.” The wives wouldn’t let us leave until Maria tried, so she did, and I helped. But even though we scrubbed so hard the drywall finally came off in our hands, we couldn’t do it, and when we couldn’t, when the blood was still there on the walls, the wives killed us, too, with the same knives and with that old woman’s blessings. “You’ve both got hair just like hers,” we could hear her saying as they cut.
Bruce McAllister is an award-winning West-Coast-based writing coach, writer in a wide range of genres, consultant in the fields of publishing and Hollywood, workshop leader and an “agent finder” for both new and established writers. As a writing coach, he specializes in all kinds of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and screenplays.