Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Issue #51 -- May 2013

By Matt Funk

Mama had to go, and go fast, so they did Mama in her bed with her eyes shut on her pillow.

Darla laid a crimson cushion over Mama’s face. It was like when she used to build a fort around Mama, when she was little. Mama even curled up tighter, like then. Darla pushed the pillow to hide Mama’s sleeping smile.

Denny pushed the shotgun barrel into the pillow.

They both held their breath.

They didn’t know what would happen. Only that it had to.

Shotguns make a lot of noise. Even through all those feathers.

Stacy came running at the sound. So quick she caught Denny and Darla standing by the crater where Mama’s head used to be: Two slats of teenage silhouette mottled with feathers and blood and shadow cast by Mama’s Christmas lights.

Stacy froze; sixty pounds of trembling in Elmo slippers.

It tore something in Darla to see her sister like that. She didn’t know what to do.

Denny did.

The shotgun blast was bigger than the house. Stacy seemed to just vanish. Darla remembered the magician at her tenth birthday making baby Stacy disappear—put her whole basinet under a blanket, bellowed magic words in whiskey breath over it, and whoosh, there she went.

Now there was only a slipper, halfway down the hall from Mama’s room.

Denny dragged Darla past Stacy twitching in the shadows of the living room recliner. She let herself be pulled along—whoosh—by the magic trick of his love.

Denny’s shotgun was a different kind of magic.

Bang. Darla’s home all gone.

Denny pulled her to him as they dashed out the front door. His body pressed into the blank space where Darla’s home was. His magic words smelled papery with too many stolen prescription pills, not rich with whiskey, but they made it all right.

“I love you.”

They fled into the deep dark of the mountain road, neither of them knowing where those words would take them.


They’d been saying it to each other months before Darla’s Mama caught them under a blanket together after hours when she checked on why Darla’s window was open.

Making love, that’s what Denny and Darla had been doing. Mama called it fucking. She snarled it as she tried to push Denny out, his lanky Varsity wide-out body still half naked.

That was the first time Darla saw Mama get shoved. Before, she’d never thought Mama could be. It was the first time she saw what Mama did when shoved.

Mama did nothing.

Denny took his own time walking out.

He took his time with Darla’s body, too. Behind the skate rink. By the gym. At the public pool in Sevierville.

Denny took his time, and that made the feelings less scary.

And each time, Denny said “I love you.” That made the fear seem all right.

And when Darla said “I love you” right back, it made all right into a promise.

They said it because they needed to mean it. They needed that meaning like fish needed water.

The teachers, the social workers, Mama—they all said that Darla and Denny needed to grow up. To get jobs. To take care of themselves.

But that wasn’t special. That was dull fear that dragged on day by day and never faded.

The fear of skin on skin, of voices just above them on the bleachers, of text messages kept right up to when they had to be deleted or get caught—those were sharp, bright, wonderful fears.

They gave Darla and Denny meaning. Just like when they first made love, on a discarded sleeping bag in the trailer park, had meaning—something defined not in words, but in flesh.

Mama said Darla and Denny didn’t know what love meant.

They did:

Love made the world go round. Love was like oxygen. Love was all they needed.

Those were words enough.

If those words couldn’t explain the full tremble, rage, craving of love, then to Denny and Darla, it only made their feelings more important.

If Mama didn’t understand, Mama would have to be ignored.

When Mama got between them, calling the cops on Denny for carrying Oxy, just like she did her own daughter, Darla’s sister Francie, then love meant sacrifice.

It meant Mama had to go.


Mama was gone and Knoxville lay ahead, slouched dark gray over a dark gray river.

The city was not like home. It was vast and quick and uncaring. It did not put meals on tables for Denny and Darla. It did not tell them where and when to sleep. Knoxville had no rules to break, only laws to beware.

Denny was unblinking and slow amidst all that huge speed. He bought three street maps and lost each. He crumpled up eight job applications out of frustration. He hid himself in the only thing familiar, Darla’s body.

Touches weren’t enough to cover her at night. Kisses didn’t feed her belly like they did her mouth.

Darla told Denny that they had to go to the only place in Knoxville she knew someone with nowhere to go went—to Francie’s.

Francie had been kicked out right after Darla’s magic birthday. She had sold Mama’s wedding ring and their dead daddy’s too. It bought enough pills to keep Francie laughing as Mama kicked her out.

Francie was easy to find. All Denny had to do was find where the Oxy came from. That’s where Francie would be.

She let them in, grinning like the women at the revival tent when the Spirit took them. Francie grinned like Darla was Christ come down from the cross to wash her sins away. She put on tea and took off their shoes.

“Tell me how you been,” Francie said. “Tell me everything.”

They did.

Darla looked at the floor all the while.

They told her everything.

Denny bragged a bit and raced Francie to see who could rail more Oxy.

They all were sweating, sniffing, fish white, as Denny told about Mama and Stacy.

They started to nod a little after, and Francie excused herself to get their sofa made up with a blanket.

She was a long time coming out of her room.

“Go check on her,” Denny muttered, leaning on Darla.

“You do it. I’m sleepy.”

“I’m sleepy too. She’s your sister.”

“So? I’m your girl. Let me rest and you do it.”

“I’ve been doing it all day, busting my ass to find work.”

“Your ass hardly got us anything, so why don’t you get off it and see what’s keeping her?”

“Fuck you, bitch. You try it.”

“Don’t talk to me like that!”

“I’m just pissed because I love you.”

“I love you too.”

The Oxy made them feel sick and the brush of their bodies made them feel sicker, but the sickness was a sweet thing. It made Denny and Darla press together. It was better than quiet days on a mountain.

They held hands. They touched heads. They closed their eyes and smiled.

It made it easy for Francie to put a slug through both of them with only a trigger pull.

The .25 wasn’t too loud. A pop. Enough to end a life, not enough to deafen.

The bullet went in Denny’s neck and out Darla’s mouth.

“How could you?” Francie hissed as the teens knelt together, shaking hands examining their wounds, as if getting their measure could seal them. “Now Mama’ll never love me again.”

Darla and Denny didn’t understand. Francie’s next four shots made sure they never would.

Matthew C. Funk is an editor of Needle Magazine, editor of the Genre section of the critically acclaimed zine FictionDaily, and a staff writer for Planet Fury and Criminal Complex. Winner of the 2010 Spinetingler Award for Best Short Story on the Web, Funk has online work indexed on his Web domain and printed work in Pulp Modern, Grift, NeedleSpeedloader, Off the RecordPulp Ink and D*CKED.


  1. Brilliantly done with the wonderful lines and images that Mr Funk does without blinking. Love it.

  2. So brutal, yet so unabashedly romantic. Such a sick combination.

  3. From the fantastic title onwards, every line in this story is a gem. Brilliant.