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Fiction: "Unwanted Character" by Jessica Schaub


Patricia wouldn’t leave; didn’t take the hint that she wasn’t welcome anymore. My plan was simple. Let her crawl around inside my mind as I took notes and wrote a story, one that pulls at heartstrings and screams of hear-me-roar feminism that bleeds Wild West justice. This short encounter grew into a week-long sabbatical. I am her constant host.
           It all started with the idea to look at the world through the eyes of a woman who had to fight for life; not to save herself, but the lives of her children. Not a hip-holster hero with a Colt, but a woman in an apron ready to fire fierce rage. That’s when Patricia came to mind. She was raised on the western edge, dodging tumbleweeds and side-stepping rattlers. She followed Tom hoping to escape the venom of the arid wild, but found herself in a setting with an angry drunk as her persistent predator.
            I pictured her on the back porch of her childhood home where she had spent warm evenings watching the trees along the property line tickle the bellies of distant clouds.
            Nothing is pruned in the wildIn the city, everything is cropped and squared.
“The city is its own jungle and you survived,” I reasoned.
Perhaps, she sighed, but not all rattlers slide on their bellies.
I learned about her one moment during our first walk and started writing. Her relentless need for reminiscing, however, became the antagonist of my existence, her voice calling me to the dark window.
Look at the starsIn the city, you only see the strongest. Here, every shining beauty is dancing. I haven’t seen the Milky Way since I was out catching fireflies with my cousins. It seems bigger now, the Milky Way, you know? Everything else seems smaller: the house where I grew up, my old school, my mother. But the Milky Way seems bigger.
She haunted my routine. When she saw something she thought I'd like, she nudged me lightly.
See that man? He reminds me of  Father. He liked to wear wide-rimmed hats, too. Quite old-fashioned, you know. He spent his youth as a ranch-hand and always liked those hats.
At the grocery store, it was the meat counter.
Steak. We had steak all the time growing up. Daddy kept cows. In the city, steak was a luxury, used more on black eyes than on plates.
It was easiest to ignore her at the dentist. With my mouth open and full of scraping instruments, I just let her thoughts drift around me like laughing gas. Her tongue slid over her porcelain caps that covered the teeth Tom chipped when one of the kids spilled his drink.
I tried to bring him another, but I wasn't fast enough.
At home, I read some of my previously published work hoping she might understand that I had what I needed from her. But no. The old stories fueled her, kept her talking about the single dimension of my characters and asked what their life had been like before the climax.
 “That’s too much back story,” I reasoned. “It’s just this moment that the reader cares about.”
She made no response. Maybe she was starting to understand.
I was wrong. The next morning, I heard her voice in the bathroom over the din of the shower.
I just saw something….
 “Get out!” I clutched the soapy hair at my temples.
I just thought you wanted to see the—
“No!” I toweled off quickly, rubbing my skin so hard it left me red. “No! I got what I needed. Leave me alone!”
She stood there, straightening her skirt then tucking her hair behind her ear. I thought you wanted to write my story.
I grabbed the paper copy of what I had sent to the magazine.  “I only wrote about the incident with your husband.”
That's all?
"What else was there?"
I could have lived a much more interesting life, but I had to raise his children and feed them all on his salary. There wasn’t time to do anything else.
“But that day...”
It was just farm life falling into the city; he was like a coyote after my chickens.
“You did a great thing.”
It's a mortal sin.
“You protected your family.”
But I did not trust Him. I took matters into my own hands. His Word says to not kill. I took Tom's life.
“It was instinct.”
No! her voice echoed loudly in my mind. It was a lack of instinct. All my life I had prayed for help, for patience, prayed for the flour to make an extra loaf, for the meat to be on sale. But when it really mattered, when I needed Him the most, I didn’t pray at all. I acted without one thought of Him or His laws.
            The story in my hand felt hollow. I had called on her to learn her story, to absorb details of that night when she saved her children from her husband’s rage. Other people called her a hero, a female warrior in a small southwest town, but that’s not what she believed. I was foolish to believe that an act as grave as murder, even to save her family, would leave her feeling not powerful, but weak.
            My Patricia had something I did not. Remorse.  
“What did you do before the police came?” I wondered.
            I knelt next to him, trying to ignore the kitchen knife in his chest. I prayed to God to forgive me. I asked Tom to forgive me. But he just stared. Fear leaves a trail of blood that no amount of tears will ever wash away. She nodded to the printed pages. My story is finishedI’ll leave.
            “Where will you go?”
            Here. 
            Patricia pointed to the first page of my manuscript. I’ll spend the rest of my days in my back-story.
And she left my changed mind.
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