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Billy Joe

By David Gardiner

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Dear Maw

I reckin I owe you an explanashun and this here is it. The first thing I want to say is that you wernt never a bad Maw and Paw werent never a bad Paw. You was the best Maw and Paw any girl ever had an you taute me rong from rite an I knew full well what I done was rong an I done it anyway. Me myself, I done it, nothin to do with you folk. I new what I was doin an I went right ahead an done it.

Ive kep quiet ni on two years an not sed nothing cause of i was afraid of what Paw an you would say an what other folks would say. Along with evrey thing else I am a cowrd.

So heres the truth. Tell the truth an shame the devil you used to say when I was litlle an you was rite.

I reckin you new all long that Billy Joe an me had somthin goin on. Everbody else round here new so why wudnt you no? You an Paw never thaut much of Billly Joe. Paw sed he never had a lik of sense and maybe that was true but he wernt no retard. Billy Joe worked that farm his Pop gave him up on Chocktaw Ridge with just his own hands from he was 14 yeares old and always gru enough to get by even tho the land up there was nevre even near as good as what we got, an he could rede an rite an do his numbers jus as good as the next person onely he was kind of soft an not much good at lookin out for his self. Werent no bad bone in Billy Joes bodee. He always treated me reel nice and respecful, even after hed slep with me few tims. Sorry for talkin plain but I reckin this aint no time to minse words.

I no you remembir that time 2 summers back when Billy Joe jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge. Folks thot hed gon a bit crasy. Well mabe he had but theire was reasons why hed gone that way. Most tims things happin for a reasin. I dont need to remind you ether that ever sinse that day things has gone reel bad for this famly. Paw got that virus and past away an brotheer Ned maride Becky Thompson and baut that no-good hardware store in Tupelo an their marige is dam near on the rocks alredy. An the crops neer faild 2 seezens in a roe. An I no you been pinin since Paw past way an letin things get on top of you. Aint nothin atall went rite for this famley ever sinse that day. Iv had no hart in nothin myself ether. I aint hardly slep since then with nitemares and aint hardly et ether and just been feelin terible all the time. All I want to do is wander round on Choctaw Ridge, mabe say a few prayers, pik a few flours. A rite pair the 2 of us was its a wonder anythin atall got dune on the farm, last cupel yeers.

Well now its time for me to do a bit of unburdenin an im reel sorie that i hav to upset you like this but i reckin things cant get no worse anyhow an its likley beter this hole thing is out in the open, at leest no secerts between you an me. Old Doc Ransom use to say there was a deel of folks secreets hed be carryin with him to the grave. Carryin secrets aint easy an Im not strong enuf to do it no moore.

Dyou remembir a few months bfore Billy Joe dide his sister Charlene had a big bust up with there dad an got thrown out of the house because she was goin to have a baby? Im sure you do. Folks taked about it alot. Well Billy Joe an me was seein one another at the time an I was workin in Anarine at the Four Eyed Jack. So I agreed to do Charlene an Billy Joe a favor. Charlene wanted to let her mom no she was OK only she dint want ether of them to no where she was, so what happind was she holed up with her brother in the Chocktaw Ridge farm an pretendid to her Paw that shed found a rooming house an a job in Anarene. She rote her Mom some leters an I posted them in Anarene an the return adress was the plase one of the other girls lived in Anarene so I got the leters from Charlenes mom an passed them on to Charlene. Any time her paw visited Billy Joe at Chocktaw Ridge she hid out in the barn or some plase so that he wouldnt see her. It only hapened a cuple times. Evrey body thougt she was in Anarene but she was with Billy Joe all the time. She toled her mom shed moved to Anarne cause it was a big town with morein 2 thousand peepel in it so nobody would no her their. It was a prety smart story. I told Billy Joe he ougth get her a doctor or somethin cause a girl cant just giv berth to a baby like a mare drops a foal. In fact even that can be prety skary an riskey. But Charlene dint want nobody else around, not even me reely i think. It took me a long time to work out why.

Turns out the reeson Charlene an Billy Joe dint want nobody else involved was Charlene reckind the baby was Billy Joes child and that was an awful sin an the could never hold ther heads up agian if it got out, an if there Pop found out he would like as not kill the 2 of them.

I was a might shoocked when Billy Joe told me about that an I hardly even beleived him an Im not sure I beleeve him an Charlene even yet. Anyhow he siad the 2 of them uset to fool around from when they was kids an uset to creap into each others bedrooms. There folks caught them a couple times but dint no how far it had got to. I reckin thats why his Paw bought him the farm on Chocktaw Ridge, to get him out the house an way from Charlene. I dont ritley no how Charlene MacAllister could even tell whose kid it was cause evreybody in school knew shed tried out more boys that the Anarene Tigres Football Club, but she sed it was likley his an sure ennuf when I saw that babey I reckind she was morein likely rite. It was 1 ugly little critter with a screwedup fase and it hardley moved an dint cry atall even once. That child werent rite, like when Stenny had the 5 pups an one was small an weak an had to be dround.

I wasnt theire when Charlene had her kid cause it come a bit suner than we was expectin an Billy Joe was on his own with her an I reckin he panciked a bit. Charlene was in an awful state, screamin enouf to wake the dead when the baby finly come an theire was blood all over the plase, even hit the seeling Billy Joe sed. he cut the cord with his hunten nife cause hed heard you was suposed to do that, but he sed the blood just kept comin an comin an he coudnt find no way to stop it an Charlene just lost all her strenth an was dead inside of about haff an hour. The day after he berried her someplace up their an he never told me where an I never aksed. He burnt all the beding an the matres an him an me trid to cleen the blood off the room best we coud.

Well you can imagien how Billy Joe felt cause he was a reel gentel soul an he loved his sister morein anybodey else I ever new. He was gibberin like a mad man, sayin how hed kiled Charlne with that hunten nife an how he was fixin to use it on himself. It was crazy talk, the way I saw it even Doc Ransom couldnt of saved Charlene her insides mustive been tore up prety bad. Wel I had feelins for Billy Joe like I sed an I tride to do the best I coud to make him feel beter. That tiny kid was neer dead, she was hardly movin an her breethin sounded aful. I told Billy Joe theire werent no point tryin to do nothin for her, most kind thing would be to put her out of her mesery. First we baptised her an give her the name Mary cause that was the most holy an innicint name ether of us new. Billy Joes folks is Roman Catholic an he reckind anybody could baptise a baby, dint have to be no preecher. It made him feel bit beter an I didnt argu. When wed done that we took her to the midle of the Tallahatchie Bridge an put her in one of them brown net onion bags that dont rot an tied a big rok to it. We sed a prare, then we held her out over the railing an let go the bag. She fel reel slow. must of been ten seconds before she hit the water. Went under strate away. Dint suffer. Just like Stennys runt pup. After it was dune Billy Joe just stud theire. I couldnt get him away from them railings. He stil had the hunteng nife an he got it out an piked up a bit of stik from the ground an started whitlin. He just went on an on whitlin it into a point, sharper an sharper, an he wouldnt say nothin. In fact I don't think he said a single word to me after that, or like as not anybodie else ether. Billy Joe just stood theire whitlin an lookin into the water, all that way doun. Nex I heard hed jumped over an done himself in. You no all the rest.

Ive had nighmares evir sinse that day. Bein scared to close my eyes at nite cause of what Im goin to dreem. Guess it musta bein even worce for Billy Joe. Werent no way Billy Joe could of brought up that child even if shed been normal. His pop woulda found out pretty soon an it all woulda come out an like as not theid a kiled Billy Joe. Ether his pop or the neighbor folks up there. Werint like it was a normal child. A child born out of a brother an a sister is an abomnation. It ses so in the bibel I think. Wouldnt of lived anyhow. All we done was put it out of its misery. That was what I sed to Billy Joe. An what I sed to myself to. But I know right well it werent true. Mary MacAllister was a human bein with a soul same as you or me. What we done was murder, cold bloded.

So now you no why this family has had a curce ever sinse that day. The Lord is angrey with me an he has a rite to be angery. Hes waitin for me to one up to what I done an to pay the prise.

Ive got to meet my maker an give an acount of my life an then itell all be over an you an Ned an Becky can get on with your lives an their wont be no curse. Thingsel be just fine again. So now Ive got to make my last journey to the Tallahatchie Bridge. Dont wory none about me Maw. It cant be any worse on the other side than wat it is on this sied. An God is all mercyful. Even Judas Skarriot got forgivin acordin to Brother Taylor. Say a prare for me Maw. Its not so bad. In just a half an hour or so Im goin to be out of my misery, like Stennys pup an Mary an Charlene an Billy Joe.

Il just ask 1 thing. This here leter is a familly mater, I dont want noboodie elce to reed it but you an nether would Billy Joe or Charlene. An when you've rede it I want you to burn it. Pleese dont let me down Maw.

Good bye Maw. Throw a few flowers over the railling of the Tallahatchie Bridge for us now and then. Aint much thats boutifull an innicint in this world xept flowers.


Bobbie Gentry ~ Ode to Billy Joe