She Knew Better

She Knew Better

In the morning she found Ray at the kitchen table cleaning her fecal matter from the barrel of his .22-250. He didn’t look up. Last night he’d rolled his sleeves to his elbows revealing the long tendons, powerful muscles, deep blue veins. Now the cuffs were bottomed tight around his wrists.

“You’re up early,” she said. She felt as if she’d tumbled in the dryer all night.

“Five hundred dollars for this varmint rifle, I have to keep it clean,” he said. Then he looked up, eyes as small and dark as the end of his gun.  “I’m disappointed. I expected my coffee by now.”

In the grinder’s whirling whine, she watched him fill the magazine with bullets from his shirt pocket. Never clean a loaded gun. A Ray Rule. She didn’t have to tell him. She knew better than to tell him anything he already knew. Another Ray Rule.

Bringing his cup, she walked carefully to avoid showing her pain. “That’s my good girl,” he said. He took the cup, drank most of it down hot, and pinched her butt.

She flinched. Ray smiled at her and licked his lips, reminding her how hungrily he’d kissed her that first night, all over. All over.

“Today’s our anniversary,” she said. “It’s—”

“You  know better. Five years.”

When they’d moved to the old sheep ranch Ray had bought the rifle to keep the coyotes from killing sheep. But they raised no sheep. Ray hated animals.

“Ray,” she said as she poured coffee in his insulated cup for his drive to work, “I’m going to finish cleaning in the barn today. Is there anything you want to keep?”

“Ray rule–you know better than to bother me with women’s work.”

A bookkeeper, she finished the pharmacy accounts by noon, put on dishwashing gloves, and went to the barn. She slit the plastic pack on a Livestock Protection Collar, like slicing chicken breast from the bone. Yesterday, she’d found the dusty box of the collars labeled, For use on sheep to kill depredating coyotes.

She took the collar into the kitchen. So as not to ruin her good kitchen knife, she pricked the black rubber pouch with a needle and squeezed the Compound 1080 into a cup.  It was, as she had read online, the color of strong coffee and amounted to a tablespoon, enough for six men, sufficient for Ray.

When he came in the house at five-thirty, gripping a bottle of Bordeaux by the neck, she handed him his coffee, knowing he wouldn’t kiss her, then led him to the barn.

“Why didn’t you throw that old box of poison sheep collars?” Ray said.

She put the two white straps of the Protection Collar over her head and secured the Velcro. The black, rubber pouch sat at her neck like a broach.  “These collars wouldn’t protect the sheep who wore them because the depredating coyote would bite through the pouch to the sheep’s throat.”

“What the hell are you up to?”

“I want you to know I’m pregnant.”

He leaned against a pole, vomited, and slid to the floor.

“You bitch,” he said.

“It’s undetectable,” she said.

He vomited, fouled his pants, and twisted like a broken-backed snake.  She took his coffee cup into the house to rinse it.  She opened the wine.  She’d let it breathe, then drank a glass, just one, with the baby coming and all.

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Read more about Merle here.

Read more about Susan here.


  1. Kelly Gamble says:

    I really enjoyed this. It made me shiver, thanks for that one!

  2. Richard Adams Carey says:

    Merle Drown calls them “Shrunken Heads,” these brief shards of fiction he writes. It’s an apt name, since they retain all the synapses of full-length fiction, and they’re miraculous in their ability to portray complete lives and worlds. This is a world none of us would want to visit, but beautiful in its portrayal.

  3. Bruce Allen says:

    Creepy as all get-out, and good ghoulish fun. Reminds me of the Raymond Chandler line about “the kind of night when meek little housewives caress carving knifvesand look at their husbands’ necks” – or words to that effect. Thanks, Merle, for maintaining the highest standards, as SHRUNKEN HEADS begins to look more and more like a book we won’t be able to do without, or put down.

  4. Ryan says:

    That was one of the most disturbing first sentences I’ve ever read. Great story, too, obviously.

  5. Patrick says:

    Crisp, swift little nightmare. Reminds me of Barry Hannah’s “Quo Vadis, Smut?” The violence in the barn. Loved this story. Makes me want to try again at the short-short. Merle Drown is the King of Microfiction.

  6. Jenna Sievers says:

    Such a love story!

  7. Robert says:

    This was a very good story. It was very short but did its job extremely well.

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