Donna McDonald puts her feet up on Kenneth’s dashboard. Donna puts her feet on his coffee table. She puts her muddy shoes on his carpet. She spits on the ground when they’re walking together, smokes when they’re sitting together. He thinks himself a southern gentleman but he can’t quit reconcile that with how often he pictures himself strangling her.
Currently, Donna is telling him about a development in her job. Probably. It’s all she’s been talking about for a week. He focuses on the TV. After a while, her voice peters out. She turns off the lights as she shambles into her room. He rubs his eyes. The blue light makes his skin feel oily. Or maybe it was the pizza he had for dinner.
He thinks about his girlfriend, Carol. She has two kids, a couple of brats. They can be sweet though, when they aren’t screaming. He often thinks about why he can’t tell her he loves her. Kenneth has never really loved, he thinks. He knows he shouldn’t blame that on Donna, but wasn’t it really her fault? If she wasn’t always around, he would have been able to find someone when he was young. He knows he’s run-of-the-mill, but his eyes are still complimented and he’s had a steady job since he was in his twenties. He could take care of someone. He could have been a father. He wonders if Carol wants to marry him. That’s why they’re dating, isn’t it? But he can’t picture it at all. They’re too old, he thinks.
He remembers something. Donna’s younger than him. She’s still fairly attractive objectively. He doesn’t think she’s ever loved either and he wonders if she still could. If she still has a chance despite what happened? Does she blame him as much as he blames her? Jesus Christ. He’s definitely more to blame than her. He scratches a line down his face. She doesn’t really seem to blame him for much, just enough for them to have worked out their living situation really. And it’s not like she doesn’t need him, or someone like him to care for her. He owns his own store, so he can always leave his job for her to drive her around and that’s really all she asks for. It’s not like there are buses where they live, so she’d have to pay for a caretaker otherwise. And a caretaker would be too much for Donna anyway.
Donna should have been a free spirit, should have fallen in love. Kenneth stands up to grab a beer. He sits down at their dinner table. It’s one of those folding card tables. Sometimes, it reminds Kenneth of family reunions, when one would be set up for the kids to eat at. He doesn’t like to think about family reunions.
Donna isn’t really that bad. Sometimes she’ll have them both crying laughing, telling ridiculous stories about people she knows. She’s smart, for their town. She would have been able to leave it—he never could have. He knows he must have hurt her brain. She forgets who she is sometimes and gets frequent migraines. She’s still smart though, he thinks, even though it’s not quite in the same way. She’s more resourceful than book smart. And she can cook as well as he can at least, and has a fair head on her shoulders.
At times like this, Kenneth can’t believe God hasn’t decided to smite him. That He did not punish him. Eye for eye.
When he was seventeen years old, Kenneth played a prank on his eight year old cousin. He launched two Roman Candles right at her face. He can’t remember if he had expected her to jump out of the way or not.
They caught her clothes on fire. She fell backwards, hitting her head on the pavement. A spark got into her right eye, burning it beyond repair.
He presses his unopened can against his eye.
When she was little, Donna always used to follow her older brother around like a whiny dog. Both Kenneth and Derek hated her, especially when they had been trying to sneak off to drink in the woods and she had followed them. The week before, she had told them “If y’all come out here again, I’m going to tell Mama, and your ma too, Kenny!”
If she was a boy, he would’ve just roughed him up a little then. There were so many ways it couldn’t have happened, he thinks, seeing the way it left her in his head. A halo of blood around her unconscious body. He had been sure she was dead. In his memory, the whole night is on fire.
He had stopped the fire by ripping her clothes off. Her pale body lay nearly naked on the black pavement, her chest burned red. The scars were much fainter now. Her eye, however, had to be replaced with a glass one. Kenneth opens the beer and finishes it quickly. He goes to bed.
The next morning, Kenneth asks one of his clerks, “How old are you again?”
“Have you met my cousin, Donna?”