This is Freedom? Critique

I'm entering the short story contest over at Faith in Fiction. I would really like some honest critiques and any helpful hints/criticisims you might have. It would help me a lot! Thanks! According to the rules the story should be 3000 words (it is exactly 3000 words) and must be a conversion story... apparently conversions in fiction are not very believable. Let me know what you think, please.

This is Freedom?


Blood dripped from his knuckles onto the green linoleum floor. The overhead light glared angrily at the shadows in the kitchen etching everything in stark clarity. The small Coldspot refrigerator in the corner hummed in the silence. The dingy cabinet doors were splattered with a few spots of blood. Yesterday’s dishes were piled in the sink and the faucet dripped in time with his knuckles. If he had thought about it, it would have been annoying. He felt the blood drip from his chin on to his knuckles. Then he watched each drop of blood splat between his feet and wondered idly if it was his or hers. Probably both. Ironic that their personalities had collided like a train wreck but their blood intermingled so beautifully they were finally blended as the preacher had said, “One flesh.”

Anger left him. The hole it left was cold and empty, and he had no energy left to even get up from the pink-vinyl covered chair to find something to staunch the flow of blood. Reason sifted back into his mind. His heartbeat slowed and a beat, drip, splat syncopation began. A wry grin twisted his lips. He had no need of a heart. Not now. Everything was gone and there was nothing to live for. He swiped at a dark lock of hair filled with Brillcream now matted with blood.

He unfolded from the chair slowly; his bones creaking and his muscles groaning. It was such an effort to search for a towel. The snowy white rag he dragged from a rack over the sink soaked up the blood from his hand and the side of his face. He caught a glimpse of himself in the window over the sink and wiped his face as best he could. The tiny freezer over the refrigerator held one measly ice cube. One cube left. Harumph, he groused. She had used it all downing the contents of the cheap bottle sitting on the cabinet. He tipped the bottle to see how much was left. An ounce or less swirled in the bottom. He pressed the ice cube over the wound on his temple, then tucked it into the soggy, red rag over his knuckles. Finally, he turned and sought out the cause of all the carnage to his face and his hands.

The body was draped over the back of the couch. Her knees were bent on the seat like she was leaning over the back looking for the baby’s pacifier. Just like she’d done many times before. Before, when the view she presented made his insides twist with desire and their laughter usually woke Bonny. When that happened, he would get up and soothe the babe. Those were the joyous times, before the war. Before he had to leave to fight for flag, country and freedom. “Oh, Jesus, help me. What have I done?”

A keening started in the back of his throat as he thought about freedom. What did that feel like? Not like what he was feeling now, he was sure, like an animal trapped in a space way too small. He rubbed his hand and winced, then wrapped the now red rag tightly around the scraped knuckles. He went into Bonny’s room, the trailer’s floor creaking and groaning under his weight. He had to duck to go into her room. Toys were scattered about the floor and in the corner was a trio of dolls sitting around a tiny tea set on the floor. He found the child just like he’d left her, face down among the pillows. He gently turned her over and pulled the cover over her face. He couldn’t bear to look at her, his sweet Bonny Bunny. The bruises on her neck and face were several days old and stood out deep blue against her white skin. He couldn’t bear it. Tears trickled down his cheeks and the keening turned into a wail. It blended with the sirens and built in intensity as the sirens came closer. Gravel spattered the side of the trailer sounding like distant machine gun fire.

“T-Bone!” A gravely voice shouted as the sirens died to moans then faded out. “T-Bone, aw now, what you gone and done, son?” Sheriff Bordelon jerked open the screen, nearly yanking it from the hinges. “Oh, man! Lookit this mess. Oh, man!” Bordelon’s boot crunched broken glass and he stepped back. Then he squatted down to touch the woman’s throat. He uttered a low growl. “T-Bone, where are you, boy?”

Glen Ford Thibodeaux flinched at the shout but continued gazing down at his daughter’s form under the covers, tears trickling down his face. Bordelon stepped over the broken chair and headed down the hall making the small trailer rattle as his big feet slammed into the floor.

“What did you do, boy?” the sheriff saw the crumpled covers and the small form beneath. “Oh, man! Thibodeaux, you are in deep trouble, that’s all. Deep trouble.” He grabbed the young man’s shoulder and guided him from the room. T-Bone went loose in his joints; he had no more fight. Bordelon set an overturned chair up right and pushed the younger man into it. “You sit right there and don’t move a muscle. Ya hear me?” The sheriff searched through the debris and found the phone. After a few jabs at the hook button he spoke into the receiver, “Trudy, get me Buck Graham over in Lafayette.” A pause. “Listen, woman, I’m not going to invite him to tea. This is serious and I need you to keep this line clear, here? Of course, you ring him through as soon as you find him. Okay, call Orin and wake him up. Tell him to get his butt over here pronto. What? I’m sorry, Trudy. I apologize. Just tell him to get over here to Thibodeaux’s place like white on rice. Oh, and Trudy, be sure and wake up George. We need him. Thanks. Yep, that’s all. Huh? Now, Trudy, you know I can’t tell you anything. Just get George out here.”

The Sheriff stared at the man sitting in the middle of the chaos. Glen Ford was rubbing his hand and staring vacantly at a picture torn from its frame with broken glass littered over it. The picture was of a happy family. A plump, blonde woman holding a dimpled, dark-eyed baby with the blonde single curl on top of her head. The curl almost brushed the chin of the dark-haired father whose eyes held a twinkle of fun and whose lips held nothing of the sardonic twist they had now.

“Listen up,” Bordelon had pulled out a pad of paper and held a pencil in his hand, “I need you to tell me what happened here. You got to talk to me, boy, before Buck gets here. No tellin’ what’ll happen or what he’ll think once he sees the shape you’re in and what this place looks like. Talk to me, boy.”

Glen Ford cleared his throat, a tortured rasp followed by a spate of coughing. With his good hand he pulled out a pack of cigarettes and lit one with a flick of his thumbnail over the match head. He took a long drag and heaved out the smoke. “I tole her, Jim Bob.” He rolled the pack in the sleeve of his stained t-shirt. “I tole her I’d kill her if she hit the baby one more time.”

“What in blazes is going on here? That siren woke up all my chickens! I won’t have an egg to sell for the next two weeks. Worse’n a fox, I tell ya.” The woman reached for the screen door just as the Sheriff hit the latch lock.

“Now Aunt Emma, you can’t come in here. This is a crime scene and we can’t have noncritical personnel come traipsing through here.”

“Noncritical? Personnel? What kinda talk is that, I want to know! Bord, I wiped your snot nose and tanned your hide. Personnel, my foot. Let me in there. My baby girl is in there and my grandbaby is in there. I’ve got every right to be in there. God lookit Glen Ford! What went on in there, Bord?”

“I don’t want to tell you this, Aunt Emma, but it looks like Katie Girl is not with us any longer. I don—“ the screeching cut him short. The woman had near superhuman strength as she yanked the screen door open. The lock snapped and the door slammed against the side of the trailer.

“Git outta my way, Bord,” she growled. “I knew this would happen. I just knew it.” She shoved all two hundred and thirty pounds of sheriff to the side. Her wail of grief rivaled the siren and hurt their ears. The hunting dogs in the pen out back woke and started baying. The cacophony was harsh and the siren of the deputy sheriff’s car drew closer. The noise was deafening and Glen Ford sat staring at the picture on the floor.

Emma turned on him, then, and screeched, “Not even Jesus Himself can forgive you for this, Glen Ford. I hate you. I hate you for what you did to my baby and what you did to my grandbaby. I hope you rot in hell, Glen Ford.” Bordelon caught her just before she pounced on the man.

“All right, that’s enough, Aunt Em.” Bordelon lifter her up and carried her outside. She struggled for only a moment then slumped in his arms and gave herself over to her grief. “Shush, Aunt Em, I know it hurts. It’s the grief talkin’. I’ll pray you can forgive him.”

Her eyes flashed with fire of hate, “I’ll never forgive him. Never.”

A state trooper car, lights flashing but no siren, skidded to a halt on the gravel road beside the drive. It backed up and slid into place beside the Sheriff’s car. “Bord, what we got?” Buck Graham settled his gun on his hips as he strode up to the small trailer’s torn screen door.

Bordelon tossed his head to the side and his thumb over his shoulder, “See for yerself, Buck.” He placed his hands on Emma’s shoulders. “Aunt Em, go on home and as soon as we’re done here, I’ll come tell you all about it.”

“You just see to it that man gets what he deserves and I want him put away for good. You got that?”

“I got it. Now, go on home. I’ll be over after while.”

Bordelon reentered the trailer to see Buck putting hand cuffs on a pliable Glen Ford. “You sending him in without questioning him?”

“I don’t see any need to question him, Bord. It’s pretty obvious from the looks of him and the place here what he did.”

“Did you see the girl?” When Buck glanced at the woman over the couch, he said, “No. Not her. Bonny Bunny. It looks to me like the mother did it. The bruises on her neck are small, wouldn’t fit T-Bone’s hands.”

“Okay, let me through young man, step aside.” George St. Amant patted Orin’s thin shoulder. “What a mess!”

“George, check the child first then do what you have to for Katie Girl here.”

George took pictures of everything then wrote out certificates of death, noting the time and the manner. “Done.”

“No autopsy, George?” Bord grunted, lifting Glen Ford from the chair, hands under his arms. The man was pliant as a soggy pickle slice. “Help me, here, Glen Ford. You gotta come to the station.

“Nope. Buck, I agree. It’s plain as toast what happened here. Glen Ford got drunk and beat up on Katie Girl. The little one must have gotten in the way. Yep. He did it. Open and shut case.”

Bord grunted as he hefted Glen Ford to the car. “Well, we’ll see. Depends a lot on what the jury says, don’t ya think?”

“Open and shut. No doubt about it. Jury’ll agree. Mark my words.” George packed up his equipment and yawned. “No rest for the weary. See y’all in a couple of hours. I’ll have all these pics developed.”

Bord shoved Glen Ford in the car then got behind the wheel. “T-Bone, you are in big trouble. You want me to call a lawyer for you?”

Thibodeaux groaned in the back seat and rubbed his head. “I tole her, Bord. I tole her I’d kill her if she hurt that baby again. The last time she hurt that baby we didn’t have no money for the doctor. It’s a good thing I know how to doctor a horse or my little Bonny Bunny would’ve died then. No money for a lawyer, neither. No money no freedom.”

“Not much we can do, my frien’. They’re gonna ask me what you said and I’m gonna hafta tell ‘em. You just confessed to me, T-Bone. Where you’re going, you’re gonna need Jesus.”

“You heard her, Bord. Not even Jesus can forgive me for what I did.”

The Sheriff pulled to the side of the road, the light stabbing the pitch dark and dust from the gravel road swirling in the light beams. “There’s nothing anybody does that Jesus can’t forgive. Only if you reject Him.” He looked at his cousin over the back seat. “You just gotta give Him the chance, Glen Ford.”

Grief took the lines of Thibodeaux’s face, drawing them out until he was unrecognizable. His eyes were red-rimmed and his lashes were caked with blood. “I can’t, Bord. I’m too far gone and there’s no hope for me. Go preach to someone who Jesus can save. Not to me. I’ve got too many devils houndin’ me... this night’s work one of ‘em. ‘Sides, I don’t even know what freedom is. I fought for it; can’t define it. Soon I’ll be outta reach of Jesus in prison. I purt near know what that’s like anyway.” He tucked his hands between his knees and hunched over in desolation; devoid of hope.

“I’ve been praying for you for a long time. What have you got to lose, now? You’ve lost everything, T-Bone, what have you got to lose by trusting Jesus?”

“I don’t have a heart anymore, Bord. It’s gone and there’s nothin’ to live for ‘sides a cigarette and a bath.”

“So you feel all grimy, eh? You want to get cleaned up? You want to take a bath? Why not let Jesus clean up your insides before you clean up the outside? If your insides don’t get cleaned up then you’re just whitewashing the outside.” He sighed gustily. “Listen, T-Bone, ain’t no way out o’ this. You’re gonna need some help. The kind of help that no man can give you.”

Glen Ford pondered that a moment. “What are you talking about, clean up my insides?”

“What did you feel like tonight, Glen Ford, after it was all over?”

“Empty. Just like a sack of purple hull pea skins. Skint. Torn apart and empty of anything good.” He swiped at his face with the back of his hand. The tears trickled down his wrist and under the handcuffs.

“That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout, T-Bone. It’s like pushin’ back from the table after stuffin’ yourself and then in about a minute you’re all hungry again. Starvin’ and dying of thirst at the same time.”

Glen Ford Thibodeaux looked up at that; a glimmer of wonder in his eyes. “How’d you know that? How’d you know that’s exactly what it feels like? And like I’m filthy as a hog in mud.”

“Because, cousin, I felt the same way.” Bord stretched his shoulders, then draped a hand over the knob on the steering wheel, relaxed for the first time since he’d heard T-Bone’s dead voice asking him to come over to see his dead wife. “Remember that summer I gotta a handyman job at the church? Every time I walked in there, I felt like I was chained up and filthy as…yep, as a hog in mud. It was the middle of August and I was sweatin’ like a lawn sprinkler, so I scuttled in there where it was nice an’ cool. I just couldn’t stan’ that feelin’ no more, Glen Ford. There was this huge hole inside that I could never fill up. I just sat on one of them hard pews and tole God I couldn’t stand it no more. I asked Him to fill me up.”

“Me, I don’t deserve it, no. It can’t be that easy, Bord, can it? ”

“That’s just it, Glen Ford,” Bordelon dug in the glove compartment. He turned on the inside light and handed a black book over the seat, “I been meaning to talk to you about this since you came home. None of us deserve it. See, Jesus died on the cross while everyone was dead in sin. Listen, you think you’re bad? There’s a guy in here,” he tapped the book with a steely forefinger, “that slept with another man’s wife then had the man murdered and he was a king for crying out loud. There’s another fellow that followed Jesus around like your new bird dog puppy then flat out denied he knew Him to save his own skin. What you’ve got in here is a bunch of sinners worse than you who got saved and are even now in heaven. All you gotta do is ask Him into your heart and He’ll fill that God-sized hole up. Your body may be locked up but your soul will be free.”

Glen Ford Thibodeaux latched on to the black book with a death grip, hope blooming in his eyes and his heart. “Free? Bord, you’re right. I don’t want to go through all this without Jesus. Oh, Lord forgive me for what I’ve done. Fill me up, God, I can’t stan’it anymore.” Peace spread through him and his shoulders lost their hunch. His heart filled with wonder, “So this—­this is what freedom feels like.”

[Edited 8-11-05 to make suggested changes.]
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