It was hot as it’d ever been that summer, temperatures pushing a hundred every day and the dogs looking at you like, can’t you do something. Everything died on the vine that summer. Roses, tomatoes. All the honeysuckle withered and dried. But everyone stayed inside anyway to watch Mary Loveless, to hear what she might have to say for herself.
Mary Loveless grew up in the Sons of Cain church, a little known sect that was part Church of Christ and part snake handlers. Religions spring up in this neck of the woods like the spider flowers did in our old backyard. Stephen, Mary’s husband, was a Sons of Cain pastor. They had two little girls born two years apart. Hope and Faith both look like Mary, and Mary looks like those “Big Eyes” paintings.
A slip of a thing, in court she was dwarfed by Sam and Saul Rubinstein, who are big-boned and swarthy and well-known in these parts. If you did it, they say, go see Sammy and Saul, and little Mary Loveless teetered into the courtroom each day with Sammy on one side and Saul on the other, as if she might faint or succumb to the vapors. Court TV was there. Nancy Grace, of course, put her two cents in. Local news, national, it went on for weeks, and reminded us all of the cold war we fought every day to ignore.
Men made excuses and women made faces. The heat made everyone stay indoors, and we watched Mary Loveless explain that she “snapped” on the day she shouldered a 12-gauge shotgun and shot Stephen Loveless in the back while he slept.
Sons of Cain members had mortgaged their houses and taken out bank loans to help her make bail. Wives looked at their husbands as if they were fools. Men looked at their wives as if they were cold-hearted bitches and little Mary Loveless wept on the stand.
Stephen made me do things, Mary said through her tears. Like wear platform shoes and dress like a hooker and kiss his big, hairy, moon-white behind, and things like explain where the money all went; Mary Loveless handled the family finances. She got suckered in by one of those online Nigerian scams and the day she would have been forced to tell Stephen their account was bone dry, was the same day she shot him, point blank, from behind.
We waited and watched like dogs in the car on a hot afternoon. The mostly male jury found her guilty of manslaughter. The judge said time served, plus thirty days. Mary turned in her seat to Sammy and Saul, big-eyed as ever and gave them a smile.
Hope and Faith went to live with their Nana and Papa. It was “Hope and Faith” always. No one ever said it the other way around.
Two weeks after Mary walked out of jail, a twenty-something couple saw her downtown at a bar. They took out their phones and took pictures of her, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer, pleasures forbidden by Sons of Cain tenets. The story was all over the news the next day. The Rubinstein brothers were beside themselves.
We gave our men looks that said, I told you so. Our men gave us looks that said, give it a rest, and they thought something dark and troubling and wrong must live in our hearts, that we couldn't see Mary had suffered enough.
Maybe she suffered but all women suffer, we all dress like hookers and kiss their behinds. What could not be forgiven was trading it in for a shiny new toaster. A set of steak knives. For giving it to men, who held her hand and patted her head, Mary’s big eyes saying, can’t you do something, and making us all die a little that summer.