Intro: The Shape of a Southern Woman



I loved my sister.

I wanted to be her and truly, it could be argued that I was. We were twins. We weren’t Annabelle and Clementine. It was always, “How are the twins? What are you doing for the twins’ birthday? When are the twins starting school?”

It may not seem that a person can feel alone in a family as large as ours living in a house as small as the one we grew up in, but us Ryan children often fended for ourselves. Anna had my back whether I acknowledged it or not, and I tried to do the same. But she was the stronger one—always had been.

“Lynn, can you pour me some tea?” I look at my niece and settle into my favorite chair. “Put the good stuff in it too.” I wink at her. She knows what I mean.

“Isn’t it a little early for spirits?” My nephew Danny glances at the clock.

“If we’re talking about this, I’m damn sure not doing it sober!” I retort.

This is only the second house I’ve lived in and unlike before, I have no desire to move. I’m old, time evaporating faster with every passing day. I don’t see my niece and nephew often, but when I do, it’s here, in my home, with spiked tea.

I like the fact that mine is the only blue house in town; that the fig tree in my backyard has allowed me to bake countless cakes over the years despite that son of a bitch Roger’s sheep nibbling away at the branches. I love my small flowerbed that wins the yearly Garden Club’s best yard award. I enjoy my modest vegetable garden and few laying hens, and the lone rooster that serves as my alarm clock. Danny has tried to take over my outdoor duties when he’s in town since my arthritis has coiled my fingers, but I like the independence.

“You think she hasn’t gone at it this early before?” Now it’s my nurse Maggie’s turn to raise an eyebrow at my expense.

I glare impatiently at Lynn. She reluctantly pours the whiskey into my tea and walks it over, then lowers herself into the rocker opposite me. His rocker. She would shudder if she knew the story I’m about to tell took place in that very spot.

Danny patiently places his wide, rough hand on top of mine. “What do you need to tell us?” He’s always been a sweet boy, just like his father. I look from him to Lynn, her face so much like Annabelle’s, it’s startling.

“Yes, why did I take off work to come down here when we could have easily done this over the phone?” Lynn rolls her eyes and slouches like a sulky teenager.

I don’t know why I feel like now is the right time to tell them and not last year, or when Anna died. Maybe it’s out of protection for their father.

“I need to tell you the truth.” I take another sip and sigh as the whiskey warms my throat. Maggie pretends to busy herself with laundry. “Well, come on then!” Lynn and Danny exchange concerned looks while Maggie sheepishly drops the folded towel and pulls a chair over from the table. They sit around me like children during story time.

Most people hear a story of a woman who kills her husband and immediately think she must be a lunatic, but not me. No sir. I was very much lucid; in fact, it had been a long time coming. I take another sip of the spiked tea and smile. I memorize their faces and wonder exactly what they’ll think of me when they discover what made their aunt a murderer.