If you ask her teachers, they will turn taciturn, set their lips in a firm, well-practiced smile and gargle the nerves congesting their throats before feeding you one of the templates they’ve memorized from their Teachers Handbook.
“Prudence never disrupted the class.”
“Prudence always turned in her dittos in a timely fashion.”
“Prudence excelled in cursive and time tables.”
Because you wouldn’t expect them to tell you that Prudence killed frogs on the playground, ate flies between heels of moldy potato bread, and sat in the darkened cubby speaking softly in what was originally thought to be Latin but turned out to be some variant of Appalachian tongues.
Still, Prudence managed to maintain a small clique of friends. Most townsfolk say that these girls only fraternized with the Goosterjuice girl because she had a fancy doll collection and an older brother who mowed the grass without a shirt on and had a predilection for younger tarts who would let him do another kind of mowing, though most of the girls weren’t yet tainted enough by accidental exposure to pornography to know quite what that meant until they were already pinned down on sharp blades of grass, the kinds that cut right through flesh if you try to stroke them, crying as the buttons on their homemade blouses pop off like some kind of Japanese firecrackers.
But they all inevitably walked away from that soiled sex patch behind the water tower feeling as though they were in love with that Goosterjuice boy.
Prudence knew what her friends were doing when they excused themselves from her bedroom, saying they had to attend to matters concerning their bowels, and it disgusted her. Intercourse in general disgusted her, ever since she found out her real daddy was the ringmaster of a traveling carnival who tricked her mother into sleeping with him by promising her the coveted spot atop a sequined elephant, but when she woke up the next morning, the caravan was gone and she was left on the side of the road with her virginity and $34 stolen from her fanny pack. Her mother never told her this story, but she knew it to be true because she heard the man previously thought to be her father speaking about it in slurred and abasing tones during one of his midnight poker games.
Most people who lived in that town would tell you that she was only disgusted about sex because no one ever wanted to have it with her, that she was a hemaphrodite.
Gradually, Prudence’s after-school social hours petered out and she was resigned to spend her evenings sitting cross-legged on her embroidered bedspread, reading dusty tomes about interior decorating which she found the year before at an estate sale at the home of the town’s first gay man who was driven away by the Church.
Her parents, too caught up in the intricate art of slave trading, didn’t seem to notice that their daughter wasn’t getting invited to keggers and seances.
Until the smell happened.
Prudence’s mother was the one to discover it. The acrid aroma trailed from Prudence’s room and wafted down into the sitting room, where it raped her mother’s nasal cavity with the powerful punch of rot.
Following the stench to Prudence’s room, she was quickly distracted by a visual assault. Using crude strokes, Prudence had colored over the floral wallpaper her mother had spent weeks choosing, splashed right over it with a carmine hue that seemed to have chunks of gelatin suspended in some of the heavier streaks. The smell of death emanated.
“Do you like it, Momma? It’s like they’re menstruating. My walls, that is. Don’t touch, Momma. It’s fresh. Doesn’t it smell lovely?”
Her mother stood with one clammy hand on the doorknob, the other covered her mouth and pinched her nostrils, in tandem. Speechless. Agog. Some say she probably didn’t know what was coming until it was too late, that all Prudence had to do was utter a few indecipherable syllables that would make snakes hiss from fifteen miles away. But most people call bullshit on that and believe that the only tongue-lashing going on in that room, on that night, was by the hand of a cleaver-wielding twelve-year-old who was tired of hearing her mother making bank by seducing the milkman and the postman and the dogcatcher in her bedroom with the tapestry-covered windows and the locked door, but the sounds her mother made right before stuffing the wads of bills into her garter belt echoed through the vents and were delivered right behind Prudence’s bed, like a smutty package of wet moans and testicular slappings tied with a bow formed of lecherous grunts and infidelity.
And once it was all said and done, a trunk containing her art supplies was discovered under her bed. Brushes fashioned from the hair of her classmates, the ones who spread their legs, whose parents had reported them missing in the last week. Mason jars sloshed to the brim with hemoglobin. Her mother’s hair, still attached to her scalp, twisted and tangled into hematic ropes. It was determined that these grisly Type O locks helped finish the paint job on the west wall.
The rest of the pieces, the body parts? They were stuffed in garment bags and hung heavily from a brass rod in the closet. A rogue eyeball was found in Prudence’s jewelry box, speared onto the twirling ballerina, who no longer twirled so much now under the weight of the optical orb, but more so staggered along in an arching path to the tune of Greensleeves. It was determined to be the eyeball of Cadie Caldwell, Prudence’s classmate who was obsessed with becoming a flapper and gave Father McNeilly a handjob after confession last summer.
Prudence’s daddy, the one who wasn’t really her daddy, all he said to the police was, “I never knew Prudence had any interest in painting. And she’s not my real daughter, by the way.”
The only person who knew what truly happened was Prudence, but in all the seventy years she sat in prison, all she’d ever do was flash those butter-brick teeth of hers and say, “Ain’t see a damn thing wrong with wantin’ a little rouge to my walls.”