After supper, as we all had sat down for prayers there was a knock at the door.  Pappa answered, but when he saw Sherriff Johnson standing there, left him outside the flyscreen and hollered Momma.  Momma called to me and I got up from my knees to find Sherriff Johnson standing in the kitchen, with his hat off.  He asked me if I had the time to take a ride with him to the station, a nod from Mamma confirmed I had no choice.  Pappa had no time for police since he was picked up for driving an unlicensed truck seven years past.  I remember how Sherriff Johnson had remarked what a darling I was back then.

As we drove in his police car I caught him looking in the mirror now and then and trying work out had gone wrong with my life since I was the age of ten.

When we reached the station he showed me into a room and breathed a sigh.  He said what was discussed in this room was just between him and I.  So there was no paper, pen or tape machine, I finally had the chance to tell about me and Billy Joe.

I had my eye on Billy Joe since I was only fourteen years, but he was older and dismissed my advances.  At 16, Billy had found it hard to find work on Choctaw Ridge, so was running moonshine for the Clancy Brothers.  He’d been busted many times, but always escaped prison with just another fine.  When I hit sixteen Billy Joe noticed me, and before long before we were snatching time together from our very different lives.

Six months later I stopped menstruating, and a bump began to show, but Pappa never let up about the good-for-nothings up on Choctaw Ridge, so I hid the pregnancy and prayed every night for help.  One day while working in the top field only six months in, I had a show and made my way to Choctaw Ridge.  Billy’s Mamma helped delivering the infant.  We named her Milly and made our promises that night.

Billy and his Mamma looked after the baby as best they could, while Billy saved some money to buy a ring.  He’d been to see the preacher so I knew that he had changed.  Billy’s Mamma had always liked her liquor, and one day, while Billy had been at the sawmill up on Choctaw Ridge looking for honest work, she had downed a quart of whisky in an afternoon.  When Billy got back that evening he’d found Milly dead and ran and found me in the paddock feeding the goats.  We both ran up the hill to Choctaw Ridge, but Milly was cold and blue by then.  We both cried as we walked to the Tallehatchi Bridge, and offered Milly to the river between me and Choctaw Ridge. 

Billy’d got the job and money for the ring and begged me to marry him then and there, but I was dumbstruck from the death and didn’t say anything.  Billy assumed the worse and staggered off with his grief.  I wandered home to read my bible.

That was the last I saw of Billy Joe Mc Callister.

Sherriff Johnson hung his head and reached into his pocket.  He gingerly pulled out a very modest ring box.  He handed it to me without looking and said ‘Sorry’.  We returned to the police car and drove the six miles home with a word.  Many times, including when we arrived home, he looked into my eyes like he was trying to summon some words, but after a brief, awkward silence, dropped them to the ground again. 

Hanna Fernyhough (Mc Callister).