1. If you had the power, what accoutrements would you choose?
2. What is the most interesting thing about the woman wearing you?
She’s been murdered. I still have no idea who did it or why and it’s looking like I never will.
4. O-kay. Man, okay… Well, this is a first. Wow… okay. What happened ?
I’ll take you back to that day. The sun has been up and settled for three hours. She cracks her eyes open. The night before was a grueling one. In the library ’til she was told it was time to leave. One drink with Taghrid to celebrate what they think could be a monumental discovery in the world of the large-scale motions of Earth’s lithosphere; in other words, plate tectonics. Her work. The one, true passion. The study of a landscape by catastrophe. A metaphor for every life. “What you leave behind informs the future,” she’d always say. This was her brief, self-inflicted pep talk when all she wanted to do was close her eyes and shut down any further thought for the day. The sun has been up and settled for three hours. She looks to the ground to see her underwear coiled in her jeans. Loafers barely a foot apart. She must’ve simply walked out of them. Blouse dangling from the dresser. It must’ve been tossed over her shoulder. She turns her attention to her body. She’s naked. She finds this strange. A lot of mental and physical preparation usually goes into her sleeping in the buff. It starts with a weird acknowledgment that it will be happening no less than two hours (sometimes she’d prepare days in advance) beforehand, and the knowing that she will be in bed at a reasonable time. The bed will be made. A bath will be taken in which she will start to wind down. She will slather herself in all the requisite creams, lotions. The hair will be washed, conditioned, combed through. Meticulous care will be given before peeling back the covers and crawling into bed. The commencing position will be on her stomach. Legs straight. One arm petrified against her side, the other resting at an angle above her head. Who knows what mangled position she will wake in, but while she’s in control, the position will be of her precise choreography. She will not be tired when her head makes contact with the pillow. She will be fully awake, yet relaxed. Hyper alert, but content. Aware of the slight tension in her lower back brought on by the height of the pillow. The feeling of eyes on her. Not in a sexually voyeuristic way, more as if she’s become the subject of a study. She must be perfect for them. Their research and the knowledge they walk away with depends on her performance. In reality, not one person is watching but it feels as if they might be. She knows this is the most beautiful she will ever feel. She has shared this thought with no one. That is probably why so much preparation goes in. Feeling beautiful on your own, without anyone else there to reiterate the notion, the want to never be tethered to someone else in this moment, it’s a powerful feeling. Independent. Solitary. It wouldn’t matter how much another person there next to her would love and adore her, they would never be able to elicit the love and appreciation she bestows upon herself during these periodic, nighttime hours. Before long she will be asleep. Unfortunately, none of this took place last night. She doesn’t remember getting into bed, let alone getting into bed naked. She props up onto her elbows, producing a tinge of pull between her shoulder blades — the feeling like a precursor to pain, but not important enough to truly acknowledge its presence. She yawns. As her ears swallow up the inhalation, she sets her eyes on the beige wall in front of her. It’s in need of paint in certain spots. The thought is soon followed by the realization that you can never service just spots. The truth is the entire wall must be painted. That, or you let the spots remain and craft some sense of antique character around them in order to be okay with their being there. Some homage to Havana perhaps? Peeling. Patinated. “If the fissures of your world, Havana, shall be cemented in time, so shall mine.” The yawn is almost at an end, at a point where it produces a smooth tickle, gentle needle pricks throughout the body. It is here she decides once the yawn is complete she will get out of bed and start the day. She makes a mental note to sleep naked over the weekend, this time giving the act the respect and time it so deserves. But she will never get the chance. She will die tonight.
5. What happened exactly?
I’m getting there. Don’t really want to, but I’m getting there. The day was spent running errands. It’s what most people dedicate Saturdays to I learned. She popped in at the dry cleaners to retrieve me. Walking across the parking lot, she stopped, looked to the sky — the type of sky where leviathan clouds sailed across — and proceeded to think back to the night before in the library. Taghrid had gone to the restroom leaving my girl alone. The memory of a man sitting at a table caddy-corner to her own and the haunting song coming from his laptop swirled around in my her head. A song she knew but for some reason could not place. Was it possibly in a film she saw when she was younger? Besides where she heard it, the words are what stuck to her; in fact, they gnawed for most of the day, traveling into her mind right in the middle of a thought, lingering then whipping off — like a hummingbird to a feeder — taking with it the previous thought. Some thoughts she was able to retrieve while others were lost forever.
6. It’s almost as if the song portended what was to come. Did you get that feeling?
No. Honestly, I didn’t think anything of it. My girl was, for lack of a better phrase, a raw nerve, always acutely aware of the world around her and so for her to suddenly stop and think back to a song she heard the night before was nothing too out of the ordinary. Her brain never stopped. This was something I had grown used to.
7. I’m assuming after the errands, she ate, went home and started to prepare for the party that evening?
You are correct. Before walking out of the house the study of me and my cohorts was long and lingering in a full-length mirror. She never too much cared how she looked but again this wasn’t just any night out. The portent, as you put it, perhaps. Who knows? It’s so strange to look back to the moments leading up to the loss of a life and suddenly see the precursory signs — something they said, something they did. In any case, we arrived at the party. She was beautiful. The first person to spot her was Iván, Taghrid’s husband. As Iván congratulated her on the monumental discovery the night before in the library, my girl took intermittent glances at the fête. There they were. All three, each in a separate conversation with someone. Of course they would be separate from one another. Three blind mice. Oliver. Henry. Richard. Each man in love with her. Each one’s love so strong they were aware of the other and still didn’t care. They loved her. Possibly more when faced with competition.
My girl stood next to Richard on the balcony. Richard. A mercurial fellow, so unpredictable in his emotions he wasn’t aware of what was to come until it was upon him. They surveyed the party happening on the inside, playing a game of interpreting the conversation of a salt-n-pepper couple. Strange was the couple’s hair, the same thick ratio of black and white. So coarse it seemed if you ran a hand through either coiffure your fingers might emerge littered in tiny, droplets of blood. Richard said something I can’t recall. All I know is my girl wrenched back in a fit of laughter. It was fake. I could tell right away she was putting the whole thing on. Richard was not funny. Very competent he was, learned everything by rote making him extremely efficient in the way he ran his life, but, as mentioned, no sense of humor or depth to speak of. His knowledge existed in researching things to within an inch of their lives. He lacked true, life experience. His expertise on every matter lived in what a mentor had relayed to him. He grew up sheltered, segregated from the rest of the world, surrounded by people just like him in a jejune town trying with all of its might to be Waspy enclave. Richard was the type who believed by traveling the world and touching different cultures ever so briefly from atop his tuffet he somehow became Robbie Turner. His entire existence gave credence to Oscar Wilde’s very words, “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” The man (Richard and not Oscar) loved himself and was proud of himself and possessed an arrogance only a very loving mother could help craft. My girl could never love a man like this and I would’ve lost all respect if she had. Sycophantic, he was. Obediently deferential to those in a higher position, deserving or not of the deference. But this is how one must get by in the world. You lick the boots of those you must and disregard those who can do nothing for you. It’s simple math really. One thing my girl knew, she could never be with one forced to play the game in order to find a seat at the table. She had to be with the one who scattered the pieces across the board and watched as everyone else scrambled to the start. Richard looked to her, instantly elevated by the fact his clever quip had the power to make her so happy. Little did he know her joy was a fabricated product of utter pity. Or did he know?
My girl danced comically a bad meringue with Henry, laughing all the way through. This laughter was genuine. She wanted to have feelings beyond the platonic for Henry, so much so, that at times she found herself staring at him, studying ever faction of his face while clinching her teeth, wanting to happen upon something in him that would turn the page to a romantic love. But nothing. Not one drop. Henry was her friend but how easy it would be to one day wake up and find herself in love with him. He was interesting, fun, pudgy which she didn’t mind, one-inch shorter, but that could be overlooked. Was there a pun there? No matter. The bottom line was she felt not one of the things Henry lay awake every night hoping she would feel. He knew this. On every level, he knew this. He knew that if he had to move forward doing the things people of his ilk did, he would have to forget about my girl and lay down roots with a person it made sense to lay down roots with. The one whom after a year of dating would start to tap her foot as she waited for this thing to go to the next level. Screw if this was the right decision. What was of utmost importance was the fact that she and Henry made sense together. Plus, she had a perfect wedding that had been sitting patiently inside her brain for ten long, grueling years, just waiting for that someone like Henry to come along and tap the keg. So what if she had to guide his hand to the keg, this union was going to happen dammit! Peonies would be cultivated and named “Hortence Armistead” especially for the occasion. And let us not forget how shitty Gretchen was going to feel when Savannah won the coveted maid of honor prize — something Henry’s phantom bride-to-be had queued up ever since Gretchen slept with her Lampoon-cum-Krocodiloes crush one drunken night. Of course, she would tell Gretchen it didn’t bother her one bit, “Oh my god! Are you kidding me?! Please! I mean, he doesn’t even know I like him. And anyway, you looked so great last night in your new romper!” On the day of his nuptials, Henry would walk dazed throughout the entire event. Cheers and huzzahs all around. Even if his expression would present to onlookers a man happy, in the moment, walking down the aisle toward his beloved, he would look to everyone, trying to make eye contact with someone capable of seeing the smoke signal he was sending up, “Help. Me. I’m not strong enough to not conform.” For a second he thinks his cousin Alan sees the glint of dread and will come racing to his rescue — the Benjamin to his Elaine. But no. Alan’s spot-on assessment is put into a choke hold and dragged away forever by Henry’s bright eyes and toothy grin. Hell, Henry will even raise a hand in the air solidifying, “I did this! And it’s the happiest day of my life!” Alan’s gut was no match for a fucking hand in the air and because of that fact, not a day will go by that Henry will not curse the gesticulation. Back at the party Henry and my girl danced the bad meringue. He watched her, knowing he was going to lay down roots with this unknown, this other person and not my girl. He knew my girl would not be invited to the wedding. Exes were never invited. This was the kosher thing to do. Instead, my girl would hear about it from another person she would run into on campus. He knew upon hearing the news she would be genuinely happy for him, happy to be done with him and his unrelenting adoration. Dancing with her Henry knew all of this. My girl intermittently looked down so to keep an eye on their feet, making sure not to step on toes. And there it was, Henry smiling back at her while all he longed to do was fade away.
My girl sat next to Oliver at the piano. She swayed as he played, “Nature Boy” for the crowd. He looked to her and sang,”There was a boy… a very strange enchanted boy… they say he wandered very far, very far over land and sea… a little shy and sad of eyes but very wise was he…” Oliver was a slight man with a nose that looked like the USS Enterprise draped in flesh. His ropy appearance kept a visit to the emergency room on deck as a possibility. He was also without question the most passive person my girl had come across in her short life. A man who wore his victimhood proudly. Always quick to finger everyone else around him as the abuser, he sucked all the plight out of the room, leaving nothing for the rest. Spending a lifetime with Oliver was the bleakest of outcomes. He meant well, that was true, but that was about as far as he traveled. To locate his power he would need assistance, training wheels for the rest of his life. My girl glanced down to Oliver’s fingers gliding across the keys. She returned her gaze to his face, smiled confidently, prepared to take on worship so heavy she could actually feel the weight of it. She refused to make a fool of him in front of everyone and so she moved in close. Moments before her lips touched his cheek she tucked into his shoulder and rested her head. I could feel his anger mounting, insecurity rising. The love was still very present but definitely mixed in was anger, fury even. Anger born from such rejection had a trajectory similar to the Pandemonium Shadow Show appearing in Green Town. One moment things are seemingly good. The next, very bad.
8. Did she ever tell Oliver, Henry or Richard how she truly felt?
Oh god, no. No. And why would she? They’d land on their feet. That’s what men do. Not that women don’t. They do indeed. We’ll simply say they land in different ways. In any case, after the party, my girl simply said her goodbyes and left. As she crossed the parking garage to her car she smiled, recounting all the fun she had and how much she genuinely enjoyed her time with the three, blind mice. Despite their foibles, as long as she kept her dealings with them superficial she could enjoy their company. She arrived at her car, pulled out her keys, moved to open the door but stopped. She stared straight ahead. Something was wrong. She slowly turned, coming face to face with a masked and gloved person standing there, holding a gun pointed at her chest. Her demeanor was void of any and all discernible emotion. “Obviously, you know me. But do I know you,” she asked. The person behind the mask remained silent. The gun began to slightly shake. “If you’re going to kill me you can at least show me your face. You owe me that much.”
Earlier, at the party…
On the balcony, my girl and Richard stared at each other. They looked to be on the cusp of something more. Possibly a kiss. She smiled, almost apologetic, then turned away and looked to the night sky.
In the parking garage…
“Maybe I love you too. Maybe I’ve been too nervous to say anything. It’s possible I talked myself into believing what was happening between us existed only in my head. Could it be that those three words said aloud by the person behind the mask would have made me the happiest I’ve ever been and ever will be?”
Earlier, at the party…
Alone in the kitchen, there to retrieve what was left of the sangria everyone had been going on about, Henry grabbed my girl by the hand and spun her around. Halfway around, she fumbled to the ground. Henry swept down to her. It took a few seconds to realize that she was okay and the only battle scar would be a bruise on her bum a few days from now. The assessment did nothing to stop Henry from wrapping his arms around her. The gesture was too much considering, but they both knew, without saying a word, he would steal any and all chances to get close. He squeezed tighter, lifting a hand to cup the crown of her head. She did nothing to pull away, rather, she squeezed tighter as well. It was the least she could do.
In the parking garage…
Her heart was beating faster than she ever thought possible, although conversely, she was awash with composure, “If you do this it will follow you for the rest of your life. Even if it becomes a secret you’re able to hold onto, it will haunt you forever.”
Earlier, at the party…
The woman and Oliver were alone at the piano. The crowd had dispersed into other sections of the room. She looked to him once again. He focused on her lips. She smiled and turned to face the keys, tapped three times as he looked on. The first three notes of “Chopsticks.” She looked at him and smiled again. One kiss. That’s all he wanted. She knew this. She turned back to the piano and tapped three times. He relented, smiled and joined her in what most twosomes sat down at the piano to play.
In the parking garage…
Was it Richard? She couldn’t tell. Oliver? Henry, perhaps? It was hard to say. They all have brown eyes; something she never noticed until that moment. “But I’m looking into your eyes and I can see very clearly that you will not take the chance,” she told him. Seconds were passing but her thoughts felt days long. Did she want to die? Was she feeling content with passing on? Had she done all there was to do in this life? Who would remember her and why? Did any of us really do anything of importance? It all felt so arbitrary in this moment. This planet doesn’t need you nor your accomplishments. My girl’s work, thus far, had dealt in the tangible, the finite part of life. The earth shifts but over there was unknown. No matter how many saw the white light and returned to tell the tale, we’d never truly know. Would she be a different person? The antithesis of who she was here? Uninhibited? Unapologetic? Would she even exist? It’s amazing how many thoughts pass through when you realize this just might be it. She remembered having these exact thoughts when her father passed away. Wondered if he thought these very things in the final moments. Wondered if he knew everyone he touched would never be truly happy again. Wondered if he knew every amazing moment after his passing would be cloaked in sadness because he wouldn’t be there to take part. She thought back to all those who told her that if given the choice they would want to leave here in a way similar to her father. Every part of her wanted to offer the rejoinder, “But that aside, would you want to live here in the aftermath like me?” Her mind skipped again because that’s what the mind does in moments such as these. It skips to different places, specific moments. Places you think insignificant at the time somehow find a way into your mind. This particular place she landed on was a reminder that she would never know how “The Dean’s December” ends. To be honest, she barely knew how it began: Corde doesn’t speak the language of Bucharest, therefore, he can’t communicate with his dying mother-in-law. That’s it. That’s all she knew of Bellow’s tale. “I’m not gone yet,” she thought. This jolt of hope surged through. “There’s still time for this thing to turn around! A chance to finish ‘The Dean’s December,’ ‘2666,’ ‘Molly Ivins,’ et al! A chance to sit in Vroman’s and consume ‘The Goldfinch’ while tucked away in a corner upstairs! A chance to see if the government will get back to work! A chance to put my full support behind Hilary this time around! A chance to stroll Saint-Germain during the wee hours again! A chance to taste the goodness of Pies-n-Thighs! A chance to meet him, whoever he is! There’s still time,” she told herself and I hoped with everything I had that she was right. She remembered her aunt, the baby of nine children, not wanting to go. She had a disease that allotted her the time– six months to be exact– to think over her life. One day she sat in the room with her aunt and looked on as she waved the chaplain away without so much as a glance. The chaplain whose job it was to make the rounds in this section of the hospital. My girl remembered her aunt turning to her and ordering her to tell the well-meaning man to leave, “I don’t need to hear anything he has to say.” My girl relayed this to the chaplain, polite about it of course . She wasn’t there in her aunt’s final moments but she was told that she stared up at the ceiling and talked to God, “It was as if he was carrying her away. She seemed to be so ready. So peaceful.” It’s funny the things the living say to make it all go down a lot easier. The day her aunt turned away the chaplain, was this her way of telling God, “I want to talk to you. This here is as serious as life gets. Don’t send me some yokel go-between to do your bidding. I want you.” Then my girl’s mind turned away from memories of her aunt and switched to songs, all the songs she was never able to listen to after the loss of her father. She went on to surmise it would be years before the mere mention of Anita Baker’s name wouldn’t create a lump in her throat. She thought about what her brother’s songs might be. Her mother’s songs, that long list traversing forty-seven years, making up the soundtrack of their perfect union. Seeing how happy her parents made each other made her sometimes wish to end up with a person sure to throw a wrench into the relationship. Someone who would make her hold back a piece of herself forever, because loving someone for that long without ever letting each other down is just a cruel joke when one is suddenly ripped away. Not one signal to let you know the horror to come. Not one split second to prepare. My girl’s mind skipped once more to how she would be remembered. One person can be hated, loved, tolerated snowflakes, chameleons transforming, wedging yourselves into form for whoever you choose to be around. And will you ever truly know your status at any time? Her brother who works at one of those literary magazines in the big city, will he write a piece of non-fiction about the loss of his sister in such a brutal manner? Will he go on to receive awards, accolades for chronicling the story, letters from strangers expressing sympathy, “It must have been so hard to write this piece. I too lost my sister under tragic circumstances. I’m sure it took a lot of courage to put pen to paper.” Will that be my girl’s legacy? A mere marker on her brother’s road to a PEN/Faulkner? Twenty years from now, lost somewhere in a one-upmanship in the comments section, “Good for you schlockybeaver1994 but I’ve been a fan ever since his piece on the death of his sister twenty years ago.”
9. I don’t know what to say. Is it possible to miss someone you’ve never met?
I think it is. And now, onto how this ends.
Earlier, at the party…
My girl , Oliver, Richard and Henry stood amongst other partygoers. Everyone looked to the sky. White fireworks sprinkled down and then emitted one, delayed CRACK.
In the parking garage…
There she was, my girl, splayed on the ground. Lifeless eyes stared up. One, tiny, bullet hole through her chest. Blood soaked through me and began to traverse the ground. What was once simply navy and white, was quickly overtaken by a foreign color. It was thick, unrelenting. Surrendering to it was the only choice. The person who killed her stared down. The eyes seemed to plead her back to life. A stream of smoke lazily meandered from the mouth of the gun. Realizing what had been done, the person behind the mask flung the gun to the ground and raced off, leaving her there alone. Hauntingly apropos, a static-laden Paul Buchanan could be faintly heard coming from an empty guard booth. A life from start to finish is nothing more than a landscape by catastrophe.