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Sharp objects, p.11

Sharp Objects, page 11

 

 


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  twenty minutes. Nice to catch up. I opened the boutique’s door for her too, and the feminine bell matched the saleswoman’s delighted greeting.

  “Adora!” And then a frown. “My goodness, darling, what’s happened to your hands?”

  “Just an accident, really. Doing some work around the house. I’ll see my doctor this afternoon.” Of course she would. She’d go for a paper cut.

  “What happened?”

  “Oh, I really don’t want to talk about it. I do want to introduce you to my daughter, Camille. She’s visiting.”

  The saleswoman looked at Amma, then gave me a wavering smile.

  “Camille?” A quick recovery: “I think I’d forgotten that you have a third daughter.” She lowered her voice on the word “daughter,” as if it were an oath. “She must take after her father,” the woman said, peering into my face as if I were a horse she might buy. “Amma looks so much like you, and Marian too, in your pictures. This one, though…”

  “She doesn’t take after me much,” my mother said. “She has her father’s coloring, and his cheekbones. And his temperament.”

  It was the most I’d ever heard my mother say about my father. I wondered how many other salesladies had received such casual tidbits about him. I had a quick vision of chatting up all the store clerks in southern Missouri, putting together a blurry profile of the man.

  My mother petted my hair with gauzy hands. “We need to get my sweetheart a new dress. Something colorful. She’s prone to blacks and grays. Size four.”

  The woman, so thin her hip bones poked from her skirt like antlers, started weaving in and out of the circular racks, creating a bouquet of splashy green and blue and pink dresses.

  “This would look beautiful on you,” Amma said, holding a glittery gold top to my mother.

  “Stop it, Amma,” my mother said. “That’s tacky.”

  “Do I really remind you of my father?” I couldn’t help asking Adora. I could feel my cheeks get hot at my presumptuousness.

  “I knew you wouldn’t just let that go,” she said, touching up her lipstick in a store mirror. The gauze on her hands remained impossibly unsmeared.

  “I was just curious; I’d never heard you say my personality reminded you of…”

  “Your personality reminds me of someone very unlike me. And you certainly don’t take after Alan, so I assume it must be your father. Now, no more.”

  “But Momma, I just wanted to know…”

  “Camille, you’re making me bleed more.” She held up her bandaged hands, now pocked with red. I wanted to scratch her.

  The saleslady bumped up on us with a swatch of dresses. “This is the one you’re absolutely going to have to have,” she said, holding up a turquoise sundress. Strapless.

  “And what about sweetie-pie here,” the woman said, nodding at Amma. “She can probably already fit into our petites.”

  “Amma’s only thirteen. She’s not ready for these types of clothes,” my mother said.

  “Only thirteen, good god. I keep forgetting, she looks like such a big girl. You must be worried sick with all that’s going on in Wind Gap now.”

  My mother put an arm around Amma, kissed the top of her head. “Some days I think I won’t be able to take the worry. I want to lock her away somewhere.”

  “Like Bluebeard’s dead wives,” Amma mumbled.

  “Like Rapunzel,” my mother said. “Well, go on, Camille—show your sister how pretty you can be.”

  She trailed me into the dressing area, silent and righteous. In the little mirrored room, with my mother perched on a chair outside, I surveyed my options. Strapless, spaghetti straps, cap sleeves. My mother was punishing me. I found a pink dress with three-quarter sleeves and, quickly doffing my pants and shirt, pulled it on. The neckline was lower than I’d thought: The words on my chest looked swollen in the fluorescent light, like worms tunneled beneath my skin. Whine, milk, hurt, bleed.

  “Camille, let me see.”

  “Uh, this won’t work.”

  “Let me see.” Belittle burned on my right hip.

  “Let me try another.” I rifled through the other dresses. All just as revealing. I caught sight of myself again in the mirror. I was horrifying.

  “Camille, open the door.”

  “What’s wrong with Camille?” Amma chimed.

  “This won’t work.” The side zipper was sticking. My bared arms flashed scars in deep pink and purple. Even without looking directly in the mirror I could see them reflected at me—a big blur of scorched skin.

  “Camille,” my mother spat.

  “Why won’t she just show us?”

  “Camille.”

  “Momma, you saw the dresses, you know why they won’t work,” I urged.

  “Just let me see.”

  “I’ll try one on, Momma,” Amma wheedled.

  “Camille…”

  “Fine.” I banged open the door. My mother, her face level with my neckline, winced.

  “Oh, dear God.” I could feel her breath on me. She held up a bandaged hand, as if about to touch my chest, then let it drop. Behind her Amma whined like a puppy. “Look what you’ve done to yourself,” Adora said. “Look at it.”

  “I do.”

  “I hope you just loved it. I hope you can stand yourself.”

  She shut the door and I ripped at the dress, the zipper still jammed until my furious tugs yanked the teeth apart enough to get it to my hips, where I wriggled out, the zipper leaving a trail of pink scratches on my skin. I bunched the cotton of the dress over my mouth and screamed.

  I could hear my mother’s measured voice in the other room. When I came out, the saleswoman was wrapping a long-sleeved, high-collared lace blouse and a coral skirt that would come to my ankles. Amma stared at me, her eyes pink and darting, before leaving to stand by the car outside.

  Back at the house I trailed Adora into the entryway, where Alan stood in a falsely casual pose, hands stuffed into his linen trouser pockets. She fluttered past him toward the stairs.

  “How was your day out?” he called after her.

  “Horrible,” my mother whimpered. Upstairs I heard her door close. Alan frowned at me and went to tend to my mother. Amma had already disappeared.

  I walked into the kitchen, to the cutlery drawer. I wanted to just look at the knives I once used on myself. I wasn’t going to cut, just allow myself that sharp pressure. I could already feel the knifepoint gently pressing against the plump pads of my fingertips, that delicate tension right before the cut.

  The drawer pulled out only an inch and then jammed. My mother had padlocked it. I pulled again and again. I could hear the silvery clink of all those blades sliding onto each other. Like petulant metal fish. My skin was hot. I was about to go call Curry when the doorbell insinuated itself with its polite tones.

  Peering around the corner, I could see Meredith Wheeler and John Keene standing outside.

  I felt like I’d been caught masturbating. Chewing the inside of my mouth, I opened the door. Meredith rolled in, assaying the rooms, letting out minty exclamations of how beautiful everything was and sending off waves of a dark perfume more suited to a society matron than a teenage girl in a green-and-white cheerleading outfit. She caught me looking.

  “I know, I know. School days are over. This is my last time to wear this actually. We’re having a cheer session with next year’s girls. It’s sort of a torch-passing thing. You were a cheerleader, right?”

  “I was, if you can believe that.” I hadn’t been particularly good, but I looked nice in the skirt. Back in the days when I limited my cutting to my torso.

  “I can believe it. You were the prettiest girl in the entire town. My cousin was a freshman when you were a senior. Dan Wheeler? He was always talking about you. Pretty and smart, pretty and smart. And nice. He’d kill me if he knew I was telling you this. He lives in Springfield now. But he’s not married.”

  Her wheedling tone reminded me of just the kind of girls I was never comfortable with
, the types who peddled a sort of plastic chumminess, who told me things about themselves only friends should know, who described themselves as “people persons.”

  “This is John,” she said, as if surprised to see him beside her.

  My first time seeing him up close. He was truly beautiful, almost androgynous, tall and slim with obscenely full lips and ice-colored eyes. He tucked a shock of black hair behind his ear and smiled at his hand as he held it out to me, as if it were a beloved pet performing a new trick.

  “So, where do you guys want to talk?” Meredith asked. I debated for a second about ridding myself of the girl, worried she might not know when, or how, to shut up. But he seemed in need of company, and I didn’t want to scare him off.

  “You guys grab a seat in the living room,” I said. “I’ll get us some sweet tea.”

  I first bounded up the stairs, slammed a new cassette into my minirecorder, and listened at my mother’s door. Silence except for the whir of a fan. Was she sleeping? If so, was Alan curled up next to her or perched on her vanity chair, just watching? Even after all this time, I hadn’t even a guess as to the private life of Adora and her husband. Walking past Amma’s room, I saw her sitting very properly on the edge of a rocking chair, reading a book called Greek Goddesses. Since I’d been here, she’d played at being Joan of Arc and Bluebeard’s wife and Princess Diana—all martyrs, I realized. She’d find even unhealthier role models among the goddesses. I left her to it.

  In the kitchen I poured out the drinks. Then, counting out a full ten seconds, I pressed the tines of a fork into the palm of my hand. My skin began to quiet down.

  I entered the living room to see Meredith with her legs dangled over John’s lap, kissing his neck. When I clanked the tea tray down on a table, she didn’t stop. John looked at me and peeled himself slowly away.

  “You’re no fun today,” she pouted.

  “So, John, I’m really glad you decided to talk to me,” I began. “I know your mom has been reluctant.”

  “Yes. She doesn’t want to talk to much of anyone, but especially not…press. She’s very private.”

  “But you’re okay with it?” I prompted. “You’re eighteen, I assume?”

  “Just turned.” He sipped his tea formally, as if he was measuring tablespoons in his mouth.

  “Because what I really want is to be able to describe your sister to our readers,” I said. “Ann Nash’s father is speaking about her, and I don’t want Natalie to get lost in this story. Does your mother know you’re speaking to me?”

  “No, but it’s okay. I think we’ll have to agree to disagree about this.” His laugh came in a quick stutter.

  “His mom is kind of a freak about the media,” Meredith said, drinking from John’s glass. “She’s an extremely private person. I mean, I hardly think she even knows who I am, and we’ve been together for over a year, right?” He nodded. She frowned, disappointed, I assumed, that he didn’t add to the story of their romance. She removed her legs from his lap, crossed them, and began picking at the edge of the couch.

  “And I hear you’re living over with the Wheelers now?”

  “We have a place out back, a carriage house from the old days,” Meredith said. “My little sister’s pissed; it used to be the hangout for her and her nasty friends. Except for your sister. Your sister’s cool. You know my sister, right? Kelsey?”

  Of course, this piece of work would have connections to Amma.

  “Kelsey tall or Kelsey small?” I asked.

  “Totally. This town has way too many Kelseys. Mine’s the tall one.”

  “I’ve met her. They seem close.”

  “They’d better be,” Meredith said tightly. “Little Amma runs that school. Be a fool that got on her bad side.”

  Enough about Amma, I thought, but images of her teasing lesser girls by those lockers bumped around in my head. Junior high is an ugly time.

  “So, John, are you adjusting all right over there?”

  “He’s fine,” Meredith snipped. “We put together a little care basket of guy stuff for him—my mom even got him a CD player.”

  “Oh, really?” I looked pointedly at John. Time to speak up, buddy. Don’t be pussy whipped on my time.

  “I just need to be away from home right now,” he said. “We’re all a little on edge, you know, and Natalie’s stuff is everywhere, and my mom won’t let anyone touch it. Her shoes are in the hallway and her swimming suit is hanging in the bathroom we share so I have to see it every morning I shower. I can’t deal.”

  “I can imagine.” I could: I remember Marian’s tiny pink coat hanging in the hall closet till I left for college. Might still be there.

  I turned on the tape recorder, pushed it across the table toward the boy.

  “Tell me what your sister was like, John.”

  “Uh, she was a nice kid. She was extremely smart. Just unbelievable.”

  “Smart how? Like good in school, or just bright?”

  “Well, she didn’t do that well in school. She had a bit of a discipline problem,” he said. “But I think it was just because she got bored. She should have skipped a grade or two, I think.”

  “His mom thought it would stigmatize her,” Meredith interjected. “She was always worried about Natalie sticking out.”

  I raised my eyebrows at him.

  “That’s true. My mom really wanted Natalie to fit in. She was this sort of goofy kid, kind of a tomboy, and just kind of a weirdo.” He laughed, staring at his feet.

  “Are you thinking of a particular story?” I asked. Anecdotes are Curry’s coin of the realm. Plus, I was interested.

  “Oh, like once, she invented this whole other language, you know? And a regular kid, I mean it’d be gibberish. But Natalie had the whole alphabet figured out—looked like Russian. And she actually taught it to me. Or tried. She got frustrated with me pretty quickly.” He laughed again, that same croak, like it was coming up from underground.

  “Did she like school?”

  “Well it’s hard to be the new kid, and the girls here…well I guess the girls anywhere can be a little bit snotty.”

  “Johnny! Rude!” Meredith pretended to push him. He ignored her.

  “I mean, your sister…Amma, right?” I nodded to him. “She was actually friends with her for a little bit. They’d run around in the woods, Natalie’d come back all scraped up and daffy.”

  “Really?” Considering the scorn with which she’d mentioned Natalie’s name, I couldn’t picture it.

  “They were real intense for a little bit. But I think Amma got bored with her, Natalie being a few years younger. I don’t know. They had some sort of falling out.” Amma learned that from her mother—the glib discarding of friends. “It was okay, though,” John said, as if to reassure me. Or him. “She had one kid she played with a lot, James Capisi. Farm kid a year or so younger that no one else talked to. They seemed to get along though.”

  “He says he’s the last one to see Natalie alive,” I said.

  “He’s a liar,” Meredith said. “I heard that story, too. He’s always made stuff up. I mean, his mom’s dying of cancer. He’s got no dad. He has no one to pay any attention to him. So he throws out that wild story. Don’t listen to anything he says.”

  Again I looked at John, who shrugged.

  “It is sort of a wild story, you know? A crazy lady snatches Natalie in broad daylight,” he said. “Besides, why would a woman do something like that?”

  “Why would a man do something like that?” I asked.

  “Who knows why men do such freaky stuff,” Meredith added. “It’s a gene thing.”

  “I have to ask you John, have you been questioned by the police?”

  “Along with both my parents.”

  “And you have an alibi for the nights of both killings?” I waited for a reaction, but he continued to sip his tea calmly.

  “Nope. I was out driving around. I just need to get out of here sometimes, you know?” He darted a quick glance at Meredith, w
hose lips pursed when she caught him looking. “It’s just a smaller town than I’m used to. Sometimes you need to get lost for a little. I know you don’t get it, Mer.” Meredith stayed silent.

  “I get it,” I offered. “I remember getting very claustrophobic growing up here, I can’t imagine what it must be like to move here from somewhere else.”

  “Johnny’s being noble,” Meredith interrupted. “He was with me both those nights. He just doesn’t want to get me in trouble. Print that.” Meredith was wobbling on the edge of the sofa, stiff and upright and slightly disconnected, as if she were speaking in tongues.

  “Meredith,” John murmured. “No.”

  “I’m not going to have people thinking my boyfriend is a fucking baby killer, thank you very much, John.”

  “You tell that story to the police, and they’ll know the truth in an hour. It will look even worse for me. No one really thinks I’d kill my own sister.” John took a single lock of Meredith’s hair and pulled his fingers gently from the roots to the end. The word tickle flashed randomly from my right hip. I believed the boy. He cried in public and told silly stories about his sister and played with his girlfriend’s hair and I believed him. I could almost hear Curry snort at my naiveté.

  “Speaking of stories,” I started. “I need to ask you about one. Is it true Natalie hurt one of her classmates back in Philadelphia?”

  John froze, turned to Meredith, and for the first time he looked unpleasant. He gave me a true image for the phrase curled lips. His whole body jolted and I thought he’d bolt for the door, but then he leaned back and took a breath.

  “Great. This is why my mom hates the media,” he grumbled. “There was an article about that in the paper back home. It was just a few paragraphs. It made Natalie sound like an animal.”

  “So tell me what happened.”

  He shrugged. Picked at a nail. “It was in art class, and the kids were cutting and painting, and a little girl got hurt. Natalie was a little kid with a temper, and this girl was sort of always bossing Natalie around. And one time Natalie happened to have scissors in her hand. It wasn’t like a premeditated assault. I mean, she was nine at the time.”

  I had a flash of Natalie, that serious child from the Keene family photo, wielding blades at a little girl’s eyes. An image of bright red blood mingling unexpectedly with pastel watercolors.

  “What happened to the little girl?”

  “They saved her left eye. Her right was, uh, ruined.”

  “Natalie attacked both her eyes?”

  He stood up, pointing down at me from almost the same angle as his mother had. “Natalie saw a shrink for a year after, dealing with this. Natalie woke up with nightmares for months. She was nine. It was an accident. We all felt horrible. My dad set up a fund for the little girl. We had to leave so Natalie could start over. That’s why we had to come here—Dad took the first job he could find. We moved in the middle of the night, like criminals. To this place. To this goddam town.”

  “Gee John, I didn’t realize you were having such a horrible time,” Meredith murmured.

  He began to cry then, sitting back down, his head in his hands.

  “I didn’t mean that I was sorry I came here. I meant I’m sorry she came here, because now she’s dead. And we were trying to help. And she’s dead.” He let out a quiet wail, and Meredith wrapped her arms grudgingly around him. “Someone killed my sister.”

  There would be no formal dinner that night, as Miss Adora wasn’t feeling well, Gayla informed me. I assume it was my mother’s affectation to request the Miss in front of her name, and I tried to imagine how the conversation might go. Gayla, the best servants in the best households call their mistresses by their formal names. We want to be the best, don’t we? Something like that.

  Whether it was my argument with my mother or Amma’s that was the cause of the trouble, I wasn’t sure. I could hear them bickering like pretty birds in my mother’s room, Adora accusing Amma, correctly, of having driven the golf cart without permission. Like all rural towns, Wind Gap has an obsession with machinery. Most homes own a car and a half for every occupant (the half being an antique collectible, or an old piece of crap on blocks, depending on the income bracket), plus boats, Jet Skis, scooters, tractors, and, among the elite of Wind Gap, golf carts, which younger kids without licenses use to whip around town. Technically illegal, but no one ever stops them. I guessed my mother had tried to withhold this bit of freedom from Amma after the murders. I would have. Their fight squeaked on like an old seesaw for nearly half an hour. Don’t lie to me, little girl…. The warning was so familiar it gave me an old feeling of unease. So Amma did occasionally get caught.

 
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