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Sharp objects, p.15

Sharp Objects, page 15



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  “By tormenting her. By constantly bringing up Marian. You can’t speculate to the mother of a dead child how that child’s body might look in the ground right now. I don’t know if that’s something you can feel detached from, but Adora can’t.” A glob of fish tumbled down his front, leaving a row of greasy stains the size of buttons.

  “You can’t talk to her about the corpses of these two dead little girls, or how much blood must have come out of their mouths when their teeth were pulled, or how long it took for a person to strangle them.”

  “Alan, I never said any of those things to my mother. Nothing even close. I truly have no idea what she’s talking about.” I didn’t even feel indignant, just weary.

  “Please, Camille, I know how strained your relationship is with your mother. I know how jealous you’ve always been of anyone else’s well-being. It’s true, you know, you really are like Adora’s mother. She’d stand guard over this house like a…witch, old and angry. Laughter offended her. The only time she ever smiled was when you refused to nurse from Adora. Refused to take the nipple.”

  That word on Alan’s oily lips lit me up in ten different places. Suck, bitch, rubber all caught fire.

  “And you know this from Adora,” I prompted.

  He nodded, lips pursed beatifically.

  “Like you know that I said horrible things about Marian and the dead girls from Adora.”

  “Exactly,” he said, the syllables precisely cut.

  “Adora is a liar. If you don’t know that, you’re an idiot.”

  “Adora’s had a hard life.”

  I forced out a laugh. Alan was undaunted. “Her mother used to come into her room in the middle of the night and pinch her when she was a child,” he said, eyeing the last slab of sardine pitifully. “She said it was because she was worried Adora would die in her sleep. I think it was because she just liked to hurt her.”

  A jangle of memory: Marian down the hall in her pulsing, machine-filled invalid’s room. A sharp pain on my arm. My mother standing over me in her cloudy nightgown, asking if I was okay. Kissing the pink circle and telling me to go back to sleep.

  “I just think you should know these things,” Alan said. “Might make you be a bit kinder to your mother.”

  I had no plans for being kinder to my mother. I just wanted the conversation to end. “I’ll try to leave as soon as I can.”

  “Be a good idea, if you can’t make amends,” Alan said. “But you might feel better about yourself if you tried. Might help you heal. Your mind at least.”

  Alan grabbed the last floppy sardine and sucked it into his mouth whole. I could picture the tiny bones snapping as he chewed.

  A tumbler full of ice and an entire bottle of bourbon purloined from the back kitchen, then up to my room to drink. The booze hit me fast, probably because that was how I was drinking it. My ears were hot and my skin had stopped its blinking. I thought about that word at the back of my neck. Vanish. Vanish will banish my woes, I thought loopily. Vanish will banish my troubles. Would we have been this ugly if Marian hadn’t died? Other families got over such things. Grieve and move on. She still hovered over us, a blonde baby girl maybe a hair too cute for her own good, maybe just a bit too doted on. This before she got sick, really sick. She had an invisible friend, a giant stuffed bear she called Ben. What kind of kid has an imaginary friend that’s a stuffed animal? She collected hair ribbons and arranged them in alphabetical order by color name. She was the kind of girl who exploited her cuteness with such joy you couldn’t begrudge her. Batting of the eyes, tossings of the curls. She called my mother Mudder and Alan…hell, maybe she called Alan Alan, I can’t place him in the room in these memories. She always cleaned her plate, kept a remarkably tidy room, and refused to wear anything but dresses and Mary Janes. She called me Mille and she couldn’t keep her hands off me.

  I adored her.

  Drunk but still drinking, I took a tumbler of liquor and crept down the hallway to Marian’s room. Amma’s door, just one room down, had been closed for hours. What was it like growing up next to the room of a dead sister you never met? I felt a pang of sorrow for Amma. Alan and my mother were in their big corner bedroom, but the light was out and the fan whirring. No such thing as central air in these old Victorians, and my mother finds room units tacky, so we sweat the summers out. Ninety degrees but the heat made me feel safe, like walking underwater.

  The pillow on her bed still had a small indentation. A set of clothes was laid out as if covering a living child. Violet dress, white tights, shiny black shoes. Who’d done that—my mother? Amma? The IV stand that had tailed Marian so relentlessly in her last year was standing, alert and shiny, next to the rest of the medical equipment: the bed that was two feet taller than standard, to allow patient access; the heart monitor; the bedpan. I was disgusted my mother hadn’t purged this stuff. It was a clinical and utterly lifeless room. Marian’s favorite doll had been buried with her, a massive rag doll with blonde yarn curls to match my sister’s. Evelyn. Or Eleanor? The rest were lined against the wall on a set of stands, like fans in bleachers. Twenty or so with white china faces and deep glassy eyes.

  I could see her so easily here, sitting cross-legged on that bed, small and sweat dotted, her eyes ringed with purple. Shuffling cards or combing her doll’s hair or coloring angrily. I could hear that sound: a crayon running in hard lines across a paper. Dark scribbles with the crayon pushed so hard it ripped the paper. She looked up at me, breathing hard and shallow.

  “I’m tired of dying.”

  I skitted back to my room as if I were being chased.

  The phone rang six times before Eileen picked up. Things the Currys don’t have in their home: a microwave, a VCR, a dishwasher, an answering machine. Her hello was smooth but tense. Guess they don’t get many calls after eleven. She pretended they hadn’t been asleep, that they simply hadn’t heard the phone, but it took another two minutes to get Curry on the line. I pictured him, shining his glasses on the corner of pajamas, putting on old leather slippers, looking at the glowing face of an alarm clock. A soothing image.

  Then I realized I was remembering a commercial for an all-night pharmacy in Chicago.

  It had been three days since I’d last talked to Curry. Nearly two weeks since I’d been in Wind Gap. Any other circumstance and he’d have been phoning me three times a day for updates. But he couldn’t bring himself to ring me at a civilian’s, at my mother’s house no less, down in Missouri, which in his Windy City mind he equated with the Deep South. Any other circumstances and he’d be rumbling into the phone at me for not staying in pocket, but not tonight.

  “Cubby, you okay? What’s the story?”

  “Well, I haven’t gotten this on record, but I will. The police definitely think the killer is male, definitely from Wind Gap, and they have no DNA, no kill site; they really have very little. Either the killer is a mastermind or an accidental genius. The town seems to be focusing on Natalie Keene’s brother, John. I have his girlfriend on record protesting his innocence.”

  “Good, good stuff, but I really meant…I was asking about you. You doing okay down there? You have to tell me, because I can’t see your face. Don’t do the stoic thing.”

  “I’m not so good, but what does that matter?” My voice came out higher and more bitter than I’d planned. “This is a good story, and I think I’m on the edge of something. I feel like another few days, a week, and…I don’t know. The little girls bit people. That’s what I got today, and the cop I’ve been working with, he didn’t even know.”

  “You told him that? What was his comment?”


  “Why the hell didn’t you get a comment, girl?”

  See, Curry, Detective Willis felt I was holding back some information and so he sulked off, like all men do when they don’t get their way with women they’ve fooled around with.

  “I screwed up. I’ll get it, though. I need a few more days before I file, Curry. Get a little more local color, work on th
is cop. I think they’re almost convinced a little press would help juice things. Not that anyone reads our paper down here.” Or up there.

  “They will. You’ll get some serious notice for this, Cubby. Your stuff is getting close to good. Push harder. Go talk to some of your old friends. They might be more open. Plus it’s good for the piece—that Texas floods series that won the Pulitzer had a whole story on the guy’s perspective about coming home during a tragedy. Great read. And a friendly face, a few beers might do you good. Sounds like you’ve already had a few tonight?”

  “A few.”

  “Are you feeling…like this is a bad situation for you? With the recovery?” I heard a lighter strike, the scratch of a kitchen chair across linoleum, a grunt as Curry sat down.

  “Oh, it’s not for you to worry about.”

  “Of course it is. Don’t play martyr, Cubby. I’m not going to penalize you if you need to leave. You’ve got to take care of yourself. I thought being home might do you good, but…I forget sometimes parents aren’t always…good for their kids.”

  “Whenever I’m here,” I stopped, tried to pull it together. “I just always feel like I’m a bad person when I’m here.” Then I started crying, silent sobbing as Curry stammered on the other end. I could picture him panicking, waving Eileen over to handle this weeping girl. But no.

  “Ohhh, Camille,” he whispered. “You are one of the most decent people I know. And there aren’t that many decent people in this world, you know? With my folks gone, it’s basically you and Eileen.”

  “I’m not decent.” The tip of my pen was scribbling deep, scratchy words into my thigh. Wrong, woman, teeth.

  “Camille, you are. I see how you treat people, even the most worthless pieces of crap I can think of. You give them some…dignity. Understanding. Why do you think I keep you around? Not because you’re a great reporter.” Silence and thick tears on my end. Wrong, woman, teeth.

  “Was that funny at all? I meant it to be funny.”


  “My grandfather was in vaudeville. But I guess that gene missed me.”

  “He was?”

  “Oh yeah, straight off the boat from Ireland in New York City. He was a hilarious guy, played four instruments….” Another spark of a lighter. I pulled the thin covers up over me and closed my eyes, listened to Curry’s story.

  Chapter Twelve

  Richard was living in Wind Gap’s only apartment building, an industrial box built to house four tenants. Only two apartments were filled. The stumpy columns holding up the carport had been spray painted red, four in a row, reading: “Stop the Democrats, Stop the Democrats, Stop the Democrats,” then, randomly, “I like Louie.”

  Wednesday morning. The storm still sitting in a cloud above town. Hot and windy, piss-yellow light. I banged on his door with the corner of a bourbon bottle. Bear gifts if you can’t bear anything else. I’d stopped wearing skirts. Makes my legs too accessible to someone prone to touching. If he was anymore.

  He opened the door smelling of sleep. Tousled hair, boxers, a T-shirt inside out. No smile. He kept the place frigid. I could feel the air from where I was standing.

  “You want to come in, or you want me to come out?” he asked, scratching his chin. Then he spotted the bottle. “Ah, come in. I guess we’re getting drunk?”

  The place was a mess, which surprised me. Pants strewn over chairs, a garbage can near overflowing, boxes of papers piled up in awkward spots in the hallways, forcing you to turn sideways to pass. He motioned me to a cracked leather sofa and returned with a tray of ice and two glasses. Poured fat portions.

  “So, I shouldn’t have been so rude last night,” he said.

  “Yeah. I mean, I feel like I’m giving you a fair amount of information, and you’re not giving me any.”

  “I’m trying to solve a murder. You’re trying to report about that. I think I get priority. There are certain things, Camille, that I’m just not able to tell you.”

  “And vice versa—I have a right to protect my sources.”

  “Which in turn could help protect the person doing these killings.”

  “You can figure it out, Richard. I gave you almost everything. Jeez, do a little work on your own.” We stared at each other.

  “I love it when you get all tough reporter on me.” Richard smiled. Shook his head. Poked me with his bare foot. “I actually really kind of do.”

  He poured us each another glass. We’d be smashed before noon. He pulled me to him, kissed me on my lobe, stuck his tongue in my ear.

  “So Wind Gap girl, how bad exactly were you?” he whispered. “Tell me about the first time you did it.” The first time was the second time was the third was the fourth, thanks to my eighth-grade encounter. I decided to leave it at the first.

  “I was sixteen,” I lied. Older seemed more appropriate for the mood. “I fucked a football player in the bathroom at this party.”

  My tolerance was better than Richard’s, he was already looking glazed, twirling a finger around my nipple, hard beneath my shirt.

  “Mmmm…did you come?”

  I nodded. I remember pretending to come. I remember a murmur of an orgasm, but that wasn’t until they’d passed me over to the third guy. I remember thinking it was sweet that he kept panting in my ear, “Is this all right? Is this all right?”

  “Do you want to come now? With me?” Richard whispered.

  I nodded and he was on me. Those hands everywhere, trying to go up my shirt, then struggling to unbutton my pants, tug them down.

  “Hold on, hold on. My way,” I whispered. “I like it with my clothes on.”

  “No. I want to touch you.”

  “No, baby, my way.”

  I pulled my pants down just a little bit, kept my stomach covered with my shirt, kept him distracted with well-placed kisses. Then I guided him into me and we fucked, fully clothed, the crack on the leather couch scratching my ass. Trash, pump, little, girl. It was the first time I’d been with a man in ten years. Trash, pump, little, girl! His groaning was soon louder than my skin. Only then could I enjoy it. Those last few sweet thrusts.

  He lay half beside me, half on top of me and panted when it was done, still holding the neck of my shirt in his fist. The day had gone black. We were trembling on the edge of a thunderstorm.

  “Tell me who you think did it,” I said. He looked shocked. Was he expecting “I love you”? He twirled my hair for a minute, poked his tongue in my ear. When denied access to other body parts, men become fixated on the ear. Something I’d learned in the last decade. He couldn’t touch my breasts or my ass, my arms or my legs, but Richard seemed content, for now, with my ear.

  “Between you and me, it’s John Keene. The kid was very close to his sister. In an unhealthy way. He has no alibi. I think he’s got a thing for little girls that he’s trying to fight, ends up killing them and pulling the teeth for a thrill. He won’t be able to hold out much longer, though. This is going to accelerate. We’re checking for any weird behavior back in Philly. Could be Natalie’s problems weren’t the only reason they moved.”

  “I need something on record.”

  “Who told you about the biting, and who did the girls bite?” he whispered hot in my ear. Outside, the rain began hitting the pavement like someone pissing.

  “Meredith Wheeler told me Natalie bit her earlobe off.”

  “What else?”

  “Ann bit my mother. On her wrist. That’s it.”

  “See, that wasn’t so hard. Good girl,” he whispered, stroking my nipple again.

  “Now give me something on record.”

  “No.” He smiled at me. “My way.”

  Richard fucked me another time that afternoon, finally gave me a grudging quote about a break in the case, and an arrest likely. I left him asleep in his bed and ran through the rain to my car. A random thought clanged in my head: Amma would have gotten more from him.

  I drove to Garrett Park and sat in my car staring at the rain, because I didn’t want to
go home. Tomorrow this spot would be filled with kids beginning their long, lazy summer. Now it was just me, feeling sticky and stupid. I couldn’t decide if I’d been mistreated. By Richard, by those boys who took my virginity, by anyone. I was never really on my side in any argument. I liked the Old Testament spitefulness of the phrase got what she deserved. Sometimes women do.

  Silence and then not. The yellow IROC rumbled up next to me, Amma and Kylie sharing the front passenger’s seat. A scraggly haired boy wearing gas-station shades and a stained undershirt was in the driver’s seat; his skinny doppelgänger in back. Smoke rolled out of the car, along with the smell of citrus-flavored liquor.

  “Get in, we’re going to party a little,” Amma said. She was a proffering a bottle of cheap orange-flavored vodka. She stuck her tongue out and let a raindrop splash on it. Her hair and tank top were already dripping.

  “I’m fine, thanks.”

  “You don’t look it. Come on, they’re patrolling the park. You’ll get a DUI for sure. I can smell you.”

  “Come on, chiquita,” Kylie called. “You can help us keep these boys in line.”

  I thought about my options: Go home, drink by myself. Go to a bar, drink with whatever guys floated over. Go with these kids, maybe hear some interesting gossip at the very least. An hour. Then home to sleep it off. Plus, there was Amma and her mysterious friendliness toward me. I hated to admit it, but I was becoming obsessed with the girl.

  The kids cheered as I got in the backseat. Amma passed around a different bottle, hot rum that tasted like suntan lotion. I worried they’d ask me to buy them liquor. Not because I wouldn’t. Pathetically, I wanted them to just want me along. Like I was popular once again. Not a freak. Approved of by the coolest girl in school. The thought was almost enough to make me jump out of the car and walk home. But then Amma passed the bottle again. The rim was ringed with pink lip gloss.

  The boy next to me, introduced only as Nolan, nodded and wiped sweat off his upper lip. Skinny arms with scabs and a face full of acne. Meth. Missouri is the second-most addicted state in the Union. We get bored down here, and we have a lot of farm chemicals. When I grew up, it was mostly the hard cores that did it. Now it was a party drug. Nolan was running his finger up and down the vinyl ribbing of the driver’s seat in front of him, but he looked up at me long enough to say, “You’re like my mom’s age. I like it.”

  “I doubt I’m quite your mom’s age.”

  “She’s like, thirty-three, thirty-four?” Close enough.

  “What’s her name?”

  “Casey Rayburn.” I knew her. Few years older than me. Factory side. Too much hair gel and a fondness for the Mexican chicken killers down on the Arkansas border. During a church retreat, she told her group she’d tried to commit suicide. The girls at school started calling her Casey Razor.

  “Must have been before my time,” I said.

  “Dude, this chick was too cool to hang with your druggie whore momma,” the driver said.

  “Fuck you,” Nolan whispered.

  “Camille, look what we got,” Amma leaned over the passenger’s seat, so her rear was bumping Kylie’s face. She shook a bottle of pills at me. “OxyContin. Makes you feel real good.” She stuck out her tongue and placed three in a row like white buttons, then chewed and swallowed with a gulp of vodka. “Try.”

  “No thanks, Amma.” OxyContin is good stuff. Doing it with your kid sister isn’t.

  “Oh, come on, Mille, just one,” she wheedled. “You’ll feel lighter. I feel so happy and good right now. You have to, too.”

  “I feel fine, Amma.” Her calling me Mille took me back to Marian. “I promise.”

  She turned back around and sighed, looking irretrievably glum.

  “Come on, Amma, you can’t care that much,” I said, touching her shoulder.

  “I did.” I couldn’t take it, I was losing ground, feeling that dangerous need to please, just like the old days. And really, one wasn’t going to kill me.

  “Okay, okay, give me one. One.”

  She immediately brightened and flung herself back to face me.

  “Put out your tongue. Like communion. Drug communion.”

  I put out my tongue and she set the pill on the tip, and squealed.

  “Good girl.” She smiled. I was getting tired of that phrase today.

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