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Dark places, p.34

Dark Places, page 34


Dark Places

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  Libby Day


  The Day Girl was slender, almost tall, and as she came into the room, she showed me a face that was virtually mine. She had our red hair too, dyed brown, but the red roots were peeking out just like mine had days before. Her height must have come from Diondra, but her face was pure us, me, Ben, my mom. She gawked at me, then shook her head.

  “Sorry, that was weird,” she said, blushed. Her skin was dusted with our family freckles. “I didn’t know. I mean, I guess it makes sense we look alike, but. Wow.” She looked at her mom, then back at me, at my hands, at her hands, at my missing finger. “I’m Crystal. I’m your niece.”

  I felt like I should hug her, and I wanted to. We shook hands.

  The girl wavered near us, twisting her arms around each other like a braid, still glancing sideways at me, the way you glimpse yourself in the glass of a storefront as you walk past, trying to catch a look at yourself without anyone noticing.

  “I told you it would happen if it was meant to, sweetheart,” Diondra said. “So here she is. Come here, sit down.”

  The girl tumbled lazily onto her mother, pushing herself into the crook of Diondra’s arm, her cheek on her mother’s shoulder, Diondra playing with a strand of the red/brown hair. She looked at me from that vantage point. Protected.

  “I can’t believe I finally get to meet you,” she said. “I was never supposed to get to meet you. I’m a secret, you know.” She glanced up at her mom. “A secret love child, right?”

  “That’s right,” Diondra said.

  So the girl knew who she was, who the Days were, that her father was Ben Day. I was stunned that Diondra trusted her daughter to know this, to keep the secret close, not seek me out. I wondered how long Crystal had known, if she’d ever driven past my house, just to see, just to see. I wondered why Diondra would tell her daughter such a horrible truth, when she didn’t really need to.

  Diondra must have caught my train of thoughts. “It’s OK,” she said. “Crystal knows the whole story. I tell her everything. We’re best friends.”

  Her daughter nodded. “I even have a little scrapbook of photos of you all. Well, just that I clipped out of magazines and stuff. It’s like a fake family album. I always wanted to meet you. Should I call you Aunt Libby? Is that weird? That’s too weird.”

  I couldn’t think what to say. I just felt a relief. The Days weren’t quite dying out yet. They were in fact flourishing, with this pretty, tall girl who looked like me but with all her fingers and toes and without my nightmare brain. I wanted to ask a flood of nosy questions: Did she have weak eyes, like Michelle? Was she allergic to strawberries like my mom? Did she have sweet blood, like Debby, get eaten alive by mosquitos, spend the summer stinking of CamphoPhenique? Did she have a temper, like me, a distance like Ben? Was she manipulative and guiltless like Runner? What was she like, what was she like, tell me the many ways she was like the Days, and remind me of how we were.

  “I read your book too,” Crystal added. “A Brand New Day. It was really good. I wanted to tell someone I knew you because, you know, I was proud.” Her voice lilted like a flute, as if she was perpetually on the verge of laughter.

  “Oh, thanks.”

  “You OK, Libby?” Diondra said.

  “Um, I guess, I guess I still just don’t understand why you all stayed secret for so long. Why you have Ben still swearing he doesn’t know you. I mean, I’m assuming he’s never even met his daughter.”

  Crystal was shaking her head no. “I’d love to meet him though. He’s my hero. He’s protected my mom, me, all these years.”

  “We really need you to keep this secret for us, Libby,” Diondra said. “We’re really hoping you do. I just can’t risk it, that they think I was an accomplice or something. I can’t risk that. For Crystal.”

  “I just don’t think there’s a need for that—”

  “Please?” Crystal said. Her voice was simple, but urgent. “Please. I seriously can’t stand the idea that they can come any minute and take my mom away from me. She’s really my best friend.”

  So they’d both said. I almost rolled my eyes but saw the girl was on the edge of tears. So she was actually frightened of this specter Diondra had created: the vengeful bogeymen cops who might bust in and take Mommy away. I just bet Diondra was her best friend. All these years, they lived in a two-person pod. Secret. Gotta stay secret for Mommy.

  “So you ran away and never told your folks?”

  “I left right when I was really starting to show,” Diondra said. “My parents were maniacs. I was happy to be rid of them. It was just our secret, the baby, Ben and mine.”

  A secret in the Day house, how unusual. Michelle finally missed a scoop.

  “You’re smiling.” Crystal said, a matching small smile on her lips.

  “Ha, I was just thinking how much my sister Michelle would have loved getting her hands on that bit of gossip. She loved drama.”

  They looked like I slapped them.

  “I wasn’t trying to make light, sorry,” I said.

  “Oh, no, no don’t worry about it,” Diondra said. We all stared at each other, fingers and hands and feet wiggling about. Diondra broke the silence: “Would you like to stay for dinner, Libby?”

  SHE FED ME a salty pot roast that I tried to swallow and a lot of pink wine from a box that seemed to have no bottom. We didn’t sip, we drank. My kind of women. We talked about silly things, stories about my brother, with Crystal layering on questions I felt embarrassed I couldn’t answer: Did Ben like rock or classical? Did he read much? Did he have any diabetes, because she had low blood-sugar problems. And what about her grandma Patty, what was she like?

  “I want to know them, as, you know, people. Not victims,” she said with twenty-something piousness.

  I excused myself to the bathroom, needing a moment away from the memories, the girl, Diondra. The realization I was out of people to talk to, that I’d come to the end, and now had to loop around and think about Runner again. The bathroom was as gross as the rest of the place, mucked with mold, the toilet perpetually running, wads of toilet paper smeared with lipstick dotting the floor around the trash-bin. Alone for the first time in the house, I couldn’t resist looking for a souvenir. A glazed red vase sat on the back of the toilet tank, but I didn’t have my purse with me. I needed something small. I opened the medicine cabinet and found several prescription bottles with Polly Palm written on the label. Sleeping pills and painkillers and allergy stuff. I took a few Vicodin, then pocketed a light pink lipstick and a thermometer. Very good fortune, as I would never, ever think to buy a thermometer, but I’d always wanted one. When I take to my bed, it’s good to know whether I’m sick or just lazy.

  I got back to the table, Crystal sitting with one foot on her chair, her chin resting on her knee. “I still have more questions,” she said, her flute voice doing scales.

  “I probably don’t have the answers,” I started, trying to ward her off. “I was just so young when it happened. I mean, I’d forgotten so much about my family until I began talking with Ben.”

  “Don’t you have photo albums?” Crystal asked.

  “I do. I’d put them away for a while, boxed them up.”

  “Too painful,” Crystal said in a hushed voice.

  “So I only just started looking through the boxes again—photo albums and yearbooks, and a lot of other old crap.”

  “Like what?” Diondra said, smushing some peas under her fork like a bored teenager.

  “Well, practically half of it was Michelle’s junk,” I offered, eager to be able to answer some question definitely.

  “Like toys?” Crystal said, playing with the corner of her skirt.

  “No, like, notes and crap. Diaries. With Michelle, everything got written down. She saw a teacher doing something weird, it went in the diary, she thought our mom was playing favorites, it went in the diary, she got in an argument with her best friend over a boy they both liked, it went—”

Delhunt,” murmured Crystal, nodding. She swallowed some more wine with slug.

  “—in the diary,” I continued, not quite hearing. Then hearing. Did she say Todd Delhunt? It was Todd Delhunt, I never would have remembered that name on my own, that big fight Michelle got into over little Todd Delhunt. It happened right at Christmas, right before the murders, I remember she stewed all through Christmas morning, scribbling in her new diary. But. Todd Delhunt, how did—?

  “Did you know Michelle?” I asked Diondra, my brain still working.

  “Not too,” Diondra said. “Not really at all,” she added and she started reminding me of Ben pretending not to know Diondra.

  “Now it’s my turn to pee,” Crystal said, taking one last swirl of wine.

  “So,” I started, and stalled out. There is no way Crystal would know about Michelle’s crush on Todd Delhunt unless. Unless she read Michelle’s diary. The one she got Christmas morning, to kick off 1985. I’d assumed none of the diaries were missing, because 1984 was intact, but I hadn’t even thought about 1985. Michelle’s new diary, just nine days of thoughts—that’s what Crystal was quoting from. She had read the diary of my dead—

  I caught a flash of metal to my right, just as Crystal slammed an ancient clothes iron into my temple, her mouth stretched wide in a frozen scream.

  Patty Day

  JANUARY 3, 1985

  2:03 A.M.

  Patty had actually drifted to sleep, totally ridiculous, and woken up at 2:02, scooted from under Libby, and padded down the hallway. Someone was rustling in the girls’ room, a bed was creaking. Michelle and Debby were heavy sleepers but they were noisy—cover throwers, sleeptalkers. She walked past Ben’s room, the light still on from when she’d broken in. She would have lingered, but she was late, and Calvin Diehl didn’t seem likely to put up with late.

  Ben Baby.

  Better not to have the time. She walked to the door, and instead of worrying about the cold, she thought of the ocean, that single trip to Texas when she was a girl. She pictured herself slathered in oil and baking, the water rushing in, salt on her lips. Sun.

  She opened the door, and the knife went into her chest, and she doubled over into the arms of the man, him whispering, Don’t worry, it will all be over in about thirty seconds, let’s just do one more to make sure, and he tilted her away from him, she was a dancer being dipped, and then she could feel the knife turn in her chest, it hadn’t hit her heart, it should have hit her heart, and she could feel the steel move inside her and the man looked down on her with a kindly face, getting ready to go again, but he looked over her shoulder and his kindly face got mottled, his mustache started shaking—

  “What the hell?”

  And Patty turned her face just a bit, back into the house, and it was Debby in her lavender nightgown, her pigtails crooked from sleep, one white ribbon trailing down her arm, yelling, Mom, they’re hurting Michelle! Not even noticing that Mom was being hurt too, she was so focused on her message, Come on, Mom, come on and Patty could only think: bad timing for a nightmare. Then: shut the door. She was bleeding onto her legs, and as she tried to shut the door so Debby couldn’t see her, the man pushed opened the door, and yelled Goddamgoddamgoddaaammmmm! Thundering it into Patty’s ear, she felt him trying to pull the knife out of her chest and realized what it meant, that he wanted Debby, this man who said no one should know, no one could see him, he wanted Debby to go with Patty, and Patty put her hand hard on the hilt and pushed it deeper inside her and the man kept yelling and finally dropped hold of the knife, kicked the door open and went inside, and as Patty fell, she saw him going for the axe, the axe that Michelle had propped by the door, and Debby started to run toward her mother, running to help her mom, and Patty screaming Run away! And Debby froze, screamed, vomited down her front, scrambled on the tile and started the other way, made it to the end of the hallway, just turning the corner, but the man was right behind her, he was bringing the axe up and then she saw the axe go down and Patty pulled herself up, stumbling like a drunk, not able to see out of one eye, moving like in a nightmare where her feet go fast but she doesn’t get anywhere, screaming Run, Run, Run, and turning the corner to see Debby lying on the floor with wings of blood, and the man so angry now, his eyes wet and alight, yelling, Why’d you make me do this? and he turned as if to leave, and Patty ran past him, picked up Debby, who wobbled a few steps like when she was a fat little toddler, and she was really hurt, her arm, her sweet arm, It’s OK, baby, you’re OK, the knife sliding out of Patty’s chest and rattling down onto the floor, blood pulsing out of her more quickly and the man came back this time with a shotgun. Patty’s shotgun, that she’d placed so carefully on the front-room mantelpiece, where the girls couldn’t reach it. He aimed it at her as she tried to get in front of Debby because now she couldn’t die.

  The man cocked the gun and Patty had time for one last thought: I wish, I wish, I wish I could take this back.

  And then with a whoosh, like summer air shooting through a car window, the blast took off half her head.

  Libby Day


  “Sorry, Mom,” Crystal was saying. I was semi-blind, could see only a burnt-orange color, an eyes-shut-to-the-sun color. Flashes of the kitchen came back into vision and immediately disappeared. My cheek ached, I could feel it throbbing straight down my spine, into my feet. I was facedown on the floor and Diondra was straddling me. I could smell her—that insect-spray smell— balanced on top of me.

  “Oh God, I screwed up.”

  “It’s OK, baby, just go get me the gun.”

  I could hear Crystal’s feet hit the stairs, and then Diondra was flipping me over, grabbing for my throat. I wanted her to curse at me, scream something, but she was silent, all heavy, calm breathing. Her fingers pressed into my neck. My jugular jumped, then began thumping against her thumb. I still couldn’t see. I was about to be dead. I knew it, my pulse beating faster and then way too slow. She pinned down my arms with her knees, I couldn’t move them, all I could do was kick at the floor, my feet sliding. She was breathing on my face, I could feel the heat, picture her mouth hanging open. Yes, that’s right, I could picture where her mouth was. I gave one big, twisting push beneath her, squirmed my arms free, and rammed my fist into her face.

  I connected with something, enough to knock her off me for a second, just a small bone crunch, but enough that my fist stung and then I was pulling myself across the floor, trying to find a chair, trying to goddam see and then her hands grabbed my ankle, Not this time, sweetheart, and she was holding my foot inside my sock, but it was my right foot, the one with the missing toes and so it was harder to hold on to, the socks never fit right and suddenly I was up and left her holding my sock, and still no Crystal yet, no gun and I was running away toward the back of the house, but I couldn’t see, couldn’t keep a straight line, and instead I veered to my right, through that open door and fell face-first down the flight of stairs to the cold of the basement, me going slack like a child, not resisting, the right way to fall, and so by the time I hit the bottom I was back up, in the dank smell. My vision flickered like an old TV—off then on—and then I could just make out the shadow of Diondra lingering in the rectangle of light at the top of the stairs. Then she shut the door on me.

  I could hear them upstairs, Crystal coming back, “Are we going to have to—”

  “Well—now we are.”

  “I can’t believe, I just, it just came out of my mouth, so stupid—”

  Me running in loops around the basement, trying to find a way out: three walls of concrete and one wall toward the back, covered to the ceiling in junk. Diondra and Crystal were not worried about me, they were jabbering at each other behind the door upstairs, me pulling away at the pile, looking for a place to hide, trying to find something I could use as a weapon.

  “—doesn’t really know what happened, not for sure—”

  I opened a trunk I could hide in, and die in.

  “—knows, she’s not stupid—”

/>   I started tossing away a hat-rack, two bicycle wheels, the wall of junk shifting with each thing I burrowed past.

  “—I’ll do it, it was my fault—”

  I hit a mountain of old boxes, sagging like the ones I had under the stairs. Push those away and out falls an old pogo stick, too heavy for me to wield.

  “—I’ll do it, it’s fine—”

  The voices angry-guilty-angry-guilty-decisive.

  The basement was bigger than the house itself, a good Midwest basement made to withstand tornados, made to store vegetables, deep and dirty. I pulled junk out and just kept going, and as I squirmed behind a massive bureau I found an old door. It was a whole nother room, the serious part of the tornado cellar, and yes, a dead end, but no time to think, got to keep going, and now light was illuminating the basement, Diondra and Crystal were coming and I shut the door behind me and stepped into the narrow room, more stuff stored there—old record players, a crib, a mini-fridge, all stacked to the sides, not much more than another twenty feet to run, and behind me I could hear more of the junk pile collapsing in front of the door, but that didn’t help much, they’d be through that in a few seconds.

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