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News for November!
Forensicsby Maria Pollack
Staring out across the darkened fields, my husband Russell and I stand on the back porch and watch as lightning cracks open the thick, humid sky and illuminates the night in a blinding flash. And then, of course, just as suddenly, we are surrounded by darkness again. The wind picks up, leaves rustle, and the trees begin to bend.
“Why do you think she did it?” Russell asks.
I shrug my shoulders, a gesture that reveals nothing of what I really know.
Raindrops begin to splash around us, so we go back into the house.
Russell picks up his newspaper off the floor and sits back down in his overstuffed reading chair in the corner of the living room. I return to the kitchen to finish washing up the supper dishes. Ripples of water, blown by the wind, streak across the windows, and when I look up, I see her staring back at me.
Her blue eyes appear enormous, and her pale face, framed by the dark wet tendrils of her dripping hair, gives off an eerie glow. She is still dressed in her ridiculously old-fashioned night gown, the same one they found her in, with its high collar and long sleeves, but it’s now soaked through from the rain and clings translucently, almost seductively to the curve of her small firm breasts and the soft almost imperceptible rounding of her belly.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. When I open them again, she’s gone.
I don’t tell Russell. Ever since I heard the news, I’ve been seeing her everywhere--aimlessly wandering the aisles of Palmer’s Grocery, walking down County Highway 5 just before our turn-off, out behind the barn when I went to call Russell in for dinner, and now at my own window. And each time I see her she just stares at me as if she doesn’t recognize me or can’t remember where she is.
“Didn’t you hear, Leanne?” Sheriff Barnes asks me as I pour him a refill on his coffee and begin to pick up his empty breakfast plate.
“Hear what?” I reply.
“One of your neighbors killed herself.”
“Oh, what did old Mrs. Royce do? Take too much of her heart medication? Her son has just been waiting for that to happen. He’s wanted to sell the farm for years,” I say as I turn around to pick up another order. The diner is exceptionally busy because it’s fall and the leaf-peepers have traveled up from the city to catch the show.
“Nope, it wasn’t her. It was Katie-Lynn Sykes.”
“What!” I turn back around to face him while trying to balance a stack of plates loaded down with dry pancakes, burned sausages, runny eggs, and cold toast. Our new kitchen help, two high school girls with hair much bigger than their brains, isn’t exactly working out.
“That’s right. Katie-Lynn took her daddy’s shot gun and just blew the top of her entire head off. There’s blood everywhere, on the wall, spattered across the book case, all over the floor. It even soaked through those Persian rugs her mama always set such a store by when she was alive. Even in the middle of summer when you didn’t have a thing caked on the bottom of them, Laura Sykes would make you take off your shoes if you wanted to come further in then her kitchen. You can bet I always made sure I had a good pair of socks on, ones without any holes, before I went to that house. But, it don’t matter now. Horace’ll just have to throw the rug in the living room as well as the one in the hallway out. Blood seeps and travels, you know.”
“Do you know why?” I ask impatiently.
“Why what?” Jeffrey Barnes replies.
“Why she did it? Did she leave a note?”
“The only thing she left was her brains splattered across the wall. But she’s scheduled for an autopsy this afternoon, so if she was taking drugs and seeing wild things we’ll know about it. You can’t keep secrets these days even now when you’re dead. I saw it on a program. One of those forensic experts solved a murder by looking at the contents of some victim’s stomach and figured out the time of death because of an undigested piece of baked potato. That woman’s husband is now serving life. He hit her with a shovel just as she finished eating. He stuck her in the trunk of her car, drove off, and abandoned it in some back woods. Then, he reported her missing to the police. He said she never came home from work that night. Now he’s behind bars all because he’d gone and fixed a nice supper for his wife before he murdered her. But they surely don’t need to do that procedure to find out what killed Katie-Lynn.”
I just stare at him.
“How about a piece of pie?” he asks.
“Her daddy feels real bad about not locking up his gun.”
In the morning, Russell puts on a pair of gray slacks, a white shirt, and a black tie.
“Where are you going?” I ask as I roll over on my side.
“Going to see Horace,” he replies, checking his reflection in the mirror as he straightens his tie.
“What about school?”
“I can assure you I won’t be having any math classes today. When a beautiful girl in the Senior class kills herself, a general assembly will be called and a troop of crisis counselors from the city will be there to help whip up the hysterics.”
“Well, don’t you think you should be there for the kids? It is a bit shocking, especially the way she did it and all. You don’t want other kids getting the same ideas.”
“Oh, Leanne, please. You sound as if you actually believe that trash that people commit suicide because they get the idea from someone else,” he says as he turns around to face me.
I don’t bother to set him straight.
“I’ll be back around noon.”
“What are you going to say to Horace?”
“I’ll just tell him how much I always liked his little girl.”
I saw them together. He kissed her as he knelt over her, and she wrapped her legs around him when he pushed himself into her. There was no hesitation between them. This certainly wasn’t the first time.
They thought I wouldn’t be home for hours, but my car had broken down right in the middle of town. Mary Beth Saunders gave me a ride to the end of our road. I didn’t want her to have to take me all the way up the hill with her twin babies, hungry and screaming, in the backseat. She’d looked relieved when I suggested she just drop me off at the bottom. It was a beautiful day, I said, and I didn’t mind walking.
They didn’t hear me as I came up the back steps, put my hand on the door knob, and braced my shoulder against the door before I actually pushed it open. In the humid July weather, that door sometimes sticks.
I saw them through the window. I saw them like that on our living room floor.
A few months later, when Katie-Lynn came to sell us some of those candy bars in support of the Senior Prom, I invited her in. Russell was in town getting the muffler repaired on his truck. I offered her a cup of tea and asked how things were going.
“You look kind of pale,” I said. “Are you feeling all right?”
“I’m fine,” she replied. “Really, I’m just fine.”
While I made us the tea and set out a plate of cookies, she chattered away about how she was doing some of the photography for the yearbook, how she thought she might win the award in French, and how she was going to sew her own prom gown.
I asked her who she was going with, and she replied that she was just going with some other girl friends.
“A pretty girl like you must have a ton of boyfriends,” I said.
“Not really,” she answered as she reached for another sugar cookie.
“Well, that’s probably the best thing,” I stated, “Men always lead to trouble.”
“Oh, everybody says that,” Katie-Lynn replied as she impatiently pushed a strand of her long blonde hair back over her shoulder.
“Well, I heard about this girl who was crazy about one of her high school teachers and she was sure this teacher was in love with her. He told her he was, so she slept with him. But he had a family, and he certainly wasn’t going to leave his wife for some little slut who would so easily spread her legs. When she told him she was pregnant, he just laughed and told her to get an abortion. Instead, she killed herself.”
“I never heard a story like that about any of the teachers around here.”
“I didn’t say it was around here. It was at the high school my husband worked at before we came here.”
“Oh,” Katie said and sat for a moment quietly twisting her napkin in her lap. “I’ve got to go now, Mrs. Parker. Thanks for the cookies.”
After Russell leaves to visit Horace, I go out into the garden to pick the last of the tomatoes. Of course, just as I expected, Katie-Lynn is there, and she’s still glowing with that ghostly light.
“Boo!” I shout as I walk by, but she doesn’t even flinch. Her hair and clothes are dry now that the sun is out, but, just like yesterday, all she does is stand there and stare at me like a zombie out of some old black and white movie. She acts as if she hasn’t gotten over the shock of her own death yet.
“Go away,” I say to her as I kneel down and begin to pull the tomatoes from their crumbling vines. “I don’t need another one of you little girls following me around. I just got rid of the last one.”
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