Queen of Swords: a novel

Chapter VIII – The Hanged Man

This anonymous letter racket is not as easy as it looks. It made objective sense to start out small, but there was so much I wanted to say.

My father’s fatal weakness was perfectionism. What is it with men and beauty? Now that I’m grown up I can see men’s hysteria over female symmetry is really just another weirdly disguised fear about penis size. But when I was young, I didn’t understand anything; I had to accept my father’s view of the world. I lectured me as blithely as if I was another male just like himself, born entitled to savor the finer things of life. After my mother’s grisly death from uterine cancer he focused on perfect bodies and taut skin. As his own body fell so noticeably apart I assumed he’d change his mantra to something a little more universal but if anything he got more interested in boobs.

As his intellectual heir this put me in sort of a bind. But that wasn’t the first bind he’d put me in. Before I went to that stupid boarding school Charmian chose I attended the same all-girl Catholic school as my sisters, which my father pretended was “better” because the emphasis was on a “classical education.” I discovered that the major theme of classical literature is “hubris”, so I met my father everywhere: at school as well as at home.

Anyway the result of all these double binds resulted in the three P’s: perfectionism, procrastination and paralysis. It’s hard to do anything when you feel judged and found wanting all the time.
So I let Charmian kill him. Did she withhold medicine? Did she smother him? (Even in his enfeebled state he showed unexpected strength). Did she overdose him?

When I made autopsy noises, the doctors laughed at me. They looked me over – I was in my Goth stage and a good twenty pounds over my current weight thanks to All you can eat cafeterias and I could see what they were thinking. Step mom problems and with a stepmother like that, was it any wonder? Hubba hubba. She had those guys in such a state of arousal they would have signed anything. They told me I had no standing and she had cremated him right away because that was what he wanted.

I couldn’t prove her wrong but I knew for a fact she must be lying. Dad was an atheist, he thought bodies were just junk, but we do have a family burial plot back in Colorado Springs that everyone is physically in.

I got absolutely no traction with my sisters. McKenzie says she wants to be cremated and Darby wants a “green burial” which is beyond disgusting but only because the poor worms need to eat too and crematoriums are polluting the planet.

I had to act. While I dithered she sold off our childhood house and seduced our trustee (don’t ask.) I assembled a pile of newspapers and magazines and awaited inspiration. Mainly I wanted to accuse her of my father’s death, but I was afraid that was too obvious. She would suspect me immediately.

I saw some FBI guy talking head on TV once say that anonymous letters, poison and bombs are the weapons of cowards. Yeah, that’s what the redcoats said about the Sons of Liberty. This is the same guy tapping your phones, studying your library cards and peeking at you through binoculars. Back at you, buddy. The same patience it takes to set a trap is required to spring a trap. Let’s add “patience” to my collections of “p’s”.

In the end, my father warned me, (without realizing he was talking about his end) it is always about power. He predicted his own demise.

My sisters said we were lucky to have her. She didn’t put him in a nursing home, which was the thing he’d always said he most dreaded. I lacked the persuasive skills to get them to see that this was worse, that he had to beg the woman he said he loved for every scrap of food, every breath of air, every second of pain relief?

They didn’t want to know. They told me I was imagining it when I said I could tell she enjoyed torturing him. People like that are different. I saw an unmistakable glint of ecstasy in her eye whenever he fell particularly low. I was as helpless as he was. I wept in Dr. Fortunato’s office, let my makeup stream crazily right in front of him but he said she was his health care proxy, she had power of attorney, she was his trustee. I was discovering the horrible secret of modern health care: there is no such thing anymore as a natural death. The system merely plays with us as long as it’s in anybody’s interest; then gets rid of us when it isn’t. Everyone turns a blind eye. Way too fast, she did grow tired of the game. When she found the house on Hayden Lake that she wanted to buy, suddenly he was dead. In his sheets afterward – when I was cleaning up his room – trying to be close to him – I found a tarot card. The Hanged Man.

My sisters say it doesn’t mean anything. She has her own weird religion: let her have it. Who knows what bizarre ceremonial she needed to conduct upon his body. He’s just as dead. But I know what it means. An electric current ran through me at that moment, from her to me. I heard her voice saying, COME AND GET ME. I DARE YOU.

The sisters at my Catholic school used to go on and on about “the sin that can’t be forgiven”. The sin against “the Holy Ghost”, whoever that is. My father told me to pay no mind to all that sin stuff, but he was wrong. There are sins, and there are certainly sins that cannot be forgiven. Torture from a trusted confidante has to be one of those.

Murder will out. Isn’t that an expression? The stones cry out for blood. I can feel the universe cry out. Doesn’t it say in the Bible that people who thirst for justice will be satisfied? With trembling joy I assembled that first letter:


Meaning: I’m coming after you, bitch. Look out behind.

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