Depraved Heart: a crime novel

Chapter Five — Memory

Everyone was too dispirited or afraid of the paparazzi to go out for dinner, so we took the limo through the Po’Boyz drive thru and sat blocking traffic and arguing about what to get. Craig’s solution to menu arguments is to order everything. What does he care? It’s our tab. While waiting for our order he held forth brilliantly on the death penalty and victims’ rights and how the new buzzword “closure” is a codeword meaning “revenge”.

“What families really mean when they ask for “closure” is somebody’s head on a pike.”
I imagined Oz’s head lifeless, borne above the jeering crowd in an American Terror. Looking worriedly at Shelley, I wished for once Craig would can his rhetoric. This was not a game to us. She sat back eyes closed, mouth slightly open, no color whatever in her skin. She looked like the disembodied head. I knew she would take this worse than me, because, as Oz liked to point out, (and he didn’t care who heard him) she had “fewer resources”. Funny-strange, that the people who live in their heads are that much less likely to lose them. Shows how counter-intuitive reality can be.
If you looked really close you could see the fine grape-colored tracery of veins in her eyelids quiver at some inner horror flick. But what was she seeing? That pockmarked skull? What if it wasn’t our mother’s skull at all? In my admittedly short experience people lie an impressive percentage of the time. Why should we trust them? The police are allowed to lie, the Supreme Court says so. They’re just trying to get to the goal, same as anybody.

Shelley refused food. That’s the anorexic’s solution to everything; they won’t let themselves eat when they’re happy and they can’t eat when they’re sad. I know some girls think tolerating hunger is the ultimate good-fairy gift. Not me. I’m hungry when I’m upset, after I’ve just thrown up, even when I’m high on what might be Valium, but might be something else. Just like Mina to swap in a low-cost substitute and charge full-freight. I’m even hungry in my dreams. When I’m alone, floating in darkness, I could eat the world.

“What’s so bad about revenge?” I asked. “Isn’t it one of the basic human feelings?”
Oz taught us to respect our feelings and not be ashamed of them. Rousseau says society and government should be the shaped by human desire and emotion, and not the other way around. Otherwise it’s like getting any old shoe off the rack and trying to jam your foot into it. In Oz’s world all clothing is tailor made, because everyone’s unique.

Craig looked surprised, like a priest interrupted in the liturgy.

“It’s an inherently degrading emotion,” he said patiently. “Uncivilized. Humanity’s entire history has been one slow crawl out of the muck. Let’s not go back.”

How I wished Trevor were here. Trevor knows how to argue and he has an impressive command of history to argue with. He would have said revenge is circular and born to escalate; that the Hatfield-McCoys famously forgot the genesis of their feud. He would use some religious analogy — he’s always quoting Scripture — and I — little Satanist, as he calls me, would cover my ears.

Oz would counter with discernment. I had heard these arguments so often I could play them inside my MP3 player of a brain any time I wanted. Discernment comes from education; a person must discern which parts of “civilization” are empowering and which parts are enervating. Trevor and Oz’s arguments always devolve toward “perfectibility”. In Oz’s lexicon people are born perfect and get progressively worse, in Trevor’s they perfect themselves (sometimes in the afterlife) through massive effort and struggle.

I say (not that anybody’s asking) that designing a “civilization” for oneself is what college is for and I want to be there and not here. But like most of my arguments this died stillborn, a game unplayed. And of course Jake and Shelley, whom Trevor refers to collectively as “The Stupids”, had nothing to say. They seemed stunned.

“I’d say it’s been two steps forward and two steps back,” said Mina.

“What?” asked Jake, snapping to attention. Can he only hear sounds in the female register?
“Out of the muck,” said Mina. “Two steps forward, two steps back. Same park, different spot.”
“Here’s your muck,” Spike said cheerfully, delivering bags of dirty rice, jerk pork, coleslaw and fried chicken to the back seat. Spike had to pay since Trevor wasn’t there and Craig never has any money. He knew Trevor was good for it.

I looked for Trevor’s car when we pulled into the forecourt but of course it wasn’t there. He was probably touring a Christmas tree farm at that very moment, looking for the perfect shape. He would have it delivered since we always get a twenty-footer to shoot up the two-storey foyer.
While Shelley and I unloaded the food Jake turned on Court TV and Mina got on the phone to try to get Craig a flight to Los Angeles where he was supposed to confer with a sports star embroiled in a series of sexual misunderstandings with overly avid fans. We had a long weekend on our hands, now, waiting for the judge’s ruling. That was our sentence. Sentenced to wait.

Mina was planning to drive north to see her sister. So no Craig, with his plans and excitements, not even Fayette, who even at her worst was like a bad reality show. Finally a quiet weekend. We could visit Oz in jail, taking him the things he loved; chocolate-covered cashews, books, magazines and Macanudo cigars. He really wanted a brick of hashish, the only cure for chronic insomnia, but you try smuggling that past the guards. They make things pretty unpleasant as it is – feeling us up enthusiastically on the way in and on the way out. It’s the reason Trevor doesn’t like me to go.
I turned away from the television. Apparently my theatrics had not been lost on the press; press artists scribbled unflattering chalk versions of Shelley and me, open-mouthed and shock-faced. I could stick around and hear myself described as a “fox-haired spitfire” like a contestant on “Survivor: Virginia” or I could take my leave. All I can say is thank God cameras aren’t allowed in the courtroom Craig says plenty of other states let them in.

I left the Stupids eating dirty rice, drinking scotch and worshiping pictures of themselves like a pair of cannibals and took my plate of chicken up to Colleen’s Jacuzzi. The servants’ part of the house — where we live — is lacking in such amenities.

I was still in there when Trevor knocked on the door.

“I’m under a thousand bubbles. Come on in.”

Trevor carried his own plate of chicken, a bottle of wine and two glasses of eggnog fully loaded. Trevor never makes a fuss about legal drinking age – for wine, champagne and eggnog at least. He was cool about that. He gets that from Oz who used to say that children in Europe drink wine, and early exposure immunizes kids against alcoholism. According to Oz it’s the very concept of “the forbidden” that’s destructive. Trevor says wine is “sacramental”. It’s a religious thing. Well, eggnog is my religion. Settled my tummy scores of times when I was a tot.
I smacked my lips. “Yummy. What’s in here?”

“Craig’s bourbon” said Trevor. “Sorry. I thought he’d be here. ”

“Who needs him,” I said. “You know, I think I like it better with bourbon. Just so we don’t get all carb-faced. By the way, Spike has a receipt for you.”

“I got it,” returned Trevor glumly. We both drank, then asked,
“How bad was it?” at exactly the same moment. We knew what each other meant, too. Always been in tune that way.

“You first,” he said.

“You know I hate it when you change the subject. Stop protecting me. Tell me what it was like with Fayette. Did her plane go down in Texarkana?”

“It’s Tennessee, as you very well know. Suffice to say she made a scene that was demeaning to the entire human race,” said Trevor. “Basically she wanted to play out a breach of promise case for anyone who would listen and lots of people wanted to listen.” He sighed. “But I didn’t behave too well, either. Glad you weren’t there to see.”

This was an eyebrow raiser. There was an Evil Trevor and Trevor himself feared him! Didn’t matter; nothing he said would ever convince me he could ever have been remotely at fault in his relationship with that hussy.

“But she got on the plane,” I said, and he echoed,
“She got on the plane.” With a tender hand he ruffled my wet hair. “Sorry I couldn’t be there today, Cherry.”

Finally, an understanding soul! The words it was safe only to share with him spilled out.
“Jesus, it was horrible. It was beyond horrible. I keep thinking it can’t get any worse, and then it gets worse. It was like Drag Me to Hell, complete with projectile vomiting. The vomiter was me. That Craig is a snake; I don’t think we can trust him. He totally set me and Shelley up. They had a huge color blow up photograph of my mother’s skull, like with no hair on it? And it was covered with like, stab wounds. Into the bone. I was hyperventilating, Shelley was screaming. It was so bad the judge gave us a recess.”

“Craig’s a snake, but at least he’s our snake,” agreed Trevor. He reached out to hold my wet, chicken-slimed hand. “Sorry I couldn’t be there for you.”

“Did you know my mom died falling into a swimming pool?”

“Actually,” said Trevor, “I did know that. This is a wonderful wine. Humagne Rouge.”

My eggnog was finished, so he handed me a ballon. Oz was training Trevor to be a wine connoisseur. But I looked at mine nervously. On top of Valium and eggnog? Isn’t it never mix, never worry? Fortunately I had eaten a ton of food, so maybe dirty rice would just get dirtier. Soak it up. Maybe this was just one of those nights where you have to get as drunk as possible. Probably Trevor was helping me. I drank, but I wasn’t letting him off the hook.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”

He leaned back, closing his eyes as he clutched his glass. Blue shadows deepened around his eyes. Easy to imagine Trevor’s skull. He would have a beautiful skull. All his skeleton would be beautiful. The bones of a thoroughbred.

“What good would it have done you?” he asked.

“Silly me, I thought the truth was good all by itself,” I said. I drank reflexively. It was a good wine, a little earthy for my taste. I like wines so cold they hurt your teeth. Fruity wines. Red wines usually taste like mud and are the temperature of blood.

“If I had known, I wouldn’t have cursed the prosecutor out in front of everybody and maybe Spike wouldn’t have tried to smother me.” I rubbed my head as if massaging my brain. “I was deprived oxygen for like, minutes. I could have suffered brain damage.”

Trevor laughed. “You aren’t finished making cells,” he said. “Lots and lots of brain cells. Firing and effervescing like champagne bubbles.”

He was acting sort of drunk. Trevor doesn’t approve of “recreational inebriation”. The only time I’ve seen him completely smashed is at my graduation party. And Fayette was there. No man could stand that woman unless fully loaded.

“It’s a big coincidence,” I insisted.

“What would you have thought if we told you?” Trevor asked, “People drown in swimming pools all the time—how is this different? An empty swimming pool is like a yawning manhole. Do you know how many people die each year from falls in the United States? Besides it was a secret confidence from Oz,” said Trevor. “Oz doesn’t keep secrets from me. That’s how I know he didn’t do this crime. If he’d done it, he wouldn’t lie to me.”

That’s the thrill about being the eldest. But there’s always a flaw. If you get the money you get the bills. If you know the facts you have to keep the secrets.

He opened his eyes suddenly, torching me with a laser glare. Sometimes his eyes are blue, like Jake’s and Oz’s, sometimes when his soul is dark and stormy, they’re violet.

“Empty swimming pools are like yawning manholes,” he repeated insistently, “especially in the dark. Colleen had the pool lights off, you know. She must have knocked over the sawhorses. Maybe it was suicide.”

No, he wasn’t drunk. He just didn’t want to talk about my mother. Maybe I was the drunk one. Of course I was entitled to at least one bout of drunkenness after what I’d been through.

I had already heard Craig’s spiel on the subject of falls, but suicide was a new idea. Colleen would never commit suicide, never in a million years because of Skylar, but how could I say what my mother would do? I was definitely getting muzzy-headed; the bubbles were effervescing less and less effectively.

“My mother wasn’t like Colleen.” I yawned. “She was a teacher.” Soapy water trickled into my mouth. Better get out soon or I might drown.

“Both of them were menopausal women with stressful jobs. Your mom had two little kids, a husband who’d just died and a job working for a society of men dedicated to oppressing women. Not that dissimilar.”

Maybe I didn’t want to talk about this after all. I wanted to think my mom was special — having more resources. Like me. She wouldn’t just get drunk to release tension, she would write a poem. Yet what was I doing?

I turned on the cold on with my toes and dipped my head beneath the bubbles. Didn’t help. Maybe Colleen did commit suicide. She did say Fleuristics needed to lay off 30% of its work force and it was up to her to make the cut. She had known all those people for years, maybe that was just too hard.

“Stupid way to commit suicide,” I said. “Hardly foolproof. You would probably just end up horribly injured.”

“Maybe she didn’t care,” said Trevor. “Maybe she would do anything to get time off.”
Interesting notion. As the Official Baby, I understand the attraction of being Taken Care Of. Beats me why anybody wants to be boss all the time. Talk about holding the bag!

There was more wine left. I could write poetry later. “Musings on a Murder Trial.” We drank to the imponderable motives of the dead.

“Anyway,” said Trevor, “If you had known, you wouldn’t have reacted the way you did, and we’d have more of that ridiculous evidence in court. Talk about legal pornography!”

A thought occurred; a brain cell evanesced. If Trevor had been there, would I have stood up? Wouldn’t I have buried my face in his reassuring chest the way Shelley had with Jake? Great day to visit the airport, don’t you think?

I stood up suddenly, bubbles roiling off me. God knows where the wineglass went. Time for poetry after all, turns out you can’t plan these things.

“I’m as pickled as a prune,” I said, and I meant it. In every sense of every word.
Trevor rushed to wrap me in a towel big enough to be a winding sheet.

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