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Depraved Heart: a crime novel

Chapter Eight — Malevolence

Monday arrived, as Mondays will. I lay late in our new bed, allowing Trevor to bring me my coffee, luxuriating like a Jane Austen heroine conserving strength before The Big Dance. The greatest luxury was watching Trevor ‘armor-up’; sliding on his boxers, locking his French cuffs into place, buttoning the vest of a (thankfully) clean suit and positioning his Phi Beta Kappa key to maximum effect. What thoughtful being could grudge Oz a romance with the young male body? There is nothing in the world so beautiful. Women are fruit on the edge of spoiling; men are sculpture. Is there anything as glorious, as evocative, as the male clavicle? It’s a boat, a cave, a tunnel, a whirlpool. Trevor’s is taut like a bow anchoring his shoulders.

“See you downstairs,” said Trevor, peering into the mirror, not really seeing himself but pressing down his cowlick, which sprang back instantly. I pulled the covers over my head. Damn. I had to “armor-up” too; this was the battle even women have to fight. It couldn’t be so bad today; I had Trevor. This time I really had him. I had him before and I fully intended to have him again. I get why couples long to have a child (though it’s a longing I don’t share); that human yearning for incarnation. They need to see a physical embodiment of their attraction. Every coupling, every recombination of DNA is a new person, with fresh powers. And when it’s your foster brother you’re coupling with it’s your very childhood you’re rewriting. We were the children our own selves created.

I for one would never be my old self again, and I was glad of it. The thing I most like about being young is that you can wear a different face every day, and yet it can really be your face. Teenagers are always Walt Whitman. We contain multitudes.

I dragged myself to Colleen’s closet to study the possibilities. What mask to wear today?
I ran into Craig clutching his forehead and wearing an embarrassingly small “happy coat” across his embarrassingly hairy person. Probably the correct translation from the Japanese would be “gag coat;” both meanings of the word intended, I am sure, by the Japanese flight attendant who passed it along to him. I diagnosed a hangover, or possibly a particularly savage case of jet lag; to him I was just one of the many ghosts haunting that part of the mansion. I doubt he even recognized me.

The ghost was gone from Colleen’s closet; Trevor successfully exorcised it. Goodbye Colleen, wallowing in the light. Leave life to the living. They were just dresses and did not speak. I quelled my thirst for color; Trevor was so generous sexually, here was a tiny gift to give him compared to those he heaped on me. Colleen had so many “little black dresses”; I guess that’s female armor; so from the possibilities I built our child; combination of the pair of us. He was the little black dress; I was the cropped red jacket. Colleen said mourning has phases. In my opinion, when your whole family is on trial for murder, you’re in the fire phase.

There was frenzied cooking going on downstairs. Mina, steamy hair sticking to both sides of her face, was making individual omelets to order.

“We’re going to need more eggs,” she said.

See? Why go shopping in the first place if you know you’re only going to have to go shopping again? Why contribute to what is obviously a vicious cycle?

I found Trevor seated at the eighteenth-century secretary in the foyer, raving about the price of oil.
“We have heat?” I teased. “Really? Can’t tell in the servants’ quarters.” Skylar’s fireplace had come in particularly handy last night. I leaned down, hissing in his ear, “Time to burn the place down and collect the insurance?”

He knocked over his chair rearing up; face red, cords standing out in his neck, eyes blazing the coldest blue. Spitting.

“You of all people should appreciate what it is I’m trying to do around here! As if I would split another dime with Skylar!”

“Jeez,” I said, “Excuse you. I was only joking.”

Was it a clause in the mysterious honeymoon contract that I could no longer rib Trevor? Arson isn’t worse than murder. He wasn’t this worked up about Colleen’s death. The more I thought about my idea the better the idea sounded, a sort of Roman justice. They get revenge; we get hotels with room service! “We’re not admitting anything, but would it make you feel better if we burned down our house?” Let the jurors tour a smoking ruin. I could play tour guide. “This is the very place Trevor pulled my panties down.”

“Spoils claim the victor,” I snapped and Trevor said,
“Don’t you go all Beautiful and Damned on me.”

I was sure my quote came from a different novel but at that moment Spike appeared to tell me my omelet was ready.

“Better leave him alone,” he warned, whispering. “You’ll get more out of him later. You can heat him up, but you can’t cool him down.”

I was so angry I was almost speechless. Because Trevor was sitting at the check-writing desk Spike assumed I wanted something, when all I wanted was to play with the tendrils lying unguarded along Trevor’s beautiful neck.

“Paugh,” I said. Pronouncing it correctly.

Even Mina was in a bad mood – Jake said her omelets were too “set.” The only thing he likes hard is his own self. See? Doesn’t take much to rev up the whole gift-giving resent-a-thon.
In the limo I consulted my notebook. I was considering a poem cycle to be called: “What To Do If You Wake Up In a Dostoevsky Novel.” The first poem would be: Expect Brain Fever. Maybe I could ignore the court proceedings entirely and just sit there scribbling. I had to be there but I didn’t have to pay attention.

My prose seemed stilted, flat and precious. Girly. Katharine Mansfield says that when you find yourself in the boat of death, pulling inexorably away from the shore you must uncover your eyes and look. This case was the only thing I could write about.

Trevor slid in beside me, bony hip against mine, arm around me, holding my hand. Just as if he’d never yelled at me. If I closed my eyes I could imagine dissolving into him, the way a baby kangaroo becomes its mother. He gave me the reassuring smile, the shoulder clasp. No oil, no anger, no arson. Spike was wrong. With me, he could always cool down. Courage bubbled up within me. The two of us could take the rest of them on, no matter how many of them there might be.

The monsters were proliferating, springing up the steps of the courthouse like dragon’s teeth. Craig said there was a special entrance the prosecution could have let us use, but they made a choice to let the press assault us, hoping we would back away from Oz’s side and leave him twisting in the wind alone. They underestimated us. Thank God for Spike and downfield blocking.

There were people from France, from Africa, from the BBC. It must be a slow news day indeed when people care so much about some Virginia woman falling into her swimming pool. Then Skylar appeared out of nowhere and grasped my arm. Spike didn’t protect me from her. In all the years we lived together we had never been so close. We could have been having sex. She pushed her face right into mine.

I saw a nonsensical glitter of face powder drifting across her pores. She looked worse, if that was possible, bony, but with her skin puffed up, doughy and swollen, maybe the antidepressants had finally kicked in. She pressed my hand; we were passing notes in school. I looked down; but it was my own note, coming back, a bad penny. To her it was worse than contaminated, a curse you could only get rid of by passing it on.

“Take everything,” she hissed at me. “The clothes. My mother would have wanted you to have them. You look good in them.” Tears scored her cheeks; her fingers encircled my wrist like handcuffs. I felt rather than saw Trevor approaching in rescue, but the demon inside her gasped in my face, “He killed your mother, too.” And then she was gone.

“What did she say?” asked Trevor, sheltering me, gazing after her retreating back, scurrying back to the bride’s aisle. I felt a flush of sorrow over the reality of a honeymoon contract, that even although Trevor and I were closer than we had ever been, there were things I could have told him before that I could no longer say. Now we were hostage to each other’s pain and progress and the oath of protection our bodies took foreswore total honesty.

“She said I could have her mother’s clothes.”

I looked down at myself as if surprised to find myself dressed like a Junior Leaguer. This was my dress now. I had wanted to wear the dress because it was Colleen’s. I didn’t want to wear it if it belonged to me.

“Was she nasty about it?” Trevor gazed after her angrily, his jaw locked. The hatred in his face was unmistakable. It’s too late, I thought. We’ve been corrupted by “sides”. We left school and joined different teams, and I can’t cross over and join Skylar just because she looks lonely.

Oz was already in his place, the only figure seated at the defense table as the lawyers milled about. To me, suddenly, he looked little and sad. Was he shrinking or was I growing? Oz too, I suddenly realized, had taken the oath of protection when love took him hostage; he’d had to drink the Kool-Aid. Was he just pretending to be brave because we were there? He must be able to feel how much they wanted to convict him.

I felt so guilty. Caught up in our honeymoon we never did visit. I know Trevor called him but Trevor’s not the same as me. To him it must have seemed a long weekend, that same weekend I had hoped would last forever. I put a hand on his shoulder to reassure him and he grasped it gratefully; Trevor leaned across the wooden bench to whisper in his ear. I wished I’d asked him not to tell about us but it was probably too late now.

I don’t know what he said. Men’s much vaunted “honesty” can be just a need to brag. Oz used to say we would hook up one day; why deny him the pleasure of being proved right? I saw Oz expand and glow under his son’s words. The curse of the freckled; I blushed as my foster-father winked at me.

The judge came in and we dutifully rose. He didn’t care what we were really feeling just so long as we demonstrated obeisance. He wasted no time but handed down his ruling in his plummy voice; photos of the Barringer autopsy were too inflammatory and would not be admitted. The prosecution could use drawings. Craig tried to object again but the judge cut him off sharply with a “Let’s get this show on the road” demeanor. He too, apparently, had had a bad weekend. Golf rained out? Country club crowded? Prime rib less than prime? I knew he’d had the gall to pity me and I hated him.

Craig didn’t look happy but clueless Mina gave us the “thumbs up” sign, just as if no artist could create anything as ghastly as a photograph. I imagined the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch introduced as exhibits, passed around and laser-pointed, I guess she wanted me and Shelley to feel excited and victorious about seeing some dauber’s “take” on our dead mother. Now I held Trevor’s hand, and he was holding mine. I was the one responsible for the blue shadows around his eyes. They were happy blue shadows, and I felt better. We were now the keepers of each other’s sleep; that exhausted sleep that comes from every muscle locked in synergy with its opposite.

This court was convened to expose secrets; I exulted over everything they didn’t know. I was an initiate into the ultimate grown-up secret; the power of naked versus clothed. I was the only one to precisely count the hairs that marched like soldiers from Trevor’s bellybutton to his pubis. Even if tortured, I would never share. Someday I would transform these truths to a greater truth, but now I was invulnerable. I felt I could bear anything, now.

Trevor smiled and squeezed my hand; he knew what I was thinking. Spike slid in beside me and we all moved down, like the kids in the lullaby. Trevor and I melted, blissfully, into each other.
The jury trooped in, gazing at us with hushed glee as if touring the set of a reality show. No prime rib for them. They looked as if they might have been interrupted while dining on the local specialty; stuffed raccoon. (The joke is it’s stuffed with your neighbor’s garbage.)

Fawna Fryssen, wearing a skintight royal blue short-skirted suit that looked catalog-fresh, (probably in every color), stood up and claimed the center of the floor.
“The state calls Vinca Verna,” she said.

I saw Jake dig his elbow into Trevor’s other side, “She’s got a rockin’ hot bod,” he said, meaning the assistant prosecutor, not the witness. Also the triangular nostrils that scream “nose job”, I wanted to say. But Jake doesn’t care about “modifications”. To him it’s just “customizing”.

No modifications for me. It’s a subtle battle of the wills; who’s on approval and who’s “the approver.” If they can get you to admit that you weren’t “quite right” to start with, they’ve got you forever. You never will be “right”; there’s always one more thing in need of fixing. I know I’m a mess; it’s adorable that Trevor doesn’t notice. Call it the “palimpsest” effect; he not only sees every me I used to be but all the future possibilities. Trevor thinks I’m perfect. I guess love is as rare as they say.

Vinca Verna was a tall whipping-post of a woman with a sad sack expression that she probably considered appropriate courtroom demeanor. She spelled her name and took the oath, touching the Bible in a distant manner like someone allergic to books.

“Where do you currently reside and what is your employment?”
“I reside in Taos, New Mexico, and I am a spiritual healer,” she said.

There was a moment’s pause while Fryssen was stayed in her flight. Either this was news to her or she had never heard it put exactly that way. Like a cat spotting a flutter, Craig stiffened and leaned forward. Something good for our side.

I’ve overheard Craig comparing litigation to a “cockroach race”. Only God knows what your cockroach is going to do. If you rehearse them too much they sound stilted, but if you let them be spontaneous they risk opening up a line of questioning the other side can drive tractor-trailers through. In other words, you can lead a cockroach to water, but you can’t make it think.

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