Dear Diary, I felt that Denise was a grasping person anyway. She grasped at me as she fell. I know I haven’t written for a while, but it’s time again, so let me explain. Denise was my neighbour. She wasn’t important to me. And that’s very important, so remember that.
Last week, I borrowed some sugar from her. I wanted to see the inside of her house. Rhombus came with me, but she didn’t invite him in. He had to wait on the step. Denise had cold sores; little white rimmed doilies on her lips, as if someone had sprinkled her mouth with battery acid. Maybe she was low in iron or something. Her eyes were light blue, and their inner light made it seem as if they’d been scorched by the sun. That should have warned me that things weren’t quite right.
I caught her just as she was coming home. “You can come inside,” she said. “It’s always unlocked.” It was hard to believe she never locked her door. I have Rhombus, and he’s a Rottweiler, but I still lock mine. I keep all the windows latched too. The world is not a safe place. She showed me her white ceramic swans. Crown Lynn swans; all in rows on her shelves, whole walls of them; each swan exactly the same as the others. She told me that every time she found one on the internet, she just had to have it. It was hard for me to imagine someone getting their mail and taking pleasure in opening the same parcel over and over again, but she said it was all in the numbers. The more she got, the more impressed she was with her own collection. And I have to agree that the pale blue walls of the small living room of her flat were overwhelmed by the parade of serene white birds. I pictured them coming alive at night in the dark; stretching their wings and separating their feathers before relapsing back into their china positions. Old habits die hard.
Marilyn and I used to enjoy getting mail too. (Marilyn’s my sister.) And that’s because we wanted the stamps. We collected them, and we were quite competitive. Well, I was anyway. Not so much her, because she didn’t have to try. She was always prettier than me, and our father preferred her. Her eyes are brown, like hangi sacks, and her hair is dark red, like the golden syrup we used to help our auntie pour into the steam puddings. I have blue-black hair myself; black hair with a blue sheen, like a bird’s wing. Maybe Marilyn reminded our dad of our mum. In photos, our mum is a white girl, and Marilyn has her red hair. Sometimes I call her Ginger.
She says I’m jealous of her. “After all I’ve done to look after you and protect you,” she says. But how could I not be angry with her, when our dad made it so obvious that he loved her the most? She’s a lesbian now, of course. Running a Women’s Collective. They do rape crisis work. It’s not even a proper job. Our dad said she was doing it to get at him. She said she didn’t owe him anything. I don’t know how she can say that when he gave her so much love and attention. He barely noticed me, and I’m the one who cared about him the most. She feels good surrounded by sisters, she says. She knows this will hurt me. “I’m your sister,” I say when I Facebook her. She says I’m too much about myself.
Some of the sugar Denise gave me spilled onto her dark blue bench. Little white nothings. Just part of the debris and waste of the universe. And then off I went. She’d showed off her swans, and that was it; thank you. Anyway, I’m tired now, dear diary. It’s been a big night. I’ll catch you up tomorrow.
Dear diary, I had to stop writing last night because I was getting a little bit off track, and I was tired before I knew it. I shouldn’t let that stuff about Marilyn get to me. That will just lead to carelessness. What I was really supposed to be writing about was Denise, so I’ll get to that now.
I knew her lover must be married, because he only came late at night. (I’m very observant.) And as far as I know, she never mentioned him to neighbours in the other flats. I stop and talk to them occasionally because I live in the house down the end of the driveway. I rented it to myself. I do a little bit of real estate work, and sometimes a little bit of PA work; mainly temping. Everyone knows that living in a house means you’re better than someone living in a flat.
I saw him come, and I saw him go. It was dark, and the sky outside my window was hung heavy and low with thick black cloud. Star light was dead. I waited patiently for his car to drive away, and then I waited fifteen minutes more, to be sure he wasn’t coming back. I left Rhombus at the other end of the driveway, where it met the footpath. No one comes past him. Fear is what gives us impulse control. Too much sometimes; and it holds us back from what we need to do. I have very little fear when it comes to doing what I need to do. But I have enough.
There were night noises. The sound of someone yelling, briefly, over towards E street. The hum of heavy machinery from the industrial area over the way. Someone laughing; perhaps at a party. Everyone who was up was too busy to give a thought to what anyone else might be doing, which is how I like it. I felt as if I was on a conveyor belt as I walked up the drive towards Denise’s door; gliding through the night towards her house. She had a crop of big creamy white puff balls growing near her back door step, and they caught the light of my i-phone which I was shielding with my hand. No sensor light or alarm, of course.
I walked right in the front door. She probably thought I was her lover coming back, because she stepped into the end of the short hallway without talking. She was a black hole that a person had fallen into; a representation. The darkness was inky blue in comparison. I walked forward until she was so close that I couldn’t see her properly, and I was more aware of the drifting, lilac smoke from her incense than I was of her silhouette. I was acutely aware of everything sensory. The hum of a heat pump. The smell of the joint she’d just smoked in the bedroom. I pulled my arm back, and drove the big kitchen knife I’d brought with me into her stomach as hard as I could. Then I continued pushing her in front of me into the room behind her.
She stumbled backwards until she tripped, and her head struck one of the shelves full of swans. As she drifted towards the floor, it seemed as if their feathers fell in slow motion with her; floating slowly down onto the dark lake that surrounded her body. When I looked again, they were just white shards of china lying on the ground; getting mixed in with her blood and her dark red hair; part of the debris and waste of the universe. Even old habits can be broken, I guess. Other swans, on shelves untouched, looked as if they would like to fly down too, and glide enigmatically to and fro, wondering about death. It’s ironic that we chose to represent angels as men and women with the wings of swans.
I was glad that the person in the next flat from Denise was pretty much deaf, and that the other flat was empty, because there had been quite a crash. It’s doubtful that the walls would have been sound proof in a cheap flat. The handle of my knife was stiff and black. It was harder to pull out of her than you might imagine. It was stuck inside her stomach for what seemed like ages. And I needed to get out of there as quickly as possible. Every second was an extra, unnecessary risk. I could have left unintended evidence, or I could have gotten caught. Although I didn’t bother with gloves and that sort of thing. I have the perfect excuse for a strand of my hair to be on her carpet, and for my foot prints to be on her doorstep. I borrowed sugar yesterday. People saw me. I made sure they did. Attention to detail. That’s what it’s all about.
As usual, it was hard to find exactly the right moment to leave, even when the knife came loose. When I was finally outside, the black cloud was even lower, and the orange street light was sulky and heavy. Above the light, the cloud had a filmy blue layer to it, like deep water. Rhombus ran alongside me, panting with excitement because he could smell the blood on the knife. Drooling on my feet. I soaked the knife in a bucket of disinfectant, super strength.
Then I had one of those OCD moments where I was almost overcome by the really strong urge to go back and check that she was properly dead. I mean, I didn’t even check her pulse or anything. What if she had crawled to the phone? What if she gave them my name? What if she was still alive when they found her? I lay awake in bed with my thoughts gliding round and round like swans; never catching up with each other; until it rained hot, heavy wet drops on the roof, and then my tension was suddenly released. Rhombus’s breath was black on my face. He loves me no matter what. Even if I didn’t feed him, he’d still adore me. No matter what.
Anyway, dear diary, tired again. It takes it out of me.
I went out and stood with the others as the Police took her away, dear diary. I would have looked funny if I hadn’t. It’s human nature to be curious. They were all talking about it. “She was raped, you know.” I knew she’d have sperm between her legs, and I’m banking on them finding it. Not to get her lover in trouble as such, but I mean, he shouldn’t be doing that; sneaking round in the dark, rooting someone he shouldn’t be. Maybe he paid her. And it just makes it easier for me. “I heard they found her with those swans all broken around her.” “How did she afford them all?” “Police lady says it was a mess.” They had a lot to say. It was very exciting for them, but they had to make their faces sad.
The red and blue lights of the patrol cars swept around the dusk in the driveway, blushing and saddening the twilight in turn. A neighbour found her. The door was unlocked. “Is she alright?” asked a woman from across the street, as they wheeled Denise out in a body bag. No wonder no one suspects the neighbours. A policewoman squashed the puff balls by the steps with her boots, and the white pulp clung to the side of her sole. She left three half boot prints on the tarseal drive, as if a ghost had walked there. Perhaps other Police will find them later and decide they’re a clue.
Later, they did the rounds, and a policeman came down to interview me. Police are so much more chatty in the evening. Like it’s a more intimate time or something. “That’s an impressive dog you’ve got there,” he said to me as Rhombus growled at him. If I hadn’t been there, Rhombus would have ripped his throat out. I told him I was a woman living alone, and that I kept Rhombus for protection. I am keen to send a message that I am fearful, a potential victim myself. “It’s a pity that your neighbour didn’t have a dog too,” he said. Hiding in plain sight is easy. I’m not very memorable. People over look me. They wouldn’t if they really knew me. Then they’d be interested in me for sure. And they would write about me, and discuss me on Twitter; hashtag #ourmistake.
He had a fingerprint kit with him, and he rolled my thumbs and fingers in the fat black ink. “I’m sure my fingerprints will be all over everything,” I said. “I went over yesterday to borrow some sugar, and Denise showed me her swans.” “That’ll make you an official suspect,” he said, and for a moment, I thought he was onto me, and I felt a little stab of fear. Initially, it was an unpleasant sick feeling, but it melted into a pleasant chill as soon as I realized he was joking, because he laughed. “It’s just a process of elimination,” he said, “so that we know which prints to concentrate on, and which ones not to pay attention to. Sorry I scared you. We’re not in the habit of arresting innocent people.”
That is the sort of attitude towards me that I like. I have dried off the knife and used it to chop Rhombus’s meat into bite sized pieces. If anyone ever decides to test it, all they will find is animal blood. You can learn a lot by watching CSI. The key to it is to have absolutely no motive. I was friendly with Denise in a neighbour sort of way, but not too friendly. No one will suspect me, or spray me with luminol. And this is the real thrill. The moment of death is good, but getting away with it is better. And I’m not greedy; I don’t do it very often. I’ve lived here for two years now; a blameless life. They never keep tabs on me afterwards; I’m not important enough. I always move away. And no one remembers me.
“I’m just on edge,” I said. “I’m not used to having someone murdered down my driveway.” (This is not true.) “I keep thinking that it might happen to me next,” I told him. “Oh, he’ll be long gone,” the policeman said. “Still, hopefully, we’ll get some DNA from the rape kit. Maybe you should go and stay with family for a while though.” I thought of my dad. I always felt safe when he was around. He had big, steady hands, and I always knew nothing bad could happen to me when he was with me. He’s dead now, of course, so I have to keep myself safe. “I’m going to put my house up for sale. I don’t feel safe here any more,” I tell all the neighbours and anyone I see in the street. Everyone’s still talking about it. Other people are saying the same thing as me.
And that, dear diary, is enough for tonight.
Actually, dear diary, it should be enough; that should have been my last entry for this time round, but I am weirdly compelled to discuss my sister again. Because she is at the root of all of this. I Facebooked her again, just to see how I felt now. She is still her patronizing self. But we had some good times together. Like doing the stamp collecting thing when we were younger. In fact, what I do now is really just a continuation of my stamp collecting. I select a person, just as I used to select a stamp. I try to pick someone who won’t be missed too much. I’m not a monster. I mean, Denise had no kids that I know of, and no one really visited her except her midnight lover, and people like me, borrowing sugar. Then I prepare them, and just like steaming a stamp off the paper backing, you’ve got to be careful. Too fast, and then you’ll rip it and you’ll ruin it. I think a lot about how I’ll display the stamp before I stick it into place in the album alongside the stamps I’ve already collected. For a while, I’ll contemplate it a lot, and my eyes will be drawn to it, (so to speak,) because it’s the most recent. But eventually, the enjoyment of acquisition wears off, and I start to think about getting a new stamp to renew the feeling.
There’s been a few. The woman in Paeroa, the girl in Porirua. I don’t want sex or revenge or money or drugs. I don’t get caught. Why would I? Obviously, it requires brains, and luckily I have them, because I don’t have people’s permission to kill them, and they could fight back. Everything, both before and after, needs to be planned. No, I don’t feel bad. Why would I? My problem is that no one realizes how clever I am, so they don’t treat me with the respect that I deserve. Marilyn is a good example of this. There’s a part of me that would like everyone to know, including her, but I know that this is not possible, because then she be better off in life than I would, and I wouldn’t enjoy that. My cleverness rests on nobody knowing. My work is necessarily anonymous. And that’s where you come in, dear diary. Someone to tell.
Anyway, when it comes down to it, Ginger is worse than me. She wasn’t even sad when our father died. And he was our father, not some stranger. She used to suck up to him when we were kids. Always doing what she was told, trying to take all of his love. The golden girl; the one with the big fat scorching neon halo hanging over her red hair. She still says she was just protecting me. Which is bullshit. She’s just trying to twist me around to that feminist point of view that she feeds off in that lesbian collective. That’s why our dad hung himself. Because of Marilyn and the things she said. It’s like she wanted him to hurt. And he was always giving her a special smile, or stroking the back of her neck. But that was how she repaid him.
I suppose I hope he’s a peace. I waited and waited for him to tell me that he loved me as much as he loved Ginger, but he never did. And there’s no point waiting now. As for her, I guess I’m still waiting for an apology from her, not that I ever expect to get one. And do you know, dear diary, that she had the cheek to tell me that she was waiting for the same thing from me? She’s not even on the same planet.
I find it funny that the person who’s closest to you for all those years; who you do all your early growing up with, who you share all the same history with, can just drift off and not care to have you in their life. Even when you were one of the eight or nine at the time when they only knew eight or nine people in their whole entire life. I am the one who has done the best; I’ve made money in the real estate business, and I’ve kept my figure, while she’s stayed poor and put on fat. I’ve got it all, except that when I want to scream, I’m the only one that hears anything. People are okay with me. They don’t mind me. But none of them truly love me. Not Ginger, not our auntie. And our dad gave all his love to Ginger. Possibly even you, dear dairy, do not truly love me. And that is why I have Rhombus.
Each murder is like a little tape that I can play back in my head. But somehow, the result is never quite perfect. Even this time, something is nagging at me. Something wrong. It just doesn’t feel as satisfying as it should. I play it through in my mind. The dark lake, the red hair casting its syrupy tendrils across the surface. The innocence of swan feathers. The puff of steam from her just boiled kettle in the adjourning kitchenette hanging in a soft purple haze at the entrance to the room. She had a lamp with a dark blue shade and a TV with a screen the size of a big window and a surface like black water. It all flows together in a strangely pleasurable way. Until I get to Denise’s blue eyes, staring up at me like a blue Friday afternoon sky. Staring straight at me, like she hates me, and it’s not like she even really knew me. I should have closed her lids at the time, but I felt strangely intimidated, as if I needed to hide, and that was the moment I chose to leave.
Denise reminded me of Marilyn in a way. She had the same red hair. Most of them have red hair. No, not most of them. All of them. But Ginger doesn’t have blue eyes. Hers are brown like our father’s. And no matter how many times I kill her, I know that Ginger is still there; surrounded by her lover and her lover’s children, and everyone and everything she wants. I can’t touch a hair of her head, of course; she’s the one person that I would have a motive to kill. There have been times when my fingers have itched, and I have thought; I could kill you now. But I haven’t.
Our dad took us to live at our auntie’s when our mum died. I can hardly remember our mum, except from the photos, where she looks like Marilyn. For a while, I thought the photos of her as a girl were photos of Ginger, until I realized that their eyes were different colours. Marilyn and I slept outside in the caravan, so that we didn’t get disturbed when the grown ups had parties inside, although we could still hear them laughing and singing while they drank. When I think back, I can remember the inside of the caravan; wrinkled with pumpkin coloured candle light, and us huffing down into our sleeping bags. Marilyn’s red hair would be fanned out on the pillow.
Our dad would come in. “How’s my girls?” he would say. And he’d give me a quick kiss. “Turn over and go to sleep, there’s a good girl.” He’d snuff the candle out with his bare fingers, because he was just like that. Big and brave. And in the dark, he’d climb into Marilyn’s sleeping bag and lie on top of her, and I could hear him moving around while she lay perfectly still. It was always Ginger. He never once chose me.
And that, dear diary, is how my sister ruined my life.
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