A Mystery

We all know murder now. We know the vocabulary of it, the variations of it. We know the weapons and their effects. We have all seen bodies blown by a bullet like a leaf in the wind. We have become so knowledgable. Murder happens in our daily lives, a possibility as available as choosing to eat Mexican food, choosing to eat Japanese food. I've never tried that, we think, and go there to where the restaurant is as if we're visiting the foreign place where that kind of food lives. And we eat.

Murder, if we're lucky, happens in images; television, movies, all those cars and guns; and it happens in words, newspapers and books, written by people who study and do research to learn even more.

If we wanted a taste of the real stuff, authentically flavored, where would we go? Where does murder live? And the answer is -- it lives, like the bluebird of happiness, in our own back yards.

Monday was uneventful. I washed some clothes and wore some clothes and thought about buying but did not buy some clothes. I shopped for groceries, cooked and ate food.

Tuesday I got a permanent, turned my hair to frizz, and dressed in my best and went to a cafe and ate a hamburger and a piece of pie.

Wednesday I bought a bad wig exactly the color of my own hair, and I bought a very red hat. I was depending on interference. Give people something to see and they won't see something else. Investigators would say, "She wore a blond wig. We're looking for a nonblonde." Witnesses would say, "She wore a red hat."

Love and money rank tops as motives. Then hatred. Means and opportunity figure in the equation. And that's the dumb clutter. She loved him. She was there. She hated him. She was there. She had money coming from his insurance. She had a gun. She was there.

I am in my cubicle in my office. When my phone rings I answer it. I say, "Let me check my files." I check my files. I say, " How soon do you need it?" We both agree that it is now 10:20, and I say, "I'll have it for you in 15 minutes." I say, "Can you pick it up or should I bring it over?"

And now the clock is clicking, I'm out of there, the wig goes on in the car, some extra gaudy lipstick.

And now I pull the trigger. It's loud and messier than I had thought. I leave him, taped and tied and dead. I walk down the hall. Doors are beginning to open. Heads are poking through them. People are walking into the hall asking each other, "Did you hear that?"

I walk past them in my new hair, in my red hat, looking at no one. In the elevator I put the hat and the wig in a crumpled bag. On the sidewalk I lift the top layer of newspapers in the nearest garbage can, lay the bag there, under the papers, to be found. That's the weakness of the whole thing; I'm depending on it that investigations are as good as television.

I drive to my office building and park; 11 minutes. I'm out of the elevator and just inside my door when ugly Big Boss Julia arrives. She's one minute late, otherwise I'd have had to say I went to the little girl's room. (She says things like that, incongruous with that face.)

In my cubicle, on my table, neatly printed out and in a folder, the pages she needs are ready, have been ready since yesterday. "I included the list of suppliers," I say. And smile. Everybody smiles at Julia just the way I'm smiling now, a trick with the lips.

She leaves.

I'm trembling but otherwise fine. I sit and begin the wait. The curtain is going up. I wait for the drama to unfold.

It began as a small headline and a couple of paragraphs. Minimal news. A late-breaking usual story. Then the reporters realized who he was married to and he got page one, outranking war and famine. A big picture of him in a tux and a grin, with his newest wife, diamonds and tits and a grin. Her second try for happy-ever-after, his third. Her first husband mentioned by name, his ex-wives only a number.

Now he wouldn't be her second ex; he would be the true love of her life. The one who wasn't around long enough for the antibodies to set in.

I had actually thought it out, whether the best worst thing wasn't watching him get old and tired and fat and hopeless, racking up wives like billiard balls, prostate problems and an ugly face in the mirror while he counted his hair. Then I thought fuck it. Takes too long.

And along the way he'd have had too much fun. Any fun was too much. Any morning he might wake without a hangover, any meal he might eat without throwing up, any time in bed when he wasn't apologizing, that was all more than I wanted him to have.

So, Boom.

The second day, after the big newspaper story, the police leave a message on my answering machine, asking me to call. That's pretty damned slack.

I wondered whether they'd got to fat-ass Flo. I called her to ask. The minute I said his name she was in pieces. "Oh, God! Oh, God!" and she was crying. Her trademark. Just the way I remembered her.

The first six months she had telephoned daily, sometimes more than once. She needed him, the children needed him, she'd put them on the phone. They were crying too.

By the second six months the divorce was through and we were married. That's when I started wanting to call her, beg her to take him back. Some men are good just long enough for a courtship.

In the fictions of this kind of event, there's a contrivance that lets the person who's our heroine be in "the case." She's endlessly interviewed, fallen in love with by the principal detective, that sort of thing.

The person who talked to me wasn't attractive. Bad hair and a suit from some mall four or five years ago. No flair. No hint of brilliance. I think briefly that if I want the tempo picked up, the plot sharpened, I'm going to have to go tromping around finding the clues he'll never see. But I'm not stupid. I don't want to attract attention. I am just this office person with a boring past, part of which was him. I help if I can. I get cups of coffee for men able to get it for themselves.

After every question I pause. Their questions are about the past, I answer them toward my intentions for the future. "It's the shock," I tell them, "I don't know whether I'm coming or going." To cover wherever my responses may not seem normal.

But what I'm really feeling is disappointment. It looks like all that can happen from now on is description, endless boring description.

Bobbie Louise Hawkins is the author of a novel, One Small Saga, and a collection of short prose works, My Own Alphabet, both from Coffee House Press. She directs Prose Track at the Jack Kerouac School for Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute, Boulder, Colo.

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