On the kitchen counter, within arm’s reach, lay a hammer and a pair of scissors: the instruments of murder. People did it all the time.
Waking Up Marie
On the kitchen counter, within arm’s reach, lay a hammer and a pair of scissors: the instruments of murder. People did it all the time.
awoke in a very cold room, her body half-tumbled off the bed, her left side
tilted towards the floor. Where was she? The bed was too high, too wide to be
her own. The curtains were thin and white, and lightly illuminated by a blank summer
sky. It could have been six or ten in the morning, or three in the afternoon.
What time was it? She didn’t have a watch. There was no clock in the room,
nothing but a bed, and table, and a stack of books about art and painting. There
was also a framed photograph of Naomi at a very young age, playing in a field
with cousins, or friends. Naomi was an only child.
Naomi’s. Were this a more dramatic time Marie would have rolled over and found
a man sleeping next to her, but no, this morning, or whatever hour it was, this
day she was alone. The air conditioner droned and droned, and made Marie feel
weightless. She was wearing Naomi’s nightgown, a navy blue cotton dress with a
deep dip in the back. The night before, Marie had spent time admiring herself
in the mirror above the desk, trying to catch the truest glimpse of her back.
Then she’d climbed into Naomi’s high bed – the guest bed – drawn the covers
over her shoulders, and willed herself to sleep.
She had dreamed
about Asher. She had broken from a band of people, and run into a school, up
and up a flight of stairs. There she’d found Asher, waiting for her in the hall.
“Asher,” she whispered. He turned to face her. She pulled him into a room,
pushed in the lock, stripped off her clothes. She pressed her naked body
against his: “I’m here.” Too soon they were discovered. People gathered outside
the door, and banged on the frosted glass, instructing her to come out
immediately. They weren’t angry – they were just persistent.
sick, remembering the dream. Asher was gone.
her head. Where was Naomi? In her own bedroom, most likely asleep in a perfect
dream, or no dream at all. Naomi: beautiful, unpossessed. Though wait, that
wasn’t fair. Of course she had dreams, of course she did – but Marie couldn’t
allow for it. At the very least, Naomi
was ready to give them away, to drown them. Last night she’d seen Naomi take a
pill and announce herself drowsy and ready for bed. Perhaps she had done so to
cut off Marie’s ramblings – the two hadn’t seen each other in years. Marie
hadn’t felt entirely hurt by Naomi’s gesture, and was even grateful: soon Naomi
would be knocked out completely. Naomi
had leaned forward and given her a last, loose hug, momentarily encircling
Marie in her well-toned and perfected self, before easing her way down the
Marie had said, turning once to give Naomi a little wave.
shut Naomi’s door tightly behind her and gone back to her room – the guest room
– to change into the nightgown Naomi had lent her. Removing her clothes felt
like a cleansing: she took off the denim skirt that would not stay still on her
narrow hips, but inched its way upwards and around her body, so that sometimes
the back pockets were almost at the front; she took off the linen shirt that
had looked nice that morning, but now was stained with sweat and in need of
ironing. When she slipped on the
nightgown, she felt a closeness to Naomi she hadn’t felt when Naomi had been
sitting across from her, nodding mechanically to Marie’s stories of
discovered she was hungry. She walked into the kitchen, flicking on its yellow
light that hung suspended over a round table and chairs. Then she looked for
things to eat. There wasn’t much, as Naomi was allergic to wheat, or claimed to
be. There was nothing Marie immediately craved, no cakes, no bread and butter. She
settled on an expensive vanilla yogurt, the first thing she saw upon opening
the fridge. It came in a cream-colored container, with an image of the organic
farm where it had been made. Full-fat – that was satisfying. Marie would have
liked to relax in a chair, to eat Naomi’s yogurt slowly while staring out the
window at the apartment across the way, but she didn’t feel at ease: She feared
at any moment Naomi might rise, zombie-like, and come into the kitchen to place
her hands around Marie’s neck, and grip tight.
better to finish the yogurt quickly, hide the container deep in the garbage,
wash off the spoon, put it back in the drawer. Marie turned off the light, and
stumbled in the dark for the bathroom. She found it, and locked the door.
always looked more attractive in someone else’s mirror. She wondered if this were endemic to the
human species, or even just to women. In Naomi’s mirror, her skin looked less bluishly
bruised, more even; her eyes looked shiny and dark and mysteriously sunk. This
was it, she decided, this was the appeal: the trying on of other lives. Here
she tried on Naomi. She gripped the mirror’s edge and pulled. Her reflection
slid away as she looked into the cabinet behind the glass. Marie unscrewed a
tube of non-chemical toothpaste and squeezed a small amount onto her finger,
swishing around the minty paste as she conducted her search. She found dental
floss, and a few tools for picking one’s teeth. Marie shuddered. Oh, the
thought of it…she should see a dentist, she had not been in a while. There were
several pots of expensive creams and moisturizers, which she would help herself
to later on – but that was it. Frustrating.
Naomi must keep her pills somewhere else. Marie wanted to find out exactly what kind they
through the contents of the shelves next to the shower yielded very
little. A line of French hair care
products, a dizzying number of dryers and straighteners for one woman, and –
here. This was the only interesting thing: a jar of “natural” laxatives called
“Smooth Move.” Marie’s heart sank a little. The search was over. She threw the
jar down in disgust. She stepped out of her nightgown, took a scalding shower,
and soothed her skin with Naomi’s rich solutions. In the mirror, glamorous
Marie shimmered into life once more: here was her potential.
got out of bed, straightened the covers, arranged the six or seven pillows she
had tossed aside, and bent down to pick up her bag of dark green leather – a
nice bag, except for the coffee someone had once spilled on it, leaving a
permanent dark stain, and a lingering hazelnut smell. Her phone was nestled
somewhere near the bottom. When she
found it she was unsurprised to learn it was nearly eleven, and that her
battery was close to dead. This would be an excuse to go knock on Naomi’s
sitting in bed, propped up by a great quantity of pillows. A sleek laptop was positioned nearby, its lid
half-opened, half-shut. “I was just talking to David,” she said, indicating the
laptop, “he’s home on Wednesday.”
Marie, stuck. She had met David once. He’d arrived at Naomi’s with his
motorcycle helmet under one arm. Marie had extended a hand, and he’d paused
before shaking it. He hadn’t liked her.
remembering the phone: “Do you have a charger for this?”
narrowed her eyes. “I don’t think so. That’s not the kind of phone I have
anymore.” She pushed back the covers, and swung her unbruised legs out of bed. She
wore a nightgown of shimmery material, in a color that changed from cream to beige
to gold and back again as she pushed past Marie and opened the door. “I think
there’s a charger someone left here once.”
into the living room, which was furnished by a circle of low, modern chairs. On
the far end of the room was a leather couch. Naomi disappeared behind it, and returned
with a woven basket of assorted electronics. She seemed upset that she should
have to perform such a task on a Sunday morning, and yet, like everything Naomi
did, she was equally resolved to do it well. When she produced a charger that
didn’t fit Marie’s phone, she seemed disappointed.
then give it back now,” she said.
it over. Naomi placed the basket on an upper shelf of one bookcase, as if to
make a point that Marie were not to reach it. She walked out of the room,
pausing once to look at her newest bit of home improvement: yes, the basket did
look better there, on the shelf, and not hidden behind the couch. As Naomi
admired her work, Marie nearly bumped into her, and found herself
what,” said Naomi. She turned her back to Marie. “Let’s have breakfast.”
out two small glass bowls, which she filled halfway up with yogurt – the same
kind, Marie guessed, as she’d taken from the fridge the night before. Next
Naomi placed on the table a packet of expensive granola. Marie took only a few
spoonfuls, as Naomi would undoubtedly do, though she knew, by the depths of her
stomach, that she could have gobbled up half the bag. Naomi was moving around
the kitchen with graceful and precise movements: the dancer, yet the dancer at
rest, projecting an air of ease as she made them coffee in a French press.
you keep staring at me?” Naomi said as she set down the coffee.
the Naomi she remembered best, whose cold eyes she’d known since she was eight
was all Marie could say. She raised her spoon, then lowered it. “Do you
remember when…” – she didn’t know if this were a good path to travel, but
she’d started on it anyway – “Do you remember when we were at camp, we were
twelve or something, and you were always the star of…”
“Yeah, sort of,” Naomi said. She wrinkled her
nose, as if this were part of the effort to remember. “Not really, it was a
long time ago.”
day we were all warming up in that big studio, and all I could do was look at
you, and then you said into the mirror, in front of everyone, ‘that retarded
girl keeps staring at me,’ and I just couldn’t…and you knew my name…”
laughter was not with Marie. “Did I say
that? I don’t – but it’s funny, admit it. I mean you do, you’ve always been
She lowered her eyes.
joking, Marie. Jesus,” Naomi yawned. She leaned back in her chair and pulled
open a kitchen drawer, taking out two bottles of prescription pills. She began to unscrew the caps.
up. “What are those?”
shook her head. She swallowed a pill.
want to see.”
want to know what kind.”
thinking, Marie pushed back her chair. She was at Naomi’s side, and trying to
grab the bottles from her hand.
God,” said Naomi, who had nimbly darted out of Marie’s path, and now barricaded
herself behind the table, “you’re still just the same, the same freak you
to me!” said Marie, her voice rising with an urgency she hadn’t expected, “I
want to see what you’re taking, you zombie!”
“No! No. You
never change, Marie, you’re always – why did I let you stay here? I knew you’d
– you haven’t stolen anything, have you? God, I was hoping you’d overdosed by
Marie clarity. On the kitchen counter, within arm’s reach, lay a hammer and a
pair of scissors: the instruments of murder. People did it all the time. She
wondered what it would be like to take the hammer and bring it harshly, swiftly
to the back of Naomi’s head.
Marie flinched. The vision sobered her. She sat down.
continued to scream. “And, so you know, these pills are nothing, they’re just
to help me focus. Because unlike you, I do things with my life, and I need to
began to massage her forehead, exorcising the vision from her mind.
the fuck are you still doing here, sitting in my kitchen?”
up and pushed in her chair. She said calmly: “Naomi. I don’t like you. You
don’t listen. You never let me change. You think just because you knew me then,
you know me now. You don’t.”
walked over to Marie. They faced each other. For a second, Marie didn’t know
which way Naomi’s face would go – the dead gaze, or what she still hoped for,
deep down: a look of pardon and mercy.
me,” said Naomi. She walked out of the kitchen. A moment later, the door to the
bedroom slammed shut.
ready quickly. She changed back into her
clothes from yesterday, and then – it came naturally, almost instinctively –
she rolled up Naomi’s nightgown and stuffed the navy blue ball of cotton deep
into her bag.
sealed inside her air-conditioned temple, had left Marie with an open field,
entire rooms in which she could seek her revenge. The kitchen, living room, bath – all were
hers to turn over. It would be fun,
Marie thought, to uproot the place: to relieve the tubes and jars of their
expensive pastes and wash them down the bathroom sink; to rearrange the
furniture in the living room, to take the extra charger, and any extra thing;
to smash a few plates and glasses in the kitchen. Oh, it would be fun, but
Marie didn’t have the desire anymore. Instead, she smoothed back her hair and
walked out of the apartment, closing the door gently behind her, so that it
shut with a tiny click.
walked up the first few blocks of Boerum Hill with great strides, feeling the
city air recycle through her body, replacing whatever she’d caught at Naomi’s. But
after fifteen minutes of vigorous walking, and with no destination in mind, she
could feel the sweat start to break through her skin, form little droplets on
her scalp, collect in the space where her bag hung from her shoulder, leaving
her shirt damp and stained.
tempted to go inside a café. But she was
not ready for more people. Whatever had been stirred up inside of her at
Naomi’s – the outburst, the murderous thought – might still be visible on her
face. She needed to let these things sink to the bottom once more, and maybe,
this time, disappear for good.
to Prospect Park. She sat down under a
tree she picked for its isolation, the unlikely chance anyone would come and
sit beside her. She reviewed the events in her head. All her thoughts went to
should have seen Naomi! Just as beautiful, but totally dazed. Totally zonked-out zombie…she’s…I don’t know.
I get there and at first I think things will be okay. Then we’re in her bedroom
talking, and that’s when I see she’s totally off the rails, just staring at me
with this spaced-out look, it’s like I’m not even there – she’s doing a parody
of listening or something, she’s staring straight at me, her lips are sort of
smiling, she’s nodding…but she hears none of it. She’s perched at the top of
her bed, and I’m sitting at the foot, and I feel myself slowly start to slide
down, till I’m looking up at her. It’s just how it always was – when we were
growing up. Yeah, I idolized her back then, still kind of do, but I just dislike
her so much, you know? She’s a bad person.”
imagined Asher would be listening as he did that day, sitting across, leaning
forward to better hear her voice. Asher was a tall man, and broad-shouldered,
too. When they’d first met – introduced at a party – he had risen to greet her,
and she’d taken in his body, unfolding. Marie had reached forward to shake his
hand, and felt a momentary pulse of fear. Then she recognized the gentleness of
his nature, his shyness, too. This had made it difficult for Marie to know how
to act, as she was not used to gentle men. In the presence of Asher she became
shy and gentle, too.
slept together, twice. Then he’d gone away. During their second night, Marie,
startled out of sleep, had whispered to Asher sleeping beside her: “Asher!” –
and he’d reached for her and pulled her towards him, into his arms. Marie had
never felt anyone pull her towards them like that – usually she felt a push in
the other way.
As it had
been with Naomi, last night.
scanning the thin crowd at Prospect Park – the gray day seemed to have dulled
everyone’s spirits, and kept them out of the park; there were none of the
pleasure-seeking masses that populated the long meadow when there was sun – she
turned her mind inward again, to Asher. She didn’t tell him any of the less decent
things she’d done: she didn’t mention the yogurt, the rummaging through the
bathroom; she thought about mentioning the nightgown, but only if she could do
so in a lighthearted way; she certainly left out the part about her murderous
vision, Naomi’s brains pounded in with a hammer. She couldn’t have Asher
thinking she were strange.
her mind, he was sitting across from her the way he had that day, when she’d
told him everything. He’d sat still, hadn’t once fidgeted or looked bored; he
had listened to her in a way that made her feel expansive and smart and
justified. He’d drawn closer and closer,
so that by the time she finished speaking their knees were touching.
mind, he prompted her to return to last night: “So, Naomi was totally
“Yeah. She was taking these pills. I tried to see
the bottles, but she kept them away from me.”
“Well – ”
“I know, I
know, but not like that. I didn’t want
to take her pills – just wanted to see. Even though I knew they were just
sleeping pills, and Adderall or Ritalin, pills like that. But she was swallowing
them like vitamins. Given my…it seemed disrespectful. At least I never acted
like what I was doing was normal. I think that’s what bothered me the most. It
was normal for her. She had no idea that – she said she was just using them to
maintain her highly functional life. It wasn’t about discovery or
expansiveness, she just took them to kill her dreams.”
saying when you did drugs it was just about…expansiveness.”
know, Asher. You’re making my head
hurt.” She stood up, brushing off her skirt. This was not the conversation
she’d been meaning to have.
she’d walked for a while, she turned to him again. “She said she wished I’d
overdosed already. She didn’t mean it, but how could she say it?”
Marie.” In her mind they were sitting down again, knees touching. “Did you tell
her what happened?”
Nothing. Nothing from her. She didn’t seem to care, or maybe she didn’t
understand…but I showed her my legs. I showed her where the bruises had been,
and where they’d been on my arms, and I told her about my eyes. She didn’t….”
come for her. They’d come for her, two men she knew recreationally, from
crushing OxyContin and snorting it up the nose. At first they approached her
thinking it would be fun, all three of them, but when she panicked – when she panicked,
that’s when it began. They held her down and took turns. At some point they
started punching her. Then they’d panicked, too, and tried to say what they
were doing was fun. By then she was bleeding and her vision had blurred. She
had trouble forming words. They’d left her alone to put on her clothes, get up,
limp, collapse, wait for someone else to find her. She’d been afraid to call
the pain of remembering return: the accelerated heartbeat, the sudden weakness
in her legs, which threatened to snap under and take her down, making her easy prey.
She found a bench and sat down, dropping her head towards her knees, hoping the
increased blood flow would flood her thoughts and clean her brain. Asher alone
had suspected things were bad, much worse than she’d first admit. He was the
only one who’d gotten angry. He’d gotten up and slammed his fist against the
wall. Then sat back down, close to her,
said, “what those pricks did to you, you didn’t deserve.”
waited and waited until she was well enough to stand. Where was Asher now? She clicked
back into her thoughts. Her mind was empty, Asher was gone. She had just
herself. She adjusted her skirt, tugged at its hem.