Pure Chance Universe
By Kim Farleigh
Every afternoon, she parked and walked off at five past four, the car left for her ex-husband who lived opposite my office, her clothes changing as the leaves changed, wrapped up as the leaves fell, insulated under bare trees, flesh visible again with returning green.
She parked again; I was anticipating candelabra-tree shadows on her disappearing back; but she walked towards her ex-husband’s flat.
Arms swinging swiftly, upright back rigid, she reached the flat and disappeared inside.
Peter looked up.
“A car back-firing?” I offered.
“I didn’t hear a car,” he replied.
“OH MY GOD!” the ex-husband screamed. “OH MY GEAWWWDDD!!”
Peter entered the manager’s office, flailing possibilities, like swishing tentacles, writhing in my head.
The manager crossed the road and knocked on the ex-husband’s door. I wanted to charge through the back door and he was knocking on that door!
Arms straight down by his sides, he resembled a brave man facing a firing squad as he stared at the door that didn’t open. He came back across the road. Skeletal trees, like the stoic figures of irreversible destinies, rose over his head, glinting relief running through me, twiggy fingertips scratching shadowy cracks into the facades facing us, scratching us all out eventually with those irrepressible fingers.
The soon-arriving police’s lights placed garish reality into the street’s overprotected modernity. Faces appeared at windows. Opportunities for voyeurism were now being provided by the media, not by nature, police action generating the thrills that gripped our ancestors.
Flak-jacketed police destroyed the ex-husband’s door. Safety now made me want to see a fire-fight. I had returned to TV surrealism, to pre-historic expectation, anaesthetised by those trained to face the flak.
The handcuffed ex-wife looked swathed in a veil of peace, cleansed from the trammels that had besieged her, her relaxed lips apart, as she descended the stairs that led from her ex-husband’s flat.
Clouds, like gnarled-finger illumination, shone above her as if approval had been given by a guiding hand. Bare trees, like tuning forks, quivered, reaching towards that gnarled-fingered being whose grip dominated the heavens.
The ex-wife entered a police car, tenacity in her satisfaction, the receptionist telling a detective: “Yes, she was carrying something. Her face was hard. She never goes into the flat. She always parks the car and leaves. She looked furious. After she went inside, he screamed: ‘Oh my God!’ after the gunshot.”
I went home, leafless trees along a long road forming a mist in which soaked timber veins appeared to be carrying black blood; cars and people swarmed under this misty canopy that seemed to be hemming things in. An apartment block, above this mist, had the aura of a serene palace, its height, location and separation giving it a contented ambivalence that for me is the only consolation if Heaven’s consolation seems fanciful.
An ambulance stopped. Fracas irises, seemingly perched on stalks, were scurrying through a street directory.
“Left at the end,” I said, “then first left.”
I imagined a receptionist coming from a different background, one less thrilled with scornful joy: “Despite the ex-wife’s grimness, one was taken aback by the crack of a firearm that followed her entry into her previous abode. Why! I spilt my brandy and soda! Uncle Archibald’s decimation of a partridge in the drawing room in ’94 flooded into one’s mind, a beast executed by The Blaster of Blenheim Gardens. Believe me officer I know a firearm when I hear one.”
The ex-wife had looked calm, her resentment having found a legitimate target.
The receptionist believed that the ex-wife had also murdered her first husband and that long-term imprisonment had been avoided through diminished responsibility. I was just happy that the murderer hadn’t crossed the road and sprayed bullets into everything that would have screamed and cowered, glad that she had avoided the place where her second husband had worked as an embalmer.
Her second husband had seen numerous corpses, many ending this tragedy of limitations called life by jumping in front of trains. I wondered if he had thought that that meat, that he used to handle, that used to breathe and speculate, to love, dream and smile, to cause pleasure and to receive it, to ridicule and be ridiculed – I wondered if he had ever wondered what that meat had thought, or felt, or even if he had ever considered that some of those deceased specimens once might have had genius. I wondered if he had ever been moved by the fact of that vacant-eyed poultry, that had helped to enhance his lifestyle, ever having had consciousness, or even what happens to that consciousness that vanishes in that inevitable moment.
He might have realised, as he had been dying, that he was going to be looked at, naked, bruised and dead, by someone he knew.
“He died,” the receptionist said, now less thrilled, “at three-thirty in the afternoon the day after.”
I wondered what would have happened had the ambulance been quicker.
The deceased’s lover went to identify the body, better, I suppose, that someone accustomed to corpses do the deed.
I saw her leaving: An embalmer like that! Before joining the company, I had assumed that embalmers had small mouths and tiny eyes, their round glasses upon twitching, rodent noses. Her green eyes glittered. Her round face and neck resembled an upturned amphorae vase of silkiness. She smiled with tentative, refined warmth.
I assumed she wouldn’t be back for days.
When she returned soon after to continue working I felt clobbered by amazement. Straight back to death! From having seen her mutilated lover! Straight back to lifeless coldness: to open-eyed blindness.
Maybe cool clarity helped her to accept obvious conclusions? I couldn’t think of any other explanation for her brave composure. She possessed perfect adjustment. Her suffering would be spread out to enable her to function. I would have spent weeks staggering in a psychological hole had I been her. Impressive sanity.
The receptionist said: “Rob – someone’s here to see you.”
Unexpected visitors are usually debt collectors, hit killers or the police. This time it was the police.
A huge man, with a chubby, rosy-cheeked face, creamy skin like Fiberglas under black hair, wanted to speak to me. His black and whiteness suggested to my worked-up imagination that sharp vicissitudes dominated his behaviour, his dark eyes filled with worrying certainty.
“Hello,” he said. “Robert Elder?”
“I’m Detective Alastair McCormack from Scotland Yard. I would like to interview you about some thefts in Wimbledon. Is there somewhere where we can talk?”
His off-putting calmness suited his black eyes’ predatory glow.
My temples throbbed. I was living in Wimbledon.
“Yes,” I replied. “Follow me.”
Worry stopped me seeing the irony of a Scotsman working for the Yard in someone else’s back yard.
His shoulders formed a metre-long curve.
“I was joking about the thefts,” he smiled. “I’m here for the murder.”
I felt as if I’d escaped from a harrowing future, a common fantasy. I grinned as if wires were stretching my lips like dentist’s fingers.
“So now there’s someone else around here living off death,” I said.
His eyes shone like polished marble.
“The product,” he said, “is guaranteed.”
“The only one,” I replied, “whose brilliant performance under normal conditions improves under appalling ones.”
Dimples reproduced dimples, like cells dividing to create life, his teeth minuscule amid his vast frame.
“You’re Canadian, aren’t you?” he asked.
“I’d love to emigrate there. A friend has just gone.”
“I’m sure,” I replied, “that a homicide detective could rack up the points. I presume you don’t have a police record?”
“Nothing the Canadians could find out about.”
“I can’t imagine you as a Mountie.”
“If I got on a horse,” he replied, “I’d be arrested for mistreatment of animals. So what did you see?”
“She left the car,” I replied, “and went into the flat. He screamed: ‘Oh my God’, after what sounded like a gun went off.”
“How long was it between her going into the flat and the sound?”
“Ten seconds – if that.”
“Just enough time to produce a weapon?”
“Can we call you up as a witness – if we have to?”
He stopped rising when I asked: “Can I ask you a question?”
“Fire away. Pardon the pun.”
“How guilty is she?”
His chin rose on thermal curiosity.
“She’s unlucky,” he replied.
“Is that the reason why you’re a homicide detective?” I asked.
“Maybe,” he smiled.
“The luckiest people,” I said, “accept conclusions.”
“Some people,” he smiled, “haven’t had the opportunity to learn how to do that.”
“The art,” I said, “of shrugging things off.”
He returned to his car. Our interlude had been short; but he existed more powerfully for me than many others. My crimes, born from my parents’ wildness, weren’t illegal, pure chance that my craziness wasn’t considered dangerous – except to me – and who cared about that?
Seeing madness as involuntary helps you rebel against disunity.
“We’ll be pushing for diminished responsibility,” he had said. “I suffer from it myself.”
I imagined the ex-husband’s head shooting up with the unexpected rattling of keys, his veins filling with chemicals that elongated time, his ex-wife’s eyes glaring with dumb ferocity. I imagined her pulling out a shotgun from the bag hanging off her shoulder. I imagined him getting half way up before pink patches studded his legs, surprise stunning his eyes, the patches oozing blood, red tributaries flooding down his snowy legs, the gun tearing flesh off his thighs and shattering a knee, two barrels blowing holes in the sofa, explosions causing pin-stabbing aches in his ears. I imagined his right shoulder striking the floor. I imagined her entering the kitchen and returning with a carving knife. I imagined her slamming the blade into his body, his hands reddening as he tried stopping her thrusts. I recalled him screaming: “OH MY GEEEAWWWDDD!” the reverberating wailing projected by terror-filled despair. I imagined her eyes glowing venomously, her right arm like a piston. I recalled his voice finding tenor depth. I imagined his peripheral vision blurring as the knife plunged. I imagined his heart pumping his voice out, leafless twigs shaking outside as if moved by shockwave wailing. I imagined his hands feeling the sharp intrusions of her attacks, like cold stabs of electricity. The bitterness of every attack she had ever received in all forms I imagined her releasing with a determination that slaughtered rationality. I imagined him feeling the room turning and him imagining visible objects diffused into irrelevancy. I imagined the warm secretion of blood running down his arms and the aching throbbing in the bones of his legs.
Satisfied with the destruction caused, I imagined her slicing up a cooked chicken in the kitchen. She didn’t care about the knocking on the door. I imagined her chewing slowly, her ex-husband in expanding red. I imagined her feeling enervating justification as her ex-husband’s gasps filled the silence, leafless, lightning-bolt branches outside shaking like turning-fork fingers attempting to clutch the sky’s illuminated knuckles whose misty hand gripped the consoling heavens.
“Madness,” Alastair had told me, “pushes hope into belief, just luck if your madness is acceptable.”
Alastair had never seen a murderer so serene. He had seen snarling resistance, bewildered innocence, grumpy reticence, but never the euphoria of having performed greatness.
‘The Lord,’ she said, ‘commanded me. Some need to be called early because the Devil has inflicted them with moral poison; killing them is merciful.’”
“To avoid problems with The Ten Commandments?” Alastair asked.
Kim Farleigh has worked for aid agencies in three conflicts: Kosovo, Iraq and Palestine. He takes risks to get the experience required for writing. He likes fine wine, art, photography and bullfighting, which probably explains why this Australian lives in Madrid. 95 of his stories have been accepted by 68 different magazines.
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