In the kitchen. You know the one: stale loaf of bread, crinkling plastic, spilled orange juice, napkins with the mouths of angels. The fluorescent light buzz-buzz-buzzed.
The investigator cradled a cup of tea, spice and lemon. No matter how many times she brushed her hair, it perpetually frizzed and fled from her scalp, a little shelter for all the twigs and branches and gravel. She spoke softly but intently, eyes trained to the hands of Eve. “Do you have a story to tell?”
Eve twisted the watch on her wrist. The investigator swore she could hear its tick-tick-tick, the dread.
“Of course,” Eve said, quickly and coarsely. “Of course, but the murder wasn’t mine, okay?”
“Look, I’ve been having the worst summer. Is it on the file, is it? My pregnancy. How my husband wept and smashed his fist to glass. I have been exhausted. Sweaty, sick, sad, all of it. I don’t have the damn energy to take a knife to a stranger -”
“Not a stranger.”
“The victim wasn’t a stranger.”
Eve’s voice shrilled. “Yes, yes, she was. Just because she was my sister… We… We stopped talking years ago, after she moved to the mountains, some kind of pathetic recluse -”
“Quite peaceful, isn’t it? I saw her home.”
“No, no, it wasn’t peaceful.” Eve laughed, a guttural and grating thing. “The loneliest and most alienating place. Did you see the sky after sunset? An utterly cold red, just this peek of frost across the peaks. Like the mountain heights were puncturing the moon. All those damn sad craters. I went once, and we fought, and she threw a porcelain plate -”
“What did the fight concern?”
“I hated her home. God, it made me sick, even. She made this tomato soup, slices of onion that rotted, floating wedges of pepper that stung the throat. She had this doll, too, leering from her bookshelf, the same doll we had as children, when we tried to make home movies and we believed everything was haunted… The doll’s dress, the fluttery pink lace, we had stitched it together. Careful, easy, delicate, oh, Lilith.” Eve fiddled with the wire-frame of her glasses, cleared the smudges of thumbs and pinkies. “I said… I said, I wish we didn’t share any memories together, and she didn’t even recoil! She didn’t react.”
“You wanted her to?”
“Well, she had to confirm, yes, this house is ugly, and isolated, and not… Not ours.”
The investigator sipped her tea, the steam billowing and boiling on her tongue. She blinked, a slow and methodical ventriloquist motion. She remembered. The fields of corn. The orchard. Guts of the browned apples slick on her naked heels. The green overgrowth, the bare and damp earth, the pockets of dew she dipped fingertips in. The hazy silhouette of her grandmother. And when she moved away, to the bustle and barking of the trains, the silver stills of skyscrapers, asphalt oozing with August heat, she stumbled upon someone, a body, boundary, barrier. Sometimes, they held hands, or ankle brushed ankle, and the investigator whispered about her grandmother’s jars of fruit. The feeling in the field, the inarticulable fact, I could swallow everything raw and laugh at how much space was left behind in my mouth. The someone listened, nodded, drew sketches of corn caught between teeth, of pale purple plums, and always, of the investigator, all squinted and sharp eyes, the tufts of hair underneath armpits and between thighs, the purple pinch of veins, the left-behind sutures of surgery.
With a cough, the investigator said, quite quiet, “Did your sister confirm? That you didn’t belong?”
Eve frowned, a dimple in her chin. “No. No, but she was always so excellent, so poised at controlling her emotions! When we would bike back home with our ice cream cones, I’d cry because, of course, the animal carcasses on the side of the road. When my tires drove over skin… And my sister? She just stood there, patting me gently on the back, you know, this awkward and robotic tap… So, I confessed to her, I was tired of feeling more. And she just burst into laughter. Not even the frenzied and desperate kind, but breathless and slow, sob-sob-sob. Then, she threw a plate, and that was it. Not that we even spoke a lot before, because I was the happy one, the wife with husband.”
“So, a stranger.” The investigator sucked in a deep breath. “You really feel…?”
“Of course,” Eve interjected. A silence settled over the two of them.
The investigator swallowed. The tea bag grazed her lips. “If the murder wasn’t yours, whose was it? Who belonged there, then, at the scene of the crime?”
Eve wrapped her fingers around her watch, a tight grip. The investigator would’ve judged her angry had it not been for the photographs pinned to the wall. All of them, the mountains. The blood-red accusation of the sunset. Dolls with dresses, scissors and silk, ice cream recipes scrawled and small. The investigator felt precisely the moment her heart swelled.
“I don’t know,” Eve said.
“How did your husband react to the loss?”
Eve shrugged, shaking. “Adam’s distraught, of course, of course. He thinks I did it, too.”
The investigator said, “You have lost everything, haven’t you?”
Eve laughed, breathless and slow, sob-sob-sob. She stood up and dizzily shoved her palm against the photographs. “Do you have any other questions? I told you my story, okay? I told you, I’m afraid… What more, please, what more do you need of me?”
The investigator placed her empty tea cup on the table. It stuck to the dried pulp of oranges. She stared, a stolen glance, at the photographs, at the clear and creased connecting tape, at Eve’s smile, gentle, wide-eared, wild, and the weight of the wall struck the investigator. Everything stuck and remained in Eve: the bumpy texture of bicycle handlebars at eight, the sugar and salt of ice cream, the hand of a husband, child and adult, both and neither. The investigator scrambled and fumbled, as child and adult, as the murderer and the murdered, as the slaughter of animal insides and seedless apple cores, and she scrunched her eyes tight, tasting, touching the knife, its glint. She was rushing to her grandmother, maybe, the shadow writhing alongside the rows of corn, swallowing up the scarecrow’s fallen buttons, and she was begging someone to come with her, to be with and as her. Someone knew about the corpse she found with the worm-kissed apples. Someone knew about the pebbles and the gravel she scooped up in handfuls so she could better taste her grandmother’s jams. Someone knew she liked mountains and sunlight and gulps of air, but it wasn’t enough, was it?
Her home wasn’t their home.
So, she had felt nothing, and everything, when she raised the knife’s handle, the bumpy texture. The knife at the cutting board, the fat cut from the meat. Grandmother’s tomato soup. A sister’s tomato soup, onions flaking and cream curdled. The investigator had greedy spoonful after spoonful after the death was done. She sipped it, slow, sure, shaking, and pulled a suit from the stranger’s closet and adorned herself. She hadn’t lost everything, no, she had her fever, the mirror, and the grave of the garden’s grass.
“For what it’s worth,” the investigator said, fingertip tracing the cup of tea. She still felt the ghost of the heat. “I believe you didn’t kill her.”
Eve frowned, again, but it tilted up into a crooked smile. “Thank you.”
The investigator nodded. She left the kitchen. She was crying. You know this, too.