"Are you ready? We need to leave in fifteen minutes!"
The sound of that voice was just enough whose pitch and tonality I had become so familiar with over three years of my life, wafting as casual as you please, all the way from the kitchen of my tiny two-bedroom flat. A screech wrenched itself out of my lips, and my body plummeted to the floor from my perch on the window seat.
The fall knocked the wind out of me, leaving me gasping, wheezing, and breathless. Razor debris of thoughts flung to every nook and cranny of my mind. An endless mantra had begun chanting with all the haunting finesse of a cathedral's choir boys: Dear God, dear God…
"Hello? Answer me, Marcy. We must leave."
Dear God, I was paralysed. Every limb froze in a sudden rush of adrenaline that rendered my fight and flight responses utterly useless. Betrayed by my own body, leaving me the solitary ability of solely whining, "I'll be right out!"
I wasn't going to be right out. Not remotely. I wanted to run, scream, curl into a ball, and shake with terror. The other more rational part of me, the one that believed in hypotheses and experiments, was slapping some sense into my head. Of course, Ida wasn't in the apartment anymore. The past few days' events and the stress of the countless statements I had to give to barely unidentifiable uniform-clad men were finally catching up to my sleep-deprived state. Either that or I was losing it.
"Marcy? Do I have to break the door down? I can't ruin my manicure, Marcy."
Perhaps I am having a mental breakdown, I argued, drawing on the numerous rational courses I had taken and slaved over last semester. Trauma. I succeeded in drawing myself onto my knees, brushing my limp hair out of my face. That was it. Just a dream. Now hoist yourself up. There you go, Marcy. Great job. Now walk. Walk. Keep walking. Yes, all the way to the door. Don't be ridiculous. Open the door. Open it!
I opened the door.
"There you are! I honestly thought that I would have to call the police! Thought you were dead in there or something." Ida padded over to the sofa, the mug in her hand wafting pale fingers of steam into the glowing air of the apartment. She had lit candles. The ones filled with the scent of roasted coffee and essential oil, a delicious amalgamation of vanilla and cinnamon permeated the air. She was dressed for staying in, hair tossed up into a messy bun, oversized t-shirt and sweatpants. Candlelight highlighted the contours of her face as she glanced a smile in my direction. No, not a smile. The corners of her mouth were too uneven for that, her eyes too narrowed. A smirk!
Angry. Humiliation coursed through my veins, together with something white-hot and scalding.
"What?" Was all that I could force to crawl out of my mouth.
"I made you coffee," Ida said. "I think there is enough. I don't know. I used all the milk, though. You like your coffee black."
I glanced down at my wristwatch. Twenty minutes to three.
"I thought we were going out. You were literally screaming for me to hurry up."
Ida frowned, confusion lining her features. "No, I wasn't."
"No, really, I wasn't. Besides, you call that…" she gestured at my day-old outfit I hadn't had the energy to change out of, "… acceptable clothing. Sorry to say, but you look hideous."
Of course, you weren't going to go out, my brain hissed. Three o'clock. You are expecting someone to come at three o'clock.
She didn't sound very sorry. "Oh. You want to order some takeout?"
Ida wrinkled her nose. "Order from that speciality chicken place. It'll do you some good. Put some weight on those skinny bones. Give people something to look at."
"Whatever," I snapped, "look, I have the assignment to submit, so if you…."
"How's your cousin Marcy?"
I kept striding forward to the little kitchenette. My hands shook as I physically bit back the urge to retort, deny, ignore, and scream. "He is fine."
"You know I was so surprised when I found out you had relations at all, much less a cousin." She revelled in that word. "Particularly since you never really mentioned your family before. You guys don't look alike at all, you know."
"He takes after my father's family, I guess."
"Really. I thought that he was the son of your mother's aunt. The blonde one. Very Nordic?"
I grasped the countertop. The coffeemaker did not have a single drop of the bitter liquid, and dear God, all I wanted was to grab an entire gallon of that scalding liquid and shove it down my throat until I could feel the scalding burns left behind. Until I could literally taste the nauseating bitterness threatening to cloud my senses. Come to think of it, I wouldn't really mind if it clouded my senses. The blindness would at least give me the courage to do what I should have done a long, long time ago.
The realisation, the epiphany, held all the explosive magnitude of a dormant nuclear bomb.
"What do you want, Ida?" I said, and I hated the desperation that dripped from the edges of my words. "What more do you want? I let you cheat. I help you pass exams. What more do you want?"
She took a long, slow, languid sip of her drink before stating with utmost clarity. "Your cousin."
"Your cousin Marcy." She cocked herself to her right. "I think someone's at the door."
"Never" I screeched and checked my watch. Fifteen minutes to three. I knew I was expecting someone, but I could not for the life of me remember who. "You can't…."
"I can. I will." And this time, all the sugary, velvety richness of her speech had fallen away, revealing razor-sharp barbs sharpened to point. "Or have you forgotten all that I have on you? Wouldn't your 'cousin' love to see what his little girlfriend has been…"
"Psychopath!" I spat.
"Don't think I won't, Marcy. Now get the door. Banging is incessant".
I don't know for how long I stood there fuming and fighting back the tears that threatened to cascade down, all while she just sat as cool as ice, sipping her coffee. My mother had never particularly described me as a violent person, but at that moment, the most obscenely gory images of what I could inflict upon her flooded into my mind as if a dam had broken.
My mind had resumed a different chant.
I checked my watch. Ten minutes to three. If only I could get my hands on Ida's phone, lying so temptingly close on the rickety table three feet away from me. I was no technological expert, but I knew that shattering something to pieces was generally irreversibly effective. Particularly when that something contained the information that could ruin everything I had worked for and experienced in the last three years.
Raw emotions coursed through me. Emotions I had no name for. The banging on the door grew louder and louder before dissolving into a muffled thump, thump, thump when it reached my ears.
"Goddammit, Marcy! Get the door!"
In that split second between thought and action, it occurred to me that my life could go multiple ways. Different paths and different outcomes. I wanted to think that my arm reaching into the kitchen drawer and clutching the knife was an unconscious move. I wanted to think that the outraged cry that left my lips and Ida's surprised screams as I launched myself at her was just lucid dream. Five minutes to three. My arm hacking away regardless of the horrifying screams, the sofa's filling flying all over the place…
A resounding bang and the sound of feet.
Not a lucid dream. A memory. An overlap of past and present in my head.
"Drop the knife, Miss!"
No Cinnamon scented candles. No steaming coffee. Just an arm hacking away at an empty sofa, a throat sore with screaming and pairs of arms wrenching my own behind my back. The unforgiving clasp of cold, hard metal forbidding any threatening movement I might make.
"Miss, you are arrested for the murder of Ida…."
Murder? Murder? I had testified as innocent; I wanted to scream. My statement had been spotless. This was nothing but a mental breakdown; I wanted to argue; I was simply distraught over Ida's death. Yet even as I attempted to rationalise my actions, I knew that the knife had been like an extension of my own arm, another limb. I had left Ida upon this very sofa to rot. Guilt and a desperate attempt to ease any blame off me, to protect all that I had worked for, had made me call the police in tears three days ago. I had choked on my lies three days ago, and I choked on the truth now.
Police at three o'clock. Further questioning and more statements that would secure my innocence beyond a doubt. Instead, oh, the irony! Who could doubt it anymore? When I had been re-enacting Ida's murder, exactly how they had concluded it to happen.
I wanted to laugh. I wanted to cry.
"I told you, Marcy."
I jerked up in the policeman's unyielding grasp, and there, through the wisps of my hair, the pale, shadowy figure of a picture-perfect Ida perched upon the rickety table, sipping at her coffee. No one seemed to notice her except me.
"You run out of time finally, Marcy. You were always on top of everything and bought your way out of any mess. Let me see, Marcy, how do you buy time." She smirked, ignoring the garbled noises that escaped my lips as they dragged me away. I had nothing to say but listen as helpless as an animal in a claustrophobic cage. "You rationed jealousy, but you forgot to ration time ... and time is money, Marcy. It cost you loads, isn't it?"