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August 24 ... and One-Half
IN AN ATTIC BATHROOM, Grace runs water into the tub, then goes out to wait in the hallway. Tabbi stays in the room to watch Misty. To guard her own mother.
Just for the record, just this summer, it feels as if years have gone by. Years and years. The girl Misty saw from her window, flirting. This girl, she could be a stranger with yellow fingers.
Misty says, “You really shouldn’t smoke. Even if you’re already dead.” What they don’t teach you in art school is how to react when you find out your only child has connived to break your heart. For now, with just Tabbi and her mother in the bathroom, maybe it’s a daughter’s job to piss off her mother.
Tabbi looks at her face in the bathroom mirror. She licks her index finger and uses it to fix the edge of her lipstick. Not looking at Misty, she says, “You might be more careful, Mother. We don’t need you anymore.”
She picks a cigarette out of a pack from her pocket. Right in front of Misty, she flicks a lighter and takes a puff.
Her panties loose and baggy on her stick legs, Misty slips them off under the skirt and kicks them free of her shoes, saying, “I loved you a lot more when you were dead.”
On her cigarette hand, the ring from her grandmother, the peridot flashes green in the light from above the sink. Tabbi stoops to lift the bloody plaid skirt off the floor. She holds it between two fingers and says, “Granmy Wilmot needs me to get ready for the art show.” Saying as she leaves, “For your show, Mother.”
In the bathtub, the cuts and scratches from the steak knife, they fill with soap and sting until Misty grits her teeth. The dried blood turns the bathwater milky pink. The hot water gets the bleeding started again, and Misty ruins a white towel, staining it with red smears while she tries to dry off.
According to Detective Stilton, a man called the police station on the mainland this morning. He wouldn’t give his name, but he said Angel Delaporte was dead. He said the Ocean Alliance for Freedom would keep killing tourists until the crowds quit stressing the local environment.
The silverware as big as garden tools. The ancient bottles of wine. The old Wilmot paintings, none of it was taken.
In her attic bedroom, Misty dials her mom’s phone number in Tecumseh Lake, but the hotel operator comes on the line. A cable is broken, the operator says, but it should be fixed soon. The house phone still works. Misty just can’t call the mainland.
When she checks under the edge of the carpet, her envelope of tip money is gone.
Tabbi’s peridot ring. The birthday gift from her grandmother.
The warning Misty ignored: “Get off the island before you can’t.”
All the hidden messages people leave so they won’t be forgotten. The ways we all try to talk to the future. Maura and Constance.
“You’ll die when they’re done with you.”
It’s easy enough to get into room 313. Misty’s been a maid, Misty Wilmot, queen of the fucking slaves. She knows where to find the passkey. The room’s a double, a queen-size bed with a view of the ocean. It’s the same furniture as in every guest room. A desk. A chair. A chest of drawers. On the luggage stand is an open suitcase of some summer person. Slacks and flowered silk hangs in the closet. A damp bikini is flopped over the shower curtain rod.
Just for the record, it’s the best job of wallpapering Misty’s ever seen. Plus, it’s not bad paper, the wallpaper in room 313, pastel green stripes alternating with rows of pink cabbage roses. A design that looked ancient the day it was printed. It’s stained with tea to look yellowed with age.
What gives it away is the paper’s too perfect. Too seamless and even and straight, up and down. They’ve matched the seams too well. It’s definitely not Peter’s work.
Not your work. Dear sweet lazy Peter, who never took any art very serious.
Whatever Peter left here for people to find, sealed inside this room, when he drywalled over the door, it’s gone now. Peter’s little time capsule or time bomb, the people of Waytansea Island have erased it. The way Mrs. Terrymore erased the library books. The same way the mainland houses have all been burned. The work of OAFF.
The way Angel Delaporte is dead. Stabbed in bed, in his sleep.
In Misty’s bed. Your bed. With nothing taken, and no sign of a break-in.
Just for the record, the summer people could walk in at any time. To find Misty hiding here, clutching a bloody knife in one hand.
With the serrated blade, Misty picks at a seam and peels away a strip of wallpaper. Using the sharp tip, Misty peels off another strip. Peeling away a third long, slow strip of wallpaper, Misty can read:
“... in love with Angel Delaporte, and I’m sorry but I will not die for ...”
And just for the record, this is not what she really wanted to find.