On January 25th, entirely against her sister Sylvia’s wishes, and clearly against her own better judgment, Maeve Stuck-Alcott, wife of Henry Alcott of Sodom, Gomorrah, Alcott, and Associates, and daughter of Wank Harding Stuck, III, came downstairs from the bathroom—slid really, I mean down the length of the banister, a feat only the likes of Norma Desmond could have accomplished in some earlier incarnation—landed, “tit over arse,” as one of her ruder uncles used to say, upon the black and white tiles of the foyer, and, in one swift and perfunctory gesture, stabbed herself in the breast with a grapefruit knife.
Maeve Stuck-Alcott, who didn’t even like grapefruit, was dead. Dead before her husband disengaged from the oral grip of the woman he had paid to sit beside him on his drive home from work. Dead before Wank Harding Stuck could even get it up in the weak grip of his decrepit hand. Dead before Mrs. Wank Stuck had massaged the cold cream all the way into the deep crevices of the bitter folds in her neck.
Sylvia had told her all one needed was a spoon. A ripe grapefruit should require no more agitation than a gentle nudge to liberate its fleshy folds from its determined kiss. Why, then, had she not heeded her sister’s advice and opted for a spoon instead of a knife? More to the point, why had Maeve Stuck-Alcott, after dining on fiddleheads and risotto with her older sister Sylvia and Sylvia’s latest good cause, a bald twelve-year-old orphan named Alfie, excused herself from the table and ascended the stairs to the bathroom with a grapefruit knife in her hand?
A very good question indeed agreed Sylvia, less than three hours after the unfortunate event, to the not-altogether-unhandsome policeman who rang the doorbell. Two glasses of port before a half carafe of red wine, followed by a glass of Madeira, did not seem sufficient an explanation. These libations were, after all, par for the course in the life of Maeve Stuck-Alcott when she had company. When dining alone, of course, those quantities were likely to be more than doubled.
“Suicide, then? ”
“I think not,” said Sylvia.
“I think not,” reiterated a bewildered Henry.
“Well, my mum did,” offered Alfie, trying to be helpful.
Sylvia glared at him.
So did Henry.
“He’s an orphan,” Sylvia attempted to explain, placing her graceful hand upon the policeman’s forearm and noticing, with distaste, an ostentatious wedding ring.
The officer glanced at her curiously.
“Sheer stupidity, I should imagine,” Sylvia sighed. “She was always such a clumsy girl. Tottering about in those ridiculous heels and spilling out of those most unflattering dresses,” she said, rolling her eyes and barely managing to conceal her contempt.
“Did you love your wife? ” the policeman asked, turning to Henry.
“I said, did you love your wife? I mean, was there any animosity between you? ”
“What an extraordinary question,” Henry puffed. “I don’t like the way this is going at all.”
“Can you just answer the question, for the record? ” the officer persisted. “Did you love your wife? ”
“Well, of course not,” stammered Henry. “But I don’t see how that has any bearing here. I mean, can you honestly say that you love your wife, officer? ”
“Well, as a matter of fact, I do,” he replied, not lifting his head from his notepad.
“How very…charming,” Henry mused aloud, thinking the lower classes an awfully common lot, and eyeing Sylvia for reassurance.
“Indeed,” she said, agreeing, her eyes fixed hungrily on the officer’s nightstick.
“Well, thank God that’s all over,” muttered Henry, closing the door with a melodramatic sigh.
“Not quite, Henry, darling,” Sylvia said, pointing. “There is the small matter of a body lying in the front hallway.”
“Hmm. Quite,” said Henry, stroking his beard.
“I suppose it had better wait until morning,” Sylvia commented. “They probably wouldn’t want us tampering.”
“But might it begin to smell? ”
“Goodness, Henry. How should I know? I’m not what you would call experienced in these matters.”
“It’s never quite as simple as it sounds in prospect, is it Sylvia? ” Henry lamented.
“I wouldn’t worry,” said Alfie meekly from the end of the hall. “It takes about a week. At least it took about a week before my mum really ponged.”
“Thank you, Alfie,” Sylvia said with some measure of disgust. “You have acquired some interesting bits of information in your short life, haven’t you, dear.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he responded politely.
“Off to bed now, Alfie. Be a good boy and remember to wash behind your ears or whatever it is one is supposed to say to children.”
“G’night then, ma’am. Mr. Alcott.”
“Shall we retire as well? ” Henry asked, planting his slightly trembling hand upon Sylvia’s forearm.
“Yes, we had better rest,” she agreed. “I’m sure we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.”
Sylvia lay with her silk back to Henry in the bed they had only shared in daylight before now. She listened to his sluggish breathing and sighed. So this is what she’d been waiting for. A bloated body snoring in bed beside her. She wondered why on earth she had so envied Maeve having a husband if all it really amounted to was this. He’d undoubtedly wake up in the morning, shuffle to the kitchen in his slippers, relieve himself of gas while eating his cornflakes, and then peck her on the cheek and say, “Have a good day, dear.” There would be nothing illicit anymore, and without danger she couldn’t see any possibility of romance, let alone entangled limbs. She lay wide awake beside Henry and wondered what on earth she’d done. She lulled herself to sleep with the thought of the fine, muscled, uniformed officer of the evening, waving his nightstick suggestively.
Henry rose in the morning to clear his throat in the bathroom sink after a night of heavy snoring. Sylvia had barely slept. She crept down the hall to find her protégé, young Alfie, whittling one of the posts of the bed with his pocket knife.
“Alfie!” she shrieked. “What did they teach you in that place? This is furniture, my boy, fine furniture. This bed is worth more than you could make in a year of looting and whoring.”
“But I thought I didn’t have to do that anymore,” Alfie whined sadly.
“No, of course not, Alfie. I just wanted to offer you some perspective,” she said sighing.
“Are you going to send me back? ” he bleated.
“Now, now, Alfie. Stop worrying.”
Just after 8 A.M., three policemen arrived and, shortly after them, the Wank Harding Stucks—clearly informed of their daughter’s death. Father, in his early dementia, stood in the doorway and wailed, “I cannot believe my daughter Sylvia is dead!”
“Maeve, dear,” said Mrs. Stuck, nudging her husband and rolling her embarrassed, beady eyes.
“Who? ” asked Mr. Stuck.
“Our other daughter, Wank,” she said, turning to the police officer and smiling a mouthful of dentures. “Sylvia’s sister.”
“Sylvia’s sister is dead? ”
“Oh, I can’t believe it!” he wailed. “Sylvia’s sister is dead!”
“Bring him a cup of tea, will you, Alfie,” Sylvia said, leading her father by the arm to the chesterfield.
“Is your sister dead, too? ” he asked her as he stared at his shuffling feet.
“She is, I’m afraid,” said Sylvia quietly.
“Oh, Jesus. I don’t know what’s happening,” he said in frustrated confusion.
“That’s O.K., Dad. It’s a bit of a mystery to all of us.”
“It must have been the grief that sent him over,” Sylvia said, staring at Henry’s bloated body lying face down on the bathroom floor. “What an absolute tragedy. But he did have heart trouble, you know,” she said, turning to the officer.
“I don’t seem to recall him being particularly distressed by his wife’s death,” said the officer.
“Well, there was not a lot of love lost between them,” she agreed.
“I think we both know who the murderer was, don’t we? ” the officer stated, clearing his throat.
“Do we? ” she stammered.
“Well, obviously it was Henry Alcott,” the officer declared. “He’s probably just done himself in with cyanide.”
“More likely to have been hydrogen peroxide.”
“Is that right? ”
“Well, it was handy,” she said, running her fingers suggestively through her hair.
“But what could his motivation have been? Was he a philanderer? ”
“His wife probably discovered he was having an affair then, and threatened to chuck him out.”
“Hmm,” Sylvia mused. “I suppose it will take weeks and weeks to clear up this nasty business,” she said hopefully, imagining the bottles of wine she and the officer would share on the terrace in the dazzling gold of the late afternoon sun.
“I shouldn’t imagine so,” he said, clearing his throat. “The autopsy will confirm it.”
“But I am sure you’ll be wanting to come by the house and collect all the evidence,” she said hopefully.
“Yes, we’ll have to go through the routine procedures, but don’t worry, it shouldn’t take long.”
“It’s no bother,” she said eagerly. “You just make yourself comfortable here.”
“Right, then,” he nodded.
“Would you like to interview me? ” she continued. “I mean, I do know many of the details of their rather disastrous marriage.”
“It won’t be necessary until we have the results of the autopsy,” the officer said, turning the handle of the front door.
“It’s no bother,” she said, reaching out and touching his arm. “Really, I want to be of help in any way that I can.”
Sylvia sat at her sister’s dresser and stared at her face. She pulled a stray grey hair out of her head and rearranged the bobby pins in her hair. She picked up Maeve’s gold tweezers and started plucking her eyebrow. She idly tweezed, daydreaming about the officer, imagining his steel thighs gripping her around the waist. After several minutes, she looked in the glass and realized her entire left eyebrow was gone. Horrified, she let out one long and piercing cry.
Alfie appeared in the doorway, half asleep, looking lost in Henry’s pyjamas. “Did you have a nightmare, ma’am? ” he asked with concern.
“Oh, Alfie!” she said, turning around in alarm. “Don’t sneak up on me like that.”
“Sorry, ma’am. It’s just, I heard a scream.”
Sylvia placed her fingertips over her left eye and began to weep. “Oh, my God! I look awful,” she wailed.
Alfie approached her and gently took her hand. “You don’t look awful. It’s just that you only have one eyebrow.”
“I wish I were dead!” she wailed.
“It’s O.K.,” Alfie tried to comfort her. “We’ll just get rid of the other one.” He walked into the bathroom and came back with Henry’s razor. “I used to do this all the time,” he said, standing behind her and raising the blade to her right eyebrow.
She leaned the back of her head into his stomach and closed her eyes.
“Sometimes they used to give me good money just to shave them,” he said.
“Oh, you are a comfort to me, Alfie,” she sighed, staring at their reflections joined in the mirror.
“I have evidence,” she whispered over the telephone to the officer.
“What sort of evidence? ” the officer asked.
“Oh, not the sort I’d like to mention over the phone. The line might be tapped, you never know. I think you might just have to make a little visit to the house so I can show you in person.”
She pulled Maeve’s finest Dior silk out of the closet, sprayed her hair with toilet water and carefully drew in thin brows above her eyes. She had Alfie paint the nails on her right hand. “Tell me I look pretty, Alfie,” she begged him.
“You always look pretty, ma’am,” he offered.
“Oh, you do say the sweetest things,” she smiled, patting him on his bald head like a pet poodle.
When the doorbell rang she greeted the officer with outstretched arms. He remained standing in the doorway.
“Oh, you do stand on ceremony, don’t you, officer,” she laughed. “Come in first and I’ll fix you a little drink and tell you all about this remarkable discovery.”
“I don’t drink, Miss Stuck,” he said, not moving from the doorway.
“Well, all right, a Perrier then. Come on. Don’t be such a fuddy-duddy.”
He reluctantly followed her into the living room, wondering about the significance of the exclamation points she’d drawn in over her eyes.
“Do sit down,” she said, gesturing wildly.
“I’m on a tight schedule,” he said, shaking his head. “If you could just hand me the evidence, I’ll make sure it’s examined.”
“You’ll get an ulcer if you keep moving at that pace,” she smiled. “Do have a seat now, won’t you? ”
The officer sighed and sank down into the burgundy sofa.
“It’s rather a long story,” she whispered, sitting down beside him and placing her hand on his knee.
He took out his notepad and said, “Right, then.”
“Well,” she began. “About sixteen years ago…” and then proceeded to spend about ten minutes discussing the events of every year since.
After nearly an hour, the officer said, “I really am going to need you to get to the point.”
“Yes, yes,” she said, flustered. “I was just about to get to that. It’s just that after that happened, Maeve said ‘I could have killed him.’”
She folded her hands in her lap and leaned back against the sofa with a proud grin.
“Do you mean to tell me, that you asked me to come all the way here and listen to all of this so you could tell me that once, about six years ago, your sister said ‘I could have killed him,’ because he forgot their anniversary? ”
“Precisely,” she said with smug satisfaction.
“And what precisely is the relevance of this? ” he said with exasperation.
“Motive!” she declared.
“Motive,” he repeated.
“He probably realized she wanted to kill him, so he killed her first!”
“Uh-huh,” he said, tucking his notepad under his arm and rising to leave.
“But officer—” she stammered. “I’ve solved the mystery for you!”
“Yes, well, perhaps you could just leave the detective work to us,” he said, thinking, What an absolute bloody waste of my time.
Sylvia wiped her eyebrows off in the mirror. Tears slid down her cheeks and cascaded into her cleavage. She was losing her grip, her tenuous hold on the fantasy of her next life, where the officer handcuffs her to the bedpost and strips naked.
“Do you want me to kill him? ” adoring Alfie asked, handing her a cup of tea and a box of tissues.
She looked at his reflection in the mirror and laughed through her tears. “Hungry boy,” she said affectionately. “You do have a big appetite, don’t you? Only if you can finish what’s on your plate and leave room for desert though. What is it one is supposed to say to children? ”
“I wouldn’t know, ma’am,” Alfie said.