Sharp objects, p.10
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       Sharp Objects, p.10

           Gillian Flynn
 
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  I bet he glowed in the interrogation room.

  “Certs, yes; liquor, no.”

  In truth, that’s why I’d been late. Right before I pulled into the parking lot, I realized the quick nip I took after leaving the Keenes needed some quick covering up, and drove another few blocks to the convenience store to buy some mints. Wintergreen.

  “Okay, Camille,” he said gently. “No worries. It’s none of my business.” He took a bite of mashed potatoes, dyed red from the Jell-O, and stayed silent. Seemed slightly abashed.

  “So, what do you want to know about Wind Gap?” I felt I’d disappointed him keenly, like I was a careless parent reneging on a birthday promise to take him to the zoo. I was willing to tell him the truth then, to answer unfailingly the next question he asked in order to make it up to him—and I suddenly wondered if that was the reason he’d challenged my drinking to begin with. Smart cop.

  He stared me down. “I want to know about its violence. Every place has its own particular strain. Is it in the open, is it hidden? Is it committed as a group—bar fights, gang rapes—or is it specific, personal? Who commits it? Who’s the target?”

  “Well, I don’t know that I can just make a sweeping statement of the entire history of violence here.”

  “Name a truly violent incident you saw growing up.”

  My mother with the baby.

  “I saw a woman hurt a child.”

  “Spanking? Hitting?”

  “She bit it.”

  “Okay. Boy or girl?”

  “Girl, I think.”

  “The child was hers?”

  “No.”

  “Okay, okay, this is good. So a very personal act of violence on a female child. Who committed it, I’ll check it out.”

  “I don’t know the person’s name. It was someone’s relative from out of town.”

  “Well, who would know her name? I mean, if she has ties here, it’d be worth looking into.”

  I could feel my limbs disconnecting, floating nearby like driftwood on an oily lake. I pressed my fingertips against my fork tines. Just saying the story aloud panicked me. I hadn’t even thought Richard might want specifics.

  “Hey, I thought this was just supposed to be a profile of violence,” I said, my voice hollow behind the blood in my ears. “I don’t have any details. It was a woman I didn’t recognize, and I don’t know who she was with. I just assumed she was from out of town.”

  “I thought reporters didn’t assume.” He was smiling again.

  “I wasn’t a reporter at the time, I was only a girl….”

  “Camille, I’m giving you a hard time, I’m sorry.” He plucked the fork from my fingers, placed it deliberately on his side of the table, picked my hand up and kissed it. I could see the word lipstick crawling out from my right shirtsleeve. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to grill you. I was playing bad cop.”

  “I find it difficult to see you as bad cop.”

  He grinned. “True, it’s a stretch. Curse these boyish good looks!”

  We sipped our drinks for a second. He twirled the salt shaker and said, “Can I ask a few more questions?” I nodded. “What’s the next incident you can think of?”

  The overpowering smell of the tuna salad on my plate was making my stomach twist. I looked for Kathy to get another beer.

  “Fifth grade. Two boys cornered a girl at recess and had her put a stick inside herself.”

  “Against her will? They forced her?”

  “Mmmm…a little bit I guess. They were bullies, they told her to, and she did.”

  “And you saw this or heard about it?”

  “They told a few of us to watch. When the teacher found out, we had to apologize.”

  “To the girl?”

  “No, the girl had to apologize too, to the class. ‘Young ladies must be in control of their bodies because boys are not.’”

  “Jesus. You forget sometimes how different things were, and not that many years ago. How just…uninformed.” Richard jotted in his notebook, slid some Jell-O down his throat. “What else do you remember?”

  “Once, an eighth-grade girl got drunk at a high-school party and four or five guys on the football team had sex with her, kind of passed her around. Does that count?”

  “Camille. Of course it counts. You know that, right?”

  “Well, I just didn’t know if that counted as outright violence or…”

  “Yeah, I’d count a bunch of punks raping a thirteen-year-old outright violence, yes I sure would.”

  “How is everything?” Kathy was suddenly smiling over us.

  “You think you could sneak me one more beer?”

  “Two.” Richard said.

  “All right, this one I do only as a favor to Richard, since he’s the best tipper in town.”

  “Thanks, Kathy.” Richard smiled.

  I leaned across the table. “I’m not arguing that it’s wrong, Richard; I’m just trying to get your criteria for violence.”

  “Right, and I’m getting a good picture of exactly the kind of violence we’re dealing with here, just by the fact that you’re asking me if that counts. Were the police notified?”

  “Of course not.”

  “I’m surprised she wasn’t made to apologize for allowing them to rape her in the first place. Eighth grade. That makes me sick.” He tried to take my hand again, but I tucked it away in my lap.

  “So it’s the age that makes it rape.”

  “It’d be rape at any age.”

  “If I got a little too drunk tonight, and was out of my head and had sex with four guys, that would be rape?”

  “Legally, I don’t know, it’d depend on a lot of things—like your attorney. But ethically, hell yes.”

  “You’re sexist.”

  “What?”

  “You’re sexist. I’m so sick of liberal lefty men practicing sexual discrimination under the guise of protecting women against sexual discrimination.”

  “I can assure you I am doing nothing of the sort.”

  “I have a guy in my office—sensitive. When I got passed over for a promotion, he suggested I sue for discrimination. I wasn’t discriminated against, I was a mediocre reporter. And sometimes drunk women aren’t raped; they just make stupid choices—and to say we deserve special treatment when we’re drunk because we’re women, to say we need to be looked after, I find offensive.”

  Kathy came back with our beers and we sipped in silence until they were drained.

  “Geez Preaker, okay, I give.”

  “Okay.”

  “You do see a pattern, though, right? In the attacks on females. In the attitude about the attacks.”

  “Except neither the Nash or Keene girl was sexually molested. Right?”

  “I think in our guy’s mind, the teeth pulling is equivalent to rape. That’s all about power—it’s invasive, it requires a goodly amount of force, and as each tooth comes out…release.”

  “Is this on record?”

  “If I see this in your paper, if I see even a hint of this conversation under your byline, you and I will never speak again. And that would be really bad, because I like talking to you. Cheers.” Richard clicked his empty against mine. I stayed silent.

  “In fact, let me take you out,” he said. “Just for fun. No shop talk. My brain desperately needs a night off from this stuff. We could do something appropriately small town.”

  I raised my eyebrows.

  “Pull taffy? Catch a greased pig?” he began ticking activities on his fingers. “Make our own ice cream? Ride down Main Street in one of those little Shriners cars? Oh, is there a quaint county fair anywhere near here—I could perform a feat of strength for you.”

  “That attitude must really endear you to the locals.”

  “Kathy likes me.”

  “Because you tip her.”

  We ended up at Garrett Park, jammed on swings that were too small for us, wobbling back and forth in the hot evening dust. The place Natalie Keene was last seen alive, but
neither of us mentioned it. Across the ballpark, an old stone drinking fountain spurted water endlessly, would never go off until Labor Day.

  “I see a lot of high-school kids partying here at nighttime,” Richard said. “Vickery’s too busy these days to chase them off.”

  “It was like that even when I was in high school. Drinking’s not that big a deal down here. Except, apparently at Gritty’s.”

  “I’d like to have seen you at sixteen. Let me guess: You were like the wild preacher’s daughter. Looks, money, and a brain. That’s a recipe for trouble around here I’d guess. I can picture you right over there,” he said, pointing to the cracked bleachers. “Outdrinking the boys.”

  The least of the outrages I’d committed in this park. Not only my first kiss, but my first blow job, at age thirteen. A senior on the baseball team took me under his wing, then took me into the woods. He wouldn’t kiss me until I serviced him. Then he wouldn’t kiss me because of where my mouth had been. Young love. Not long after was my wild night at the football party, the story that had gotten Richard so riled. Eighth grade, four guys. Got more action then than I’ve had in the past ten years. I felt the word wicked blaze up by my pelvis.

  “I had my share of fun,” I said. “Looks and money get you a long way in Wind Gap.”

  “And brains?”

  “Brains you hide. I had a lot of friends, but no one I was close to, you know?”

  “I can imagine. Were you close to your mom?”

  “Not particularly.” I’d had one too many drinks; my face felt closed and hot.

  “Why?” Richard twisted his swing to face me.

  “I just think some women aren’t made to be mothers. And some women aren’t made to be daughters.”

  “Did she ever hurt you?” The question unnerved me, particularly after our dinner conversation. Hadn’t she hurt me? I felt sure someday I’d dream a memory of her, scratching or biting or pinching. I felt like that had happened. I pictured myself pulling off my blouse to show him my scars, screaming, yes, look! Indulgent.

  “That’s a bizarre question, Richard.”

  “I’m sorry, you just sounded so…sad. Mad. Something.”

  “That’s the mark of someone who has a healthy relationship with his parents.”

  “Guilty.” He laughed. “What about I change the subject?”

  “Yes.”

  “Okay, let’s see…light conversation. Swing-set conversation.” Richard scrunched his face up to mime thinking. “Okay, so what’s your favorite color, your favorite ice cream flavor, and your favorite season?

  “Blue, coffee, and winter.”

  “Winter. No one likes winter.”

  “It gets dark early, I like that.”

  “Why?”

  Because that means the day has ended. I like checking days off a calendar—151 days crossed and nothing truly horrible has happened. 152 and the world isn’t ruined. 153 and I haven’t destroyed anyone. 154 and no one really hates me. Sometimes I think I won’t ever feel safe until I can count my last days on one hand. Three more days to get through until I don’t have to worry about life anymore.

  “I just like the night.” I was about to say more, not much more, but more, when a broken-down yellow IROC rumbled to a stop across the street and Amma and her blondes piled out the back. Amma leaned into the driver’s window, cleavage teasing the boy, who had the long greasy dirt-blond hair you’d expect of someone who still drove a yellow IROC. The three girls stood behind her, hips jutted out, the tallest turning her ass to them and bending over, lean and long to pretend to tie her shoe. Nice moves.

  The girls glided toward us, Amma waving her hands extravagantly in protest of the black exhaust cloud. They were hot little things, I had to admit. Long blonde hair, heart-shaped faces, and skinny legs. Miniskirts with tiny Ts exposing flat baby tummies. And except for the girl Jodes, whose bosom was too high and stiff to be anything but padding, the rest had breasts, full and wobbly and way overripe. All those milk-fed, hog-fed, beef-fed early years. All those extra hormones we put in our livestock. We’ll be seeing toddlers with tits before long.

  “Hey, Dick,” Amma called. She was sucking on a red oversized Blow Pop.

  “Hi, ladies.”

  “Hi, Camille, make me a star yet?” Amma asked, rolling her tongue around the sucker. The Alps-inspired braids were gone, as were the clothes she’d worn to the plant, which had to reek with odors of all kinds and species. Now she wore a tank and a skirt that passed her crotch by an inch.

  “Not yet.” She had peach skin, so free of blotches or wrinkles, her face so perfect and character-free she could have just popped out of the womb. They all seemed unfinished. I wanted them to go away.

  “Dick, when are you going to take us for a ride?” Amma asked, plopping down in the dirt in front of us, her legs pulled up to reveal a glimpse of her panties.

  “To do that, I’d have to arrest you. I might have to arrest those boys you keep hanging around with. High-school boys are too old for you.”

  “They’re not in high school,” said the tall girl.

  “Yeah,” Amma giggled. “They dropped out.”

  “Amma, how old are you?” Richard asked.

  “Just turned thirteen.”

  “Why do you always care so much about Amma?” interrupted the brassy blonde. “We’re here, too, you know. You probably don’t even know our names.”

  “Camille, have you met Kylie, Kelsey, and Kelsey?” Richard said, pointing to the tall girl, the brassy girl, and the girl my sister called…

  “That’s Jodes,” Amma said. “There are two Kelseys, so she goes by her last name. To avoid confusion. Right, Jodes?”

  “They can call me Kelsey if they want,” said the girl, whose low spot in the pecking order was likely punishment for being the least of the beauties. Weak chin.

  “And Amma is your half sister, right?” Richard continued. “I’m not as out of the loop as all that.”

  “No, it looks like you’re right in the loop,” Amma said. She made the words sound sexual, even though I could think of no double entendre. “So, are you guys dating or what? I heard little Camille here is a real hot ticket. At least she was.”

  Richard let out a burp of a laugh, a shocked croak. Unworthy flared up my leg.

  “It’s true, Richard. I was something back in the day.”

  “Something,” Amma mocked. The two girls laughed. Jodes drew frantic lines in the dirt with a stick. “You should hear the stories, Dick. They’d get you pretty hot. Or maybe you already have.”

  “Ladies, we’ve got to be going, but as always, it was definitely something,” Richard said, and took my hand to help me out of the swing. Held on to it, squeezed it twice as we walked toward the car.

  “Isn’t he a gentleman,” Amma called, and the four got to their feet and began following us. “Can’t solve crime, but he can take the time to help Camille into his crappy-ass car.” They were right on us, Amma and Kylie stepping on our heels, literally. I could feel sickly glowing where Amma’s sandal had scuffed my Achilles tendon. Then she took her wet sucker and twirled it in my hair.

  “Stop it,” I muttered. I twirled around and grabbed her wrist so hard I could feel her pulse. Slower than mine. She didn’t squirm, in fact, just pushed closer into me. I could feel her strawberry breath fill the hollow of my neck.

  “Come on, do something.” Amma smiled. “You could kill me right now and Dick still wouldn’t be able to figure it out.” I let go, pushed her away from me, and Richard and I shuffled to the car faster than I would have liked.

  Chapter Nine

  I fell asleep, accidentally and hard, at nine o’clock, woke to an angry sun at seven the next morning. A dried-out tree rustled its branches against my window screen as if it wanted to climb in next to me for comfort.

  I donned my uniform—the long sleeves, the long skirt—and wandered downstairs. Gayla was glowing in the backyard, her white nurse’s dress brilliant against the greenery. She held a silver tray o
n which my mother was placing imperfect roses. My mother wore a butter-colored sundress that matched her hair. She was stalking through the clumps of pink and yellow blooms with a pair of pliers. She examined each flower hungrily, plucking off petals, pushing and prying.

  “You need to water these more, Gayla. Look what you’ve done to them.”

  She separated a light pink rose from a bush, pulled it to the ground, secured it with a dainty foot, and clipped it off at its root. Gayla must have had two dozen roses on her tray. I could see little wrong with them.

  “Camille, you and I are going shopping in Woodberry today,” my mother called without looking up. “Shall we?” My mother said nothing about the square-off at the Nashes the day before. That would be too direct.

  “I have a few things to do,” I said. “By the way, I didn’t know you were friends with the Nashes. With Ann.” I had a catch of guilt for my taunting her about the girl at breakfast the other morning. It wasn’t that I truly felt bad that I’d upset my mother—it was more that I hated any debits in her column.

  “Mmmm-hmm. Alan and I are having a party next Saturday. It was planned long before we knew you were coming. Although I suppose we didn’t really know you were coming until you were here.”

  Another rose snapped off.

  “I thought you barely knew the girls. I didn’t realize…”

  “Fine. It will be a nice summer party, a lot of really fine people, and you’ll need a dress. I’m sure you didn’t bring a dress?”

  “No.”

  “Good then, it will be a nice chance for us to catch up. You’ve been here over a week, I think it’s time.” She placed a final stem on the tray. “Okay, Gayla, you can throw these away. We’ll pick some decent ones for the house later.”

  “I’ll take those for my room, Momma. They look fine to me.”

  “They’re not.”

  “I don’t mind.”

  “Camille, I was just looking at them, and they’re not good blooms.” She dropped the pliers to the ground, began tugging at a stem.

  “But they’re fine for me. For my room.”

  “Oh, now look what you’ve done. I’m bleeding.” My mother held up thorn-pricked hands, and trails of deep red began to roll down her wrists. End of conversation. She walked toward the house, Gayla following her, me following Gayla. The back-door knob was sticky with blood.

  Alan bandaged both my mother’s hands extravagantly, and when we nearly tumbled over Amma, working again on her dollhouse on the porch, Adora plucked teasingly at her braid and told her to come with us. She followed obligingly, and I kept waiting for those knicks at my heels. Not with Mother around.

  Adora wanted me to drive her baby blue convertible to Woodberry, which boasted two high-end boutiques, but she didn’t want the top down. “We get cold,” she said with a conspiratorial smile at Amma. The girl sat silently behind my mother, twisted her mouth into a smart-ass smile when I caught her staring at me in the rearview. Every few minutes, she’d brush her fingertips against my mother’s hair, lightly so she wouldn’t notice.

  As I parked the Mercedes outside her favorite shop, Adora requested weakly that I open the car door for her. It was the first thing she’d said to me in
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