Sharp objects, p.21
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       Sharp Objects, p.21
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           Gillian Flynn
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  “Missouri has the death penalty, and certainly these are the kind of murders that beg for the death penalty, if anything deserves that,” I said.

  “Do we still have an electric chair?” Amma asked.

  “No,” Alan said. “Now eat your meat.”

  “Lethal injection,” my mother murmured. “Like putting a cat to sleep.”

  I pictured my mother strapped to a gurney, exchanging pleasantries with the doctor before the needle plunged in. Suitable, her dying from a poisoned needle.

  “Camille, if you could be any fairy-tale person in the world, who would you be?” Amma asked.

  “Sleeping Beauty.” To spend a life in dreams, that sounded too lovely.

  “I’d be Persephone.”

  “I don’t know who that is,” I said. Gayla slapped some collards on my plate, and fresh corn. I made myself eat, a kernel at a time, my gag reflex churning with each chew.

  “She’s the Queen of the Dead,” Amma beamed. “She was so beautiful, Hades stole her and took her to the underworld to be his wife. But her mother was so fierce, she forced Hades to give Persephone back. But only for six months each year. So she spends half her life with the dead, and half with the living.”

  “Amma, why would such a creature appeal to you?” Alan said. “You can be so ghastly.”

  “I feel sorry for Persephone because even when she’s back with the living, people are afraid of her because of where’s she’s been,” Amma said. “And even when she’s with her mother, she’s not really happy, because she knows she’ll have to go back underground.” She grinned at Adora and jabbed a big bite of ham into her mouth, then crowed.

  “Gayla, I need sugar!” Amma yelled at the door.

  “Use the bell, Amma,” my mother said. She wasn’t eating either.

  Gayla came in with a bowl of sugar, sprinkled a big spoonful over Amma’s ham and sliced tomatoes.

  “Let me,” Amma whined.

  “Let Gayla,” my mother said. “You put too much on.”

  “Will you be sad when John’s dead, Camille?” Amma said, sucking on a slice of ham. “Would you be more sad if John died or I did?”

  “I don’t want anyone to die,” I said. “I think Wind Gap has had too much death as it is.”

  “Hear-hear,” Alan said. Oddly festive.

  “Certain people should die. John should die,” Amma continued. “Even if he didn’t kill them, he still should die. He’s ruined now that his sister is dead.”

  “By that same logic, I should die, because my sister is dead and I’m ruined,” I said. Chewed another kernel. Amma studied me.

  “Maybe. But I like you so I hope not. What do you think?” she turned to Adora. It occurred to me she never addressed her directly, no Mother or Momma, or even Adora. As if Amma didn’t know her name but was trying not to be obvious about it.

  “Marian died a long, long time ago, and I think maybe we should have all ended with her,” my mother said wearily. Then suddenly bright: “But we didn’t, and we just keep moving on, don’t we?” Ringing of bell, gathering of plates, Gayla circling the table like a decrepit wolf.

  Bowls of blood-orange sorbet for dessert. My mother disappearing discreetly into the pantry and surfacing with two slender crystal vials and her wet pink eyes. My stomach lurched.

  “Camille and I will have drinks in my bedroom,” she said to the others, fixing her hair in the sideboard mirror. She was dressed for it, I realized, already in her nightgown. Just as I had as a child when I was summoned to her, I trailed her up the stairs.

  And then I was inside her room, where I’d always wanted to be. That massive bed, pillows sprouting off it like barnacles. The full-length mirror embedded in the wall. And the famous ivory floor that made everything glow as if we were in a snowy, moonlit landscape. She tossed the pillows to the floor, pulled back the covers and motioned for me to sit in bed, then got in next to me. All those months after Marian died when she kept to her room and refused me, I wouldn’t have dared to imagine myself curled up in bed with my mother. Now here I was, more than fifteen years too late.

  She ran her fingers through my hair and handed me my drink. A sniff: smelled like brown apples. I held it stiffly but didn’t sip.

  “When I was a little girl, my mother took me into the North Woods and left me,” Adora said. “She didn’t seem angry or upset. Indifferent. Almost bored. She didn’t explain why. She didn’t say a word to me, in fact. Just told me to get in the car. I was barefoot. When we got there, she took me by the hand and very efficiently pulled me along the trail, then off the trail, then dropped my hand and told me not to follow her. I was eight, just a small thing. My feet were ripped into strips by the time I got home, and she just looked up at me from the evening paper, and went to her room. This room.”

  “Why are you telling me this?”

  “When a child knows that young that her mother doesn’t care for her, bad things happen.”

  “Believe me, I know what that feels like,” I said. Her hands were still running through my hair, one finger toying with my bare circle of scalp.

  “I wanted to love you, Camille. But you were so hard. Marian, she was so easy.”

  “Enough, Momma,” I said.

  “No. Not enough. Let me take care of you, Camille. Just once, need me.”

  Let it end. Let it all end.

  “Let’s do it then,” I said. I swallowed the drink in a belt, peeled her hands from my head, and willed my voice to be steady.

  “I needed you all along, Momma. In a real way. Not a need you created so you could turn it on and off. And I can’t ever forgive you for Marian. She was a baby.”

  “She’ll always be my baby,” my mother said.

  Chapter Sixteen

  I fell asleep without the fan on, woke up with the sheets stuck to me. My own sweat and urine. Teeth chattering and my heartbeat thumping behind my eyeballs. I grabbed the trash can beside my bed and threw up. Hot liquid, with four kernels of corn bobbing on top.

  My mother was in my room before I pulled myself back onto the bed. I pictured her sitting in the hall chair, next to the photo of Marian, darning socks while she waited for me to sicken.

  “Come on, baby. Into the bathtub with you,” she murmured. She pulled my shirt over my head, my pajama bottoms down. I could see her eyes on my neck, breasts, hips, legs for a sharp blue second.

  I vomited again as I got into the tub, my mother holding my hand for balance. More hot liquid down my front and onto the porcelain. Adora snapped a towel from the rack, poured rubbing alcohol into it, wiped me down with the objectivity of a window cleaner. I sat in the bathtub as she poured glasses of cold water over my head to bring the fever down. Fed me two more pills and another glass of milk the color of weak sky. I took it all with the same bitter vengeance that fueled me on two-day benders. I’m not down yet, what else you got? I wanted it to be vicious. I owed Marian that much.

  Vomiting into the tub, draining the tub, refilling, draining. Icepacks on my shoulders, between my legs. Heat packs on my forehead, my knees. Tweezers into the wound on my ankle, rubbing alcohol poured after. Water flushing pink. Vanish, vanish, vanish, pleading from my neck.

  Adora’s lashes were plucked clean, the left eye dribbling plump tears, her upper lip continually bathed with her tongue. As I was losing consciousness, a thought: I am being cared for. My mother is in a sweat mothering me. Flattering. No one else would do this for me. Marian. I’m jealous of Marian.

  I was floating in a half-full bath of lukewarm water when I woke again to screams. Weak and steaming, I pulled myself out of the bath, wrapped a thin cotton robe around me—my mother’s high screams jangling in my ears—and opened the door just as Richard busted in.

  “Camille, are you okay?” My mother’s wails, wild and ragged, cutting the air behind him.

  Then, his mouth fell open. He tilted my head to one side, looked at the cuts on my neck. Pulled open my robe and flinched.

  “Jesus Christ.” A psychic wobbling: He t
eetered between laughter and fear.

  “What’s wrong with my mother?”

  “What’s wrong with you? You’re a cutter?”

  “I cut words,” I muttered, as if it made a difference.

  “Words, I can see that.”

  “Why is my mother screaming?” I felt woozy, sat down on the floor, hard.

  “Camille, are you sick?”

  I nodded. “Did you find something?”

  Vickery and several officers tumbled past my room. My mother staggered by a few seconds later, her hands wrapped in her hair, screaming at them to get out, to have respect, to know they’ll be very sorry.

  “Not yet. How sick are you?” He felt my forehead, tied my robe shut, refused to look at my face anymore.

  I shrugged like a sulking child.

  “Everyone has to leave the house, Camille. Put on some clothes and I’ll get you to the doctor’s.”

  “Yes, you need your evidence. I hope I have enough poison left in me.”

  By evening, the following items were removed from my mother’s panty drawer:

  Eight vials of anti-malarial pills with overseas labels, big blue tablets that had been discontinued due to their tendency to induce fever and blurred vision. Traces of the drug were found in my toxicology tests.

  Seventy-two tablets of industrial-grade laxative, used primarily for loosening the bowels of farm animals. Traces of which were found in my toxicology tests.

  Three dozen anti-seizure tablets, the misuse of which can cause dizziness and nausea. Traces of which were found in my toxicology tests.

  Three bottles of ipecac syrup, used to induce vomiting in case of poisoning. Traces of which were found in my toxicology tests.

  One hundred and sixty-one horse tranquilizers. Traces of which were found in my toxicology tests.

  A nurses’ kit, containing dozens of loose pills, vials, and syringes, none of which Adora had any use for. Any good use for.

  From my mother’s hat box, a flowered diary, which would be entered as a court document, containing passages such as the following:

  SEPTEMBER 14, 1982

  I’ve decided today to stop caring for Camille and focus on Marian. Camille has never become a good patient—being sick only makes her angry and spiteful. She doesn’t like me to touch her. I’ve never heard of such a thing. She has Joya’s spite. I hate her. Marian is such a doll when she’s ill, she dotes on me terribly and wants me with her all the time. I love wiping away her tears.

  MARCH 23, 1985

  Marian had to go to Woodberry again, “trouble breathing since the morning, and sick to her stomach.” I wore my yellow St. John suit, but ultimately didn’t feel good about it—I worry with my blonde hair I looked washed-out. Or like a walking pineapple! Dr. Jameson is very masterful and kind, interested in Marian, but not a busybody. He seems quite impressed with me. Said that I was an angel, and that every child should have a mother like me. We had a bit of a flirtation, despite the wedding rings. The nurses are somewhat troubling. Probably jealous. Will have to really dote next visit (surgery seems likely!). Might have Gayla make her mince meat. Nurses love little treats for their break area. Big green ribbon around the jar, maybe? I need to get my hair done before the next emergency…hope Dr. Jameson (Rick) is on call…

  MAY 10, 1988

  Marian is dead. I couldn’t stop. I’ve lost 12 pounds and am skin and bones. Everyone’s been incredibly kind. People can be so wonderful.

  The most important piece of evidence was discovered under the cushion of the yellow brocade love seat in Adora’s room: a stained pair of pliers, small and feminine. DNA tests matched trace blood on the tool to Ann Nash and Natalie Keene.

  The teeth were not found in my mother’s home. I had images for weeks after of where they might have gone: I saw a baby blue convertible driving, top up as always—a woman’s hand jutting out the window—a spray of teeth into the roadside thicket near the path into the North Woods. A set of delicate slippers getting muddied at the edge of Falls Creek—teeth plopping like pebbles into the water. A pink nightgown floating through Adora’s rose garden—hands digging—teeth buried like tiny bones.

  The teeth were not found in any of these places. I had the police check.

  Chapter Seventeen

  On May 28, Adora Crellin was arrested for the murders of Ann Nash, Natalie Keene, and Marian Crellin. Alan immediately paid the punishing bail sum so she could await trial in the comfort of her home. Considering the situation, the court thought it best for me to take custody of my half sister. Two days later I drove north, back to Chicago, with Amma beside me.

  She exhausted me. Amma was wildly needy and afire with anxiety—took to pacing like a caged wildcat as she fired angry questions at me (Why is everything so loud? How can we live in such a tiny place? Isn’t it dangerous outside?) and demanded assurance of my love. She was burning off all that extra energy from not being bedridden several times a month.

  By August she was obsessed with female killers. Lucretia Borgia, Lizzie Borden, a woman in Florida who drowned her three daughters after a nervous breakdown. “I think they’re special,” Amma said defiantly. Trying to find a way to forgive her mother, her child therapist said. Amma saw the woman twice, then literally lay on the floor and screamed when I tried to take her for a third visit. Instead, she worked on her Adora dollhouse most hours of the day. Her way of dealing with the ugly things that happened there, her therapist said when I phoned. Seems like she should smash the thing then, I answered. Amma slapped me in the face when I brought home the wrong color of blue cloth for Adora’s dollhouse bed. She spat on the floor when I refused to pay $60 for a toy sofa made of real walnut. I tried hug therapy, a ridiculous program that instructed I clutch Amma to me and repeat I love you I love you I love you as she tried to wriggle away. Four times she broke free and called me a bitch, slammed her door. Fifth time we both started laughing.

  Alan loosened some cash to enroll Amma at the Bell School—$22,000 a year, not counting books and supplies—just nine blocks away. She made quick friends, a little circle of pretty girls who learned to yearn for all things Missouri. The one I really liked was a girl named Lily Burke. She was as bright as Amma, with a sunnier outlook. She had a spray of freckles, oversized front teeth, and hair the color of chocolate, which Amma pointed out was the exact shade of the rug in my old bedroom. I liked her anyway.

  She became a fixture at the apartment, helping me cook dinner, asking me questions about homework, telling stories about boys. Amma got progressively quieter with each of Lily’s visits. By October, she’d shut her door pointedly when Lily came by.

  One night I woke to find Amma standing over my bed.

  “You like Lily better than me,” she whispered. She was feverish, her nightgown clinging to her sweaty body, her teeth chattering. I guided her into the bathroom, sat her down on the toilet, wet a washcloth under the cool, metallic water of the sink, wiped her brow. Then we stared at each other. Slate blue eyes just like Adora’s. Blank. Like a winter pond.

  I poured two aspirin into my palm, put them back in the bottle, poured them back onto my palm. One or two pills. So easy to give. Would I want to give another, and another? Would I like taking care of a sick little girl? A rustle of recognition when she looked up at me, shaky and sick: Mother’s here.

  I gave Amma two aspirin. The smell made my mouth water. I poured the rest down the drain.

  “Now you have to put me in the bathtub and wash me,” she whined.

  I pulled her nightgown over her head. Her nakedness was stunning: sticky little girl’s legs, a jagged round scar on her hip like half a bottle cap, the slightest down in a wilted thatch between her legs. Full, voluptuous breasts. Thirteen.

  She got into the bathtub and pulled her legs to her chin.

  “You need to rub alcohol on me,” she whimpered.

  “No Amma, just relax.”

  Amma’s face turned pink and she began crying.

  “That’s how she does it,” she whispered.
The tears turned into sobs, then a mournful howl.

  “We’re not going to do it like she does it anymore,” I said.

  On October 12, Lily Burke disappeared on her way home from school. Four hours later, her body was found, propped tidily next to a Dumpster three blocks from our apartment. Only six of her teeth had been pulled, the oversized front two and four on the bottom.

  I phoned Wind Gap and waited on hold twelve minutes until police confirmed my mother was in her home.

  I found it first. I let the police discover it, but I found it first. As Amma trailed me like an angry dog, I tore though the apartment, upending seat cushions, rummaging through drawers. What have you done, Amma? By the time I got to her room, she was calm. Smug. I sifted through her panties, dumped out her wish chest, turned over her mattress.

  I went through her desk and uncovered only pencils, stickers, and a cup that stank of bleach.

  I swept out the contents of the dollhouse room by room, smashing my little four-poster bed, Amma’s day bed, the lemon yellow love seat. Once I’d flung out my mother’s big brass canopy and destroyed her vanity table, either Amma or I screamed. Maybe both of us did. The floor of my mother’s room. The beautiful ivory tiles. Made of human teeth. Fifty-six tiny teeth, cleaned and bleached and shining from the floor.

  Others were implicated in the Wind Gap child murders. In exchange for lighter sentences in a psychiatric hospital, the three blondes admitted to helping Amma kill Ann and Natalie. They’d zipped out in Adora’s golf cart and idled near Ann’s home, talked her into coming for a ride. My mother wants to say hi.

  The girls putted to the North Woods, pretended they’d have a tea party of sorts. They prettied Ann up, played with her a bit, then after a few hours, got bored. They started marching Ann to the creek. The little girl, sensing an ill wind, had tried to run away, but Amma chased her down and tackled her. Hit her with a rock. Got bitten. I saw the wound on her hip, but had failed to realize what that jagged half moon meant.

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