A Matter of Procedure

Jessica Miller Click to read more...

jessmillerJessica Miller earned her MFA from UTEP — a bilingual program located on the Texas-Mexico border.  She is currently working on her PhD at the University of Texas at Dallas.  She has published a chapbook with Mouthfeel Press — Prognosis — which chronicles her life in El Paso.  Miller has published poetry in the Rio Grande Review and OVS Magazine.  When she studied painting, she realized that art is about seeing the world new.

I wanted him, but I wanted to be sure. I don’t inspire chivalry. I take after my mother in that I am five two and have the appendages of a WWE wrestler. My mother is one of those women who studies Marx and identifies herself readily as a peasant, but she is not. She is insistent that I be proud of my Italian heritage and my sturdy body, as though our Italian ancestors were not slaveholders in North Carolina, but broad shouldered immigrants with fistfuls of potatoes and dirt. But I have nice olive skin and I can shoot a gun with precision — akin to the exacting tilt of the Earth’s axis, the temperature of the atmosphere, the gull with a beak full of ham sandwich, plastic baggie and all.

I wanted him sentimentally, so I avoided him. I wanted him because he spoke in monologues. I wanted him because when he wasn’t speaking he looked like he was listening. His body was pure blackness, pure dark in which to be surrounded symphonically and dramatically. He had physical tics.

I prodded the body with my foot. Dallas was not comfortable in August. I was surrounded by humidity, by concrete reflecting back heat, even more so it seemed, because the sky was tented with dark clouds. Around me was yellow tape strung from a bench to the pond’s edge, was a chalk outline around the body, was men smoking and making muffled jokes. Touching the body was not strictly procedural, but I wanted to see the underside of the tattoo on the body’s hip. She was a young girl with a sunburnt face, blond until the roots which were dark and greasy. She was a girl or had been. Her tattoo depicted a swan twined by ivy, the feathers emphasized and crosshatched on her skin, and the photo guy, Stern, kept shaking. It was his first day in the field; he was only in his late twenties. He wore black, and he was skittish and tall with a hook nose; he looked Swedish; he looked like he’d been a jock who discovered opium or something else to smoke that ate away at his muscles and left him a string of bones. He was not popular among the men.

Earlier, on our way to the Fairgrounds, Sterne told me that he had wanted to be a fashion photographer. He had pictured himself brushing sand from his camera on a New Zealand beach.

“Yeah,” I said. I saw, in Stern’s washed out face, and in his confession of mixed up dreams (for he would be taking pictures of women, he would find many women, yes he would) a possibility for my own confession of love. Not for him, no, but for Roger who sat next to me in my AA meetings. Roger with his sneakers scuzzy, his wayward ginger beard, his freckled knuckles whitening as we held hands. When we held hands for the opening prayer, his palms turned pink and sweated. He would release my hand at times, and wipe his on the leg of his cowboy jeans. He often had paint on his jeans, colorful patches and streaks rioting artistically. His tight pants revealed him as no longer thin, no longer young, still the remnants were there and I could excavate them, yet his eyes, boyish, seemed to do that as well.

“I just thought. I used to take pictures of my girlfriend. Do you want to see them? I just thought I’d be making art.” Stern said.

“No,” I said. A confused rain fell, so soft and silent, as if it did not quite want to be raining.

The shadows stretched over the city, the city scuttling underneath like grey insects. I did not think I would last much longer as a criminal investigator. The city had worn into me. The city was rabid, ugly, and the people looked like grotesque invertebrates in paper skin. Stern looked out the window as he drove and almost rear-ended a car. My coffee spilled on my thigh and burnt me, and I looked at my reflection in the side mirror. I looked at my reflection to see it how Roger would, and I sighed, my makeup had pancaked and flattened in the humidity. And Stern ate. He ate and ate this breakfast sandwich– crumbs freckling his mouth and chest. He was thin as a rail and had long fingernails. He stopped talking.

I prodded the body with my foot. I saw the grey and white and red and pink of the tattoo. The swan had a pink heart shaped tongue inside its red mouth. I thought, looking at that, that she must have been the kind of girl who wrote cryptic text messages of abbreviations. She must have been the kind of girl who woke up hung-over and sore from some blurry sex on Sundays. The rain fell embracing, covering her body. She was lying on the dirt path, alongside the water, the path that snaked its way behind the Natural History Museum and the Butterfly Exhibit. The buildings were brick and like squat skyscrapers, as if they had decided halfway up that they didn’t need to reach the sky. There were ducks on the water, green necked mallards, and the path, yellow like the buildings, mushed some with the rain. She must have been seventeen. I thought it was strange how her fingers curled. Somebody had bludgeoned her to death. You could see she was wealthy– her purse no knock off and her short tennis skirt pleated with quality. Then why was her hair so greasy?

I brushed her hair from her eyes. This was not strictly procedural. I inhaled the scent of gardenia and sweat and death. Her eyes were open and blue in an offensive way against her thick mascara. Her eyes were petrified, hard and scared, as if she had seen the Gorgon head. The glue from her false eyelashes was melting a little and one fell over her left eye as if she were winking. She was exposed, her body closed but it was as if we had found her naked, and we were outside of the Butterfly Exhibit. I pictured the monarchs primarily. I could see their thin black and orange wings flying in the humid air among the imported plants, and I wondered that although you couldn’t feed them, they landed on you sometimes. Her lips were slightly parted and she wore socks with her sandals. I found that strange, that in the heat of August she had put on socks, not to mention it wasn’t how girls like her dressed. I wondered– could it be that she was walking a great distance? Could she be a runaway?

“Who is she? Has she been identified?”

“She may be the daughter of the Clarks. We didn’t find identification. But the Clarks reported their daughter missing yesterday.”

“What’s her name?”

“We don’t know.”

“What’s the daughter’s name, I mean?”

“Annabel.”

I took a few notes. Just scribbled some things that I hoped I could make out later. I saw that she had probably not been sexually assaulted. She had not been robbed. She had just been murdered. Her thin torso, string bean arms, lay bent over her thick tan thighs, the rain and the heat frizzing her hair.

I told them to put a tarp up and left. I rode the DART train back to my house. I watched all the green skyscrapers reflecting all the shiny grey people. I saw it all through the windows of the train and my own reflection in the windows of the train, and the reflections of the people in the buildings were warped by the glass, far outnumbering the ornamental trees growing at even intervals. I thought this case would be one of those things shut away. She had run away and had only prepared herself for running away by wearing socks. The Clarks were a wealthy family though, and they would want an answer.

I got home and put the teakettle under the faucet, then put it on the stove. I was on vacation, but they had called me in this morning because my partner Underwood had called in again, so I said I would work a few hours. I had taken vacation in order to paint. I was working on self-portraits. I was trying to make references to Frida Kahlo. I knew this was redundant. I was not making anything new. I knew Frida Kahlo hated America, but I could not help myself. I was trying to paint allegorically, like her, but all I ever saw was confusion, as if everything spilled out of me jumbled. I painted blood percolating from my nose and running through the matted ends of my curls. I painted in my bedroom with the ceiling fan on. I had a wet-looking green comforter that made me seasick, but when I bought it I liked its shine. I lay on my covers at night, naked, watching the shadows cast by the fan and rubbing ice on my body.

In the afternoon I made my bed and put my easel to the side of the mirror above my dresser, where I had a view of myself and of my bed, and I would just see the dead faces of the dead bodies so numbly communicative– bodies that I saw every day– they would crowd my mirror. And every symbol stands for something else, as if it is dead, as if it doesn’t have its own voice.

Sometimes my partner Underwood went to AA meetings with me, and sometimes he called me at night and asked me on a date and asked me to talk him out of it, he didn’t want to drink, and I could hear the sound of the TV in the background, and he would call out “Just a minute!” to his wife. Underwood was only a few inches taller than me and looked like a Cherub with a buzz cut. And he had innocent blond hair and innocent blue eyes—he looked perpetually satisfied with himself. Because of Underwood, it seemed, I never got a vacation.

I slept with him a few times out of boredom. We always went to the basement of his two story house in the suburbs. The house was pretty but looked fake somehow, as if somebody had stapled it up for a theater production. It suited Underwood. The basement did too with its plasma TV and a stuffed white couch. He spread some kind of plastic tarp on the couch and then pulled me down and we tangled for a while. We didn’t know why we were doing it, or at least I didn’t, but work was slow for a few days and we went to Quiktrip to get coffee and then I was above him, the plastic thwacking and sticky against my knees and shins. I got into a rhythm, closed my eyes and saw Roger, approached ecstasy, pausing to linger on it, to kiss Underwood. I leaned over him sweating, and put my tongue in his mouth, but his tongue was like a pebble, smooth, not urgent, so I finished him off mechanically. I lay on him afterwards, and we watched episodes of The Office. We talked about our bosses: Sarge was egotistical and the chief was a sadist pacifist and Underwood kissed me on the forehead.

“God,” he said, as if filled with regret.

Then we got dressed and did it again the next day, and then the next. The third day he wrestled with himself, I could tell because he kept throwing a grey tennis ball in the air, it must have been the dog’s, and finally threw it at the wall. And so I said, “Underwood, this is just too much,” and it felt as if the line had been stapled onto me by some thespian.

“God.” He rolled me off of him abruptly. “I am so glad you said that.”

Later that night the coroner’s report was e-mailed to me. It stated that Annabel had suffered a fatal blow to the head. It did not mention how the wound, bleeding, spread from the back of her skull to the nape of her neck. The blood spilled to the yellow gravel, and tapered off like a question. It did not mention the sharp blue of the sky until the clouds gathered and wetted the blood and mingled the blood with water. I saw her lying prone, hands clenched and close, as if in prayer. And we gathered around her and I touched her gingerly with my foot.

I have a nice house on the M streets (Marigold, Marquita), a quiet kind of neighborhood of green grass and Japanese elms– I rent though, really I don’t have a house, I just rent. It’s small and white. I have put down woven rugs and wicker furniture because I like the summer and because summer is so long in Dallas. In my kitchen, Spanish tiles and a silver sink, I made my tea, and I kept thinking about the girl. Her naked eyes, and then I began to think about other eyes, Roger’s eyes, and I poured the tea down the sink and the eyes ran together liquid; it was just the rain that made me want the tea, but it was too hot, and I got a cup of ice water and sat out on the front porch. I had an old black rocking chair out there that was my grandmothers, and I wondered at this union of life around me. The pecan tree for the squirrels and sparrows and the grass with root systems holding together the soil and the pigeons were for nothing, they were useless, and the rocking chair squeaked. As I fell asleep I wondered why I could not remember if he was married or not, the man I wanted, almost desperately, almost purely but stained with biology, or perhaps purified by biology, and I woke up in the evening when the June bugs came out, and I picked them off of my skin and noticed a crick in my neck. I had missed the AA meeting.

I went back to work the next Monday with my paintings stored in the attic– utter failures. I rode the bus to work. I work downtown. I had thought very little. I had been in the painting space—that horizon where language bleeds to vision and the connections you make are made by instinct– but I was pulled out of it abruptly upon entering the office. The place was open like a cafeteria, mostly men. There were long tin desks crowded with laptops and telephones. The walls were blue and tacked with pencil portraits finer than mine. The men posed burly, they were all trying to be bigger than themselves, and sometimes I took up this body language myself. Monday morning I walked in with paint flecked fingernails and saw the men gathered around something. They appeared as mourners: contemplative, sorrowful, fascinated. I walked over to them.

The men stood aside as I walked over and quickly resumed their postures at their desks: this man leaning back in his chair, another man twirling his I-phone in absent boredom. Stern, I saw, was at the center of this gathering and he had photographs spread across his desk. I saw their gloss as I put my briefcase down. I took out my notes. Last week I wrote: swan tattoo, vines, socks, fatal blow. Stern motioned me over, and I was reluctant for some reason. Something about the way the men stood about solemnly, with their heads bowed and yet angling up in fits and starts, as if both hoping for a better view and for an escape at the same time, made me feel anxious. Stern motioned again. I walked to him.

He got up. Stood back. He asked “What do you think?”

I saw that Annabel was rendered there, her lifeless body. I saw the curve of her torso, her nose ring winking in a glint somehow, although it was a rainy day. Her fine features—her thin mouth and her big blue eyes, her nose Grecian, with a slight dent, a slight flaw. That was the thing. She looked beautiful. Her eyes were naked like I saw them, but somehow not shocked, no outrage paralyzing them. I involuntarily traced her chin, her face oval, her slightly pointed chin. Her legs together, slack becomes smooth.

“What do you think?” He asked again. I detected in his voice some pride and it was all I could do not to let out a wail. I did not think she could be brought back to life, and I only felt strangled in the confusion of these eloquent pictures and the abruptness of her eyes in my memory. I stood there, quiet for a moment.

“You didn’t get a shot of the injury.”

“I did. I have some. This is just, you know, this is just the beginning.”

I went back to my desk and finished unpacking my brief case. There was another case—the case of a homeless man gutted in a crack house—and there were things I had to do. I walked past the men, who were unusually quiet, and I couldn’t read their faces, but I thought they read mine, and I got a cup of coffee from the lounge. The lounge was a garishly lighted closet with a bulletin board detailing the advantages of hygiene and the mortality rates of the city. Underwood was in there.

I looked and I saw he had his thermos—a sure sign that he was drinking, slipping whiskey in his coffee. “She was a looker,” he said and whistled. “She was a real looker and I don’t think it was right.”

I was shaking but I didn’t know why. “She was young.”

“She has that look. You know you think all these years that it wouldn’t get to you and then all of a sudden some kind of, even when she was dead…”

“Underwood.”

“Yes?” He looked around furtively, took a slug off his thermos.

“You don’t have to be beautiful to make it a sorry world.”

I thought he mumbled something, maybe jealous underneath his breath, and I left and walked back to my desk. I was unsettled. I was thinking in my mind her name was Annabel and it was all I could do to get those bastards to acknowledge it.

I went to AA that Thursday. I practiced things I would say to him. I practiced jokes, and joking innuendoes, and ways to unveil the nature of his relationship with his mother, and if he was sleeping with any women, and I practiced invitations to coffee and other, more open, invitations. He sat on the opposite side of the room. He said, “Hello, my name is Roger, and I’m an alcoholic.” I clapped fervently. He took his sneakers and tucked them under his chair, and brought them forward, and stretched them out, and bounced his leg up and down and couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I thought he must have a girlfriend. I looked at how my hair grew so curly and I looked at the cracked cuticles at the base of my nails and I thought of the pictures of Annabel. I thought of her blue eyes beseeching the world.

The coroner’s report states that the body is Caucasian, the body was in good health, blue eyes, blond hair, 5”8. It does not tell the poetry this suggests. It does not speak of grass stained soccer shorts, notes passed scented vanilla, lip gloss scented raspberry, climbing trees in a white Easter dress and later kisses that taste of Homecoming games and Halloween candy.

This is how I tell it. The first time I got drunk I was fifteen. Tommy Redders put his dry pitcher’s hand up my skirt. We were out in his back yard and the grass was straw; we were out by his dad’s tool shed chipped paint and turpentine smelling. He said he’d take me to prom, and I couldn’t believe I was back there with Tommy– all eyelashes and swagger. The boys were incidents, were repetitions of movement, swells and recesses that washed over me. I never went to prom. I slipped down, sloshed a sloppy river, my life, since fifteen. Careful. Measuring out the booze through the day in cups and in ounces, so that I didn’t run sloppy until Friday, or Saturday, or Sunday. What I liked about it was his hand up my skirt. What I liked about it was being spun around the Milky Way and landing dead in the center of the universe. I could be myself because I wasn’t myself.

On Friday the Clarks called me. They were very polite and insistent. The body had been identified. It was their daughter. They were grieving, and although not yet hysterical, they were near-hysterical. I tried to tell them there weren’t any leads so far, that we didn’t know. We simply didn’t know how their child had been lost– for a thrill for a young girl just to die for a thrill. They would not listen, their expensive tears sharpened on ideas of retribution, finding peace– some kind of hybrid of the two. I went to talk to them.

I went on the bus. My license had been unofficially revoked. I looked forward as I rode; I could only see the traffic swirling around me, stopping me here and spitting me out there. They lived in Highland Park—a neighborhood so exclusive it was actually legally a separate city although well within Dallas city limits. The houses were intimidating not only for their size but for their details. They were large and square and shuttered, to take tea in, brick or wooden, with carefully planted verdency. The Clarks lived in one of the few Spanish style houses, one wing flowing to the next architecturally. The biggest magnolia tree I had ever seen stood waxy in the front yard, and high thorny buck rose bushes guarded the door. As I walked to it, black with a brass knocker, I felt a kind of sorrow that seemed unfamiliar. It seemed to be related to the fact that Roger had not sat next to me last night, and seemed to be related to Annabel’s nose ring piercing the rain.

We talked for two hours. Mrs. Clark was rather short and thin and tan, almost beautiful but with a kind of too-long horse face. She looked blind, until she started talking about Annabel, and then her eyes kindled wetly, sputtering. Mr. Clark was tall and thin. He had her nose. He had short neat hair, and had a kind of twangy grace to his movements, as if his body were an instrument. Sudden chords of a steel guitar. It was strange to see him. I thought Annabel took after him.

We sat in the large living room with the French doors closed to the backyard. I sat on a stiff couch upholstered in coral silk. They had many things to say about her. I asked them who she knew. I asked them if she had any addictions. I asked them where she liked to hang out. I took notes. The light changed, went from direct to diffusive; the room absorbed it and had its own light; the shadows went from pointed to shapeless. I tried to ask them why she may have run away, but, and this was not strictly procedural, I did not. The room was very formal, and between us was a coffee table spread with photos and National Geographic, and they sat facing me on a yellow love seat framed in wood. Strange, though, there was a cheap plastic fan in front of the fire place, and the spider plants bent and danced as it blew warm air on us.

They told me she was a sprinter and that she loved the Beatles, and that she had this laugh. They said she had this kind of laugh that she belted out and she was very musical, a clarinet player in the band, and when she laughed it had this kind of boisterous quality. She was very athletic too. She was just like this tornado of talents. “Tornado of talents”– it seemed to be a phrase they had invented and repeated. Did she have a boyfriend? Was he violent? She was just, they said, a firecracker. A tornado. After an hour they turned to the photos on the coffee table. I saw they were of Annabel. She was pretty for sure. She was in a track suit here, she was dressed for prom in a pink dress trailing and the corsage as big as her hair. She didn’t look the same though; she didn’t look the same as those pictures Stern took of her.

I returned home, looking past the scenes presenting themselves. A mother with a bag of groceries and two kids on leashes, a business man laughing loudly with his hands gesturing, as if to no one, the stray homeless wretched without cigarettes, bumming smokes and nickels. I got to my house, unlocked the door. I expected somebody to be there.

I tried to sleep. The universe was all around me, but there was no weight to it, no pinpoint it spun around.

I couldn’t sleep, so I set a sketchbook up by my mirror, and drew by the faint electric street light. I used black, I just used black. I let the shadows of my face define the image. I went back to sleep. When I woke up the next morning I saw that I had sketched Annabel. It was the best sketch I had ever done, I thought. Her eyes had that dream quality, like in the photographs. Her eyes looked like lovers whispering, or a hard green bud.

Saturday I went back to the office. I knew we would have to arrest somebody. I said to Underwood, who was always there when he was not on a bend, “Did you get those prints? What were the most recent?”

He had the records of the finger prints we took off of a green metal bench that was to the right of Annabel’s body. “There was some woman’s. I think her name was Ginny. She’s some meth addict in and out of half-way houses.”

“What was she doing there?”

He shrugged.

“Near the Butterfly Exhibit? Was she going to smoke the butterflies?”

“She was there.”

“Bring her in. Get a confession.”

Underwood’s mom had dragged them in and out of grandma’s house and shelters, and he was reluctant to assume anything. He was reluctant to base anything on what was not at least eighty five percent factual evidence. When I told him to bring her in he raised his innocent eyebrows at me.

“Just do it.” I began packing my things. I noticed a stack of photographs on Stern’s desk. Underwood was drinking out of his coffee mug, looking maudlin, so I thought I should get home. I just needed. I just wanted.

I went over to Stern’s desk and took the photographs and slipped them into my briefcase. This was not strictly procedural. I thought I wanted a drink. I thought of fucking Underwood who was married and lectured me too much. But I remembered his perfect cock, nested in his blond pubic hair—a pinkish oblong stone– still I disliked the slick quality of his skin, as if he rubbed lotion on himself. I thought those shots of vodka or fucking Underwood again amounted to the same thing, so I would simply go home and have a cup of tea. I thought about drinking. I thought about last fall. When I lost my license.

I had slammed my car head on with another driver. I had climbed out of my Volkswagen. It had been upturned. I climbed out of it to find some skeletal old man standing in front of the fiery guts of a baby-blue pick-up, wearing a singed blue bandana around his pointy head, screaming in my face. Half his face was a pink salmon wound bleeding in between fissures, he had been burned, it spread out like a painful map across his face and he was pointing a finger at me as if I were on the map too, as if he had spotted hell right there in my face. The finger was spindly and blistered.

I called Underwood crying, who called the chief. The chief came out there himself, out to the abandoned road. He didn’t put his lights on. The department had been rocked by drug scandal, officers skimming off the top, officers dealing, and he couldn’t afford another blemish on his record. He told me to go to AA; he told me if he caught me drinking, and he would be watching, I was gone. Out. He told me not to drive until I’d been off booze a year. This was easy. This was a slap on the wrist. This was to be kept quiet. No drinking. I imagined, standing there in the night, that I saw blue and red lights flashing on his cheeks. He took the man I hit to the hospital.

When I got home from the office I got my pastels from under the sink and with a loneliness that almost made me buckle, I colored in Annabel’s face until any traces of my own face were erased.

I was restless. I had ruined the sketch. It was a cartoon now. I tried sitting on the porch. I sat on the edge of the rocking chair and absently swayed back and forth. The silence of my house was sometimes soothing, sometimes suffocating. The June bugs attacked me with clingy legs and I went inside. The house made sounds: creaks and pops, and I lay on my bed. I fell asleep in my clothes and woke up at three in the morning. I heard a slamming noise and the wind knocked at the windows. I went into the living room, towards the sound, and discovered that my screen door had not been properly shut. It was banging in the wind as if it was alive.

The way I had felt, lying in my bed, listening to it rapping, made me think of death. And this made me, after I had latched the door– secured it– open my briefcase and take out the pictures.

There was Annabel. She was captured in a kind of soft focus– so beautiful. Why had Roger sat across the room from me, Annabel? Why had he left so quickly? Her hair, which had been greasy, was shiny in the pictures, was resplendent. Her dead eyes seemed curious. She draped across the ground, undefined by the chalk, defying it. She flowed from her toes to her tennis skirt to her neon pink tank top to her shoulders to her dark roots. I sat on my wicker couch and turned on a lamp. Annabel the belle of the ball. Annabel oh how you make men crawl. The injustice of this gorgeousness was like a prism, fracturing and naming the light, dividing it, spreading it out in random directions. She was dead. These were pictures of her body. But.

It cost a little money. But you would notice: I’m not eating alone tonight. I have cooked a meal– cheesy grits and fried chicken. There is a fruit salad too and tea candles flicker. We are drinking sparkling grape juice. Roger is in my home. Roger is looking sideways at himself in the mirror above the table, smoothing his disobedient hair. He is laughing and telling me anecdotes. He tells me about the road trip he took with his buddies. Their car broke down and they hitchhiked to Albuquerque only to run out of money so they went gambling with five dollars and lost fifteen hundred so Roger’s mom had to pick them up and pay their debt. He was thirty-three. He tells me about pissing his pants and falling on the richest widow in Dallas in Bijoux, and how he tumbled down on her with a brown curtain, tumbling carrying the brown curtain and brown chair and her with him. He tells me she had astonishing white hair. It was permed and almost snow, but for the lavender tint. It turns out he is funny.

We fall into silences sometimes, but we have the same scarred history of alcohol abuse, so we know these silences. We trade war stories. We rue the day. We wish our grape juice was wine. The table is too long, I want to put my hand on that thick thigh. We watch each other eat, gleaning personality from patterns of consumption. I wrack my brain for questions, to keep him going, to keep him talking, but it is unnecessary. He is wound up. He seems to want me to know every part of him, and that is what I want. I want to observe him. I want to know him. I want to know who he was in the trenches and who he is now in the painful aftermath of sobriety.

It cost a little money. I dyed my hair blond, leaving the roots. I went to a high end hair dresser. I told her to straighten it and make it shiny. When she was done my hair like a puddle of oil; it was smooth and reflective. Then I went to East Dallas to get my nose pierced and a tattoo of a swan with vines twining it. I put the tattoo just above my hip, and it covered just the tip of my front waist. That was about two thousand, all of that. I got the blue contacts, but I didn’t need the tanning salon. I brushed my cheeks with blush like I had been in the sun. I hung the pictures up on my wall and studied them. I told Stern I was looking for clues, and I was. I walked how it looked like she would walk, and I talked how it looked like she would talk. I lost weight. The guys at work didn’t quite put it together, they looked at me funny and they thought something, but they couldn’t quite place it. They asked for my number. I put together clothing that I had seen in the photographs her family had shown me. I listened to my sprinklers at night, like the rain, and I slept with my torso at an angle over my body and I sat right next to Roger in AA and I asked him to coffee and he turned as red as a beet and agreed.

And he is here, and he is talking. And I am afraid to speak; I am afraid that if I open my mouth Annabel will be shattered, will be sent back to Hades with all her secrets, and I wrap my fingers, twine them, around the wine glass which holds grape juice, and I laugh like I am improvising a song, like I am playing the clarinet for a room full of people, and they are silent, hanging on each note.

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Discussion

One Response to A Matter of Procedure

  1. Ryan Scott says:

    A disturbing and entrancing story. I particularly liked the themes of expectation and disappointment– the narrator’s unfulfilling affair with Underwood failing to alleviate her boredom, the unresolved nature of the crime (why butterflies? We’ll never know), Roger’s moving to the other side of the AA circle, and of course the narrator’s finally securing the attention she has always wanted by assuming the characteristics of Annabel only to be haunted by the fear that she can lose control of the fantasy at any moment. These cycles of desire and anti-climax are very evocative of classic film noir; I was reminded especially of the romantic narrative in Bogart’s The Maltese Falcon, which after an hour and a half of build-up resolves not in the hero and heroine riding off into the sunset together but with the reveal that the love interest killed the hero’s partner, and the realization that he will have to turn over the woman he cares for to the police, with the full knowledge she could be executed for the crime. It’s a bleak but emotionally arresting ending, and I feel that the motif of unfulfilled expectations in this story did an excellent job of linking the piece to the noir tradition.

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