Authors: Katherine Holubitsky
T WAS NOT LIKE
Hetty to be in a surly mood. If Megan spent too much time introspecting on some aspect of her world and got herself in a slump, I could always count on Hetty to be positive. So during the second week of June, when she commented that Rose's new haircut made her look like a fat-face, that the gap between Mandy Green's front teeth was wide enough to drive a bus through, and that Mrs. Irwin's purple pantsuit made her look like an overripe eggplantâall in the space of one morningâI knew something was drastically wrong. Then when she didn't return my call after school for the third day in a row, I felt I'd better drop by the castle and find out the cause. After all, perhaps it was me.
“Was it something I said?” I stood in the front hall of the castle. Through the arched doorway I could see Tanya stretched on the chesterfield. The drapes were drawn and the blaring TV threw shadows around the room. “âCause if it was that comment about your freckles, I didn't mean there was anything wrong with them.”
I glanced through to the living room at Tanya again. Even though it was nearly five o'clock, she was still wearing pajamas. I looked back at Hetty who was squinting at me, confused.
“What are you talking about? Tanya! Could you turn that thing down? I can hardly hear Emma.”
“About why you're mad at me. Was it the freckles thing? You've been in such a lousy mood.”
Hetty frowned. “No. It wasn't the freckles thing. I mean, there was no freckles thing. And I'm not mad at you. Come up to my room. I'll tell you who's been getting on my nerves.”
“It's her,” Hetty told me once we were in the privacy of her unusually messy room.
Hetty moved some plates off a chair, told me to sit down and flopped on her bed. “Tanya. I can't stand living in the same house as her anymore.”
Hetty made a vague attempt to sound sympathetic as she went on to explain what had been happening with her sisterâmuch of which I already knewâbut clearly, she had little sympathy left.
In the weeks following the discovery of Katie's body, Tanya had little time to reflect on her friend's murder. She was too absorbed in remembering and talking about Katie as she was called upon to answer detectives' questions and talk to reporters. She'd spoken with people who stopped her on the street, as well as with patients at the seniors' home who wanted to reminisce.
Perhaps it was because of thisâbecause Katie was still so much on her mind and in her conversationsâthat to Tanya it felt like she was only temporarily away.
Mrs. Russell had depended on her to look after many details of the funeral. It was left to Tanya to select the outfit Katie was dressed in; she ordered Katie's favorite flowers and she decided which of Katie's friends should be asked to speak. It was up to Tanya to choose the music.
“You'd think she was organizing a party,” I remembered Hetty telling me at the castle. Tanya was chatting on the phone in the
kitchen, finalizing details. “I mean, she sounds so cheerful about it. Shouldn't she be really depressed? It's kind of weird, don't you think?”
Ruby's answer had been simple. “It hasn't hit her yet.”
Aunt Alice had explained that it was in Tanya's nature to handle Katie's death the way she did. It was what she did every day; she was used to taking control, ignoring her own needs and putting her energy into easing the lives of those in her care. “Still,” she'd added, with obvious concern, “I don't think there's been time for it to really sink in yet.”
Tanya had helped Katie's mother sort through her belongings. She'd made decisions that Mrs. Russell just couldn't bring herself to make. She'd helped go through Katie's old room at home, packing the clothes she'd long grown out of but that still hung in her closet from when she was a little girl.
Tanya cried in her bedroom behind the closed door, particularly when the letters from Mr. Gillespie were found and before the story behind them was clear. But outside of the house she'd answered questions and made decisions as if, in Katie's absence, she was simply looking after the personal business of a friend.
For some time, Hetty and I wondered when Katie's death would sink in. As both Ruby and Aunt Alice had predicted would happen, we wondered when Tanya would crash.
It happened at the end of May. Tanya suddenly quit her job at the seniors' home. The thought of living on her own in town again had been too frightening, and by May the drive between the castle and Pike Creek had become impossibly long, particularly after she finished a night shift and was the only car traveling the rural roads. There were just too many places she could be ambushed by a potential murderer, and nobody would see it happen. Why, even the walk from the back door of the building to her car under a black sky in the wee hours of the morning seemed like a foolish risk.
She'd had a dream about that walkâin the weeks before she quit her job she'd had it nearly every night. In her dream she had finished her evening shift. She had just left the seniors' home through the rear door and was walking toward her car. Katie appeared, dressed in a blue skirt and white blouse. She smiled and waved, signaling for Tanya to follow her. Tanya started to, but she always sat up in a sweat, shocked awake at the vision in her dream of Katie's matted hair and blood-soaked back when she turned around.
Uncle Bud reconciled with his wife and left the castle in the first week of June. It was after he was gone that Tanya took to languishing on the chesterfield, watching soap operas and smoking pot when Ruby went out. She couldn't seem to get motivated to do anything. “What's the point?” she asked Hetty. Anything she did would only be to waste time. We were all going to be dead in the future anyway.
Megan and I decided that Tanya had definitely crashed. She slipped further into depression. With nothing else to do she had plenty of time to ruminate about Katie's death.
Mr. and Mrs. DeSousa tried to be understanding. They didn't push her. They took her to the doctor and suggested things she might do to help improve her spirits. They didn't force her to do anything she didn't feel capable of doing.
“Which boils down to she gets to lie around here like some kind of princess,” Hetty summed up Tanya's day-to-day existence. She picked up an empty bag of chips, crumpled it and pitched it in the garbage next to her desk.
I now realized the unusual clutter of wrappers and dirty dishes meant she'd been spending a lot of time in her room.
“She can do anything she wants. They cater to her, and she doesn't have to lift a finger. So guess who gets to do all the joe jobs around here? She cracks up and I'm transformed into Cinderella. Maybe I should take up being depressed.”
“She'll get over it.” I realized I didn't sound all that convincing.
“God, I hope so. It's like living with the walking dead.”
A week after this visit to the castle, Tanya was watching
when she fell asleep. The cigarette she was holding slipped from her fingers, igniting the goatskin rug. She began to dreamâa strange dream about being in school again and the guy in the seat behind her flicking a lighter and igniting a gum wrapper. She wasn't sure if it was the smell or Ruby arriving home from the craft shop that woke her up.
“Tanya!” she heard Ruby call from somewhere in the distance. Tanya's eyes fluttered. Her mother stood in the doorway. Her face was distortedâher eyes wide and her mouth openâa panicked look. Tanya sat up. It was then she realized the rug was smoldering, and if something wasn't done quickly, the drapes would also soon be in flames. She choked as she made her way through the smoke into the kitchen, where Ruby was phoning the fire department.
“Outside!” ordered Ruby.
Tanya did as she was told. Ruby threw buckets of water along the edge of the rug and on the drapes. It was only a matter of minutes before the fire engines were on their way from Grand Valley. Tanya heard the sirens screaming, announcing their arrival, from where she sat on the front steps. Ruby's efforts helped control the spread of the fire, and it didn't take long for the firefighters to douse the flames. Aside from some smoke and water damage, the fire had destroyed the goatskin rug along with Ruby's patience.
That evening, while Hetty scrubbed soot and ashes from the stone floor, her parents instructed Tanya to sit down. They were well aware how difficult the past six months had been and they assured Tanya that she had their sympathy, but it was time she got off the chesterfield. If she wasn't going to go through with
her plans to attend nursing school in the fall, she was to look for another job.
“As a matter of fact,” Ruby told her, “I know where you can apply. I bumped into Mrs. Fraser in town yesterday. They've expanded their chicken houses again. Honestly, I don't know how that woman does all that she does. Anyway, she mentioned she was going to advertise for someone to help dress and pluck the chickens. I think you should think about it. It would be close to home.”
Tanya's eyes widened. Hetty said it was like, until then, she'd been sleeping with them open and it was the suggestion of plucking chickens that startled her awake. She stared at her mother as if Ruby was the one who had lost her sanity. The following day, she asked for her job back at the seniors' home.
THE SUMMER MONTHS WERE
always, in a way, cathartic. But that year more than ever we looked forward to them as a time to rejuvenate, a time to leave the terrible events of the winter in the past.
At least most of us did. The exception was Arthur Nash. His thoughts turned to mischief.
Hetty and I emerged from school one day to an unusually excited crowd. The news of another murder was the buzz among the swarm of kids waiting for buses. Where the news had came from, who had reported it and, most importantly, who was the victim were not known.
I was not swept up in the news immediately. I was deeply disappointed because my sewing teacher, Mrs. Suringa, had just told the class that she was moving back west. She was a young teacher and she'd lived in Pike Creek for only a year. She'd come with her new husband, who had been raised in the area and promised her a friendly, small-town atmosphere to raise their family. It had been nothing of the sort. If she was terrified to walk the
streets alone, how could she even consider letting any children they might have go out and play? No, she'd had enough. She was packing up and moving back to Saskatchewan. Nothing this frightening ever happened in Biggar. And if Mr. Suringa wanted to come with her, the choice was up to him.
On this afternoon, from bits of conversation we overheard it sounded like the latest victim had been killed behind the Dairy Bar. There was no body at the site, someone reported. Just all the evidence of a struggle and violent death.
Hetty cocked an eyebrow. “If there's no body, what's the harm in checking it out?”
I shrugged, and we soon found ourselves part of the pack heading down the hill into town. On our way we passed others who had already been to the Dairy Bar. “It's gruesome. There's bloodâit's everywhere,” we were warned. By the time we'd reached the arena, I'd heard the comment just one too many times. “I don't want to go,” I told Hetty.
“Come on, Emma.” She took hold of my arm. “They said there's no body. You don't have to look close.”
Reluctantly I continued and we walked the rest of the way to the Dairy Bar.
I found it surprising that the police had not yet arrived. Everyone else seemed to know someone had been murdered, but there was no police tape cordoning off the site or detectives on the scene. People from school wandered around the steps leading to Mr. Gillespie's apartment, scrunching up their faces and looking confused. I squinted toward the windows of the apartment, but all I could see were the reflections of trees. If Mr. Gillespie was up there, he wasn't showing his face.
Hetty and I moved closer. There were dark stains on the cement block the steps rested on and on every step leading to the landing at the top. It was as though the victim had been dragged up or down. Hetty pointed to a shoe. It was a woman's
shoe teetering on a step. An ugly, old-fashioned woman's shoe, brown and with a solid heel, like something Mrs. Gillespie might wear. That was all I saw. I refused to move closer, even though some people had skipped over the bloodstains and ventured up the stairs.
Constable Wagner pulled up to the curb in his police carâfinally, someone had called him. It seemed amazing that in light of such a serious crime he'd been the last one clued in. Alarmed at the number of people tampering with the site, he hollered for them to get off the stairs. He made his way over to the cement block, bent down and studied it. What he did next I thought a little odd, or at least unscientific, but he dabbed his finger in the pool of blood, rubbed it between two fingers testing for consistency and brought it to his nose. He stood up, pursed his lips and frowned. His eyes followed the stains up the stairs. He focused on the woman's shoe teetering on the step. The crowd was hushed, waiting for an announcement or direction, someone to tell us what to do.
“Arthur Nash!” Constable Wagner suddenly snapped without turning around.
From behind a lilac bush, Ross's twelve-year-old brother was either yanked or pushed. Whatever happened, he appeared quite suddenly. Even his own expression revealed that he was a little surprised at how prompt he'd been.
Constable Wagner remained where he was. “Isn't that your mother's shoe?”
Mrs. Nash was the woman killed? I wondered how Constable Wagner had figured it out so quickly. And it suddenly occurred to me that he must be a very intelligent man. But if this was so, why had he ever given up what most certainly would have been an astonishing career in criminal investigation to spend his life writing parking tickets in Pike Creek?
“Uh, I don't know.”