Problem Finder, Problem Solver

 

A young woman becomes detective in her own murder as she watches friends and family respond to her death.

 

I bet you’re wondering how I ended up here, pale and waxy, my lips stained blue. I look good, though, right? I don’t mind saying it. I’m glad my hair fell across the pillow like that. It could have been much worse (ie: across my face or slicked back and revealing my large forehead)


Those pills on the bedside table? I’ll tell you right now, those are not mine.


Here comes Judith, my sister. You can’t hear her as she skims down the hall, she’s like a bird in both design and personality. If you’ve ever hugged her, you know what I’m talking about— like brittle twigs under your arms.


Judith is also excessively uptight. Sometimes I try to imagine her drunk or laughing or dancing, but all I can conjure are her lips pressed together, her eyes wide in anticipation of the world revealing itself, yet again, to be imperfect.


She sees me and gasps. This is not unlike her response to, say, a spilled sugar bowl, or a missed recording of Love It or List It.


After a moment with her hand to her chest, she steps further into the room to get a better look.


“Philip! Oh God!” she shrieks, backing into the chair and knocking over my purse. All the contents spill out, my life revealed through restaurant mints, tampons, an old lottery ticket, two Kit Kat fingers covered in lint, and my phone, which has a screen full of missed calls.


Philip and Judith are married. I’ll tell you now, before he barges in, I don’t much care for the man. He breathes out his nose in a way that really sets me back. And once, when I was visiting, he shoved his large clumsy hand up my thigh so fast I almost didn’t catch it in time. You’re a bad girl, aren’t you, he had said, just before I snapped his fingers back hard enough to put them in a splint for two weeks. He’s been terrified ever since that I’d tell Judith, which gives me a rather glorious sense of power and smugness (two of my favorite things when it comes to despicable men).


“What the hell?” he says upon seeing me.


“Did she…” Judith puts one quivering hand to her mouth, and with the other points at the pills.


“Maybe. You saw how she was after Pete.”


Allow me to interject. How I was after Pete was a mother-fucking goddess about town.


“She was devastated, you’re right,” says Judith, and if I could roll my eyes I would do a doozy of it now.


“Listen.” Philip steps near her, right in her personal bubble which is the size of Manhattan, and he lowers his voice. “We won’t mention… you know.”


“What?”


“Our fight last night. You know.”


“Why not?”


“It’ll only muddy the waters.”


Judith is crying, God bless her.


“What waters?”


“Honey. Listen. You’re hysterical.” He pulls her into his tanning-bed arms and smooths her hair. “This kind of thing can be misinterpreted in a million ways. It’ll look fishy, and then the neighbours will get weird. Let’s just keep it simple.”


Judith whispers, “Why would they care about us fighting?”


“Just in case,” he says slowly, like he’s talking to a toddler. “We’ll just say we went to bed early and found her the next morning.”


She nods and clutches (necklace, elbows, stomach).


You’re probably wondering if my silence is some indication that I’ve lost interest. In truth, my mind did start to wander— Judith and Philip are exceptionally dull. But don’t worry, I perked back up when I heard conspiratorial tones. Conspiratorial tones are my second language. Some would call me a gossip, but I prefer problem-finder, problem-solver.


And here’s problem number one. Why exactly are Philip and Judith wanting to hide their marital issues while also pinning my death on suicide? Me. Goddess about town.


Philip’s father, Barry, is thundering down the hall with a sloshing mug of coffee. Look out. He fills the doorway with his body and his presence, if you know what I mean (I mean aftershave). He scans the room and his eyes fall on me.


“Lord God in heaven. When did you find her?” He looks from Judith to Philip.


“Just now,” says Philip.


Liar! It was at least four minutes ago.


“Someone call emerge?”


I should mention here, just so you’re prepared, Barry shortens words. It all started after his Inner Harmony For Retired Men retreat last year. Now he masks his intensity with fun abbreviations.


“I’ll call.” Judith leaves, but stops at the door and looks at Philip with quaking helplessness.


“Just tell them you found your sister in bed,” he says. “Dead.”


Harsh.


She nods and races down the hall.


Now’s a good time to fill you in on the situation (or sitch, as Barry would call it). Once a year I come to visit my sister, and by the most unfortunate transitive property, Philip and Barry as well. Why? I love my sister, she basically raised me. Why else? Philip makes an excellent Bolognese. Third reason? Drama. Every damn year. (This year takes the cake, though.)


Barry now spreads out his hands like he’s opening up for a hug.


“She’s in a better place,” he says to Philip.


What the fuck, Barry.


Then he sets down his coffee and scratches his chin. “You call Pete, yet?”


“I will,” says Philip. “I was supposed to last night.”


Last night? Okay, this is news. Pete and I broke up a couple weeks ago (fine, he dumped me). But what’s Pete got to do with me laying serenely on a sea of white linens with my hair spread out mermaid-style? Dead?


And more to the point, why was my Pete calling horrible Philip last night?


“I missed, like…” Philip thumbs through his phone. “At least a dozen calls. Did he call you?”


“Yep.” Barry nods and crosses his arms. “But I was out.”


Lie. He was home— we cracked open a bottle of wine on the deck. He told me about the Seven Steps to Financial Freedom before I hastily excused myself to take a bath.


So this is all interesting. Pete was trying to get ahold of me, but I was drinking wine and then in the tub and then dead, so I missed his calls. He then tried to call various family members. You probably want a visual of Pete here, so I’ll give it to you: adorable in every way and slightly taller than me (I’m very tall, some would say willowy).


My sister comes in, red eyed and shaking. “They’ll be here soon. The coroner.”


Philip and Judith hug awkwardly, like how you might imagine stick insects embrace, then he excuses himself to go grab breakfast. (Because squelching a stomach growl is essential immediately after finding a dead body in your house.)


Once he’s gone, Judith sits next to me and takes my hand. This is rare, and therefore supremely endearing. I feel myself get all misty when she leans in, and I imagine her saying something bursting with familial love, like—


You were the most brilliant sister and I hope to emulate you one day.


But what she says is—


“I know you slept with Philip.”


I wait for the punchline, but let’s face it, Judith is no joker.


Philip? Philip with the blue contacts and the protein shakes? Philip, whose entire awareness of the world is will people still think I’m awesome?


It kills me that she could say this and I can’t correct her. She’s still looking into my dead, vacant eyes, like she’s studying a work of art (which I am, kind of), when she whispers—


“I forgive you.”


I want to yell FOR WHAT!


And as I want to yell, in my dead silent way, a little cross-stitch picture of a duck falls off the wall. It says Have a quackin’ good day! in pink stitches.


So, being dead is exceptionally frustrating and I don’t recommend it. Don’t think I’m missing a trick, though. I see Barry. I see him sneak over to my spilled purse as Judith forgives me to my blue-tinged face. He looks at the back of Judith’s head, the stealthy bugger, then grabs my lottery ticket and sticks it in his pocket.


I told you Barry likes to shorten words, but I neglected to mention that he’s also a greedy bastard. The self-made-man type that can’t turn down a penny. The type that spots an old wrinkled lotto ticket from a dead woman’s purse and thinks, ding! Opportunity!


And here’s the thing about that ticket. I try not to get sentimental, but Pete and I bought it together, using the numbers of the day we first met and our ages. How did we meet, you ask? I washed his dog when I had my home business (now defunct), Dog Gone It (terrible name).


02-21-20-18-27-27


I kept the ticket as an incredibly depressing memory. There. I said it. I’m over Pete, but sometimes you want to hang on to a little something.


I can’t take the ticket with me, of course, but I’m bummed out that it’s sitting crumpled in Barry’s pocket. Where it’s destined to become a lotto tic, or some other atrocity. And look, there he goes. You can see him out the window, high-stepping it to his jeep, speeding off to the nearest gas station. The guy is not exactly subtle.


Meanwhile Judith is dabbing her eyes. She’s a pretty crier, unlike me. But I can’t help but wonder if she’ll be as pretty dead? (Just a quick thought, her red hair will really wash out her dead skin tone, whereas my brown hair kind of accentuates it. Don’t worry. Doesn’t matter. Moving on.)


Philip is back, and he says the most shocking thing.


“Pete’s here. I told him what happened.”


My first thought: oh good, Pete can see how stunning I am. My second: the dirty bastard, how could he dump this?


He comes in with tear stained eyes, which, quite frankly, is the least he can do. He stands at the door and places his hand on his chest.


“What happened?” he asks, his voice catching.


“Uh.” I can see Philip struggle with this one. “We don’t know.”


Pete spots the pills. “She wouldn’t…”


“No, no. I mean. I don’t know. We don’t know.”


Enlightening as alway, Phil.


“I was trying to call her last night,” says Pete, and my heart melts, just a little.


“Sorry, man.” Philip nods. “I missed your calls too. We went to bed early.”


Ugh. The lies in this family.


Pete comes near and looks at me, sniffing and wiping his eyes with his sleeve. Why can’t the dead read the minds of the living? It only seems fair and I plan to take it up with the Head Honcho when I can get a moment.


“We would’ve won,” he says to nobody in particular. Judith turns to look at him.


“Who?”


“Annie and I. We won the lottery, but she has the ticket. Had the ticket.”


“Oh my god,” says Judith. “She didn’t say anything…”


“I don’t think she knew. We both kind of forgot about it,” Pete says. “Then I remembered the numbers. They were special.”


You heard that, right? We all heard it? Special. That’s literally what I was saying.


Philip’s already at my purse, rummaging around like a wild dog.


“She doesn’t have it,” Pete said. “Barry talked to her last night. She had thrown it out after we broke up.”


Bingo! Things are really picking up steam, like a regular Murder She Wrote. I can feel that familiar tingle of approaching resolution. Clearly Barry’s a big fat liar. He absolutely did not talk to me, and I most certainly did not tell him I threw out the ticket. Also, he said that he missed all of Pete’s calls, when in fact he did not.


Now, money is far less interesting when you’re dead, but lying, stealing and glaring character flaws hold their value, so I was plugged right into this whole scenario when the coroner walked in.


Do you picture a dower little man with slick black hair when you think of a coroner? I do. This was not that. This coroner was a large smiling woman, with frizzy hair, a loud voice and a take-charge presence. I instantly loved her.


“Everyone out folks. Sorry, but you gotta get outta here. That’s it. Alright. Buh-bye, now.”
But I hadn’t told anyone about Barry and the ticket! I think of the duck picture and try to channel my rage, which is tricky because I’m not an especially rageful person. Then I try the opposite. I channel my love for Pete, who is hot, and my sister, who is continuously nervous and misguided, but kind. I don’t bother with Philip, who’s an asshole, but it works anyway. Barry’s mug goes flying off the little table and onto the floor, right near my purse.


“Wait,” says Judith, looking at Philip. “Where’s your dad?”


Philip shrugs. “I think he went out.”


She kneels down next to my things and puts them all back in my purse.


“I swear the ticket was in here,” she says, looking at Philip, then Pete. “When it fell earlier.”


“It won’t matter,” says Pete. “It expired last night.”


The coroner narrows her eyes. “And who has the ticket now?”


Everyone looks out the window, where Barry’s Jeep had sat only minutes before.


Philip steps over to the coroner and whispers, “If this is a suspicious death can we keep it quiet?”


I have just enough annoyance here to flick a tiny splash of coffee onto his perfectly exfoliated face. He wipes it off with his finger, looking irritated.


“Who are you?” the coroner asks him.


“Philip. The brother in law.”


“Well, Philip the brother in law, you’re a petty and selfish man. Out of this room so I can do my job.”


As Judith and Pete follow, the coroner stops them. “The police are on their way. Don’t worry, they’ll get to the bottom of this.” She points her finger into each of their faces. “Tell them all about this lottery ticket. And this Barry.”


And then I feel something strange. Kind of like two glasses of wine, combined with just-had-sex, combined with a really good hotel mattress with quality linens.


I feel peace.


And I lift up and out of that room, viewing the whole world spread out below me. I see the police arrive and sit at the table with Judith and Pete, I see Philip go turn on a football game. I even see Barry, walking out of the gas station, stuffing the lottery ticket back in his pocket and looking a little gray. Exactly, Barry, you swine.


Just before the scene becomes too small to view, two police cars pull into the parking lot and greet him at his Jeep.


I smile and disappear.

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