A Murmur of Murder

A Murmur of Murder

The heart wants what it wants, a fragment of the song stole through me. A satisfying dirge.

I watched him, careful to breathe in time. He was naked: purple-dotted sacks of skin folded into sweaty sheets. Wiry glasses on the table; thin hair pasted to his head like strands of wet grass; dentures still in, twisted in a grotesque sneer. Old man. My man. No, I was his, not the other way around. And I had made him happy — oh, so happy for the past week — because, really, it’s only decent to be nice to someone before you kill them.

On that count I was proud of myself. I had made him happy. Hadn’t fumed when he went bouncing around the park in his stained sweatpants to stare at ponytailed women out of the corner of his cloudy eye. Didn’t douse us in spiky silence when he insisted we climb Old Aksha Hill like teenaged morons, to drowse in the dewy grass while red ants pierced our skin. And, although it nearly killed me, I even stayed awake and somewhat alert when Sonia and Raj wined and dined us, their offerings of grizzly dripping meat and wine lame substitutes for their giving a damn.

Well. No more pretending to be fine so everyone else could tunnel through shiny lives. One good twist, one bright bash and… freedom. It was almost enough to take one’s breath away. Ha. I tensed my muscles and reached for his jugular, when the doorbell went. 

The front door creaked open.

“Papa?” a sing-song voice fluted up the stairs. Sonia? Today? Why? Don’t come up. Don’t come

He grunted. I lay down, trying to breathe deeply, innocently with him.  

A rustle. Plastic bags set on the counter. Walnuts. Yoghurt. Cucumber. If scatter-brained Sonia actually remembered — fish. I mentally checked the week’s items off. Calm down, match his sputtering wheezing, count one two thr – But Sonia’s quick footsteps creaked up the stairs. 

Goddamnit, Sonia.

Cloying vanilla-bean perfumed in, followed by Sonia. She saw me lying peacefully, breathing in…and out…in…and out…Go away, I wanted to scream, everything’s fine. Finally. But she smiled down at her blinking, irritable father, she pressed a hand on his forehead. 

Something in me twisted. Her hand was like acid, its stench corroding me.

How could she love him?

Didn’t she see the spiky-soled boots on his side of the bed? Those boots — pounding — each kick a spike of pain racking my body. “Why can’t you keep up?” his frown said, and he glanced at the young joggers, blaming me for holding him back in a metaphor so ironic it was almost hilarious. First he ruins me then he blames me for being broken. Sonia had witnessed decades of me picking up after him, reminding him of his pills, screaming as he dragged me out or locked me behind, whimpering and dizzy, in our crumbling home, endless nights of me humming him to sleep while his body gripped mine like a vice. Oh, she’d understand.  
She’d have to, at any rate.

She left the room and I sprang into action. I curled my fingers around his velvet skin, and squeezed. Electricity shuddered off him, through my chest — life jerking and struggling and leaping to the sky.

But I hadn’t bargained for how strong he still was. He struggled in my hands, rocking back and forth, blindly clawing skin and tissue off. I clenched harder, feeling his blood pound beneath my fingertips, soft pipes bursting and crumpling. He gurgled, as if deep underwater…and…then…he dipped.

I had him. Something jangled in me — a shower of sparks, a high-pitched shriek. Or was that him? I felt close to him in a way I hadn’t for a long, long time; I felt embedded in his bones. He shuddered and flailed and almost knocked me over but I held on to him. Like always.
I held on until we both slid to the floor. Still.
Footsteps ran up the stairs. The door crashed open and in flew Sonia, bracelets clinking, eyes blank in panic, silky blouse flowing out of my vision.

“Papa?” she said to the body on the floor, “Papa!” she shook him, but he did not wake. I had done my job well. She would know it was me. But I was free.

I heard a strangled sob and the high beeps of a phone. “My father’s had a heart attack!” Her voice rose tinny and sharp as needles.

I closed my eyes, wishing she would just stop. Stop all the clattering about and shrieking and guilt-alloyed high grief. It was too late. I was folding my tendrils… shutting the old, choked pump… laying my dry, blackening muscle to rest…at peace.

The heart wants what it wants, a fragment of the song stole through me. A satisfying dirge.

If only he had listened. But nobody ever listens to us. Nobody, until it’s too late.

Dhak-dhak. Dhak-dhak-dhak-dhak. Dhak! Dhak. Dhak.Dhak …Dhak…

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