“Lady Luck” by Narween Otto
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, Narween Otto’s Leah makes her own luck.
“Mum! What did you do with my curling iron?”
Trinh’s voice tumbles down the staircase. There is an uncomfortable silence at the table as Leah avoids the glances of her friends. She places her hand of cards facedown and absentmindedly notices that her chipped red nail polish perfectly matches the flowers on the shiny vinyl place mats.
“But it’s your turn, Leah.” Suzie’s cards are fanned out behind a sparkle of cubic zirconia.
“Mum! Did you hear me?” The sharp voice bounces off ceramic tile floors.
Hoa’s heavy jawed face is blunt with bad feeling. Even her short grey hair looks disgruntled as she places her cards down in a tight stack.
“That girl is like bad iced coffee—condensed milk can’t mask bitterness.”
Leah shrugs. “What can I do?”
“I’ve got some ideas . . .” Hoa mutters.
Leah laughs in spite of herself.
Kim speaks softly, but her pretty face is taut. “If she was my daughter-in-law she wouldn’t know what hit her.”
“She’d know exactly what hit her if she lived with me,” Hoa huffs.
Laughter evaporates the tension.
Leah pats her plump waistline. “I need the exercise anyway. You keep bringing tiramisu and I won’t fit into this new shirt for long.”
They are all wearing blouses Kim brought back from her recent trip home to Vietnam. Kim continues her story about Sydney Airport.
“They made me wait over an hour before searching me.”
Suzie yawns into her bejeweled hand. “Customs check me every time I come back.”
“I didn’t see them search any Australians.”
“We are Australian,” Hoa says drily.
Leah shakes her head and leaves them. She takes the stairs quickly, ignoring the pain in her knees.
Knocking on the bathroom door makes a loud echoing sound. In the final weeks of construction, after they discovered Trinh’s large gambling debt, the house was finished as cheaply as possible. The flimsy hollow-core doors are a constant reminder of her lack of control over life; Leah can’t even go to the toilet with dignity.
Leah opens the door to find Trinh wearing headphones, deep in the tub, surrounded by bubbles.
Leah looks at the beautiful young woman; long hair piled on top of her head above a sensuous and cruel mouth.
Trinh belts out a few lines to a pop song. Leah winces and suffers an unwelcome stab of envy. Trinh knows she has a horrible singing voice and doesn’t care. As a child, Leah could sing in French and Vietnamese; she can’t remember the last time she sang in any language.
Hurry up, Leah— you’ve got a card game to win! Leah has a good hand. Lady Luck is on her side today.
In the bathroom drawer are Trinh’s hair appliances. Stiffening against the familiar irritation lunging inside her chest, Leah plugs in the curling iron, leaving it perched atop the vanity next to the tub. She is walking away when something warm and sudsy smacks her on the side of the face.
“Ma! I told you—never come in without knocking.”
Trinh, still wearing headphones, screeches louder than usual.
Water drips down Leah’s neck. She looks in the mirror; her expression is unrecognizable, terrifying. She takes a deep breath and bends down to pick up the offending washcloth. As she stands upright another one comes flying and wraps itself around her face like a terrycloth jellyfish. Cheap jasmine-scented foam crowds her nostrils. She freezes, eyes squeezed tight against the sting.
Trinh laughs. “You should knock.”
Leah bites her cheek until the inside of her mouth tastes metallic. She leans over the sink, washing out her eyes.
“Pass my towel, Ma?” Trinh’s voice is as sweet and fake as her perfume.
Leah remains silent.
“Ugh! I’ll get it myself.”
Leah blinks her burning eyes. In small staccato frames she watches Trinh’s proud, perfect form rise gleaming from the bath like a horror-movie Lakshmi, but instead of a lotus flower Trinh stands on a mound of chemical-fragranced foam. Trinh snatches the folded towel from the vanity with an arrogant flourish. Leah leans forward and sweeps the live curling iron into the tub. The house electrics were not upgraded during the renovation.
Trinh falls backwards, head smashing into the tub, as 240 volts surge through her. She slides under garnet-tinted water, legs askew.
Leah looks down and sees her rubber slipper–clad feet standing dry in the center of a thick rubber-backed bathmat. She thanks all the gods.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Feb 16, 2015
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