“Murder for Beginners” by Kathleen McElligott
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, Kathleen McElligott gets nostalgic in Chicago’s South Side.
Murder for Beginners
by Kathleen McElligott
South Side, Chicago, Illinois
The red brick bungalow on the South Side of Chicago was exactly as I remembered: blue-and-white tile in the kitchen, white metal cabinets, gray-and-pink ceramic in the bathroom. I looked out the kitchen window—a bruised sky threatened rain. Where the backyard should have been there was a green, undulating lake stretching past the alley beyond the neat rows of identical houses. Suddenly, the water surged up against the kitchen window as if slapped by a mischievous unseen giant. It pulsated menacingly against the flimsy glass, then quickly retreated. It was one week before Thanksgiving.
It was a predictable dream; even a whiff of family and everything threatened to crash. Birth order was a minefield of one-upmanship and supposed parental withholding. My older sister Chloe never forgave me for being the successful one, usurping her birthright.
An anemic December dawn crept across the duvet, smelling faintly of urine and cocoa butter. Naomi opened her eyes, disappointed at the prospect of a new day. Ahead loomed exhausting hours spent trying to make sense of a life lived microsecond to microsecond. Each fleeting moment was the only reality she could grasp. She glanced at the journal on the bedside table where she had dutifully recorded her dreams for years. June 1, 2012—Escape. Find a place in the woods surrounded by water. It was her last entry in months. Reading what she had written in a lucid moment startled her, but she knew she had to leave Shady Rest before they put her on the seventh floor. No one ever returned from there.
A lithe figure glides on point across the stage, a swan. It is Naomi.
She combed through her gray hair with bony fingers. She needed to pee. She looked down at her wizened legs, once mechanical in their precision, and saw a diaper. “Can’t be washing the sheets every day, Miss Naomi.” She relaxed and felt the warmth puddle around her buttocks.
Anatoly visited once, imperious with a silk ascot and Italian loafers. Naomi stared suspiciously at her forgotten lover. He brought an obscenely large bouquet of red roses. She laughed too loud. “A box of candy would have been better!” Eventually her visitors dwindled to her only living relative, her niece. Uma had tattoo sleeves and metal through her nose and lips. Naomi shuddered at this dark intruder.
Uma fingered the objects on Naomi’s nightstand: empty pill bottles, glasses, a comb, the journal. “Did you write this, Auntie?”
“Please, dear, call me Naomi.”
Uma held the faded pages for Naomi to see. She squinted, moving the journal closer then farther away. “It’s my handwriting.”
“You can’t be serious. My mother would never allow it.” Uma remembered her mother’s resentment toward Naomi, whom she claimed got all the attention—and money for dance classes.
“Your mother and I never got along, dear,” Naomi said. She closed her eyes and dreamed of water and wood.
Winter surrendered to spring. Naomi became obsessed with water, ripping pictures of exotic lakes and rivers from National Geographic and taping them to the walls. She sat in the shower chair until the water turned cold and her nails blue. She longed for a bath, but the aides hadn’t the time.
She began roaming the halls, fixated on a cabin in the woods near a rushing stream. One day, the tub room door was left open. Naomi heard water rushing over moss-covered boulders. Like the pull of the moon, she was drawn toward it. She unzipped her top. She pushed the waistband of her pants over her knees and removed her diaper. She lifted a flamingo-thin leg and carefully stepped into the tub. She grabbed the sides for support and slowly lowered herself into the warm water. She leaned back and closed her eyes. The water roared over the rocks like a freight train. She felt its power. She relaxed into its embrace.
In an explosion of light, her memory came flooding back: her first ballet teacher; dancing the lead in Swan Lake; her affair with Anatoly. She was free.
Uma was at the nurses’ station. Her aunt, she said, was missing.
Anatoly came to the funeral. Uma, of course, was there. She removed her nose ring in anticipation of a substantial inheritance. Little did she know that years ago Naomi had left everything to the Professional Dancers Society. Naomi’s obituary appeared in the Times. She would have loved it.
KATHLEEN McELLIGOTT is super stoked that she’s contributed to all of the Akashic Books flash fiction categories except Duppy Thursday. She is an avid cyclo-tourist and completed her first and hopefully not last cross-country bike trip last year between March to May. She’s currently biking the Natchez Trace from Natchez, MS, to Nashville, TN—think Deep South; William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, and all that southern Gothic shit. Who knows, maybe it will spawn some dark stories. Please check out her adventures at www.kmcelligott.wordpress.com.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—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.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Apr 25, 2016
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