“Undone” by Michelle Sacks
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, Michelle Sacks takes her tale to the Octopussy Lounge in Udaipur, India. Next week, Joe Canzano brings us to Austin for the music, the romance—and the murder.
It was full of backpackers, Udaipur: dreadlocked, slightly malodorous waifs and strays from the Western world, decked out in worn sandals and ill-fitting local garb, gathered from their travels around Asia. Drunk, stoned, high on their own sense of freedom, they clambered up the steep stairs of the havelis to the rooftop bars to sit and chat and flirt, escaping the stench and chaos of the city below, where the elephants and the cows and the motorbikes shared the streets with piles of garbage and too many broken souls to count.
In the Octopussy Lounge, the city’s claim to fame played on a small television. A few foreigners were crowded around the screen, watching for the part when Udaipur’s palace makes its appearance. They were talking loudly, drinking Kingfishers and smoking something they’d bought off the tuk tuk drivers downstairs. The kitchen staff, finished with the last meal of the night, sat huddled in the back, scooping leftover korma into their mouths with torn pieces of naan. The constant hooting of horns was punctuated every so often by the sound of music coming from the wedding processions snaking their way through the streets, the brides hidden under heavy veils of marigolds and jasmine.
In the corner, a girl sat alone, sipping from a bottle of water in between mouthfuls of curry. She had a guidebook lying open on the table in front of her, from which she occasionally pretended to read. Every few minutes, she checked her watch and glanced hopefully at the doorway. She was trying hard to hide her nerves, though no one was paying her any particular attention. When she first sat down, the waiter tried to talk to her in his broken English. She’d fobbed him off as best she could, not wanting to be distracted. Now the waiter put the bill on her table without a glance, eager to get paid and go home. She asked him for another bottle of water; stalling, waiting, hoping. The night was hot and sticky, like they mostly were this time of year. She could feel the mosquitos impatiently sucking at her flesh while the faint stink of the polluted water wafted up from the lake and into her nostrils. Earlier, she’d seen a man swim halfway across the water, paddling like a dog. The women waited on the steps, washing their clothes, their food, and their children. The men shoveled mud from the filthy banks into buckets and carted them off to a house on the water’s edge that was being precariously patched together.
The man had said 21:30, but this was India, and she knew that time meant little. Besides, he needn’t rush; he knew she would be waiting, as long as it took. What choice did she have? It was she who needed him, and he had surely registered her desperation even before she had told him what she needed.
“You are lucky,” he had said. “In India, there is nothing that cannot be bought or sold.”
She had taken in a breath, eyes wide and heart racing, trying to hold together what had fallen apart in the worst way.
“You are luckier still,” he went on, “that it was me you came to. Because there’s nothing I will not do for money!” He cackled, showing paan-stained red teeth that reminded her of blood.
Had it been a trick, a trap? Would he bring the police along when he finally arrived? She’d paid him only half upfront, but even half was more than enough here. Perhaps he would not bother with the rest. Her stomach lurched at the thought. There would be no other way out, no chance of escaping what she had done if he failed to meet her tonight, if he failed to do what she could not.
She supposed she could say it was self-defense, but that wouldn’t be the truth. The truth was something dark and ugly, an aberration of rage and jealously. In any case, they would believe nothing she said, because there would be the body and the blood, and that would be all they needed.
The movie was almost over. Soon the credits would roll, and everyone would have to leave. It would be the end. Hands trembling, the girl packed away her book and put some notes into the billfold. In the doorway, a shadow caught her eye, and she looked up with the last shred of hope she had.
MICHELLE SACKS is a South African writer currently living between Cape Town and Hamburg. She has been shortlisted twice for the PEN Prize for Southern African Fiction, and has had stories published in the 2007 and 2011 editions of the J.M. Coetzee-judged anthology, African Pens. In between working as a freelance copywriter, she writes short fiction, travel pieces, and children’s stories.
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 to [email protected] Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Aug 12, 2013
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