Monday, January 21, 2008

I Want to Live Here 8

It was, inevitably, one of those giggle fits that would linger like a fart in an elevator. Mrs. Mason, her dyed black curls crinkling audibly, refrained from joining in. She laid the Patterson's card down on Abigail's dining room table with a snap and marched into the tiny kitchen.

The vodka, a Russian import with label featuring a volcano, stood on the small counter beside the sink. Abigail had used it as a bookend for a row of paperback cookbooks that included Recipes for a Small Planet, and The Moosewood Cookbook.
Had she been drinking before she fell? Did she fall because she’d been drinking? Had she fallen, got up and then had a drink? Another drink? The bottle, I noticed was half full. Or half empty.
I looked down, my gaze following the inevitable trail people with carpets make as they traverse the same paths from room to room, habitual as rats in a cage. Shouldn’t Abigail’s silly shoes should be lying nearby, marking the place where she had slipped and fallen? But there was no sign of them. I peeked under the couch. Nothing there.
Mrs. Mason turned sharply and began a recitation that must have been organizing itself in her head all morning: "You can live for hours, even a day, after a blow to the head, she said, her eyes trained on the dining room table, her fingers grazing its smooth edge. We’ll find out whether she had been drinking. We’ll know how much. But I don’t think it will matter. She fell. Whether she had a shot of vodka in her or a cup of tea. She fell. She hit her head. She died. It happens."
Her remarks, each enclosed in their punctuation like gift-wrapped stones, ended my desire to snoop through Abigail’s things.
“And a Merry Christmas to you, too!” she said, snatching up the bottle. The gesture was as inappropriate as it was effective. Susan said nothing, merely stepped back and let her pass through to the living room. I hurried to the front door, as if to usher her out, but she stopped short.
“So,” she announced, pointing a long finger, “That’s the object.” She was talking about the television, which, encased in yet more glass, took up most of the wall opposite the white leather couch. An elaborate stereo system shared space with the TV. Abigail’s electronics were advanced and expensive. Two speakers the size of end tables ranged alongside the teak and glass shelving ‘system’ (there was no other word for it.)
Abigail had enjoyed the stereo’s full range of sound giving anyone near her an earful of her taste. Her television was plugged into the same large speakers.
Mrs. Mason flipped it on. The face of Bill Tush, a local announcer on Channel 17, appeared. On his head he wore an aluminum colander, the expression on his slightly goofy face deadpan. He was more comedian than newscaster and a local character. But there was no sound coming from his mouth. Mrs. Mason, balked, turned to me, frowning.
“Great,” I said. “She finally turned the sound down.”
“What’s going on?” asked Susan. She was rummaging through a large leather shoulder bag I recognized as the one Abigail carried most often.
“Yesterday she had the T.V. blaring,” said Mrs. Mason. “I could hear it so loud, I had to move in from my patio and shut the door. Remember?” (she pivoted in my direction) “I asked you to make her turn it down.”
I nodded. She had stopped me cold as I was giving a tenacious 'prospect'. “I forgot.”
“You yessed me just fine,” said Mrs. Mason. “But you didn’t talk to her?”
“I meant to. I got caught up in a rental. By the time I remembered, the sound was down. Off.”
“When was that?” asked Susan, now curious.
“Late. I was next door, at the Bakers. I was helping them pack. They gave me a bunch of stuff they didn’t want to move. When Steve and I were carrying it back to my place, I noticed Abigail’s back door was open. That’s when I remembered I was going to ask her to turn her TV down. But, of course, by then it was quiet.”
“Do you think Abigail had already fallen when you complained about her stereo?” asked Susan.
“I don’t know when she fell or how she fell. I just know there’s more going on here than meets the eye.”
I could see Susan’s face change from paper white to a mottled red as she worked to control her impatience and interceded. “What? What?”
“Let’s see if we can find the keys to her car.”
Instinctively, I looked out the open door at the cars parked along the front and sides of the building. Abigail drove a red MG. But it was nowhere in sight.
“Where’s her car?” asked Mrs. Mason. “Where is it?”

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