”I think writers are bad people.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean what I say,” she is smiling. Teasing me. She is annoyed with me today. I get that. I’ve been distracted.
“You don’t really mean that.”
She shakes her head.
“No, you don’t.”
“You know what they say now?”
“They say I’m too pretty,” she frowns. They do say that. I have heard that. She probably is. People have a tendency to be too interested in other people that they think are pretty. Not always a good thing.
“It doesn’t matter what they say,” I try to smile. Pretend like I am confident, but I’m not sure that it’s working.
“It doesn’t?” She looks down.
“Of course not,” another lie. Not even a very good one. It does matter. People’s opinions are like some contagious disease. Some shit that is hard to get off once it has gotten stuck. Like you would need a scrub or something. Peel all your skin off. She could do that. I’m sure. Stand there all red without her skin and they would probably still think that she was too pretty.
She didn’t used to be pretty. I remember. She was like seven the first time we met and she didn’t look pretty at all. Both her two front teeth were missing. Big glasses. Kind of chubby in a way that wasn’t cute. Her nose seemed too small for her face back then, not like now. Now it fits perfectly. People change. She did too.
“Are you going to make me seem interesting?” She nods towards my notebook. Silly thing for her to ask me, as if it’s really up to me.
“I’ll try,” I say and smile.
“But not too interesting, of course,” she looks down, “too interesting is like too pretty, isn’t it?”
She is right. It is. I wouldn’t want to give her another problem.
“You think they’ll think differently about me once they get to know me?” she looks at my notebook. I didn’t want to write about her, when they told me that she had asked for me, I wanted to say no. I just couldn’t. Not now, but maybe I should have.
“I think they will.”
I’m not sure though, if I have that kind of power. Maybe they won’t like her. Maybe my book will just make them feel like she got what she deserved. Books are hard to control, you see. What thoughts will appear in someone’s head when they are reading my words? I can’t really know that. I can try to control it, but in the end it is not really up to me.
“I didn’t do it, Maggie,” she doesn’t look at me. She looks into the wall. The grey wall. I have never liked rooms without windows. Not at all. They make me feel like I am suffocating. Slowly. I just nod. Don’t know what to say. We hadn’t spoken in years when I got the phone call. Of course, I followed everything on the news, but I hadn’t really talked to her. I should have. I know.
“Is it sunny today?” she is still staring into that grey wall, I can see that she swallows awkwardly. She always does that, when she asks me about the weather.
She closes her eyes.
“But it was sunny yesterday?”
“Were you outside?”
“Not for long.”
She bites her lip. “You should,” I almost can’t hear her anymore, “go outside when it’s sunny.” Is she going to cry? Oh dammit, I should have lied. I usually do. There is just not that much time left in the day for me to go outside. I need to write. Writing is just easier to do inside.
“No, I know,” I say quickly, “I promise you, the next time it’s sunny, I’ll be outside the whole day.”
She looks up. Smiling again. I can see that she is trying to brush it off. I need to get home. Tom is probably waiting. He’ll be making dinner
“You’ll be back tomorrow?”
“I’m sure you’ll find a way to make them like me,” she smiles at me, even though it doesn’t really reach her eyes. She looks sad. The kind of sad you get from being in rooms without windows. “I trust you,” she says.
“I’ll try, I really will,” I look at my watch. It is later than I thought. I really need to get going, or Tom will say for the millionth time that I work too much and then we’ll have a fight. For sure. I reach for the door. I can hear her get up from the chair as I walk out. They come and get her right away when we’re finished talking.
“Maggie?” he is shouting from the kitchen as I open the door. Waiting for me.
“Yeah, it’s me.”
I get my shoes off. Hang up my coat. I feel so tired after this day, I wish I wouldn’t have to go back tomorrow.
“Have you’ve been there for that long?” he says as I come into the kitchen.
“It wasn’t that long.”
“It wasn’t?” he looks at his watch. It really wasn’t that long. He is exaggerating.
He is making something in a pan. Looks like some vegetables and some meat. He has always been a good cook. Takes him like no time at all to make something that looks just perfect. I wish I could do that.
“I don’t like you going to that place.”
I know he doesn’t. He has already told me many times before. I get it, if it was the other way around maybe I wouldn’t like it either.
“It is safe,” I look down, “I don’t even see the other inmates, just her.”
“And she is safe to be around?” he says. Frowning.
“Of course,” I look as he flips some of the vegetables in the pan up in the air. “Joan, didn’t do it.”
“Are you Joan?” he says ironically.
“No,” I sigh.
“So how can you be sure?”
“I guess, I can’t be,” I try not to bite my lip when he is looking at me, “but it just doesn’t feel like something she would do.”
I nod. They do. He is right. I’ve changed.
“I’ve just known her for forever.”
He puts a plate in front of me. I’m so hungry and it looks so good. He smiles. Those warm, brown eyes that he got, always makes me relax after days like these. I can see him touching his forehead really quickly, he does it without seeming aware of it, I think he worries about losing his hair. Not that it really matters to me, as long as he doesn’t lose those eyes of his I’ll be fine.
“When did you guys even become friends?”
I take bite. Chew, while he is watching me.
“We were just kids,” I say.
“I don’t know, you just don’t seem like two people who have that much in common.”
I nod. We don’t. Not now at least.
“She was my only friend back then.”
I’ve said it. It’s the kind of thing that someone like him wouldn’t understand. It is a Maggie thing. Looking down. Being intimidated. Being shy. Being invisible. To everyone, except for Joan. Joan saw me and I saw Joan. Saw exactly what she could be. Not just a chubby, strange-looking kid. She had something, even back then.
Is it morning now?
I like to sing when I write. It frees the mind. The sunrays are peeking through the window. I’ve been writing all night. I often do.
Are you already up?
Makes it easier to focus on the story. Not get distracted by anything or anyone.
Are you waiting for me?
I’ve been told that I have a nice singing voice, but I rarely sing when I don’t write.
You should have gone, while you had your chance
I can hear Tom in the hallway. He doesn’t like to sleep in. Sometimes I wish that he had more bad habits, were more like me. I have so many bad habits.
You should have left me
“What are you singing?” Tom is standing by the door.
“Of nothing, special,” I smile. “Just something while I’m writing.”
So, I get up and go, to find you and teach you why you shouldn’t stay.
He is standing there looking at me. “Sounds like a fucked up song,” he says. He is kind of right, it does sound kind of fucked up. Tom doesn’t like fucked up things. Doesn’t like people who are too different. Doesn’t like Joan.
It is time to run, just run now, just get away
I like to write at night. I prefer it. My stories seem clearer to me then. Easier to find. He doesn’t stay to listen to my fucked up song. Instead I can hear him going downstairs. Probably going to make breakfast for us.
Oh, hush be quiet now
I smile. Can hear her door open in the hallway. I have probably woken her up with my singing. Silly me.
Quiet in the dark
She is walking towards my room. Soon she’ll be standing by my desk, and I won’t get any more work done.
Oh hush, oh hush
I try to write as fast as I can. I see what needs to be done in the story to make it better. To make it what it needs to be. This can’t only be Joan’s story.
Where are you hiding?
Joan can’t be the monster. Her being so beautiful and everything. They just want the killer to look like that. People love beautiful monsters. Joan’s isn’t a monster. People forget. She was just this kid. This fat kid that wasn’t even cute. All vulnerable and innocent. My only friend back then. She was. I can’t forget that.
I won’t let them make her into that. So, what if her husband died? Husbands die all the time. It really isn’t that special.
Don’t say a word
“Mummy?” I can feel her tug at my shirt.
Time’s up. I turn towards her.
“Are you up already, cutie pie?” I pick Hannah up, she looks so much like Tom, with her blonde hair all in disarray and her big, blue eyes. “We’ll have to make you some breakfast then?” She is nodding. I bet Tom is making pancakes. He spoils her. I guess we didn’t think we would have kids. It seemed like such a long time when it was just the two of us, but then suddenly she was here. Changed everything.
“Are you happy with him?”
Joan is sitting next to that grey wall, looking at me. Asking me that question. So simple really. Me and Tom.
“Probably?” she smiles. Shakes her head, as if I’m the idiot. “You know it is never the wife that kills the husband?”
“It is just too obvious that they would suspect me,” she sighs, “why would I do it like that?” She is rubbing her fingers against her pants. Like she’s uneasy.
“I don’t know, Joan.”
“So just because he was older and not that attractive I have to be the mean one?”
My publisher told me that I would have to talk to Joan. She had asked for me. This is quite an opportunity. People want to know about Joan. Want to know who she really is. It is my obligation as a writer to show them that. I know. I really do know that, but we are also friends. Friends have other obligations to each other.
“You know there is nothing about being old and plain-looking that necessarily makes you a nice person.”
I nod. She is right. I met William, her husband. He wasn’t my favorite either. “But you probably don’t get that, how it is when your husband’s an asshole.”
“What do you mean?”
This room is just so grey. Maybe that is part of the punishment. A grey room without any windows. I would go mad if someone put me in a place like this.
“Just that Tom is such a sweet man.”
She has been my friend for so long. There were those years when I didn’t talk to her that much. Maybe it was because of Tom and Hannah. You get busy when your life is so full.
“You like Tom?”
She frowns. Bites her lip. Her hands are shaking.
“No, I didn’t mean it like that.”
She probably shouldn’t have said that.
“Has he been here?”
I look around the room. The grey room. No windows, and then her sitting there. There is something special about her being in here, isn’t there? Something vulnerable I didn’t see at first. Something that men might like.
“Of course Tom hasn’t been here,” she shakes her head, “You know Tom doesn’t really like me.” She leans over the table. “You’re with Tom,” she grabs after my hand, “you have this family with him, I’m not stupid,” I get up, “I’m your friend,” she tries to come closer to me, but the guards open the door. They must think that I’m in danger. “I don’t like him,” she screams, as they take her, “You can’t make me like him,” I shouldn’t have come. She is kicking towards the guards, “I’m your friend,” it’s the last thing I can hear before they drag her out of the room. She is my friends. I know. She always has been.
“Have you been to see Joan?” I say as I come into the living room.
He is sitting in the couch reading a newspaper. Hannah is already sleeping. I don’t want her here for this conversation. Maybe I wouldn’t even be able to talk to him about this if she was here. Her face looking so much like Tom’s, her cute, little face. My baby. Mine and Tom’s baby. My hands are shaking. Just like Joan’s hands were shaking.
“Why would I go to see, Joan?” he looks up from his newspaper.
“I don’t know,” I hesitate, “just a thought,” I say it innocently enough, but he looks worried. Right away. So maybe he gets more than I think he does. A thought can be dangerous. For sure. It can get stuck in you.
“I don’t even like Joan.”
“No, you’ve said that.”
He puts the newspaper down. Gets up. I’ll have to say what I need to say fast. I can’t raise my voice. Hannah will wake up and come downstairs, and if she’s here I’ll forgive him. I know myself.
“Have you slept with her?”
“What?” he looks so surprised.
“You have, haven’t you?”
“No,” he takes a step closer to me. He looks so worried. Reaches for me, but I won’t let him get me.
“You with all your pancake-making, being the good dad,” I hesitate, “being a good husband, it isn’t real is it?”
“Why wouldn’t it be real?”
He looks like he is going to cry. I really can’t take it if he cries. It will soften me. I know that. Instead I turn around, need to get out of here. “Please, Maggie,” he comes after me, “we are happy, aren’t we?” I thought we were, but I was kidding myself, wasn’t I? “You don’t have to ruin it.” I just saw her today, sitting in that grey room. Joan, looking like Joan. This beauty trapped in the grey room. She could easily be the type of person that someone would do anything for. Tom would do anything for, even if he did have his little family.
“You know her husband, he wasn’t a nice man,” I stop, turn to look at him. Say it like it’s the argument that should end this discussion.
“I don’t care,” he is talking so loudly now, if I’m not careful he will wake up Hannah.
“Some people even say that he liked to watch Joan when she was with other men.” He just stands there now. Mouth closed. Looks strange. This worried frown on his face. Like he is looking for the perfect words that will convince me.
“But you knew William, didn’t you?” He did, I’m sure of it.
“I’ve never met him,” he whispers.
“Wasn’t he a friend of your father?”
“No,” he says that, but William was a friend of his father, before he was killed. William really was killed. In a horrible way, but Joan, didn’t do it. She really didn’t. “You won’t make me into this,” I can barely hear Tom anymore. “I won’t let you make me into a killer.” I sigh.
“But you are, aren’t you?”
He is crying now. My Tom is crying. It feels hard to breath for a moment, and then I can hear it. The sound of her feet as she is walking down the stairs. No. I need to get out of here, if I see Hannah I won’t be able to go through with this. I know myself that well. I’ll remember everything. Me, Hannah and Tom laughing together. Making pancakes. Being happy. Living here like this normal family. Not even thinking about Joan and her life. Her crazy life, so different from mine. Why would she even marry that guy, she could have had anybody. I hurry down the hallway. I don’t turn, but I can hear her calling for me.
“Mummy?” she doesn’t get it.
I can’t look at her. She has a way of changing everything. I can’t let her do that again. I have almost reached the door. Tom is right behind me, but I open it. Hurry outside. He shouts after me, but I won’t turn around this time.
“You want me to be the killer, but we both know who the real killer is,” I can hear him, even if I don’t want to. “It’s you, it has always been you.”
“I have to say this book surprised me,” he is smiling at me. Sitting in that chair that is supposed to look cosy, I guess. I have been to too many talk shows, seen too many chairs that look like that.
“I wouldn’t want to give it a way for the audience, but the killer came as quite a surprise to me,” he laughs. I nod. There really isn’t much for me to say. This isn’t my first book. I have done this many times before. The same procedure.
“So, tell me, what’s your secret?”
“My secret?” I smile at him. He wants me to be this special person. I really can’t disappoint him.
“Yes, to writing these books.”
“Well,” I lean in closer as I say it, I even think I kind of whisper. They like that. I’m not stupid, I know why I’m here. They all kind of want to know my secret. “I really get to know them,” I smile, “You know, for real.”
“Who?” he looks so stupid when he says that.
“The characters in my book.”
“Oh,” he likes this. I must seem so eccentric to him. Great for selling books, for selling this TV show.
“You see, my secret is, if you really want to get to know them, then you can’t be shy. You have to move into their world. And even though they are not real for the rest of the world, they need to be real for you, otherwise it will not work.” I smile at him. He probably doesn’t get it. “You need to live with them, become their friends, betray them and love them. You really have no choice if you want to become a real writer.”
I hope you have enjoyed ”Quiet in the Dark”, the story as well as the song, and I really hope that you would like to hear more songs and read more stories.
About the song: Lyrics/Vocals: Therese J (Me)
Music composition and mixing: Erwan Grandais “Airone”
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If you like the images that have been used to illustrate this short story, they are all from morguefile.com. All the photos have been edited, but the first, second(SoundCloud), seventh and the last photo is by abstractxpressionist, the third photo is by Melodi2, the fourth photo is by Schnuffel, the fifth photo is by Quantum and the sixth photo is by cohdra.
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