A few days into January I pass a man reading the paper as I walk to work. The charred remnants of Nevaeh’s Hello Kitty backpack are on the front page. The picture is grainy, and I glance at it for just a moment before I quickly remove my eyes, my heart pounding. The last time I had seen her, she’d been wearing that backpack, shiny and clean, and now the plastic on the backpack was bubbled and black. I remember her braids, and I wonder if they were still in her hair when the police found her body. I’d touched her hair, and then she died.
A week later I watch Lyndee Anthony count out five one-dollar bills, and hand them to cashier at Wal-Mart, the gallon of milk she’s buying tucked under her arm. Each dollar has a purple heart in its corner. I reach up to touch the pink hair tie on my wrist. That’s when I know I’m going to kill her.
IT TAKES TIME TO PLAN SOMEONE’S MURDER. There are a lot of things to consider; for one: you have to ask yourself if you are trying to kill an innocent woman. Two: how do you want this potentially innocent woman to die, and should you establish absolute non-innocence before reviewing your options? Three: if she were innocent, how did she get those dollars?
Poison is my first choice—clean and easy. But poison can be traced. And I don’t know Lyndee well enough to offer her an arsenic-laced bon bon, and there is always the chance someone else could eat it, then I really would be responsible for an innocent death. That would make me just like her.
There is strangulation, which sounds more appealing than poison, but takes more work. The risk that something could go wrong is bigger—I could be overpowered, or even caught.
I can buy a gun; there are ways. But guns are messy and loud. There is no art in a bullet. No class in a knife. I want her to die in the right way. A way that serves the most justice to my little Nevaeh.
Lyndee Anthony told police that the last time she saw her daughter was on the morning she disappeared, when she sent her off to school with her backpack. Nevaeh got off the school bus that afternoon, walked the two blocks to the bus stop on Bishop Hill, where she caught the 712 with the intention of going to her grandmother’s house. And on that rainy day, I braided her hair—cuffing the braid with the pink hair tie I now wear around my wrist—and bid her farewell, reminding her to be careful in the briny Bone. Which means Nevaeh went missing with her backpack, her hair in the pigtails I braided, and her ten one-dollar bills tucked safely away in her wallet. There was, of course, the possibility that Nevaeh drew that same purple heart on her mother’s dollars. It might have been her trademark. That’s what concerned me the most. Deciding a woman was guilty of murdering her only daughter based on a purple heart.
My worries about Lyndee being innocent are put to rest one evening in November when I decide to take the bus home from the Rag. In winter it gets dark around four o’ clock. The chill creeps in from the Sound, blowing over the Bone, then skirting on to Seattle. The early darkness paired with the dragging rain is enough to chase an avid walker to the bus. I stand huddled underneath the shelter, my jacket soaked from the short walk over. My limbs, which have become accustomed to the walking, long to be stretched and pushed up hills. But, as I climb onto the bus and choose a seat in the back, I am glad to be out of the nasty weather. I wonder what Judah is doing tonight, and if he wants to watch a movie. When I look up, I notice Lyndee sitting across from me. Her short hair is plastered to her forehead like she was caught in a bad downpour. Aside from being wet, she looks quite happy, smiling down at her phone every time the chime of a text sounds. She’s not wearing the T-shirt with Nevaeh’s face this time, but a low-cut top and a cheap-looking necklace that spells out SEXY. When we arrive at her stop, she reaches for the backpack that has been sitting between her knees. Unzipping the top, she pulls out a bottle of water, upsetting some of the contents inside. Her keys come falling out, and I am given a glimpse of a small, pink bear—Bambi. My heart hammers.
I look away quickly. Too quickly. Lyndee sees my reaction and zips up the bag, her eyes fixed on my face in a bold challenge. Does she know who I am? Does she know I was one of the last people to see Nevaeh alive, and that I gave my statement to the police? I look out the rain-speckled window; I look at the ripped seat next to me. I cannot look at her face. Everything I’m feeling is naked on my face. She had something to do with it. My heart feels sore, like it’s tired and bruised. Mothers hurting their children, mothers giving up on their children, mothers loving something more than their children. I watch her sling one strap over her shoulder and climb off the bus in a hurry. To get away from me? I follow her down the stairs. When we reach the pavement, we head in opposite directions. For several minutes I keep my eyes straight ahead, pointed toward Wessex and the eating house. But, as I pass the corner store, and Knick Knack waves to me from the window, my curiosity gets the best of me. I stop walking and turn just my head, just enough so that I can see her. She’s already looking at me, paused on the sidewalk, her whole body facing my direction. I am racked with chills. She turns on her heel, quickly, almost running now. I watch her with the bitter look of conviction. I’ve convicted her in my head. Me, the jury of one. And I’ve issued her a death sentence. I decide to burn her, the same way she burned her daughter. An eye for an eye.
I COLLECT THINGS. It’s an art to buy weapons and not look suspicious. Rope, a hunting knife, arsenic, sleeping pills—my mother has a myriad. I won’t use most of them, but it’s become a compulsion. I think about burning Lyndee every day. I don’t buy a new lighter because I have the pink one and also a book of matches. That’s what I’ll use. I wonder if I’ll be able to watch, or if it will make me squeamish.
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