Story — From the May 2014 issue

The There There

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Once, when they were still a family and the boys were mostly grown yet still living at home, they were sitting, the four of them, at their customary seats at the kitchen table discussing the perfect crime. That is, the murder you would get away with.

“Out on the ocean,” said their eldest, Will. He had just returned from a college recruiting trip to UCSB, so the ocean would naturally come to mind. “You could rent a boat, get them a little tipsy, then dump them overboard. Later you would tell the cops you searched and searched.”

“If it was a girl she could be on her period,” added his little brother, Drew. “To explain the sharks.” Though he was the younger, he already had more experience with girls and their periods; he’d imagined maybe his difficult girlfriend on that boat. “If she was on her period,” he went on, “you could also go into the forest and wait for a bear . . . ”

“You’d have to do some weeping to the authorities,” Caroline said, ignoring the disapproval radiating from her husband, “but not too much. Shock tends to dry up the tear glands.”

“Or,” said Will, “I also like the idea of putting poison in a pill that’s a prescription, so the victim will take it who knows when.”

“You’d have to want to kill a pill-taker,” Caroline said. “A capsule-pill-taker. And you’d have to find some poison that fit inside it.”

My perfect murder,” said Drew, “would be where there are two people and each of them whacks the other one’s enemy. Some strangers-on-the-plane kind of thing.”

“Train,” said Will. “Not plane. Mom?”

Untitled (12/08#4), a collage by Paul Butler from his What’s Within series. Courtesy the artist; Platform Gallery, Seattle; and Galerie Division, Toronto and Montreal

Untitled (12/08#4), a collage by Paul Butler from his What’s Within series.
Courtesy the artist; Platform Gallery, Seattle; and Galerie Division, Toronto and Montreal

“Up in the mountains,” Caroline said. For many years she’d not really lived anywhere but Telluride; when she took her daily hike, she always half expected to find a body, an aspen-limb-like leg or arm amid the blowdown. “Up somewhere high and remote, some slippery trail. Maybe after a wine-and-cheese-picnic tryst situation, way above the timberline, just where the trail starts to have frozen spots. One tiny misstep and, whoops, over they go.”

Gerald rose from the table and set his breakfast dishes gently in the sink, that condemning clink of porcelain on porcelain. He was saddened by the conversation, disappointed in his family, his closest associates. The boys hung their heads, regretful, silenced; they would later make it up to him and he would enjoy forgiving them, but how much more horrified her husband would have been to know that it was him Caroline was imagining, standing too close to the edge at the picnic tryst, next tumbling over a cliff.

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’s latest book, Funny Once, will be published this month by Bloomsbury.

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