IF YOU'RE BEING held for questioning and you think you'll get a soda or a coffee or something because you've seen it like that on TV, don't hold your breath. Maybe you will and more likely you won't, but that shouldn't be the main thing on your mind anyway.
I had to remind myself it was only for questioning; the police thought I knew something. But what was making me sick, turning my stomach and making my jaw ache and my hands hard against the edge of the chair, was that I did know a few things, a few more than I wanted to.
I knew the way the wallpaper smelled in the lobby of what had been my new apartment--that combination of dust and incense and pot smoke and cats, the way the smell seeped from the dark green paper, the painted parrots and roses on it. The smell was perfume, breath, blood and sweat, poker games and Mad Dog, the ghost trace of everyone gone and also some still living in the building when I moved in. And I knew the way light filtered in through the dirt-covered windows in front. It looked that much more dappled, that much more dancing, finding its way past the patches of caked dust from the road that was so close outside.
I'd seen myself, my face flushed, the rest of me naked and pale, reflected in every one of the 50 red Christmas balls hung from a ceiling in a third-floor corner room, a room that opened up to be bigger than you'd expect from the door in the hall--each Christmas ball a murky red swirl, my face too big, my arms, my breasts even smaller in the curve of the glass, a round and bony shoulder.
I knew how to catch a crawdad by tying a strip of sheet with a few knots in it and dangling the sheet in the current so the crawdad thinks it's a piece of bacon. Bacon, dropped down from the sky. Tiny crawdad brain. And the crawdad'll reach for it.
I knew that a human skull isn't half as hard as we'd like to believe it is--it's a wonder we don't all wear helmets all the time, always. More than one memory can be recalled simultaneously, in words and images, and a skull will split like a watermelon without as much effort or intention as it ought to take, laying bare that sponge we call brain: frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal lobes.
And now I knew also that if a piece of bacon dangled down in front of me, from the sky, undeserved and unexpected but there just the same, rich and marbled with fat, I'd probably reach for it too.
The room where the cops brought me for questioning looked like any conference room. Same office table, with its brown fake wooden top that wouldn't fool anybody for wood, and the functional chrome chairs. A tray on a side table held a collection of Styrofoam cups. One cup was full of packages of non-dairy creamer. These things were forgotten. Nobody brought coffee.
The cops were both standing. One asked, "Can you explain why the victim was wearing your dress?"
I asked, "How do you know he was wearing my dress?" I'm usually the one asking questions. My whole job is interview-based.
The second cop looked exhausted. She said, "We've identified the dress as yours. Neighbors identify the dress as yours." She said, "Do you have any reason to believe you may have been the intended victim?"
I hadn't thought of that. I said, "No, I'm sure I wasn't."
She said, "Did you know the victim?"
I said, "Yes, but not well. He was a friend." He was Joan of Arc. We'd spent a night together in the back of a wheel-less Plymouth Duster parked in the alley.
If I were the one asking questions, I'd ask about memory. What was the first crime scene you'll never forget? Where were you when JFK was killed, or when the original Joan of Arc chased the English out of France?
I'd say, "What do you remember about what your mother told you about her mother's earliest memory?"
I'd say, "If this were a cop TV show, would it be the first or the last of the season? Or would it be more of a second act, all drama with no resolution, spinning itself out from an unfortunately forgettable death?"
The second cop asked, "How well do you know Sonny Jay Barbanos?"
I said, "I met him three weeks ago. I've known him three weeks.