The house was haloed by the sun when I looked at it. When adrenaline slows time down, things become exquisitely beautiful. Each moving image around you becomes like a photograph that you can study, turn over in your mind. The rays of light percolated through the leaves and shot out from around the house in a brilliant display, reflecting off the suspended dust and ducking under the thick tufts of needles. All this meant, of course, that I couldn’t see through the door. If there was a light somewhere inside the house I couldn’t detect it. I had no choice but to head inside.
As I approached the house I had a brief thought that I should knock or announce myself just in case there was nothing sinister whatsoever and my paranoia had simply gotten the better of me. Perhaps her evening with me had reminded her of the joys of her boyfriend, and the two had collapsed instantly into each other’s arms.
But no sound of passion issued from the house, and it was too small to contain any but the most timid noise. Once I reached the stoop I could see into the kitchen. I could see three ways out: one archway and two doors, but I had no sense of where they led.
I stepped inside and felt around the wall opposite the hinge until I found a switch. Turning it on, I nearly shit myself. I won’t try to describe the electrical impulses that flooded my brain, and in retrospect I was surprised I hadn’t shot myself in the foot.
Turning off the garbage disposal, I waited for what seemed like half an hour for my heart to return to under hummingbird rates. Well, it was one way to make an entrance, and from the lack of any response I assumed that nobody capable of responding was home. I flipped the adjacent switch, which did nothing that I could tell, and then flipped the switch next to it, which turned on a dim overhead dome light. It looked like it took two bulbs but one was burnt out, but after adjusting my eyes to the dark I appreciated not having to dilate my pupils too rapidly.
In retrospect, I should have smelled the blood from the kitchen, but it wasn’t until I had gotten to the opposite corner and stepped towards the archway into the living room that I did. One always hears that blood smells like copper, which always made me "What does copper smell like?" Well, it smells not unlike blood. The best I can say is to rub a bunch of old pennies on your fingertips and then mentally factor out the musty smell, and focus in on the acrid and pungent part. But there’s always more than just blood. The phrase "giving up the ghost" has it the wrong way around. The ghost, whatever that is, gives up the body, and the body spills out of itself in any way that it needs to. A room where two people have been killed smells like a slaughterhouse, especially when it appears that she stabbed him into steaks with a butcher knife and he shot her up several times before succumbing to blood loss before he’d made it three steps from her.
I knew I had a fifty percent chance of finding the bathroom through the two remaining doors but decided to play it safe and just threw up in the kitchen sink.
That didn’t take me long, and when the remains of my oily breakfast hit the sink the shock and nausea faded quickly. I was wearing one of those hooded zippered sweatshirts, and I pulled the hood around to my face to use as a mask, rinsed my mouth out with water, splashed a little on my face, and headed back into the living room.
The room was decorated from thrift stores and hand-me-downs, and it had that pleasant eclecticism that happens when people decorate with what they like and what they can afford instead of in some unified manner that has a label that ends with "-ism" and would be nodded of approvingly by the editors of magazines I have never seen nor read nor intend to. If I had come visit the two of them under ordinary circumstances, I would have commented on the lava lamp, the orange-and-brown floral-patterned sofa that reminded me of my grandmother’s, or the artwork that seemed to be purchased as much for its ability to hide holes as its aesthetics. But none of that mattered now, to me or to them, so instead I stepped towards where the blood had soaked into the carpet and pooled on top of it, the lamplight reflecting off its dark surface like the moon of a pool at midnight.
I crouched down near him, the boyfriend whose name I would never know, at least not from them, and looked more carefully. He had a gun in his right hand and more slash marks and stab wounds than I could count. I counted about five gouges that accounted for most of the blood loss and likely his death; there were four around his abdomen and then one, perhaps the worst, into where his neck and shoulder met, and this one still dripped blood at a moderate pace.
I got up and walked over to Gwen and examined her closely. She had let go of the knife; it had fallen a few inches from her right hand, and I noticed then that, oddly, she had a couple of slashes on her right arm. How could you swing so wildly that you would cut the arm you were holding the knife in? Maybe he had gotten it away from her, but I didn’t like that explanation. She had a clean black hole above her left eyebrow, but based on the pool of blood I guessed the hole on the other side is what had deposited most of her blood onto the carpet.
She had fallen so that her head was towards the corner of the room. I got up and looked around, wondering if I could see where the bullet had entered the wall. I could, and saw three more bullet holes besides, widely spaced. Apparently Steve (I decided to call him) was a crappy aim until he decided to get serious, or he was trying to scare her off and finally decided her homicidal intentions were in earnest. Could they have been arguing about something (like me) that spiraled out of control? But that made no sense. If she were lying for some reason about his acceptance and he decided to act like an old-school jealous boyfriend, why would she have slashed him up? When I was married, we had some doozies of fights, but what kind of fight finds you in the living room with a gun and a butcher knife trying to figure out which one is more effective?
My sweatshirt hood was beginning to lose its effectiveness as a filter, so I stepped out of the room and checked out the other two rooms, feeling for a second that I should double-check to make sure I was alone. One room was just a pantry and hall closet, a pantry that betrayed them as Costco members, with five-gallon buckets of mustard and the like. I grabbed a packet of crackers from a box containing a gross of them and ate a few, which I honestly only did so that my belt of Canadian Club from the jug on top of their fridge wouldn’t just come back up.
The other room was the bedroom piled high with clothes about to be put away and scattered clothes on the floor. There was a dresser with one drawer ripped out which lay on the floor. I look down and saw that its contents had been pulled aside, and an empty holster and box of ammunition were exposed.
Tightly jammed in a corner was a small drafting table, and I remembered Gwen saying that Steve was an artist of sorts, doing works in colored pencil and selling them at the local farmers market on Saturdays. He had been working on something and out of curiosity and a desire to put off going back into the living room I started over towards it when I saw something move out of the corner of my eye.
It was down under the bed, and I heard it as soon as I saw it. I crouched down and heard the meek and tentative mewling of a cat unsure if it was encountering friend or foe but deciding that it was going to take a chance. It was a young cat, perhaps a couple of years old, and when I made a chirping noise at it, it sensed one of its own and came out to say hello. I knew it was a she by the tail that shot straight upwards and wound around my leg as she brushed up against me. I reached down to pet her and stared at her staring back at me.
"But I just got rid of a cat," I told her. She rubbed up against my leg again. She had a collar and a heart-shaped tag, which I reached out and steadied to look at while scratching under the collar with my other hand. "Gracie," it read. I sighed. "All right, wait here. If you’ve got any brothers and sisters hanging around, they’re on their own." She jumped up on the bed and squatted down on a pile of underwear.
Giving her head a pat, I returned to the table. The drawing was hardly begun, just a few traces in pencil of what seemed to be a street scene. There were a couple of pieces on the wall that must have been his, street scenes in Eugene with vivid colored pencil work giving them an almost surrealist effect. It occurred to me with some dismay that six months ago I could have placed him and his technique squarely within various movements, but that was beyond my thinking now. I was more focused on the metal tray of pencils attached to the side by small screws to the table. But the way it was attached bothered me.
I got my hood back around to my mouth and stepped out into the living room again just for a second, then went back in and confirmed where the tray was attached to the drawing table. Going over to Gracie, I knelt down in front of her.
"So… Daddy was a lefty."