A cold shiver on a sunny day. There was a patch of blue sky visible through the gap in the trellis where she sat hiding.
As she mentally traced the pattern of a climbing plant’s tendrils, somewhere above a jet streaked through the sky, scarring its path with a thick strip of white and the sun beat down on one bare leg stretched out of the shadow.
She didn’t want to be seen.
Just for once, she wanted to stay in the sunshine a little longer.
It was time to move on and who knew where she’d end up tomorrow. The transition was always hard.
There was the sound of forks on plates to signal Archie was on his way. They were having another picnic. It was one of the things she’d miss about this place, all the garden parties, so many dainty sandwiches.
“Clarice darling, where are you hiding?” he called to her.
He thought her name was Clarice and she could barely remember what her true name had once been.
Just one more moment in the sun, she closed her eyes and breathed deeply, taking in the smell of cut grass carried on a gentle breeze.
“Clarice?” He was getting closer.
Archie was persistent, that was for sure. It was certainly time to leave. He’d been giving her that look, the one that said he was about to get serious and no doubt threaten to take things to the next level.
She wanted a cigarette, but Clarice didn’t smoke. She was modelled on a perfect Victorian gentlewoman, just how she knew Archie wanted a woman to be. Of all the names she’d been, she hated Clarice the most. For one she looked nothing like a Clarice. She suspected that he thought she was ‘exotic’, it was as if she made him feel like he’d caught a flamingo.
It was always the mothers she had trouble with. Luckily Archie’s mother was dead. His sister didn’t like her, but the sisters were always the same, always bitches.
Clarice was used to the look particular to the sisters like they knew her game. But they never did. They were obsessed with the idea that she was after money, money or status, and it was her favourite thing to watch them lose their shit once the notion that she didn’t seek either of those things began to sink in; to them they were everything.
Now the biggest decision was when to do it.
The deed itself would be quick and easy like always: they were too different, deep down they were such different people, she’d tried to push past it but she could never change to be enough for him. This last bit would be hard to say without a smirk. He’d argue, tell her he could change. But then she’d give him that look like it was too painful to think about. Then by the evening, she’d be gone, to the next place, tearing off her skin and shedding Clarice in the process.
In the next place, she wanted to be a pirate, a villain. No more of this meek and mild flower-cutting and picnic arranging. She wanted to cut throats.
Archie still hadn’t found her, she could hear him stumbling about through the grass and shrubbery, he couldn’t be more than ten metres from her. He must have been shit at hide-and-seek as a child. The nanny probably let him go off and hide while she went for a cheeky sit-down and smoke somewhere in the walled garden, just like Clarice was doing now.
It was so peaceful, so still, until he broke the silence. A shadow fell over her and she shivered.
“There you are darling, did you not hear me calling you?”
Clarice looked up with a smile, pulling her dress down to cover her ankles.
“Sorry darling, I must have been miles away.” She got to her feet and he grabbed onto one of her arms, she stumbled into him and could smell the gin already on his breath.
“My sister’s here, it’s almost time for the guests to start to arrive.”
One final garden party, one last round of nods and smiles, then she was done.
“I need to change for the party.” She yanked her arm away as gracefully as she could and sauntered back toward the house, taking the staff staircase to avoid Cressida, Archie’s sister, and making sure to lock the door of her dressing room. She didn’t want either of them bursting in unannounced.
She took her time, dressing and neatly pinning up all of her hair, then she hid her packed bag at the bottom of the closet, locking the heavy wooden door and pocketing the key.
When she surfaced, the party was in full swing, guests were milling about all over the lawn and there was the sound of popping corks all around.
Clarice’s heel sank into the grass as soon as she stepped onto the lawn and she was already regretting the floor-length sky blue dress she’d put on, it was one Archie had picked and was already getting muddy where it dragged across the ground behind her. It also restricted her movement in the case of requiring a fast exit.
From two separate directions, Clarice could see Archie and Cressida headed for her. She was about to duck in the opposite direction when an unholy scream filled the air, followed by dead silence.
“I say– ”
“What a racket–”
“What was all that about?”
“Probably a maid spotted a spider, har-har-har.”
“Archie old boy, what’s the commotion?”
Clarice turned in the direction of the scream and saw Archie was already stumbling along just in front. He was well pissed, drunker than usual for a Thursday afternoon.
They both stopped short at the sight of the body on the grass and Archie tried awkwardly to shield it from her view. She stared at it for a moment too long before mustering an appropriate facial expression. Archie went a little stiff, blinking at her and Clarice considered pretending to faint, but he was already wobbling about enough, she had no faith in him catching her and didn’t fancy sprawling about in the blood and dirt. Instead, she made her legs tremble just slightly, hoping it was enough to convince him that she’d never seen a body before.
“I think I need to sit down,” he said.
That was Clarice’s line. She wanted to kick him.
The whole party was forced to retire to the drawing room waiting for the Police to arrive. Clarice stuck to the side, thinking hard. The dead body in the garden was an inconvenience to her plans. This became particularly clear once one of the women came dancing into the drawing room like a goose on gravel, she’d overheard one of the police officers and was now spreading that word Clarice really didn’t want to hear; murder.
Archie wasn’t in the drawing room with all the rest. He was the first the police had earmarked for questioning, and Clarice suspected she’d be one of the next so she kept an eye on the door. He was pale and sober when he finally came into the room, searching for someone in the crowd. He met her eye, and Clarice’s stomach dropped as his gaze moved off her as though she wasn’t there. It wasn’t her he was interested in.
She had a strange urge to return to her bedroom, to inspect her escape route was still all as planned. Throwing a glance around her to check she wasn’t being watched, she yanked her dress up to her knees and took the stairs two at a time. As soon as she opened the bedroom door, she could see her bag was gone and with it all her money and the spare identities.
She knelt on the floor and felt the nausea run right through her. Fuck. Her escape was going to be harder than she expected.
A sound echoed in the hallway outside, like the creaking of floorboards, Clarice sprang to peer through the keyhole, squinting her eyes she could just make out a figure in a dark dress darting along the hall with a large brown parcel in their hand. She’d recognise that stilted walk anywhere, like a constipated stalk; it was Archie’s sister.
Clarice held her breath until Cressida disappeared. Then, she tiptoed her way back downstairs.
She managed to sneak unnoticed out onto the lawn; padding across the grass as quietly as she could. They hadn’t moved the body yet and Clarice stopped still a few feet behind the cluster of people poking around the crime scene.
A second look confirmed it; she’d never seen the dead woman before – although, dead girl was more appropriate; she looked barely legal.
Clarice headed back toward the walled garden but could see before she could get close that her spot was already taken. Archie was there with his sister and the two of them were having a hushed discussion. When he spotted her, Archie gave a weak smile and went on with whatever he was saying. The envelope was nowhere to be seen.
Loudly he said, ‘No, I’ve never seen her before in my life.’
Clarice backed away, her eyes travelling to the body just as it was being zipped up into its bag. She could see the raw, thick strips of flesh at the ankles and wrists of the bony, young body and Clarice’s eyes slowly wandered back toward Archie’s face once more; this time he was staring at her with an obscure intensity; his head cocked slightly to one side.
Archie gave a nasty little smile and Clarice found that she barely recognised the person looking back at her.
She found her skin growing cold and gave a violent shiver.
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