by Sue Ellen Snape
She has blood on hands, blood down her bodice, the stench of blood up her nose. The hem of her skirt is drenched a dark sticky red.
She’s not one to shrink from the sight of blood, oh no. Lopping the head off a chicken comes easy enough. She knew to be quick with that killing blow or the bird’ll claw you bloody. That morning she’d timed it just right, the fat old bird never saw it coming, dropped like a felled oak, she did. Went down so fast the blade didn’t cut deep enough, so she had to keep whacking away and now look at her. Head to toe blood.
The fastenings on her dress give way pop, pop, pop as she yanks the garment off, drops the shabby thing on the cellar floor. Blood down her stockings, blood on her shoes. Who’d have thought there’d be so much blood? The smell of blood makes her queasy.
The cool of the cellar helps.
She goes to work with a wash bucket, soap powder and a scrub brush. The wretched house has no running water except down here in the cellar, and a tepid flow at that. As always, she is forced to make do.
The wash bucket turns red with blood. Refill the bucket. Scrub harder, scrub it all away.
She has another dress to put on, hadn’t thought to lay in clean shoes and stockings. She soaks her feet in the bucket, shoes and all. The footwear will dry in the heat. Hurriedly she thrusts her arms through the long sleeves of her spare dress, tugs it down over her hips using a wriggled motion so as not to tear the threadbare fabric, fumbles with sweaty hands to fasten the buttons.
All set. All but the soiled dress.
She bundles the revolting garment and runs up the stairs to the kitchen. Even at that early hour, the day’s far too hot for stoking a fire sufficient to burn the dress. The cloying stink of it makes her belly heave. She hides the dress for now. In sore need of a chamber pot to relieve herself, she dashes up the front stairs to her bedroom. She daren’t be seen up there. Must hurry. A few minutes. Longer. All the time she can afford. She wipes her face, tidies her hair. Checks her appearance. Wipes her face another time.
The guestroom gives off a foul stench of death. She must hold her nose in passing. She goes for the stairs . . . but wait.
Father’s at the front door. She halts at the stair landing, trapped. She can’t go back, can’t be seen on the stairs.
Father bangs away at the lock. The housemaid leaves off cleaning and comes to assist. There’s no going around her without being seen.
The housemaid struggles with the door lock. Father rattles the door to get in.
Stymied by a wretched lock.
Devil take you, the housemaid intones.
Trapped on the stair landing, reduced to hiding from the very person she longs to confront, his daughter can’t help but laugh. The despicable old skinflint, soon to be dispatched to the devil, battering at the front door to come in. If only he knew.
It’s pure theatre. Hers a starring role.
The housemaid finally gets the door unlocked. Father enters the house and proceeds directly to the dining room. Neither notices the shadow off the stairs crossing into the front sitting room to the left, and shortly thereafter, in the role of dutiful daughter, emerge stage right, as if coming from the kitchen.
“How are you, Father? Please, do sit; the heat is dreadful. May I bring a cool compress for your forehead? No? Leave you be? Whatever you say, dear Father.”
Father hasn’t long to live. Witnesses fix the time he returned to the house at 10:40 a.m. The housemaid lets him in the front door, finishes cleaning an inside window in the dining room, and at approximately 10:55 a.m., takes the rear stairs up to her quarters in the attic for a rest break. Some fifteen minutes later, at 11:10 a.m. according to established testimony, the daughter calls up the attic stairs, “Come quickly, someone has killed Father.”
A lone police officer, left on duty the day of the police picnic, runs the two blocks to the house, arriving at 11:20 a.m. He discovers Andrew J. Borden hacked to death on the couch in the front sitting room. Borden’s second wife, Abby, had met a similar bloody fate in the upstairs guestroom, somewhere between 9:30 and 10:00 a.m., according to medical evidence, although her body isn’t found until nearly twelve noon.
At the inquest to follow, the housemaid reiterates voicing a mild expletive at the balky lock, and hearing a derisive laugh in response, coming from up the front stairs. At the time she took that to be Lizzie, for who else would it be? Only family was allowed up there. For certain it wasn’t Abby, by then a bloody heap on the guestroom floor. Freeing up that front door put Andrew Borden in line to be next. Photographs of that bloody scene would become a landmark in the study of blood spatter. Facts point overwhelmingly to the daughter, Lizzie, as perpetrator in both murders –
But for this:
Lizzie Borden advances to center stage. She extends her hands. Clean hands. Clean dress. No blood traces evident. How did she manage it? Or did she?
Hah. She’ll never tell.
Category: Competition, Featured, Fiction, Short Story