I remember my first wrist arthrodesis. The pressure of scalpel against skin, the slight give when it finally sliced through. The resilience of muscle. My surgical scissors scraping bone. And afterward, peeling off bloody gloves finger by finger.
Black. Everyone is wearing black. They're walking in twos and threes down the street toward St. Vincent's, bundled in coats and scarves that cover their heads and lower faces against what is apparently bitter wind.
I am inside my warm house, my face to the frosted window, Magdalena hovering. I can just see the twelve-foot carved wooden doors. They are wide open, and people are entering. A hearse is standing in front, other cars lined up behind it, their lights on.
It's Amanda, Magdalena tells me. Amanda's funeral. Who is Amanda? I ask. Magdalena hesitates, then says, Your best friend. Your daughter's godmother. I try. I fail. I shake my head. Magdalena gets my notebook. She turns back the pages. She points to a newspaper clipping:
Elderly Chicago Woman Found Dead, Mutilated
CHICAGO TRIBUNE - February 23, 2009
CHICAGO, IL - The mutilated body of a seventy-five year-
old Chicago woman was discovered yesterday
in a house in the 2100 block of Sheffield Avenue.
Amanda O'Toole was found dead in her home
after a neighbor noticed she had failed to take
in her newspapers for almost a week, according
to sources close to the investigation. Four
fingers on her right hand had been severed. The
exact time of death is unknown, but cause of
death is attributed to head trauma, sources say.
Nothing was reported missing from her house.
No one has been charged, but police briefly took
into custody and then released a person of interest
in the case.
I try. But I cannot conjure up anything. Magdalena leaves. She comes
back with a photograph.
Two women, one taller by at least two inches, with long straight white hair pulled back in a tight chignon. The other one, younger, has shorter wavy gray locks that cluster around chiseled, more feminine features. That one a beauty perhaps, once upon a time.
This is you, Magdalena says, pointing to the younger woman. And this here, this is Amanda. I study the photograph.
The taller woman has a compelling face. Not what you'd call pretty. Nor what you would call nice. Too sharp around the nostrils, lines of perhaps contempt etched into the jowls. The two women stand close together, not touching, but there is an affinity there.
Try to remember, Magdalena urges me. It could be important. Her hand lies heavily on my shoulder. She wants something from me. What? But I am suddenly tired. My hands shake. Perspiration trickles down between my breasts.
I want to go to my room, I say. I swat at Magdalena's hand. Leave me be.
Amanda? Dead? I cannot believe it. My dear, dear friend. Second mother to my children. My ally in the neighborhood. My sister. If not for Amanda, I would have been alone. I was different. Always apart. The cheese stands alone.
Not that anyone knew. They were fooled by surfaces, so easy to dupe. No one understood weaknesses like Amanda. She saw me, saved me from my secret solitude. And where was I when she needed me? Here. Three doors down. Wallowing in my woes. While she suffered. While some monster brandished a knife, pushed in for the kill.
O the pain! So much pain. I will stop swallowing my pills. I will take my scalpel to my brain and eviscerate her image. And I will beg for exactly that thing I've been battling all these long months: sweet oblivion.
The nice lady writes in my notebook. She signs her name: Magdalena. Today, Friday, March 11, was another bad day. You kicked the step and broke your toe. At the emergency room you escaped into the parking lot. An orderly brought you back. You spat on him.
Excerpted from Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante. Copyright © 2011 by Alice LaPlante. Excerpted by permission of Atlantic Monthly Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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