Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh Read Online (FREE)
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Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.
But there was no body. No bloodstain. No tangle of hair caught on the coarse fallen branches, no red wool scarf damp with morning dew festooned across the bushes. There was just the note on the ground, rustling at my feet in the soft May wind. I happened upon it on my dawn walk through the birch woods with my dog, Charlie.
I’d discovered the path the previous spring just after Charlie and I had moved to Levant. We’d worn it down all spring, summer, and fall, but abandoned it during winter. The slim white trees had been nearly invisible against the snow. On foggy mornings, the birches completely disappeared in the mist. Since the thaw, Charlie had been waking me up every morning at daybreak. We’d cross the dirt road and trudge up the slow rise and fall of a little hill, and weave our way back and forth through the birches. That morning, when I found the note laid flat on the path, we’d made it about a mile into the woods.
Charlie did not slow or tilt his head or even lower his nose to the ground to sniff. It seemed very odd to me that he’d just ignore it—my Charlie, who once broke off his leash and ran across the freeway to fetch a dead bird, so strong was his instinct to ferret out the dead. No, he didn’t give the note a second glance. Little black rocks pinned the note down to the ground, each placed carefully on the page in the top margin and along the bottom. I bent down to read it again. Under my hands, the earth was almost warm, shy pale grass poking up here and there in the crumbly black dirt, the sun just starting to brighten in hue from silver to yellow.
Her name was Magda.
It was a joke, I thought, a prank, a ruse. Somebody was playing games. That was my initial impression. Isn’t it sweet to look back at how my mind jumped to the most innocuous conclusion? That after so many years, at seventy-two, my imagination was still so naive? Experience should have taught me that first impressions are often misleading. Kneeling down in the dirt, I considered the details: the paper was a page from a lined, spiral notebook, its perforated edge broken cleanly, no straggly bits from where it had been torn out; careful, small printed letters in blue ballpoint pen. It was hard to decipher much from the penmanship, and that seemed deliberate. It was the kind of neat, impersonal printing you’d use when making a sign for a yard sale, or filling out a form at the dentist. Wise, I thought. Smart. Whoever had written the note understood that by masking one’s peculiarities, one invokes authority. There is nothing as imposing as anonymity. But the words themselves, when I spoke them aloud, seemed witty, a rare quality in Levant, where most people were blue collar and dull. I read the note again and almost chuckled over that penultimate line, It wasn’t me. Of course it wasn’t.