I was used to Vivianne calling me drunk and angry, drunk and sad, or even drunk and manic, but this was different. It felt wrong to think of her as old—she was just 'Vivianne', ageless—but she was almost eighty. Had she started to lose her grip on reality?
I stopped by the front door to her apartment. 'V. Fälth' glistened on the well-polished nameplate, concise and precise.
I braced myself.
Why was it always so stuffy in that damn building? I was already missing my airy apartment. Sebastian's arm around my shoulders, our well-used Ikea couch, our way-too-expensive TV. I wished I could spend my Sunday nights binge-watching Netflix like everybody else.
I knocked at the door.
A few seconds passed. One, two. The door opened.
I arranged my face into something resembling a smile and made to step over the threshold, but then I stopped. Something was wrong. The figure in the doorway didn't fit.
I stared at the person in front of me, searching for Vivianne's markers, but all I could find was a thick, knitted black hat where her shiny, meticulously coiffed hair should have been.
My eyes quickly dropped to their hands.
They weren't Vivianne's. Her long, red nails were missing, as was the bulky topaz ring she usually wore on her right index finger. And they were flecked with something that looked like rust.
"Who...," I began, but the person had already pushed past me and scurried off down the stairs. I watched them go in confusion, then turned back to the door.
Vivianne was lying in the middle of the hallway. Something beside her on the patterned, slate-blue rug flashed in the light of the small chandelier. I opened my mouth to ask something, but then the smell hit me like a ton of bricks.
It was sweet and heavy—iron and meat and perfume—and it made my stomach turn.
A pair of scissors gaped on the rug before me, the blades spread. I had never seen them like that before. They had always been closed, untouchable: a beautiful, meticulously polished object that sat alongside her matching ornate hand mirror and tobacco pot on the sideboard in the dining room.
But this time they weren't polished. This time they would stain. Vivianne reached out for them with thin, splayed fingers.
'Strange', my drowsy, sluggish brain thought in that split-second moment of stillness. 'What does she want the scissors for? And why doesn't she just sit up and take them?'
And then something broke my paralysis, and I realized it wasn't the scissors she was reaching for, but me; that the wet, bubbling whimper I could hear was coming from her, was her attempt to call my name; that the patterned blouse she was wearing wasn't patterned so much as punctured, repeatedly, by the scissors that lay glistening on the rug just a few feet from me.
I crossed the hallway in two steps and knelt down beside her, heard my voice babbling, as though far away:
"What is it, what's happened, what should I do? What do you want me to do?"
She always knew the right thing to do.
So I kept on asking her, again and again, even though I could see the inside of her throat, red and moist. The flesh beneath the skin.
With her outstretched hand she grabbed my wrist, an echo of all the times she had grabbed it before, and clenched it so hard that our bones chafed, as though I were a lifeline and she drowning. Which in a way she was: I could tell from her strained, rattling breaths that the reddish-black stickiness that was gushing all the slower from her neck, onto her yellow silk blouse and her antique Persian rug, was also making its way down into her lungs.
I did the only thing I could think of.
I pressed my free hand to the gap in her neck.
"Can you remember what the person who opened the door looked like?" the police officer asks. "Can you describe their face? Was it a man or a woman? Do you remember how old they were?"
I shake my head slowly. Meet his shiny blue doll's eyes as my taut lips say: