Home > Things We Do in the Dark

Things We Do in the Dark
Author: Jennifer Hillier

 

 

PART ONE


She can kill with a smile, she can wound with her eyes

—BILLY JOEL

 

 

CHAPTER ONE


There’s a time and a place for erect nipples, but the back of a Seattle police car definitely isn’t it.

Paris Peralta didn’t think to grab a sweater before they arrested her, so she’s only wearing a bloodstained tank top. It is July, after all. But the air-conditioning is on high, and she feels cold and exposed. With her wrists cuffed, all she can do is clasp her hands together and hold her forearms up to cover her breasts. It looks like she’s praying.

She’s not praying. It’s much too late for that.

Her head throbs underneath the butterfly bandage one of the EMTs stuck on before they put her in the cop car. She must have slammed it into the rim of the bathtub sometime last night, but she doesn’t remember tripping or falling. All she remembers is her husband, lying in a bathtub filled with blood, and the screaming that woke her up this morning.

The blond-ponytailed detective behind the wheel glances at Paris again in the rearview mirror. Ever since Jimmy signed a streaming deal with new Netflix competitor Quan six months ago, people have been staring at her a lot. Paris hates it. When she and Jimmy got married, she expected to live a quiet life with the retired actor-comedian. That’s the deal they made; that’s the marriage she signed up for. But then Jimmy changed his mind and un-retired, and it was about the worst thing he could have done to her.

And now he’s dead.

The detective has been keeping an eye on her in the back seat the entire time, her eyes shifting from the road to the mirror every few minutes. Paris can already tell the woman thinks she did it. Okay, fine, so it looked bad. There was so much blood, and when the detective arrived on the scene, there were already three officers in the bedroom pointing their guns straight at Paris through the bathroom doorway. Soon there were four pairs of eyes staring at her as if she’d done something terrible. Nobody seemed to be blinking or breathing, including her.

“Mrs. Peralta, please put the weapon down,” the detective had said. Her voice was calm and direct as she unholstered her pistol. “And then come out of the bathroom slowly with your hands up.”

But I don’t have a weapon, Paris thought. It was the second time someone had told her to do that, and just like before, it didn’t make sense. What weapon?

Then the detective’s eyes flickered downward. Paris followed her glance and was shocked to discover that she was still holding Jimmy’s straight razor. And not just holding it, but clutching it in her right hand, her fingers wrapped tightly around the handle, her knuckles white. She lifted it up, staring at it in wonder as she turned it over in her hand. The police officers didn’t like that, and the detective repeated her demand again in a tone louder and more commanding than before.

The whole thing was so absurd. Everybody was overreacting. Paris wasn’t holding a weapon. It was just a shaving tool, one of several straight razors that Jimmy owned, because her husband was an old-school guy who liked straight shaves and cassette tapes and landlines. He wasn’t even allowed to use his straight razors anymore. The worsening tremor in his hand had rendered them unsafe.

So why the hell was Paris still holding the ebony-handled razor he’d bought in Germany decades ago?

Everything happened in slow-motion. As the detective continued to speak, Paris once again took in the blood spattered across the white marble tile floor, diluted pink from mixing with the bathwater. It was Jimmy’s blood, and she knew that if she turned around, she would see her husband behind her, submerged in the deep soaker bathtub where he’d bled out the night before.

Paris did not turn around. But she did manage to catch a glimpse of herself in the mirror above the sink, where she saw a woman who looked just like her wearing a tank top splotched with blood. Her hair was tangled and her eyes were wild, the side of her face covered in blood that had oozed from a gash over her right eyebrow. In her hand, Jimmy’s old straight razor did look like a weapon.

A murder weapon.

“Mrs. Peralta, drop the razor,” the detective commanded again.

Paris finally dropped it. The steel blade landed on the tile with a dull clang, and the uniformed officers moved in on her in a swarm. One of them slapped the cuffs on her, and the detective informed her of her rights. As they led her out of the bedroom and down the stairs, Paris wondered how she would possibly explain this.

Years ago, the last time this happened, she didn’t have to explain it at all.

“I’m sorry, but would you mind turning down the air-conditioning?” Paris’s nipples are pressing hard against her forearms like ball bearings. Though she’d lived in Seattle for almost twenty years now, the Canadian in her still can’t break the habit of apologizing before asking for something. “I’m sorry, it’s just really cold back here.”

The officer in the passenger seat pushes a button on the dashboard repeatedly until the cold air eases up.

“Thank you,” she says.

The officer turns around. “Anything else we can do for you?” he asks. “Need a mint? Want to stop and grab a coffee?”

He’s not asking real questions, so she doesn’t respond.

On some level Paris understands that she’s in shock and that the full extent of the situation hasn’t hit her yet. At least her self-preservation instincts have kicked in—she knows she’s been arrested, she knows she’s going to be booked, and she knows she needs to keep her mouth shut and call a lawyer at the first opportunity. But still, it feels like she’s watching all this happen from the outside, as if she’s in a movie where someone who looks like her is about to be charged with murder.

This feeling of disassociation—a word she learned as a kid—is something that happens to her whenever she’s in situations of extreme stress. Disassociation was her mind’s way of protecting her from the traumas that were happening to her body. While this isn’t what’s happening now, the feeling of separation between her brain and physical form tends to happen whenever she feels vulnerable and unsafe.

Right now, the life she knows—the life she’s built—is being threatened.

Paris can’t float away, though. She needs to stay present if she’s going to make it through this, so she focuses on her breathing. As she tells her yoga students, whatever is happening, you can always come back to your breath. Constricting her throat just a little, she takes a slow, deep inhale, holds it, then exhales. It makes a slight hissing sound, as if she’s trying to fog up the car window, and the detective’s eyes dart toward her in the rearview mirror once again.

After a few ocean breaths—ujjayi breaths—Paris is more clearheaded, more here, and she tries to process how the hell she ended up in the back of a cop car, on her way to jail. She watches enough TV to know that the police always assume it’s the spouse. Of course, it hadn’t helped one bit that Zoe, Jimmy’s assistant, was the one pointing the finger and screaming herself hoarse. She murdered him she murdered him oh my God she’s a murderer!

They think she killed Jimmy.

And now the rest of the world will, too, because that’s how it looks when you’re led out of your home in handcuffs with blood on your clothes as news of your celebrity husband’s death ripples through the crowd of onlookers snapping photos and recording videos of your arrest. The irony is, the crowd was already conveniently in place outside the house well before Zoe called the cops. Paris and Jimmy live on Queen Anne Hill, right across the street from Kerry Park, which boasts the best views of Seattle. It’s a popular spot for both locals and tourists to take photos of the city skyline and Mount Rainier, and the crowd today was like any other, except the cameras were pointing toward the house instead of the skyline. And just like there hadn’t been time to put on another shirt, there had been no opportunity to put on different shoes. Paris heard someone yell, “Nice slippers!” as soon as she stepped outside, but it didn’t sound like a compliment.

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