Who knows why she did it?
After she was gone, her friends met to discuss it.
“She didn’t seem depressed,” one said.
“You can never really know a person,” said another.
“She was never quite the same after the divorce,” said a third.
Her body had been found in a heavily wooded area outside of town. A bird watcher, his gaze intent on the trees, had literally stumbled over the body. It was fortunate, perhaps, because he might well have fainted had he been standing. She had been dead over a week, and the decomposition was advanced.
The friends told each other that they had called, that they had noticed her absence almost immediately. John, her closest friend, knew that wasn’t true: he had been the person to gather her belongings; he had also listened to the messages on her machine. And beyond a few perfunctory messages, nobody had reached out; nobody had called.
The weapon had been found at her side; the bullet had entered from the back of her throat and hit the brainstem. Death would have been instantaneous.
What did she leave behind? A small amount of money—enough to bury her. Personal possessions. A few debts. But mostly, she left questions, and memories.
“Remember that birthday party, when everybody got totally wasted, and we all decided to jump into the fountain, at three in morning, naked? She was the first one in…”
“And she was splashing everybody else, until you had no choice to strip and get in too….”
“And when the cops came? Only she could have talked her way out of it. Remember her saying, ‘hey, it’s my birthday! You can’t arrest me on my birthday!’ And then she jumped naked out of the fountain, went to her purse, and got her ID to prove it….”
“She should have been a lawyer,” said John. “She was totally wasted as a teacher. But she loved to argue about anything.”
“She got it from her father,” said Joan. “God, that guy was ornery! You could have told him he’d won the lottery, and he’d argue that the numbers were wrong. Or that the game had been fixed. She was just like him….”
They tried to imagine it. Why had she chosen that particular spot? She wasn’t a nature person, particularly: what had attracted her to the woods? And the gun, how had she gotten it? Had she known, when she bought it, that she would use it on herself? Or had she acted impulsively, triggered by who knew what?
‘Nobody is saying what they really think,” thought John. ‘Because everyone of us is pissed. Why the hell didn’t she call? Why didn’t she say something? All of the times that we shared—the parties, the dinners, the calls over stupid things. And then, one day, she’s gone, and nobody knows where she is. And all that time, she was lying dead in the woods. Had any animals discovered her? Eaten her? Crows flying overhead? God, it’s too horrible.’
“Well, if a person doesn’t want help, then there’s nothing we can do,” said Mary. “She knew she could have called any one of us….”
‘Did she,’ thought John. ‘God, what if she did call us? What if we had been so busy, so self-absorbed, that we couldn’t pick up the phone? Or maybe she had called us, wanting to talk, but we had cut her off, and complained about some stupid shit of our own.’
He tried to remember. He thought of the calls she had made; he heard her voice and her peculiar, high-pitched laugh. Had she seemed stressed, or at any time different than usual? He didn’t think so.
“She had everything to live for,” said Pam. “A good job, friends, money enough. True, there wasn’t a man in her life, but she didn’t really seem to mind about that….”
‘She minded a lot,’ thought John. ‘She was just too proud to show it. And her ex, who is so very much not here, treated her like shit. Where is that bastard, anyway? They were married 17 years, and he doesn’t show for her funeral? 17 years? And where is he, at the beach?”
“I feel sorry for her students,” said Joan. “Imagine, knowing that your teacher had killed herself. And you’re like fifteen or so—which is not the age when you want to be facing existential questions. At least, not like that….”
‘Is there any good age to face a suicide?’ thought John. ‘Look at her mother over there—well into her eighties, and does that keep her from being anything but completely destroyed? There’s no good age for this.’
“We’re gathered here today to celebrate the life of Mary Lou Washington,” said the priest.
‘Mary Lou? Jesus Christ, she never used the “Lou.” She’d be raving bonkers if she could hear this guy. Do these guys ever talk to the family? How fucking difficult can that be?’
“She lived her life fully…”
‘So why’d she kill herself?’
“And she leaves behind many friends…”
‘None of whom called…..’
“And a deeply loving family….”
All of a sudden, John was tired. He’d slept badly for a week, and he’d been the person to go into her apartment, alone, and face the memories and the emptiness of the person who was so much there. And not.
“In the weeks ahead, we will pray for the strength of those whom she left behind…”
‘Bullshit. If they couldn’t call, are they now gonna pray?’
He looked around the chapel, and nearly startled when the revelation came to him. She hadn’t killed herself.
She’d been murdered.