We’re continuing on with the ‘musical thread’ and a reworking of the very beginning of the novel. If you haven’t read it already, be sure to read ‘A Boyhood Ghost’, the first chapter (before this one) in this pending series of chapters.
There are moments which, while steeped in noise, are dead silent.
As Phil followed Redmond into the study on the top floor of the house to see the victim, he experienced such a moment. And he experienced it because, although the fire was crackling, the clock ticking, the sirens approaching, the house creaking, and Redmond talking, Phil heard absolutely nothing.
He didn’t hear a song playing in his head. He didn’t even hear himself thinking. Without a single soundtrack, he looked at the lifeless young woman slumped forward on the desk, her left cheek down, her right cheek exposed beneath her short, blond hair. He saw her wrist open wide on her sopping red skirt, and the letter knife that had slit it in the blood at her feet.
Phil had seen death before.
In other victims. In his loved ones. On the internet. On TV.
There was something about this death, however, which fleetingly felled him.
Was it because the woman was so young, close in age to his sons James and Nico? Or was it because, for her fair hair and pale complexion, she reminded him of his sister when his sister had been younger? Or was it because he was so sick and tired of another life wasted, another soul leaving? Perhaps it was all three of those things put together, he concluded.
Whatever it was, as Phil stared at the colour fading from the victim’s cheek, at her fingers beginning to stiffen with rigor mortis, he felt the overwhelming need to hear her voice. That struck him as strange. For in all the death he’d witnessed in his time on the force, he’d never felt that: the urge, which would be inevitably unrequited, to hear the dead speak, to break their own silence.
Eyeing the victim’s lips parted halfway through a breath, Phil yearned for her to raise her cheek from the desk, open her eyes, and tell him what had just happened, why she’d ended her life. But beyond wanting her explanation, he longed to hear the pitch of her voice, the lilt of her accent, her intonation. He needed to know how she’d sounded. Judging by her fragile appearance and dainty features, he imagined her voice to be soft, quite innocent. But then, what did he know? For she couldn’t have been innocent if she’d ended her life. She must’ve been experiencing deep, irrevocable grief.
“I wonder what she’d say to us if she could speak?” Phil asked.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Redmond said. “With an act like this, she’s spoken.”
“Her name was Aubrey Holloway.”
Christ. Past tense already. As if the second you died, you gave up your name. I am Phil Owens, Phil thought. But the instant I die, I’m Phil Owens no longer. I was Phil Owens. So, now that I’m dead, who am I? I, simply, am not.
Setting the philosophical intricacies of nomenclature aside, Phil recalled Serge impressing that there was great practicality to stripping deceased victims of their names; it created distance as not to make things personal, as not to get attached.
“Lovely name,” Phil commented sadly. “It fits.”
“Used to fit,” corrected Redmond. “What’s with you today, Owens? We’re committing a cardinal sin here by referring to the victim by name. You know the Mistwell Force’s rules.”
“I apologise, Detective.”
But inwardly, that dawn, Phil didn’t feel sorry, not in the apologetic sense of the word. Though glad to have the victim’s name, he still hungered for more – her voice, her story – but he knew, he couldn’t have it, not in her own words at least. From now on in, if he heard anything at all, it would be by way of someone else; so, it would be their take on her, not her own authentic take on self.
“What do you know about her?” Phil ventured.
“Precious little at this stage,” Redmond replied. “Only what Viv told me.”
“If this is the victim’s grandmother’s house, then where are her parents?”
“According to Viv,” Redmond replied, “they’ve been working as professors in Boston for close to three years. Still own their house in London. Viv told me that the victim, their daughter had been spending more and more time here at the house, particularly after her grandmother died eighteen months ago. Apparently, the victim and her grandmother had been extremely close. There’d been some trouble with the parents. As Viv explained it, the victim was upset over the imminent sale of the house.”
“Surely that wouldn’t be enough to push someone to commit suicide.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that, Owens,” Redmond contested. “Grief rips the logic clean out of people’s heads sometimes. But even in this case, there’s some logic involved. The victim’s parents had told Viv that their daughter had loved this house, that she’d gravitated to it since she was a child, and that she’d always said she’d felt ‘an affinity with it’ as if she were meant to be here. They said their daughter was distraught over their breaking with the original ancestor’s wish to keep it in the family but that they, living in the United States, could no longer justify keeping it. And if this house were the victim’s main connection to her grandmother and it was being pulled out from under her, depending on the level of her grief, she could well have wanted to join her grandmother on the other side. Besides, all the evidence points to suicide. There’s absolutely nothing that points to anything other than that.”
“Any history of mental illness?”
“I won’t know that until I speak with the parents,” Redmond answered. “But how can you look at this and not cite psychological distress as the main culprit. You know –”
“Yes, I know,” sighed Phil. “Unfortunately, I know.”
At that very moment, the sirens stopped outside the house.
“Walk through the house,” instructed Redmond. “I’ll stay up here with the body.”
Of course. Victimhood was fading by the minute.
“Cast an eye, Owens,” continued Redmond. “And make it damned efficient.”
“Yes,” said Phil, to the sound of the front door opening and footsteps coming up the flights of stairs.
As he stood aside to let the team come through, Phil did something he’d never done before. Later he’d reckon that his decades-dead grandmother had been speaking in his subconsciousness because she’d always said, “Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, Philip. In any circumstance. Whether it be for money, or for something you desire in your relationships with people, or for something you want from life, articulate it, ask for it, always speak up. How can anyone or anything comply with your request if they don’t have the foggiest idea of what it is that you want?”
So, yes, in hindsight, his grandmother must’ve been speaking to him because, as he cast an eye on Aubrey Holloway’s parted lips, he prayed, ‘Please God, just let me hear her voice.’