Show and tell
“Good morning, Pierre, how was your sleep? You seemed to be restless.”
“Good morning Françoise. Oh my head.”
“My poor darling has a headache, cup of coffee?”
“Oui, mon chéri.”
The aroma of coffee lifts from the pot floats gently towards the bedroom, where it encircles Pierre before engulfing his senses.
“Oh combien beau, so lovely.”
“Do not forget the group’s meeting tonight, Pierre” Françoise calls out.
“Where do we meet?”
“We are the hosts, it’s our turn.”
The ‘group’ is a collection of friends who have known each other since they were children. Every six weeks they meet at one of their places, each plays the host in time. No longer are they children, all in their forties and fifties now, some partners perhaps a little younger. As each ventured through life, found a soul mate, married, divorced, remarried or just had a serious fling, the partners were always welcome in the group. The remnants of the schooldays are ‘show and tell.’ On each meeting they shared from their own life, just as in school, when ‘show and tell’ made the lesson all so interesting. Inevitably the barriers of secrecy get broken down over time. After all, half the group knew each other since childhood.
Françoise looks her husband of 25 years deep into the eyes, “What will you share tonight?”
Pierre is rubbing the sleep from his eyes, “That I am still debating.”
“Time to get up, shower, breakfast, work.”
“Give me 10 minutes in silence and I promise to do all three, need to catch a fleeting dream.”
“Pierre, they are here.”
“Hello Dominique and Étienne, Stephanie, Sébastien, Zoe, Vincent, Pénélope, Luc, Aurélie and Antoine.”
“Hello Luc, so this is Pénélope?”
“Yes Pierre, no other than.”
“I did expect you to fly in from the sky, white wings, escorted by countless fairies, glittering stars trailing your flight.”
“What on earth has he told you about me? As you can see I’m no fairy, no angel, just me.”
“Welcome Pénélope. My wife is… where is she? Ah, over there, that is Françoise, I am Pierre, and I don’t know how many you have met so far. For tonight, my wife and I play the hosts. Feel at home.”
“Show and tell time, who’s first, Pierre?”
“I have something to ‘show’, perhaps you can ‘tell’ me what it means. I can say this happened to me in the first person, but on second thoughts I will explain it to you as in third person, to detach from it somewhat. I need two names, a male, female, help me out.”
“Sarah and Tom is fine, thank you, Sébastien and Zoe.”
“Here is my show and tell. Sarah calls Tom on the construction site. She is distraught. She insists Tom heads off home this minute. Reluctantly Tom radios his supervisor explaining the need to get home. The problem is 20 trucks with hot bitumen are waiting to put it into the spreader.”
“Would I be right in assuming that it is the kind of spreader you operate at your work, Pierre?”
“Yes, sort of, Stephanie, perhaps a little cleaner, anyway, that’s beside the point.”
“Today is Friday and it was also a Friday for Sarah and Tom. About an hour later Tom gets home to find Sarah very upset. She has two scratches in her face. Calming her down Sarah reveals that there had been an accident.”
“Forgive the interruption, Pierre, you said this happened to you in the first person, literally?”
“Forget that, Étienne, the first person. It’s Tom and Sarah, no me, I or anyone we know. It came in a dream, not real life, ok?”
“Étienne, one is enough.”
“Don’t get upset, Pierre, I just want to get the story straight.”
“Let him get on with it, please!”
“Thank you, Aurélie. There had been an accident, yes. Tom notices the scratches in Sarah’s face and hugs her.”
“Sarah calms down and explains to Tom what happened. She had been in a fight with another woman. The scratches resulted from that. The other woman fell and hit her head.”
“Tom is trying to absorb all this, asking ‘when did it happen?’”
“On Monday, she replied. Yet throughout the week she never had any scars, but Tom never noticed that at the time. Many questions in Tom’s mind needed answers, who was the woman, what was the fight about, what was the outcome, why is she upset?”
“Follow me, she said and led Tom to the upstairs bathroom. Before she opened the door she said, ‘the woman fell and hit her head. She is dead, see for yourself’, then she opened the door. An awkwardly twisted body lay in the bathtub. Her long hair covered most of her face, except part of the left cheek that revealed a large but shallow abrasion of the skin. Not serious in itself.”
“’What are we going to do?’ Sarah called out. ‘She bumped her head in a fall, that’s how she died. I didn’t kill her. She fell, that’s all that happened. I killed her, but I didn’t kill her. Tell me what to do? What can we do? Help me.’”
“The woman had brownish, blackish hair, some grey coloured hair amongst them. Who she was became irrelevant. What they argued about didn’t matter anymore. She wore a dress, an old fashioned print, dull in colours just like her hair that is all I noticed of her. That is all Tom noticed of her.”
“I asked Françoise…, sorry, Tom asked … Sarah, on Monday it happened? Why not call the ambulance, the police, anybody? Today is Friday, why didn’t you call someone on Monday?”
“’How could I,’ she said, ’how could I explain this? Who would believe me? I killed her. She’s dead, because of me. Help me.’ I asked her, ‘What have you done since Monday?’ Forgive me…, Tom asked her that question.”
“Sarah explained, the argument developed in the cellar. She, the other woman fell backwards against the wine shelf. That killed her. She moved the body upstairs to the bathroom so that no-one would discover it. Sarah cleaned the whole house, especially the steps to the bathroom. She needed time to think of what to do. By Friday she still had no answer.”
“’We must get rid of the body,’ she suggested, ‘you must help me to get rid of it.’ ‘But then I become an accessory in a crime. I can’t do that.’ Tom answered.”
“’What crime?’ asked Sarah, ‘there was no crime, she fell, it’s an accident, end of story.’ ‘But who is going to believe that now, it is Friday?’ added Tom.”
“’We must get rid of it, it is going to stink the whole house out. Can’t you dig a hole with one of your machines and drop it in there?’ Sarah suggested. Tom explained that this was not a good idea, as sniffer dogs can sense the gases released by dead flesh.”
“’Then a garbage bin, let’s hide the body in a garbage bin, down in the new estate. Some houses are empty, no one can see us, no one gets the blame’, was her next suggestion, but Tom reasoned it to be odd, that an empty house would have a garbage container out for collection.”
“In the evening, both went for a drive in the new estate, for ideas. Houses stood here for months, no one lived here, no one could afford to buy. ’Why don’t we hide the body in one of these houses? There is no one here to smell it. It gives us a little more time, breathing space’.”
“Tom replied, ‘Be aware, that I can not become an accessory to this. I can help you only, if you turn around and not see how I help you, perhaps that way it leaves me free from this committed offense, and you can always say you don’t know who put her in the garbage bin…’ …ah …that’s what Tom said.”
“She thanked Tom and returned to the kitchen to focus on a chicken stew, while Tom again drove to the new housing estate to search for a suitable house. Sometime later Sarah knocked at the door. Tom opened it, ‘You scared the living daylights out of me. How on earth did you find me?’ Sarah replied ‘Yours is the only car in the whole estate, in front of this house, where else could you possibly be? I brought us some food, chicken stew, enjoy. Both forked and spooned the cast iron pot with fading appetite, sitting in an upstairs room, lit by the moon.”
All twelve sat in a circle, everyone paying attention the Pierre’s words. Françoise sat opposite Pierre between Aurélie and Sébastien.
Pierre continues, “Tom set out to place the body in large plastic bags and lifted it in the garbage container, a large wheeled bin. Sarah did not see any of this. He placed the bin in the back of the car. Together both drove to the house Tom had selected. ‘We can not use the garbage bin,’ Tom explained, ‘the collectors have cameras on their trucks to look inside the bin when they tip it out, so they can sort it.’ ‘But that is ok, the body is in a bag,’ answers Sarah. ‘Except the foot is sticking out,’ adds Tom.”
“They arrived at the house, again it was dark. They did not know when garbage collection day was, so decided to keep the bin inside the house. Several days passed then Tom realised the bin was theirs; it could be traced back to us… to them. The question ‘who’ the victim is was never of any importance. Tom had to get the bin back. That night he drove alone to the house, tipped the bin over to empty the body contained in the bag onto the tiled floor of the corridor. The head of the victim then also showed though the bag. And here is where it gets interesting. Every few minutes Tom had to run outside to take a fresh breath. Who do you think was in the bag?”
“It can only be the mother in-law,” suggests Vincent.
Pierre’s head shakes in denial.
Étienne adds with a laugh, ”The butler?”
“No” Pierre’s short reply.
“Was it Sarah’s lover?” asks Stéphanie.
“Tom’s lover,” adds Sébastien.
“Tom’s detective after discovering that Sarah had a lover.” suggests Antoine.
Suggestion flew through the air; none noticed the internal agony Pierre went through, except Françoise.
“It can only be the milkman,” Étienne adds his comments, “or the postman.”
“You will never guess it,” says Pierre as he looks at Françoise, the love of his life for 35 years, his wife of 25 years, the mother of their children. Tears break out at the corner of his eyes.
Françoise steps forward, cups Pierre’s face, “Mon chéri, who did you see?”
Pierre is unable to speak, the lump in his throat growing. Tears run as if escaping from some inner well, each knowing they would be followed by many others eager to escape too. No surface tension enough to keep them in the eye.
“Darling, Pierre, look at me, tell me, who did you see?”
Pierre burries his head in Françoise’s embrace, “You” he whispers in her ear.
“Who did he see?” the others ask.
“Sarah,” Françoise replied.
“Oh, ah, wow,” it mattered little who said what.
“Sarah killed Sarah,” Zoe summarised.
Luc adds, “An accident.”
Pierre slowly regains his composure. “I am sorry about this, it is not yet finished.”
Luc hastens, “Please go on, continue.”
“Tom is stunned to recognise Sarah as the dead person. Confused he drives home, intending to show Sarah what he had found. ‘Come with me,’ he says to Sarah, ‘I need to show you something.’ Both drive back to the vacant house. Upon opening the door the stench of decaying flesh is overpowering. He opens the door wide. The moon shines all the way down the tiled corridor. There is no body. ‘But it was right here, where is it?’ he calls out. No plastic bag, no wheelie bin, the floor is clean, nothing is there, except the sickening stench of death. ’Sarah, believe me, it was right there, the body.’ ‘Which body?’ That’s what she said.”
“Tom nearly out of his mind runs into every room of the house, all are empty, vacant, clean. ‘What is going on, someone must have moved it.’ He hears Sarah’s voice from upstairs, ‘No, it’s still here, no one moved it.’ Tom leaps up the staircase, his lungs aching for oxygen, he holds onto the door frame, gasping for air, inhaling stench instead. ‘Someone forgot a chicken stew,’ said Sarah and placed the lid back onto the cast iron pot. ‘A bit sick, don’t you think? The stench I mean.’ she said.”
“That’s it, they may have thrown the pot into the bin, but that is the end. What does it all mean? Can anyone tell me? It’s your turn now.”
“That is very interesting, Pierre, but before I say anything I need to see the little girls room, back in a minute,” and so Dominique leaves the room.
Sébastien leans towards Pierre, “I’m busting, mind if I use the upstairs bathroom?”
“No, go ahead,” Pierre replies.
“Very, very interesting, Pierre,” Antoine picks up the treads, “He gets to feel the same as she did earlier, she loves him, he is overcome by fear. Fear rendering his love useless.”
Pénélope adds her thoughts, “She needs him once in her life and he is totally useless.”
Luc adding, “He did help.”
“He thought of himself as accessory to a crime,” Pénélope answers, “He judged her guilty, his own wife of many years. He did not believe a single word she said. If he finds her guilty, which judge could call her ‘innocent’? He is a bastard.”
Vincent adding, “Was she testing him? After all, she was both, victim and …”
“Go on, say it, ‘killer’, that’s the word you were looking for,” snips Stéphanie.
Dominique returns to join the group.
Zoe adds, “The scratch appeared on Friday, yet the argument was on a Monday. Did he never look at her during the week, did he never notice?”
“Étienne wouldn’t notice if I had my hair done, would you darling?” says Dominique. “I would,” Étienne replies.
“Ok, tell me then what colour bra am I wearing now?” asks Dominique.
“Black,” came the quick reply.
Dominique pulls the strap to the side to reveal the colour red.
“There is definitely a trust issue at play,” continues Vincent, “also a paralysing fear of authority. You told it in third person, yet a couple of times you slipped up, Pierre. I suggest it is something much closer. Law and Order seems to me the underlying message, or rather the fear from the authorities, so much so that one becomes as Judas, sell one’s own or at least abandon one’s own.”
“Pierre, when did it come to you?” asks Françoise, “was it this morning when I brought you the coffee, you needed to catch a fleeting dream you said. Was this your dream?”
“Oui, chéri. I have been trying all day to make sense of it.”
“I feel empty; I feel as failure, what can I trust?”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Pierre. Perhaps it is a hint to take a closer look at your relationship. It may seem rock solid but tiny hairline cracks can make the strongest structure fragile. Perhaps you lost trust in yourself. Has love become an expectation? Perhaps it tested you and now you feel betrayed by your own… Tom’s actions”
“What’s all that noise upstairs?”
“Who is up there?”
“Sébastien went for a pee,” Pierre answers.
Vincent opens the door. A horrible scream wails through the house followed by the rhythmic rumble of a body falling lifeless down the staircase.
A fraction of dead eerie silence follows.
Françoise and Pierre look at one another, while everyone else joins in one call, “Sébastien!!!” Each is racing towards the doorway, trying to reach the staircase.
This instant, time freezes, casting each as solid statues, eyes agape, concern etched in each face, none further than the others, all guarded to see what came to be.
© Heinz Ross, Gold Coast, Australia
13. Nov 2008