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It's Such A Life to Remember
Cate had grabbed the wrong deodorant while she was at the grocery store, and the new sickly-sweet smell was clinging to her blazer and mixing with her shampoo.
She turned on her recorder and tried to play it off like a woman of the 50s, curled hair and long, red-nailed fingertips idly twirling a fountain pen over a yellow legal pad. (Read: she’d never written on a typewriter, and she might be jaded for it.)
It started with a dead girl in a ditch.
You’ve heard this one before.
Walsh had a girlfriend in the same way that guys in Cate’s freshman year had girlfriends; oh I really do love her, he might say, we make it work.
Walsh rubbed his eyes, one cubicle over from her, clenched his cell phone between his shoulder and ear, said, “Thanks, Alex, thanks. Really. Some time soon, when we’re not swamped any more. All right, man. See you.” Cate had known an Alex in college. Floppy brown hair and square glasses. She’d slept with him, once.
“You going home tonight?” she asked.
Walsh laughed, hollow. “Are you?”
DURHAM, NC -- she typed. Then she deleted it.
It didn’t really help that the girl’s name was Emily. Like there weren’t enough Emilys.
“She was going places,” said her neighbors, elderly man, elderly woman. Cate tried not to think about her own mother drinking boxed wine and calling her every week.
“ â€˜Going places’?” said Andy. He glared at her. “What the f***? You’re a woman, Cate, I thought you’d be better at getting the real s*** out there. Picking up the emotion. No one needs to know she was going places; she would’ve already gone.”
The rumosr went: Emily? Emily with the brown hair and thin shoulders? She’s the one in the ditch. Heard she was whacked by the mob. Heard she was doing this professor and his wife found out. Heard it was a senator. Not the DC senator, just a state senator.
Like there was a mob in North Carolina. Like vengeful housewives happened this much. Like anyone would have cared if she wasn’t in a ditch. Like her name was Emily at all.
Emily with the brown hair and thin shoulders, eyes wide like something was going on behind you, living the ordinary life. Ramen noodles in humid apartment and staticy lights.
Try to read something political into this; if Cate was a better person, she could write about taxes and public education and the corporate world fighting against the minimum wage.
No one ever talked about conspiracies in these crimes anymore. Cate pulled her jacket close, rain soaking the front of her slacks. She walked away from Emily’s apartment complex, disappointed that it was so average. This was just inspiration for another Cold Case episode.
A while ago, it had happened like this: Walsh swallowed his drink, stiff scotch on the rocks, while Cate stuck with her cosmopolitan, the only drink she’d known how to order when she’d first gone out to a bar with her mom. She had been fifteen and the bartender had laughed.
A couple guys at the bar, a couple girls. She tried to remember how it used to be, dimly lit patios and wall-thumping stereos, throwing up on the lawn, coke in the bathrooms.
“I get this feeling we’re doing it all wrong,” she said to Walsh.
Walsh scratched at his stubble. He would be thinking about Tina, the girlfriend, a year older and in grad school for philosophy. Pot roast or Easy Mac or something. “Well, have we been doing it right before?” he asked. Then he laughed. “Don’t take the piss out of it, Cate. I’ve been spending the week pretending I’m in DC, talking about Larry Craig and House majority or some rehashed s***. People in this city aren’t as dumb as Andy thinks. Jesus.”
His shirt was mostly unbuttoned, his sleeves flapping as he moved his hands. Cate tapped his arm and said, “Nah, you’ve got it backwards, too.”
The cute thing about Tinaâ€”and Cate studied it at Christmas parties and barbeque socialsâ€”was this nervous tic she had of drawing her lower lip over her teeth and running her tongue above it. Walsh had fallen in love with her at a pastry shop some time ago and now they had a cat.
Funny story, actually: Walsh had told Cate this in the first week they met (for the record, Walsh was here first. Cate had said, “This is just an in-between place, I’m moving on to something better.” “We all are, honey,” he had replied)
Cate had asked Walsh, maybe the third day in, “What’s Tina’s thesis?” and he’d made this funny flailing gesture.
“I stopped trying to understand,” he’d explained. Then, between sporadic bursts of typing, “What’s your story?”
“Vandalism in St. Peters and St. Bernadine’s. Someone lit the altars on fire.”
“No,” he’d said, pulling at his tie, “I meantâ€”what’s your story.”
Cate looked over her glasses at him. Fun in the Sun was the basic idea, and that was all she had on her screen.
She said, “Oh, you mean do I have a Tina.” Which was all nice and sweet of him, to ask like this. Not that she would know, but Walsh seemed like a sullen and worried person who picked constantly at his fingernails. A work personality that pretended nothing mattered. “No,” she answered with a grimace.
Walsh fixed his face almost neutral and said, “Oh, okay.” Cate wanted to tell him that she had had a Tina, and his name had been Keith, and his name was still Keith, only now he was married to this girl named Nicole. Sometimes he still called her. (Theirs hadn’t been a dramatic break-up, nothing definite except for graduation, where they’d parted on a note of “I’ll call you later, okay?”) She wanted to tell Walsh about Keith and his quiet house, no laughter except for the track of Hannah Montana that his little girl watched.
And did Walsh want to keep this going and end up having that with Tina?
But none of this had mattered then.
Her mother called. “What’s up, buttercup?” she asked.
“I’m alive,” said Cate, deadpan delivery, phone crushed between her shoulder and ear. Her nail polish was chipped and her eyeliner was smudged. She’d forgotten her umbrella earlier. There were still some people to impress, she guessed, few and far between.
Her mother replied, “Well, so am I.”
Girl Found in Ditch, Cate had imagined, and wondered how many headlines already said that. Black Dahlia and all of her friends.
One of these days, maybe tomorrow or the day after, beneath the fold of the front page Local