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Authors: Lisa Howorth

Flying Shoes

BOOK: Flying Shoes
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for Richard

for Oxford

and for all the little ghosts

“It’s a hard world for little things.”

Lillian Gish as Rachel Cooper

The Night of the Hunter


















A Note on the Author


Mary Byrd Thornton knew that breaking things was not a good, adult response to getting sudden, scary news about a terrible thing in the past, a thing buried with the dead and kicked to the curb of consciousness; but that was what she’d done anyway.

She’d been unloading the dishwasher, killing time until school let out and half-listening to NPR. The IRA had broken a truce and bombed London, unwanted rape babies—“
enfants mauvais souvenir,
” NPR called them—from the massacres in Rwanda over the past two years were abandoned and dying, some scientist was predicting global chaos, calling it Y2K—planes would be falling from the sky and subway trains colliding in the year 2000. Basically it was the usual news; what she and her brothers called every new day’s headlines:
More Dead Everywhere.
It always seemed like the world was a kitchen full of leaking gas just waiting for the careless match.

Even though it was February and the windows were closed against the cold, damp day, Mary Byrd could hear the knucklehead frat boys over on the next street, hollering and floating around in their hot tub like beer-sodden dumplings in a testosterone stew.

The phone had gone off—more an electronic alarm than a ring that she’d never gotten used to. Answering with one hand and turning off the radio with the other, Mary Byrd received the startling but somehow, she realized, not unexpected news that the unsolved case of her nine-year-old stepbrother’s murder, on Mother’s Day, 1966, was being reopened.

The call was from a detective in Richmond—what was his odd name? The voice was calm and polite, but strict, like a school teacher dealing with a balky problem child. He suggested—strongly—that she not discuss the unwelcome news outside her family until he’d had a chance to meet with them all. And the sooner the better for that, he said.

“In fact, if you can get up here in the next couple days that would be great. What’s happening is that we think we have some new information and we feel we can now go after, and try to convict, the suspect. If we . . .”

Mary Byrd interrupted. “What do you mean? Like what new information?” She asked the question not feeling she wanted an answer.

“What I was going to say is that if we can get your family to look at some things, make an ID, we believe we’ve got this thing nailed.”

Mary Byrd felt gooseflesh tightening on her arms. “What things?” Was he talking about her little green teen-aged diary, which had been confiscated and never returned? “Is it Ned Tuttle?” she asked. Tuttle, the creepy guy down the street who was the only suspect. She hated to say his name.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Thornton,” the detective said. “I don’t think it’s in anybody’s best interest, or in the interest of working the case, for us to talk about details over the phone. But it is pretty . . . I’d say
actually, for you and your family to meet with me up here very soon if at all possible. There’s a lot that needs to be discussed. I’m hoping that a meeting Monday morning will suit everybody. That gives you a little time, anyway.”

Mary Byrd felt the belligerent asshole rising up in her. There was something else about the voice—slick? “What, it’s been thirty years and now there’s this big hurry?”

There was a reproving pause and the detective said, “Yes, exactly. I can apologize till the cows come home for this intrusion. I know this is difficult and unpleasant for all of you. But this is what I do here—try to solve cold cases. These . . . developments have just come up. I would think that you’d want to know, and to cooperate. Let’s get this resolved once and for all, and put this guy away forever so no one else gets . . . hurt.”

The guilt card. She wondered how many others had already been
over all these years. “Okay, I get it. Have you talked to my mother and brothers?”

“They’re willing. Your mother was certain you’d want to be involved.”

Why had her mother said that? She was overthinking; it was just her mom’s normal bossiness and nothing else. But why hadn’t she called to let her know? “Okay,” Mary Byrd repeated. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Thornton,” the detective said. “I don’t think you’ll be sorry to be here. I hope that this will mean some closure for your family.”

be sorry, she thought, and what the fuck is

“And if I may ask once again,” he said, “it’s very important to the case that you not speak to anyone outside your family about all this. What we don’t need is reporters and publicity mucking things up or scaring off people we need to be interviewing before we can get to them. There are a lot of complicated legal issues involved and we need to go strictly by the book on this one. Can I count on your cooperation with that?” She heard the snap of a lighter and breath being drawn. Maybe he was done with her.

“Yes,” she lied, knowing she would discuss this grim turn of events with her friend Mann, or Lucy, if she could find her. And her husband Charles. But no problem about not talking to anyone else; it was all so unspeakable and always had been. But why did he care?

Cold and shaky, and guilty; a super-gravitational weight settled on her like a tractor tire and made her want to gimp up right there on the kitchen floor, fetally curled and impervious like one of her napping cats. That’s when she went back to the dishes and picked up a piece of the crappy Corelle she used to feed her animals and children because of its alleged indestructibility and threw it hard at the floor, where it shattered in an almost-satisfying way, just as she had always expected it would. Her heart flapped madly and she took some deep breaths to compose herself, trying to decide what to do next. Feeling an acrid thickness in her throat—bile?—she coughed a big, hairball cough of revulsion. As she filled a glass with water and considered adding some vodka, the phone sounded again. She looked suspiciously at the caller ID, which said
richmond va
. An unfamiliar number. Did she have to answer?

She did. “Hi! Is this Mrs. Thornton?” asked a too-cheerful, girly voice.

“This is she,” Mary Byrd said.

“Oh, hi! My name is Linda Fyce. I’m a journalist and I’m calling from Richmond. Mrs. Thornton, are you aware that the murder case of your stepbrother, Steven Rhinehart, is being reopened up here?”


Mary Byrd went cold. After a moment, she lied, “No. Who is this?”

The woman, or girl, repeated her name and blundered ahead. “I’m working on a story about your stepbrother’s case. I’m surprised, but actually not very, that the Richmond police haven’t already contacted you. I was wondering if we could talk about it. I’m sure you’d like to see it finally resolved by
, which I hope to do. Is this a good time?”

“No,” Mary Byrd said, not having any idea of what else to say. There was no good time. She sat down at the kitchen counter. “No, I’m really busy right now. And I don’t think I have anything . . . useful to say about that.”

“From what I know so far, wasn’t there some . . . well, maybe
not the right word, but weren’t there some questions about your boyfriend, and your relationship to the suspect?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mary Byrd said. “I’m sorry, I have to go now.”

“Well, maybe I can call at a more convenient time? I’m sure this is important to you and your family.”

Mary Byrd hung up. Anger welled up in her. There was something about the pushy snake-oiliness of the woman’s voice that alarmed her. Was this reporter really going to write about the case, and put it all out there in public for her whole family to deal with? Again? She got it, now, about why the detective had asked her not to talk to anyone else. He didn’t want the reporter scooping him, and making the police look like idiots. Which they had been. How could they possibly solve the case after so many years? And would she really have to go up to Richmond and look at . . . what? She was horrified at the thought.

Pale at no crime.
The motto of her eighteenth-century crush, William Byrd, who believed that one must strive to right all wrongs but who was guilty of quite a few, came to her, and she gave herself a mental kick in the ass.
Take heart, thou indolent, indulgent wench. There is much ado.
In other words, don’t be such a pussy.

Looking down at the “china” explosion on the floor, she knew she’d better get it up fast before Evagreen saw it. It was the kind of thing Evagreen expected from her and loved to see: further proof that Mary Byrd was a cradle fuckup. On her knees, collecting the shards—why had her creepy college anthropology professor called them “sherds,” as if they’d been digging up turds—and wanting to lighten up, she said to herself,
Ladies and gentlemen, what a tragedy. Oh, the humanity!
This didn’t much work, and out loud she said, “I knew this crap would break.” Another myth bites the dust, like Teflon that got scratched and left gray, poisonous flecks in the eggs. Or stainless steel that stained, or insurance that didn’t insure. American advertising bullshit.

Her first impulse had been to throw a piece of her Spode Queen’s Bird, which might have felt better in the moment, but she had a maddening way of second-thinking her impulses, even split-second ones, making them non-impulses and therefore devoid of real satisfaction. Mary Byrd had a word for this self-thwart, another expression her brothers used to describe the last-minute bungling that made their teams, the Spiders and the Redskins, lose a game:
. But she was glad she hadn’t thrown the Queen’s Bird because she loved it; a wedding gift and charming play on her name from her dead mother-in-law, Liddie, whom she also loved. And then, if she had thrown the Spode, seeing the pale blue china, the almost-white color of the sky on a scorching Mississippi day, with the lovely little magenta and gold bird, smashed on the floor, that would only have made her feel worse. She’d already broken enough of the Spode over the many years of her marriage. Well, in an unusual fit of anger over something now forgotten, Charles, normally a model of comportment and restraint, had broken a plate once, and not on accident.

BOOK: Flying Shoes
13.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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