That Much Is Known

“She had light, auburn hair and perfect teeth.” He saw her projected onto the screen of the cold-smoked car window.

A man and faceless woman sit in a car under a starry sky, bathed in a silver-blue glow.

Content warning: references to suicide; sexual objectification


Inspired by the story of Mary A. Anderson, a woman who committed suicide in a Seattle hotel room in 1996. Mary A. Anderson was a pseudonym used by the woman, whose identity still remains unknown.

The radio spoke to him: “She had light, auburn hair and perfect teeth.” He saw her projected onto the screen of the cold-smoked car window. It told him that she was five-foot-eight and sturdily built. He was five-foot-eleven and slight—they would complement each other.

“She was childless and had undergone breast surgery.”

He considered breasts. He’d never been with an augmented woman; he’d like to know what it was like. He thought of how they’d sit in different situations; when she was eating or running late, or how the water might fall on them in the shower. She was childless.

His birthday was last Tuesday. His mother had put thirty-seven candles in the cherry cake, three too many. He wondered if his life had felt long to her because he was dull, or whether she thought he was older because of the way he held himself. In a way, he wished he was thirty-seven. Thirty-four seemed too typical—all men were thirty-four.

“Her age is estimated at mid-30s to mid-40s.”

Could her mother be more specific? Or was this vague estimate the sort of thing his own mother said to her friends, that he was somewhere between thirty and forty.

“She wore expensive Estée Lauder cosmetics, had pierced ears and liked velour separates.”

He liked that in women—the ability to use money, especially if it was his, and even more if it made her look nicer to him. He liked it when people tried to do things nice and this was nice to him.

He had an earring once—thinking of it made him feel close to her. He rubbed his earlobe between his index finger and thumb, circling the scar beneath the skin, thinking of her. Were her ears this tender? He didn’t own velour. He wasn’t even sure he knew exactly what that word meant, but it sounded soft and it made him think of her skin. The radio man said she took good care of herself—had “carefully polished nails, a lipsticked mouth and neatly plucked brows”. Neatly plucked brows… the words were exciting in his mouth. He imagined them falling from her lipsticked lips.

He had been sitting in his car. It was a new old car, a terracotta red Alfa of his father’s. He’d been given it on his birthday last Tuesday but it felt paltry now, somehow unimportant. The sound of the radio infused in it a thick warmth that made the frame weak. As a child, this car had been his favourite hobby. Now it was limp, and the night trickled in.

He sat in the passenger seat. He did this when he was parked—it made him feel in company even if he was alone. Facing him was a Circle K, with a hole in its wall. The lights of the ATM flashed at him as if waving. He offered it a slight nod, the same fumbled gesture he performed when confronted with a known stranger. The screen projected an advertisement for Bisto gravy granules. He watched it the whole way through and every three minutes, he watched it again. One day, he’d go into that shop and buy them as he was told, but he wasn’t sure when.

The radio had stopped telling him about the woman, the lipsticked pierced augmented childless soft woman. His head hurt with the pain of questions left unanswered and his arms ached with the want of her body. He thought of calling the hotel where she’d killed herself, he thought maybe they’d tell him more than they’d told the paper. He thought of visiting her in forensics, being alongside her still body. He might pass as family had she not said in her note that she had nobody. If only he could have gotten to her and let her know that she had him, that she had him with such a force that he’d never known. The gravy advert flashed again but now it was taunting: it screamed at him and laughed at his inaction. It was music that now came from the radio, a low murmuring that whispered to him like an echo of her. He thought of her there, he imagined her smell and her voice and her handwriting on that sticky note. He turned to the driver’s seat and uttered to himself: “Mary A. Anderson”, “Mary A. Anderson”, “Mary A. Anderson”, repeating it with every flash of light emitted from the ATM. It hit the headrest like a spotlit fragment of her. His fingers traced its outline and it smiled.

He spoke to her there for a while, laughing at the thought of gravy and birthday candles. He asked her how old she really was and watched her perfect teeth between her lipsticked lips as she told him of her mother and why she had matched the ritual of her death to the ritual of her life.

The sun dipped further below the shop roof and in the darkness, her light on the headrest grew.

From then on, his days were spent with her, in that terracotta car. He drove there early each morning to take the same parking spot opposite the ATM, making sure to position the headrest so that her light might lie on it more comfortably. He looked forward to dusk: it was then that she became most animated, most at ease in his company. He knew that he’d follow her anywhere. There, dreaming beside her, he felt close enough, that much was known.

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