Caroline Knows—Can You Figure Out the Mystery?

One Writer

Note: This is a work of fiction. A mysterious short story that will leave you wondering--what happened? Who did what and to whom? Can you figure out the mystery? What parts of the story moved you?

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Caroline Knows

“I don’t really care if he shoots himself in the face. Serves him right, the jerk.” Caroline took another long drag off her Virginia Slim cigarette, the ash hanging loose and long at the end, threatening to ash her lap with each gesture of her trembling hand. “He c’n drive that darn truck down the quarry for all I care.”

“Now, C. You don’t really mean that.”

“Yes, I do. The sooner he offs himself, the sooner I can get out of here ‘n back to New ‘olens. I’m done with this crappy place.” Caroline chose a spot high in the pines to stare at the sun between boughs. The light hurt her eyes, still swollen from all the crying, but the pain felt more normal than the waiting.

“Whatchu ‘gon do when the cops show up here thinkin’ you dun it?” Caroline’s mom asked the sweetness in her voice grating on Caroline rather than offering any comfort.

“Let ’em come,” Caroline replied, a steely, unnerving quiet in her voice. The quiver was all that betrayed her now. She bit hard against the sting of more tears. The time for crying was done. The time for anything human was done.

At length and as the sun retreated behind the tree line, Caroline lifted herself on shaky legs and made her way into the house, the screen door slamming, loose on its hinges.

“I’m ‘bout to go, Ma,” Caroline called out toward the sound of running water in the kitchen. Her mother came out to offer a hug but Caroline brushed her off, grabbed her cigarettes and keys, and wrestled a bottle of her father’s cheapest liquor from Gramma’s buffet cabinet. Something brown. The clear stuff always made her sick, not that it mattered anymore. Nothing really mattered now. Her mother had that look. That “don’t do anything stupid” look.

“I’m, ok Ma.” Caroline met her mother’s eyes for a moment, brief, but heavy. She didn’t want that to be the last moment. She meant it. She’d not do anything worse than what’d already been done. But hours later, liquor in her, she might be changing her mind.

***

Caroline parked the car down by Aspen Lake. She just needed a moment before going home again to that empty space where violence hung in the cobwebs. Words lived there. Ugly ones. They bled through the paint on the walls like nicotine, a sludgy-brown drip you can’t wash off. His face was fading in her mind, all but that angry gritting of his teeth, dirt and blood shifting around as he spat on the ground. The sound crept up in her dreams now.

Two Canada geese explored the empty shoreline. Caroline thought about how deep the water might be. If it were cold or not. How long it takes for the heave and burn of your chest to succumb to the water. As quickly as the thought came, she thought of her mother, of her cat, of her car that needed oil and the Aldi trips with her mom on Tuesdays. Suddenly, a memory of a little dive bar in New Orleans materialized in her mind and she took a sip of the liquor, heat running down her throat, while she sank as far as she could into the moment.

She’d had friends there. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d called any of them. Bernita, at least that was her name on Friday nights, would welcome her, she was sure of that. Caroline decided not to decide anything. Waiting sucked, but the place wasn’t hers and if that asshole made it through the night, he’d want to take it all back. If not, if she were finally free of him, if the liquor and gunpowder didn’t take him first, maybe that hussy would do it for her. Either way, he wouldn’t be back tonight.

The geese set off with honks and a great disturbance of wings that startled Caroline, spilling wetness down her front side. Caroline wiped her chin. Fate would decide. Tonight.

***

The news came early before the light of day had time to warm the grass. Before the thickness of drink was fully absorbed and the slur of the night still had its grip on her. Her finger hurt. Part of the nail was dark and torn. She rinsed it in cold water while they spoke, her hand shaking beneath the cool rush of the faucet.

“Did you hear what we said, ma’am?”

“Yes, I understand. He’s dead. That’s it.”

“We are very sorry for your loss.”

Caroline watched the backend of the cruiser disappear, taking with it the quiet crunch of gravel. A mockingbird song-shifting nearby sailed clear notes between the trees.

Caroline scraped her heel against the cinder-block step, swore, and had a brief memory of walking part of the way home, but she couldn’t quite remember why. Her mother was already calling the house phone, or someone was. Caroline sat in the grass, still cool and damp. Between the pines, the wink of a moon and the beginnings of sun shared the same sky. Both whispered her name and for the first time in a long time, breathing didn’t hurt.

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After story discussion:

1. What happened to Cariline prior to the scenes of this story?

2. How did this unnamed person die?

3. Did Caroline do something stupid? What do you think she did?

4. What did you think about the relationship between Caroline and her mother? Caroline and her environment? Caroline and New Orleans?

5. Why do you think Caroline left New Orleans? Do you think she will go back now that "he" is dead?

6. Is Caroline truly free now?

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