In a detective story you often don’t see what is obvious. Or maybe you do see, but you don’t want to believe it. Like a misguided lover, you want to be blinded. And then, when the time comes and the truth hits you (as inevitably it does), you look baffled and even thrilled. When you knew all along but never dared to admit it to yourself. Lots of great detective stories work that way. Good fiction is not about where you get. Good fiction is about how you get there.
But wait. What would Marie say? Wouldn’t she say that this is not a story? Wouldn’t she say this is real life?
Marie... But let me show you the full picture.
I will perhaps pry out your ignorance when I tell you that this picture depicts Mary Shelley. Mary Shelley, as written by Helen Edmundson and played by Kristin Atherton.
It is not just a Kubrick stare and a 19th century dress. She is sitting on a pile of old books (none of them – none of them – were written by Henry James), and the books are lying on the stage. Her name is Mary Elliott and she looks nothing like the girl in the picture. Her name was Mary Elliott and she looked nothing like the girl in the picture. Because she died last night in an accident that was supposed to happen. I guess that’s what some people would call premeditated murder. I call it fate.
Who is this I? Who is writing this entry? But haven’t you guessed already? Well, if not – nice to meet you all. I’m Eric.
It’s a fine Christmas afternoon. British sun in December is one of the most inspiring things you could ever hope to see. Uncle Tom, aunt Hilda and myself are on the train to Liverpool. Laptop on my knees, I’m typing the final entry in this diary. It was good to leave the Elliotts today. I’m being cynical, but at least I’m honest (which is more than one could say for ‘Marie’). The tears, the sobbing, the hysterical disbelief of the loving family. Emily, Peter and Dennis offered help and are still there. Actually, Dennis is one of the nicest people I know and it was a bit embarrassing to ask him to hack into Mary’s computer. But he is an IT man (how on Earth did she not lie about that one), and day 19 simply had to happen. You deserve something for your patience.
You know what I’m thinking about this afternoon? I’m thinking about my first kiss with Mary. This happened almost exactly one year ago, on the previous Christmas eve. It was a good kiss. One of those brief yet meaningful ones. I could see straight away that Mary was in love. North country girl, she had never had any boyfriends and for her that was perhaps the moment of her entire life up to that point. So full of light and innocence and stories.
Some girls, when they kiss, immediately feel exposed. And when exposed, they have this strange urge to expose themselves even more. And Mary began talking… She told me about this boy called Charlie who wouldn’t even look at her. She talked about a man stalking her and a knife she had stolen from the kitchen. But most important of all – she told me about that early and, as you will see, fateful Christmas of hers when the lights were so beautiful and her parents got her a small bike and she fell down and there was all this blood smearing the door, the carpet and her Christmas dreams. It was a powerful story and it stuck with me. There was a tear blowing off in my eye the other day when I saw the entry with that story. Almost word for word the way she told it to me the day we kissed.
But there was a problem and the problem was fairly simple. I never really cared for Mary that way. She was a nice sweet girl, surrounded by love she did not understand (her description of Dennis was cruel and made absolutely no sense to me), but she was too timid and bleak to evoke any true passion. But my God she just wouldn’t let it lie. She wouldn’t listen. She kept writing me letters and messages and at some point they began to annoy me. There was this particular girl, Cynthia, who read one of those messages while I was in the bathroom. There was a screaming scene, stupid and intense, and we broke up. I realised I had to change something. I love my aunt and uncle dearly, they’ve given me everything since my parents died, and I knew I would have to go to the Elliotts for our next Christmas. Torturous times, but what an opportunity.
In the meantime, Mary was getting delusional and I thought it looked too much like a game. No, of course, it did not start on the 6th of December. I believe it was back in early summer when I began sending her those ghost tales and detective stories and murder mysteries I liked to read. Mary was insecure and imaginative (as is the case with most insecure people), and I was planting a seed. It seemed to work, and I got both of us hooked. Once in, I didn’t want to get out. I did of course realise I was doing something vile and immoral, but I just couldn’t stop. My actions were mechanical, robotic, precise. Mary began writing about her nightmares and the horrible visions in her parents' house. She stopped writing about her feelings for me, and perhaps that was the perfect time to stop. But I didn’t.
What is more, on the 6th of December it was me who said that in the street, behind her back. I came to her town specifically to do that, the fact that will perhaps work against me in the court of law (more on that later). That did it, and in a few days I was on Mary’s Facebook page (one of the dullest things in the world) and saw the link to the Diary of a Girl.
Mary’s diary was fascinating, heart-wrenching, disgusting, frightening, touching, unintentionally hilarious. But most of all – it was self-delusional. I happened to be the broken-hearted boy with an unfading crush. Dennis was a playground pervert. Peter was a poisoner. Emily an adulteress. As for Jo… Well, I guess she got her more or less right. Jo is a vulgar girl who knows how to play the piano, and that is pretty much everything you need to know about her. But as for those times when Mary saw us together, me and Jo, this is where it gets interesting.
When I planted the idea of murder inside Mary’s head, I had to work on it. I thought of all those guests coming to the Elliotts for Christmas, and I had to make Mary believe they could all be murderers. They all had to have something against each other so that they could all strike at the right moment. It was me who told Mary about Emily and her dad (not true, of course). About this terrible relationship breakdown between Hilda and Tom (who are at the second sitting opposite me solving a Guardian crossword puzzle). About how she should let Peter know. About Jo’s interest in me. About me wanting to kiss her again (despicable, I know). I even asked her if she thought she could do it – murder someone.
And then she opened the door, and I gave her the flowers.
Those two days were frenetic. Mary’s diary was all over the place. For the first time ever – I actually realised she was becoming dangerous. The knife (which in fact did exist) had to be with her, because there really was no way anyone could get inside Mary’s room. I tried once when she was out doing her Christmas shopping, but the door was locked. From her diary I learnt that Hilda had disappeared. Not true. Emma’s death, however, was very much real, and it was the only emergency in this otherwise impeccable plot. But the situation was quickly dealt with and soon we were back on track.
I didn’t have to do much, it was all Mary’s imagination. The relationship between guests was not intense. Emily was not making love to Henry. There were never any sticky notes on our doors or blood stains on the fridge or the living-room window. That said, it all had to start somewhere, and it started with a white tile in Mary’s bathroom. That blood patch Mary talked about in one of her entries – that was me.
And now we’ve moved to the final showdown. Mary opened the door to Dennis (at this point believing he might actually be the murderer), and then went upstairs to write what turned out to be her last post. On my iPhone, I read it the moment she uploaded it and had already finished reading before she entered the living-room and sat at the Christmas table opposite me. She looked silent and subdued. She looked fatalistic, even more so the moment she took out the knife from under her dress. I assumed it was that same knife, and moved back a little. Mary was dangerous, the whole thing was slipping out of my hands.
I have to make a confession: I did not want to kill Mary. That’s why I say fate. I wanted to scare her, to distract her from her feeling, and since she began talking less about love – I thought I was doing all right. But I couldn’t back down. When Mary gave me the book of ghost stories, I knew there was no plan B. Because it was all about plan A and my Christmas present for Mary.
My Christmas present was by far the biggest this year, and all week everyone had been trying to guess what was inside that box. I even asked Mary to give me a couple of ideas, but she said she didn’t know. Mary didn’t talk much. And then, when the time came, there was a pause of such intensity you could lick the air like ice-cream. I was myself no longer sure about the contents of the box. It was a cruel joke, you see, but it was only a joke. It was meant as a joke, but by then Mary had been so far gone that the moment she unwrapped the present – she fainted and her heart stopped. Peter felt her pulse when it was already much too late. Somebody screamed. Jo – I think it was Jo – Jo began to cry, and I thought how can you ever cry when you are in a state of shock.
I was stunned, I blamed myself. The small bike I got based on Mary’s description – it was not supposed to be this far-fetched revenge for Cynthia. Rather, it was supposed to make Mary go full circle and reinstate what was once lost. The sense of miracle. The sense of Christmas miracle. The miracle, it transpired, was way too much. I was stunned – before I realised how logical and well-executed my plan was. Fate + accident = perfect murder. Also, I realised that every story has to be complete, especially one based on real life.
This was the perfect murder Mary was writing about, and so I had to ask Dennis to hack into Mary’s computer because [insert some elaborate lie]. I had to write this down – for Mary, for myself, but also for you. For readers. For the only people left in this story who can do something.
You see, the train stops in five minutes. Which means that I have five minutes to decide. Should I post this or should I leave it on entry 18 (preface #2)? Do I choose vanity or do I choose prosecution? But the former depends on me and the latter depends on you. And God knows (spoken like a true agnostic), it is always better to depend on yourself. So I think I will post this entry in the end, and let’s see if you can act on it. Or perhaps Mary was right and you are not better than anyone else and just want to be entertained. Because you had to know from Day 1 that it was ‘Marie’. It was so obvious, but like everyone else – you just wanted to be blinded. Because maybe everything in life is just fiction.
So I'm torn between blame and this sheer perfection... I'm torn apart by Mary. Because I will miss her diary. There was lots of fine writing there (by the way, this 'Jack' figure is completely fictional), and some of her observations were priceless and brilliantly illogical. Besides, I share her love for Pavement.
We are in Liverpool now, and what a grim city it is in late December. It is so grim that no Christmas lights can ever hope to improve it. Kind of makes you think the fine afternoon earlier today never happened. Kind of makes me think Mary (or should I say ‘Marie’?) won in the end. Because consider this funny situation I’m in.
Because yes – Marie was her own creation.
But maybe it was me, Eric, who was her Frankenstein.