Someone must have seen him earlier, because the police were at his door. The door, that smooth, worn mahogany slab. How many times had Alisa run her tiny fingers along each line and crevice? She had called it painting and he had smiled; with her, his crooked teeth did not bother him. How could they, when she made him feel the sun? He melted around her. He was wrapped around her finger. He couldn’t bring himself to care. Alisa, his perfect girl. All polished pearls and sweet perfume. Citrus-sweet. Bittersweet.
He met her in the winter; January; and the frost kissed her before he did; because when he touched her, his lips froze in anticipation. She always wore a scarf, perhaps two. Stacked them like blocks, a whirlwind of color and pattern, construction and deconstruction and her nose poking between fabric. She would whisper to him between puffs of white air, point at yipping dogs and laugh and laugh until only gasps escaped. It was harsh weather. He barely noticed. Everything felt soft around her; Alisa, his light, his warmth.
It was fall now. He had crunched across fallen leaves as he swayed home, fancied himself a giant stumbling over fallen soldiers, unsteady. His parents called him Christopher but Alisa never knew him by that name. Kip, she dubbed him, Captain Kip. He didn’t own a boat but she said he had sea legs, solid and heavy and safe. Captain Kip, lord of land, teeth like piano keys, immovable, quick to anger. But she never upset him, his Alisa. His wispy, ethereal dream.
As the deputies knocked, he thought of his heartbeat. Of hers. Theirs, together, one slow and sturdy and plodding, the other high and quick and skittish. It was a symphony; beautiful; like the paintings Alisa traced on the door; he repeated the melody again in his head, smiled wide. She played the flute in the summer, danced barefoot on the grass as he watched from the window. Youthful; glorious; she would fluff her skirts and twirl until they flew; laugh, soprano; he could only ever describe her as a song. Alisa, the nymph. His muse.
How long would he stay inside, chattering, sobbing, Officer Marsh wondered. The madman. They could not break in. He had a gun, and so did the officers, but their supervisor had made them promise not to use force. Mentally ill, Christopher Thompson was; he would shoot them where they stood; he wanted Alisa; always Alisa. But at home, Beth cooked stew and waited for Marsh to patch the leak in the bathroom. The beef would get too soft and he knew how she felt about such things. One more knock. He turned to Arriaga, gestured, raised his eyebrows, shrugged helplessly. Arriaga nodded. They both turned towards the door.
It was his father, his father! Christopher – Kip – roared, never him, he could not hurt her. She was everything. His moon, his sun, his stars. Alisa. Her perfume still lingered in the air, his sheets, the books cluttering the sitting room. He could not escape her. He loved her. Alisa; Alisa, hated by Dr. Thompson; hated for her memory loss; her twitching eyes; her difficulty speaking. He could not stay away. Not from her, from Alisa; without her, no moon, no sun, no stars.
She used to sit in that room, surrounded by books, he recalled. Closed her eyes and inhaled as deeply as her fragile lungs would allow; said that it smelled like stories; like history being made. He could see her now, crossing her legs as she perched on that squashy leather sofa. Her brown eyes glowing amber in the sun. She called her jerking dancing; she was happy; she ate blackened toast with orange jelly; her fingers always stayed clean; she took such great care with every book, every page, the same ones now rotting in the dark. His Alisa would have hated what they had become; what he had become. Would she forgive him? He knew she would, his gracious, kind Alisa.
Together, Marsh and Arriaga began to ram against the door. Officer Arriaga tried to control his breathing. In. Out. In. Out. In out in out in out. Second grade; when he had tried to run the half mile in P.E.; collapsed on the ground; lungs deflated; now he carried an inhaler, but this was not the time. His grandmother had a door like the one they were close to breaking apart. Old mahogany wood, riddled with scratches and nicks from his father’s pocket knife. Arriaga’s heights were scars strewn across the doorframe, dates filled in with cheap ballpoint pen, numbers smudged. It was a shame, he thought. Such a beautiful door. A tear traced down his cheek, painting his face with an inexplicable sorrow.
Alisa had cried that night. Begged him to stay, clutched his hands, his clothes, his hair. Whispered in her breaking voice that she loved him. She would never leave him, she said. Told him they could live in paradise forever. She looked so beautiful, crystals hovering on her eyelashes, threatening to splash down and shatter. But Dr. Thompson would not allow it, could not allow it. Insisted it had to be done; to protect his only son; to keep Christopher safe; to keep his little boy alive. But Kip would give anything for Alisa. Even his name. Even his life.
One, two, three, heave, and they were in, Arriaga’s short breaths mingling with the dank air in the house. Marsh could hear Christopher’s chanting: my moon, my sun, my stars. The words hovered overhead, coming from everywhere and nowhere at once. It was so dark inside. Arriaga stepped forwards, stumbled, fell, paper flying in all directions. A mutilated dictionary, words circled and scribbled out. Marsh bent down, picked up a page. Scapegoat was circled; as was scar. Another page, completely blackened except for alone. The chanting continued. In a strange way, Marsh thought hysterically, this home is a church. Christopher preaches and this is his Bible. Quietly, slowly, Marsh began to laugh.
How strange, Leila Chattham considers, that such a nice boy could do such a terrible thing. Chris had always been so good. So calm. He used to mow her lawn, years ago. Never asked for a penny in return. Christopher was an Eagle Scout, too, built a community garden and taught the neighborhood children how to cultivate tomatoes and radishes and begonias. What a shock, when Leila was walking home from church to see him, drunk and angry, covered in blood. Such a sweet boy. But of course, she had to call the police. Even on Dr. Thompson’s poor, handicapped son.
They all thought he was mad. Everyone but Alisa. Alisa saw him; understood his brain; knew that he didn’t always know what to say or what to do; knew he had feelings all the same. She would breathe with him. Spend hours sitting on the ground, holding his hands in hers, feeling her lungs expand and shrink alongside his. He wished he could breathe with her forever. That dream was six feet under now. A scream, animalistic, painful, raw, burst out of him. Alisa! Not Alisa. Not his love. His moon, his sun, his stars.
Arriaga, on the ground, gasping, listened to Marsh cackling above him, the shouts and sobs reverberating against the ceiling, the walls, the ground. He could barely breathe; it was not the time for inhaling; he could taste sweat and ink on his lips; the sweet, metallic stench of blood wafting; remembered the pallid skin; eyes looking without seeing; so much blood. Marsh, he croaked, and his partner’s strangled laughter stopped abruptly. We need to get to Christopher, Arriaga continued, tried to keep his head from lolling, tried to look brave, tried to breathe. Yes, Marsh whispered. Christopher.
Kip could not close his eyes without seeing his father dead on the ground. Life draining out of him faster than the blood from his chest. The way Dr. Thompson had groaned, betrayed, resigned. It was for your own good, his father had said; again and again; quieter after each blow; each stab; each curse hurled from Kip’s mouth. It was for Alisa. His father was killed because she had died first. It was fair. It was just. Even so, Kip could not close his eyes. The images flicked behind his eyelids: his father dying, Alisa crying. Alisa’s slowness, her anxiety, her twitching hands. Subacute spongiform encephalopathy, his father had said, too late, too much. Kip never kissed her goodbye.
Arriaga and Marsh climbed the stairs, hands creeping toward their guns with every step. Marsh thought about stew and bathroom leaks and church. Arriaga thought about P.E. and ballpoint pens and his dearly departed grandmother. Suddenly, Marsh realized he didn’t know his partner’s first name. Aintzane, said Arriaga. Aintzane Kemen Arriaga. Glorious, strong, a stony decent. His great-grandparents were from northern Spain, and his grandfather had chosen his name; told his parents that it would guarantee a joyful life and joyful death; his initials, A.K.A., also known as, having another name; he was an extension of the past; reminiscence personified. All this he said in a breath, but Marsh understood. Richard, he said. Richard Ulysses Marsh. R.U.M., his father’s greatest love, his life, his destruction. Drink it in and spit it out. Marsh looked at Arriaga. Arriaga looked at Marsh.
Kip looked at the officers. They were staring at each other, but not in the same way that he once gazed upon Alisa. It was mournful, a surrender. His father’s stare as he watched Kip raise the lamp; the shards of glass; impaling; one after another after another; an endless shower of sparks and fury and treachery and unconditional love. That stare. Forever etched into the recesses of his mind, the insides of his eyelids, the lines of his hands. So much blood. He remembered when his father had taught him to ride a bike. Wobbling, he pedaled faster and faster, feeling his father’s steadying hands loosen, the wind in his hair. Adrenaline. His solid legs, even then. And the fall, the freedom of it, the cracking of bone and cool rush of sweat and blood and saliva. Dr. Thompson had been frantic. Kip had laughed; piano keys melodious.
Marsh and Arriaga turned, startled, as they heard Christopher begin to laugh, high and fast and terrifying. There he was, his limbs outstretched and fingers flapping as though he had wings. Arriaga blinked and suddenly Christipher was in the air, falling and tumbling: almost floating. It was elegant, like a swan drifting along a light current. His legs, though – those immovable legs – were thrashing; wild; the panicked paddling of the bird’s feet below water. Arriaga remembered falling in P.E., grasping at his neck. The fear. The relief. He closed his eyes, smelled citrus, tasted shame. Christopher didn’t stop laughing until he hit the ground.
Alisa. He was with Alisa now.
His moon. His sun. His stars.