:: Article

Caretaking

By Liam Kruger, with art by Tahnee Lonsdale.

 

I’m busy house-sitting for one of the country’s most successful murderers while she takes her family up to the coast for the weekend. She needs somebody to water the plants and feed the dog.

I kill a little on the side myself, but that’s not how we know each other; I met her daughter in college, and since I don’t live too far from here, I got recommended. The murderer did her first piece in this house, in a little garden shed behind the pool; when I came by yesterday to pick up the keys – a little shy, although whether that was because she’s a celebrity killer or a college friend’s mother, I’m not sure – she told me that she’s started doing her pieces somewhere else, that she’s rented a little warehouse in town that’s a perfect kill-spot. She says she can’t really work at home anymore; she has too many children here.

Her third murder – her best, I think, but what do I know, I studied zoology – was one of her daughters, just outside of her high school. Everybody was very impressed by it. Her two other daughters don’t know about it, or anyway they don’t talk about it. I guess I could see why they wouldn’t pay much attention to their mother’s stuff; I think she told them their sister’s in Scotland. I don’t think she’ll kill any more daughters.

The murderer showed me to the small room next to the kitchen where the dog eats, and pointed out the small bags of special dog food that I have to empty into her bowl daily. The dog has allergies, she said. She pointed to where I could plug in the radiator at night, if the kitchen started getting cold, and showed me where the wine was. She seemed a little distracted, but I didn’t want to ask if she was thinking about the murder she was planning, or her weekend with the family. Maybe it was both – but that seems a little too postmodern for her. Anyway, I don’t like to speculate.

I check the shed behind the pool. I don’t want to admit to myself that I’m looking for bloodstains, because that’s a ridiculous tourist move, but that’s what I’m doing. A few minutes later I have to content myself with the thought that at least this proves she’s a professional, cleaning up the murder completely before moving on to the next one. I guess if I want to see it I could just go to the mortuary.

Still.

At about sunset the dog starts getting a little excitable, so I hunt around the house trying to remember where the murderer told me the leash was. Eventually I find it under a dish of stale potpourri, along with some blankets and chew-toys. I fish it out, and put on my thick socks and gloves and scarf and pea-coat, take the gloves off again so I can get hold of the house keys properly, and put them on again once I’ve locked the security door in the back and snapped the bolt shut on the door in the front. While the dog runs down the front porch steps, panting, I look up at the house front in the twilight. It doesn’t look like the kind of house you murder people in, and it doesn’t look like a house that you couldn’t murder people in, which is usually a giveaway. I don’t know. My mother would call it a farm-style house.

I catch up with the dog and slip the leash over her head. She strains against it immediately, almost choking herself. I have to jog a little to keep her from doing it again; at first I’m irritated at having to jog in my multiple layers, and I’m tempted to let the dog choke, but I find it keeps me warm against the wind coming down from the mountain, and I decide not to mind. It’s a quiet suburb – only two cars pass us on the route we take, uphill towards the local reservoir – but a couple of the neighbourhood dogs stir up some fuss when we approach their owners’ front gates, ruining the stillness of the evening. I jog faster, the dog trailing a little behind me now on her ridiculous, stubby legs, and the night gets darker. We turn around once the dog seems drained of energy and fluids. On the way back, she finds a corpse behind some bushes – a youngish man in a waiter’s uniform – but neither of us is too interested in it, and after a few cursory sniffs she lets me lead her home.

I get that it must be hard trying to make it as a killer in this neighbourhood, when they’re always being compared to the one I’m house-sitting for, but leaving a body in a nice suburb where any jogger or dog-walker can find it is just phoning it in.

People have copied her in a couple of other countries – Germany likes her stuff very much, and Japan. It’s difficult to translate her murders exactly, though, because she likes to use places in her city that you can’t find in other cities; I remember her talking once about having to figure out exactly how long it would take to drag a body from a small graveyard in the south to a train station two stops down. Her copycats often think it’s that fine detail that that wins her the kind of critical attention her murders have received – and I mean, to an extent, that’s sort of true. It’s the detail to her city that makes it work, though, I think; she owns every square inch of every suburb she’s gutted somebody in. (Or drugged, I guess, but honestly that tends to just sort of disappointment me – call me a voyeur, but death that doesn’t look like death bothers me.) She owns her city – and her copycats don’t, or their cities aren’t like this one. They do their best, but, reading the reviews online, I guess something gets a little muddled.

I don’t really murder like she does; I know it’s not going to make me famous or anything, but I like to murder the way they used to in the old days, in places that didn’t really make sense but looked wonderful, murders where someone would find the body and just start talking poetry about it before they even called the cops. A peroxide blonde floating with her hair all about in a lake near a town where nobody knows her name, or an accountant with his skull caved in by a golf club, his driving gloves still on. A student throwing himself off of a stranger’s balcony, onto an empty terrace. Less like clockwork, more like afternoon light streaming in through a high window. But maybe that’s just me; I’m sort of a sucker for the classics. Anyway, I don’t get much killing done anymore. Not in this city.

A boy told me I had a killer’s eyes, once, but we were drunk and in his bed, smoking, so I don’t really know what that’s worth. I think he was trying to get me to recommend him to a friend of mine, who was working on a murder for the university. She has a fellowship. I didn’t tell her about the boy. I don’t like that kind of killing, where you can sort of see how the thing was set up; I mean I can understand why some people prefer that sort of thing, where it’s a puzzle you can disassemble, but like I say – for me it’s the scene you stumble on that matters.

The dog sits on my lap for warmth, and growls when I try and get her to climb off, so I leave her there.

A pretty famous German murderer, I forget his name, said that everybody carried their death inside of their chest, like a seed that was waiting to sprout. It’s a pretty thought, and I’d love to be able to kill somebody in a way that uses that someday – I don’t know, maybe bury a landscape architect in a garden that he’s planning. Although that’s a little obscure. You need to pretty much telegraph the thing for critics to figure it out these days; leave clean prints all over the place, make sure somebody’s going to find the murder weapon, send in anonymous tips, if you’re desperate. But anyway –I don’t think the German guy had it exactly right, about the death and the chest. Close, but. I think the people holding all the seeds in their chests are the murderers; they’re holding on to your death for you, waiting until the right day to plant it. And one day you’ll see them, or they’ll see you, and you’ll just know that they’re the ones that are going to kill you. Which, honestly, is a little more comforting; who wouldn’t like it better if their murder was in the hands of a professional? Somebody who’ll set it up nice, and clean up the blood after, make sure you get found by the right people instead of the cops showing up because your neighbours are complaining about the stink after you’ve been dead two weeks, your face chewed off by your dog. Somebody who won’t have your body found behind the bushes by some jogger in a park.

But that’s just me. I studied zoology. And I didn’t even know dogs could have allergies.

I watch some TV with the dog until around 2am, getting up every now and then to refill the water bowl, or pour myself another glass of wine. There’s a hip flask in my bag in case this bottle runs out; I don’t want to open more than one bottle of wine in the house of one of the country’s best-loved murderers. It seems in poor taste. It’s cold, so I wrap up in a duvet from one of the guest bedrooms, but stay on the couch. There’s a fireplace in the room, but I can’t find any firewood.

Morning hits me without my noticing it. I haven’t dreamt. The wine bottle is empty, but my hip flask hasn’t been opened.

I stand up, lurch a little with the weight of a hangover and lurch a little more as my foot crushes something and then slips on it. I manage to keep from falling by leaning heavily on the couch’s back. It’s very bright in this room.

I look down at the floor; a dead mouse, only barely recognizable between what my foot and the dog did to it, looks back up at me. I look around, and spot the dog in the next room, curled up in a ball and shivering a little. Her eyes are on mine.

I get a brush and dustpan, sweep up the dead mouse and its guts, and drop them into the dustbin in the room behind the kitchen. The dog follows me as I do this, mouth a permanent idiot grin, tail wagging. I figure I should reprimand her or something, but I can’t really bring myself to.

I’m sort of a sucker for the classics.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Liam Kruger is a 24-year-old South African writer currently living in Cape Town. He’s had work stuff in places like The Rumpus, The Newer York, and Prufrock, and he lays down an equally haphazard twitter game over at @liamkruger.

ABOUT THE ARTIST
Tahnee Lonsdale, born 1982, lives and works in north west London. ‘Search For The Holy Grail’ is from her last collection, Waiting For Entry Into That Holy Place, a profound yet humorous study into our expectations of faith. Colour is intrinsic to Tahnee’s work, creating the illusion of frivolity while underneath lies a macabre and cynical view on life and what comes next. Tahnee’s next show Your Epoche will be showing with Roberta Moore Contemporary at Imitate Modern. She also has a painting hanging at Somerset House (September-October 2014) as part of the National Open Art Competition. More of her work can be seen here.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, October 14th, 2014.