Shakespeares Trollop


Chapter One

By the time I opened my eyes and yawned that morning, she had been sitting in the car in the woods for seven hours. Of course, I didn't know that, didn't even know Deedra was missing. No one did.

If no one realizes a person is missing, is she gone?

While I brushed my teeth and drove to the gym, dew must have been glistening on the hood of her car. Since Deedra had been left leaning toward the open window on the driver's side, perhaps there was dew on her cheek, too.

As the people of Shakespeare read morning papers, showered, prepared school lunches for their children, and let their dogs out for a morning's commune with nature, Deedra was becoming part of nature herself - deconstructing, returning to her components. Later, when the sun warmed up the forest, there were flies. Her makeup looked ghastly, since the skin underlying it was changing color. Still she sat, unmoving, unmoved: life changing all around her, evolving constantly, and Deedra lifeless at its center, all her choices gone. The changes she would make from now on were involuntary.

One person in Shakespeare knew where Deedra was. One person knew that she was missing from her normal setting, in fact, missing from her life itself. And that person was waiting, waiting for some unlucky Arkansan - a hunter, a birdwatcher, a surveyor - to find Deedra, to set in motion the business of recording the circumstances of her permanent absence.

That unlucky citizen would be me.

If the dogwoods hadn't been blooming, I wouldn't have been looking at the trees. If I hadn't been looking at the trees, I wouldn't have seen the flash of red down the unmarked road to the right. Those little unmarked roads - more like tracks - are so common in rural Arkansas that they're not worth a second glance. Usually they lead to deer hunters' camps, or oil wells, or back into the property of someone who craves privacy deeply. But the dogwood I glimpsed, perhaps twenty feet into the woods, was beautiful, its flowers glowing like pale butterflies among the dark branchless trunks of the slash pines. So I slowed down to look, and caught a glimpse of red down the track, and in so doing started the tiles falling in a certain pattern.

All the rest of my drive out to Mrs. Rossiter's, and while I cleaned her pleasantly shabby house and bathed her reluctant spaniel, I thought about that flash of bright color. It hadn't been the brilliant carmine of a cardinal, or the soft purplish shade of an azalea, but a glossy metallic red, like the paint on a car.

In fact, it had been the exact shade of Deedra Dean's Taurus. There were lots of red cars in Shakespeare, and some of them were Tauruses. As I dusted Mrs. Rossiter's den, I scorned myself for fretting about Deedra Dean, who was chronologically and biologically a woman. Deedra did not expect or require me to worry about her and I didn't need any more problems than I already had.

That afternoon, Mrs. Rossiter provided a stream-of-consciousness commentary to my work. She, at least, was just as always: plump, sturdy, kind, curious, and centered on the old spaniel, Durwood. I wondered from time to time how Mr. Rossiter had felt about this when he'd been alive. Maybe Mrs. Rossiter had become so fixated on Durwood since her husband had died? I'd never known M. T. Rossiter, who had departed this world over four years ago, around the time I'd landed in Shakespeare. While I knelt in the bathroom, using the special rinse attachment to flush the shampoo out of Durwood's coat, I interrupted Mrs. Rossiter's monologue on next month's Garden Club flower show to ask her what her husband had been like.

Since I'd stopped her midflow, it took Birdie Rossiter a moment to redirect the stream of conversation.

"Well... my husband... it's so strange you should ask, I was just thinking of him. ..."

Birdie Rossiter had always just been thinking of whatever topic you suggested.

"M. T. was a farmer."

I nodded, to show I was listening. I'd spotted a flea in the water swirling down the drain and I was hoping Mrs. Rossiter wouldn't see it. If she did, Durwood and I would have to go through various unpleasant processes.

"He farmed all his life, he came from a farming family. He never knew anything else but country. His mother actually chewed tobacco, Lily! Can you imagine? But she was good woman, Miss