The Dead Girls Club - Damien Angelica Walters
There’s nothing special about the envelope. Standard #10 size, 24-pound white paper stock, available in any office supply store. My name and address written in capital letters with black ink. Deliberately generic, so neat it appears typed, but the giveaway is a tiny smudge on the d in Maryland. No return address.
Early-September sun peeks through the window blinds behind me, cutting bars of light and dark across my desk, and a plane rumbles overhead on its way to or from nearby BWI Airport. I have a letter opener in one hand and a small pile of unopened mail before me. To my right, a messy pyramid of opened envelopes and their contents; on my left, a laptop with an unfinished game of solitaire on the screen. I was decompressing when Ellie, the receptionist, brought in the mail after my last appointment, a fifteen-year-old with complex PTSD as a result of years of abuse. Doesn’t matter how thick your skin or how well your patient is doing, you never grow accustomed to hearing certain things.
The envelope is unbalanced, and as soon as I slice open the top, it’s clear there’s no letter within. Curious, but not overly so, I fish out something small wedged in the corner.
A thin silver chain unspools with a quiet hiss. A small half-heart pendant, its clasp broken, tarnished by nearly thirty years’ worth of time, the edge in the shape of a lightning bolt so as to fit its opposite. With a trembling finger, I turn it over, knowing what I’ll see—an ST with half an E and NDS below, and another bisected E and VER beneath that. Best friends forever.
“Please,” I say, my voice too loud, too ragged.
My free hand flutters to my bare neck; my gaze darts around the room.
On the corner of my desk sits a framed photograph. Me in heels, a black dress, and red lipstick, my shoulder-length hair pulled into a sleek chignon, the hundred bobby pins taming it in place invisible against the dark strands; Ryan in a charcoal suit, one arm snaking my waist, his hair secured at the nape of his neck, one stray pale curl hanging at his temple. All evening fancy and champagne flutes. A gala six months ago for the opening of Silverstone Center, a substance abuse treatment center for girls. The picture ended up in the newspaper, and objectively I can see why. We look good together. His light to my darkness. We’re shining with happiness. Security. Honesty. That woman looks like a stranger right now. I nudge the frame so only Ryan’s visible. Nudge it again so he’s staring at the wall. A coward’s tactic? Call me Baum’s lion.
I flip the envelope, revealing a smeared, illegible postmark. An accident or done on purpose?
I’ve done everything possible to keep that summer, to keep what transpired, tucked away in a tiny, impenetrable box, but the necklace, this necklace, is the key. The lock shatters. I’m no Pandora, unleashing evil into the world. This is a private apocalypse. Devastation for one, ma’am? A potent vintage.
The heart, the other half of which once hung around my neck, even after, is a cheap thing of nickel, stainless steel, or some other inexpensive alloy. Originally affixed to a cardboard square and purchased by two girls who saved their allowance. Best friends forever. We meant it, she and I. We meant it with every bone in our bodies and every true and good thing in our souls. We didn’t know forever didn’t always last that long. We had no way of knowing that day was the beginning of the end.
The necklace is an impossibility, yet here it is on my palm, the weight an anvil. I can still smell the basement of the empty house: the new paint, the old moisture trapped within its walls. Can feel the carpet rough against my skin and Becca’s hand in mine. Hear her saying my name. Heather.
I scrape a nail across the front of the charm, dislodging several gritty flecks. They crumble between my fingers and leave reddish-brown streaks behind. Another plane passes, and I let go. The chain hisses again; the heart clinks. It lands faceup on the desk, the letters an accusation.
Nothing good will come of this. I feel it in my bones. Know it in my gut. I grab the hands of the clock to stop them from spinning, but it’s too late. You can’t unopen an envelope. Can’t undo the damage you’ve done. The box is open, no way