The Murderess

  She is luminous and on the television tonight, not just a killer but a vitrioleuse, a woman who throws acid on another. We check the weather stripping on the windows and pretend not to be concerned. No, she's not loose, not raging down the road in her Chevy Caprice, shotgunning up road signs or reducing them to slag with her chemical breath. She is being arraigned and the snow is in motion outside the house so the two of us are cleaning up after dinner and we used to know her, knew her when her brother drowned, his death mask on the news—always one step ahead of her, a running premonition—she was in your class so I have to ask: was she soft-spoken, angry, pretty, face like a just-flushed hamster? Did she slide down the banisters in the school that they had to put metal knobs on to discourage just that sort of thing? Was she the one who lobbed her typewriter out the fourth-floor keyboarding class window? Was she pregnant? By whom? What news, what new news, is what I want to know. Because she's on the screen. Whom did she kill—we haven't been told this—and, more important, why? I can imagine reasons why a woman would douse a man—or another woman—in hydrochloric acid; we played with it in graduated cylinders and pipettes in Chemistry knowing its clarity meant a sort of power, not the sort that most of us could handle or even understand, but that it was like a rock—could split a head, take the paint off a windowsill, change color and react with other chemicals—or it could be gold, a door itself, a way out, some retribution for some old and violent crime that never came to light. All of us here have our reasons. Some of them ring true and some of them just ring.