The Reckoning of Noah Shaw
1 MY TRAGIC HEROINE
THE DAY STELLA JUMPED, THE day Mara left, her grandmother turned up in a white dress and a black car and told me to get in if I wanted to save her.
She looks so much like Mara.
Or rather, she looks like someone Mara’ll look like someday, a living, breathing perversion of her. The shadow of laughter behind her eyes when something amuses her but she won’t share. When Mara closes her eyes to search for just the right word, she closes hers as well. The shape of Mara’s mouth when she’s hiding a secret behind her lips is the shape her grandmother’s takes, too.
The first thing I asked her wasn’t how she was alive or why, but—
“What shall I call you?”
She sits beside me, looking straight ahead, but I see her smile in profile. “I told you my name.”
“I can’t call you . . .”
“Mara?” She finishes for me. “Why not?”
Because her name sticks in my throat. Because the sound of it might kill me.
“It was my name first,” she says.
Her voice snaps me back to attention, to this moment, facing this not-Mara beside me.
“Fine,” I say. “Your family name, then.”
Her eyes are quick, laughing.
“If you don’t give me a name, I’ll choose one for you myself,” I say.
She arches an eyebrow. “Go on, then.”
My thoughts are furred, though, and even as I try and think the name Mara, I’m hardly able to get past the first letter.
“M,” I say.
One of her hands reaches for the collar of her white silk dress. She rubs the fabric with her thumb and studies me. “Good choice,” she says eventually.
Her stare is bold, unflinching, and as the silence stretches between us, I feel more exposed, more raw. “Why are you here?”
She blinks, once. “I told you. I need your help.”
A matter of life and death, she said. Someone we both love.
“Right. That got me in the car,” I concede. “But I’ll need more if you want me to stay.”
She watches me, unnaturally still and calm. “You have questions.”
“You have no idea.”
That cryptic, smug smile again. “I have some idea.”
It helps, her smiling like that. It’s harder to be awed by someone so irritating. “Your family thinks you’re dead,” I say.
“Mara saw it.” Not strictly true, but it catches M’s attention.
“What did she say?”
I reach back through the door in my mind, the one I closed on Mara minutes or hours ago, God knows which, wincing in anticipation of the memory of her voice, and hear—
This is what I remember instead: my father’s ghastly Florida mansion. An unused sitting room with furniture draped in drop cloths. Mara’s tentative, shaking hands lifting a soft, crude little doll between two pinched fingers, then tossing it forcefully into a fire. The smell of burning hair. The curl of singed paper.
That was what we thought was left of Mara’s
grandmother—that doll, the pendant sewn inside of it, and the ashes of her suicide note. The note Mara saw—remembered—M writing.
I look at her grandmother now and consider, not for the first time, that I might be well and truly mad. Maybe something broke in me the moment Mara left. Maybe it broke before.
It’s a strange and unfamiliar sensation, not knowing whether to trust your own mind. Not knowing if your own senses are betraying you. I never quite got what it was like for Mara, when we met. Never quite understood why she’d wanted me to keep that journal, writing about her, for her, when she thought she was losing her mind. Losing herself.
I’m beginning to get it now.
M watches me expectantly, head tilted, a fall of black hair curling on her left shoulder.
“Mara said you killed yourself when she was three days old,” I manage to say.
“That is what her mother believes, and so that is what she was told.”
Told? “No. Mara saw you. She remembered—”
Everything. Mara remembered everything, and she recounted it in extraordinary detail. The scents of the village her grandmother had lived in as a girl. The hushed voice of an older girl sitting beside her, sewing her a friend. My own memory of that day plays like a silent film in my mind; Mara
desperate for answers, Mara desperate for my help. Mara’s face open and earnest and trusting—
The memory stings, and I shy away from it. “Did you come back?” I ask stupidly, filling the silence to drown out my thoughts.
“From . . . ?”
“Did you die?”
A start. “How old are you, then?”
“How old do I look?” she asks, amused.
Mara and I did the maths once, back when I’d found a photograph of my mother at Cambridge, with M standing beside her. My mother couldn’t have been more than twenty-one, twenty-two perhaps. The woman sitting beside me looks exactly the same.
“I don’t know,” I say casually. “Thirties, I suppose?”
She tips her head, acknowledging. “Thirty-six.”
“How long have you been thirty-six?”
“A while.” She grins, light and teasing.
“Cute,” I say. The car hits a pothole, reminding me that we’re being driven somewhere. Which begs the question—
“Where are we going?” I glance out the window, but all I see is city, still, and traffic.
M doesn’t answer right away. When I turn around, her expression’s shifted again, into something blank and unreadable. And then she says, “Home.”