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Fiji is Probably Nice this Time of Year

by J. Winters 6 months ago in fiction

An accident turned favorable

I am vacuuming the surface of the ocean. Every push and pull leaves a trail of ripples in its reflective turquoise surface. A cool breeze flutters past my hair, and I close my eyes, drinking in the sunlight, the sea-salt air, the—

A violent jabbing in my shoulder yanks me back to my body. My eyes snap open and I am met with the unfortunate view of a woman in a pencil skirt mouthing something at me. She looks annoyed. What? Oh.

I pull off my headphones. The calming sound of waves and seagulls is quickly replaced by the angry whine of a vacuum. I flip off the switch.

“Yes?” I ask the woman.

“I said, how much longer until you’re finished? We’re going to need this meeting room for our nine o’clock.”

I look around the rectangular room with its stiff carpet and black leather chairs pushed to the walls. A lone reflective table sits in the middle--reflective like the surface of the ocean…

“I’m finished,” I say, beginning to twist the vacuum’s cord into a coil.

I exit the room, dragging the vacuum behind me with one hand and pushing the cleaning cart with the other. My sneakers plunk dully on the white linoleum as I pass important-looking people hurrying past me. Their eyes are fastened on papers and tablets in their hands; they magically slip past me without raising their heads.

Once I return the vacuum to the hall closet, I snap my headphones onto my ears and head to the lounge. I stop at regular intervals to wipe down and clear tables of trash. But in my head, I’m sweeping the place for listening bugs that rival software companies planted. When I empty a trash bin, I’m picking up a secret package spies left behind. The driving guitar and ticking beats inside my headphones enhance these fantasies.

This is about the life I pictured for myself--cleaning up other people’s junk. I have no stand-out talents, no gimmicks or flashy personality traits; nothing to improve my lot in life. The only thing relatively interesting about myself, is that I’m an expert at escaping into my imagination. I don’t do much with it, other than entertain myself throughout the day. Life has taken a lot from me—my imagination is one thing I refused to let it take as well.

In the cafeteria, I’m picturing a particularly favorite fantasy of mine—one where a smooth-talking detective is questioning me on poisoned lunches—when I spot it.

An apple core. It is balancing on the rim of a trash can, tauntingly close to its opening. I feel the blood curdle beneath my skin as I stare at it.

This is the work of Skylar Hugo, an impressive software engineer who works here. He always leaves apple cores balancing on trash rims so that they're not quite in the trash, but not quite out either. I always end up throwing them away for him.

This next-level form of petty laziness never fails to flare my anger to such dangerous heights that it makes me question my sanity.

Seething, I swipe the apple core so it tumbles into the trash below.

Damn you Skylar. May you never eat apples again.

Two hours later, I find myself mopping the second floor in a secluded hallway. I like this area. Not many people come this way.

I am busy humming to myself and imagining a crew of lady spies busting through the glass ceiling, when I trip over something. I stumble, feet slipping on the slick floor. The mop acts as an anchor and helps me regain my balance. I turn around to see what tripped me.

There, sprawled in very very a still spread-eagle pose, is Skylar. His arms are folded awkwardly at his sides, and his right leg is bent at a twisted angle. His eyes are open and staring in an unfocused gaze at the ceiling. They aren’t moving.

I drop my mop and rush to his side. My fingers fumbled for his wrist, his neck, then under his nose. No pulse. No breath. This guy is…

Dead.

I swallow, suddenly feeling a numb tingling from the top of my head down to my fingertips. I cast a slow glance around the area and realize I forgot to put up the wet floor sign. What would happen to me? Would I be fired? Arrested? Put on trial for manslaughter? Go to prison?

As my thoughts crash against each other in a jumbled heap of flailing chaos, something catches my eye. There, half-falling out of his pocket, is a slim, red wallet. I freeze. For several seconds all that exists is that wallet and a suspended silence in my mind. Then, a single thought, a small whisper, breaks that silence.

Dead guys don’t need money.

I pounce like a jaguar on a hippo. Hands trembling, I flip through the wallet, not sure what I’m looking for until I spot it. An onyx black credit card. I snatch it up, then quickly stand up. The wheels continue churning in my head as I begin hurriedly walking down the hall. I have to get help and play the part of the innocent bystander.

Technically, I was the innocent bystander.

Well, half-innocent, I think as I run back to put up the yellow wet floor sign.

I try to mirror the same horror the others have on their faces when I lead them to the body. A small crowd gathers as security tries to revive Skylar. After it's clear that he is very dead, the managers rope off the area and pull me into an office for questioning. The police arrive an hour later.

I don’t know if it’s because of all the criminal fantasies I’ve played out in my head, but I handle their questions with incredible ease. All the while, my mind is busy sewing together a plan. Afterwards I, along with the rest of the employees, are sent home for the rest of the week.

The sky is beginning to dim when I finally arrive at my car. I slam the door shut and exhale, sinking low into the ripped nylon seat. I stare at myself in my rearview mirror. Am I really going to do this? This isn’t some fantasy I can walk away from; this is real life.

And I find that incredibly exhilarating.

A grin grows on my face as I twist my key in the ignition. I had some shopping to do.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised when I hear a knock on my door three days later.

Licking my fingers, I set aside my second box of chocolates, shove several vacation magazines under my couch, and walk to the door. When I open it, my breath catches in my throat.

A man stands on the other side. He’s tall, with an impressive head of blond hair gelled back in a curly mess. Glasses with black frames sit on his nose, and he is wearing a blue jacket and a pressed tie. I already know who he is before he opens his mouth.

“Gwen Bell? I’m detective Victor Woods. I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m covering the investigation surrounding the circumstances of Skylar Hugo’s untimely death. I was wondering if I could ask you some questions?”

It takes a long moment for me to realize that I’m just staring at him. It’s hard not to; he reminds me too closely of the detective I often fantasize about when working.

“Yes, of course. Come in.”

“Thank you very much.” He strides inside, and I watch as his eyes sweep over my living room and kitchen. I clasp my hands to keep them from fidgeting. Calm. I have to remain calm.

“I imagine that you’re going through a rough time right now, after the accident.”

“Yes. I’m still really shaken up about it. A part of me feels responsible.”

He inclines his head in a curious manner. “Not much else you could have done, since you put up the wet floor sign before the accident.”

I shrug, and silently curse myself for doing so. Don’t act guilty. “Yeah, I guess.”

In a flourish, Detective Victor pulls out a small black notebook from his jacket and scribbles something down. I watch, feeling my unease spike. What is he writing?

Just as quickly as he pulled it out, he tucks the notebook back in his jacket. “Ms. Bell, I’ll just cut right to the chase. There’s been a large number of fraudulent purchases charged to one of Skylar’s credit cards—$20,000 worth. And you’re one of our suspects.”

The shock is real on my face. “But, why me?”

Detective Victor plucks a piece of lint off of his jacket and flicks it away. “The string of purchases happened on the day of his death. You were the first person who came in contact with him after the accident, and the credit card in question is missing from his wallet.”

“You think I robbed a dead man?” I say, crossing my arms, appalled.

Detective Victor shrugs. “Why not? It would be a golden opportunity.”

It’s hard not to be fooled by that twinkle in his eye. There’s something inviting about his cavalier attitude—like having a mischievous friend you want to share a juicy secret with. But I resist, reminding myself of the dire consequences that would follow my confession.

“I didn’t steal his credit card.”

The notebook is out and he’s scribbling again. Why does he keep doing that? He snaps it shut. “Where were your whereabouts after leaving work that day?

“I went straight home.” It was true. I had gone home, said hello to my neighbor (a possible alibi), then busied myself with some online shopping.

I watch his pen flicking back and forth. Finally he tucks it away and gives me a pleasant smile. “Okay. That’s all the questions I have for you now. If you have any idea who might have taken the credit card, don’t hesitate to give me a call.” He holds out a business card. I take it and return his smile.

“I will. Thank you.”

We both make our way back to my door. As I open it, I catch him looking off to the side at something. I follow his gaze. Blood drains from my face when I see what he’s staring at. There, lying full view on my dining room table, is a $500 gift card. And not just one. Three of them.

There’s a frantic scuffling as I trip over my feet and run to the table. I snatch the cards up.

“Oh, these are from my grandparents. I recently had my birthday and they sent me money for a laptop. It was really nice of them.” The words feel like they’re spilling out too fast.

Detective Victor doesn’t say anything. He just stares. Then, slowly, he pulls out that small black notebook, writes something down, and closes it. His smile is polite, but now there’s something more behind those beautiful white teeth.

“Thank you for your time, Ms. Bell. We’ll be in contact. Enjoy the rest of your evening.” With a flourish, he is gone.

Once the door clicks shut, I sag heavily against it and slide down to the floor. I sit there for a long moment, stewing over what just happened.

I roll my head so that I’m now looking down at the gift cards clutched in my hands. The ceiling light glows dully on their reflective plastic surfaces.

Reflective.

Reflective like the surface of the ocean.

I close my eyes and imagine the spray of sea water tickling my face, pillowy sand bunched between my toes, and a warm summer’s day to soak up the sunshine. When I open my eyes, the fantasy lingers. I smile.

Fiji is probably nice this time of year.

fiction

About the author

J. Winters

Just another human trying to navigate this maze called life.

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