After killing Eddie Tolsen, I went back to my cabin on deck four and fell into a dreamless sleep. Murder had turned out to be astonishingly easy. I’d lured him to the tenth deck on the aft side of the “Clytemnestra” with a plea of something that could only be said in private. He turned up thirty minutes late saying ‘You better not make a scene, you know…’ his scowl confirming that he wouldn’t hang around if I did.
‘Course not…’ my tone mild. I slid the rope out of my pocket and fingered it saying ‘But you’re always so busy, I just wanted a quiet chat.’ I leaned over the handrail, looked into the ship’s wake and pointed below, ‘Flying fish. Down there!’
As he bent over, I got up close enough to loop the rope around his neck and tug. I hoped he’d fall forwards so I could heave him over the side. Instead he dropped to his knees with a soft gasp and turned - a flash of surprise, or was it respect? as I kept pulling. While I hung on tight praying for the rope to hold, he struggled and hit out, choked and fought back until finally, finally he lay still.
I crouched beside him, my heart thudding as if it would leap out of my chest. Had anyone seen this? I’d planned Eddie’s death for before first light when most crew and passengers were safely below. But our struggle had been noisy. I waited, blood still pounding in my ears. When no one appeared, my only witness a hazy three-quarter moon, I picked him up, his body unexpectedly heavy, and shoved him over the rail. Watching him slowly topple and fall, I felt no remorse, only relief that I managed his death so deftly.
For a long moment the sea seemed to rise and enfold him. Then there was only a frothing wake and the faint strains of a tango echoing into the dark.
Back when I was still sober sensible Lynda Gravitt whom everyone could rely on, Eddie Tolsen and I were both employed by Oriduct P/L. Back then we hardly knew each other and things might have stayed this way indefinitely if a large order hadn’t turned up from Argentina. The result was that closeted inside our separate cubicles, Eddie in marketing, myself in accountancy, independently we decided to learn the tango.
I’d already tackled salsa and rumba and knew I had a good sense of rhythm and was light on my feet. But with never enough men to go around, I always partnered another woman. Still, having too often experienced that male dismissive glance that can be so soul destroying, when I glimpsed Eddie stroll in I rather hoped he wouldn’t recognise me.
In a beginner’s class, two lines face each other. As expected, Eddie’s gaze slid past me; I suppose a tango lesson was the last place he expected to find someone he knew from work. Yet to my astonishment, when told to select a partner he headed my way. That first evening we hardly uttered a word. Rather we were too busy trying not to stumble and make utter fools of ourselves.
The first lesson is generally regarded as hardest. We began by moving in a circle, walking to the syncopated two/four rhythm. Only when asked to face our partner, both holding our arms slightly bent the same distance from the torso and touching hands, did our feet begin to move. The tango is intricate, all motion coming from the waist down, the upper part of the body remaining quite still. A slight pressure from the man guides the woman forwards, backwards, or from side to side. Ginger Rogers might have performed Fred Astaire’s complex choreography backwards, but it took us a long time to master those basic steps.
When the lesson was over, he wanted to know if I’d come again? ‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘Me too,’ he said before disappearing into the crowd. That was that. In high heels, his head fitted neatly under my chin. We must have looked a real sight. Next time he’d go for a younger prettier woman. I might have curly fair hair, healthy skin and clear blue eyes, but I was in my late forties and weighed one hundred and five kilo. Perhaps I should mention that back then Eddie was no Adonis either, with his sallow skin, eyes that always seemed slightly inflamed, a large nose and some significant hair loss. Nevertheless he had a subtle teasing smile that I found oddly seductive.
I spent the next few days wondering whether to return. But I’d paid up front for ten lessons and all I had to look forward to, was coming home to an empty flat. Though I expected to continue partnering other women, Eddie seemed happy to continue dancing with me.
I did manage a tentative, ‘Don’t feel you have to because we know each other.’
He considered this comment very seriously. ‘I’ve just had my fingers burnt,’ he finally said. ‘I don’t need another broken heart.’ By this I understood that he ran no such risk with me. Not with Lynda Gravitt.
The tango demands constant close contact. Thus five lessons later I invited him back to my place for a drink. One thing led to another and somehow I inveigled him into my bed. Soon every lesson was followed with a bout of steamy sex where he kneaded my breasts, pummelled my thighs, laid his fists into me and enslaved me entirely. Yet he never let me feel that we were a couple… rather that we were conducting a secret affair that no one else must know about. ‘Keep this between ourselves,’ he insisted. ‘More fun this way.’
I never queried his request. Instead those evenings I was alone I tried to remember everything he said and did. Besotted, I was stupid enough to confide that in my twenties I’d had a massive breakdown. I told him how easy it’d been back then to imagine insults even when they didn’t exist and what murderous thoughts I had when they did. Though he seemed sympathetic, looking back I realise that was when he first started drawing away.
The only person I could talk to was Maddie who worked in the next cubicle. ‘Lynda,’ she said after hearing me out, ‘when a guy won’t take you out in public, he’s probably got a wife and six kids back home. You’re getting terribly obsessed. If you don’t watch out you’ll get hurt.’
‘No way,’ I said trying not to let that old panic overwhelm me. ‘I’ve checked out his tax files and I know for sure he’s single.’ Nevertheless if Eddie met me in the lift by the drinking fountain or coffee bar, he kept to a brief nod and we only came together in our classes and then back to my flat for more sex. I should have suspected something was wrong as it always my place, never his. If I teased him saying ‘Must be because of your lousy housekeeping.’ Or ‘Must be because you never change your sheets.’ Or ‘Bet you’re storing stolen goods under your bed.’ Or ‘Reckon you’re hiding a mad wife like Mr Rochester…’ nothing I said could upset him. ‘Lynda…’ he’d reply with that seductive smile. ‘Let’s face it… given your unusual size, your bed’s more solid than mine.’
This was how things for a very short time, how they progressed between us.
Meanwhile I was learning more about the tango. This dance is a fusion of European, South American and African harmonies and rhythms which evolved in the late Nineteenth Century when young men fleeing their homelands ended up trapped in the slums of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. Charged with poverty, hopelessness, alcohol and cocaine, their city bordellos did a brisk trade. Though the dance is popular, not everyone can be a ‘tanguero’. For example, a woman never invites a man to dance, she must always wait for him to approach her, she must always act out the subservient prostitute-client relationship. Above all, she must stay submissive to the male. The dance evokes passion, yet behind its limpid harmonies and syncopated rhythm lives a dark seamy reality, the music evoking profound sadness and loss. Sometimes partnering Eddie, my mind felt bleached away to nothingness. Hadn’t I exchanged my mermaid’s tail for legs and smiled bravely at the pain?
Two tango lessons a week helped Eddie lose his little potbelly. Encouraged by this small improvement, he paid out for hair implants, better contact lenses and lost that rabitty red-eyed look. Other women started noticing him. I half expected his next move to be cosmetic surgery. But when I suggested this only half tongue in cheek, he took my comment very seriously. ‘Everyone knows big nose, big dick.’ He gave me his characteristic smile. ‘My way of advertising, you know.’
Once shopping in my local supermarket, I was searching through packets of chicken breasts when I heard a small commotion. I turned to see a middle aged woman with a small girl beside her. Tears were running down the child’s cheeks. The woman was walking fast, the girl desperate to keep up. The woman snapped, ‘I’ve told you never to touch anything on the shelves without asking, it’s your own fault you lost the money so stop carrying on…’ and the child sobbing as if her small heart might break…
I followed them to the check-out counter where the woman paid for her few groceries and then outside to where a man waited beside a dented station wagon. His hair was tied back in a wispy pigtail and as he chewed on a cigarette he took in the angry woman and the weeping child. The woman kept scolding the child, even while the three climbed into the car and drove away.
I knew that family. Hadn’t I once been this child, that woman my mother, that man my father, knew the hopelessness that dogged them? I have always known that if I wasn’t determined to free myself that I could end up like my mother, stuck in a home that smelt of piss and death, cancer eating away at my insides, my whole life a total waste.
Six months into our dancing classes, I came across an ad for a thirteen day ‘tango cruise’ to the South Pacific on the “Clytemnestra”. I had a fortnight’s leave up my sleeve and I knew Eddie had at least as much. I had to wait for him to get through his usual ‘Lynda, you know you mustn’t contact me at work…’ before saying ‘We can practice on board with a live band. We pay for everything up front, so won’t cost much.’
I pictured that teasing smile. ‘How much is much?’ Have I mentioned what a skinflint he was, never taking me out, only ever turning up to my place with a bottle of cheap wine. But what choice did I have? Though Maddie’s warnings echoed in my mind, so far I’d never attracted any Mr Rights, only one disastrous Mr Wrong.
I had a job convincing Eddie to take this cruise seriously. He said, ‘What about getting seasick?’
‘Well, I never have,’ I said firmly, not mentioning that I’d never been on any vessel more than an hour.
‘Isn’t February the cyclone season?’
‘A ship that size would know how to stay clear of cyclones.’ I crossed my fingers just in case.
‘How do you know we’ll get enough tango practice?’
‘Well,’ I said exasperated. ‘It wouldn’t be called a ‘tango cruise’ if we didn’t, would it?’
At least that shut him up.
The next few weeks nothing changed. We went on partnering each other on tango nights and then, though far less often, going back to my flat. I suppose I should have been more alert when during class breaks he spent too much time with other women. Even to my adoring eyes it seemed obvious that he was chatting them up.
One lunchbreak I made the mistake of mentioning my doubts to Maddie. Because she knew something of my history, she said carefully, ‘It’s like this Lynda…Your father was a drunk who used to belt into your mother. What’s more, you grew up in a small country town where everyone knew what was going on, but did nothing about it.’
What could I say? It was all true.
‘But you did manage to run away to the city and train as an accountant. Everything was fine until you had a massive breakdown over the first guy who took you seriously.’ Her smile turned anxious. ‘Didn’t you end up in court on a ‘stalker charge’ and spend six months in hospital? I’d just hate to see that happen to you again, so….’
‘So?’ I butted in. What would she know? Hadn’t she married her first boyfriend when she was barely twenty?
‘So…’ she continued as three suits swirling past just missed our table. ‘An only child with an alcoholic father. How much do you know about men?’
I thought about the man I called my father. I thought about what he did to my mother and how much I still hated him. ‘Don’t I work with them all day?’
‘Yes, but working is one thing. Bonking another.’
My eyes filled. ‘You telling me to give Eddie up?’
‘Well… not really.’ This was exactly what she meant. ‘Just warning you not to get emotionally involved. See it as a bit of fun. You don’t want anything bad to happen to you again…’
‘Course not… Anyway, that was twenty years ago. These days I’m just plain stolid Lynda who never gets carried away by anything much.’
‘Course.’ Her face said quite the opposite.
Yet for a short time I thought Eddie loved me. When you love someone with all your heart and he doesn’t love you back and you give up all hope that he ever, ever will, you think you might die. So the idea of death began to haunt me. And then I started to wonder; if I was the one who didn’t die, maybe the other person should? And how… how might this happen?
The “Clytemnestra” was sailing to the South Pacific. The night before we left, I packed my black bodice dress with its scarlet ruffled skirt, elbow length gloves and silver earrings, and black patent stilettos. If my original idea had been for us to share a cabin, Eddie quickly set me right. ‘Lynda, you know how much room you take up. Anyway…’ as if he wasn’t always a scrooge, ‘Seeing we’re getting such cheap rates, I don’t mind paying for a single cabin.’
Well, maybe he didn’t. I certainly did. And when I found myself in a tiny internal room just above the waterline with Bibi and Serena, I wished I’d been a little more extravagant. But by then I didn’t give a damn because the cruise was such a disaster.
The world’s most popular tango is ‘La Compasito’ written by seventeen year old Gerardo Mastos Rodriguez. He sold it to a music publishing house for twenty pesos. Over the next twenty years he launched at least as many lawsuits to try and claim back the royalties. I suppose he would have been doubly annoyed to learn that our ship’s band - four bored middle-aged Russians on violin, guitar, piano and drums- played ‘La Compasito’ at least three times every night.
Not that our surroundings would encourage anyone to spurts of creativity. The dance hall was a prehistoric cave with a dismally low ceiling and dim greenish lights that made everyone look like zombies. When not dancing, people sat gloomily around, sometimes throwing in a half-hearted clap, more often a disparaging comment. The tango stars, a couple in their mid-sixties, were frankly abysmal. I’d seen better in our class back home. They only taught ballroom tango where I expected to venture into the Argentinean style. In ballroom tango the steps stay close to the floor while Argentinean includes carrying one's leg into the air, or hooking a leg around a partner's leg or body.
The other passengers were mostly composed of elderly couples and single women. Of course Eddie went for any female who looked lonely or bored or was sending him languorous looks. A few were upfront enough to slip their cabin numbers into his pocket. Whatever. In those eleven nights of golden opportunity to become better tangueros, I think he only danced with me once. I went back to partnering other women.
Off the floor things were no better. Cousins Bibi and Serena had identical bleached hair, spade-nails, and an interchangeable wardrobe of bare midriffs, shoestring straps, mini skirts, and Jimmy Choos. Whenever I came into our cabin, they’d burst into loud giggles. Sometimes I thought I overheard ‘…old woman, what’s she doing here …looks more like man…isn’t there some way we could get rid of her… she’s always watching him…’ What made it worse was that these whispers also came from other passengers: ‘…you see the way she follows Eddie around… she’s mad you know… Eddie told me she’s already had one massive breakdown… bet she’s due for another…’ This last comment tilted me over the edge. What kind of a man repeated something told in total confidence? How could I ever have loved someone like that?
The ship had a fixed routine. Breakfast and lunch could either be eaten in the dining room or at an upstairs buffet. But dinner was formal and everyone was given a set place. Before sailing Eddie and I had arranged a late sitting at a table for ten. Our second night out, he moved to another table with nine single women. I could hear their laughter from the other end of the room. I imagined him saying, ‘She’s so large, we could only manage it on her bed, king size you know…’ And ‘Course I had to keep it a total secret, I really didn’t want anything to think I couldn’t find anything better to bonk…’
It didn’t help that the four elderly couples at my table kept saying, “What fun they’re having,” and “Isn’t Eddie Tolsen a charmer?” and “What a marvellous dancer,” and “How lucky you are to have such a popular male friend.”
I smiled and smiled and eventually stopped turning up for dinner. What I knew was insurmountable rage. Paul Gauguin is reported to have said, ‘Life being what it is, one dreams of revenge.’ I dreamt of revenge all the time. As I watched Eddie partner other females, watched them buy him expensive cocktails and vie for his attention, I felt the world could only benefit from ridding it of this small town Casanova. I suppose I should have felt some remorse imagining an ex-lover’s execution. These last twenty years I’d been careful to pay any bill on time, never cheat on my tax, never drive over the speed limit, obey parking regulations, to always stick to the letter of the law. But now I’d reverted to that angry small child I thought I’d left so far behind.
I waited for the ship to call into Dravuni Island, this no more than a Fijian atoll with a hilly jungle in the centre. As the passengers poured onto the beach, I quietly followed; I knew Eddie would stay clear of the natives selling sarongs, wooden carvings and shells. He saw him walk to where a sign said ‘Fifteen minute crossing” and start along the trail. Keeping well behind, I scrambled up a steep muddy track. On the other side of the island I hoped to find some opportunity to dispose of him. Hamlet might have equivocated plotting his uncle’s death. I knew no such qualms. When you are dealt total treachery, there’s no room for remorse. What I needed to recover was a splinter, a shard of self-respect.
Sure enough Eddie wandered towards a rocky shelf on the left side of a pretty coral lined bay. I waited for him to disappear around a bend before following. I found him peering into the rock pools. There were too many loose stones for him not to hear me come up, so I called out, waved, made as much noise as possible. He turned annoyed, that typical teasing smile turning sour. I pretended to ignore it, calling, ‘Wait for me, wait for me…’
Reaching him, I smiled gaily and chatted away, commented on everything I saw. Soon Eddie was so angry he stalked off. I set off after him. When we were far enough away from where anyone could see us, I pulled a penknife out of my pocket and ran after him. Reaching my prey I plunged my dagger into his neck… plunged it so deep that blood spurted out like a geyser…
I expected him to fall forward, but he half turned and I saw a look on his face… maybe it was respect? before he gently collapsed sideways and lay in a twisted position across the rocks, his blood turning the seawater crimson. I removed his camera and wallet and flung them and the dagger far out to sea before taking off along the sandy headland that led to the other side of the island. I expected once his body was found that there would be some hue and cry, but also that his death would be blamed on local thieves.
Yet in the end imagining myself stabbing him did not give me nearly enough satisfaction. No, not nearly enough. I saw that I would have to picture myself doing it all over again.
In my pleasanter reveries I went back to our earliest days when we danced and melded as one. Then he might have loved me just a little. I recalled how I’d set my foolish hopes having some future together. But in the end I’d played the prostitute in the tango, that dance-macabre where the woman is wholly there for the man’s pleasure. I couldn’t believe how stupid I’d been. My payback was to make his time on board as unpleasant as he made mine. Whenever he came off the dance floor, I would wait to catch his eye and signal a double ‘thumbs down’ to show him what I thought of his performance. When I ran into him in the corridors or lurk outside any room I knew he was in, I’d whisper ‘you’re such a failure’ and ‘you’re making a real fool of yourself.’ I slid notes under his door, did everything possible to make his days unbearable.
While other passengers lay around in the sun like beached whales, frolicked around the bars, gambled in the Casino, worked out in the gym and played bridge in the library, I followed Eddie everywhere. I stopped eating and sleeping. The days might be hot and clear, the nights fragrant with the scent of the sea, the elderly passengers playing at being children once again, but pacing the ship’s corridors, I prowled the hellish aisles of the damned. Mistaking my appearance for intense sea sickness, or thinking I must be drunk or drugged, passengers stopped me to ask if I was okay. The ship’s doctor called me into his office to ask if I needed any help. ‘No I’m fine,’ I replied. ‘Don’t worry about me.’ Obsessed with Eddie as if he was a cancer which no chemotherapy, radiotherapy or cutting edge stem-cell therapy could cure, I tracked him through the ship. I knew he couldn’t escape. Not that I always succeeded because he soon learnt ways to avoid me. Or if he couldn’t actually ignore my physical presence, he pretended to look right through me. He even sent one of the ship’s officers to warn me that if I continued following him, that I would once again be labelled a ‘stalker’ and collect all the nastiness this entailed. Last time I’d been let off with only a court order to seek psychiatric help. A second time I wouldn’t be let off as easily. Yet what else could I do? Cut off from everything familiar, no friend on board, sometimes I heard Maddie’s voice in a gust of wind or liquid in the waves calling ‘Lynda, give it up. The only one being hurt is yourself. It’s a no win situation.’
‘Murder is always a no win situation if the murderer is caught,’ I coldly replied.
‘How do you know you won’t be?’
I stayed quiet. Since Eddie decided he no longer needed me, my life was over. I suppose I should have felt some remorse at the thought of his death. But I’d been sane and respectable far too long. Hadn’t I been Oriduct’s most reliable employee, worked as a volunteer on Life-Line, made tax free contributions to support an African child, helped old ladies and the disabled find seats on the train, tried not to lose my temper when waiters or bank-tellers showed ignorance or persisted in ignoring me? Where did all that get me?
How was it that I could feel no remorse at killing a man I’d once adored? I tried to remind myself of how much I disliked his meanness, his inability to love anyone but himself, his obvious narcissism. I tried to pull him, flush him out of my mind. Nothing worked. I knew I must find other ways of killing him. It was only through his death that I could force him to understand how much pain he caused and in this way reduce my own.
Meanwhile other passengers continued to make merry, forcing as much food as they could into their distended stomachs and flopping onto the sunny decks like so much seal blubber. Some stayed up all night to drink until they could hardly stand upright. Others gambled or looked for new sexual adventures. Surely the ‘Clytemnestra’ should have changed her name to ‘Dionysus’ or ‘Bacchus’: the ancient gods of wine and revelry. The tango classes, supposedly so integral to this cruise, started tapering off. Only a few hard core dancers still turned up every night. As the weather grew worse, I heard voices in the wind and the sea urging me to stop vacillating, to exact my revenge. They confirmed that I was on a voyage to Hades, that I was sailing to the isle of the dead, that eventually I would reach the Styx River, that both passengers and crew were performing some devilish choreography over which I had no control.
Yet always at the back of my mind was the thought that if only Eddie could see the error of his ways… that maybe… maybe he’d come back to me.
Our final port of call was Noumea where most of our passengers took the ship’s organised guided tour. I knew Eddie would avoid this tour’s over-the-top price and make his own way around the island. I watched him step off the gangplank onto the docks. Keeping well behind, I saw him catch a bus that promised lots of stops along the way. The idea was to step off at any point and when ready to continue, to catch the next bus and so on until all points of interest had been explored. Though I caught the bus after his, I kept on missing him. And when I finally glimpsed him in Noumea’s tiny city museum that specialised in that island’s sad post-colonial history, too many other people were around.
I wasted an hour or so browsing shops and their French imports, even bought a silk scarf, admired the locals and their Gallic sophistication. Misery has strange effects on the body and I’d almost stopped eating and sleeping, subsisting instead on coffee, brandy and hate. Though other passengers were gorging themselves at every meal, sometimes returning for three, even four helpings, I’d hardly eaten. Suddenly ravenous, I stopped for two ham and cheese croissants and a milky cappuccino at a sidewalk café. Then I caught the tourist bus to the Tjibaou Cultural Centre located on the Tina Peninsula. It was late. Very soon the ‘Clytemnestra’ was due to sail out of port. I had only a couple of hours in which to dispose of him.
Apart from the bus driver who spoke no English I was the only tourist on board. He dropped me at the entrance and I headed for the complex. Inside I looked around very carefully. The interior is filled with modern sculpture and ancient Melanesian and Polynesian artefacts. One wall was lined with spears and axes. Though most were firmly fixed to the wall one axe sat on a table. With no one around to observe me, I fingered the edge. It was as sharp as if hewn only yesterday.
Praying no hidden camera was videoing my actions, I picked up the axe and strode up the Kanak path where I finally found Eddie.
My luck was in. He was alone. No one else was about. I knew a wave of exultation. I could do with him whatever I liked.
I weighed the axe carefully in my hand, felt the strength, symmetry and balance in the wooden handle. That ancient toolmaker certainly knew his craft. Though I tried to be quiet as possible, Eddie sensed my presence and turned. He must have seen something murderous in my face. I saw a flash of surprise, or was it fear? Maybe at long last it was respect.
I raised the axe and brought it down so hard I almost heard his skull crack open. I watched a well of blood spill over his face and hair.
But I stopped myself just in time. Surely there would be other far, far better opportunities to kill him once we were back at Oriduct P/L?
BIO: Goldie Alexander is an Australian author who has written for the adult and youth markets. Her latest books include "UnKind Cut" and "Shape-Shifters". Coming soon "Bridging the Snowy" and "Lame Duck Protest" She has an impressive website at www.goldiealexander.com