Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Short story follow-up to Harriet the Spy

She wound her waist-length hair up in a bun the top of her head and secured in with a clip, before crossing the hall from her bedroom to the bathroom and stepping into the shower.  Her bathroom was cluttered and untidy but not dirty, never dirty.  As the water ran down her body, taking her tears with it down the drain, the severity of her situation occurred to her and she wondered whether she had any alternative solutions.  But this was it - she had brought this all on herself and it was unlikely that apologising and publishing a series of retractions would help now as it had done before. 


Eric could hear the television all the way down the corridor before he reached the flat.
His key stuck in the lock, as it always did when he tried to unlock the door in a hurry.  He wished that she wouldn’t keep locking it from the inside, and he’d spent many evenings lecturing her about the potential danger of doing so in the event of a fire, but it always ended up with her getting angry and yelling at him about her need for privacy.   They’d argued a lot about that but Harry called herself a listener, a watcher, an observer; Eric hated that her idea of social interaction was to introduce herself and ask hundreds of questions but become sulky and indignant when the spotlight was turned on her.  It made it hard for them to meet new people and awkward for Eric to maintain the relationships he had worked so hard to forge throughout his career, and given that his recent promotion at the television station meant he was invited to a lot of parties and events with celebrities and socialites there were even more opportunities for Harry to upset people with her inappropriate questions.  As if her amateur interviews weren’t bad enough, she had developed a habit of coming home and writing up the information she’d gathered into the notebooks she kept all over the house.

The door to her apartment opened into her living room, which looked more like a sanctuary for tattered books and magazines than anything else.  Eric turned the television volume down, still calling out her name before realising he could hear the water running in the bathroom.  Boy, would he love to surprise her in the shower, but he knew she’d hate that.  He took off his jacket and threw it on the couch; Harriet had tried many times to get her shit together and stay organised but somewhere along the line she had just given up completely and embraced the chaos, so he knew that hanging his coat up on one of the hooks would make about as much sense as polishing silverware before throwing it in the bin.  Dusting crumbs from the cushions, he sat down and kicked his shoes off, feeling that there was something different about his girlfriend’s living room, something out of place perhaps.  But he shrugged it off and put his shoes up on the coffee table - if Harry came in and saw him do that she’d kick his ass, so until she emerged from the bathroom he’d relish the chance to relax properly.  That was something she would never understand, the toll that a hard day at work as an executive could take on a person; he was in and out of meetings, working through lunch breaks and sometimes putting in 18 hours a day at the office while she was sitting at home, writing her stupid gossip articles for her website and squandering her inheritance on books and expensive cameras. 

The volume on the television was uncomfortably low from where he had turned it down when he came in, so he turned it back up and leaned back on the couch, closing his eyes and listening to the news.
“‘…heavy rainfall moving broadly across from the east, with sunshine and the possibility of some light showers in the early evening tomorrow.  Back to the studio now, for the day’s headlines.’”
‘Thanks, John.  Tonight’s top story, one that has been dominating the papers and news broadcasts since it first broke this afternoon: The body of New York socialite and heiress to the Linneman fortunate, Georgina Faulkes, was found today at her Manhattan apartment along with the bodies of her three children.  It is believed that Mrs Faulkes shot Charlotte, aged 16, Alexander, aged 10, and Molly, aged 6 and then herself, all at point blank range with her husband’s handgun around noon after discovering his alleged infidelity via an internet gossip site this morning.  Witnesses who saw Mrs Faulkes this morning have claimed…
Eric sat up.  He reached for the remote to turn the volume up more when he noticed the newspapers under his feet on the coffee table.  Late editions of the tabloids, all dominated by the Faulkes murder-suicide. ‘Spurned Socialite Kills Children, Self - Bodies Discovered by Husband’, ‘New York Heiress in Tragic Killing Spree’, and the less sensitive ‘Crazed Millionairess Blasts Children in Jealous Rampage’.  How had he missed this?  How had he managed to go all afternoon without seeing anything about this on the news - he worked at a goddamn television studio.  That was the problem with his new role at the station, he spent most of his day in meetings or on conference calls.  He picked up a random newspaper and scanned the article, finding only the same information he had just heard on the news piece until he reached the fourth paragraph:

‘Sources say that Mrs Faulkes regularly spent hours on the internet reading showbiz and gossip sites, often specifically looking up stories about herself.  It is understood that she discovered a site which apparently had it on good authority that her husband Andrew was involved in a sexual relationship with a student in his daughter’s class, a claim that both parties have fervently denied.  In a note left for her husband, Mrs Faulkes states that she intended the death of her children and herself to “leave a deep and eternal scar in his life”.  The couple would have celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary at the end of this month.

Oh god, Eric thought.  That was Harriet’s website.  Harriet broke that story.  He switched off the television and scooped the newspapers up into a pile.  This was big.  Her website averaged around a thousand viewers every day, which was actually unimpressive for a showbiz gossip site, and over the last few weeks Harriet had started to write more sensational articles in the hope of attracting a wider audience. 

Eric’s head felt light and heavy at the same time.  Earlier in the week, Harriet had started talking to him about the website while they lay in bed, breathless and entwined.
“I need to write more about sex,” she had said, as if she’d been wondering out loud about which ice cream flavour to choose.
“Well, I can help you with your research if you like…” He began to kiss her shoulder; he loved every inch of her, but most of all he loved these smooth areas on her body that were lightly dusted with freckles.  He’d embarked on counting them many times, but it always ended up the two of them undressing and losing sight of the initial endeavour. 
“No, honey, I mean on my website.  That’s all people really want to read about, isn’t it?  Sex scandals.”  She shifted and sat up, leaning against the headboard. “If I could just get people to view my website, I know they’d keep coming back.  Mine could be the go-to place for this kind of thing.”
“Well, do you know of any sex scandals recently that no-one else has heard of yet?”
“That’s the beauty of it, Eric.  They don’t even need to be true - I mean, it’s just a rumour, right?  There’s no harm in that kind of thing.”
“I don’t know, Harry, that’s dangerous territory if you ask me.  You’re talking about potentially libellous articles, babe.  You need to be careful.”
Harriet was normally quite serious, but on the rare occasions that she laughed, she really went for it.  “It'll be fine, honey, no-one reads my site anyway!” she said, throwing her head back and letting out an almost musical laugh.

But someone had obviously read it today.  Over in the study, the light was off but there was a glowing rectangle of light in the corner.  Eric walked over to Harriet’s laptop, which had a single browser window open on her own website.  ‘Manhattan Spyline’ had a pink and black theme which was very uncharacteristic for Harriet, but it was popular with the handful of regular readers she had.  The offending article was in the middle of the screen:


Underneath the post:

21,000 views + 1, 781 comments

He pinched the top of his nose between his eyes to quell the headache that was setting in, and rested his hand over his mouth as he considered the events of the day, and then his surroundings.  Harriet had lied, and now four people were dead, three of them innocent children caught up in the mistake.  He hadn’t fully realised it until now, but with the pile of newspapers and the television tuned into the 24 hour news channel (on a rival network, but he wasn’t bothered by that just now) Harriet must have spent the afternoon engrossed in the aftermath of her actions - but then detailed observation wasn’t really his thing; Harriet was the ‘spy’, not him.  He’d been in the apartment for about 10 minutes by now - Harry was never one to take long showers, and even if she was trying to clear her head after what must have been a stressful day, he needed to talk to her.
“Harry?” he shouted, wandering down the hall to the bathroom.  “Harriet?  Are you okay?”
The water was still running.  Steam had started to emerge from the crack in the door, which Harriet always kept slightly ajar when she showered in case of an accident.  He peeked round the corner of the door but before he could see anything, the phone in her bedroom started to ring.
“Bet that’s been ringing all day, huh baby?” he half-muttered, half-said.
He deliberated for a moment whether or not to answer the phone, and after three rings he stepped into her bedroom and stopped in his tracks.  There was a pile of paper on the middle of the bed.
“What the…”  The phone continued to ring as he approached the bed, and noticed that the paper had been shredded with scissors, not torn by hand.  Eric realised what was happening, and looked around for the scissors although by now he knew where they would be.  He crossed the hall and slowly pushed the bathroom door open.  It was halfway open when he saw the red ribbons of water running across her feet.  The phone continued to ring in the bedroom, and he closed the bathroom door.  In somewhat of a daze he walked back into the bedroom of his dead girlfriend, and picked up a piece of paper from the pile of shredded notebooks, the notebooks she had used to document her findings from all those awkward dinner party conversations.  He read it, and picked up another, then another, and then another, but they all said the same thing, over and over:



  1. LOVE IT So many memories of watching harriet the spy - KNEW being so damn nosey would be the end of her! Honestly. x