She will always know…
“I’m pleased with your effort.”
“Thank you, Beryl.”
“No one must know our little secret, alright? By the way… she’s beautiful…”
“You… You’ve seen her?”
“Ah… Do I sense fear? Is that what you think of me? Some ruthless old hag?”
“No, that’s not… I’m sorry…”
“I thought I was your friend.”
“You are. I’m so blessed to have you count me as a friend. I… It’s just that…I didn’t know you’d know about her!”
“Oh dear… I will always know. Is there anyone who knows you better than me?”
“Of course not.”
“I’m only a teensy bit upset…”
“Why? You… You don’t like her?”
“Uh-uh… I’m upset because you chose to hide her from me.”
“I-I didn’t think it was important.”
“Mmm… But I can feel this one’s special…”
“Why don’t you bring her, here? To me!”
“Bring her to me.”
Green… the Colour of Love
Gosh! That crooked smile! The one that made all the girls at work go weak in their knees!
My inner self did a little pirouette. If only Suzie could watch this scene right now! I had to text her.
Me: Dining with the boss!
Suzie: Wat!?! So dats ur mysterious date, huh!
Me: Will tell you when I get back! XOXO!
Suzie: You better!
“Hey, are you alright?”
Damn you, stupid heart! Who asked you to pump blood into my cheeks right now!
“Call me Shaun.”
My face must have reddened again, because Shaun Lowe grinned.
“There’s no need to be formal with me outside of office.”
“Thank you. I’m fine.”
My heart fluttered. Shaun Lowe was arguably the most handsome bachelor in our office. Half the women at work fancied him. And who wouldn’t? He had a sculpted body, wheatish skin, clear blue eyes, high cheekbones and extremely long lashes. And to top it all, he was our new deputy manager.
And then, there was this thing. Shaun Lowe hardly had any friends. He had an arrogant aura about him that was intimidating. But that did not stop women from fawning over him. I was careful enough to keep distance from him, though.
And yet… yet here he was, dining with me. He was the one who had asked me out this afternoon!
I eyed the green liquor in his glass.
“Absinthe… A bit strong, and bitter,” he said, following my gaze.
“I’m not much of a drinker. But I love the colour.”
“Lovely, isn’t it? Just like your eyes, beautiful, green…”
I blushed. Did Shaun arrogant Lowe just say that? Surely he was drunk. I giggled.
When coaxing doesn’t work, threats do
“I see you’ve been going out a lot lately…”
“It’s… It’s mostly work.”
“Aha… On weekends… With a lady…”
“She works with me, I swear.”
“Enough! Didn’t I ask you to bring her here?”
“I… Sure, but she’s a good girl.”
“Hah! Are you scared I will harm her?”
“No! I… Beryl…”
“Do you remember Kathy?”
“You are responsible for what happened to her! I tried to warn you!”
“No I’m not. You… You…”
“Hahaha… So what are you going to do? Pin it on me? I dare you! You’ll only be laughed at!”
“No… Have some mercy! Please…”
“I just don’t want anybody harming you, dear…”
“Alright… alright. I’ll bring her here.”
“That’s my boy.”
The evening had surreptitiously given way to the late hours of the night. The office was empty at the moment. And therefore, I had crept into Shaun’s cabin.
Damn! It had been a month of us dating, and I wasn’t still used to his handsome face.
“Shaun… What do you feel about me?”
“Tell me. I want to know if I’m just someone you occasionally take out for dinner…”
“Oh El! Haven’t I told you already? You’re the best thing that’s happened to me.”
“Are you sure? You aren’t even willing to stay the night with me…” I pouted.
“Come here, you imp!”
And he pulled me onto his lap, carefully tucking the loose strands of hair behind my ear, before kissing me softly on the nape. I caressed his arms, only to find them stiffen to my touch.
“Take me to your place.”
And right there, I felt his body go limp.
“We can go to your place, instead.”
“What’s wrong with yours?”
“Nothing… It’s just that… It’s a bit shabby right now.”
“I like shabby.”
“No. I mean…”
“That’s it Shaun! You keep giving me excuses… Last time, it was your friend visiting. Before that, it was some renovation work… What are you hiding from me? Do you have a wife at home or what?”
He burst into a guffaw. But his nervousness was tangible.
“Oh El! You silly girl. I don’t have a wife at home. Why don’t we go take a walk outside right now?”
“No. Tell me what’s wrong. You told me you live alone. You say you like me. And I like you too. I don’t mind how dirty or shabby your house is… I won’t mind if it’s a one-room shack for God’s sake, Shaun.”
“Elena. I can’t.”
“Fine. Either you tell me what’s going on, or we stop seeing each other.”
His face blanched.
“Are you alright, Shaun?”
“I’m… I’m… I have a headache. I’ll drop you home now and leave. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
The next day, he appeared on my doorstep with a bruise on his cheek. As if… As if he’d been slapped!
“Shaun! My goodness! Who hurt you?”
“I have to tell you something.”
I could make out that he was drunk, even at this early hour of the morning. The smell was disgusting.
“Go on, tell me.”
“I’m afraid… afraid that you’ll leave me after I do.”
I held his hand in spite of myself.
“Tell me. I’m with you. I’ll help you.”
“You can’t help me… No one can… No one…”
He suddenly started sobbing. I couldn’t believe this was the same arrogant Shaun I’d seen back at office. I felt sorry for him.
“Calm down, Shaun. Tell me… You can move into my house, if you-”
“NO. No. She will follow me to this house then. And she will make your life hell.”
“I-I can’t tell who, she will know.”
“I don’t understand, Shaun. Please tell me. Is it your ex-girlfriend?”
Suddenly he began to bawl like a baby.
“Alright. Alright. Calm down.”
My head hurt from his crying. Who the hell was threatening this man?
“Shaun, you don’t have to tell me. Let’s go to the police together. They will stop whoever-”
“No. No. Alright. I’m telling you. I’m telling you…” He seemed to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
After what seemed like eons, he opened his mouth to whisper a name, “Beryl.”
“Stop. Please. This will kill me. I’m sorry, Beryl.”
“You deserve to die, you traitor! Didn’t I say no one must know about me? Didn’t I?”
“Y-yes. But she…”
The sound of whiplash landing on skin, and the sorrowful moans of a man filled the air in the room.
“Didn’t I ask you to bring her here, first?”
“I will, I will, let me go fetch her.”
“Oh I’m not done yet. I won’t be done till I break some bones…”
The Nasty Friend
“Darn! Shaun Lowe and Elena Wilson! You and him-”
“Shh! Keep your voice down, you idiot. You don’t want me to lose my job, do you?”
There was no one in the stalls of the washroom. Yet I couldn’t be too sure. Dating a co-worker was strictly forbidden in this office.
“I didn’t know it was this serious… I thought it would be a one-night fling or something…”
“What do you mean…” I gritted my teeth, “Shaun… He’s a gentleman… He’s serious about me…”
“Is that why you were hiding it from me? I thought I was your best friend here!”
“You are, Suzie. It’s just that Shaun didn’t want me to tell anyone… You know, because of the policy…”
“Duh! I wouldn’t have ratted on you two. I’m hurt now.”
“Oh Suzie, I’m sorry. Who do I have here, except for you? Shaun’s like me too, an orphan. That’s why I feel I got to help him.”
“Fine. Who’s this girl again?”
“Beryl. I don’t know anything else. He won’t tell me. Must be someone he’s dated before me. And now she’s blackmailing him or something…”
“Yeah. It is. He said he would move into my place. He said he’d be back with his things. And now it has been two days already. He isn’t answering my calls. The manager says he’s on leave. God! I shouldn’t have let him go.”
“Don’t worry, mate. Give me an hour. I’ll get his address from the HR.”
Coup de Main
19, Madison Street.
That was where my cab dropped me. Yes, this one had to be Shaun’s house. It stood out in beautiful green among the boring greys in the alley. Sure enough, I spotted his bottle green Ford parked in his garage. Green was Shaun’s favourite colour.
The door had an old-fashioned brass knocker. I knocked. Once. Twice. Thrice.
“SHAUN!” I shouted, finally.
It opened slowly, to reveal a crouching figure, in a green t-shirt and shorts, a far cry from the beautiful face I had kissed before.
I pushed open the door and got in, “What’s wrong with you Shaunny?”
I was almost in tears. He was limping. There were cuts on his arms. And his lips were swollen. A wild stench hit my nose.
“Oh Elena! You shouldn’t have come here…”
And he was drunk! I lunged at the glass he was holding in his left hand, and swept it off to the ground. The liquor spilled on the white marble floor, staining it green.
“Absinthe! At 6 in the morning?!”
My head spun, as I realized Shaun had hit me in the gut, “You wench!”
It took me a moment to grasp that it was the man I loved.
“What’s wrong with you, babe?” I cried.
“Oh… I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Don’t cry… Shh… She’ll hear you.”
“Who?” I screamed.
“Shh… quiet. Or I’ll hit you again.”
“Shaun… What happened to you?” I couldn’t keep my voice down.
“SHUT UP!” He kept hitting me till I fell to the floor.
“Sir, did Elena ask you for a leave yesterday ?”
“No. Did you call her up?”
“I tried calling her, but she declined my call. And then she texted me to say she’s busy with something. Now her phone’s switched off. I think something’s not right.”
“Erm…” Suzie bit her lips. What if Shaun and Elena were spending some time by themselves to sort things out? What if everything was just fine? The senior manager would fire either of the two if he heard they were dating.
“I’m sorry. I think I’ll drop by at her home this evening and check on her.”
“Alright. You do that. And report to me tomorrow. I’m going to have to warn her… People can’t just be absent from work without my permission!”
But Suzie could not wait. She drove to Elena’s home during lunch break. When she found that she wasn’t there, she called Shaun’s number.
“Hello?” His cool, brisk voice answered.
“Mr Lowe, Sir, is Elena with you?”
A moment of silence. Suzie panicked. Would Shaun be angry with Elena if he found out that she had talked to Suzie about their relationship?
“No. Why?” The voice was curt.
“Oh… Okay. Did you hear from her today? I can’t seem to reach her on her phone. She was really worried about you yesterday, so…”
“Why would she be here? I don’t bring women to my house.”
And with that, he disconnected the call.
Was Elena really with Shaun, and was he trying to hide it from Suzie? Could it be… could it be that evil ex-girlfriend who was torturing Shaun and Elena?
“AARGH!!!” Suzie clutched her hair in despair.
I woke up, curled in a bed, inside a fairly lit room. The walls were a shade of sea green, and the curtains, a contrast in dark green. The furnitures were all painted green. Heck, even the carpet and the blanket were green! I suddenly felt very claustrophobic. As I pulled off the blanket to get down, my head spun. I realized I was in Shaun’s house!
And everything came back to me. I frantically searched for my phone. It was nowhere. Somewhere in the building, a wall clock struck two. Had I slept through the day? I rummaged every drawer I could see in the room, threw the mattress aside, pulled back the curtains. And that’s when she caught my eyes, behind the curtains on a wall.
It was a painting of a man, disoriented, swaying, while he stood on unsteady legs, in a room with paper strewn on its floor. A broken green bottle lay at his feet, from which rose dark grey smoke. The smoke gained a steady dark green colour as it went up, and took the form of a beautiful woman in a green gown. Her eyes were jade green, her lips, a luscious, promising red, her fair hands entangled around the man’s head in a soft caress. It seemed too real to be a painting. There was something about her eyes, ruthless, bewitching, seductive… For a moment, I thought her eyes twinkled.
“Is it…?” I didn’t know when the words had escaped my lips.
“Beryl. I see you have met her!”
“Shaun!” I jumped and stepped back.
“There’s no use running now,” he kept closing the gap between us, “I told you I couldn’t bring you here. The house belongs to Beryl.”
“I… I’m sorry…”
“But you had to be a nosy little wench and come here to get yourself killed.”
“Killed? I’m sorry, Shaun. Let me go!” I panicked.
“Tell that to Beryl. But she won’t let you go.”
“I’ll talk to her. I… I’ll fall at her feet. Please…” I stumbled and fell.
Shaun quickly came and bent over me, whispering in my ears, “She had been asking me to bring you here. But I refused. You know why?”
“BECAUSE I LOVED YOU, YOU WENCH! I WANTED TO PROTECT YOU!” He suddenly started shouting, “AND LOOK WHAT SHE DID TO ME!”
He dangled his bandaged leg before my face.
“I’m sorry, Shaun…” I started crying again.
“Get up. There’s no use crying now. Not when you ratted to your nasty little friend,” he sneered.
“I’ll apologise to Beryl.”
“Don’t you hear it? Don’t you hear her laughter?” He pointed at the painting, “She already wants me to kill you.”
And that’s when I realized it all. There was no Beryl. It had been Shaun, all along. He was the psychopath who wanted to kill me!
“H-E-L-P!” I shouted, and got slapped again. This time, my lips bled.
“There’s no one here to help you, wench!”
We can only guess, we may never know
“Thanks for your account of the events, Ms Wilson. This will be helpful.”
Officer Jones closed his little diary, while Dr Steward stopped her recorder.
“Thank you, Officer. If you hadn’t been there that night…”
“Don’t thank me. If Suzie hadn’t alerted us that night…”
“Yeah… She’s… my best friend. I owe her my life now. How… How’s Shaun?”
“Ah… He’s with us, at the state asylum. His lawyer will plead for insanity. Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, D-I-D… It will be a while before poor Mr Lowe can go back to his home,” the psychiatrist, Dr Stewart, interjected.
“Childhood trauma. He seems to have had a rough childhood, with an abusive mother….” the doctor sighed.
“But you can cure him right?” I squeaked.
“Ms Wilson, I’m afraid I don’t see much hope.”
“But you’ll try?”
“Ms Wilson, I may remind you,” Officer Jones said with disdain, “Shaun Lowe has confessed to killing his ex-girlfriend, Katherine. Katherine White went missing last year. The remains of her corpse were discovered from his refrigerator in the basement. The eyes had been gouged out of her sockets. Shaun claims, Beryl made him do it. We think, he intended to do the same with you.”
I shivered. I knew the officer was trying to dissuade me from feeling pity for Shaun.
“Absinthism. Have you heard of it?” Dr Stewart took over.
“Absinthism? From absinthe? Last I knew, it was a drink that Shaun loved.”
“Yes. Back in the 20th century, it was a banned drink here in the US. It was believed that the drink made people hallucinate. It could mess with your head, make you do unimaginable deeds. The Devil’s Drink… Some called it. Some say drinking absinthe made an evil green fairy possess them…”
Cold sweat ran down my spine.
“Yes,” Dr Stewart smiled, as if she knew this was coming, “the one at Lowe’s house… It’s a brilliant copy of Albert Maignan’s ‘Green Muse’… We don’t know who the artist is, but it’s amazing. Anyway, the green fairy, as they called the drink back then, and its effects have been the muse of artists across the century. But it’s all proven to be a myth. Though absinthe does muddle your head a little more than the other drinks, it cannot cause hallucinations. No wonder they lifted the ban fifty years later.”
“But it makes sense! Shaun was an absinthe-abuser. He was obsessed with everything green. I thought he loved absinthe because of its colour! But it seems it was the other way round!”
“Distorted reality… is an ally of Schizophrenia. He must have heard about absinthism somewhere before, probably when he acquired that painting…”
“Off a flea market in Paris, two years back,” Officer Jones took the cue, “He claims it’s a cursed painting. He says Beryl, the woman in the picture, had taken over his life since he brought the painting home. It was Beryl who loved green. It was Beryl who wanted to have the house painted green. It was Beryl who liked to collect women that had green eyes. What a load of tosh!”
The psychiatrist looked him in the eye with firmness, “He doesn’t know what’s real anymore. From what I have deduced, Shaun had three identities, dwelling inside him. One was the smart and arrogant deputy manager you knew, the other, a soft-hearted, loving man who was afraid of Beryl, and the third, this woman called Beryl herself…”
“Yes. You should know that Beryl is a green gemstone. And he imagined it was the name of the green fairy, which was him all along. The wounds on his body… all are self-inflicted. The green fairy, the lady who was obsessed with green, the one who wanted to keep Shaun all to herself… I think it was a shadow of Mr Lowe’s mother.”
Tears pooled in my eyes. Poor Shaun.
“What about Katherine?”
“Ah… His former girlfriend. She came from the countryside, and she had no parents, much like you Ms Wilson. But unlike you, she had no friend, so when she disappeared, there wasn’t much of a hue and cry. Here…”
As the officer showed a picture of a beautiful girl with green eyes, I shuddered.
“Her eyes… “
“Yes. The sick bas… I’m sorry, he had a penchant for women with green eyes. We believe he gouged her eyes out before stabbing her to death. We recovered the formalin-soaked eyeballs, albeit discoloured, stuffed in a box labelled Beryl’s…”
I felt sick.
“Where’s the painting?”
“With us. It’s evidence,” the doctor replied calmly.
“Officer, can you do me a favour? Can you destroy it afterwards? I think it’s evil.”
Officer Jones hesitated for a while, before nodding, “Only after the case is closed.”
Epilogue : Two years later
Springtime was exceptionally warm this year. Beads of sweat formed on the forehead of Officer Mathew Jones as he struggled to roller-paint the inner walls of his living room.
“The artwork is beautiful Mat,” his wife remarked, “Where did you get it?”
“Ah… perks of being with the police,” he winked from his perch on the table.
“It’s brilliant. I bet it costs a lot.”
“The ‘Green Muse’…. It’s a copy though. But I have heard it’s better than the original,” Officer Jones said in a smug voice.
“Mmm… And it sits well on the light green wall.”
“I told you green would be a good choice.”
“Hmm… I like your green shirt too. Say, what’s with your new obsession with green?”
It took a moment for Mathew Jones to realize that his wife was jeering at him.
“What do you mean…” Somehow, it irked the officer, “Green’s a nice colour.”
Somewhere in his head, a tiny voice said, “She doesn’t need to stay here if she doesn’t like it. Get rid of your stupid wife. Beryl will always be there for you.”
Author’s note : Absinthe was notoriously referred to as the Green Fairy, because of its supposedly hallucinatory after-effects. The myths about absinthe were later debunked, though its effect meets upto its fame to some extent. Many writers, painters and directors have made it the subject of their works. The one by Albert Maignan mentioned in this story is real. You can check out the painting here.
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