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Livia Felce
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While she was opening the door to her apartment, she heard a sound. She stopped. Turned her head. Nothing had changed. The mouse of the stairwell gaped down into darkness, and barely a penumbra suffused the landing. She was on the ninth floor, far from street noise, but this she had heard. It was something falling that pushed against a chair, and then she heard a woman’s footsteps. Heels sounded on the parquet floor of the living-room next door. In the night’s silence only these few sounds showed that Mrs. Flue had returned from her trip.

Helena carefully opened the door. She felt on the wall for the light switch and the furniture assumed shape under the chandelier. Slowly she placed her bag on the table, felt about for the matches which were always placed ready, and lit the stove. The windy autumn was filtering under the doors and whistling at the large window. Cold was forcing its way in, and she tried to block it. She was standing by the fire warming her hands when another sound caught her attention: as if the wind were knocking on the French window. She went over to it, imagining that the fern on the balcony was blowing about. The bolt was loose, she threw it and paused listening. A cry, a moan, reached her through the wall. Could Mrs. Flue be with a man? Her features rarely revealed her emotions, but now Helena smiled. Mrs. Flue had proved very susceptible to male charm since her husband’s death.

She turned her mind to the matters at hand. Today she had got home earlier than usual, but also tireder. The maid had sorted out clothes which Helena now laid ready for the following day, finding too a scarf to go with her outfit. Bumping against the little table, she heard various things crash to the floor, she felt about to locate them and put them back in their places, all except one which slid capriciously beneath the armchair. Oh! The mischievous spite of inanimate objects! She abandoned her search. If something were missing, it would turn up soon enough. Elvira would find it.

In the morning as she was doing the yoga which helped her face a day at the piano of scales and lessons, she was interrupted by loud, even violent, knocking at her door. She wrapped herself in her dressing-gown and cautiously crept over to listen from the inside. There was a constant coming and going of rapid footsteps while in the street a siren tore at the early day. Her heart thudded. She smoothed her hair and opened.

Someone let loose a cataract of questions which washed over her like a sudden cloudburst.

“Madam, what is your name?”

“Helena Trois.”

“Do you live alone?”

“No, with my husband.”

“Call him, please.”

“He’s away.”

“Have you lived here long?”

“Twenty years.”

“Did you know Mrs. Flue?”

“Knew? Why? Yes, I know her. We see each other all the time.”

“Well... Mrs. Flue’s dead.”

Helena leaned against the wall, unable to speak; something like a smothered cry escaped her breast. A policeman came to the official questioning her to say:

“The apartments open onto the same balcony.”

The official followed her inside to the armchair, where she collapsed, stunned, while he began to search the place. She raised no objection as he felt, touched and examined things, until he came upon the revolver which had fallen under the sofa. Lifting it with a handkerchief, he studied it and said:

“Mrs. Trois, you are arrested under suspicion of murder.”

“No, it wasn’t me,” Helena cried, gazing into space, “If we were friends.”

A policewoman accompanied her into the bathroom to dress. As they left, Helena asked if she might take her white stick and please not to handcuff her. It wasn’t necessary.

At the police station she repeated what she had told the official who arrested her. The inspector studied the manner of this woman who, now calm, kept repeating the same story; at times tears would spill across her expressionless face as if following a natural course.

The assistant fetched the weapon, which, according to the technician, even showed Mrs. Trois’s fingerprints.

“Why did you kill her? What was the motive?”

“None. I had no motive.”

“Do you smoke?”


“A cigarette butt, Turkish tobacco, was found on your balcony.”

Helena remembered that a friend of Mrs. Flue who had been around quite a lot recently smoked Turkish tobacco, but she dropped the idea as unsound evidence.

Elvira visited her in the cell with some chocolates, a recent present from her husband. She ate a few, crumpling the foil into little balls she rolled across the table as if playing while she tried to find a way through this misunderstanding. She touched her watch; it was 11 a.m.

The room where they found Mrs. Flue was in order. Her suitcases leaned near the little table, ready to unpack. In the ashtray a cigarette (Turkish tobacco) had burned itself out. The woman had fallen from the chair in which she was seated with her back to the closed window. Her shoes, at some distance from the body, did not appear to have been kicked off in the fall. She had been shot through the neck. Her key-ring was hanging in the door.

Later that day, in the time it took to travel from Salta where he had got the call, Mr. Trois appeared before the magistrate. His face agitated, gesturing vehemently, he made a statement to the official. A lawyer succeeded in letting him see Helena and promised she would be out soon. It was already obvious she had left her fingerprints on the weapon while feeling for matches. In the cell Helena hugged her husband with joyous relief. As he stroke her hair, she repressed a sneeze.

“It’s my allergy,” she said. “Your clothes reek.”

“Yes, in the plane the only seat available was in the smoking section.”

Helena was soon free. However, this was a homecoming unlike any before. What would they think at the conservatory? Maybe they wouldn’t have her back. Maybe she wouldn’t be allowed to continue her piano lessons and would have to go back to teaching Braille...

It occurred to her to ask her husband what time he had got the news of her detention. He said around 8 a.m. Helena remembered she had still not spoken to the lawyer at that hour.

“Could you please put your jacket out to air? That smell of tobacco bothers me.”

They didn’t go out for the rest of the day. Elvira did the shopping and answered the phone as usual. Friends and family could not get over their astonishment that Helena could be involved in such a crime. After countless repetitions she herself began to doubt what had happened. She took note of the points she remembered with certainty: Mrs. Flue had already returned when Helena got home. Someone knew. The noise corresponded with the falling body and the moan later with her dying agony or a cry for help. As Helena had arrived home early, the criminal took the woman’s shoes and made them sound as if she were walking. Then by the communicating balcony he dashed into Helena’s apartment to leave the incriminating weapon before escaping back to Mrs. Flue’s, out her front door and down the stairwell. The problem was to know how he got in.

The stress of the whole affair had rendered her even paler than usual.

“She was a good neighbour, almost a friend,” she said to herself.

“Darling, such things happen. I want to see you at peace again. I’m going to make you a cup of tea.”

“Good,” she said, rousing herself and waited.

When he brought her the cup, she sipped it anxiously, as if in a deliberate move to bring an end to this day.

“Now lie down.” He kissed her on the forehead and settled her pillow for her.

As she was falling asleep he heard her murmur:

“She always assured me that she never gave her keys to anyone, anyone at all...”

Translation: Margaret Wilmot
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Copyright ©Livia Felce, 2002
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Date of publicationApril 2004
Collection RSSThe Fictile Word
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