Judgment begins on the staircase where the dried pool of blood had been. She stands at the base of the marble stairs looking up at the immense height, from where the crime began. Soft light descends on the place where the victim had laid, precisely on the stained red rose pattern on the carpet, illuminating the deeds and misdeeds from yesterday.
Today she ascended the staircase above the scene of the crime as if climbing the stairway to heaven or, more appropriately, to karma. Perhaps both. She no longer knew her name, her hometown, or her favorite… Well her favorite anything. She only knew what happened that cold fateful last night of what started as bliss and ended in horror. She had been a tailor in life. She held on to that fact as if were gold. She had worn a pretty dress that night with silver jewelry and a sequined handbag. Her shoes were flat and, according to her date, boring black leather loafers – though they shined in the crystal light of the manor’s chandeliers. Those shoes meant everything to her, because they were hers and they were all she could afford. He bought her high heeled shoes with uncomfortable pointy toes.
That was not her.
Now she glides up the stairs on ethereal feet that no longer touch the ground. The banister curves and winds with the stairs, flowing back on itself in its elongated path to the next floor. The balcony is very high up and he is up there with another woman. He leaves the new girl in the room. The same room she left her when she had been his “guest”.
At first she had been honored and – she hated admitting it and at once loathed herself for thinking it – relieved that she no longer needed to work. The manor provided for everything a peasant woman could dream of, and more. Late nights playing new games, alcohol with exotic cheeses, pretty parties full of pretty people with neat and intelligent things to say. She had fallen for it all, taken in line and sinker, paid the price of admission, and now she was half way up the stairs once again.
That last night burned her memory now, ghostly and incomplete as it was. He provided her a dress and accessories to wear, and there was no question that she was going to wear them. He expected compliance with his guests. His guests were to consider themselves honored treasure and to not question his motives or tastes.
She refused to wear those hideous, painful shoes. Spiked heels, narrows soles, no soul, no space for her toes to breathe, she felt suffocated in those damned shoes. Her feet would not comply with that, nor would her hips, back, and shoulders. He had not liked when she entered the room with all of his companions and dinner guests, relatives and diplomats. He balked her, made fun of her choice of shoes, her paisley stockings, her “peasant tastes”.
On their way up the stairs to the bedroom that night he told how beautiful she was. She had smiled, inside groaning and praying that he’d be quick so she could have a full night’s sleep. The marble under her feet hurt, her calves tightened and burned under the stockings. She hardly heard what he said about how much he appreciated her staying with him as his peasant guest, how honored she should be.
At the top, he turned to her one step above and put his hand above her breasts, smiling, his white teeth glinted in the oily light from the torches above them, his forehead greasy and spotted with sweat. He said goodbye and wished her well in the afterlife, and pushed her down the stairs. The ceiling and its chandeliers filled her vision – she noticed the intricate wooden beams that divided the ceiling into squares – and then the world was upside-down and her body knew nothing but intense pain before her neck snapped on the way down. Halfway on the staircase and she stopped feeling all pain, somehow numb, but no longer numb to his charm or the charm of the manor. In the short span of time from the top of the stairs to the bottom, shorter than it took to walk those same stairs, she reeled in all of her memories – good, bad, evil, lovely – and used them to shield her fall.
Her body lay broken at the foot of the stairs, and later that night servants picked up her remains and carefully washed away the blood. They could not remove all of the stains, much to his disapproval. Those servants would not suffer longer.
At the balcony as he sets his first step on the way down. She whistles, he stops and turns around. Unsure, he nearly begins his descent again, but he hesitates. The next he knows, a hand presses against his chest and – for the first time in his life – he notices how beautiful the wooden beams on the ceiling are.