The air was heavier for some people. She had heard it somewhere before – a television show or maybe the radio. It certainly was today. Jázmin was under the weather and everything felt heavier. Breathing, her eyelids, just being seemed more exhausting than normal.
Really, she should have called out from work, but it was their slow time. If she had to answer a few emails in the morning and show up for one virtual meeting (thankfully her new supervisor didn’t have a mandatory camera on policy) so be it. She was caught up on her primary responsibilities and was perfectly capable to answer a message or email from her phone whether she was wrapped up in a fuzzy blanket sitting at her desk or snuggled up on the couch.
Jázmin looked down at the nest she had made. Somewhere under a half dozen blankets was the handwoven couch that once belonged to her grandmother. Not today. Today it was a sea of blue fuzzy blankets. The numerous shades and patterns dance through the steam from Jázmin’s tea. With her mug carefully placed on the coaster and her phone tightly wrapped in her one hand she plopped down.
The blankets jumped and slid their way around her. More weight, she thought to herself, but at least she was cozy here. Nestled in like a doll in a doll in a doll. Jázmin took a third small sip from her tea, barely had she swallowed before the dreams of her sleep masked reality.
Parades of people traipsed through every darkened corner, the further in, further down the hallway with the complicated light switch system. There was a team of people each emitting their own puff of black clouds. Jázmin was there but she wasn’t. They were looking for someone, for something. She knew that the answers they needed were in her. Somewhere in her mind she cold solve their case.
It was a case! There had been a murder or a theft. Perhaps a murder during a theft? The answer swam around her head like a rouge coffee grind circling her coffee, absolutely content in its circular lifestyle until the tip of the spoon broke the surface. Then it would disappear, duck under the current and wouldn’t be seen while anyone stood at the ready.
She absolutely knew the crime, the riddle, the solution, and nothing at the same time. She was the spoon and the coffee grind. A small fleck just bobbing about.
A smell fleck danced in front of her. It was dark, but it wasn’t brown. It was red. Dark, dark red; the scarlet red of blood. It was a clue! Not the most important one, but she had to let the inspectors know. She turned to look but they were gone. Everything was the way it was before they arrived. No people, no puffs. It didn’t make sense. The guilty had been here, among them, and they didn’t know.
Jázmin raced down the hallway. Her head poking into each room. They had left a clue, not just the blood. One drop of blood did not an ironclad case make. There was proof. She just had to find it.
Fabrics danced and scratched along her hands, the jersey of her dresses barely separated from the wool of her sweaters. She pushed and pulled her closets apart. Still, nothing screamed BLOODY MURDER WEAPON out at her. She moved on, the soft caress of her velvety comforter whispering into her skin, as she took the parameter of her bed.
The floor creaked under the shifting of her weight, back down the hall into the kitchen she went. Coldness seeped in through the soles of her feet as the cabinets clicked open and banged shut. There had to be something. That proof she knew was here. And yet, nothing.
She stopped, the gold and reds of her couch brightened by the sunny afternoon pouring through her window, that person – the guilty one – she knew them. Not just knew who they were, but knew them. She closed her eyes for a moment. The familiar smell wafted over her in dull waves: cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon. She heard a growl, somewhere deep inside her craving, wanting.
Jázmin open her eyes. She was on the couch, in her nest of blankets. Her feet exposed and facing the drafty window. Night had settled in already her town’s newsworthy lampposts were brightly lit. Her blankets were a mess. The old arm of the couch creaked as she tried to turn her body, to push herself into more of an upright position. She looked around the room. The television was black, her tea was still mostly full. Nothing seemed out of sorts but the smell lingered in the air, a faint trail of spices.
She stood, slowly, letting the blankets fall around her. Jázmin picked her wedgie with one hand and grabbed her tea with the other. In the kitchen she set the microwave for 2 minutes. As her tea reheated, she made her way into the bathroom. The clues, the mystery, that smell, it clung to her like the warmth of her blankets. Even as she lowered her leggings she could still feel it all clouded around her. Someone had done something bad and she had known. The proof was here in mind, in her apartment; in stark contrast was the chill of the seat. It was jarring and brought her back out of her dream world.
The microwave beeped from the kitchen. Time was a different beast under the weather. She wiped, pulled up her leggings, and washed her hands. She would grab her tea and return to the couch before ordering in. She was sure there was soup or something in the cabinets but what she wanted was a taste of home, since she couldn’t really have that, the Polish restaurant would have to do.
Before picking up her tea from the kitchen or tracking down her cell phone, it was probably in the couch somewhere, Jázmin peeked her head into her bedroom. The bed was still made, the windows cracked slightly with the curtains drawn, but something was off. The smell was back, that enticing fragrance of cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon. A chill tickled the back of her neck. She really should return to the couch. She could place her order for dinner and then see if there was anything equally appealing and scrumptious on one of those ridiculous dating apps.
Jázmin stopped in the kitchen for her tea. To her surprise her cell phone was on top of the microwave light up with two new notifications. I have got to shake off this fog, she thought to herself. She was sure once the grogginess eased up and her bully was full with warm stew she would be back to normal. She grabbed her phone and her tea, and just like earlier returned to her nest to order dinner and maybe a date.
Forty-five minutes later she flipped the deadbolt and reached for the chain. Strange, she thought. The chain hung there dangling under her fingertips, she always chained the door. It wasn’t much but neither was her deadbolt, the only other lock for the door. She must have been really out of it. Her head shook with disappointment.
She opened the door, grabbed her food, and made sure to bolt and chain the door before settling in the for the night.
* Four Days Later *
It had been a bit of a longer recovery than she had hoped. Not that Jázmin had minded the guilt-free excitement of working from the couch, or the encouragement from her boss to ease into things this week. It was Friday! She was rested and clear minded, nervous for her date with the guy she had been texting all week, but excited. She was shower fresh and genuinely hungry. It was going to be a fun dinner date, but first she would need an outfit.
Though her birthday suit was a good look for her, that wasn’t the fun she was planning on having for a first date. Besides, she could always see how the night went.
Jázmin smiled as she opened her bedroom closet. The door groaned like it missed her. The past week had been spent in one pair of leggings, one pair of socks, and two different hoodies. Her jeans sat folded on the dresser from where she had taken them off last week. She had ran to the grocery store and then dashed into her favorite local coffee bar. For an hour of wear time they were still clean.
Jázmin’s eyes ran over her selection of sweaters. Most of them were best for winter, but she did have a handful of long-sleeved options for the fall. Typically she would pair a tank top with her jean jacket or a t-shirt with a cardigan. It had been a while since she had been on a first date. She wanted something that showcased her tits and her personality. Something a little more than her every day wear.
The fabrics shifted and swayed as she rummaged. A sense of déjà vu washed over her. She was looking for something, had been looking for something. Jázmin closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them a misplaced item was screaming her name. There in her closet tucked between her long sleeved, oversized denim shirt (paired with a belt and leggings she would embody Peggy Bundy or be the most talented, tortured girl in a college pottery class) and her cardigan decked out with coffees, pumpkins, and leaves (not everything PSL themed was bad, you know) was a jacket. A light, leather jacket with the stitched elbow. The one she had resigned to never seeing again when she left it behind. It hadn’t been on purpose, moving out was hard.
Yet, there it was. She reached out slowly for it. Her hand on guard as it it would lash out and bit her. She could see it, the red stitches opening up like teeth and chomping down on her fingers. A chill ran across the back of her neck.
A dream, there was a murder or a theft. Clusters of friends or family all set up on a train like situation. It wasn’t a train though it was like little trailers with wooden frames, dry wall. She had been there before she was here in here apartment. The inspectors with their clouds of black dust rummaging through her apartment. They had left before she started rummaging herself.
That was crazy, Jázmin thought. It was just a crazy dream. Still she gingerly grabbed the top of the hanger, and pulled it toward her. If she hadn’t known better she would have figured it had been there the whole time and had just been stuck in limbo, smooshed in place by her other clothes; not hooked on the bar, not fallen to the floor. She was careful to not touch the jacket in any way, her arm reached as far out as possible. It was definitely her jacket. It looked the same, but different. New lines ran across it, that familiar smell of spices swarmed around it like dirt coming off Pigpen. It was her’s but it wasn’t.
It wasn’t the same. She tossed it onto the laundry basket, the jacket flew open as quickly as Jázmin’s mouth. A gasp escaped. The lining was red. Bright, blood red. It matched the stitching perfectly.
It was what she always wanted. But. . . she thought back to her dream. That first day she truly felt under the weather. The door had been locked, right? But the chain, it had been off the hook! Her phone had been in the kitchen, but she swore she had tucked herself into the couch with it. Thoughts swam around her head as the spiced sweet fragrance of the coat swirled around her nose.
No one has the liner of a coat replaced and then breaks into the coat owner’s house to replace it. It was all the TV she had been watching. Those damn soap operas for teens and young adults. Murder, mayhem everywhere. Everyone was a suspect. Not in real life. There had to be a logical explanation for it.
Jázmin leaned forward. Her breasts pushing the top of her bra, the back of her thong riding up further. She slid the jacket from the hanger and twirled it around. It felt the same. She checked the pockets. Her fingers running over the recently polished leather into the silky pockets. More red lining. Something stabbed her.
“Fuck,” she muttered to herself.
She pulled her hand back, a small line of blood ran the top of her finger. She licked it, the metallic bitterness stinging her tongue. Jázmin returned her hand to the pocket: WAS SUPPOSED TO BE YOUR CHRISTMAS PRESENT THIS YEAR, ANYWAY MERRY CHRISTMAS —
A pang filled her chest for a moment before erupting into a flame of anger. It simmered, her phone dinged from on top of her jeans. Nelson had texted her. A smile softened her face. Nelson was nice, and funny, and expecting her in forty-five minutes. Whatever the intention of the jacket was, or how it appeared in her closet, had nothing to do with her. For years it had been her go to jacket, the pièce de résistance of all her outfits.
Jázmin threw on her jeans and the first top she saw, cream with high neckline decorated with a single devastating bow and a plunging back. It would work perfectly with the jacket and her favorite heels. Still practical enough to enjoy dinner and anything else that might happen after, but also polished enough to really showcase her shine. Boy, did she shine tonight, Jázmin gave herself a once over in the mirror and headed out for the evening.
She had been in the car, her Uber driver preferring the radio to conversation when she heard the announcement. A body, a woman, was found murdered in her apartment. A glass of red and an open book on the table. The newscaster felt it was critical to mention that she was a beautiful young woman living alone reading James’ The Turn of the Screw. As if that made her more than other victims: pretty and smart. Nearly unheard of outside of the movies, right? Jázmin rolled her eyes.
Poor thing, she thought to herself. Her copy of the same book had been left behind, lost like her coat. She had a feeling it had been taken hostage. A spiteful, vengeful move, but not everyone was capable of being mature.
It appeared to be a break in though she had last been seen at Vän, the same Swedish place Jázmin had loved to go when she lived in that neighborhood. Now she had her own places to eat, no exes to avoid or incorrect delivery addresses to deal with. The car bumped down onto uneven pavement. The construction had been going on since she moved in.
The Uber driver raised the volume to combat the noise underfoot. . . “have taken her lover in for questioning.” Massive bump “has an alibi,” more bumps, “a few items were taken including a leather jacket the deceased had been wearing at Vän and some jewelry, most notably a gothic necklace. It seems the thief did not take anything from the home, just from the victim.”
Jázmin tugged self consciously on the sleeves of her jacket as the driver pulled up in front of her building. She took a deep breath keeping the impending nausea at bay. Everything was okay. She wasn’t under the weather anymore, no thick clouds of heavy air fighting to hold her down. She was breathing easy.
Her phone pinged and vibrated in her hand.
“We’re here,” the Uber driver said.
“Of course,” Jázmin said. She shook her head and exited the car. “Thank you,” she added as she closed it. She looked down at her phone. Nelson was calling her. Nelson, who was good and kind and funny. Nelson with whom she had an amazing date, who most certainly did not smell of cardamom, ginger, or cinnamon.
“Hey,” she said, swiping the screen.
“Hi,” Nelson’s voice came through the phone. “Know it’s kind of silly, but I wanted to make sure you got home okay.”
“Just walking up to my apartment now.”
“Terrific. There was a break in nearby me –”
“I heard. How sad.”
“It might be a different neighborhood, but the description they gave. Minus the hair color, she could have been you. It seems that she’s been dead less than a week, but definitely more than a few days. I was just checking in.”
“I appreciate it.”
Jázmin unlocked the front door of the apartment building and made her way upstairs. The whole time she and Nelson continued mindlessly chattering. As if they hadn’t just been on this amazing first day, but instead were a fabric of each other’s lives, too soon for that but it was nice to have that sense of familiarity.
She entered her apartment. Everything seemed the way she had left it. She walked back to her bedroom, her closet, and returned her leather jacket. Removing her jeans, she threw them back on the dresser to wear out for errands tomorrow, Jázmin stripped down to just her thong and threw on a hoodie. As Nelson continued telling her about a murder where he had grown up in some small town out in the sticks of PA, she opened her jewelry box. Her heart dropped into her stomach.
“Oh my,” she muttered.
“Right? Absolutely horrifying,” Nelson continued.
She nodded at the phone forgetting that Nelson couldn’t see her, barely aware that she was still on the phone.
There in her jewelry box was her grandmother’s necklace, an old Victorian looking thing of great sentimental value to her. Something she had thought was long gone, like her jacket, and yet, her it was snuggled up in her jewelry box just waiting for her. Her gothic necklace as it had been called, returned to her like her leather jacket. Jázmin wondered about the victim’s copy of The Turn of the Screw. Was it sold as a one of kind to her? Was it the one with the smallest coffee stain on page 248?
Chills ran down Jázmin’s neck. That heavy, under the weather feeling had returned.