Note: The inspiration for the following poem comes from this writing prompt at Writer’s Digest, as well as from my previous promise to myself to work to write creatively more often.
Our relationship got off to about as inauspicious of a start as is conceptually possible. I met Mallory at the grocery store just down the road from my home in Newport, Rhode Island. She worked as a cashier when we first met, typically manning the lane with the cigarettes and RILot tickets. I’d come in once or twice a week, buy a pack of cigarettes, a two-liter of soda, whatever I wanted for dinner, and a bag of mints, then make my way home to my apartment where I’d spend my evenings enjoying some combination of eating dinner, watching football or baseball on television, showering, perusing pornography, and sleeping. On most visits, Mallory would be the one taking the money in exchange for my wares.
About a year after we first spoke, I came into the store for my regular visit, only to find Mallory behind the counter as normal. Her mascara was smeared and tear-stained, while her normally flawless hair appeared to be hastily stuffed beneath one of the store’s generic, bland hats. I offered to buy her a drink after she got off work and, much to my surprise, she took me up on it. Mallory’s long-term boyfriend had left her for one of Mallory’s close friends, so her sadness was understandable.
While that first night we shared at the bar wasn’t a date by any stretch of the imagination, we had our first date together less than a month later. We went to her favorite restaurant, a small Italian place name Donatello’s Family Pizzeria. It was a 25 minute drive away, but considering the tiny establishment had long been a favorite of mine as well, I didn’t mind. We both laughed when we realized that we loved the same kind of pizza — barbecue pizza with ham, green olives, almonds, and extra cheese. The waiter even joked that he’d finally found the only two people who would order such a strange pizza. It was mildly amusing to both of us.
The similarities between Mallory and me didn’t stop there. We both grew up in the small town of Allen, Vermont, a tiny hamlet just miles from Burlington. Considering the town itself was only 500 or so people, it was statistically surprising we had never met. That said, Mallory attended a private Catholic school in Burlington, which generally kept her away from town on weekdays, while my divorced parents’ custody agreement meant that I spent most weekends and holidays with my mother across the state line in New Russia, New York.
There’s always the chance we crossed paths at the grocery store here and there, but I feel like I’d remember someone with Mallory’s face. Even before we started dating, I found her to be incredibly memorable. Her eyes were tinted just lighter than azure, with a dark gray fleck in the right iris shaped like Bolivia. Her smile was a bit crooked, though I didn’t notice this until after one of our early dates. Whenever she laughed, her face would come back to a resting smile that left the right corner of her mouth slightly lower than the left. Unless she was actively thinking about it, Mallory’s mouth would naturally rest this way, albeit in a non-smiling manner. I found it charmingly cute, particularly because the asymmetry was completely undetectable when we kissed. Her face was typically framed by lengthy, straight brown hair that ran to the middle of her shoulder blades, though since we started dating, she had started wearing it up in a tight bun.
For our six month anniversary, I decided to take Mallory out to a nice restaurant along the coastline of the ocean. We had a lovely dinner — fettuccine alfredo and stracciatella ice cream for her and cheese lasagna and tiramisu for me — before a long walk on the boardwalk and beach. The night was calm and clear, with the waves from the Atlantic washing up on the shore with a serene, repetitive rhythm. After about twenty minutes of walking, we found a secluded spot on the beach to rest. Mallory removed a vacuum bag-packed blanket from her purse and laid it out on the ground. We curled up on the blanket, her head pressed tightly against my shoulder, and enjoyed the quiet of the night sky.
After twenty minutes or so of snuggling, Mallory broke the silence with words I always dreaded to hear from someone who I found to be so perfect for me.
“Listen, Chris,” she began. “I have something I really need to tell you. I like you a lot and I can’t keep going in this relationship without letting you know something about my past.”
“Oh?” I responded. I really hoped it wasn’t an issue she had with me. Everything seemed to be going so well, and I felt like Mallory really liked me. Of course, I’d thought that before, only to be broken up with rather unexpectedly on more than one occasion.
Mallory sat up and crossed her legs underneath her. She placed her hands together tightly, intertwining her fingers tightly as if to keep her hands from falling apart. She let out a long sigh, then began her speech.
“I’ve been living in Rhode Island for the last seven years now, though I don’t particularly enjoy living here. I’m actually only here because I’m trying to get away from my old life in Allen.”
“Did something bad happen to you while you were there?” I asked. I’d left Allen myself nearly twelve years ago after graduating high school. Despite its small size, Allen wasn’t the safest town in the world, as a string of six murders in six years had cut the town’s population nearly in half.
“Not exactly,” she responded.
Mallory went silent for a moment before burying her head in her hands and sobbing. I sat up from my laying position and wrapped my arms around her, holding her close as she cried. It took a few minutes for Mallory to compose herself, but eventually brought herself back to a more normal mindset.
“I really don’t know any better way to say this other than just to come right out and say it,” she continued. “You know how Allen had all those people die a few years back?”
“Yes,” I responded.
“I’m the Allen suitcase killer. I killed those six people, chopped up their bodies, buried them in suitcases outside of town, and kept the belongings they had on them. I never wanted to have to tell you this, but I didn’t want things to get serious without you knowing this about me. If you need to leave, I unde…”
“I knew there was a copycat!” I shouted, interrupting Mallory’s rapid train of thought.
“Wait…what?” she asked, perplexed.
“Once the first suitcase was found, I realized I had to get better about where I hid bodies, not to mention to stop only going after people from Allen,” I replied. “I didn’t recognize any of the other five suitcases that were found, though I figured I could have just forgotten what they looked like. I was nearly convinced of the copycat when two of the bodies dug up where people I had barely talked to, but this proves it.”
“So you’re the original Allen suitcase killer?”
Mallory wrapped her arms around my shoulders and embraced me tightly. Her sobs began again, though they were mixed with child-like laughter. For the first time since I met her, Mallory seemed truly at ease. And so long as she never uttered my secret to anyone, I could promise that her secret — and all that baggage that it entailed — would be safe with me.