“Hey, Carrie,” I said, rather melancholic. “Did you know you have a spot of green paint on your nose?”

“Oh!” she replied, rubbing at it. Now I was paying a close attention to her, I could also see the faint marks of other coloured paints that had been just washed off her hands.

“I’m sorry, it was art-time upstairs,” she said, in lieu of an explanation.

“Everything okay now, then?”

“Mrs. Karkroff has her up and down moments, Aggie, I’m sorry you got caught in one. She can be a whirlwind exploding out when she wants to be.”

“But are you okay? What she said was malicious.”

Carrie shrugged, her eyes flickering with a little anger.

“After two years in this post, I’ve got used to her outbursts. I’ve never seen her strike out before, though, apparently, my predecessor was fired because of a disagreement with Mrs. Karkroff. Though, it’s just rumours, of course.”

Her face disappeared behind the handtowel, and her voice, and its last part of the sentence, was muffled, but when she reappeared, her face was clean and shining bright. When she saw the true sadness of my expression, however, her face seemed to drop back, dulled.

“What’s wrong?”

“I have to head back to the hotel. And I don’t know when I’ll be back here.” I shrugged. “Mum, well…she thinks what I’m doing is bad.”

“She thinks your helping us by investigating a murder is bad?” Carrie stared at me.

“Well, you know what my mum is like. I…haven’t actually told her why I’m here in Moscow. It’s just a holiday trip for her. I’m…I’m the problem; I’m the one in the way. Over there, in her view, and here too, I’m in the way of everybody else.”

Carrie’s eyes were still caught in the headlights of life.

“What?” And then she began to giggle. “How do you always get about your investigations without your mother knowing a thing?”

“Carrie! Stop it!” I managed to hit her arm, even though she had cheered me up a little. “I should probably make my way back… I don’t want to be in any more trouble than I’m worth.”

“You’re always worth the trouble,” Carrie said. “I remember the first time you came to see me, you led a bomb to the blue room; the second time, you’d walked all the way from the middle of Oxford in the middle of the night- in moccasins! But you helped me at that point. The demons surrounding me were vanquished that night, you know, and it was because you helped me so.”

“I still wear moccasins,” I said blandly, despite her kind-meaning words. “Just not in the deep Moscow snow…”

“What I mean to say, Aggie, is that you’re no trouble here. You’re very useful to us all.”

“Really? I’m sure Inspector Simnova would disagree...” Now, I was beginning to evolve into bitterness again.

“Misha likes you, really-”

“I just don’t feel like I’m doing well here...” I sighed. “I should really go.”

“If you think so. I guess you shouldn’t keep your mother waiting...” Caroline also gave her lonesome sigh, as she closed her eyes.

Finally, I broke away from our dual reverie and, coming to my senses, I tucked the sweat-marked phone into my pocket, and turned on a heel to wander back into the luscious garden. The smell of berries flooded into my nostrils, sweet; the garden was a place of brightness against the dull black of the physical house and its lack of activity.

Mr. Thomason met me as I encountered the shrubs again, curious to inspect the wine cellar still further. From the look that crossed his face, he was happy to see that my phone call had ended. The man himself seemed to have been ending his own call, and his jaw jutted out, an attempt to hide the worry that crept in and out his eyes.

“I’m gonna head back home now, Miss King, if you’re done with me.”

“Sure…” I found my conscience resurfacing like a deep wave, and the guilt caught in my throat, forcing bile the wrong way. Though I heard his sure words, I didn’t notice the man make his way out the ornate front-gate; I was too lost in my own mistakes.

“Agnetha...” called Carrie from the doorway. Instead of saying more, she simply waved me off with a pocket handkerchief, possibly one of her late husband’s, I mused.

At the gate, I took one final turn to see her, still smiling, her face decorated with an encouraging smile that filled my spirits with warmth. She had neat teeth and ruby lips; all I had were big pink lips that pulled back over large jutting front-teeth in an attempted smile. I could never be as pretty as her. Not even my own words would tell of the opposite.

I wandered away into the late afternoon, watching as the sun dropped, tired, into the mountain range that hung, suspended by light, in the distance. The world was given a frozen yellow-orange glare that seeped strongly into even closed eyes.

My feet were dragged through the melting snow, the ice sticking itself relentlessly to my boots. I was heading back into a useless nothingness.

The End

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