9 Crimes

by Jennifer Todhunter

Inspired by: “9 Crimes” by Damien Rice, 9 (2006)

Lily appeared from the kitchen wearing patchouli, her crooked smile, and the scarf I’d given her on our wedding day. I’d chosen one covered in great horned owls because she hadn’t slept through the night in the six years we’d known each other. She never wanted to miss a thing.

“It’s nothing to worry about, Tim,” she said, collecting her keys. “You don’t have to come with me.”

I tried to smile, to ignore the fact that she’d felt like shit since returning from our honeymoon three months earlier, and grabbed my jacket off its hook.

“I took the day off,” I said. “We can go for lunch afterwards—try the sushi place you’ve been talking about.”

Lily was silent when she got the news, her right-hand braced against the doctor’s desk, her left grabbing at air. I mumbled something about going to the bathroom, when I really just needed to get away. The truth filled the room and made it impossible to catch my breath.

I ripped the paper towel dispenser off the tile wall, and slammed it against the mirror. A wide gash split across my knuckles, and I tried to stop the bleeding with a handful of toilet paper before facing all the eyes in the waiting room.

Sitting outside in the crisp winter air, Lily asked if I’d share a plate of sashimi with her and told me she finally wanted to try the namako. She wrapped her scarf around my hand, and my blood stained her owls bright red. I wondered how the hell I was going to look after her when I couldn’t look after myself.

Crime: Property Damage


We were living on my income, in a house we couldn’t afford to keep and couldn’t afford to sell. We sold our car, our couch, and our wedding china, but it wasn’t enough. When a young family with two-month-old twins offered us twenty percent below asking, I looked at our projected medical bills and told Lily we had no choice. Her illness didn’t understand our finances.

Recovering from her seventh treatment on the couch in our rented one-bedroom apartment, she flipped the page of a climate change article and said, “My sister’s coming over tonight. Why don’t you take the night off.”

“You’re not something I need to take a night off from,” I said stiffly.

Three hours and eleven fingers of scotch later, I stood orating on the steps of the public library about how my company wouldn’t grant me living bereavement.

“What if she dies?” I yelled. “I don’t need time off after she dies. I need time off while she’s still alive.”

Crime: Public Intoxication


Lily wasn’t responding to treatments, to her sister’s late-night telephone calls, to the soup and pastries and gifts her friends dropped by with unannounced. Every day, she’d wordlessly pile another aromatherapy candle or photograph album or box of chocolates into the linen cupboard.

“This is bullshit,” I said after someone delivered a blender.

Lily shrugged. “They’re just things.”

“Things you don’t need.”

I grabbed a laundry basket and piled the gifts inside. Lily followed me through the hallway and into the snow-filled back alley, where I dumped the items into a wheelbarrow.

“What are you doing?” Lily asked.

“I’m sick of watching you deal with this crap,” I said, returning for another load.

I brought the butane canister we used to fondue our housewarming supper, sprayed it over the stack, and lit it on fire with a barbecue lighter. Then I pulled a package of marshmallows from my pocket and offered Lily one on a stick.

“No more things,” I said, wiping snowflakes from her eyelashes.

She smiled her crooked smile. “No more things.”

Crime: Arson


I kept four ledgers for four different cheque books, drawn on four different accounts at four different banks, organized on my small desk squished in the corner of our living room. After dinner I would check the activity online, write a new series of fraudulent cheques for deposit on my way to work in the morning, then wash the dishes sitting beside the sink, Lily’s food untouched.

She never asked what I was up to, maybe because she didn’t care—or maybe because she knew healthcare was the worst kind of oxymoron. Either way, the more devastating the illness became, the faster we went through money we didn’t have, and the harder it was to keep up with spreading the funds and myself around.

Crime: Cheque Kiting


Lily became an expert at wrapping her bald head in silk scarves and pushing me away. There was no fondness, no kindness, no damn tactility to our relationship. I was only her caregiver.

One afternoon when her fistful of pills wasn’t enough, she leaned against the god-awful, puce-coloured kitchen wall, and met my stare.

“I want you to go,” she said.

“Where?” I asked.

“I don’t care where you go. Just get the fuck out of here.”

I took a cab to the closest bar, and ordered shots and pints until my chest released whatever it was trying to kill. A girl with an eyebrow piercing, wearing a sheer, black tank, squeezed in beside me and ordered a whiskey with her crimson lips, and all I could think about was kissing those lips because maybe they’d breathe some life inside me—maybe they’d tell me what the hell I was doing wrong or how the hell I was going to save Lily.

The girl smelled like oranges and vanilla, and when I got all up in her face, thinking I knew what I was doing, she shoved me back and yelled something that clunked around in my mind, unprocessed.

A hipster guy in a blazer shoved himself between us and gave me a push. I tried to stand, tried to walk away, but I fell into his space, and he bumped me again. That’s when it all came out—the stress and sadness and grief over Lily.

My knuckles cracked when they hit his jaw, and the pain felt good.

Crime: Assault


The anxiety surrounding Lily’s terminal diagnosis made her fixated and crazy. The doctors prescribed narcotics, but nothing could argue with the fact that her life was limited—and what life she had left was torture.

I called a friend from college who used to deal weed, and bought an eighth off him with money I would’ve spent on food if Lily was interested in eating.

At home, Lily reclined in the hospital bed we’d rented a few weeks earlier, and sparked a joint. The rigid pain lines across her face smoothed into milder peaks, and she didn’t pull her hand away when I tucked my fingers around hers.

Crime: Possession of a Controlled Substance


Lily wasn’t my owl anymore. She slept more than she was awake, her skin a pallid gray. She began wheezing one night in her sleep, which became a gasping that brought me to my feet. I called an ambulance and waited, pacing in the hallway between our bedroom and the front door, listening to her breathing become softer and softer. Five minutes became ten, ten became fifteen, and by twenty I’d had enough. I scooped her shrinking body into my arms and ran into the night, step-ping in front of the first car I saw. The owner refused to listen, so I dragged him out headlong into a parked car, placed Lily in the backseat, and sped to the hospital.

Crime: Grand Theft Auto


There was a cabin thirty miles north in the woods, where the great horned owls returned after their winter migration. It sat dormant most of the year, used by clubs in the summer as an outdoor school—like the one Lily volunteered at when she was well.

I left Lily at our apartment with her sister one weekend, and hiked along the trails until I reached the clearing that housed the structure. I brought a telescope, strawberries, and the collection of mixed CDs she’d hidden underneath our bed when music started to remind her of too much.

I picked the lock, set my things around the space, including the morphine pills I’d bought off a black market chat room at Lily’s request.

Then I went back to get her.

Crime: Breaking and Entering


Lily’s breath became labored as my heart thundered inside my chest. The fire spat in the fireplace, the only light in the room.

I slipped a pillow underneath Lily’s head. “Is that all right?” I asked, wanting perfection and hating it all the same. This should be messy. We should be messy.

Lily put her hand in mine, and curled around me.

“I’ve never seen an owl so big,” she whispered.

I watched her chest rise and fall, and wished she could fly away on the great horned owl’s wings.

Crime: Assisted Suicide

Jennifer Todhunter is a number nerd by day, word fiddler at night. She enjoys dark, salty chocolate and running top speed in the other direction. Find her at www.foxbane.ca or @JenTod_.