by Laura Kathryn Rogers
When my sister Lisa died, I was not surprised when they quickly found the body. In fact, I could have told them where to look.
You see, I was the person who killed her.
She was two years younger than me, and the darling of the family. She never put a foot wrong in the eyes of my parents. Only I knew the ugly, redoubtable truth. And finally, it was up to me to do something about it. And, so, I did.
It wasn’t unpleasant. In my mind, it was justly deserved. The crime was effortless, possibly because I’d been planning it since we were toddlers. Yes. Yes. I’d hated her just about that long.
We’d been a study in contrasts, Lisa and I. I was not your typical oldest. You know, OCD, controlling, with an overblown herding instinct for anyone younger than me.
No, I opened my eyes, fresh out of my mothers womb, looked around, and really wanted to go back inside her warm, safe cave. However, that was not an option. Out into this world I was shoved, expected to make decisions, produce, look and act smart, and in some way be responsible for the Lisa’s of the world.
I wasn’t going to have any of it.
I summed up the planet in a child’s keen but practical way. I saw a place where there were pictures to paint, men to be wooed by, songs to sing. And I didn’t feel responsible for anyone–not even myself. Life was a party, and I planned to dance my way through it.
Lisa was that child who always produced, always pleased, and never let our parents down. And while they did not see it, Lisa made sure that our differences were apparent. She would find subtle ways to make me look bad, all the while turning up the sweet face of innocence. When we were alone, she would turn her slate gray eyes to me, and I would see the truth of her hatred. She wanted me to be gone too.
Maybe it was then, that I started wanting to kill her, maybe before. It hadn’t taken my parents long to see that whatever native talents I’d been hiding, babysitting was not one of them. They chalked it up to my irresponsibility that I just wasn’t good at keeping track of Lisa.
What they didn’t know, was I tried to leave her places, hoping against hope that someone would want a perfect little girl like her and never bring her home. Yet, Lisa was always able to remember our address, even as a very young child, damn her. And so she always came back home. After a while my parents hired a babysitter for her, and left me to my own devices.
Darling Lisa. She seemed to wake each morning with a laundry list of great and meaningful things to do. Not for her, charming sister of mine, to let a single day happen, unfold. She had everything neatly planned, never a hair out of place. Why couldn’t I be like that, our parents questioned? Be organized? Plan?
Internally, though, I did have my own list–of all the ways that I would like to see my sister Lisa die.
I was the sister with hair forever out of place. I was the one who nearly didn’t graduate high school because I hated math and didn’t feel the need to pass the class.
A teacher, who knew my family asked me to write a paper on Eudemus, one of the guys who hung out with Plato and Socrates. I couldn’t tell you the first thing that I wrote–as soon as I put the paper in the teacher’s hands, she read it, and gave me enough points to pass (and thus graduate) I drove the learning out of my brain. I was already, impulsive way, mentally en route to my graduation party. Who gave a damn about Plato?
I was blessed in a way, because, while my parents didn’t appear to think that I had any talent, a Hollywood producer did. He saw me on an after graduation trip that I had slung hash and served indigestible burgers for years to pay for. Lisa never worked after school, as my parents felt she needed time to study. When she graduated as class valedictorian, they sent her to Europe as a reward.
I was on the beach, free of my perfect sibling for the first time since I was a toddler. Free of well-meaning comments about how if I just tried, I could be better. You know, like my sister, Lisa.
Everyone seemed full of such comments, meant to stir up latent responsibility in me. However, that day, the universe was smiling on me. The producer struck up a conversation with me as I soaked in the sun.. He was hungover, bored, actually looking for a bit of bedroom action that didn’t involve the wife with whom he was equally bored.
Instead, he found me. Not particularly pretty (anyone in my family could have told him so), not really smart, and totally quirky. Perhaps it was my random ordinary-ness that appealed to him. Before you could say “your place or mine” (and actually we never ended up being lovers, only work associates,) I had a screen test, and a fat movie contract. My ticket back to my Iowa hometown was torn to shreds and flushed down the toilet.
I couldn’t be happier.
Nine years later, I had somehow forgotten to call home, send letters, or even communicate with a life, which was to all practical purposes, dead for me. I was having too much fun. The producer turned out to have some great connections. some of whom were talented writers.
In all the fuss of my ‘discovery’ as they called it, they taught me to dance, sing and act. Well, actually, they didn’t have to teach me to act….I think I had always known how to do that, just to survive life with the perfect Lisa.
I had quite the life up until recently. I had the requisite Hollywood mansion, several more cars than I needed, all kinds of dates with the A-List bachelors and resultant coverage in the tabloids. As always, I saw it as fun, what life was supposed to be.
I would sometimes think about Lisa, toiling away in medical school, trying to hard to BE someone. I would laugh. I already WAS someone, and I had gotten there without trying. The black sheep of the family turned golden–and without any effort.
Surely some relevant moral was present.
Three months ago, however, things began to change. Things were going well on the movie set where I was filming my latest project. The plot was, interestingly enough, a “Baby Jane” sort of rivalry between two sisters. As usual, I was the star, and people treated me that way.
I never had the problems in Hollywood that I had had in Iowa. People saw results here, and my results were that, at age 27, I had two Oscars, and three non-winning nominations. I was the highest paid actress in town. And I didn’t even have to sweat to get it. And…now, even better, for the first time in my life, I had more. I was in love.
In my previous relationships, I had never given love much thought. It was much like the acting which brought me wealth, acclaim and more movie offers than I could complete. A man came into your life, it worked as long as it worked, and then you moved on. That all my men ultimately left me and were, within months, engaged or married to others caught my attention, but didn’t rent a room in my head. They wanted something different than I did, I reasoned. I wished them well when they said goodbye.
Not so with Arthur Hastings. I was shocked by my initial rush of attraction to him, because he seemed very much an ordinary man. He was hired to be my personal assistant. He was had the natural blonde hair that was coveted in Hollywood. Clear green eyes. But I don’t think anyone would have called him handsome. He seemed, as I had once believed about myself, totally ordinary.
At first, I was annoyed by him. He took exceptionally good care of me, but he didn’t always say yes to me. I was used to, by then, being told yes, right or wrong. Arthur would look at me, with laughter in his eyes, and say no, then gently explain why my latest demand was not in my best interests.
Then, he would offer me an alternative, one that I would usually accept–and then find that I actually preferred most of the time. The times I didn’t agree, I would stand my ground, and we’d go off on a merry-go-round of infatuated stubbornness. But I never held his job over his head to get my way. I knew if I did, he would leave…and I did not want him to go.
We soon became lovers. Making love with the man was an event, something like a circus and a rock show combined. His conservative approach to life flew to the wind in the bedroom, and I was stirred to places that I didn’t think were possible. It was not merely sex–it was a work of art, which each time, created a masterpiece from our efforts.
This was the man I planned to marry.
I never guessed that Arthur might not want to marry me. Certainly it was advantageous to have a relationship with benefits with a famous movie star. And, he had never told me he loved me. After a time, he’d moved into my home. Anytime I wanted to go out, he was willing to escort me. He stood up to me just enough that I respected him. He never bored me. He had his own money inherited from a rich old Aunt, so my possessions didn’t interest him. He was perfect.
Then, on the movie set, I got a phone call from Lisa.
She was in Los Angeles, and she was concerned about me, she said. Had hoped she could stop in on the set and have a ‘talk.’ I groaned quietly as she said these words. The ‘talk’ was likely to be a prolonged attempt at guilting me about my neglect of the family.
Despite all of my successes, the Oscars, the million-selling films, and the lavish lifestyle that was splashed across People Magazine and celebrity television shows, there had not been one comment from the parents. Not one appearance at an awards show, though I had my agent invite them.
Instead, I could feel their deep disappointment in me, reaching out from our humble home on Birdsong Drive. The silent comparison to my sister, who had recently graduated from medical school, first in her class.
I didn’t want to see Lisa, but Arthur convinced me. He was curious about where I had come from. He found it fascinating that my people never wanted to be interviewed, in fact had refused to ride the publicity train of a major star.
We were at a place in our relationship, he suggested, that he reasonably should know more about my family. After all, he’d introduced me to his parents, gentle, sweet elderly folk from Santa Barbara, who seemed to like me. I knew his two sisters and his brothers, who all worked on movie sets, and who had worked for me at one time or another. Why have secrets?
So, I called my sister at her hotel and we made plans.
Arthur picked Lisa up at her hotel, and within minutes of them arriving on the movie set, I noted a change in Arthur. He seemed less attentive to me somehow, even less desirous to argue with my choices, good or bad.
Instead, he was the soul of consideration to Lisa. My sister was her placid, gracious self–at least to others. However, as soon as we were alone, she made no attempt to hide her hatred of me. It came out in every look, gesture and snide comment when there no one around to witness it.
Arthur insisted that Lisa stay until the film was wrapped up, to give her idea about what show business was like. I objected, but was ignored. Before I knew it, Lisa was staying in one of the guest rooms in my mansion. The staff doted on her. and I boiled with barely concealed anger.
I began making mistakes at the filming. Lisa would pull me aside and advise me about what she’d seen me do wrong. “Don’t you think you should have put more emphasis on that last line, Sissy?”
Ye-Gods! That name! Soon everyone on the set was calling me “Sissy.” They got offended when I finally screamed that the next one who used the name would be immediately fired. In the corner, Lisa sat, knitting a scarf, contentedly.
It was starting again, and I could not bear it. This was my place. My town. I would not let her take it from me.
Arthur did not see it the way that I did. We had a few horrendous fights. He started sleeping in a guest room. At the time, I didn’t question which guest room. Or, that it ended up being with my sister.
Several weeks passed and I started wondering when Lisa would go back home. She had mentioned starting her residency program, but when? I had hardly listened when Arthur told me.
It seemed he was talking about Lisa incessantly, to anyone who had listened. They seemed to be spending a lot of time together, off the movie set. Because I had been so busy, he had taken Lisa on drives to point out the beautiful scenery. He’d even taken her to Santa Barbara.
The day we wrapped up shooting was one I would never forget.
Both Arthur and Lisa were absent. I was grateful for Arthur babysitting my sister (that had to be what it was) because, without her on the set, I made no mistakes, I got the job done. People appeared to have forgiven me for resisting my nickname and were nice to me again. A bit guarded, perhaps, but kind.
I really didn’t need their kindness, but I preferred things as they had been when Lisa was in Iowa. Away from me. Away from my movie set. Away from Arthur.
There had been a great cheer when we wrapped the last scene. That was normal. Time for champagne, and a wrap party. Time to perhaps convince Arthur that it was time to he returned to our bed.
Then, there was a hush. Then a roar of approval that was greater than the usual ‘thank God its over’ hurrah. I looked where everyone else was looking. There were Arthur and Lisa.
In wedding clothes.
My sister looked beautiful (how could she look anything else?) resplendent in white silk and pearls. My parents stood beside her, grinning with pride. Arthur’s family were not far behind. On Lisa’s finger was a large marquise cut diamond, startling in its quality and in the beauty of its settling. Next to the equally beautiful wedding ring, of course. The ring given her by Arthur. the man I thought would someday marry me.
It took acting gifts that I didn’t know I had to get through the next hour. It galled me that my parents and Arthur’s expected (and literally insisted) that I go with them to the celebratory wedding dinner.
I sat there, watching the happiness all around me, but stopping just short of me. I made a vow. I would not let Lisa steal the only man I had ever loved. For this, she would die.
I looked across the room at my would-be groom, the husband of another, and found that he was looking at me. He made a gesture with his head to an outside room, and I followed him. Lisa did not follow.
“I guess we should have told you. It was just so fast. So amazing.”
“Spare me the details,” I said, “I know all about my sister…..”
“Look,” Arthur said, “We had a great thing going on, you and I. But I know you. We didn’t want the same things, Sissy.”
I closed my eyes trying to control my rage. “Don’t ever call me that name.”
“Can you tell me that it would have ever been more with you, S…ah, Joy?” Arthur asked, trying to be that reasonable, gentle man I’d fallen in love with.”I mean, look at your track record. Who has lasted more than a few months with you? I wanted some substance in my life. Not be a movie-star’s plaything. Lisa is going to work in Africa after she is finished with her residency. I’ll go with her. She is going to do great things.”
“But I loved you!” I said, my heartbreak, clear to me, in every word.
Arthur smiled. “You think you did.”
“No, I did. You don’t understand,” I said, tears filling my eyes and running down my face. “And you don’t understand Lisa. The only reason she wanted you was because she knew I loved you. She knew. It’s been like that our whole lives. She acts very kind, very caring. But underneath, she is evil. Hateful. This is all about me, getting at me. Not about you. You’ll see it in time. Don’t ask to come back then.”
I turned and walked back to their celebration, and said my goodbyes. Then, went and bought a handgun.
I would have used it that day, but I had to wait. Arthur and Lisa left that day for a Baltic cruise and were gone three weeks. They returned tanned and rested. Arthur bought a house, across the street from mine. He said Lisa didn’t want to live anywhere else. He tried to be kind, but I ignored him. I knew the truth. Lisa wanted to rub the marriage into every open wound I had, and believe me, there were many.
The day Lisa died was the day that my agent called with great news. He said that my last movie was number one at the box office and was getting raves by even the toughest critics. The ‘Baby Jane’ slant of the film got notice of the press, and Lisa was interviewed about whether my excellent acting had been talent or memories of sibling hatred.
Lisa, flashing her engagement and wedding rings said skillful things that made me, Joy, appear selfish, self-absorbed, and incapable of love or healthy relationships. “We have tried, Arthur and I, and we won’t stop. However, she’s always been that way.”
When I read this blurb, I tucked the handgun in my jean jacket and headed across the street.
Lisa answered the door herself, acting surprised. Her eyes told a different story. The hatred in the slate gray/blue eyes was plain despite her friendly tone. I had always known she hated me. I just hadn’t guessed how far she would take it. Now I knew. Now, she had to pay.
I started off with small talk. Childhood memories. At some point, I would pull out the gun. End conversation between us forever.
“Do you remember when we were about three and Mom made me take you to Bennett Park? That day you got lost?” I said casually. I sat down in her formal dining room, accepting a glass of tea from her.
“I didn’t get lost, Sissy.” Lisa said, her voice jolly, full of kindness. “You left me. You took me to that clown that was blowing up balloons. You asked him to do a special one for me. When I turned around, you were gone.”
“If that’s the way you remember it.” I said, casually, sipping deeply from my drink. Whatever else my sister was, she made excellent tea.
“I remember it that way, because that was the way it happened. And the clown, a convicted child molester, took me home, but not before he had a little fun with me. I was three years old.”
“How could I know he was a child molester?” I asked, starting in my seat.
“Three!!”” Lisa spat out. “Three!! Can you imagine what it is like to have a grown man do… things to you at that age? You left me there! Four hours, while our parents were searching, he did horrible, disgusting things to me. Then, he said, that if I ever told, he would kill our parents. I believed him. I never told.”
There was no pretense at sisterly love now. She was Cain, I was Abel.
“I was five.” I protested. ” I didn’t know people could do things like that….I…”
“Excuses!” Lisa raged.
And then, I saw it. I have never been the most discerning soul in the world, but that day, I saw it. It was in those slate gray eyes that looked at me only with blame. There was something more there. She was insane.
I started to get up, to get away from her, but she stopped me. With words.
“Run, you won’t get far. I was a very attentive medical student. What I put in your drink won’t be traced. I knew you were coming, you see. I knew that this one thing you would not be able to forgive. Nothing else I did even touched you. This time, I knew I had hit you in the heart. I knew you would not forgive. I was ready.”
I didn’t feel like anything was wrong. Was she lying about the poison? I didn’t know. Something greater possessed me. More than rage. I fastened my hands around her neck. She surprisingly did not resist. Moments later, she was on the floor, dead. And I was left with a quandary. I had killed my sister.
What next? I’d played a murderer in several of my films. My choke marks would show–unless she was found too late. Lucky for me, Lisa was very slender, and my last role had called for me to lift weights, bench-press nearly 300 pounds. Still, I drug her, feet first, enjoying seeing her once perfect hair get messed up as it moved along the floor.
No one was home. I supposed I was lucky. Lisa had intended that it be me that came out the door feet first. She had given her small housekeeping staff the day off. The fences in our neighborhood were too high to let curious neighbors in on the scene. I arranged Lisa in the passenger side of her tan Mercedes with pillows, making it look as if she were napping.
We got to the ocean, and I tied rocks to her wrists and ankles. I made sure that no one saw. For fun, I made sure we were in Santa Barbara for this sea burial. I laughed as I watched my sister go down in the water.
Lisa was found, and the papers ran with the tale. It was a tragedy, certainly, worsened by the fact that she was newly married.
But what made it worse still was, just after the funeral, her sister, the great movie star, Joy Winter, had gone missing. The parents of the siblings were bereft. Both their children gone. There were no clues in either investigation.
But, I could have told them.
As I had driven back home, I had begun to feel drowsy. Disoriented. Enough so to swerve a few times and nearly have an accident. I pulled over to the side of the road, turned on the radio. No music.
“Sissy, my dear, do you think I’ll go alone?” My heart began to race. Lisa’s laughter, joyfully malicious came out of the speakers. “I planned everything. A little taste of what happened to me.”
I heard a knock on my driver’s side door, and screamed. It was a clown. Waving. Reaching out. The door opened, although it had been locked. I felt hands go about my throat.
Later, when Lisa’s car was found, it was assumed that whoever had killed her had abandoned it there. Even in death, no one ever thought about me.
When I was killed, there was only one person who could have told you where to look for the body.
That would have been my sister, Lisa.
Trouble was, she was already dead.
And ever since I drew my last breath, Lisa has not been talking.