Martha Clarkson: True Crime


Clarkson remembers a childhood of crime stories real and fictional @ Blood Orange Review.

From the time he was a teenager, my father was obsessed with mysteries. Murder, mostly. Not so much an appreciation for the traditional writers like Poe, with live organs beating below floorboards, but about those movies with cryptic notes delivered by expressionless men in tight collars, about elongated shadows on walls lit by streetlamps, about people trying to outwit a clodgy gumshoe. My father didn’t own a gun and his job had no relation to the law, like cop or private eye; he spent his days in the smooth comfort of writing ad copy. It was the detection of clues that fascinated him; the movies where Clifton Webb attempts to murder his beloved Laura and ends up shooting the wrong girl; where a key left under a stair carpet sends Ray Milland to jail.

At birthdays and Christmas, my parents strove to find the unusual toy. For my sixth birthday they bought me a dollhouse, but nothing about it was traditional, more an architect’s model than a true home for dolls. The roofless, one-story house was made of plastic walls and situated on a large masonite square painted with patches of green for bushes and a blue walkway from the front porch to the mailbox, where there was even a small white plastic letter you could put out for an imaginary mailman. Stenciled on the mailbox was the name Davis and inside the house a man and woman named Mary and Roger, each about an inch high. The square yard sat on four plastic legs, so it was up off the floor a few inches, giving you the feeling that Mary and Roger had a skyline view. The special part of this toy was its two wands, each of which had an upturned magnet on the end, allowing manipulation of Mary, Roger, and all of their furniture, magnetically from underneath, through their ultra modern quarters.

Sometimes my father would sit down on the rug with me at the Davis’. I’d give him a wand and take one myself and we’d start to move Mary and Roger around. Inevitably, he’d say, “Now, let’s pretend that Roger wants to murder Mary. Put Mary in the kitchen, honey, so he can come up behind her. Imagine a baseball bat in his hand.”
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