The Red Dress

Memory is a tricky thing. It could be altered too easily, Arthur thought. But maybe that was just because he was particularly good at tripping people up, getting them to confuse real events with ones he contrived. It’s true what they say, some people are naturally gifted in certain aspects of life, almost like little superpowers that seem insignificant in daily life, but have the potential to be extremely dangerous. As a detective, Arthur felt he had a sense of duty to use his gift for good. He put the bad guys away and he set the good guys free. What determines innocence and guilt? Arthur and evidence. Well, Arthur’s interpretation of the evidence. The man seated before Arthur on the cold metal chair that had held many men before him and would hold many men after, was no different. Arthur could usually tell very quickly after looking at someone if they were guilty or innocent, it was a part of his gift, however the real magic occurred after Arthur spoke. Unlike the man, Arthur was used to his cold chair, which sat opposite the metal table to which the man was handcuffed. The chairs were exactly the same, yet Arthur’s was infinitely more comfortable. The man picked at his government issued sleeve, as Arthur examined the man and his file in turn. The man had pleaded not guilty to killing his wife, the file read, he had gotten angry after an argument and pushed her down the stairs. Arthur examined the man again: slight, tired, unkempt. Was this man a murderer? Arthur had sat opposite many criminals in the small interrogation room with chipped, yellowing paint and filled with the faint scent of urine. This man was no different.
“Tell me about your wife,” Arthur broke the silence and the man finally looked up meeting his soft eyes,
“She is the-”
“Was” Arthur interrupted, then gestured for the man to continue as he lowered his head.
“She was,” he said the word quietly, as if that would make it less true, “the love of my life.” Arthur had heard such things before, however love was not a sign of innocence, quite the opposite in fact. Love was the most common motive.
“Tell me about that night,” Arthur said in a gentle, yet authoritative tone that worked so well to make people feel safe, yet compelled them to tell the truth.
“Well, I was in the bedroom getting ready, we- we were arguing, it was so stupid really,” the man laughed sadly. “She thought I spent too much time at work, and I disagreed, but she was right, as always.” Arthur stayed silent, one of his best tactics to extract information as people usually worked hard to fill silences. “I heard a crash...she was lying at the bottom of the stairs, there was blood, a lot of it, I called for help, but it was too late.” The man blinked back tears, as Arthur analyzed his actions. He seemed genuinely upset, but many people were after they’d killed their lovers.
“It says here, some of the contusions were inconsistent with a fall down the stairs, can you explain?” Arthur asked. He tried to keep his questioning soft and calm at the beginning, it helped the suspects trust him.
“I don’t know, I- well, no” he struggled to answer.
“Hmmm,” Arthur began, “well the coroner says these injuries were sustained prior to the fall, can you tell me about those?”
“I didn’t mean to- I was sometimes too rough with her, I’ll admit that, but I’d never kill her!” the man insisted. Arthur began to nod to calm the man down,
“Of course, but isn’t it possible that night you got a little too rough?” Arthur asked.
“No, I was in the room when it happened.” The man said.
“Are you sure about that? You know sometimes people can alter their memories to protect themselves from something someone did to them or something they might have done to someone.” This was the second stage, if a person can’t trust their memories, how can they defend themselves?
“No. No, I would know” the man said.
“Would you? What color was the dress she was wearing that night?”Arthur asked.
“Red,” he answered quickly, “or it may have been that blue one she liked.”
“Well...which is it? Red and blue are very different colors.” The man sat there thinking for a minute, which seems like a short time, but seconds stretched longer in silence.
“Red, I’m sure of it,” he finally answered.
“You’re wrong,” Arthur replied. Of course the man wasn’t, his wife died in a red dress, but Arthur knew this would affect the man’s memory and his confidence in it. The man sat there for some time, altering his memories. As he replayed the night in his head, the dress was now blue.
“Tell me about the moments immediately proceeding your wife’s fall,” Arthur changed the subject.
“She said she would go to the party without me since I didn’t seem to want to spend time with her.” He paused, and Arthur sat patiently for the man to continue. “I grabbed her arm...maybe a bit too hard, then she left and then,” he swallowed, “you know.”
“Are you sure it happened in that order?”
“Well I might have grabbed her before that, but I am pretty sure-”
“Pretty sure, is not sure.” Arthur said in a harsh tone for the first time. The man paled.
“Well I know we fought in the room and then she left,” the man began.
“And you are certain you didn’t follow her?” Arthur cut him off.
“Well I did eventually, I just waited a bit.” Arthur had decided this man was guilty as soon as he saw the history of abuse, now he was determined to get a confession.
“Can you say how long you waited?”
“A few minutes, until I heard the noise,” the man shuddered, seemingly recalling the sound.
“You must have been quite angry that night, to put your hands on her,” Arthur said, “you don’t strike me as a man to hurt a woman without good reason.”
“I was very angry she was questioning my love for her, my fidelity.”
“And you didn’t follow her until after you heard the noise?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Well, you were also sure her dress was red” Arthur argued.
“I- I can’t remember, I just remember arguing with her and then I found her at the bottom of the stairs” he was crying now.
“Remember what I said, memories can be altered,” Arthur began gently, “sometimes people do it unconsciously to avoid the guilt,” Arthur was so close he could feel the man’s resolve cracking.
“I wouldn’t do that to her, would I?” he asked Arthur, who had been so patient and kind to him.
“You did.”
“No, I-, no that can’t be true, I would know. Wouldn’t I know? I can’t remember now, but-”
“You’ve hurt her before, you just went too far this time.”
“I did it? I couldn’t have, but how else...I must have done it, I don’t know”
“She was leaving without you after insulting you all night!” The man nodded. “You had to stop her, so you followed her and pushed her down the stairs.” He shook his head, his face filled with horror.
“I-I no, no!” his snot mixed with his tears.
“There is no other explanation” Arthur said
“I did it?” the man asked his friend, who only nodded in response. “I did it.”

Arthur finished his final report of the day, he closed the folder and pushed his chair out. As he put his coat on he heard his partner say it,
“I don’t know how you do it,” he whistled, “but man, you always get them to confess.”
And he was right. Once Arthur decided someone was guilty, he would use his power to make sure they knew it too.