After the fifth time she came home late to find John waiting for her, Molly had tucked her spare key under her mat.
"Aren't you worried someone will rob you?" he'd asked, on the sixth, as he scratched Spilsbury under the chin.
"Not particularly," she'd said, curling her feet up under herself on the sofa. "Anyone who gave it a proper go could pick my lock, but this way you won't scratch it trying."
"Pragmatic as always," he'd said, smiling, and she'd smiled back and said, "Yes."
Molly has a scientist's relationship to certainty. She collects information. She likes journal articles and Google and library books; she spends more time than she ought on Project Gutenberg, and the shelves in her flat keep accidentally overflowing. She knows that the Pearl-bordered Fritillary remains in the cocoon for ten to fourteen days and is declining in the UK; that the local gravitational acceleration in London is 9.816 m/s2, even though it doesn't much come up in the morgue; that it's faster to walk from Barts to her flat than to take a cab unless it's below freezing, after 10 p.m., or she's had more than two pints at the pub; and that the healthy human heart weighs, on average, 310 grams, and is just larger than her own clenched fist.
It's not so much that she likes to know things positively as that she likes to know ahead of time what it is that she can't know at all. She has had hard lessons in the anatomy of grief and grieving, in helplessness; she's folded back the sheet to exhibit grey and deserted faces to more pale and trembling relations than she can count. Death won't be dammed. Instead Molly has learned set phrases and scripts to carry her through rough waters: footholds, stepping stones.
One: I am sorry for your loss. Two: tea.
Molly makes a lot of tea for a lot of people, that summer. She starts buying HobNobs, even though she doesn't like them, because most people seem to; she keeps them in the cupboard over her kitchen sink and another pack in her desk at Barts and hands them out to people when they drop by: Couldn't believe—he was always so—strange to think, isn't it? Greg's not well. He looks a decade older, and his mouth makes smiles uncomfortably and shakes when he tries to hold them. Pete Dimmock and Sally Donovan both pop in once or twice a week, never at the same time; and talk, uncomfortably, about the weather. David emails her more frequently than his forensics really merit; he never comes in, not even with Sally, but of course, Molly and David have never entirely got on.
Even John comes to visit Molly sometimes, but he always comes to her flat. He's checking up on her. She's glad. She likes to be able to look at his hand on his cup, and note whether or not it shakes, how hard and for how long. She likes to have specific details, when she writes. She likes to have concrete things to say.
The body was a bit under Molly's height, and slender, finely built; and it had had no face. Molly had cut it open, examined its organs, and inspected what it had left behind. It had false fingernails, and it had been, she'd noticed uncomfortably, rather extensively waxed. Molly had written that down. She had noted identifying marks: a mole on the left hip, a crooked left little finger, fine meshes of faint and faded scars on the knees. Molly wrote it all down. Observations and measurements, nothing more. Molly had taken her samples and filled out her report, and at the bottom, she had put the date, and signed her name.
In primary school Molly broke her arm, once, when her sister was trying to teach her to roller skate. She had sprained everything, constantly, the one year she thought she might like to give ballet a try; and two years later she ended up in A&E for a tumble out of a tree, and a white-coated, fatherly sort had spent the evening shining lights into her eyes and talking to her in a gentle, coaxing way; asking her to follow his fingertip with her eyes, to tell him if anything hurt.
He had asked her about school. She remembers that. He had asked her about school, so she had told him about solutions and precipitates, the transformation of one thing into another. It had been new to her, at eleven. It had made her heart pound, wonderful and bewildering like buds opening and leaves unfurling, like cocoons and snakeskins; like the instant fireworks-contraction of her sister's pupils when Molly had accidentally shone a torch in her eyes. The doctor had made low noises of interest and asked her to explain ionic bonding, so she had.
She'd done well, she thought, even before he'd said, Well, that's very helpful, Miss Hooper. Down you go; it's not a concussion. She hadn't been in a hospital again for seven years.
Molly has always been careful. She appreciates scientific consensus. She likes proof, paper trails, evidence. Her files say, Dr Ian Relmacher, BDS, DFO, indicates a match of subject's dental x-rays to the records of Mrs Jessica Brown (report attached). Her files say, DNA evidence links the subject to hair and skin samples drawn from 508 Crothenby Road, home of Mr Timothy Swindon, with 97% positivity (reports attached). Her files say, Subject was positively identified as Ms Irene Adler by Mr Sherlock Holmes on the basis of visual inspection (signed statement attached). She finds this comforting. She wishes she could do that the rest of the time, flip open the folders of her memory and say: Here, on page seventeen, highlighted in yellow: this indicates with 97% positivity that you told me you took your tea with milk but no sugar, on the tenth of August, 2002.
Molly spends that summer being careful with her verbs. Sherlock Holmes was tall and weird. He was difficult to talk to and cruel without trying. He wore costumes, sometimes—a traffic warden; an ambulance driver; a university student, alarming in his plastic glasses, threadbare jumper, and too-tight jeans—but either he was quite bad at being other people, or she was rather good at spotting him. She doesn't know which. It was his hair, she thinks. He had had beautiful hair, and he was vain about it; which is always something that she is ashamed to think about all that much, but she does. His photograph is around constantly, that's all; can't ride the Tube two stops without being smacked face-first into a full-page spread of irregular sea glass eyes and riotous curls. He wouldn't often surprise her, with who he was when he turned up; but he does, illogically, now. She feels divided in two, on Sundays, when she sits down to write and has to shift herself mentally to the other side of that line: is, has, will.
Sherlock responds in the guise of one of her old school chums (fictional). He has a Facebook page that says his name is Veronica Sigerson, who likes surfing and vegan cuisine and is more beautiful than any girl Molly has ever actually met in person. Veronica Sigerson has wavy blonde hair and supersaturated green eyes, a laughing mouth. She looks soft and friendly and she doesn't wear makeup, and it always makes Molly's heart flutter uncomfortably, when she sees Veronica Sigerson's name in her inbox.
Veronica Sigerson doesn't look particularly familiar, but she reminds Molly of a girl she met just after university, a friend of a friend, who had been looking for a flatmate at the time. Something in the way she holds her neck. The shape of her eyes. Molly doesn't remember the girl's name, but it wasn't Veronica Sigerson. Molly remembers that the girl who wasn't Veronica Sigerson had just moved to London for a postgraduate course and had had one of those odd, over-angular American accents that Molly has never been able to place more specifically; that she had sat on Molly's sofa with her feet tucked up under her and drank tea with milk but no sugar while they giggled over Wallace and Gromit and that she had ended up taking a room in a three-person flat in Bloomsbury, instead. It wasn't the last time Molly saw her; the girl had bought Molly a drink twice at the pub the night she'd come by to let Molly know; and kissed her, once, at a mutual friend's New Year's Eve party.
That was years ago, though—a decade, probably, by now. Ages. It's funny, what Molly does and doesn't remember. Molly doesn't remember the girl's name. She doesn't remember precisely where she was from or what she was studying, the color of her hair or the shape of her hands. Molly clicks on her inbox and shifts in her seat, her heart suddenly weightless. She pushes her hair back over her shoulder and mouses over the message. She can't ever be certain, of course, but she thinks the picture Sherlock uses on Facebook may actually be of Irene Adler.
Molly has always been careful. She appreciates scientific consensus. She likes proof, paper trails, evidence. Her files say, Dr Elizabeth Farring, BDS, DFO, indicates a match of subject's dental x-rays to the records of Mr Sherlock Holmes (report attached). DNA evidence links hair and skin samples from the subject to samples drawn from 221B Baker Street, home of Mr Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson, with 97% positivity (reports attached). Subject was positively identified as Mr Sherlock Holmes by Mr Mycroft Holmes on the basis of visual inspection (signed statement attached). Molly is never the one to put the names on her files. She finds that comforting, too.
Molly has a scientist's relationship to certainty. She knows that the gravitational acceleration varies with latitude and surface density; that if she broke her leg, she'd take cabs home instead of walking. She knows that the weight of a diseased heart can near a kilogram, and that when people in white coats say, The evidence indicates, they are giving themselves permission to heed what is now hidden but will be later unburied, and change their minds.
As a junior doctor Molly had examined throats and noses, inserted catheters and IVs, pressed paddles to chests that didn't move and should. Sometimes there was an awful lot of blood, never where it ought to be. Molly didn't particularly enjoy it. Urgency and uncertainty are dreadful in combination, still worse when mixed with significance; Molly has always been the sort of person who prefers to take her time.
The body was a bit under Molly's height, and slender, finely built; and it had had no face. Molly had cut it open, examined its organs, and inspected what it had left behind. It had false fingernails, and it had been, she'd noticed uncomfortably, rather extensively waxed. Molly had written that down. She had noted identifying marks: a mole on the left hip, a crooked left pinkie, fine meshes of faint and faded scars on the knees. Molly has some just like them, though hers haven't faded half so thoroughly: the sorts of things children get when they stumble on the playground, or fall off their bikes; when they kneel in the rocks next to the river, to watch a snake. At the time, and after, she'd found it difficult to imagine Irene Adler ever tumbling out of trees or scraping her knees. It had been difficult to imagine the woman on the internet as a child at all, really, or anything other than expertly made up and perfectly pressed; but Molly still wrote it all down. Observations and measurements, nothing more. Molly had taken her samples and filled out her report, and at the bottom, she had put the date, and signed her name.
Molly's dad, for his part, had died in stages. He had been present but less and less himself, had lost his hair and four stone and then he'd started to lose things. Birthdays. Family holidays. He'd said, Molly, my girl, and then, Molly, and then just Mols, the way her mum always said it, like he'd forgotten that he hated that, but he had loved Molly from beginning to end, even though she'd fought with her mum too often and turned tomato-red when she cried and not wanted white dresses or babies or the sorts of people who fit easily to her hands.
Molly is the sort of woman who collects information, and she knows its weight; she has a medical degree and spends her life with her hands in the Styx. She knows that her dad had lived long enough that every day was twenty-four hours strung together with nothing but luck. She knows that the healthy human heart weighs, on average, 310 grams, and is just larger than Molly's fist; it always seems smaller than it ought to be, somehow. She knows that that thought is irrational, too.
(A nickname for a nickname, her dad had always scoffed, when she was little and her mum had called Molly in from outside. Her mum had always shot him a dark look, even as the corner of her mouth was twitching up, and he would lean close to kiss her cheek. Then he would smile down at Molly and say, And you're always my Molly, aren't you, beginning to end?
Had been. Still was. Her own third certainty, perhaps. One: I'm sorry for your loss. Two: tea. Three: that she would always want to help, that she would do it if she could; that she'd always be her dad's Molly: her own anchor tethering her back through time, her own hands on the keyboard to her hands on the cat to her hands on his cup to her hands on their hearts to her hands on her cheeks on a torch on a tree; or splayed out on the gravel by the river as she knelt, bending forward, age seven, to watch a snake slither out of its skin.)
When Molly gets home, the deadbolt is undone, but the key is still under the mat, which is crooked. John is never so untidy. Molly braces herself, but her heart still unfolds gossamer wings, gone weightless beneath her ribs; and inside, Molly does her best, but she still makes—at her best count—two hopefully-not-too-serious mistakes.
Bother. She wishes Sherlock had prepared her for this.
The woman has black curls and ocean-water eyes, and she's wearing unflattering lipstick and a too-big synthetic blouse, and she'd talk Molly out of her silver and heirloom jewelry if Molly had any of either in the flat. Molly doesn't recognize her.
Molly asks, "You're Irene Adler, aren't you?"