Chapter no 10

The Lovely Bones

At the statewide Gifted Symposium each summer, the gifted kids from seventh to ninth grade would get together for a four-week retreat to, as I always thought of it, hang out in the trees and pick one another’s brains. Around the campfire they sang oratorios instead of folk songs. In the girls’ showers they would swoon over the physique of Jacques d’Amboise or the frontal lobe of John Kenneth Galbraith.

But even the gifted had their cliques. There were the Science Nerds and the Math Brains. They formed the superior, if somewhat socially crippled, highest rung of the gifted ladder. Then came the History Heads, who knew the birth and death dates of every historical figure anyone had ever heard of. They would pass by the other campers voicing cryptic, seemingly meaningless life spans: “1769 to 1821,” “1770 to 1831.” When Lindsey passed the History Heads she would think the answers to herself. “Napoleon.” “Hegel”

There were also the Masters of Arcane Knowledge. Everyone begrudged their presence among the gifteds. These were the kids that could break down an engine and build it back again-no diagrams or instructions needed. They understood things in a real, not theoretical, way. They seemed not to care about their grades.

Samuel was a Master. His heroes were Richard Feynman and his brother, Hal. Hal had dropped out of high school and now ran the bike shop near the sinkhole, where he serviced everyone from Hell’s Angels to the elderly who rode motorized scooters around the parking lots of their retirement homes. Hal smoked, lived at home over the Hecklers’ garage, and conducted a variety of romances in the back of his shop.

When people asked Hal when he was going to grow up, he said, “Never.” Inspired by this, when the teachers asked Samuel what he wanted to be, he would say: “I don’t know. I just turned fourteen.”

Almost fifteen now, Ruth Connors knew. Out in the aluminum toolshed behind her house, surrounded by the doorknobs and hardware her father had found in old houses slated for demolition, Ruth sat in the darkness and concentrated until she came away with a headache. She would run into the house, past the living room, where her father sat reading, and up to her room, where in fits and bursts she would write her poetry. “Being Susie,” “After Death,” “In Pieces,” “Beside Her Now,” and her favorite-the one she was most proud of and carried with her to the symposium folded and refolded so often that the creases were close to cuts – “The Lip of the Grave.”

Ruth had to be driven to the symposium because that morning, when the bus was leaving, she was still at home with an acute attack of gastritis. She was trying weird all-vegetable regimes and the night before had eaten a whole head of cabbage for dinner. Her mother refused to kowtow to the vegetarianism Ruth had taken up after my death.

“This is not Susie, for Chrissakes!” her mother would say, plunking down an inch-thick sirloin in front of her daughter.

Her father drove her first to the hospital at three A.M. and then to the symposium, stopping home on the way to pick up the bag her mother had packed and left at the end of their driveway.

As the car pulled up into the camp, Ruth scanned the crowd of kids lining up for nametags. She spotted my sister among an all-male group of Masters. Lindsey had avoided putting her last name on her nametag, choosing to draw a fish instead. She wasn’t exactly lying that way, but she hoped to meet a few kids from the surrounding schools who didn’t know the story of my death or at least wouldn’t connect her to it.

All spring she’d worn the half-a-heart pendant while Samuel wore the other half. They were shy about their affection for each other. They did not hold hands in the hallways at school, and they did not pass notes. They sat together at lunch; Samuel walked her home. On her fourteenth birthday he brought her a cupcake with a candle in it. Other than that, they melted into the gender-subdivided world of their peers. The following morning Ruth was up early. Like Lindsey, Ruth was a floater at gifted camp. She didn’t

belong to any one group, She had gone on a nature walk and collected plants and flowers she needed help naming. When she didn’t like the answers one of the Science Nerds provided, she decided to start naming the plants and flowers herself. She drew a picture of the leaf or blossom in her journal, and then what sex she thought it was, and then gave it a name like “Jim” for a simple-leaved plant and “Pasha” for a more downy flower.

By the time Lindsey stumbled into the dining hall, Ruth was in line for a second helping of eggs and sausage. She had made a big stink about no meat at home and she had to hold to it, but no one at the symposium knew of the oath she’d sworn. Ruth hadn’t talked to my sister since before my death, and then it was only to excuse herself in the hallway at school. But she’d seen Lindsey walking home with Samuel and seen her smile with him. She watched as my sister said yes to pancakes and no to everything else.

She had tried to imagine herself being my sister as she had spent time imagining being me.

As Lindsey walked blindly to the next open spot in line, Ruth interceded. “What’s the fish for?” Ruth asked, nodding her head toward my sister’s nametag. “Are you religious?”

“Notice the direction of the fish,” Lindsey said, wishing simultaneously that they had vanilla puddings at breakfast. They would go great with her pancakes.

“Ruth Connors, poet,” Ruth said, by way of introduction. “Lindsey,” Lindsey said.

“Salmon, right?”

“Please don’t,” Lindsey said, and for a second Ruth could feel the feeling a little more vividly-what it was like to claim me. How people looked at Lindsey and imagined a girl covered in blood. Even among the gifteds, who distinguished themselves by doing things differently, people paired off within the first few days. It was mostly pairs of boys or pairs of girls-few serious relationships had begun by fourteen-but there was one exception that year. Lindsey and Samuel.

“K-I-S-S-I-N-G!” greeted them wherever they went. Unchaperoned, and with the heat of the summer, something grew in them like weeds. It was lust. I’d never felt it so purely or seen it move so hotly into someone I knew. Someone whose gene pool I shared.

They were careful and followed the rules. No counselor could say he had flashed a light under the denser shrubbery by the boys’ dorm and found Salmon and Heckler going at it. They set up little meetings outside in back of the cafeteria or by a certain tree that they’d marked up high with their initials. They kissed. They wanted to do more but couldn’t. Samuel wanted it to be special. He was aware that it should be perfect. Lindsey just wanted to get it over with. Have it behind her so she could achieve adulthood-transcend the place and the time. She thought of sex as the Star Trek transport. You vaporized and found yourself navigating another planet within the second or two it took to realign.

“They’re going to do it,” Ruth wrote in her journal. I had pinned hopes on Ruth’s writing everything down. She told her journal about me passing by her in the parking lot, about how on that night I had touched her-literally, she felt, reached out. What I had looked like then, How she dreamed about me. How she had fashioned the idea that a spirit could be a sort of second skin for someone, a protective layer somehow. How maybe if she was assiduous she could free us both. I would read over her shoulder as she wrote down her thoughts and wonder if anyone might believe her one day.

When she was imagining me, she felt better, less alone, more connected to something out there. To someone out there. She saw the cornfield in her dreams, and a new world opening, a world where maybe she could find a foothold too.

“You’re a really good poet, Ruth,” she imagined me saying, and her journal would release her into a daydream of being such a good poet that her words had the power to resurrect me.

I could see back to an afternoon when Ruth watched her teenage cousin undress to take a bath while Ruth sat on the bathroom rug, locked in the bathroom so her cousin could babysit her as she’d been told. Ruth had longed to touch her cousins skin and hair, longed to be held. I wondered if

this longing in a three-year-old had sparked what came at eight. That fuzzy feeling of difference, that her crushes on female teachers or her cousin were more real than the other girls’ crushes. Hers contained a desire beyond sweetness and attention, it fed a longing, beginning to flower green and yellow into a crocuslike lust, the soft petals opening into her awkward adolescence. It was not so much, she would write in her journal, that she wanted to have sex with women, but that she wanted to disappear inside of them forever. To hide. The last week of the symposium was always spent developing a final project, which the various schools would present in competition on the night before the parents returned to pick the students up. The competition wasn’t announced until the Saturday breakfast of that final week, but the kids had already begun planning for it anyway. It was always a better-mousetrap competition, and so the stakes were raised year after year. No one wanted to repeat a mousetrap that had already been built.

Samuel went in search of the kids with braces. He needed the tiny rubber bands orthodontists doled out. They would work to keep the tension tight on the guiding arm of his mousetrap. Lindsey begged clean tinfoil from the retired army cook. Their trap involved reflecting light in order to confuse the mice.

“What happens if they like the way they look?” Lindsey asked Samuel.

“They can’t see that clearly,” Samuel said. He was stripping the paper off the wire twists from the camp garbage bag supply. If a kid looked strangely at ordinary objects around the camp, he or she was most likely thinking of how it would serve the ultimate mousetrap.

“They’re pretty cute,” Lindsey said one afternoon.

Lindsey had spent the better part of the night before gathering field mice with string lures and putting them under the wire mesh of an empty rabbit hutch.

Samuel watched them intently. “I could be a vet, I guess,” he said, “but I don’t think I’d like cutting them open.”

“Do we have to kill them?” Lindsey asked. “It’s a better mousetrap, not a better mouse death camp.”

“Artie’s contributing little coffins made out of balsa wood,” Samuel said, laughing.

“That’s sick.” “That’s Artie.”

“He supposedly had a crush on Susie,” Lindsey said. “I know.”

“Does he talk about her?” Lindsey took a long thin stick and poked it through the mesh.

“He’s asked about you, actually,” Samuel said, “What did you tell him?”

“That you’re okay, that you’ll be okay.”

The mice kept running from the stick into the corner, where they crawled on top of one another in a useless effort to flee. “Let’s build a mousetrap with a little purple velvet couch in it and we can rig up a latch so that when they sit on the couch, a door drops and little balls of cheese fall down. We can call it Wild Rodent Kingdom.”

Samuel didn’t press my sister like the adults did. He would talk in detail about mouse couch upholstery instead. By that summer I had begun to spend less time watching from the gazebo because I could still see Earth as I walked the fields of heaven. The night would come and the javelin-throwers and shot-putters would leave for other heavens. Heavens where a girl like me didn’t fit in. Were they horrific, these other heavens? Worse than feeling so solitary among one’s living, growing peers? Or were they the stuff I dreamed about? Where you could be caught in a Norman Rockwell world forever. Turkey constantly being brought to a table full of family. A wry and twinkling relative carving up the bird.

If I walked too far and wondered loud enough the fields would change. I could look down and see horse corn and I could hear it then – singing-a kind of low humming and moaning warning me back from the edge. My head would throb and the sky would darken and it would be that night again, that perpetual yesterday lived again. My soul solidifying, growing heavy, I came up to the lip of my grave this way many times but had yet to stare in.

I did begin to wonder what the word heaven meant. I thought, if this were heaven, truly heaven, it would be where my grandparents lived. Where my father’s father, my favorite of them all, would lift me up and dance with me. I would feel only joy and have no memory, no cornfield and no grave.

“You can have that,” Franny said to me. “Plenty of people do.” “How do you make the switch?” I asked.

“It’s not as easy as you might think,” she said. “You have to stop desiring certain answers.”

“I don’t get it.”

“If you stop asking why you were killed instead of someone else, stop investigating the vacuum left by your loss, stop wondering what everyone left on Earth is feeling,” she said, “you can be free. Simply put, you have to give up on Earth.”

This seemed impossible to me. Ruth crept into Lindsey’s dorm that night.

“I had a dream about her,” she whispered to my sister. Lindsey blinked sleepily at her. “Susie?” she asked.

“I’m sorry about the incident in the dining hall,” Ruth said.

Lindsey was on the bottom of a three-tiered aluminum bunk bed. Her neighbor directly above her stirred.

“Can I get into bed with you?” Ruth asked. Lindsey nodded. Ruth crawled in next to Lindsey in the narrow sliver of the bed.

“What happened in your dream?” Lindsey whispered.

Ruth told her, turning her face so that Lindsey’s eyes could make out the silhouette of Ruth’s nose and lips and forehead. “I was inside the earth,” Ruth said, “and Susie walked over me in the cornfield. I could feel her walking over me. I called out to her but my mouth filled with dirt. She couldn’t hear me no matter how much I tried to yell. Then I woke up.”

“I don’t dream about her,” Lindsey said. “I have nightmares about rats nibbling at the ends of my hair.”

Ruth liked the comfort she felt next to my sister – the heat their bodies created.

“Are you in love with Samuel?” “Yes.”

“Do you miss Susie?”

Because it was dark, because Ruth was facing away from her, because Ruth was almost a stranger, Lindsey said what she felt. “More than anyone will ever know.”

The principal of Devon Junior High was called away on a family matter, and it was left up to the newly appointed assistant principal of Chester Springs School to create, overnight, that year’s challenge, She wanted to do something different from mousetraps.


PERFECT MURDER, announced her hurriedly drawn-up flier.

The kids loved it. The musicians and poets, the History Heads and artists, were teeming and bubbling about how to begin. They shoveled down their bacon and eggs at breakfast and compared the great unsolved murders of the past or thought of ordinary objects that could be used for fatal wounds. They began to think of whom they could plot to kill. It was all in good fun until 7:15, when my sister walked in.

Artie watched her get in line. She was still unaware, just picking up on the excitement in the air-figuring the mousetrap competition had been announced. He kept his eye on Lindsey and saw the closest flier was posted at the end of the food line over the utensils tray. He was listening to a story about Jack the Kipper that someone at the table was relaying. He stood to return his tray.

When he reached my sister, he cleared his throat. All my hopes were pinned on this wobbly boy. “Catch her,” I said. A prayer going down to Earth.

“Lindsey,” Artie said. Lindsey looked at him. “Yes?”

Behind the counter the army cook held out a spoon full of scrambled eggs to plop on her tray.

“I’m Artie, from your sister’s grade.”

“I don’t need any coffins,” Lindsey said, moving her tray down the metalwork to where there was orange juice and apple juice in big plastic pitchers.


“Samuel told me you were building balsa wood coffins for the mice this year. I don’t want any.”

“They changed the competition,” he said.

That morning Lindsey had decided she would take the bottom off of Clarissa’s dress. It would be perfect for the mouse couch.

“To what?”

“Do you want to go outside?” Artie used his body to shadow her and block her passage to the utensils. “Lindsey,” he blurted. “The competition is about murder.”

She stared at him. Lindsey held on to her tray. She kept her eyes locked on Artie.

“I wanted to tell you before you read the flier,” he said. Samuel rushed into the tent,

“What’s going on?” Lindsey looked helplessly at Samuel.

“This year’s competition is how to commit the perfect murder,” Samuel said.

Samuel and I saw the tremor. The inside shakeoff of her heart. She was getting so good the cracks and fissures were smaller and smaller. Soon, like a sleight-of-hand trick perfected, no one would see her do it. She could shut out the whole world, including herself.

‘I’m fine,” she said. But Samuel knew she wasn’t. He and Artie watched her back as she departed.

“I was trying to warn her,” Artie said weakly.

Artie returned to his table. He drew hypodermics, one after another. His pen pressed harder and harder as he colored in the embalming fluid inside, as he perfected the trajectory of the three drops squirting out. Lonely, I thought, on Earth as it is in heaven.

“You kill people by stabbing and cutting and shooting,” Ruth said. “It’s sick.”

“Agreed,” Artie said.

Samuel had taken my sister away to talk. Artie had seen Ruth at one of the outside picnic tables with her big blank book.

“But there are good reasons to kill,” Ruth said.

“Who do you think did it?” Artie asked. He sat on the bench and braced his feet up under the table on the crossbar.

Ruth sat almost motionless, right leg crossed over left, but her foot jiggled ceaselessly.

“How did you hear?” she asked.

“My father told us,” Artie said. “He called my sister and me into the family room and made us sit down.”

“Shit, what did he say?”

“First he said that horrible things happened in the world and my sister said, ‘Vietnam,’ and he was quiet because they always fight about that whenever it comes up. So he said, ‘No, honey, horrible things happen close to home, to people we know.’ She thought it was one of her friends.”

Ruth felt a raindrop.

“Then my dad broke down and said a little girl had been killed. I was the one who asked who. I mean, when he said ‘little girl,’ I pictured little, you know. Not us.”

It was a definite drop, and they began to land on the redwood tabletop. “Do you want to go in?” Artie asked.

“Everyone else will be inside,” Ruth said. “I know.”

“Let’s get wet.”

They sat still for a while and watched the drops fall around them, heard the sound against the leaves of the tree above.

“I knew she was dead. I sensed it,” Ruth said, “but then I saw a mention of it in my dad’s paper and I was sure. They didn’t use her name at first. Just ‘Girl, fourteen.’ I asked my dad for the page but he wouldn’t give it to me. I mean, who else and her sister hadn’t been in school all week?”

“I wonder who told Lindsey?” Artie said. The rain picked up. Artie slipped underneath the table. “We’re going to get soaked,” he yelled up.

And then as quickly as the rain had started, it ceased. Sun came through the branches of the tree above her, and Ruth looked up past them. “I think she listens,” she said, too softly to be heard. And they listed the dead they knew.

Grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, some had a parent, rarer was a sister or brother lost young to an illness – a heart irregularity-leukemia – an unpronounceable disease. No one knew anyone who had been murdered.

But now they knew me. Under a rowboat that was too old and worn to float, Lindsey lay down on the earth with Samuel Heckler, and he held her.

“You know I’m okay,” she said, her eyes dry. “I think Artie was trying to help me,” she offered.

“You can stop now, Lindsey,” he said. “We’ll just lie here and wait until things quiet down.”

Samuel’s back was flush against the ground, and he brought my sister close in to his body to protect her from the dampness of the quick summer rain. Their breath began to heat the small space beneath the boat, and he could not stop it-his penis stiffened inside his jeans. Lindsey reached her hand over.

“I’m sorry . ..” He began. “I’m ready,” my sister said.

At fourteen, my sister sailed away from me into a place I’d never been. In the walls of my sex there was horror and blood, in the walls of hers there were windows.

It became common knowledge at the symposium who my sister was and how I had died.

“Imagine being stabbed,” someone said.

“No thanks.”

“I think it’s cool.”

“Think of it – she’s famous.”

“Some way to get famous. I’d rather win the Nobel Prize.” “Does anyone know what she wanted to be?”

“I dare you to ask Lindsey.”

“How to Commit the Perfect Murder” was an old game in heaven. I always chose the icicle: the weapon melts away. He was sure that if he just stared hard enough, just looked long enough, he would find the clues he needed in the casements of the windows, in the green paint coating the shingles, or along the driveway, where two large stones sat, painted white.

When my father woke up at four A.M., the house was quiet. My mother lay beside him, lightly snoring. My brother, the only child, what with my sister attending the symposium, was like a rock with a sheet pulled up over him. My father marveled at what a sound sleeper he was-just like me. While I was still alive, Lindsey and I had had fun with that, clapping, dropping books, and even banging pot lids to see if Buckley would wake up.

Before leaving the house, my father checked on Buckley – to make sure, to feel the warm breath against his palm. Then he suited up in his thin-soled sneakers and light jogging outfit. His last task was to put Holiday’s collar on.

It was still early enough that he could almost see his breath. He could pretend at that early hour that it was still winter. That the seasons had not advanced.

The morning dog walk gave him an excuse to pass by Mr. Harvey’s house. He slowed only slightly – no one would have noticed save me or, if he had been awake, Mr. Harvey. My father was

By late summer 1974, there had been no movement on my case. No body. No killer. Nothing.

My father thought of Ruana Singh: “When I was sure, I would find a quiet way, and I would kill him.” He had not told this to Abigail because the advice made a sort of baseline sense that would frighten her into telling someone, and he suspected that someone might be Len.

Ever since the day he’d seen Ruana Singh and then had come home to find Len waiting for him, he’d felt my mother leaning heavily on the police. If my father said something that contradicted the police theories – or, as he saw them, the lack of them-my mother would immediately rush to fill the hole left open by my father’s idea. “Len says that doesn’t mean anything,” or, “I trust the police to find out what happened.”

Why, my father wondered, did people trust the police so much? Why not trust instinct? It was Mr. Harvey and he knew it. But what Ruana had said was when I was sure. Knowing, the deep-soul knowing that my father had, was not, in the law’s more literal mind, incontrovertible proof. The house that I grew up in was the same house where I was born. Like Mr. Harvey’s, it was a box, and because of this I nurtured useless envies whenever I visited other people’s homes. I dreamed about bay windows and cupolas, balconies, and slanted attic ceilings in a bedroom. I loved the idea that there could be trees in a yard taller and stronger than people, slanted spaces under stairs, thick hedges grown so large that inside there were hollows of dead branches where you could crawl and sit. In my heaven there were verandas and circular staircases, window ledges with iron rails, and a campanile housing a bell that tolled the hour.

I knew the floor plan of Mr. Harvey’s by heart. I had made a warm spot on the floor of the garage until I cooled. He had brought my blood into the house with him on his clothes and skin. I knew the bathroom. Knew how in my house my mother had tried to decorate it to accommodate Buckley’s late arrival by stenciling battleships along the top of the pink walls. In Mr.

Harvey’s house the bathroom and kitchen were spotless. The porcelain was yellow and the tile on the floor was green. He kept it cold. Upstairs, where Buckley, Lindsey, and I had our rooms, he had almost nothing. He had a straight chair where he would go to sit sometimes and stare out the window

over at the high school, listen for the sound of band practice wafting over from the field, but mostly he spent his hours in the back on the first floor, in the kitchen building dollhouses, in the living room listening to the radio or, as his lust set in, sketching blueprints for follies like the hole or the tent.

No one had bothered him about me for several months, By that summer he only occasionally saw a squad car slow in front of his house. He was smart enough not to alter his pattern. If he was walking out to the garage or the mailbox, he kept on going.

He set several clocks. One to tell him when to open the blinds, one when to close them. In conjunction with these alarms, he would turn lights on and off throughout the house. When an occasional child happened by to sell chocolate bars for a school competition or inquire if he would like to subscribe to the Evening Bulletin, he was friendly but businesslike, unremarkable.

He kept things to count, and this counting reassured him. They were simple things. A wedding ring, a letter sealed in an envelope, the heel of a shoe, a pair of glasses, an eraser in the shape of a cartoon character, a small bottle of perfume, a plastic bracelet, my Pennsylvania keystone charm, his mother’s amber pendant. He would take them out at night long after he was certain that no newsboy or neighbor would knock on his door. He would count them like the beads on a rosary. For some he had forgotten the names. I knew the names. The heel of the shoe was from a girl named Claire, from Nutley, New Jersey, whom he had convinced to walk into the back of a van. She was littler than me. (I like to think I wouldn’t have gone into a van.

Like to think it was my curiosity about how he could make a hole in the earth that wouldn’t collapse.) He had ripped the heel off her shoe before he let Claire go. That was all he did. He got her into the van and took her shoes off. She started crying, and the sound drove into him like screws. He pleaded with her to be quiet and just leave. Step magically out of the van barefoot and uncomplaining while he kept her shoes. But she wouldn’t. She cried. He started working on one of the heels of the shoes, prying it loose with his penknife, until someone pounded on the back of the van. He heard men’s voices and a woman yelling something about calling the police. He opened the door.

“What the hell are you doing to that kid?” one of the men yelled. This man’s buddy caught the little girl as she flew, bawling, out of the back.

“I’m trying to repair her shoe.”

The little girl was hysterical. Mr. Harvey was all reason and calm. But Claire had seen what I had, his look bearing down, his wanting something unspoken that to give him would equal our oblivion.

Hurriedly, as the men and woman stood confused, unable to see what Claire and I knew, Mr. Harvey handed the shoes to one of the men and said his goodbyes. He kept the heel. He liked to hold the small leather heel and rub it between his thumb and forefinger-a perfect worry stone.

I knew the darkest place in our house. I had climbed inside of it and stayed there for what I told Clarissa was a whole day but was really about forty-five minutes. It was the crawlspace in the basement. Inside ours there were pipes coming down that I could see with a flashlight and tons and tons of dust. That was it. There were no bugs. My mother, like her own, employed an exterminator for the slightest infestation of ants.

When the alarm had gone off to tell him to shut the blinds and then the next alarm, which told him to shut off most of the lights because the suburbs were asleep after that, Mr. Harvey would go down into the basement, where there were no cracks that light could peek through and people could point to, to say he was strange. By the time he killed me he had tired of visiting the crawlspace, but he still liked to hang out in the basement in an easy chair that faced the dark hole beginning halfway up the wall and reaching to the exposed baseboards of his kitchen floor. He would often drift off to sleep there, and there he was asleep when my father passed the green house at around 4:40 A.M.

Joe Ellis was an ugly little tough. He had pinched Lindsey and me under water in the pool and kept us from going to swim parties because we hated him so much. He had a dog that he dragged around no matter what the dog wanted. It was a small dog and couldn’t run very fast, but Ellis didn’t care. He would hit it or lift it painfully by the tail. Then one day it was gone, and

so was a cat that Ellis had been seen taunting. And then animals from all over the neighborhood began disappearing.

What I discovered, when I followed Mr. Harvey’s stare to the crawlspace, were these animals that had gone missing for more than a year. People thought it stopped because the Ellis boy had been sent to military school.

When they let their pets loose in the morning, they returned in the evening. This they held as proof. No one could imagine an appetite like the one in the green house. Someone who would spread quicklime on the bodies of cats and dogs, the sooner for him to have nothing left but their bones. By counting the bones and staying away from the sealed letter, the wedding ring, the bottle of perfume, he tried to stay away from what he wanted most-from going upstairs in the dark to sit in the straight chair and look out toward the high school, from imagining the bodies that matched the cheerleaders’ voices, which pulsated in waves on fall days during football games, or from watching the buses from the grammar school unload two houses down. Once he had taken a long look at Lindsey, the lone girl on the boys’ soccer team out running laps in our neighborhood near dark.

What I think was hardest for me to realize was that he had tried each time to stop himself. He had killed animals, taking lesser lives to keep from killing a child. By August, Len wanted to establish some boundaries for his sake and for my father’s. My father had called the precinct too many times and frustrated the police into irritation, which wouldn’t help anyone be found and just might make the whole place turn against him.

The final straw had been a call that came in the first week of July. Jack Salmon had detailed to the operator how, on a morning walk, his dog had stopped in front of Mr. Harvey’s house and started howling. No matter what Salmon had done, went the story, the dog wouldn’t budge from the spot and wouldn’t stop howling. It became a joke at the station: Mr, Fish and his Huckleberry Hound.

Len stood on the stoop of our house to finish his cigarette. It was still early, but the humidity from the day before had intensified. All week rain had been promised, the kind of thunder and lightning rainstorm the area excelled at, but so far the only moisture of which Len was aware was that

covering his body in a damp sweat. He had made his last easy visit to my parents’ house.

Now he heard humming-a female voice from inside. He stubbed out his cigarette against the cement under the hedge and lifted the heavy brass knocker. The door opened before he let go.

“I smelled your cigarette,” Lindsey said. “Was that you humming?”

“Those things will kill you.” “Is your father home?”

Lindsey stood aside to let him in.

“Dad!” my sister yelled into the house. “It’s Len!” “You were away, weren’t you?” Len asked.

“I just got back.”

My sister was wearing Samuels softball shirt and a pair of strange sweatpants. My mother had accused her of returning home without one single item of her own clothing.

“I’m sure your parents missed you.”

“Don’t bet on it,” Lindsey said. “I think they were happy to have me out of their hair.”

Len knew she was right. He was certainly sure my mother had seemed less frantic when he had visited the house. Lindsey said, “Buckley’s made you the head of the police squad in the town he built under his bed.”

“That’s a promotion.”

The two of them heard my father’s footsteps in the hallway above and then the sounds of Buckley begging. Lindsey could tell that whatever he’d asked for our father had finally granted. My father and brother descended the stairs, all smiles.

“Len,” he said, and he shook Len’s hand.

“Good morning, Jack,” Len said. “And how are you this morning, Buckley?”

My father took Buckley’s hand and stood him in front of Len, who solemnly bent down to my brother.

“I hear you’ve made me chief of police,” Len said. “Yes sir.”

“I don’t think I deserve the job.”

“You more than anyone,” my father said breezily. He loved it when Len Fenerman dropped by. Each time he did, it verified for my father that there was a consensus-a group behind him- that he wasn’t alone in all this.

“I need to talk to your father, kids.”

Lindsey took Buckley back into the kitchen with the promise of cereal. She herself was thinking of what Samuel had shown her; it was a drink called a jellyfish, which involved a maraschino cherry at the bottom of some sugar and gin. Samuel and Lindsey had sucked the cherries up through the sugar and booze until their heads hurt and their lips were stained red.

“Should I get Abigail? Can I make you some coffee or something?”

“Jack,” Len said, “I’m not here with any news-just the opposite. Can we sit?”

I watched my father and Len head into the living room. The living room seemed to be where no living ever actually occurred. Len sat on the edge of

a chair and waited for my father to take a seat. “Listen, Jack,” he said. “It’s about George Harvey.”

My father brightened. “I thought you said you had no news.”

“1 don’t. I have something I need to say on behalf of the station and myself.”


“We need you to stop making calls about George Harvey.” “But.. .”

“I need you to stop. There is nothing, no matter how much we stretch it, to connect him to Susie’s death. Howling dogs and bridal tents are not evidence.”

“I know he did it,” my father said.

“He’s odd, I agree, but as far as we know he isn’t a killer.” “How could you possibly know that?”

Len Fenerman talked, but all my father could hear was Ruana Singh saying what she had to him, and of standing outside Mr. Harvey’s house and feeling the energy radiating out to him, the coldness at the core of the man. Mr. Harvey was at once unknowable and the only person in the world who could have killed me. As Len denied it, my father grew more certain.

“You are stopping your investigation of him,” my father said flatly.

Lindsey was in the doorway, hovering as she’d done on the day Len and the uniformed officer had brought my hat with the jingle bell, the twin of which she owned. That day she had quietly shoved this second hat into a box of old dolls in the back of her closet. She never wanted my mother to hear the sound of those beadlike bells again.

There was our father, the heart we knew held all of us. Held us heavily and desperately, the doors of his heart opening and closing with the rapidity of stops on an instrument, the quiet felt closures, the ghostly fingering, practice and practice and then, incredibly, sound and melody and warmth.

Lindsey stepped forward from her place by the door. “Hello again, Lindsey,” Len said.

“Detective Fenerman.”

“I was just telling your father . . .” “That you’re giving up.”

“If there was any good reason to suspect the man …”

“Are you done?” Lindsey asked. She was suddenly the wife to our father, as well as the oldest, most responsible child.

“I just want you all to know that we’ve investigated every lead.”

My father and Lindsey heard her, and I saw her. My mother coming down the stairs, Buckley raced out of the kitchen and charged, propelling his full weight into my father’s legs,

“Len,” my mother said, pulling her terry-cloth robe tighter when she saw him, “has Jack offered you coffee?”

My father looked at his wife and Len Fenerman.

“The cops are punting,” Lindsey said, taking Buckley gently by the shoulders and holding him against her.

“Punting?” Buckley asked. He always rolled a sound around in his mouth like a sourball until he had its taste and feel.


“Detective Fenerman is here to tell Dad to stop bugging them.”

“Lindsey,” Len said, “I wouldn’t put it like that.”

“Whatever,” she said. My sister wanted out, now, into a place where gifted camp continued, where Samuel and she, or even Artie, who at the last minute had won the Perfect Murder competition by entering the icicle-as-murder-weapon idea, ruled her world.

“Come on, Dad,” she said. My father was slowly fitting something together. It had nothing to do with George Harvey, nothing to do with me. It was in my mother’s eyes. That night, as he had more and more often, my father stayed up by himself in his study. He could not believe the world falling down around him-how unexpected it all was after the initial blast of my death. “I feel like I’m standing in the wake of a volcano eruption,” he wrote in his notebook. “Abigail thinks Len Fenerman is right about Harvey.”

As he wrote, the candle in the window kept flickering, and despite his desk lamp the flickering distracted him. He sat back in the old wooden school chair he’d had since college and heard the reassuring squeak of the wood under him. At the firm he was failing to even register what was needed of him. Daily now he faced column after column of meaningless numbers he was supposed to make square with company claims. He was making mistakes with a frequency that was frightening, and he feared, more than he had in the first days following my disappearance, that he would not be able to support his two remaining children.

He stood up and stretched his arms overhead, trying to concentrate on the few exercises that our family doctor had suggested. I watched his body bend in uneasy and surprising ways I had never seen before. He could have been a dancer rather than a businessman. He could have danced on Broadway with Ruana Singh. He snapped off the desk light, leaving only the candle.

In his low green easy chair he now felt the most comfortable. It was where I often saw him sleep. The room like a vault, the chair like a womb, and me standing guard over him. He stared at the candle in the window and thought about what to do; how he had tried to touch my mother and she had pulled

away over to the edge of the bed. But how in the presence of the police she seemed to bloom.

He had grown used to the ghostly light behind the candle’s flame, that quivering reflection in the window. He stared at the two of them – real flame and ghost-and began to work toward a doze, doling in thought and strain and the events of the day.

As he was about to let go for the night, we both saw the same thing: another light. Outside.

It looked like a penlight from that distance. One white beam slowly moving out across the lawns and toward the junior high. My father watched it. It was after midnight now, and the moon was not full enough, as it often was, to see the outlines of the trees and houses. Mr. Stead, who rode his bike late at night with a flashing light on the front powered by his pedals, would never degrade the lawns of his neighbors that way. It was too late for Mr. Stead anyway.

My father leaned forward in the green chair in his study and watched the flashlight move in the direction of the fallow cornfield.

“Bastard,” he whispered. “You murderous bastard.”

He dressed quickly from the storage closet in his study, putting on a hunting jacket that he hadn’t had on since an ill-fated hunting trip ten years earlier. Downstairs he went into the front hall closet and found the baseball bat he’d bought for Lindsey before she favored soccer.

First he shut off the porch light they kept on all night for me and that, even though it had been eight months since the police said I would not be found alive, they could not bring themselves to stop leaving on. “With his hand on the doorknob, he took a deep breath.

He turned the knob and found himself out on the dark front porch. Closed the door and found himself standing in his front yard with a baseball bat and these words: find a quiet way.

He walked through his front yard and across the street and then into the O’Dwyers’ yard, where he had first seen the light. He passed their darkened swimming pool and the rusted-out swing set. His heart was pumping, but he could not feel anything but the knowledge in his brain. George Harvey had killed his last little girl.

He reached the soccer field. To his right, far into the cornfield but not in the vicinity he knew by heart-the area that had been roped off and cleared and combed and bulldozed-he saw the small light. He clenched his fingers tighter around the bat by his side. For just a second he could not believe what he was about to do, but then, with everything in him, he knew.

The wind helped him. It swept along the soccer field alongside the cornfield and whipped his trousers around the front of his legs; it pushed him forward despite himself. Everything fell away. Once he was among the rows of corn, his focus solely on the light, the wind disguised his presence. The sound of his feet crushing the stalks was swept up in the whistle and bustle of the wind against the broken plants.

Things that made no sense flooded his head-the hard rubber sound of children’s roller skates on pavement, the smell of his father’s pipe tobacco, Abigails smile when he met her, like light piercing his confused heart-and then the flashlight shut off and everything went equal and dark. He took a few more steps, then stopped. “I know you’re here,” he said.

I flooded the cornfield, I flashed fires through it to light it up, I sent storms of hail and flowers, but none of it worked to warn him. I was relegated to heaven; I watched.

“I’m here for it,” my father said, his voice trembling. That heart bursting in and out, blood gorging the rivers of his chest and then cinching up. Breath and fire and lungs seizing, releasing, adrenaline saving what was left. My mother’s smile in his mind gone, mine taking its place.

“Nobody’s awake,” my father said. “I’m here to finish it.” Pie heard whimpering. I wanted to cast down a spotlight like they did in the school auditorium, awkwardly, the light not always hitting the right place on the stage. There she would be, crouching and whimpering and now, despite her

blue eye shadow and Western-style boots from Bakers’, wetting her pants. A child.

She didn’t recognize my father’s voice infused with hate. “Brian?” Clarissa’s quavering voice came out. “Brian?” It was hope like a shield, My father s hand loosened on the bat, letting it fall. “Hello? Who’s there?”

With wind in his ears, Brian Nelson, the beanstalk scarecrow, parked his older brother’s Spyder Corvette in the school lot. Late, always late, sleeping in class and at the dinner table but never when a boy had a Playboy or a cute girl walked by, never on a night when he had a girl waiting for him out in the cornfield. Still, he took his time. The wind, glorious blanket and cover for what he had planned, whipped past his ears.

Brian moved toward the cornfield with his giant torch light from his mother’s under-the-sink disaster kit. Finally he heard what he would later say were Clarissa’s cries for help.

My father’s heart was like a stone there, heavy, carried inside his chest as he ran and fumbled toward the sound of the girl’s whimpering. His mother was knitting him mittens, Susie was asking for gloves, so cold in the cornfield in winter, Clarissa! Susie’s silly friend, Makeup, prissy jam sandwiches, and her tropical tan skin.

He ran blind into her and knocked her down in the darkness. Her screaming filled his ear and poured into the empty spaces, ricocheting inside of him. “Susie!” he screamed back.

Brian ran when he heard my name-full-speed-ahead awake. His light hopped over the cornfield, and, for one bright second, there was Mr.

Harvey. No one but me saw him. Brian’s light hit his back as he crawled into the high stalks and listened, again, for the sound of whimpering.

And then the light hit target and Brian dragged my father up and off Clarissa to hit him. Hit him on the head and back and face with the survival-kit flashlight. My father shouted and yelped and moaned. And then Brian saw the bat.

I pushed and pushed against the unyielding borders of my heaven. I wanted to reach out and lift my father up, away, to me.

Clarissa ran and Brian swung. My father’s eyes caught Brian’s but he could barely breathe.

“You fucker!” Brian was black and white with blame.

I heard mumblings in the dirt. I heard my name. I thought I could taste the blood on my father’s face, reach out to draw my fingers across his cut lips, lie down with him in my grave. But I had to turn my back in heaven, I could do nothing- trapped in my perfect world. The blood I tasted was bitter.

Acid. I wanted my father’s vigil, his tight love for me. But also I wanted him to go away and leave me be. I was granted one weak grace. Back in the room where the green chair was still warm from his body, I blew that lonely, flickering candle out.

I stood in the room beside him and watched him sleep. During the night the story had come unwound and spun down so that the police understood: Mr. Salmon was crazy with grief and had gone out to the cornfield seeking revenge. It fit what they knew of him, his persistent phone calls, his obsession with the neighbor, and Detective Fenerman having visited that same day to tell my parents that for all intents and purposes my murder investigation had entered a sort of hiatus. No clues were left to pursue. No body had been found.

The surgeon had to operate on his knee to replace the cap with a purselike suture that partially disabled the joint. As I watched the operation I thought of how much like sewing it seemed, and I hoped that my father was in more capable hands than if he had been brought to me. In home ec my hands had been clumsy. Zipper foot or baster, I got them all confused.

But the surgeon had been patient. A nurse had filled him in on the story as he washed and scrubbed his hands. He remembered reading about what had happened to me in the papers. He was my father’s age and had children of his own. He shivered as he stretched his gloves out over his hands. How alike he and this man were. How very different. In the dark hospital room, a fluorescent bar light buzzed just behind my father’s bed. As dawn

approached it was the only light in the room until my sister walked in. My mother and sister and brother woke to the sounds of the police sirens and came down into the dark kitchen from their bedrooms.

“Go wake your father,” my mother said to Lindsey. “I can’t believe he slept through this.”

And so my sister had gone up. Everyone now knew where to look for him: in only six months, the green chair had become his true bed.

“Dad’s not here!” my sister yelled as soon as she realized. “Dad’s gone. Mom! Mom! Dad’s gone!” For a rare moment Lindsey was a frightened child.

“Damn!” my mother said. “Mommy?” Buckley said.

Lindsey rushed into the kitchen. My mother faced the stove. Her back was a riddled mass of nerves as she went about making tea.

“Mom?” Lindsey asked. “We have to do something.”

“Don’t you see … ?” my mother said, stopping for a moment with a box of Earl Grey suspended in the air.


She put the tea down, switched on the burner, and turned around. She saw something herself then: Buckley had gone to cling to my sister as he anxiously sucked his thumb.

“He’s gone off after that man and gotten himself in trouble.”

“We should go out, Mom,” Lindsey said. “We should go help him.” “No.”

“Mom, we have to help Daddy.”

“Buckley, stop milking your thumb!”

My brother burst into hot panicked tears, and my sister reached her arms down to pull him in tighter. She looked at our mother.

“I’m going out to find him,” Lindsey said.

“You are doing no such thing,” my mother said. “He’ll come home in good time. We’re staying out of this.”

“Mom,” Lindsey said, “what if he’s hurt?”

Buckley stopped crying long enough to look back and forth from my sister to my mother. He knew what hurt meant and who was missing from the house.

My mother gave Lindsey a meaningful look. “We are not discussing this further. You can go up to your room and wait or wait with me. Your choice.”

Lindsey was dumbfounded. She stared at our mother and knew what she wanted most: to flee, to run out into the cornfield where my father was, where I was, where she felt suddenly that the heart of her family had moved. But Buckley stood warm against her.

“Buckley,” she said, “let’s go back upstairs. You can sleep in my bed.”

He was beginning to understand: you were treated special and, later, something horrible would be told to you.

When the call came from the police, my mother went immediately to the front closet. “He’s been hit with our own baseball bat!” she said, grabbing her coat and keys and lipstick. My sister felt more alone than she had ever been but also more responsible. Buckley couldn’t be left by himself, and Lindsey wasn’t even able to drive. Besides, it made the clearest sense in the world. Didn’t the wife belong most at the husband’s side? But when my sister was able to get Nate’s mother on the line- after all, the commotion in the cornfield had awakened the whole neighborhood-she knew what she

would do. She called Samuel next. Within an hour, Nate’s mother arrived to take Buckley, and Hal Heckler pulled up to our house on his motorcycle. It should have been exciting – clutching on to Samuel’s gorgeous older brother, riding on a motorcycle for the first time-but all she could think of was our father.

My mother was not in his hospital room when Lindsey entered; It was just my father and me. She came up and stood on the other side of his bed and started to cry quietly.

“Daddy?” she said. “Are you okay, Daddy?”

The door opened a crack. It was Hal Heckler, a tall handsome slash of a man.

“Lindsey,” he said, “I’ll wait for you out in the visitors’ area in case you need a ride home.”

He saw her tears when she turned around. “Thanks, Hal. If you see my mother …”

“I’ll tell her you’re in here.”

Lindsey took my father’s hand and watched his face for movement. My sister was growing up before my eyes. I listened as she whispered the words he had sung to the two of us before Buckley was born:

Stones and bones; snow and frost; seeds and beans and polliwogs. Paths and twigs, assorted kisses, We all know who Daddy misses! His two little frogs of girls, that’s who. They know where they are, do you, do you?

I wish a smile had come curling up onto my father’s face, but he was deep under, swimming against drug and nightmare and waking dream. For a time leaden weights had been tied by anesthesia to the four corners of his consciousness. Like a firm waxen cover it had locked him away tight into the hard-blessed hours where there was no dead daughter and no gone knee, and where there was also no sweet daughter whispering rhymes.

“When the dead are done with the living,” Franny said to me, “the living can go on to other things.”

“What about the dead?” I asked. “Where do we go?”

She wouldn’t answer me. Len Fenerman had rushed to the hospital as soon as they put the call through. Abigail Salmon, the dispatcher said, requesting him.

My father was in surgery, and my mother was pacing back and forth near the nurses’ station. She had driven to the hospital in her raincoat with only her thin summer nightgown beneath it. She had her beating-around-the-yard ballet flats on her feet. She hadn’t bothered to pull her hair back, and there hadn’t been any hair elastics in her pockets or purse. In the dark foggy parking lot of the hospital she had stopped to check her face and applied her stock red lipstick with a practiced hand.

When she saw Len approaching from the end of the long white corridor, she relaxed.

“Abigail,” he said when he grew closer.

“Oh, Len,” she said. Her face puzzled up on what she could say next. His name had been the sigh she needed. Everything that came next was not words.

The nurses at their station turned their heads away as Len and my mother touched hands. They extended this privacy veil habitually, as a matter of course, but even so they could see this man meant something to this woman.

“Let’s talk in the visitors’ area,” Len said and led my mother down the corridor.

As they walked she told him my father was in surgery. He filled her in on what had happened in the cornfield.

“Apparently he said he thought the girl was George Harvey.”

“He thought Clarissa was George Harvey?” My mother stopped, incredulous, just outside the visitors’ area.

“It was dark out, Abigail. I think he only saw the girl’s flashlight. My visit today couldn’t have helped much. He’s convinced that Harvey is involved.”

“Is Clarissa all right?”

“She was treated for scratches and released. She was hysterical. Crying and screaming. It was a horrible coincidence, her being Susie’s friend.”

Hal was slumped down in a darkened corner of the visitors’ area with his feet propped up on the helmet he’d brought for Lindsey. When he heard the voices approaching he stirred.

It was my mother and a cop. He slumped back down and let his shoulder-length hair obscure his face. He was pretty sure my mother wouldn’t remember him.

But she recognized the jacket as Samuel’s and for a moment thought, Samuel’s here, but then thought, His brother.

“Let’s sit,” Len said, indicating the connected modular chairs on the far side of the room.

“I’d rather keep walking,” my mother said. “The doctor said it will be an hour at least before they have anything to tell us.”

“Where to?”

“Do you have cigarettes?”

“You know I do,” Len said, smiling guiltily. He had to seek out her eyes. They weren’t focusing on him. They seemed to be preoccupied, and he wished he could reach up and grab them and train them on the here and now. On him.

“Let’s find an exit, then.”

They found a door to a small concrete balcony near my father’s room. It was a service balcony for a heating unit, so even though it was cramped and slightly chilly, the noise and the hot exhaust of the humming hydrant beside them shut them into a capsule that felt far away. They smoked cigarettes and looked at each other as if they had suddenly and without preparation moved on to a new page, where the pressing business had already been highlighted for prompt attention.

“How did your wife die?” my mother asked. “Suicide.”

Her hair was covering most of her face, and watching her I was reminded of Clarissa at her most self-conscious. The way she behaved around boys when we went to the mall. She would giggle too much and flash her eyes over at them to see where they were looking. But I was also struck by my mother’s red mouth with the cigarette going up and away from it and smoke trailing out. I had seen this mother only once before-in the photograph. This mother had never had us.

“Why did she kill herself?”

“That’s the question that preoccupies me most when I’m not preoccupied by things like your daughter’s murder.”

A strange smile came across my mother’s face. “Say that again,” she said.

“What?” Len looked at her smile, wanted to reach out and trace the corners of it with his fingertips.

“My daughter’s murder,” my mother said. “Abigail, are you okay?”

“No one says it. No one in the neighborhood talks about it. People call it the ‘horrible tragedy’ or some variation on that, I just want it to be spoken

out loud by somebody. To have it said aloud. I’m ready-I wasn’t ready before.”

My mother dropped her cigarette onto the concrete and let it burn. She took Lens face in her hands.

“Say it” she said,

“Your daughter’s murder.” “Thank you.”

And I watched that flat red mouth move across an invisible line that separated her from the rest of the world. She pulled Len in to her and slowly kissed him on the mouth. He seemed to hesitate at first. His body tensed, telling him NO, but that NO became vague and cloudy, became air sucked into the intake fan of the humming hydrant beside them. She reached up and unbuttoned her raincoat. He placed his hand against the thin gauzy material of her summer gown. My mother was, in her need, irresistible. As a child I had seen her effect on men. When we were in grocery stores, stockers volunteered to find the items on her list and would help us out to the car.

Like Ruana Singh, she was known as one of the pretty mothers in the neighborhood; no man who met her could help but smile. When she asked a question, their beating hearts gave in,

But still, it had only ever been my father who stretched her laughter out into the rooms of the house and made it okay, somehow, for her to let go.

By tacking on extra hours here and there and skipping lunches, my father had managed to come home early from work every Thursday when we were little. But whereas the weekends were family time, they called that day “Mommy and Daddy time.” Lindsey and I thought of it as good-girl time. It meant no peeps out of us as we stayed quiet on the other side of the house, while we used my father’s then sparsely filled den as our playroom.

My mother would start preparing us around two.

“Bath time,” she sang, as if she were saying we could go out to play. And in the beginning that was how it felt. All three of us would rush up to our rooms and put on bathrobes. We would meet in the hallway-three girls – and my mother would take us by the hands and lead us into our pink bathroom.

Back then she talked to us about mythology, which she had studied in school. She liked to tell us stories about Persephone and Zeus. She bought us illustrated books on the Norse gods, which gave us nightmares. She had gotten her master’s in English-having fought tooth and nail with Grandma Lynn to go so far in school-and still held on to vague ideas of teaching when the two of us were old enough to be left on our own.

Those bath times blur together, as do all the gods and goddesses, but what I remember most is watching things hit my mother while I looked at her, how the life she had wanted and the loss of it reached her in waves. As her firstborn, I thought it was me who took away all those dreams of what she had wanted to be.

My mother would lift Lindsey out of the tub first, dry her, and listen to her chatter about ducks and cuts. Then she would get me out of the tub and though I tried to be quiet the warm water made my sister and me drunk, and we talked to my mother about everything that mattered to us. Boys that teased us or how another family down the block had a puppy and why couldn’t we have one too. She would listen seriously as if she were mentally noting the points of our agenda on a steno pad to which she would later refer.

“Well, first things first,” she summed up. “Which means a nice nap for the two of you!”

She and I would tuck Lindsey in together. I stood by the bed as she kissed my sister on her forehead and brushed back her hair from her face. I think competition started there for me. Who got the better kiss, the longer time after the bath with Mom.

Luckily, I always won this. When I look back now I see that my mother had become – and very quickly after they moved into that house-lonely. Because I was the oldest, I became her closest friend.

I was too little to know what she was really saying to me, but I loved to be hushed to sleep by the soft lullaby of her words. One of the blessings of my heaven is that I can go back to these moments, live them again, and be with my mother in a way I never could have been. I reach my hand across the Inbetween and take the hand of that young lonely mother in mine.

What she said to a four-year-old about Helen of Troy: “A feisty woman who screwed things up.” About Margaret Sanger: “She was judged by her looks, Susie, Because she looked like a mouse, no one expected her to last,” Gloria Steinem: “I feel horrible, but I wish she’d trim those nails.” Our neighbors: “An idiot in tight pants; oppressed by that prig of a husband; typically provincial and judgmental of everyone.”

“Do you know who Persephone is?” she asked me absently one Thursday. But I didn’t answer. By then I’d learned to hush when she brought me into my room. My sister’s and my time was in the bathroom as we were being toweled off. Lindsey and I could talk about anything then. In my bedroom it was Mommy’s time.

She took the towel and draped it over the spindle knob of my four-poster bed. “Imagine our neighbor Mrs. Tarking as Persephone,” she said. She opened the drawer of the dresser and handed me my underpants. She always doled out my clothes piecemeal, not wanting to pressure me. She understood my needs early. If I was aware I would have to tie laces I would not have been able to put my feet into socks.

“She’s wearing a long white robe, like a sheet draped over her shoulders, but made out of some nice shiny or light fabric, like silk. And she has sandals made of gold and she’s surrounded by torches which are light made out of flames …”

She went to the drawer to get my undershirt and absentmindedly put it over my head instead of leaving it to me. Once my mother was launched I could take advantage of it-be the baby again. I never protested and claimed to be grown up or a big girl. Those afternoons were about listening to my mysterious mother.

She pulled back the tough-cord Sears bedspread, and I scooted over to the far side along the wall. She always checked her watch then and afterward she would say, “Just for a little while” and slide off her shoes and slip in between the sheets with me.

For both of us it was about getting lost. She got lost in her story. I got lost in her talk.

She would tell me about Persephone’s mother, Demeter, or Cupid and Psyche, and I would listen to her until I fell asleep. Sometimes my parents’ laughter in the room beside me or the sounds of their late-afternoon lovemaking would wake me up. I would lie there in half-sleep, listening. I liked to pretend that I was in the warm hold of a ship from one of the stories my father read to us, and that all of us were on the ocean and the waves were rolling gently up against the sides of the ship. The laughter, the small sounds of muffled moaning, would usher me back under into sleep. But then my mother’s escape, her half-measure return to the outside world, had been smashed when I was ten and Lindsey nine. She’d missed her period and had taken the fateful car trip to the doctor. Underneath her smile and exclamations to my sister and me were fissures that led somewhere deep inside her. But because I didn’t want to, because I was a child, I chose not to follow them. I grabbed the smile like a prize and entered the land of wonder of whether I would be the sister to a little boy or to a little girl. If I had paid attention, I would have noticed signs. Now I see the shifting, how the stack of books on my parents’ bedside table changed from catalogs for local colleges, encyclopedias of mythology, novels by James, Eliot, and Dickens, to the works of Dr. Spock. Then came gardening books and cookbooks until for her birthday two months before I died, I thought the perfect gift was Better Homes and Gardens Guide to Entertaining. When she realized she was pregnant the third time, she sealed the more mysterious mother off.

Bottled up for years behind that wall, that needy part of her had grown, not shrunk, and in Len, the greed to get out, to smash, destroy, rescind, overtook her. Her body led, and in its wake would be the pieces left to her. It was not easy for me to witness, but I did. Their first embrace was hurried, fumbled, passionate.

“Abigail,” Len said, his two hands now on either side of her waist underneath the coat, the gauzy gown barely a veil between them. “Think of what you’re doing.”

“I’m tired of thinking,” she said. Her hair was floating above her head because of the fan beside them-in an aureole. Len blinked as he looked at her. Marvelous, dangerous, wild.

“Your husband,” he said. “Kiss me, “she said. “Please.”

I was watching a beg for leniency on my mother’s part. My mother was moving physically through time to flee from me. I could not hold her back.

Len kissed her forehead hard and closed his eyes. She took his hand and placed it on her breast. She whispered in his ear. I knew what was happening. Her rage, her loss, her despair. The whole life lost tumbling out in an arc on that roof, clogging up her being. She needed Len to drive the dead daughter out.

He pushed her back into the stucco surface of the wall as they kissed, and my mother held on to him as if on the other side of his kiss there could be a new life.

On my way home from the junior high, I would sometimes stop at the edge of our property and watch my mother ride the ride-on mower, looping in and out among the pine trees, and I could remember then how she used to whistle in the mornings as she made her tea and how my father, rushing home on Thursdays, would bring her marigolds and her face would light up yellowy in delight. They had been deeply, separately, wholly in love-apart from her children my mother could reclaim this love, but with them she began to drift. It was my father who grew toward us as the years went by; it was my mother who grew away. Beside his hospital bed, Lindsey had fallen asleep while holding our father’s hand. My mother, still mussed, passed by Hal Heckler in the visitors’ area, and a moment later so did Len. Hal didn’t need more than this. He grabbed his helmet and went off down the hall.

After a brief visit to the ladies’ room, my mother was heading in the direction of my father’s room when Hal stopped her.

“Your daughter’s in there,” Hal called out. She turned.

“Hal Heckler,” he said, “Samuel’s brother. I was at the memorial service.” “Oh, yes, I’m sorry. I didn’t recognize you.”

“Not your job,” he said. There was an awkward pause.

“So, Lindsey called me and I brought her here an hour ago.” “Oh.”

“Buckley’s with a neighbor,” he said.

“Oh.” She was staring at him. In her eyes she was climbing back to the surface. She used his face to climb back to.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m a little upset-that’s understandable, right?”

“Perfectly,” he said, speaking slowly. “I just wanted to let you know that your daughter is in there with your husband. I’ll be in the visitors’ area if you need me.”

“Thank you,” she said. She watched him turn away and paused for a moment to listen to the worn heels of his motorcycle boots reverberate down the linoleum hall.

She caught herself then, shook herself back to where she was, never guessing for a second that that had been Hal’s purpose in greeting her.

Inside the room it was dark now, the fluorescent light behind my father flickering so slightly it lit only the most obvious masses in the room. My sister was in a chair pulled up alongside the bed, her head resting on the side of it with her hand extended out to touch my father. My father, deep

under, was lying on his back. My mother could not know that I was there with them, that here were the four of us so changed now from the days when she tucked Lindsey and me into bed and went to make love to her husband, our father. Now she saw the pieces. She saw that my sister and father, together, had become a piece. She was glad of it.

I had played a hide-and-seek game of love with my mother as I grew up, courting her attention and approval in a way that I had never had to with my father.

I didn’t have to play hide-and-seek anymore. As she stood in the darkened room and watched my sister and father, I knew one of the things that heaven meant. I had a choice, and it was not to divide my family in my heart.

Franny came to watch with us in the beginning.

“Its one of my secret pleasures,” she admitted. “After all these years I still love to watch the souls that float and spin in masses, all of them clamoring at once inside the air.”

“I don’t see anything,” I said that first time. “Watch closely,” she said, “and hush.”

But I felt them before I saw them, small warm sparks along my arms. Then there they were, fireflies lighting up and expanding in howls and swirls as they abandoned human flesh.

“Like snowflakes,” Franny said, “none of them the same and yet each one, from where we stand, exactly like the one before.”

Late at night the air above hospitals and senior citizen homes was often thick and fast with souls. Holly and I watched sometimes on the nights when sleep was lost to us. We came to realize how these deaths seemed choreographed from somewhere far away. Not our heaven. And so we began to suspect that there was a place more all-encompassing than where we were.

Buckley entered kindergarten that year and immediately arrived home with a crush on his teacher, Miss Koekle. She held his hand so gently whenever she had to lead him to the bathroom or help explain an assignment that her force was irresistible. In one way he profited-she would often sneak him an extra cookie or a softer sit-upon-but in another he was held aloft and apart from his fellow kindergartners. By my death he was made different among the one group-children-in which he might have been anonymous.

“If when she returned to junior high in the fall of 1974, Lindsey was not only the sister of the murdered girl but the child of a “crackpot,” “nutcase,” “looney-tunes,” and the latter hurt her more because it wasn’t true.

The rumors Lindsey and Samuel heard in the first weeks of the school year wove in and out of the rows of student lockers like the most persistent of snakes. Now the swirl had grown to include Brian Nelson and Clarissa who, thankfully, had both entered the high school that year. At Fairfax Brian and Clarissa clung to each other, exploiting what had happened to them, using my father’s debasement as a varnish of cool they could coat themselves with by retelling throughout the school what had happened that night in the cornfield.

Ray and Ruth walked by on the inside of the glass wall that looked out on the outdoor lounge. On the false boulders where the supposed bad kids sat, they would see Brian holding court. His walk that year went from anxious scarecrow to masculine strut. Clarissa, giggly with both fear and lust, had unlocked her privates and slept with Brian. However haphazardly, everyone I’d known was growing up.

Samuel would walk Lindsey home and then go down the main road and thumb his way to Hal’s bike shop. He counted on buddies of his brother’s to recognize him, and he reached his destination in various pasted-together bikes and trucks that Hal would fine-tune for the driver when they pulled up.

He did not go inside our house for a while. No one but family did. By October my father was just beginning to get up and around. His doctors had told him that his right leg would always be stiff, but if he stretched and stayed limber it wouldn’t present too much of an obstacle. “No running

bases, but everything else,” the surgeon said the morning after his surgery, when my father woke to find Lindsey beside him and my mother standing by the window staring out at the parking lot.

Buckley went right from basking in the shine of Miss Koekle home to burrow in the empty cave of my father’s heart. He asked ceaseless questions about the “fake knee,” and my father warmed to him.

“The knee came from outer space,” my father would say. “They brought pieces of the moon back and carved them up and now they use them for things like this.”

“Wow,” Buckley would say, grinning. “When can Nate see?” “Soon, Buck, soon,” my father said. But his smile grew weak.

When Buckley took these conversations and brought them to our mother-“Daddy’s knee is made out of moonbone,” he would tell her, or “Miss Koekle said my colors were really good” – she would nod her head, She had become aware of what she did. She cut carrots and celery into edible lengths. She washed out thermoses and lunchboxes, and when Lindsey decided she was too old for a lunchbox, my mother caught herself actually happy when she found wax-lined bags that would keep her daughter’s lunch from seeping through and staining her clothes. Which she washed. Which she folded. Which she ironed when necessary and which she straightened on hangers. Which she picked up from the floor or retrieved from the car or untangled from the wet towel left on the bed that she made every morning, tucking the corners in, and fluffing the pillows, and propping up stuffed animals, and opening the blinds to let the light in. By November, my father had mastered what he called an “adroit hobble,” and when Buckley egged him on he would do a contorted skip that, as long as it made his son laugh, didn’t make him think of how odd and desperate he might look to an outsider or to my mother. Everyone save Buckley knew what was coming: the first anniversary.

In the moments when Buckley sought her out, she often made a barter of it. She would focus on him for a few minutes, and then she would allow herself to drift away from her house and home and think of Len. Buckley

and my father spent the crisp fall afternoons out in the fenced-in yard with Holiday. My father would sit in the old iron lawn chair with his leg stretched out in front of him and propped up slightly on an ostentatious boot scraper that Grandma Lynn had found in a curio shop in Maryland.

Buckley threw the squeaky cow toy while Holiday ran to get it. My father took pleasure in the agile body of his five-year-old son and Buckley’s peals of delight when Holiday knocked him over and nudged him with his nose or licked his face with his long pink tongue. But he couldn’t rid himself of one thought: this too-this perfect boy-could be taken from him.

It had been a combination of things, his injury not the least among them, that had made him stay inside the house on an extended sick leave from his firm. His boss acted differently around him now, and so did his coworkers. They trod gently outside his office and would stop a few feet from his desk as if, should they be too relaxed in his presence, what had happened to him would happen to them-as if having a dead child were contagious. No one knew how he continued to do what he did, while simultaneously they wanted him to shut all signs of his grief away, place it in a file somewhere and tuck it in a drawer that no one would be asked to open again. He called in regularly, and his boss just as easily agreed that he could take another week, another month if he had to, and he counted this as a blessing of always having been on time or willing to work late. But he stayed away from Mr. Harvey and tried to curb even the thought of him. He would not use his name except in his notebook, which he kept hidden in his study, where it was surprisingly easily agreed with my mother that she would no longer clean. He had apologized to me in his notebook. “I need to rest, honey. I need to understand how to go after this man. I hope you’ll understand.”

But he had set his return to work for December 2, right after Thanksgiving. He wanted to be back in the office by the anniversary of my disappearance. Functioning and catching up on work-in as public and distracting a place as he could think of. And away from my mother, if he was honest with himself.

How to swim back to her, how to reach her again. She was pulling and pulling away-all her energy was against the house, and all his energy was

inside it. He settled on building back his strength and finding a strategy to pursue Mr. Harvey, Placing blame was easier than adding up the mounting figures of what he’d lost. Grandma Lynn was due for Thanksgiving, and Lindsey had kept to a beautifying regime Grandma had set up for her through letters. She’d felt silly when she first put cucumbers on her eyes (to diminish puffiness), or oatmeal on her face (to cleanse the pores and absorb excess oils), or eggs yolks in her hair (to make it shine). Her use of groceries had even made my mother laugh, then wonder if she too should start to beautify. But that was only for a second, because she was thinking of Len, not because she was in love with him but because being with him was the fastest way she knew to forget.

Two weeks before Grandma Lynn’s arrival, Buckley and my father were out in the yard with Holiday. Buckley and Holiday were romping from one large pile of burnished oak leaves to another in an increasingly hyper game of tag. “Watch out, Buck,” my father said. “You’ll make Holiday nip.” And sure enough. My father said he wanted to try something out.

“We have to see if your old dad can carry you piggyback style again. Soon you’ll be too big.”

So, awkwardly, in the beautiful isolation of the yard, where if my father fell only a boy and a dog who loved him would see, the two of them worked together to make what they both wanted- this return to father/son normalcy-happen. When Buckley stood on the iron chair-“Now scoot up my back,” my father said, stooping forward, “and grab on to my shoulders,” not knowing if he’d have the strength to lift him up from there-I crossed my fingers hard in heaven and held my breath. In the cornfield, yes, but, in this moment, repairing the most basic fabric of their previous day-to-day lives, challenging his injury to take a moment like this back, my father became my hero.

“Duck, now duck again,” he said as they galumphed through the downstairs doorways and up the stairs, each step a balance my father negotiated, a wincing pain. And with Holiday rushing past them on the stairs, and Buckley joyous on his mount, he knew that in this challenge to his strength he had done the right thing.

When the two of them-with dog-discovered Lindsey in the upstairs bathroom, she whined a loud complaint.


My father stood up straight. Buckley reached up and touched the light fixture with his hand.

“What are you doing?” my father said. “What does it look like I’m doing?”

She sat on the toilet lid wrapped in a large white towel (the towels my mother bleached, the towels my mother hung on the line to dry, the towels she folded, and placed in a basket and brought up to the linen closet.. ,). Her left leg was propped up on the edge of the tub, covered with shaving cream. In her hand she held my father’s razor.

“Don’t be petulant,” my father said.

“I’m sorry,” my sister said, looking down. “I just want a little privacy is all.”

My father lifted Buckley up and over his head. “The counter, the counter, son,” he said, and Buckley thrilled at the illegal halfway point of the bathroom counter and how his muddy feet soiled the tile.

“Now hop down.” And he did. Holiday tackled him.

“You’re too young to shave your legs, sweetie,” my father said. “Grandma Lynn started shaving at eleven.”

“Buckley, will you go in your room and take the dog? I’ll be in in a while.” “Yes, Daddy.”

Buckley was still a little boy who my father could, with patience and a bit of maneuvering, get up on his shoulders so they could be a typical father

and son. But he now saw in Lindsey what brought a double pain. I was a little girl in the tub, a toddler being held up to the sink, a girl who had forever stopped just short of sitting as my sister did now.

When Buckley was gone, he turned his attention to my sister. He would care for his two daughters by caring for one: “Are you being careful?” he asked.

“I just started,” Lindsey said. “I’d like to be alone, Dad.”

“Is that the same blade that was on it when you got it from my shaving kit?”


“Well, my beard stubble dulls the blade, I’ll go get you a fresh one.”

“Thanks, Dad,” my sister said, and again she was his sweet, piggyback-riding Lindsey.

He left the room and went down the hallway to the other side of the house and the master bathroom that he and my mother still shared, though they no longer slept in the same room together. As he reached up into the cabinet for the package of fresh razors, he felt a tear in his chest. He ignored it and focused on the task. There was only a flicker of a thought then; Abigail should be doing this.

He brought the razor blades back, showed Lindsey how to change them, and gave her a few pointers on how best to shave. “Watch out for the ankle and the knee,” he said. “Your mother always called those the danger spots,”

“You can stay if you want,” she said, ready now to let him in.

“But I might be a bloody mess.” She wanted to hit herself. “Sorry, Dad,” she said. “Here, I’ll move-you sit.”

She got up and went to sit on the edge of the tub. She ran the tap, and my father lowered himself onto the toilet lid.

“It’s okay, honey,” he said. “We haven’t talked about your sister in awhile.” “Who needs to?” my sister said. “She’s everywhere.”

“Your brother seems to be all right.” “He’s glued to you.”

“Yes,” he said, and he realized he liked it, this father-courting his son was doing.

“Ouch,” Lindsey said, a fine trickle of blood beginning to spread into the white foam of the shaving cream, “This is a total hassle.”

“Press down on the nick with your thumb. It stops the bleeding. You could do just to the top of your knee,” he offered. “That’s what your mother does unless we’re going to the beach.”

Lindsey paused. “You guys never go to the beach.” “We used to.”

My father had met my mother when they were both working at Wanamaker’s during the summer break from college. He had just made a nasty comment about how the employee’s lounge reeked of cigarettes when she smiled and brought out her then-habitual pack of Pall Malls. “Touche,” he said, and he stayed beside her despite the reeking stink of her cigarettes enveloping him from head to toe,

“I’ve been trying to decide who I look like,” Lindsey said, “Grandma Lynn or Mom.”

“I’ve always thought both you and your sister looked like my mother,” he said.



“Are you still convinced that Mr. Harvey had something to do with it?” It was like a stick finally sparking against another stick-the friction took. “There is no doubt in my mind, honey. None.”

“Then why doesn’t Len arrest him?”

She drew the razor sloppily up and finished her first leg. She hesitated there, waiting.

“I wish it was easy to explain,” he said, the words coiling out of him. He had never talked at length about his suspicion to anyone. “When I met him that day, in his backyard, and we built that tent-the one he claimed he built for his wife, whose name I thought was Sophie and Len took down as Leah-there was something about his movements that made me sure.”

“Everyone thinks he’s kind of weird.”

“True, I understand that,” he said. “But then everyone hasn’t had much to do with him either. They don’t know whether his weirdness is benign or not.”

“Benign?” “Harmless.”

“Holiday doesn’t like him,” Lindsey offered.

“Exactly. I’ve never seen that dog bark so hard. The fur on his back stood straight up that morning.”

“But the cops think you’re nuts.”

” ‘No evidence’ is all they can say. Without evidence and without-excuse me, honey-a body, they have nothing to move on and no basis for an arrest.”

“What would be a basis?”

“I guess something to link him to Susie. If someone had seen him in the cornfield or even lurking around the school. Something like that.”

“Or if he had something of hers?” Both my father and Lindsey were heatedly talking, her second leg lathered but left unshaved, because what radiated as the two sticks of their interest sparked flame was that I was in that house somewhere. My body-in the basement, first floor, second floor, attic. To keep from acknowledging that horrible-but oh, if it were true, so blatant so perfect so conclusive as evidence-thought, they remembered what I wore that day, remembered what I carried, the Frito Bandito eraser I prized, the David Cassidy button I’d pinned inside my bag, the David Bowie one I had pinned on the outside. They named all the clutter and accessories that surrounded what would be the best, most hideous evidence anyone could find-my corpse cut up, my blank and rotting eyes.

My eyes; the makeup Grandma Lynn had given her helped but did not solve the problem of how much everyone could see my eyes in Lindsey’s. When they presented themselves – a compact flashing past her when in use by a girl at a neighboring desk, or an unexpected reflection in the window of a store-she looked away. It was particularly painful with my father. What she realized as they talked was that as long as they were on this subject-Mr. Harvey, my clothes, my book bag, my body, me-the vigilance to my memory made my father see her as Lindsey and not as a tragic combination of his two daughters.

“So you would want to be able to get in his house?” she said.

They stared at each other, a flicker of recognition of a dangerous idea. In his hesitation, before he finally said that that would be illegal, and no, he hadn’t thought of that, she knew he was lying. She also knew he needed someone to do it for him.

“You should finish shaving, honey,” he said.

She agreed with him and turned away, knowing what she’d been told. Grandma Lynn arrived on the Monday before Thanksgiving. With the same laser-beam eyes that immediately sought out any unsightly blemish on my sister, she now saw something beneath the surface of her daughter’s smile,

in her placated, tranquilized movements and in how her body responded whenever Detective Fenerman or the police work came up.

When my mother refused my father’s help in cleaning up after dinner that night, the laser eyes were certain. Adamantly, and to the shock of everyone at the table and the relief of my sister- Grandma Lynn made an announcement.

“Abigail, I am going to help you clean up. it will be a mother/daughter thing.”


My mother had calculated that she could let Lindsey off easily and early and then she would spend the rest of the night over the sink, washing slowly and staring out the window until the darkness brought her own reflection back to her. The sounds of the TV would fade away and she would be alone again.

“I just did my nails yesterday,” Grandma Lynn said after tying on an apron over her camel-colored A-line dress, “so I’ll dry.”

“Mother, really. This isn’t necessary.”

“It is necessary, believe me, sweetie,” my grandmother said. There was something sober and curt in that sweetie.

Buckley led my father by the hand into the adjoining room where the TV sat. They took up their stations and Lindsey, having been given a reprieve, went upstairs to call Samuel,

It was such a strange thing to see. So out of the ordinary. My grandmother in an apron, holding a dish towel up like a matador’s red flag in anticipation of the first dish coming her way.

They were quiet as they worked, and the silence-the only sounds being the splash of my mother’s hands plunging into the scalding water, the squeak of plates, and the clank of the silver- made a tension fill the room which grew

unbearable. The noises of the game from the nearby room were just as odd to me. My father had never watched football; basketball his only sport.

Grandma Lynn had never done dishes; frozen meals and takeout menus were her weapons of choice.

“Oh Christ,” she finally said. “Take this.” She handed the just-washed dish back to my mother. “I want to have a real conversation but I’m afraid I’m going to drop these things. Let’s take a walk.”

“Mother, I need to …” “You need to take a walk.” “After the dishes.”

“Listen,” my grandmother said, “I know I’m whatever I am and you’re whatever you are, which isn’t me, which makes you happy, but I know some things when I see them and I know something is going on that isn’t kosher.


My mother’s face was wavering, soft and malleable-almost as soft and malleable as the image of her that floated on the sullied water in the sink.


“I have suspicions and I don’t want to talk about them here.”

Ten-four, Grandma Lynn, I thought. I’d never seen her nervous before.

It would be easy for the two of them to leave the house alone. My father, with his knee, would never think to join them, and, these days, where my father went or did not go, my brother, Buckley, followed.

My mother was silent. She saw no other option. As an afterthought they removed their aprons in the garage and piled them on the roof of the Mustang. My mother bent down and lifted the garage door.

It was still early enough so the light would hold for the beginning of their walk. “We could take Holiday,” my mother tried.

“Just you and your mother,” my grandmother said. “The most frightening pairing imaginable.”

They had never been close. They both knew it, but it wasn’t something they acknowledged very much. They joked around it like two children who didn’t particularly like each other but were the only children in a large, barren neighborhood. Now, never having tried to before, having always let her daughter run as fast as she could in whatever direction she wished, my grandmother found that she was suddenly catching up.

They had passed by the O’Dwyers’ and were near the Tarkings’ before my grandmother said what she had to say.

“My humor buried my acceptance,” my grandmother said. “Your father had a long-term affair in New Hampshire. Her first initial was F and I never knew what it stood for. I found a thousand options for it over the years.”


My grandmother kept walking, didn’t turn. She found that the crisp fall air helped, filling her lungs until they felt cleaner than they had just minutes before.

“Did you know that?” “No.”

“I guess I never told you,” she said. “I didn’t think you needed to know. Now you do, don’t you think?”

“I’m not sure why you’re telling me this.”

They had come to the bend in the road that would lead them back around the circle. If they went that way and did not stop, eventually they would find themselves in front of Mr. Harvey’s house. My mother froze.

“My poor, poor sweetie,” my grandmother said. “Give me your hand.”

They were awkward. My mother could count on her fingers how many times her tall father had leaned down and kissed her as a child. The scratchy beard that smelled of a cologne that, after years of searching, she could never identify. My grandmother took her hand and held on as they walked the other way.

They walked into an area of the neighborhood where newer families seemed to be moving in more and more. The anchor houses, I remembered my mother calling them, because they lined the street that led into the whole development-anchored the neighborhood to an original road built before the township was a township. The road that led to Valley Forge, to George Washington and the Revolution.

“Susie’s death brought your father’s back to me,” my grandmother said. “I never let myself mourn him properly.”

“I know,” my mother said. “Do you resent me for it?” My mother paused. “Yes.”

My grandmother patted the back of my mother’s hand with her free one. “Good, see, that’s a nugget.’*

“A nugget?”

“Something that’s coming out of all this. You and me. A nugget of truth between us.”

They passed the one-acre lots on which trees had been growing for twenty years. If not exactly towering, they were still twice as tall as the fathers who had first held them and stomped the dirt around them with their weekend work shoes.

“Do you know how alone I’ve always felt?” my mother asked her mother. “That’s why we’re walking, Abigail,” Grandma Lynn said.

My mother focused her eyes in front of her but stayed connected to her mother with her hand. She thought of the solitary nature of her childhood. How, when she had watched her two daughters tie string between paper cups and go to separate rooms to whisper secrets to each other, she could not really say she knew how that felt. There had been no one else in the house with her but her mother and father, and then her father had gone.

She stared at the tops of the trees, which, miles from our development, were the tallest things around. They stood on a high hill that had never been cleared for houses and on which a few old farmers still dwelled.

“I can’t describe what I’m feeling,” she said. “To anyone.”

They reached the end of the development just as the sun was going down over the hill in front of them. A moment passed without either of them turning around. My mother watched the last light flicker in a drain-off puddle at the end of the road.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said. “It’s all over now.”

My grandmother was not sure what she meant by “it,” but she did not press harder.

“Shall we head back?” my grandmother offered. “How?” my mother said.

“To the house, Abigail. Head back to the house.”

They turned and began walking again. The houses one after another, identical in structure. Only what my grandmother thought of as their accessories marked them as different. She had never understood places like this-places where her own child had chosen to live.

“When we get to the turn to the circle,” my mother said, “I want to walk past it.”

“His house?”


I watched Grandma Lynn turn when my mother turned.

“Would you promise me not to see the man anymore?” my grandmother asked.


“The man you’re involved with. That’s what I’ve been talking about.”

“I’m not involved with anyone,” my mother said. Her mind flew like a bird from one rooftop to the next. “Mother?” she said, and turned.


“If I needed to get away for a while, could I use Daddy’s cabin?” “Have you been listening to me?”

They could smell something in the air, and again my mother’s anxious, agile mind slipped away. “Someone is smoking,” she said.

Grandma Lynn was staring at her child. The pragmatic, prim mistress that my mother had always been was gone. She was flighty and distracted. My grandmother had nothing left to say to her.

“They’re foreign cigarettes,” my mother said. “Let’s go find them!”

And in the fading light my grandmother stared, flabbergasted, as my mother began to follow the scent to its source.

“I’m heading back,” my grandmother said. But my mother kept walking.

She found the source of the smoke soon enough. It was Ruana Singh, standing behind a tall fir tree in her backyard.

“Hello,” my mother said.

Ruana did not start as I thought she would. Her calmness had become something practiced. She could make a breath last through the most startling event, whether it was her son being accused of murder by the police or her husband running their dinner party as if it were an academic committee meeting. She had told Ray he could go upstairs, and then she had disappeared out the back door and not been missed.

“Mrs. Salmon” Ruana said, exhaling the heady smell of her cigarettes. In a rush of smoke and warmth my mother met Ruana’s extended hand. “I’m so glad to see you.”

“Are you having a party?” my mother asked. “My husband is having a party. I am the hostess.” My mother smiled.

“This is a weird place we both live,” Ruana said.

Their eyes met. My mother nodded her head. Back on the road somewhere was her own mother, but for right now she, like Ruana, was on a quiet island off the mainland.

“Do you have another cigarette?”

“Absolutely, Mrs. Salmon, yes.” Ruana fished into the pocket of her long black cardigan and held out the pack and her lighter. “Dunhills,” she said. “I hope that’s all right.”

My mother lit her cigarette and handed the blue package with its golden foil back to Ruana. “Abigail,” she said as she exhaled. “Please call me Abigail.”

Up in his room with his lights off, Ray could smell his mother’s cigarettes, which she never accused him of pilfering, just as he never let on that he knew she had them. He heard voices downstairs-the loud sounds of his father and his colleagues speaking six different languages and laughing delightedly over the oh-so-American holiday to come. He did not know that

my mother was out on the lawn with his mother or that I was watching him sit in his window and smell their sweet tobacco. Soon he would turn away from the window and switch on the small light by his bed to read. Mrs.

McBride had told them to find a sonnet they’d like to write a paper on, but as he read the lines of those available to him in his Norton Anthology he kept drifting back to the moment he wished he could take back and do over again. If he had just kissed me on the scaffold, maybe everything would have turned out differently.

Grandma Lynn kept on the course she had set with my mother, and, eventually, there it was-the house they tried to forget while living two houses down. Jack was right, my grandmother thought. She could even feel it in the dark. The place radiated something malevolent. She shivered and began to hear the crickets and see the fireflies gathering in a swarm above his front flower beds. She thought suddenly that she would do nothing but sympathize with her daughter. Her child was living inside the middle of a ground zero to which no affair on her own husband’s part could offer her insight. She would tell my mother in the morning that the keys to the cabin would always be there for her if she needed them. That night my mother had what she considered a wonderful dream. She dreamed of the country of India, where she had never been. There were orange traffic cones and beautiful lapis lazuli insects with mandibles of gold. A young girl was being led through the streets. She was taken to a pyre where she was wound in a sheet and placed up on a platform built from sticks. The bright fire that consumed her brought my mother into that deep, light, dreamlike bliss. The girl was being burned alive, but, first, there had been her body, clean and whole.

For a week Lindsey cased my killer’s house. She was doing exactly what he did to everyone else.

She had agreed to train with the boys’ soccer team all year in preparation for the challenge Mr. Dewitt and Samuel encouraged her to take on: qualifying to play in the all-male high school soccer league. And Samuel, to show his support, trained alongside her with no hope of qualifying for anything, he said, other than “fastest guy in shorts.”

He could run, even if kicking and fielding and noticing a ball anywhere within his vicinity were all beyond him, And so, while they did laps around the neighborhood, each time Lindsey shot a look toward Mr. Harvey’s house, Samuel was out in front, setting the pace for her-unaware of anything else.

Inside the green house, Mr. Harvey was looking out. He saw her watching and he began to itch. It had been almost a year now, but the Salmons remained bent on crowding him. It had happened before in other towns and states. The family of a girl suspected him but no one else did. He had perfected his patter to the police, a certain obsequious innocence peppered with wonder about their procedures or useless ideas that he presented as if they might help. Bringing up the Ellis boy with Fenerman had been a good stroke, and the lie that he was a widower always helped. He fashioned a wife out of whichever victim he’d recently been taking pleasure in in his memory, and to flesh her out there was always his mother.

He left the house every day for an hour or two in the afternoon. He would pick up any supplies he needed and then drive out to Valley Forge Park and walk the paved roads and the unpaved trails and find himself suddenly surrounded by school tours at George Washington’s log cabin or the Washington Memorial Chapel. This would buoy him up-these moments when the children were eager to see history, as if they might actually find a long silver hair from Washington’s wig caught on the rough end of a log post.

Occasionally one of the tour guides or teachers would notice him standing there, unfamiliar even if amiable, and he would be met with a questioning stare. He had a thousand lines to give them; “I used to bring my children here.” “This is where I met my wife.” He knew to ground whatever he said in connection to some imagined family, and then the women would smile at him. Once an attractive, heavy woman tried to engage him in conversation while the park guide told the children about the winter of 1776 and the Battle of the Clouds.

He had used the story of widowhood and talked about a woman named Sophie Qchetti, making her his now-deceased wife and true love. It had been like luscious food to this woman, and, as he listened to her tell him

about her cats and her brother, who had three children, whom she loved, he pictured her sitting on the chair in his basement, dead. After that, when he met a teacher’s questioning glare he would shyly back off and go somewhere else inside the park. He watched mothers with their children still in strollers walk briskly along the exposed paths. He saw teenagers who were cutting school necking in the uncut fields or along the interior trails.

And at the highest point of the park was a small wood beside which he sometimes parked. He would sit in his Wagoneer and watch lonely men pull up beside him and get out of their cars. Men in suits on their lunch hour or men in flannel and jeans would walk quickly into that wood. Sometimes they would cast a look back in his direction – an inquiry. If they were close enough, these men could see, through his windshield, what his victims saw-his wild and bottomless lust. On November 26, 1974, Lindsey saw Mr.

Harvey leaving the green house, and she began to hang back from the pack of running boys. Later she could claim she had gotten her period and all of them would hush up, even be satisfied that this was proof that Mr. Dewitt’s unpopular plan-a girl at regionals! -would never work out.

I watched my sister and marveled. She was becoming everything all at once. A woman. A spy. A jock. The Ostracized: One Man Alone.

She walked, clutching her side in a false cramp, and waved the boys on when they turned to notice her. She kept walking with her hand on her waist until they turned the corner at the far end of the block. At the edge of Mr.

Harvey’s property was a row of tall, thick pines that had been left untrimmed for years. She sat down by one of them, still feigning exhaustion in case any neighbor was looking out, and then, when she felt the moment was right, she curled up in a ball and rolled in between two pines. She waited. The boys had one more lap. She watched them pass her and followed them with her eyes as they cut up through the vacant lot and back to the high school. She was alone. She calculated she had forty-five minutes before our father would begin to wonder when she’d be home. The agreement had been that if she trained with the boys’ soccer team, Samuel would escort her home and have her back by five o’clock.

The clouds had hung heavy in the sky all day, and the late-fall cold raised goose bumps along her legs and arms. The team runs always warmed her,

but when she reached the locker room where she shared the showers with the field hockey team, she would begin to shiver until the hot water hit her body. But on the lawn of the green house, her goose bumps were also from fear.

When the boys cut up the path, she scrambled over to the basement window at the side of Mr. Harvey’s house. She had already thought of a story if she was caught. She was chasing a kitten that she’d seen dart in between the pine trees. She would say it was gray, that it was fast, that it had run toward Mr. Harvey’s house and she’d followed it without thinking.

She could see inside to the basement, where it was dark. She tried the window, but the latch lock was pushed in. She would have to break the glass. Her mind racing, she worried about the noise, but she was too far along to stop now. She thought of my father at home, ever mindful of the clock near his chair, and took her sweatshirt off and balled it around her feet. Sitting down, she braced her body with her arms and then kicked once, twice, three times with both feet until the window smashed-a muffled cracking.

Carefully, she lowered herself down, searching the wall for a foothold but having to jump the final few feet onto the broken glass and concrete.

The room appeared tidy and swept, different from our own basement, where heaps of holiday-marked boxes-EASTER EGGS AND GREEN GRASS, CHRISTMAS STAR/ORNAMENTS – never made it back on the shelves my father had built.

The cold air from outside came in, and she felt the draft along her neck pushing her out of the shimmering semicircle of shattered glass and into the rest of the room. She saw the easy chair and a little table beside it. She saw the large alarm clock with luminous numbers sitting on the metal shelving. I wanted to guide her eyes to the crawlspace, where she would find the bones of the animals, but I knew, too, that regardless of drawing a fly’s eyes on graph paper and excelling that fall in Mr. Botte’s biology class, she would imagine the bones were mine. For this, I was glad she went nowhere near them.

Despite my inability to appear or whisper, push or usher, Lindsey, all alone, felt something. Something charged the air in the cold, dank basement and made her cringe. She stood only a few feet from the open window, knowing that she would, no matter what, be walking farther in and that she had to, no matter what, calm and focus herself to look for clues; but right then, for one moment, she thought of Samuel running ahead, having thought he would find her on his last lap, then running back toward the school, thinking he would find her outside, and then assuming, but with the first trace of a doubt, that she was showering, and so he too would be showering now, and then waiting for her before he did anything else. How long would he wait? As her eyes mounted the stairs to the first floor before her feet followed, she wished that Samuel were there to climb down after her and trace her movements, erasing her solitude as he went, fitting into her limbs. But she had not told him on purpose – had told no one. What she was doing was beyond the pale-criminal – and she knew it.

If she thought about it later, she would say that she had needed air and so that was what had gotten her up the stairs. Small flecks of white dust collected at the tips of her shoes as she mounted the stairs, but she didn’t notice them. She twisted the knob of the basement door and reached the first floor. Only five minutes had passed. She had forty left, or so she thought. There was still a bit of light seeping in through the closed blinds. As she stood, again, hesitating, in this house identical to our own, she heard the thwack of the Evening Bulletin hit the stoop and the delivery boy ring the bell on his bike as he passed.

My sister told herself that she was inside a series of rooms and spaces that, gone through methodically, might yield what she needed, provide her the trophy she could take home to our father, earning her freedom from me that way. Competition always, even between the living and the dead. She saw the flagstones in the hall-the same dark green and gray as ours-and imagined crawling after me when she was a baby and I was just learning to walk. Then she saw my toddler body running delightedly away from her and into the next room, and she remembered her own sense of reaching out, of taking her first steps as I teased her from the living room.

But Mr. Harvey’s house was much emptier than ours, and there were no rugs to lend warmth to the decor. Lindsey stepped from the flagstones onto the polished pine floors of what in our house was the living room. She made echoes up the open front hall, the sound of every movement reaching back for her.

She couldn’t stop the memories slamming into her. Every one had a brutal report. Buckley riding piggyback on my shoulders down the stairs. Our mother steadying me as Lindsey looked on, jealous that I could reach, with the silver star in my hands, the top of the Christmas tree. Me sliding down the banister and asking her to join. Both of us begging the comics off our father after dinner. All of us running after Holiday as he barked and barked. And the countless exhausted smiles awkwardly dressing our faces for photos at birthdays, and holidays, and after school, Two sisters dressed identically in velvet or plaid or Easter yellows. We held baskets of bunnies and eggs we had sunk in dye. Patent leather shoes with straps and hard buckles. Smiling hard as our mother tried to focus her camera. The photos always fuzzy, our eyes bright red spots. None of them, these artifacts left to my sister, would hold for posterity the moments before and the moments after, when we two girls played in the house or fought over toys. When we were sisters.

Then she saw it. My back darting into the next room. Our dining room, the room that held his finished dollhouses. I was a child running just ahead of her. She hurried after me.

She chased me through the downstairs rooms and though she was training hard for soccer, when she returned to the front hall she was unable to catch her breath. She grew dizzy.

I thought of what my mother had always said about a boy at our bus stop who was twice as old as us but still in the second grade. “He doesn’t know his own strength, so you need to be careful around him.” He liked to give bear hugs to anyone who was nice to him, and you could see this dopey love drop into his features and ignite his desire to touch. Before he was removed from regular school and sent somewhere else no one talked about, he had picked up a little girl named Daphne and squeezed her so hard that she fell into the road when he let go. I was pushing so hard on the

Inbetween to get to Lindsey that I suddenly felt I might hurt her when I meant to help.

My sister sat down on the wide steps at the bottom of the front hall and closed her eyes, focused on regaining her breath, on why she was in Mr. Harvey’s house in the first place. She felt encased in something heavy, a fly trapped in a spider’s funnel web, the thick silk binding up around her. She knew that our father had walked into the cornfield possessed by something that was creeping into her now. She had wanted to bring back clues he could use as rungs to climb back to her on, to anchor him with facts, to ballast his sentences to Len. Instead she saw herself falling after him into a bottomless pit.

She had twenty minutes.

Inside that house my sister was the only living being, but she was not alone, and I was not her only company. The architecture of my murderer’s life, the bodies of the girls he’d left behind, began to reveal itself to me now that my sister was in that house. I stood in heaven. I called their names:

Jackie Meyer. Delaware, 1967. Thirteen.

A chair knocked over, its underside facing the room. Lying curled toward it, she wore a striped T-shirt and nothing else. Near her head, a small pool of blood. Flora Hernandez. Delaware, 1963. Eight.

He’d only wanted to touch her, but she screamed. A small girl for her age. Her left sock and shoe were found later. The body, unrecovered. The bones lay in the earthen basement of an old apartment house. Leah Fox. Delaware, 1969. Twelve.

On a slipcovered couch under a highway on-ramp, he killed her, very quietly. He fell asleep on top of her, lulled by the sound of cars rushing above them. Not until ten hours later, when a vagrant knocked on the small shack Mr. Harvey had built out of discarded doors-did he begin to pack himself and Leah Fox’s body up. Sophie Cichetti, Pennsylvania, 1960.


A landlady, she had divided her upstairs apartment into two by erecting a Sheetrock wall. He liked the half-circle window this created, and the rent was cheap. But she talked too much about her son and insisted on reading him poems from a book of sonnets. He made love to her on her side of the divided room, smashed her skull in when she started to talk, and brought her body to the bank of a creek nearby. Leidia Johnson. 1960. Six. Buck’s County, Pennsylvania. He dug an arched cave inside a hill near the quarry and waited. She was the youngest one.

Wendy Richter. Connecticut, 1971. Thirteen.

She was waiting for her father outside a bar. He raped her in the bushes and then strangled her. That time, as he grew conscious, coming up out of the stupor that often clung on, he heard noises. He turned the dead girl’s face toward his, and as the voices grew closer he bit down on her ear. “Sorry, man,” he heard two drunk men say as they walked into the nearby bushes to take a leak.

I saw now that town of floating graves, cold and whipped by winds, where the victims of murder went in the minds of the living. I could see his other victims as they occupied his house- those trace memories left behind before they fled this earth-but I let them go that day and went to my sister.

Lindsey stood up the moment I focused back on her. Together the two of us walked the stairs. She felt like the zombies in the movies Samuel and Hal loved. One foot in front of the other and staring blankly straight ahead. She reached what was my parents’ bedroom in our house and found nothing. She circled the hallway upstairs. Nothing. Then she went into what had been my bedroom in our house, and she found my killer’s.

It was the least barren room in the house, and she did her best not to displace anything, To move her hand in between the sweaters stacked on the shelf, prepared to find anything in their warm insides-a knife, a gun, a Bic pen chewed on by Holiday. Nothing. But then, as she heard something but could not identify what it was, she turned toward the bed and saw the bedside table and, lying in the circle of light from a reading lamp left on, his sketchbook. She walked toward it and heard another sound, again, not

putting the sounds together. Car pulling up. Car braking with a squeak. Car door slamming shut.

She turned the pages of the sketchbook and looked at the inky drawings of crossbeams and braces or turrets and buttresses, and she saw the measurements and notes, none of which meant anything to her. Then, as she flipped a final page, she thought she heard footsteps outside and very close.

As Mr. Harvey turned the key in the lock of his front door, she saw the light pencil sketch on the page in front of her. It was a small drawing of stalks above a sunken hole, a detail off to the side of a shelf and how a chimney could draw out smoke from a fire, and the thing that sunk into her: in a spidery hand he had written “Stolfuz cornfield.” If it were not for the articles in the paper after the discovery of my elbow, she would not have known that the cornfield was owned by a man named Stolfuz. Now she saw what I wanted her to know. I had died inside that hole; I had screamed and fought and lost.

She ripped out the page. Mr. Harvey was in the kitchen making something to eat-the liverwurst he favored, a bowl of sweet green grapes. He heard a board creak. He stiffened. He heard another and his back rose and blossomed with sudden understanding.

The grapes dropped on the floor to be crushed by his left foot, while my sister in the room above sprang to the aluminum blinds and unlocked the stubborn window. Mr. Harvey mounted the stairs two at a time, and my sister smashed out the screen, scrambling onto the porch roof and rolling down it as he gained the upstairs hall and came barreling toward her. The gutter broke when her body tipped past it. As he reached his bedroom, she fell into the bushes and brambles and muck.

But she was not hurt. Gloriously not hurt. Gloriously young. She stood up as he reached the window to climb out. But he stopped. He saw her running toward the elderberry. The silk-screened number on her back screamed out at him. 5! 5! 5! Lindsey Salmon in her soccer shirt. Samuel was sitting with my parents and Grandma Lynn when Lindsey reached the house.

“Oh my God,” my mother said, the first to see her through the small square windows that lined either side of our front door.

And by the time my mother opened it Samuel had rushed to fill the space, and she walked, without looking at my mother or even my father hobbling forward, right into Samuel’s arms.

“My God, my God, my God,” my mother said as she took in the dirt and the cuts. My grandmother came to stand beside her.

Samuel put his hand on my sister’s head and smoothed her hair back. “Where have you been?”

But Lindsey turned to our father, lessened so now-smaller, weaker, than this child who raged. How alive she was consumed me whole that day.


“Yes, sweetheart.”

“I did it. I broke into his house.” She was shaking slightly and trying not to cry. My mother balked: “You what?”

But my sister didn’t look at her, not once.

“I brought you this. I think it might be important.”

She had kept the drawing in her hand, crumpled tightly into a ball. It had made her landing harder, but she had come away anyway.

A phrase my father had read that day appeared in his mind now. He spoke it aloud as he looked into Lindsey’s eyes.

“There is no condition one adjusts to so quickly as a state of war.” Lindsey handed him the drawing,

“I’m going to pick up Buckley,” my mother said.

“Don’t you even want to look at this, Mom?”

“I don’t know what to say. Your grandmother is here. I have shopping to do, a bird to cook. No one seems to realize that we have a family. We have a family, a family and a son, and I’m going.”

Grandma Lynn walked my mother to the back door but did not try to stop her.

My mother gone, my sister reached her hand out to Samuel. My father saw what Lindsey did in Mr. Harvey’s spidery hand: the possible blueprint of my grave. He looked up.

“Do you believe me now?” he asked Lindsey. “Yes, Daddy.”

My father-so grateful-had a call to make. “Dad, “she said.


“I think he saw me.”

I could never have imagined a blessing greater to me than the physical safety of my sister that day. As I walked back from the gazebo I shivered with the fear that had held me, the possibility of her loss on Earth not just to my father, my mother, Buckley, and Samuel, but, selfishly, the loss of her on Earth to me.

Franny walked toward me from the cafeteria. I barely raised my head.

“Susie,” she said. “I have something to tell you.” She drew me under one of the old-fashioned lampposts and then out of the light. She handed me a piece of paper folded into four.

“When you feel stronger, look at it and go there.” Two days later, Franny’s map led me to a field that I had always walked by but which, though

beautiful, I’d left unexplored. The drawing had a dotted line to indicate a path. Searching nervously, I looked for an indentation in the rows and rows of wheat- Just ahead I saw it, and as I began to walk between the rows the paper dissolved in my hand. I could see an old and beautiful olive tree just up ahead.

The sun was high, and in front of the olive tree was a clearing. I waited only a moment until I saw the wheat on the other side begin to pulse with the arrival of someone who did not crest the stalks.

She was small for her age, as she had been on Earth, and she wore a calico dress that was frayed at the hem and the cuffs. She paused and we stared at each other.

“I come here almost every day,” she said. “I like to listen to the sounds.”

All around us, I realized, the wheat was rustling as it moved against itself in the wind.

“Do you know Franny?” I asked. The little girl nodded solemnly. “She gave me a map to this place.”

“Then you must be ready,” she said, but she was in her heaven too, and that called for twirling and making her skirt fly out in a circle. I sat on the ground under the tree and watched her.

When she was done she came toward me and breathlessly sat herself down. “I was Flora Hernandez,” she said. “What was your name?”

I told her, and then I began to cry with comfort, to know another girl he had killed.

“The others will be here soon,’* she said.

And as Flora twirled, other girls and women came through the field in all directions. Our heartache poured into one another like water from cup to cup. Each time I told my story, I lost a bit, the smallest drop of pain. It was that day that I knew I wanted to tell the story of my family. Because horror

on Earth is real and it is every day. It is like a flower or like the sun; it cannot be contained.

FIFTEEN At first no one stopped them, and it was something his mother enjoyed so much, the thrill of her laughter when they ducked around the corner from whatever store and she uncovered and presented the pilfered item to him, that George Harvey joined in her laughter and, spying an opportunity, would hug her while she was occupied with her newest prize.

It was a relief for both of them, getting away from his father for the afternoon and driving into the nearby town to get food or other supplies. They were scavengers at best and made their money by collecting scrap metal and old bottles and hauling them into town on the back of the elder Harvey’s ancient flatbed truck.

When his mother and he were caught for the first time, the two of them were treated graciously by the woman at the cash register. “If you can pay for it, do. If you can’t, leave it on the counter as good as new,” she said brightly and winked at the eight-year-old George Harvey. His mother took the small glass bottle of aspirin out of her pocket and placed it sheepishly on the counter.

Her face sank, “No better than the child,” his father often reprimanded her.

Getting caught became another moment in his life that brought fear-that sick feeling curling into his stomach like eggs being folded into a bowl-and he could tell by the closed faces and hard eyes when the person walking down the aisle toward them was a store employee who had seen a woman stealing.

And she began handing him the stolen items to hide on his body, and he did it because she wanted him to. If they got outside and away in the truck, she would smile and bang the steering wheel with the flat of her hand and call him her little accomplice. The cab would fill with her wild, unpredictable love, and for a little while, until it wore off and they spied something glinting on the side of the road that they would have to investigate for what his mother called its “possibilities”-he did feel free.

Free and warm. He remembered the advice she gave him the first time they drove a stretch of road in Texas and saw a white wooden cross along the

road. Around the base of it were clusters of fresh and dead flowers. His scavenger’s eye had been drawn immediately by the colors.

“You have to be able to look past the dead,” his mother said. “Sometimes there are good trinkets to take away from them.”

Even then, he could sense they were doing something wrong. The two of them got out of the truck and went up to the cross, and his mother’s eyes changed into the two black points that he was used to seeing when they were searching. She found a charm in the shape of an eye and one in the shape of a heart and held them out for George Harvey to see.

“Don’t know what your father would make of them, but we can keep them, just you and me.”

She had a secret stash of things that she never showed his father. “Do you want the eye or the heart?”

“The eye,” he said.

“I think these roses are fresh enough to save, nice for the truck.”

That night they slept in the truck, unable to make the drive back to where his father was working a temporary job splitting and riving boards by hand.

The two of them slept curled into each other as they did with some frequency, making the inside of the cab an awkward nest. His mother, like a dog worrying a blanket, moved around in her seat and fidgeted. George Harvey had realized after earlier struggles that it was best to go limp and let her move him as she wished. Until his mother was comfortable, no one slept.

In the middle of the night, as he was dreaming about the soft insides of the palaces in picture books he’d seen in public libraries, someone banged on the roof, and George Harvey and his mother sat bolt upright. It was three men, looking through the windows in a way George Harvey recognized. It was the way his own father looked when he was drunk sometimes. It had a

double effect: the whole gaze was leveled at his mother and simultaneously absented his son. He knew not to cry out.

“Stay quiet. They aren’t here for you,” she whispered to him. He began to shiver underneath the old army blankets that covered them.

One of the three men was standing in front of the truck. The other two were banging on either side of the truck’s roof, laughing and lolling their tongues.

His mother shook her head vehemently, but this only enraged them. The man blocking the truck started rocking his hips back and forth against the front end, which caused the other two men to laugh harder.

“I’m going to move slow,” his mother whispered, “and pretend I’m getting out of the truck. I want you to reach forward and turn the keys in the ignition when I say so.”

He knew he was being told something very important. That she needed him. Despite her practiced calm, he could hear the metal in her voice, the iron breaking up through fear now.

She smiled at the men, and as they sent up whoops and their bodies relaxed, she used her elbow to knock the gear shift into place. “Now,” she said in a flat monotone, and George Harvey reached forward and turned the keys. The truck came to life with its rumbling old engine.

The faces of the men changed, fading from an acquisitive joy and then, as she reversed back to a good degree and they stared after her, uncertainty.

She switched into drive and screamed, “On the floor!” to her son. He could feel the bump of the man’s body hitting the truck only a few feet from where he lay curled up inside. Then the body was pitched up onto the roof. It lay there for a second until his mother reversed again. He had had a moment of clarity about how life should be lived: not as a child or as a woman. They were the two worst things to be. His heart had beat wildly as he watched Lindsey make for the elderberry hedge, but then immediately he had calmed. It was a skill his mother, not his father, had taught him-to take action only after calculating the worst possible outcome of each choice

available. He saw the notebook disturbed and the missing page in his sketchbook. He checked the bag with the knife. He took the knife with him to the basement and dropped it down the square hole that was drilled through the foundation. From the metal shelving, he retrieved the group of charms that he kept from the women. He took the Pennsylvania keystone charm from my bracelet and held it in his hand. Good luck. The others he spread out on his white handkerchief, and then he brought the four ends together to form a small hobo sack. He put his hand inside the hole under the foundation and got down on the floor on his stomach to push his arm in all the way to the shoulder. He groped, feeling with the free fingers of his hand as the other held the hobo sack, until he found a rusty jut of a metal support over which the workmen had poured the cement. He hung his trophy bag there and then withdrew his arm and stood. The book of sonnets he had buried earlier that summer in the woods of Valley Forge Park, shedding evidence slowly as he always did; now, he had to hope, not too slowly.

Five minutes at the most had gone by. That could be accounted for by shock and anger. By checking what everyone else thought to be valuables-his cuff links, his cash, his tools. But he knew no more time than that could be overlooked. He had to call the police.

He worked himself up. He paced briefly, drew his breath in and out rapidly, and when the operator answered he set his voice on edge.

“My home has been broken into. I need the police,” he said, scripting the opening of his version of the story as inside he calculated how quickly he could leave and what he would carry with him. When my father called the station, he requested Len Fenerman. But Fenerman couldn’t be located. My father was informed that two uniforms had already been sent out to investigate. What they found when Mr. Harvey answered his door was a man who was tearfully upset and who in every aspect, save a certain repellent quality that the officers attributed to the sight of a man allowing himself to cry, seemed to be responding rationally to the reported events.

Even though the information about the drawing Lindsey had taken had come in over the radio, the officers were more impressed by Mr. Harvey’s

readily volunteering to have his home searched. He also seemed sincere in his sympathy for the Salmon family.

The officers grew uncomfortable. They searched the house perfunctorily and found nothing except both the evidence of what they took to be extreme loneliness and a room full of beautiful dollhouses on the second floor, where they switched topics and asked him how long he had been building them.

They noticed, they said later, an immediate and friendly change in his demeanor. He went into his bedroom and got the sketchbook, not mentioning any stolen drawing. The police took note of his increasing warmth as he showed them the sketches for the dollhouses. They asked their next question delicately.

“Sir,” an officer said, “we can take you down to the station for further questioning, and you do have the right to have a lawyer present but-”

Mr. Harvey interrupted him, “I would be happy to answer anything here. I am the wronged party, though I have no wish to press charges against that poor girl.”

“The young woman that broke in,” the other officer began, “she did take something. It was a drawing of the cornfield and a sort of structure in it…”

The way it hit Harvey, the officers would tell Detective Fenerman, was all at once and very convincing. He had an explanation that fit so perfectly, they did not see him as a flight risk- largely because they did not see him first and foremost as a murderer.

“Oh, the poor girl,” he said. He placed his fingers to his pursed lips. He turned to his sketchbook and flipped through it until he came to a drawing that was very much like the one Lindsey had taken.

“There, it was a drawing similar to this one, correct?” The officers-now audience-nodded. “I was trying to figure it out,” Mr. Harvey confessed. “I admit the horror of it has obsessed me. I think everyone in the

neighborhood has tried to think how they could have prevented it. Why they didn’t hear something, see something. I mean, surely the girl screamed.

“Now here,” he said to the two men, pointing to his drawing with a pen. “Forgive me, but I think in structures, and after hearing about how much blood there was in the cornfield and the churned-up nature of that area where it was found, I decided that perhaps…” He looked at them, checking their eyes. Both officers were following him. They wanted to follow him. They had had no leads, no body, no clues. Perhaps this strange man had a workable theory. “Well, that the person who did it had built something underground, a hole, and then I confess I began to worry at it and detail it the way I do the dollhouses, and I gave it a chimney and a shelf, and, well, that’s just my habit,” He paused. “I have a lot of time to myself.”

“So, did it work out?” one of the two officers asked. “I always did think I had something there.”

“Why didn’t you call us?”

“I wasn’t bringing back their daughter. When Detective Fenerman interviewed me I mentioned how I suspected the Ellis boy, and I turned out to be dead wrong. I didn’t want to meddle with any more of my amateur theories.”

The officers apologized for the fact that the following day Detective Fenerman would be calling again, most likely wanting to go over the same material. See the sketchbook, hear Mr. Harvey’s assertions about the cornfield. All of this Mr. Harvey took as part of being a dutiful civilian, even if it had been he who was victimized. The officers documented my sister’s path of break-in from the basement window and then out through the bedroom window. They discussed the damages, which Mr. Harvey said he would take care of out-of-pocket, stressing his awareness of the overwhelming grief the Salmon father had displayed several months ago, and how it now seemed to be infecting the poor girl’s sister. I saw the chances of Mr. Harvey’s capture diminish as I watched the end of my family as I had known it ignite.

After picking up Buckley from Nate’s house, my mother stopped at a payphone outside the 7-Eleven on Route 30. She told Len to meet her at a loud and raucous store in the mall near the grocery store. He left immediately. As he pulled out of his driveway, the phone in his house was ringing but he didn’t hear it. He was inside the capsule of his car, thinking of my mother, of how wrong it all was and then of how he could not say no to her for reasons he couldn’t hold on to long enough to analyze or disclaim.

My mother drove the short distance from the grocery store to the mall and led Buckley by the hand through the glass doors to a sunken circle where parents could leave their children to play while they shopped,

Buckley was elated. “The circle! Can I?” he said, as he saw his peers jumping off the jungle gym and turning somersaults on the rubber-covered floor.

“Do you really want to, honey?” she asked him. “Please,” he said.

She phrased it as a motherly concession. “All right,” she said. And he went off in the direction of a red metal slide. “Be good,” she called after him. She had never allowed him to play there without her.

She left his name with the monitor who watched over the play circle and said that she would be shopping on the lower level near Wanamaker’s.

While Mr. Harvey was explaining his theory of my murder, my mother felt a hand brush across the back of her shoulders inside a trashy store called Spencer’s. She turned with expectant relief, only to see Len Fenerman’s back as he made his way out of the store. Passing glow-in-the-dark masks, black plastic eight balls, fuzzy troll keychains, and a large laughing skull, my mother followed after him.

He did not turn around. She kept following him, at first excited and then annoyed. In between footfalls there was enough time to think, and she did not want to think.

Finally, she saw him unlock a white door that was set flush into the wall, which she had never noticed before.

She could tell by the noises up ahead in the dark corridor that Len had brought her into the inner workings of the mall-the air filtration system or the water pumping plant. She didn’t care. In the darkness she imagined herself to be within her own heart, and a vision of the enlarged drawing from her doctor’s office entered her head and simultaneously she saw my father, in his paper gown and black socks, perched on the edge of the examining table as the doctor had explained to them the dangers of congestive heart failure. Just as she was about to let go into grief, cry out, and stumble and fall into confusion, she came to the end of the corridor. It opened into a huge room three stories high that throbbed and buzzed and throughout which there were tiny lights mounted higgledy-piggledy on metal tanks and drums. She paused and listened for any sound other than the deafening thrumming o£ air being sucked out of the mall and reconditioned to be pushed back in. Nothing.

I saw Len before she did. Standing alone in the almost-darkness he watched her for a moment, locating the need in her eyes. He was sorry for my father, for my family, but he fell into those eyes. “I could drown in those eyes, Abigail,” he wanted to say to her, but he knew that this he would not be allowed.

My mother began to make out more and more shapes within the bright interconnected jumble of metal, and for a moment I could feel the room begin to be enough for her, the foreign territory enough to soothe her. It was the feeling of being unreachable.

If it had not been for Len’s hand stretching out and grazing her fingers with the tips of his own, I might have kept her to myself there. The room could have remained simply a brief vacation from her life as Mrs. Salmon.

But he did touch her, and she did turn. Still, she could not really look at him. He accepted this absence on her part.

I swirled as I watched it and held on to the bench in the gazebo, gulping air. She could never know, I thought, that while she was clutching Len’s hair

and he was reaching his hand around to the small of her back, bringing her in closer, that the man who had murdered me was escorting two officers out his front door.

I felt the kisses as they came down my mother’s neck and onto her chest, like the small, light feet of mice, and like the flower petals falling that they were. Ruinous and marvelous all at once. They were whispers calling her away from me and from her family and from her grief. She followed with her body.

While Len took her hand and brought her away from the wall into the tangle of pipes where the noise overhead added its chorus, Mr. Harvey began to pack his belongings; my brother met a small girl playing Hula-Hoop in the circle; my sister and Samuel lay beside each other on her bed, fully dressed and nervous; my grandmother downed three shots in the empty dining room. My father watched the phone.

My mother grabbed at Len’s coat and shirt greedily, and he helped her. He watched as she tugged at her own clothes, pulling her sweater over her head, then her mother-jumper, and her turtleneck, until she was left in her underpants and camisole. He stared at her.

Samuel kissed the back of my sister’s neck. She smelled of soap and Bactine, and he wanted, even then, never to leave her.

Len was about to say something; I could see my mother notice his lips just as they parted. She shut her eyes and commanded the world to shut up-screaming the words inside her skull. She opened her eyes again and looked at him. He was silent, his mouth set. She took her cotton camisole over the top of her head and stepped out of her underwear. My mother had my body as it would never become. But she had her own moonlit skin, her ocean eyes. She was hollow and lost and abandoned up.

Mr. Harvey left his house for the final time while my mother was granted her most temporal wish. To find a doorway out of her ruined heart, in merciful adultery.

1 year to the day after my death, Dr. Singh called to say he would not be home for dinner. But Ruana would do her exer cises no matter what. If, as she stretched out on the rug in the one warm spot that the house seemed to hold in the winter, she could not help but turn over and over again her husband’s absences in her mind, she would let them consume her until her body pled for her to let him go and to focus-as she leaned forward, her arms outstretched toward her toes now-and move, to shut her brain off and forget everything but the slight and pleasant yearning of muscles stretching and her own body bending.

Reaching almost to the floor, the window in the dining room was interrupted only by the metal baseboard for the heat, which Ruana liked to keep turned off because the noises it made disturbed her. Outside, she could see the cherry tree, its leaves and flowers all gone. The empty bird feeder swung slightly on its branch.

She stretched until she was quite warm and she’d forgotten herself, and the home she stood in fell away from her. Her age. Her son. But still, creeping in on her was the figure of her husband. She had a premonition. She did not believe it was a woman, or even a student who worshipped him, that made him late more and more often. She knew what it was because it was something she too had had and had severed herself from after having been injured long ago. It was ambition.

She heard sounds now. Holiday barking two streets over and the Gilberts’ dog answering him and Ray moving around upstairs. Blessedly, in another moment, Jethro Tull erupted again, shutting out all else.

Except for the occasional cigarette, which she smoked as secretly as she could so as not to give Ray license, she had kept herself in good health.

Many of the women in the neighborhood commented on how well she kept herself and some had asked her if she would mind showing them how, though she had always taken these entreaties merely as their way of making conversation with their lone foreign-born neighbor. But as she sat in Sukhasana and her breath slowed to a deep rhythm, she could not fully release and let go. The niggling idea of what she would do as Ray grew older and her husband worked increasingly long hours crept up the inside of

her foot and along her calf to the back of her knee and began to climb into her lap. The doorbell rang.

Ruana was happy for the escape, and though she was someone to whom order was also a sort of meditation, she hopped up, wrapped a shawl that was hanging on the back of a chair around her waist, and, with Ray’s music barreling down the stairs, walked to the door. She thought only for a moment that it might be a neighbor. A complaining neighbor – the music -and she, dressed in a red leotard and shawl. Ruth stood on the stoop, holding a grocery sack.

“Hello,” Ruana said. “May I help you?” “I’m here to see Ray.”

“Come in.”

All of this had to be half-shouted over the noise coming from upstairs. Ruth stepped into the front hall.

“Go on up,” Ruana shouted, pointing to the stairs.

I watched Ruana take in Ruth’s baggy overalls, her turtleneck, her parka. I could start with her, Ruana thought to herself. Ruth had been standing in the grocery store with her mother when she saw the candles among the paper plates and plastic forks and spoons. At school that day she had been acutely aware of what day it was and even though what she had done so far- lain in bed reading The Bell Jar, helped her mother clean out what her father insisted on calling his toolshed and what she thought of as the poetry shed, and tagged along to the grocery store – hadn’t consisted of anything that might mark the anniversary of my death, she had been determined to do something.

When she saw the candles she knew immediately that she would find her way over to Ray’s house and ask him to come with her. Because of their meetings at the shot-put circle, the kids at school had made them a couple despite all evidence to the contrary. Ruth could draw as many female nudes as she might wish and fashion scarves on her head and write papers on Janis

Joplin and loudly protest the oppression of shaving her legs and armpits. In the eyes of her classmates at Fairfax, she remained a weird girl who had been found K-I-S-S-I-N-G a weird boy.

What no one understood – and they could not begin to tell anyone-was that it had been an experiment between them. Ray had kissed only me, and Ruth had never kissed anyone, so, united, they had agreed to kiss each other and see.

“I don’t feel anything” Ruth had said afterward, as they lay in the maple leaves under a tree behind the teachers’ parking lot.

“I don’t either” Ray admitted.

“Did you feel something when you kissed Susie?” “Yes.”


“That I wanted more. That night I dreamed of kissing her again and wondered if she was thinking the same thing.”

“And sex?”

“I hadn’t really gotten that far yet,” Ray said. “Now I kiss you and it’s not the same.”

“We could keep trying,” Ruth said. “I’m game if you don’t tell anyone.” “I thought you liked girls,” Ray said.

“I’ll make you a deal,” Ruth said. “You can pretend I’m Susie and I will too.”

“You are so entirely screwed up,” Ray said, smiling. “Are you saying you don’t want to?” Ruth teased.

“Show me your drawings again.”

“I may be screwed up,” Ruth said, dragging out her sketchbook from her book bag, it was now full of nudes she’d copied out of Playboy, scaling various parts up or down and adding hair and wrinkles where they had been airbrushed out “but at least I’m not a perv for charcoal.”

Ray was dancing around his bedroom when Ruth walked in. He wore his glasses, which at school he tried to do without because they were thick and his father had only sprung for the least expensive, hard-to-break frames. He had on a pair of jeans that were baggy and stained and a T-shirt that Ruth imagined, and I knew, had been slept in.

He stopped dancing as soon as he saw her standing at the doorway holding the grocery bag. His hands went up immediately and collected his glasses, and then, not knowing what to do with them, he waved them at her and said, “Hello.”

“Can you turn it down?” Ruth screamed. “Sure!”

When the noise ceased her ears rang for a second, and in that second she saw something flicker across Ray’s eyes.

He now stood on the other side of the room, and in between them was his bed, where sheets were rumpled and balled and over which hung a drawing Ruth had done of me from memory.

“You hung it up,” Ruth said. “I think it’s really good.”

“You and me and nobody else,” “My mom thinks it’s good.”

“She’s intense, Ray” Ruth said, putting down the bag. “No wonder you’re so freak-a-delic.”

“What’s in the bag?”

“Candles,” said Ruth. “I got them at the grocery store. It’s December sixth.”

“I know.”

“I thought we might go to the cornfield and light them. Say goodbye.” “How many times can you say it?”

“It was an idea,” Ruth said. “I’ll go alone.” “No, “Ray said. I’ll go.”

Ruth sat down in her jacket and overalls and waited for him to change his shirt. She watched him with his back toward her, how thin he was but also how the muscles seemed to pop on his arms the way they were supposed to and the color of his skin, like his mother’s, so much more inviting than her own.

“We can kiss for a while if you want.”

And he turned, grinning. He had begun to like the experiments. He was not thinking of me anymore-though he couldn’t tell that to Ruth.

He liked the way she cursed and hated school. He liked how smart she was and how she tried to pretend that it didn’t matter to her that his father was a doctor (even though not a real doctor, as she pointed out) and her father scavenged old houses, or that the Singhs had rows and rows of books in their house while she was starved for them. He sat down next to her on the bed.

“Do you want to take your parka off?” She did.

And so on the anniversary of my death, Ray mashed himself against Ruth and the two of them kissed and at some point she looked him in the face.

“Shit!” she said. “I think I feel something.”

When Ray and Ruth arrived at the cornfield, they were silent and he was holding her hand. She didn’t know whether he was holding it because they were observing my death together or because he liked her. Her brain was a storm, her usual insight gone.

Then she saw she had not been the only one to think of me. Hal and Samuel Heckler were standing in the cornfield with their hands jammed in their pockets and their backs turned toward her. Ruth saw yellow daffodils on the ground.

“Did you bring those?” Ruth asked Samuel.

“No,” Hal said answering for his brother. “They were already here when we got here.”

Mrs. Stead watched from her son’s upstairs bedroom. She decided to throw on her coat and walk out to the field. It was not something she even tried to judge, whether or not she belonged there.

Grace Tarking was walking around the block when she saw Mrs. Stead leaving her house with a poinsettia. They talked briefly in the street. Grace said that she was going to stop at home but she would come and join them. Grace made two phone calls, one to her boyfriend, who lived a short distance away in a slightly richer area, and one to the Gilberts. They had not yet recovered from their strange role in the discovery of my death-their faithful lab having found the first evidence. Grace offered to escort them, since they were older and cutting across neighbors’ lawns and over the bumpy earth of the cornfield would be a challenge to them, but yes, Mr.

Gilbert had said, he wanted to come. They needed this, he told Grace Tarking, his wife particularly-though I could see how crushed he was. He always covered his pain by being attentive to his wife. Though they had thought briefly of giving their dog away, he was too much comfort to both of them.

Mr. Gilbert wondered if Ray, who ran errands for them and was a sweet boy who had been badly judged, knew, and so he called the Singh

household. Ruana said she suspected her son must already be there but that she would be along herself.

Lindsey was looking out the window when she saw Grace Tarking with her arm in Mrs. Gilbert’s and Grace’s boyfriend steadying Mr. Gilbert as the four of them cut across the O’Dwyers’ lawn.

“Something’s going on in the cornfield, Mom,” she said.

My mother was reading Moliere, whom she had studied so intensely in college but hadn’t looked at since. Beside her were the books that had marked her as an avant-garde undergraduate: Sartre, Colette, Proust, Flaubert. She had pulled them off the shelves in her bedroom and promised herself she would reread them that year.

“I’m not interested,” she said to Lindsey, “but I’m sure your father will be when he gets home. Why don’t you go up and play with your brother?”

My sister had dutifully hovered for weeks now, paying court to our mother regardless of the signals she gave. There was something on the other side of the icy surface. Lindsey was sure of it. She stayed by my mother, sitting by her chair and watching our neighbors outside the window.

By the time darkness fell, the candles the latecomers had had the foresight to bring lit the cornfield. It seemed like everyone I’d ever known or sat next to in a classroom from kindergarten to eighth grade was there. Mr. Botte saw that something was happening when he’d come out of the school after preparing his classroom for the next day’s annual animal digestion experiment. He’d strolled over, and, when he realized what it was, he let himself back into the school and made some calls. There had been a secretary who had been overcome by my death. She came with her son.

There had been some teachers who hadn’t come to the official school memorial.

The rumors of Mr. Harvey’s suspected guilt had begun to make their way from neighbor to neighbor on Thanksgiving night. By the next afternoon it was the only thing the neighbors could talk about-was it possible? Could that strange man who had lived so quietly among them have killed Susie

Salmon? But no one had dared approach my family to find out the details. Cousins of friends or fathers of the boys who cut their lawn were asked if they knew anything. Anyone who might know what the police were doing had been buddied up to in the past week, and so my memorial was both a way to mark my memory and a way for the neighbors to seek comfort from one another. A murderer had lived among them, passed them on the street, bought Girl Scout cookies from their daughters and magazine subscriptions from their sons.

In my heaven I buzzed with heat and energy as more and more people reached the cornfield and lit their candles and began to hum a low, dirgelike song for which Mr. O’Dwyer called back to the distant memory of his Dublin grandfather. My neighbors were awkward at first, but the secretary from the school clung to Mr. O’Dwyer as his voice gave forth, and she added her less melodious one. Ruana Singh stood stiffly in an outer circle away from her son. Dr. Singh had called as she was leaving to say he would be sleeping overnight in his office. But other fathers, coming home from their offices, parked their cars in their driveways only to get out and follow their neighbors. How could they both work to support their families and watch their children to make sure they were safe? As a group they would learn it was impossible, no matter how many rules they laid down. What had happened to me could happen to anyone.

No one had called my house. My family was left undisturbed. The impenetrable barrier that surrounded the shingles, the chimney, the woodpile, the driveway, the fence, was like a layer of clear ice that coated the trees when it rained and then froze. Our house looked the same as every other one on the block, but it was not the same. Murder had a blood red door on the other side of which was everything unimaginable to everyone. When the sky had turned a dappled rose, Lindsey realized what was happening. My mother never lifted her eyes from her book.

“They’re having a ceremony for Susie,” Lindsey said. “Listen.” She cracked the window open. In rushed the cold December air and the distant sound of singing.

My mother used all her energy. “We’ve had the memorial,” she said. “That’s done for me.”

“What’s done?”

My mother’s elbows were on the armrests of the yellow winged-back chair. She leaned slightly forward and her face moved into shadow, making it harder for Lindsey to see the expression on her face. “I don’t believe she’s waiting for us out there. I don’t think lighting candles and doing all that stuff is honoring her memory. There are other ways to honor it.”

“Like what?” Lindsey said. She sat cross-legged on the rug in front of my mother, who sat in her chair with her finger marking her place in Moliere.

“I want to be more than a mother.”

Lindsey thought she could understand this. She wanted to be more than a girl.

My mother put the Moliere book on top of the coffee table and scooted forward on the chair until she lowered herself down onto the rug. I was struck by this. My mother did not sit on the floor, she sat at the bill-paying desk or in the wing chairs or sometimes on the end of the couch with Holiday curled up beside her. She took my sister’s hand in hers.

“Are you going to leave us?” Lindsey asked.

My mother wobbled. How could she say what she already knew? Instead, she told a lie. “I promise I won’t leave you.”

What she wanted most was to be that free girl again, stacking china at Wanamaker’s, hiding from her manager the Wedgwood cup with the handle she broke, dreaming of living in Paris like de Beauvoir and Sartre, and going home that day laughing to herself about the nerdy Jack Salmon, who was pretty cute even if he hated smoke. The cafes in Paris were full of cigarettes, she’d told him, and he’d seemed impressed. At the end of that summer when she invited him in and they had, both for the first time, made love, she’d smoked a cigarette, and for the joke he said he’d have one too.

When she handed him the damaged blue china to use as an ashtray, she used all her favorite words to embellish the story of breaking and then hiding, inside her coat, the now homely Wedgwood cup.

“Come here, baby,” my mother said, and Lindsey did. She leaned her back into my mother’s chest, and my mother rocked her awkwardly on the rug. “You are doing so well, Lindsey; you are keeping your father alive.” And they heard his car pull into the drive.

Lindsey let herself be held while my mother thought of Ruana Singh out behind her house, smoking. The sweet scent of Dunhills had drifted out onto the road and taken my mother far away. Her last boyfriend before my father had loved Gauloises. He had been a pretentious little thing, she thought, but he had also been oh-so-serious in a way that let her be oh-so-serious as well.

“Do you see the candles, Mom?” Lindsey asked, as she stared out the window.

“Go get your father,” my mother said. My sister met my father in the mud room, hanging up his keys and coat. Yes, they would go, he said. Of course they would go.

“Daddy!” My brother called from the second floor, where my sister and father went to meet him.

“Your call,” my father said as Buckley bodychecked him.

“I’m tired of protecting him,” Lindsey said. “It doesn’t feel real not to include him. Susie’s gone. He knows that.”

My brother stared up at her.

“There is a party for Susie,” Lindsey said. “And me and Daddy are taking you.”

“Is Mommy sick?” Buckley asked.

Lindsey didn’t want to lie to him, but she also felt it was an accurate description of what she knew.


Lindsey agreed to meet our father downstairs while she brought Buckley into his room to change his clothes.

“I see her, you know,” Buckley said, and Lindsey looked at him.

“She comes and talks to me, and spends time with me when you’re at soccer.”

Lindsey didn’t know what to say, but she reached out and grabbed him and squeezed him to her, the way he often squeezed Holiday.

“You are so special,” she said to my brother. “I’ll always be here, no matter what.”

My father made his slow way down the stairs, his left hand tightening on the wooden banister, until he reached the flagstone landing.

His approach was loud. My mother took her Moliere book and crept into the dining room, where he wouldn’t see her. She read her book, standing in the corner of the dining room and hiding from her family. She waited for the front door to open and close.

My neighbors and teachers, friends and family, circled an arbitrary spot not far from where I’d been killed. My father, sister, and brother heard the singing again once they were outside. Everything in my father leaned and pitched toward the warmth and light. He wanted so badly to have me remembered in the minds and hearts of everyone. I knew something as I watched: almost everyone was saying goodbye to me. I was becoming one of many little-girl-losts. They would go back to their homes and put me to rest, a letter from the past never reopened or reread. And I could say goodbye to them, wish them well, bless them somehow for their good thoughts. A handshake in the street, a dropped item picked up and retrieved and handed back, or a friendly wave from a distant window, a nod, a smile, a moment when the eyes lock over the antics of a child.

Ruth saw my three family members first, and she tugged on Ray’s sleeve. “Go help him” she whispered. And Ray, who had met my father on his first day of what would prove a long journey to try to find my killer, moved

forward. Samuel came away too. Like youthful pastors, they brought my father and sister and brother into the group, which made a wide berth for them and grew silent.

My father had not been outside the house except to drive back and forth to work or sit out in the backyard, for months, nor had he seen his neighbors. Now he looked at them, from face to face, until he realized I had been loved by people he didn’t even recognize. His heart filled up, warm again as it had not been in what seemed so long to him – save small forgotten moments with Buckley, the accidents of love that happened with his son.

He looked at Mr. O’Dwyer. “Stan,” he said, “Susie used to stand at the front window during the summer and listen to you singing in your yard. She loved it. Will you sing for us?”

And in the kind of grace that is granted but rarely, and not when you wish it most-to save a loved one from dying-Mr. O’Dwyer wobbled only a moment on his first note, then sang loud and clear and fine. Everyone joined in.

1CT »

1 am. ?)

I remembered those summer nights my father spoke of. How the darkness would take forever to come and with it I always hoped for it to cool down. Sometimes, standing at the open window in the front hall, I would feel a breeze, and on that breeze was the music coming from the O’Dwyers’ house. As I listened to Mr. O’Dwyer run through all the Irish ballads he had ever learned, the breeze would begin to smell of earth and air and a mossy scent that meant only one thing: a thunderstorm.

There was a wonderful temporary hush then, as Lindsey sat in her room on the old couch studying, my father sat in his den reading his books, my mother downstairs doing needlepoint or washing up.

I liked to change into a long cotton nightgown and go out onto the back porch, where, as the rain began falling in heavy drops against the roof,

breezes came in the screens from all sides and swept my gown against me. It was warm and wonderful and the lightning would come and, a few moments later, the thunder.

My mother would stand at the open porch door, and, after she said her standard warning, “You’re going to catch your death of cold,” she grew quiet. We both listened together to the rain pour(down and the thunder clap and smelled the earth rising to greet us.

“You look invincible,” my mother said one night.

I loved these times, when we seemed to feel the same thing. I turned to her, wrapped in my thin gown, and said:

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