Chapter no 14

The Lovely Bones

The next morning the smell of his mothers baking had sneaked up the stairs and into Ray’s room where he and Ruth lay together. Overnight, their world had changed. It was that simple.

After leaving Hal’s bike shop, being careful to cover any trace that they had ever been there, Ray and Ruth drove in silence back to Ray’s house. Later that night, when Ruana found the two of them curled up together asleep and fully clothed, she was glad that Ray had at least this one weird friend.

Around three A.M., Ray had stirred. He sat up and looked at Ruth, at her long gangly limbs, at the beautiful body to which he had made love, and felt a sudden warmth infuse him. He reached out to touch her, and just then a bit of moonlight fell across the floor from the window where I had watched him sit and study for so many years. He followed it. There on the floor was Ruth’s bag.

Careful not to wake her, he slid off the bed and walked over to it. Inside was her journal. He lifted it out and began to read:

“At the tips of feathers there is air and at their base; blood. I hold up bones; I wish like broken glass they could court light … still I try to place these pieces back together, to set them firm, to make murdered girls live again.”

He skipped ahead:

“Penn Station, bathroom stall, struggle which led to the sink. Older woman.

“Domestic. Ave. C. Husband and wife.

“Roof on Mott Street, a teenage girl, gunshot.

“Time? Little girl in C.P. strays toward bushes. White lace collar, fancy.”

He grew incredibly cold in the room but kept reading, looking up only when he heard Ruth stir.

“I have so much to tell you,” she said. Nurse Eliot helped my father lower himself into the wheelchair while my mother and sister fussed about the room, collecting the daffodils to take home.

“Nurse Eliot,” he said, “I’ll remember your kindness but I hope it will be a long time before I see you again.”

“I hope so too,” she said. She looked at my family gathered in the room., standing awkwardly about. “Buckley, your mother’s and sister’s hands are full. Its up to you.”

“Steer her easy, Buck,” my father said.

I watched the four of them begin to trail down the hall to the elevator, Buckley and my father first while Lindsey and my mother followed behind, their arms full of dripping daffodils.

In the elevator going down, Lindsey stared into the throats of the bright yellow flowers. She remembered that Samuel and Hal had found yellow daffodils lying in the cornfield on the afternoon of the first memorial. They had never known who placed them there. My sister looked at the flowers and then my mother. She could feel my brother’s body touching hers, and our father, sitting in the shiny hospital chair, looking tired but happy to be going home. When they reached the lobby and the doors opened I knew they were meant to be there, the four of them together, alone. While Ruana’s hands grew wet and swollen paring apple after apple, she began to say the word in her mind, the one she had avoided for years: divorce. It had been something about the crumpled, clinging postures of her son and Ruth that finally freed her, She could not remember the last time she had gone to bed at the same time as her husband. He walked in the room like a ghost and like a ghost slipped in between the sheets, barely creasing them. He was not unkind in the ways that the television and newspapers were full of. His cruelty was in his absence. Even when he came and sat at her dinner table and ate her food, he was not there.

She heard the sound of water running in the bathroom above her and waited what she thought was a considerate interval before calling up to them. My mother had called that morning to thank her for having talked to her when she called from California, and Ruana had decided to drop off a pie.

After handing a mug of coffee each to Ruth and Ray, Ruana announced that it was already late and she wanted Ray to accompany her to the Salmons’, where she intended to run quietly to the door and place a pie on their doorstep.

“Whoa, pony,” Ruth managed. Ruana stared at her.

“Sorry, Mom,” Ray said. “We had a pretty intense day yesterday.” But he wondered, might his mother ever believe him?

Ruana turned toward the counter and brought one of two pies she had baked to the table, where the scent of it rose in a steamy mist from the holes cut into the crust. “Breakfast?” she said.

“You’re a goddess!” said Ruth. Ruana smiled.

“Eat your fill and then get dressed and both of you can come with me.”

Ruth looked at Ray while she said, “Actually, I have somewhere to go, but I’ll drop by later.”

Hal brought the drum set over for my brother. Hal and my grandmother had agreed. Though it was still weeks before Buckley turned thirteen, he needed them. Samuel had let Lindsey and Buckley meet my parents at the hospital without him. It would be a double homecoming for them. My mother had stayed with my father for forty-eight hours straight, during which the world had changed for them and for others and would, I saw now, change again and again and again. There was no way to stop it.

“I know we shouldn’t start too early,” Grandma Lynn said, “but what’s your poison, boys?”

“I thought we were set up for champagne,” Samuel said. “We are later,” she said. “I’m offering an aperitif.”

“I think I’m passing,” Samuel said. “I’ll have something when Lindsey does.”


“I’m teaching Buck the drums,”

Grandma Lynn held her tongue about the questionable sobriety of known jazz greats. “Well, how about three scintillating tumblers of water?”

My grandmother stepped back into the kitchen to get their drinks. I had come to love her more after death than I ever had on Earth. I wish I could say that in that moment in the kitchen she decided to quit drinking, but I now saw that drinking was part of what made her who she was. If the worst of what she left on Earth was a legacy of inebriated support, it was a good legacy in my book.

She brought the ice over to the sink from the freezer and splurged on cubes. Seven in each tall glass. She ran the tap to make the water as cold as it would come. Her Abigail was coming home again. Her strange Abigail, whom she loved.

But when she looked up and through the window, she swore she saw a young girl wearing the clothes of her youth sitting outside Buckley’s garden-shed fort and staring back at her. The next moment the girl was gone. She shook it off. The day was busy. She would not tell anyone. When my father’s car pulled into the drive, I was beginning to wonder if this had been what I’d been waiting for, for my family to come home, not to me anymore but to one another with me gone.

In the afternoon light my father looked smaller somehow, thinner, but his eyes looked grateful in a way they had not in years.

My mother, for her part, was thinking moment by moment that she might be able to survive being home again.

All four of them got out at once. Buckley came forward from the rear passenger seat to assist my father perhaps more than he needed assistance, perhaps protecting him from my mother. Lindsey looked over the hood of the car at our brother-her habitual check-in mode still operating. She felt responsible, just as my brother did, just as my father did. And then she turned back and saw my mother looking at her, her face lit by the yellowy light of the daffodils.


“You are the spitting image of your father’s mother,” my mother said. “Help me with the bags,” my sister said.

They walked to the trunk together as Buckley led my father up the front path.

Lindsey stared into the dark space of the trunk. She wanted to know only one thing.

“Are you going to hurt him again?”

“I’m going to do everything I can not to,” my mother said, “but no promises this time.” She waited until Lindsey glanced up and looked at her, her eyes a challenge now as much as the eyes of a child who had grown up fast, run fast since the day the police had said too much blood in the earth, your daughter/sister/child is dead.

“I know what you did.” “I stand warned.”

My sister hefted the bag.

They heard shouting. Buckley ran out onto the front porch. “Lindsey!” he said, forgetting his serious self, his heavy body buoyant. “Come see what

Hal got me!”

He banged, And he banged and he banged and he banged. And Hal was the only one still smiling after five minutes of it. Everyone else had glimpsed the future and it was loud.

“I think now would be a good time to introduce him to the brush,” Grandma Lynn said. Hal obliged.

My mother had handed the daffodils to Grandma Lynn and gone upstairs almost immediately, using the bathroom as an excuse. Everyone knew where she was going: my old room.

She stood at the edge of it, alone, as if she were standing at the edge of the Pacific. It was still lavender. The furniture, save for a reclining chair of my grandmother’s, was unchanged.

“I love you, Susie,” she said.

I had heard these words so many times from my father that it shocked me now; I had been waiting, unknowingly, to hear it from my mother. She had needed the time to know that this love would not destroy her, and I had, I now knew, given her that time, could give it, for it was what I had in great supply.

She noticed a photograph on my old dresser, which Grandma Lynn had put in a gold frame. It was the very first photograph I’d ever taken of her-my secret portrait of Abigail before her family woke and she put on her lipstick. Susie Salmon, wildlife photographer, had captured a woman staring out across her misty suburban lawn. She used the bathroom, running the tap noisily and disturbing the towels. She knew immediately that her mother had bought these towels-cream, a ridiculous color for towels-and monogrammed-also ridiculous, my mother thought. But then, just as quickly, she laughed at herself. She was beginning to wonder how useful her scorched-earth policy had been to her all these years. Her mother was loving if she was drunk, solid if she was vain. When was it all right to let go not only of the dead but of the living-to learn to accept?

I was not in the bathroom, in the tub, or in the spigot; I did not hold court in the mirror above her head or stand in miniature at the tip of every bristle on Lindsey’s or Buckley’s toothbrush. In some way I could not account for-had they reached a state of bliss? were my parents back together forever? had Buckley begun to tell someone his troubles? would my fathers heart truly heal?-I was done yearning for them, needing them to yearn for me.

Though I still would. Though they still would. Always.

Downstairs Hal was holding Buckley’s wrist as it held the brush stick. “Just pass it over the snare lightly.” And Buckley did and looked up at Lindsey sitting across from him on the couch.

“Pretty cool, Buck,” my sister said. “Like a rattlesnake.”

Hal liked that. “Exactly,” he said, visions of his ultimate jazz combo dancing in his head.

My mother arrived back downstairs. When she entered the room she saw my father first. Silently she tried to let him know she was okay, that she was still breathing the air in, coping with the altitude.

“Okay, everyone!” my grandmother shouted from the kitchen, “Samuel has an announcement to make, so sit down.1”

Everyone laughed and before they realigned into their more closed selves-this being together so hard for them even if it was what they all had wanted-Samuel came into the room along with Grandma Lynn. She held a tray of champagne flutes ready to be filled. He glanced at Lindsey briefly.

“Lynn is going to assist me by pouring,” he said. “Something she’s quite good at,” my mother said. “Abigail?” Grandma Lynn said. “Yes?”

“It’s nice to see you too.” “Go ahead, Samuel,” my father said. “I wanted to say that I’m happy to be here with you all.” But Hal knew his brother. “You’re not done, wordsmith. Buck, give him some brush.” This time Hal let Buckley do it without assistance, and my brother backed Samuel up.

“I wanted to say that I’m glad that Mrs. Salmon is home, and that Mr. Salmon is home too, and that I’m honored to be marrying their beautiful daughter.” “Hear! Hear!” my father said.

My mother stood to hold the tray for Grandma Lynn, and together they distributed the glasses across the room.

As I watched my family sip champagne, I thought about how their lives trailed backward and forward from my death and then, I saw, as Samuel took the daring step of kissing Lindsey in a room full of family, became borne aloft away from it.

These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections–sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent-that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it. The events that my death wrought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. The price of what I came to see as this miraculous body had been my life.

My father looked at the daughter who was standing there in front of him. The shadow daughter was gone.

With the promise that Hal would teach him to do drum rolls after dinner, Buckley put up his brush and drumsticks, and the seven of them began to trail through the kitchen into the dining room, where Samuel and Grandma Lynn had used the good plates to serve her trademark Stouffer’s frozen ziti and Sara Lee frozen cheesecake.

“Someone’s outside,” Hal said, spotting a man through the window. “It’s Ray Singh!”

“Let him in” my mother said. “He’s leaving.”

All of them save my father and grandmother, who stayed together in the dining room, began to go after him,

“Hey, Ray!” Hal said, opening the door and nearly stepping directly in the pie. “Wait up!”

Ray turned. His mother was in the car with the engine running.

“We didn’t mean to interrupt,” Ray said now to Hal. Lindsey and Samuel and Buckley and a woman he recognized as Mrs. Salmon were all crowded together on the porch.

“Is that Ruana?” my mother called. “Please ask her in.”

“Really, that’s fine,” Ray said and made no move to come closer. He wondered, Is Susie watching this?

Lindsey and Samuel broke away from the group and came toward him.

By that time my mother had walked down the front path to the driveway and was leaning in the car window talking to Ruana.

Ray glanced at his mother as she opened the car door to go inside the house. “Anything but pie for the two of us,” she said to my mother as they walked up the path.

“Is Dr. Singh working?” my mother asked.

“As usual” Ruana said. She watched to see Ray walking, with Lindsey and Samuel, through the door of the house. “Will you come smoke stinky cigarettes with me again?”

“It’s a date,” my mother said.

“Ray, welcome, sit,” my father said when he saw him coming through the living room. He had a special place in his heart for the boy who had loved his daughter, but Buckley swooped into the chair next to my father before anyone else could get to him. Lindsey and Samuel found two straight chairs from the living room and brought them in to sit by the sideboard. Ruana sat between Grandma Lynn and my mother and Hal sat alone on one end.

I realized then that they would not know when I was gone, just as they could not know sometimes how heavily I had hovered in a particular room. Buckley had talked to me and I had talked back. Even if I hadn’t thought I’d been talking to him, I had. I became manifest in whatever way they wanted me to be.

And there she was again, alone and walking out in the cornfield while everyone else I cared for sat together in one room. She would always feel me and think of me. I could see that, but there was no longer anything I could do. Ruth had been a girl haunted and now she would be a woman haunted. First by accident and now by choice. All of it, the story of my life and death, was hers if she chose to tell it, even to one person at a time.

It was late in Ruana and Ray’s visit when Samuel started talking about the gothic revival house that Lindsey and he had found along an overgrown section of Route 30. As he told Abigail about it in detail, describing how he had realized he wanted to propose to Lindsey and live there with her, Ray found himself asking, “Does it have a big hole in the ceiling of the back room and cool windows above the front door?”

“Yes,” Samuel said, as my father grew alarmed. “But it can be fixed, Mr. Salmon. I’m sure of it.”

“Ruth’s dad owns that,” Ray said. Everyone was quiet for a moment and then Ray continued.

“He took out a loan on his business to buy up old places that aren’t already slated for destruction. He wants to restore them,” Ray said.

“My God, “Samuel said. And I was gone.

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