Chapter no 4

The Lovely Bones

In the hours after I was murdered, as my mother made phone calls and my father began going door to door in the neighborhood looking for me, Mr.

Harvey had collapsed the hole in the cornfield and carried away a sack filled with my body parts. He passed within two houses of where my father stood talking to Mr. and Mrs. Tarking. He kept to the property line in between two rows of warring hedge – the O’Dwyers’ boxwood and the Steads’ goldenrod. His body brushed past the sturdy green leaves, leaving traces of me behind him, smells the Gilberts’ dog would pick up and follow to find my elbow, smells the sleet and rain of the next three days would wash away before police dogs could even be thought of. He carried me back to his house, where, while he went inside to wash up, I waited for him.

After the house changed hands, the new owners tsk-tsked at the dark spot on the floor of their garage. As she brought prospective buyers through, the realtor said it was an oil stain, but it was me, seeping out of the bag Mr.

Harvey carried and spilling onto the concrete. The beginning of my secret signals to the world.

It would be some time before I realized what you’ve undoubtedly already assumed, that I wasn’t the first girl he’d killed. He knew to remove my body from the field. He knew to watch the weather and to kill during an arc of light-to-heavy precipitation because that would rob the police of evidence. But he was not as fastidious as the police liked to think. He forgot my elbow, he used a cloth sack for a bloody body, and if someone, anyone, had been watching, maybe they would have thought it strange to see their neighbor walk a property line that was a tight fit, even for children who liked to pretend the warring hedges were a hideout.

As he scoured his body in the hot water of his suburban bathroom-one with the identical layout to the one Lindsey, Buckley, and I shared-his movements were slow, not anxious. He felt a calm flood him. He kept the lights out in the bathroom and felt the warm water wash me away and he felt thoughts of me then. My muffled scream in his ear. My delicious death moan. The glorious white flesh that had never seen the sun, like an infant’s,

and then split, so perfectly, with the blade of his knife. He shivered under the heat, a prickling pleasure creating goose bumps up and down his arms and legs. He had put me in the waxy cloth sack and thrown in the shaving cream and razor from the mud ledge, his book of sonnets, and finally the bloody knife. They were tumbled together with my knees, fingers, and toes, but he made a note to extract them before my blood grew too sticky later that night. The sonnets and the knife, at least, he saved. At Evensong, there were all sorts of dogs. And some of them, the ones I liked best, would lift their heads when they smelled an interesting scent in the air. If it was vivid enough, if they couldn’t identify it immediately, or if, as the case may be, they knew exactly what it was-their brains going, “Um steak tartare”-they’d track it until they came to the object itself. In the face of the real article, the true story, they decided then what to do. That’s how they operated. They didn’t shut down their desire to know just because the smell was bad or the object was dangerous. They hunted. So did I. Mr. Harvey took the waxy orange sack of my remains to a sinkhole eight miles from our neighborhood, an area that until recently had been desolate save for the railroad tracks and a nearby motorcycle repair shop. In his car he played a radio station that looped Christmas carols during the month of December.

He whistled inside his huge station wagon and congratulated himself, felt full-up. Apple pie, cheeseburger, ice cream, coffee. Full. Better and better he was getting now, never using an old pattern that would bore him but making each kill a surprise to himself, a gift to himself.

The air inside the station wagon was cold and fragile. I could see the moist air when he exhaled, and this made me want to palpate my own stony lungs.

He drove the reed-thin road that cut between two new industrial lots. The wagon fishtailed coming up out of a particularly deep pothole, and the safe that held the sack that held my body smashed against the inside hub of the wagon’s back wheel, cracking the plastic. “Damn,” Mr. Harvey said. But he picked up his whistling again without pause,

I had a memory of going down this road with my father at the wheel and Buckley sitting nestled against me-one seat belt serving the two of us-in an illegal joyride away from the house.

My father had asked if any of us kids wanted to watch a refrigerator disappear.

“The earth will swallow it!” he said. He put on his hat and the dark cordovan gloves I coveted. I knew gloves meant you were an adult and mittens meant you weren’t. (For Christmas 1973, my mother had bought me a pair of gloves. Lindsey ended up with them, but she knew they were mine, She left them at the edge of the cornfield one day on her way home from school. She was always doing that – bringing me things.)

“The earth has a mouth?” Buckley asked.

“A big round mouth but with no lips” my father said.

“Jack,” my mother said, laughing, “stop it. Do you know I caught him outside growling at the snapdragons?”

“I’ll go,” I said. My father had told me that there was an abandoned underground mine and it had collapsed to create a sinkhole. I didn’t care; I liked to see the earth swallow something as much as the next kid.

So when I watched Mr. Harvey take me out to the sinkhole, I couldn’t help but think how smart he was. How he put the bag in a metal safe, placing me in the middle of all that weight.

It was late when he got there, and he left the safe in his Wagoneer while he approached the house of the Flanagans, who lived on the property where the sinkhole was. The Flanagans made their living by charging people to dump their appliances.

Mr. Harvey knocked on the door of the small white house and a woman came to answer it. The scent of rosemary and lamb filled my heaven and hit Mr. Harvey’s nose as it trailed out from the back of the house. He could see a man in the kitchen.

“Good evening, sir,” Mrs. Flanagan said. “Got an item?”

“Back of my wagon,” Mr. Harvey said. He was ready with a twenty-dollar bill.

“What you got in there, a dead body?” she joked.

It was the last thing on her mind. She lived in a warm if small house. She had a husband who was always home to fix things and to be sweet on her because he never had to work, and she had a son who was still young enough to think his mother was the only thing in the world.

Mr. Harvey smiled, and, as I watched his smile break across his face, I would not look away.

“Old safe of my father’s, finally got it out here,” he said. “Been meaning to do it for years. No one remembers the combination.”

“Anything in it?” she asked. “Stale air.”

“Back her up then. You need any help?” “That would be lovely,” he said.


GIRL, GIVES VALEDICTORIAN SPEECH – could have been in the gray metal safe that a lonely man brought over one night and paid them twenty dollars to sink.

On the way back to the wagon Mr. Harvey put his hands in his pockets. There was my silver charm bracelet. He couldn’t remember taking it off my wrist. Had no memory of thrusting it into the pocket of his clean pants. He fingered it, the fleshy pad of his index finger finding the smooth gold metal

of the Pennsylvania keystone, the back of the ballet slipper, the tiny hole of the minuscule thimble, and the spokes of the bicycle with wheels that worked. Down Route 202, he pulled over on the shoulder, ate a liverwurst sandwich he’d prepared earlier that day, then drove to an industrial park they were building south of Downingtown, No one was on the construction lot. In those days there was no security in the suburbs. He parked his car near a Port-o-John. His excuse was prepared in the unlikely event that he needed one.

It was this part of the aftermath that I thought of when I thought of Mr.

Harvey-how he wandered the muddy („«, M,. H».es- ~ ,,„„ to. 1

i_ o~ miles ahead as u<- TWe ^ U ,o “t snow had stopped. Tta*

«ad a book on was wind, ^ ,£ a false m cotton shir, ith hut

. Harvey wore onl Ate «•”* there- ?)

he seemed bluff and able. He was buzzing from having seen me in the shattered glass. I watched him cut through the lawn, ambling as school kids did on their way toward the high school. He stopped just short of brushing Mr. Harvey’s elderberry hedge with his palm.

“What’s this?” he asked again.

Mr. Harvey stopped long enough to look at him and then turned back to his work.

“A mat tent.” “What’s that?”

“Mr. Salmon,” he said, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

Drawing himself up, my father gave back what the ritual demanded. “Thank you.” It was like a rock perched in his throat.

There was a moment of quiet, and then Mr. Harvey, sensing my father had no intention of leaving, asked him if he wanted to help.

So it was that, from heaven, I watched my father build a tent with the man who’d killed me.

My father did not learn much. He learned how to lash arch pieces onto pronged posts and to weave more slender rods through these pieces to form semiarches in the other direction, He learned to gather the ends of these rods and lash them to the crossbars. He learned he was doing this because Mr. Harvey had been reading about the Imezzureg tribe and had wanted to replicate their tents. He stood, confirmed in the neighborhood opinion that the man was odd. So far, that was all.

But when the basic structure was done – a one-hour job – Mr. Harvey went toward the house without giving a reason. My father assumed it was breaktime. That Mr. Harvey had gone in to get coffee or brew a pot of tea.

He was wrong. Mr. Harvey went into the house and up the stairs to check on the carving knife that he had put in his bedroom. It was still in the nightstand, on top of which he kept his sketch pad where, often, in the middle of the night, he drew the designs in his dreams. He looked inside a crumpled paper grocery sack. My blood on the blade had turned black.

Remembering it, remembering his act in the hole, made him remember what he had read about a particular tribe in southern Ayr. How, when a tent was made for a newly married couple, the women of the tribe made the sheet that would cover it as beautiful as they could.

It had begun to snow outside. It was the first snow since my death, and this was not lost on my father.

“I can hear you, honey,” he said to me, even though I wasn’t talking. “What is it?”

I focused very hard on the dead geranium in his line of vision. I thought if I could make it bloom he would have his answer. In my heaven it bloomed. In my heaven geranium petals swirled in eddies up to my waist. On Earth nothing happened.

But through the snow I noticed this: my father was looking toward the green house in a new way. He had begun to wonder. Inside, Mr. Harvey had donned a heavy flannel shirt, but what my father noticed first was what he carried in his arms: a stack of white cotton sheets.

“What are those for?” my father asked. Suddenly he could not stop seeing my face.

“Tarps,” said Mr. Harvey. When he handed a stack to my father, the back of his hand touched my father’s fingers. It was like an electric shock.

“You know something,” my father said. He met my father’s eyes, held them, but did not speak.

They worked together, the snow falling, almost wafting, down. And as my father moved, his adrenaline raced. He checked what he knew. Had anyone asked this man where he was the day I disappeared? Had anyone seen this man in the cornfield? He knew his neighbors had been questioned.

Methodically, the police had gone from door to door.

My father and Mr. Harvey spread the sheets over the domed arch, anchoring them along the square formed by the crossbars that linked the forked posts. Then they hung the remaining sheets straight down from these crossbars so that the bottoms of the sheets brushed the ground.

By the time they had finished, the snow sat gingerly on the covered arches. It filled in the hollows of my father’s shirt and lay in a line across the top of his belt. I ached. I realized I would never rush out into the snow with Holiday again, would never push Lindsey on a sled, would never teach, against my better judgment, my little brother how to compact snow by shaping it against the base of his palm. I stood alone in a sea of bright petals. On Earth the snowflakes fell soft and blameless, a curtain descending.

Standing inside the tent, Mr. Harvey thought of how the virgin bride would be brought to a member of the Imezzureg on a camel. When my father made a move toward him, Mr. Harvey put his palm up.

“That’s enough now,” he said. “Why don’t you go on home?”

The time had come for my father to think of something to say. But all he could think of was this: “Susie,” he whispered, the second syllable whipped like a snake.

“We’ve just built a tent,” Mr, Harvey said. “The neighbors saw us. We’re friends now,”

“You know something,” my father said. “Go home. I can’t help you.”

Mr. Harvey did not smile or step forward. He retreated into the bridal tent and let the final monogrammed white cotton sheet fall down.

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