Chapter no 6

The Lovely Bones

Two weeks before my death, I left the house later than usual, and by the time I reached the school, the blacktop circle where the school buses usually hovered was empty.

A hall monitor from the discipline office would write down your name if you tried to get in the front doors after the first bell rang, and I didn’t want to be paged during class to come and sit on the hard bench outside Mr.

Peterford’s room, where, it was widely known, he would bend you over and paddle your behind with a board. He’d asked the shop teacher to drill holes into it for less wind resistance on the downstroke and more pain when it landed against your jeans.

I had never been late enough or done anything bad enough to meet the board, but in my mind as in every other kid’s I could visualize it so well my butt would sting. Clarissa had told me that the baby stoners, as they were called in junior high, used the back door to the stage, which was always left open by Cleo, the janitor, who had dropped out of high school as a full-blown stoner.

So that day I crept into the backstage area, watching my step, careful not to trip over the various cords and wires. I paused near some scaffolding and put down my book bag to brush my hair. I’d taken to leaving the house in the jingle-bell cap and then switching, as soon as I gained cover behind the O’Dwyers’ house, to an old black watch cap of my father’s. All this left my hair full of static electricity, and my first stop was usually the girls’ room, where I would brush it flat.

“You are beautiful, Susie Salmon.”

I heard the voice but could not place it immediately. I looked around me. “Here,” the voice said.

I looked up and saw the head and torso of Ray Singh leaning out over the top of the scaffold above me.

“Hello,” he said.

I knew Ray Singh had a crush on me. He had moved from England the year before but Clarissa said he was born in India. That someone could have the face of one country and the voice of another and then move to a third was too incredible for me to fathom. It made him immediately cool. Plus, he seemed eight hundred times smarter than the rest of us, and he had a crush on me. What I finally realized were affectations-the smoking jacket that he sometimes wore to school and his foreign cigarettes, which were actually his mother’s-I thought were evidence of his higher breeding. He knew and saw things that the rest of us didn’t see. That morning when he spoke to me from above, my heart plunged to the floor.

“Hasn’t the first bell rung?” I asked.

“I have Mr. Morton for homeroom,” he said. This explained everything. Mr. Morton had a perpetual hangover, which was at its peak during homeroom. He never called roll. “What are you doing up there?”

“Climb up and see,” he said, removing his head and shoulders from my view. I hesitated.

“Come on, Susie.”

It was my one day in life of being a bad kid-of at least feigning the moves. I placed my foot on the bottom rung of the scaffold and reached my arms up to the first crossbar.

“Bring your stuff” Ray advised. I went back for my book bag and then climbed unsteadily up.

“Let me help you,” he said and put his hands under my armpits, which, even though covered by my winter parka, I was self-conscious about. I sat for a moment with my feet dangling over the side.

“Tuck them in,” he said. “That way no one will see us.”

I did what he told me, and then I stared at him for a moment. I felt suddenly stupid-unsure of why I was there.

“Will you stay up here all day?” I asked. “Just until English class is over.”

“You’re cutting English!” It was as if he said he’d robbed a bank.

“I’ve seen every Shakespeare play put on by the Royal Shakespeare Company,” Ray said. “That bitch has nothing to teach me.”

I felt sorry for Mrs. Dewitt then. If part of being bad was calling Mrs. Dewitt a bitch, I wasn’t into it.

“I like Othello” I ventured.

“It’s condescending twaddle the way she teaches it. A sort of Black Like Me version of the Moor.”

Ray was smart. This combined with being an Indian from England had made him a Martian in Norristown.

“That guy in the movie looked pretty stupid with black makeup on” I said, “You mean Sir Laurence Olivier.”

Ray and I were quiet. Quiet enough to hear the bell for the end of homeroom ring and then, five minutes later, the bell that meant we should be on the first floor in Mrs. Dewitt’s class. As each second passed after that bell, I could feel my skin heat up and Ray’s look lengthen out over my body, taking in my royal blue parka and my kelly green miniskirt with my matching Danskin tights. My real shoes sat beside me inside my bag. On my feet I had a pair of fake sheepskin boots with dirty synthetic shearing spilling out like animal innards around the tops and seams. If I had known this was to be the sex scene of my life, I might have prepared a bit, reapplied my Strawberry-Banana Kissing Potion as I came in the door.

I could feel Ray’s body leaning toward me, the scaffolding underneath us squeaking from his movement. He is from England, I was thinking. His lips moved closer, the scaffold listed. I was dizzy-about to go under the wave of my first kiss, when we both heard something. We froze.

Ray and I lay down side by side and stared at the lights and wires overhead. A moment later, the stage door opened and in walked Mr. Peterford and the art teacher, Miss Ryan> who we recognized by their voices. There was a third person with them.

“We are not taking disciplinary action at this time, but we will if you persist,” Mr. Peterford was saying. “Miss Ryan, did you bring the materials?”

“Yes.” Miss Ryan had come to Kennet from a Catholic school and taken over the art department from two ex-hippies who had been fired when the kiln exploded. Our art classes had gone from wild experiments with molten metals and throwing clay to day after day of drawing profiles of wooden figures she placed in stiff positions at the beginning of each class.

“I’m only doing the assignments.” It was Ruth Connors. I recognized the voice and so did Ray. We all had Mrs. Dewitt’s English class first period.

“This,” Mr. Peterford said, “was not the assignment.”

Ray reached for my hand and squeezed. We knew what they were talking about. A xeroxed copy of one of Ruth’s drawings had been passed around in the library until it had reached a boy at the card catalog who was overtaken by the librarian.

“If I’m not mistaken,” said Miss Ryan, “there are no breasts on our anatomy model.”

The drawing had been of a woman reclining with her legs crossed. And it was no wooden figure with eyehooks connecting the limbs. It was a real woman, and the charcoal smudges of her eyes-whether by accident or intent-had given her a leering look that made every kid who saw it either highly uncomfortable or quite happy, thank you.

“There isn’t a nose or mouth on that wooden model either,” Ruth said, “but you encouraged us to draw in faces.”

Again Ray squeezed my hand.

“That’s enough, young lady,” Mr. Peterford said, “It is the attitude of repose in this particular drawing that clearly made it something the Nelson boy would xerox.”

“Is that my fault?”

“Without the drawing there would be no problem.” “So it’s my fault?”

“I invite you to realize the position this puts the school in and to assist us by drawing what Miss Ryan instructs the class to draw without making unnecessary additions.”

“Leonardo da Vinci drew cadavers,” Ruth said softly. “Understood?”

“Yes,” said Ruth.

The stage doors opened and shut, and a moment later Ray and I could hear Ruth Connors crying. Ray mouthed the word go, and I moved to the end of the scaffold, dangling my foot over the side to find a hold.

That week Ray would kiss me by my locker. It didn’t happen up on the scaffold when he’d wanted it to. Our only kiss was like an accident – a beautiful gasoline rainbow.

I climbed down off the scaffold with my back to her. She didn’t move or hide, just looked at me when I turned around. She was sitting on a wooden crate near the back of the stage. A pair of old curtains hung to her left. She watched me walk toward her but didn’t wipe her eyes.

“Susie Salmon,” she said, just to confirm it. The possibility of my cutting first period and hiding backstage in the auditorium was, until that day, as remote as the smartest girl in our class being bawled out by the discipline officer. I stood in front of her, hat in hand.

“That’s a stupid hat,” she said.

I lifted the jingle-bell cap and looked at it. “I know. My mom made it.” “So you heard?”

“Can I see?”

Ruth unfolded the much-handled xerox and I stared.

Using a blue ballpoint pen, Brian Nelson had made an obscene hole where her legs were crossed. I recoiled and she watched me. I could see something flicker in her eyes, a private wondering, and then she leaned over and brought out a black leather sketchbook from her knapsack.

Inside, it was beautiful. Drawings of women mostly, but of animals and men too. I’d never seen anything like it before. Each page was covered in her drawings. I realized how subversive Ruth was then, not because she drew pictures of nude women that got misused by her peers, but because she was more talented than her teachers. She was the quietest kind of rebel. Helpless, really.

“You’re really good, Ruth,” I said.

“Thank you,” she said, and I kept looking through the pages of her book and drinking it in. I was both frightened and excited by what existed underneath the black line of the navel in those drawings-what my mother called the “baby-making machinery.”

I told Lindsey I’d never have one, and when I was ten I’d spent the better part of six months telling any adult who would listen that I intended on getting my tubes tied. I didn’t know what this meant, exactly, but I knew it was drastic, required surgery, and it made my father laugh out loud.

Ruth went from weird to special for me then. The drawings were so good that in that moment I forgot the rules of school, all the bells and whistles, which as kids we were supposed to respond to. After the cornfield was roped off, searched, then abandoned, Ruth went walking there, She would wrap a large wool shawl of her grandmother’s around her under the ratty old peacoat of her father’s. Soon she noted that teachers in subjects besides gym didn’t report her if she cut. They were happy not to have her there: her intelligence made her a problem. It demanded attention and rushed their lesson plans forward.

And she began to take rides from her father in the mornings to avoid the bus. He left very early and brought his red metal, sloped-top lunchbox, which he had allowed her to pretend was a barn for her Barbies when she was little, and in which he now tucked bourbon. Before he let her out in the empty parking lot, he would stop his truck but keep the heater running.

“Going to be okay today?” he always asked. Ruth nodded. “One for the road?”

And without nodding this time she handed him the lunchbox. He opened it, unscrewed the bourbon, took a deep swallow, and then passed it to her. She threw her head back dramatically and either placed her tongue against the glass so very little would make it to her mouth, or took a small, wincing gulp if he was watching her.

She slid out of the high cab. It was cold, bitterly cold, before the sun rose. Then she remembered a fact from one of our classes: people moving are warmer than people at rest. So she began to walk directly to the cornfield, keeping a good pace. She talked to herself, and sometimes she thought about me. Often she would rest a moment against the chain-link fence that separated the soccer field from the track, while she watched the world come alive around her.

So we met each morning in those first few months. The sun would come up over the cornfield and Holiday, let loose by my father, would come to chase rabbits in and out of the tall dry stalks of dead corn. The rabbits loved the trimmed lawns of the athletic fields, and as Ruth approached she’d see

their dark forms line up along the white chalk of the farthest boundaries like some sort of tiny sports team. She liked the idea of this and I did too. She believed stuffed animals moved at night when humans went to sleep. She still thought in her father’s lunchbox there might be minute cows and sheep that found time to graze on the bourbon and baloney.

When Lindsey left the gloves from Christmas for me, in between the farthest boundary of the soccer field and the cornfield, I looked down one morning to see the rabbits investigate: sniff at the corners of the gloves lined with their own kin. Then I saw Ruth pick them up before Holiday grabbed them. She turned the bottom of one glove so the fur faced out and held it up to her cheek. She looked up to the sky and said, “Thank you.” I liked to think she was talking to me.

I grew to love Ruth on those mornings, feeling that in some way we could never explain on our opposite sides of the Inbetween, we were born to keep each other company. Odd girls who had found each other in the strangest way-in the shiver she had felt when I passed. Ray was a walker, like me, living at the far end of our development, which surrounded the school. He had seen Ruth Connors walking alone out on the soccer fields. Since Christmas he had come and gone to school as quickly as he could, never lingering. He wanted my killer to be caught almost as much as my parents did. Until he was, Ray could not wipe the traces of suspicion off himself, despite his alibi.

He chose a morning when his father was not going to work at the university and filled his father’s thermos with his mother’s sweet tea. He left early to wait for Ruth and made a little camp of the cement shot-put circle, sitting on the metal curve against which the shot-putters braced their feet.

When he saw her walking on the other side of the chain-link fence that separated the school from the soccer field and inside which was the most revered of the sports fields-the football one-he rubbed his hands together and prepared what he wanted to say. His bravery this time came not from having kissed me – a goal he’d set himself a full year before its completion -but from being, at fourteen, intensely lonely.

I watched Ruth approach the soccer field, thinking she was alone, In an old home her father had gone to scavenge, he had found her a treat to go along with her new hobby-an anthology of poems. She held them close. She saw Ray stand up when she was still some distance away.

“Hello, Ruth Connors!” he called and waved his arms.

Ruth looked over, and his name came into her head: Ray Singh. But she didn’t know much more than that, She had heard the rumors about the police being over at his house, but she believed what her father had said -“No kid did that” – and so she walked over to him.

“I prepared tea and have it in my thermos here,” Ray said. I blushed for him up in heaven. He was smart when it came to Othello, but now he was acting like a geek.

“No thank you,” Ruth said. She stood near him but with a definite few feet more than usual still in between. Her fingernails were pressed into the worn cover of the poetry anthology.

“I was there that day, when you and Susie talked backstage,” Ray said. He held the thermos out to her. She made no move closer and didn’t respond.

“Susie Salmon,” he clarified.

“I know who you mean,” she said.

“Are you going to the memorial service?” “I didn’t know there was one,” she said. “I don’t think I’m going.”

I was staring hard at his lips. They were redder than usual from the cold. Ruth took a step forward.

“Do you want some lip balm?” Ruth asked.

Ray lifted his wool gloves up to his lips, where they snagged briefly on the chapped surface that I had kissed. Ruth dug her hands in the peacoat pocket and pulled out her Chap Stick. “Here,” she said, “I have tons of them. You can keep it.”

“That’s so nice,” he said. “Will you at least sit with me until the buses come?”

They sat together on the shot-putters’ cement platform. Again I was seeing something I never would have seen: the two of them together. It made Ray more attractive to me than he had ever been. His eyes were the darkest gray. When I watched him from heaven I did not hesitate to fall inside of them.

It became a ritual for the two of them. On the days that his father taught, Ruth brought him a little bourbon in her father’s flask; otherwise they had sweet tea. They were cold as hell, but that didn’t seem to matter to them.

They talked about what it was like to be a foreigner in Norristown. They read poems aloud from Ruth’s anthology. They talked about how to become what they wanted to be. A doctor for Ray. A painter/poet for Ruth. They made a secret club of the other oddballs they could point out in our class.

There were the obvious ones like Mike Bayles, who had taken so much acid no one understood how he was still in school, or Jeremiah, who was from Louisiana and so just as much a foreigner as Ray. Then there were the quiet ones. Artie, who talked excitedly to anyone about the effects of formaldehyde. Harry Orland, who was so painfully shy he wore his gym shorts over his jeans. And Vicki Kurtz, who everyone thought was okay after the death of her mother, but whom Ruth had seen sleeping in a bed of pine needles behind the junior high’s regulating plant. And, sometimes, they would talk about me.

“It’s so strange,” Ruth said. “I mean, it’s like we were in the same class since kindergarten but that day backstage in the auditorium was the first time we ever looked at each other.”

“She was great,” Ray said. He thought of our lips brushing past one another as we stood alone in a column of lockers. How I had smiled with my eyes closed and then almost run away. “Do you think they’ll find him?”

“I guess so. You know, we’re only like one hundred yards away from where it happened.”

“I know,” he said.

They both sat on the thin metal rim of the shot-putters’ brace, holding tea in their gloved hands. The cornfield had become a place no one went. When a ball strayed from the soccer field, a boy took a dare to go in and get it.

That morning the sun was slicing right through the dead stalks as it rose, but there was no heat from it.

“I found these here” she said, indicating the leather gloves.

“Do you ever think about her?” he asked. They were quiet again.

“All the time,” Ruth said. A chill ran down my spine. “Sometimes I think she’s lucky, you know. I hate this place.”

“Me too,” Ray said. “But I’ve lived other places. This is just a temporary hell, not a permanent one.”

“You’re not implying .. .”

“She’s in heaven, if you believe in that stuff.” “You don’t?”

“I don’t think so, no.”

“I do,” Ruth said. “I don’t mean la-la angel-wing crap, but I do think there’s a heaven.”

“Is she happy?”

“It is heaven, right?”

“But what does that mean?”

The tea was stone-cold and the first bell had already rung. Ruth smiled into her cup. “Well, as my dad would say, it means she’s out of this shithole.”

When my father knocked on the door of Ray Singh’s house, he was struck dumb by Ray’s mother, Ruana. It was not that she was immediately welcoming, and she was far from sunny, but something about her dark hair, and her gray eyes, and even the strange way she seemed to step back from the door once she opened it, all of these things overwhelmed him.

He had heard the offhand comments the police made about her. To their mind she was cold and snobbish, condescending, odd. And so that was what he imagined he would find.

“Come in and sit,” she’d said to him when he pronounced his name. Her eyes, on the word Salmon, had gone from closed to open doorways-dark rooms where he wanted to travel firsthand.

He almost lost his balance as she led him into the small cramped front room of their house. There were books on the floor with their spines facing up. They came out three rows deep from the wall. She was wearing a yellow sari and what looked like gold lame capri pants underneath. Her feet were bare. She padded across the wall-to-wall and stopped at the couch. “Something to drink?” she asked, and he nodded his head.

“Hot or cold?” “Hot.”

As she turned the corner into a room he couldn’t see, he sat down on the brown plaid couch. The windows across from him under which the books were lined were draped with long muslin curtains, which the harsh daylight outside had to fight to filter through. He felt suddenly very warm, almost close to forgetting why that morning he had double-checked the Singhs’ address.

A little while later, as my father was thinking of how tired he was and how he had promised my mother to pick up some long-held dry cleaning, Mrs.

Singh returned with tea on a tray and put it down on the carpet in front of him.

“We don’t have much furniture, I’m afraid. Dr. Singh is still looking for tenure.”

She went into an adjoining room and brought back a purple floor pillow for herself, which she placed on the floor to face him.

“Dr. Singh is a professor?” my father asked, though he knew this already, knew more than he was comfortable with about this beautiful woman and her sparsely furnished home.

“Yes,” she said, and poured the tea. It was quiet. She held out a cup to him, and as he took it she said, “Ray was with him the day your daughter was killed.”

He wanted to fall over into her.

“That must be why you’ve come,” she continued. “Yes,” he said, “I want to talk to him.”

“He’s at school right now,” she said. “You know that.” Her legs in the gold pants were tucked to her side. The nails on her toes were long and unpolished, their surface gnarled from years of dancing.

“I wanted to come by and assure you I mean him no harm,” my father said. I watched him. I had never seen him like this before. The words fell out of him like burdens he was delivering, back-logged verbs and nouns, but he was watching her feet curl against the dun-colored rug and the way the small pool of numbed light from the curtains touched her right cheek.

“He did nothing wrong and loved your little girl. A schoolboy crush, but still.”

Schoolboy crushes happened all the time to Ray’s mother. The teenager who delivered the paper would pause on his bike, hoping that she would be near the door when she heard the thump of the Philadelphia Inquirer hit the

porch. That she would come out and, if she did, that she would wave. She didn’t even have to smile, and she rarely did outside her house-it was the eyes, her dancer’s carriage, the way she seemed to deliberate over the smallest movement of her body.

When the police had come they had stumbled into the dark front hall in search of a killer, but before Ray even reached the top of the stairs, Ruana had so confused them that they were agreeing to tea and sitting on silk pillows. They had expected her to fall into the grooves of the patter they relied on with all attractive women, but she only grew more erect in posture as they tried harder and harder to ingratiate themselves, and she stood upright by the windows while they questioned her son.

“I’m glad Susie had a nice boy like her,” my father said. “I’ll thank your son for that.”

She smiled, not showing teeth.

“He wrote her a love note,” he said. “Yes.”

“I wish I had known enough to do the same,” he said. “Tell her I loved her on that last day.”


“But your son did.” “Yes.”

They stared at each other for a moment.

“You must have driven the policemen nuts,” he said and smiled more to himself than to her.

“They came to accuse Ray,” she said. “I wasn’t concerned with how they felt about me.”

“I imagine it’s been hard for him,” my father said.

“No, I won’t allow that,” she said sternly and placed her cup back on the tray. “You cannot have sympathy for Ray or for us.”

My father tried to stutter out a protest.

She placed her hand in the air. “You have lost a daughter and come here for some purpose. I will allow you that and that only, but trying to understand our lives, no.”

“I didn’t mean to offend,” he said. “I only . . .” Again, the hand up.

“Ray will be home in twenty minutes. I will talk to him first and prepare him, then you may talk to my son about your daughter.”

“What did I say?”

“I like that we don’t have much furniture. It allows me to think that someday we might pack up and leave”

“I hope you’ll stay,” my father said. He said it because he had been trained to be polite from an early age, a training he passed on to me, but he also said it because part of him wanted more of her, this cold woman who was not exactly cold, this rock who was not stone.

“With all gentleness,” she said, “you don’t even know me. We’ll wait together for Ray,”

My father had left our house in the midst of a fight between Lindsey and my mother. My mother was trying to get Lindsey to go with her to the Y to swim. Without thinking, Lindsey had blared, “I’d rather die!” at the top of her lungs. My father watched as my mother froze, then burst, fleeing to their bedroom to wail behind the door. He quietly tucked his notebook in his jacket pocket, took the car keys off the hook by the back door, and snuck out.

In those first two months my mother and father moved in opposite directions from each other. One stayed in, the other went out. My father fell asleep in his den in the green chair, and when he woke he crept carefully into the bedroom and slid into bed. If my mother had most of the sheets he would lie without them, his body curled up tight, ready to spring at a moment’s notice, ready for anything.

“I know who killed her,” he heard himself say to Ruana Singh. “Have you told the police?”


“What do they say?”

“They say that for now there is nothing but my suspicion to link him to the crime.”

“A father’s suspicion …” she began.

“Is as powerful as a mother’s intuition.” This time there were teeth in her smile. “He lives in the neighborhood.”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m investigating all leads,” my father said, knowing how it sounded as he said it.

“And my son …” “Is a lead.”

“Perhaps the other man frightens you too much.” “But I have to do something,” he protested.

“Here we are again, Mr. Salmon,” she said. “You misinterpret me. I am not saying you are doing the wrong thing by coming here. It is the right thing in its way. You want to find something soft, something warm in all this. Your searching led you here. That’s a good thing. I am only concerned that it be good, too, for my son.”

“I mean no harm.”

“What is the man’s name?”

“George Harvey.” It was the first time he’d said it aloud to anyone but Len Fenerman.

She paused and stood. Turning her back to him, she walked over to first one window and then the other and drew the curtains back. It was the after-school light that she loved. She watched for Ray as he walked up the road.

“Ray will come now. I will go to meet him. If you’ll excuse me I need to put on my coat and boots.” She paused. “Mr. Salmon,” she said, “I would do exactly what you are doing: I would talk to everyone I needed to, I would not tell too many people his name. When I was sure,” she said, “I would find a quiet way, and I would kill him.”

He could hear her in the hallway, the metal clank of hangers as she got her coat. A few minutes later the door was opened and closed, A cold breeze came in from the outside and then out on the road he could see a mother greet her son. Neither of them smiled. Their heads bent low. Their mouths moved. Ray took in the fact that my father was waiting for him inside his home. At first my mother and I thought it was just the obvious that marked Len Fenerman as different from the rest of the force. He was smaller than the hulking uniforms who frequently accompanied him. Then there were the less obvious traits too-the way he often seemed to be thinking to himself, how he wasn’t much for joking or trying to be anything but serious when he talked about me and the circumstances of the case. But, talking with my mother, Len Fenerman had shown himself for what he was: an optimist. He believed my killer would be caught.

“Maybe not today or tomorrow,” he said to my mother, “but someday he’ll do something uncontrollable. They are too uncontrolled in their habits not to.”

My mother was left to entertain Len Fenerman until my father arrived home from the Singhs’. On the table in the family room Buckley’s crayons were scattered across the butcher paper my mother had laid down. Buckley and Nate had drawn until their heads began to nod like heavy flowers, and my mother had plucked them up in her arms, first one and then the other, and brought them over to the couch. They slept there end to end with their feet almost touching in the center.

Len Fenerman knew enough to talk in hushed whispers, but he wasn’t, my mother noted, a worshiper of children. He watched her carry the two boys but did not stand to help or comment on them the way the other policemen always did, defining her by her children, both living and dead.

“Jack wants to talk to you,” my mother said. “But I’m sure you’re too busy to wait.”

“Not too busy.”

I saw a black strand of her hair fall from where she had tucked it behind her ear. It softened her face. I saw Len see it too.

“He went over to that poor Ray Singh’s house,” she said and tucked the fallen hair back in its proper place.

“I’m sorry we had to question him,” Len said.

“Yes,” she said. “No young boy is capable of…” She couldn’t say it, and he didn’t make her.

“His alibi was airtight.”

My mother took up a crayon from the butcher paper.

Len Fenerman watched my mother draw stick figures and stick dogs. Buckley and Nate made quiet sounds of sleep on the couch. My brother

curled up into a fetal position and a moment later placed his thumb in his mouth to suck. It was a habit my mother had told us all we must help him break. Now she envied such easy peace.

“You remind me of my wife,” Len said after a long silence, during which my mother had drawn an orange poodle and what looked like a blue horse undergoing electroshock treatment.

“She can’t draw either?”

“She wasn’t much of a talker when there was nothing to say.”

A few more minutes passed. A yellow ball of sun. A brown house with flowers outside the door – pink, blue, purple.

“You used the past tense.”

They both heard the garage door. “She died soon after we were married,” he said.

“Daddy!” Buckley yelled, and leapt up, forgetting Nate and everyone else. “I’m sorry,” she said to Len.

“I am too,” he said, “about Susie. Really.”

In the back hall my father greeted Buckley and Nate with high cheers and calls for “Oxygen!” as he always did when we besieged him after a long day. Even if it felt false, elevating his mood for my brother was often the favorite part of his day.

My mother stared at Len Fenerman while my father walked toward the family room from the back. Rush to the sink, I felt like saying to her, stare down the hole and look into the earth. I’m down there waiting; I’m up here watching.

Len Fenerman had been the one that first asked my mother for my school picture when the police thought I might be found alive. In his wallet, my photo sat in a stack. Among these dead children and strangers was a picture

of his wife. If a case had been solved he had written the date of its resolution on the back of the photo. If the case was still open-in his mind if not in the official files of the police-it was blank. There was nothing on the back of mine. There was nothing on his wife’s.

“Len, how are you? ” my father asked. Holiday up and wiggling back and forth for my father to pet him.

“I hear you went to see Ray Singh,” Len said.

“Boys, why don’t you go play up in Buckley’s room?” my mother suggested, “Detective Fenerman and Daddy need to talk.”

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