Chapter no 9

The Lovely Bones

My grandmother arrived on the evening before my memorial in her usual style. She liked to hire limousines and drive in from the airport sipping champagne while wearing what she called her “thick and fabulous animal”-a mink she had gotten secondhand at the church bazaar. My parents had not so much invited her as included her if she wanted to be there. In late January, Principal Caden had initiated the idea. “It will be good for your children and all the students at school,” he had said. He took it upon himself to organize the event at our church. My parents were like sleepwalkers saying yes to his questions, nodding their heads to flowers or speakers.

When my mother mentioned it on the phone to her mother, she was surprised to hear the words “I’m coming.”

“But you don’t have to, Mother.”

There was a silence on my grandmother’s end. “Abigail,” she said, “this is Susan’s funeral.”

Grandma Lynn embarrassed my mother by insisting on wearing her used furs on walks around the block and by once attending a block party in high makeup. She would ask my mother questions until she knew who everyone was, whether or not my mother had seen the inside of their house, what the husband did for a living, what cars they drove. She made a solid catalog of the neighbors. It was a way, I now realized, to try to understand her daughter better. A miscalculated circling, a sad, partnerless dance.

“Jack-y,” my grandmother said as she approached my parents on the front porch, “we need some stiff drinks!” She saw Lindsey then, trying to sneak up the stairs and gain a few more minutes before the required visitation. “Kid hates me,” Grandma Lynn said. Her smile was frozen, her teeth perfect and white.

“Mother,” my mother said. And I wanted to rush into those ocean eyes of loss. “I’m sure Lindsey is just going to make herself presentable.”

“An impossibility in this house!” said my grandmother.

“Lynn,” said my father, “this is a different house than last time you were here. I’ll get you a drink, but I ask you to respect that.”

“Still handsome as hell, Jack,” my grandmother said,

My mother took my grandmother’s coat. Holiday had been closed up in my father’s den as soon as Buckley had yelled from his post at the upstairs window – “Its Grandma!” My brother bragged to Nate or anyone who would listen that his grandmother had the biggest cars in the whole wide world,

“You look lovely, Mother,” my mother said.

“Hmmmm.” While my father was out of earshot, my grandmother said, “How is he?”

“We’re all coping, but it’s hard.”

“Is he still muttering about that man having done it?” “He still thinks so, yes.”

“You’ll be sued, you know,” she said. “He hasn’t told anyone but the police.”

What they couldn’t see was that my sister was sitting above them on the top step.

“And he shouldn’t. I realize he has to blame someone, but…”

“Lynn, 7&7 or a martini?” my father said, coming back out into the hallway.

“What are you having?”

“I’m not drinking these days, actually,” my father said.

“Now there’s your problem. I’ll lead the way. No one has to tell me where the liquor is!”

Without her thick and fabulous animal, my grandmother was rail thin. “Starved down” was how she put it when she’d counseled me at age eleven. “You need to get yourself starved down, honey, before you keep fat on for too long. Baby fat is just another way to say ugly.” She and my mother had fought about whether I was old enough for benzedrine-her own personal savior, she called it, as in, “I am offering your daughter my own personal savior and you deny her?”

When I was alive, everything my grandmother did was bad. But an odd thing happened when she arrived in her rented limo that day, opened up our house, and barged in. She was, in all her obnoxious finery, dragging the light back in.

“You need help, Abigail,” my grandmother said after having eaten the first real meal my mother had cooked since my disappearance. My mother was stunned. She had donned her blue dishwashing gloves, filled the sink with sudsy water, and was preparing to do every dish. Lindsey would dry. Her mother, she assumed, would call upon Jack to pour her an after-dinner drink.

“Mother, that is so nice of you.”

“Don’t mention it” she said. “I’ll just run out to the front hall and get my bag o’ magic.”

“Oh no,” I heard my mother say under her breath.

“Ah, yes, the bag o’ magic,” said Lindsey, who had not spoken the whole meal.

“Please, Mother!” my mother protested when Grandma Lynn came back.

“Okay, kids, clear off the table and get your mother over here. I’m doing a makeover.”

“Mother, that’s crazy. I have all these dishes to do.” “Abigail,” my father said.

“Oh no. She may get you to drink, but she’s not getting those instruments of torture near me.”

“I’m not drunk,” he said.

“You’re smiling,” my mother said.

“So sue him,” Grandma Lynn said. “Buckley, grab your mother’s hand and drag her over here.” My brother obliged. It was fun to see his mother be bossed and prodded.

“Grandma Lynn?” Lindsey asked shyly.

My mother was being led by Buckley to a kitchen chair my grandmother had turned to face her.


“Could you teach me about makeup?” “My God in heaven, praise the Lord, yes!”

My mother sat down and Buckley climbed up into her lap. “What’s wrong, Mommy?”

“Are you laughing, Abbie?” My father smiled. And she was. She was laughing and she was crying too.

“Susie was a good girl, honey,” Grandma Lynn said, “Just like you.” There was no pause. “Now lift up your chin and let me have a look at those bags under your eyes.”

Buckley got down and moved onto a chair. “This is an eyelash curler, Lindsey,” my grandmother instructed. “I taught your mother all of these things.”

“Clarissa uses those,” Lindsey said.

My grandmother set the rubber curler pads on either side of my mother’s eyelashes, and my mother, knowing the ropes, looked upward,

“Have you talked to Clarissa?” my father asked.

“Not really,” said Lindsey. “She’s hanging out a lot with Brian Nelson. They cut class enough times to get a three-day suspension.”

“I don’t expect that of Clarissa,” my father said. “She may not have been the brightest apple in the bunch, but she was never a troublemaker.”

“When I ran into her she reeked of pot.”

“I hope you’re not getting into that” Grandma Lynn said. She finished the last of her 7 &7 and slammed the highball glass down on the table. “Now, see this, Lindsey, see how when the lashes are curled it opens up your mother’s eyes?”

Lindsey tried to imagine her own eyelashes, but instead saw the star-clumped lashes of Samuel Heckler as his face neared hers for a kiss. Her pupils dilated, pulsing in and out like small, ferocious olives.

“I stand amazed,” Grandma Lynn said, and put her hands, one still twisted into the awkward handles of the eyelash curler, on her hips.


“Lindsey Salmon, you have a boyfriend” my grandmother announced to the room.

My father smiled. He was liking Grandma Lynn suddenly, I was too. “Do not,” Lindsey said.

My grandmother was about to speak when my mother whispered, “Do too.”

“Bless you, honey,” my grandmother said, “you should have a boyfriend. As soon as I’m done with your mother, I’m giving you the grand Grandma Lynn treatment. Jack, make me an aperitif.”

“An aperitif is something you . . .” my mother began, “Don’t correct me, Abigail.”

My grandmother got sloshed. She made Lindsey look like a clown or, as Grandma Lynn said herself, “a grade-A ‘tute.” My father got what she called “finely drunkened.” The most amazing thing was that my mother went to bed and left the dirty dishes in the sink. While everyone else slept, Lindsey stood at the mirror in the bathroom, looking at herself. She wiped off some of the blush, blotted her lips, and ran her fingers over the swollen, freshly plucked parts of her formerly bushy eyebrows. In the mirror she saw something different and so did I, an adult who could take care of herself.

Under the makeup was the face she’d always known as her own, until very recently, when it had become the face that reminded people of me. With lip pencil and eyeliner, she now saw, the edges of her features were delineated, and they sat on her face like gems imported from some far-off place where the colors were richer than the colors in our house had ever been. It was true what our grandmother said-the makeup brought out the blue of her eyes.

The plucking of the eyebrows changed the shape of her face. The blush highlighted the hollows beneath her cheekbones (“The hollows that could stand some more hollowing,” our grandmother pointed out). And her lips -she practiced her facial expressions. She pouted, she kissed, she smiled wide as if she too had had a cocktail, she looked down and pretended to pray like a good girl but cocked one eye up to see how she looked being good. She went to bed and slept on her back so as not to mess up her new face. Mrs. Bethel Utemeyer was the only dead person my sister and I ever saw. She moved in with her son to our development when I was six and Lindsey five. My mother said that she had lost part of her brain and that sometimes she left her son’s house and didn’t know where she was. She would often end up in our front yard, standing under the dogwood tree and looking out at the street as if waiting for a bus. My mother would sit her down in the kitchen and make tea for the two of them, and after she calmed her she would call her son’s house to tell them where she was. Sometimes

no one was home and Mrs. Utemeyer would sit at our kitchen table and stare into the centerpiece for hours. She would be there when we came home from school. Sitting. She smiled at us. Often she called Lindsey “Natalie” and reached out to touch her hair.

When she died, her son encouraged my mother to bring Lindsey and me to the funeral. “My mother seemed to have a special fondness for your children,” he wrote.

“She didn’t even know my name, Mom,” Lindsey whined, as our mother buttoned up the infinite number of round buttons on Lindsey’s dress coat. Another impractical gift from Grandma Lynn, my mother thought.

“At least she called you a name,” I said.

It was after Easter, and a spring heat wave had set in that week. All but the most stubborn of that winter’s snow had seeped into the earth, and in the graveyard of the Utemeyers’ church snow clung to the base of the headstones, while, nearby, buttercup shoots were making their way up.

The Utemeyers’ church was fancy. “High Catholic,” my father had said in the car. Lindsey and I thought this was very funny. My father hadn’t wanted to come but my mother was so pregnant that she couldn’t drive. For the last few months of her pregnancy with Buckley she was unable to fit behind the wheel. She was so uncomfortable most of the time that we avoided being near her for fear we’d be thrown into servitude.

But her pregnancy allowed her to get out of what Lindsey and I couldn’t stop talking about for weeks and what I kept dreaming about for long after that: viewing the body. I could tell my father and mother didn’t want this to happen, but Mr. Utemeyer made a beeline for the two of us when it was time to file past the casket. “Which one of you is the one she called Natalie?” he asked. We stared at him. I pointed to Lindsey.

“I’d like you to come say goodbye,” he said. He smelled of a perfume sweeter than what my mother sometimes wore, and the sting of it in my nose, and my sense of exclusion, made me want to cry. “You can come too,” he said to me, extending his hands so we would flank him in the aisle.

It wasn’t Mrs. Utemeyer. It was something else. But it was Mrs. Utemeyer too. I tried to keep my eyes focused on the gleaming gold rings on her fingers.

“Mother,” Mr. Utemeyer said, “I brought the little girl you called Natalie.”

Lindsey and I both admitted later that we expected Mrs. Utemeyer to speak and that we had decided, individually, that if she did we were going to grab the other one and run like hell.

An excruciating second or two and it was over and we were released back to our mother and father.

I wasn’t very surprised when I first saw Mrs. Bethel Utemeyer in my heaven, nor was I shocked when Holly and I found her walking hand in hand with a small blond girl she introduced as her daughter, Natalie. The morning of my memorial Lindsey stayed in her room for as long as she could. She didn’t want my mother to see the still-applied makeup until it would be too late to make her wash it off. She had also told herself it would be okay to take a dress from my closet. That I wouldn’t mind. But it was weird to watch.

She opened the door to my room, a vault that by February was being disturbed more and more, though no one, not my mother or father, nor Buckley or Lindsey, confessed to entering, nor to taking things that they didn’t plan on returning. They were blind to the clues that each of them came and visited me there. Any disturbance, even if it could not possibly be blamed on Holiday, was blamed on him.

Lindsey wanted to look nice for Samuel. She opened the double doors to my closet and reviewed the mess. I hadn’t been exactly orderly, so every time my mother told us to clean up, I’d shoved whatever was on the floor or bed into my closet.

Lindsey had always wanted the clothes I owned first-run but had gotten them all as hand-me-downs.

“Gosh,” she said, whispering into the darkness of my closet. She realized with guilt and glee that everything she saw before her was hers now.

“Hello? Knock-knock,” said Grandma Lynn. Lindsey jumped. “Sorry to disturb you, hon,” she said. “I thought I heard you in here.” My grandmother stood in what my mother called one of her Jackie

Kennedy dresses. She had never understood why unlike the rest of us her mother had no hips-she could slide into a straight-cut dress and fill it out just enough, even at sixty-two, to look perfect in it.

“What are you doing in here?” Lindsey asked.

“I need help with this zipper,” Grandma Lynn turned, and Lindsey could see what she had never seen on our own mother. The back of Grandma Lynn’s black bra, the top of her half-slip. She walked the step or two over to our grandmother and, trying not to touch anything but the zipper tab, zipped her up.

“How about that hook and eye up there,” said Grandma Lynn. “Can you get that?”

There were powdery smells and Chanel No. 5 sprinkled all around our grandmother’s neck.

“It’s one of the reasons for a man – you can’t do this stuff yourself.”

Lindsey was as tall as our grandmother and still growing. As she took the hook and eye in either hand, she saw the fine wisps of dyed blond hair at the base of my grandmother’s skull. She saw the downy gray hair trailing along her back and neck. She hooked the dress and then stood there.

“I’ve forgotten what she looked like,” Lindsey said. “What?” Grandma Lynn turned.

“I can’t remember,” Lindsey said. “I mean her neck, you know, did I ever look at it?”

“Oh honey,” Grandma Lynn said, “come here.” She opened up her arms, but Lindsey turned into the closet.

“I need to look pretty,” she said, “You are pretty,” Grandma Lynn said.

Lindsey couldn’t get her breath. One thing Grandma Lynn never did was dole out compliments. When they came, they were unexpected gold.

“We’ll find you a nice outfit in here,” Grandma Lynn said and strode toward my clothes. No one could shop a rack like Grandma Lynn. On the rare occasions that she visited near the start of the school year she would take the two of us out. We marveled at her as we watched her nimble fingers play the hangers like so many keys. Suddenly, hesitating only for a moment, she would pull out a dress or shirt and hold it up to us. “What do you think?” she’d ask. It was always perfect.

As she considered my separates, plucked and posed them against my sister’s torso, she talked:

“Your mother’s a wreck, Lindsey. I’ve never seen her like this before.” “Grandma.”

“Hush, I’m thinking.” She held up my favorite church dress. It was blackwatch wool with a Peter Pan collar. I liked it mostly because the skirt was so big I could sit in the pew cross-legged and flounce the hem down to the ground. “Where did she get this sack?” my grandmother asked. “Your dad, he’s a mess too, but he’s mad about it.”

“Who was that man you asked Mom about?” She stiffened on the question. “What man?”

“You asked Mom if Dad still was saying that that man did it. What man?”

“Voila!” Grandma Lynn held up a dark blue minidress that my sister had never seen. It was Clarissa’s.

“It’s so short,” Lindsey said.

“I’m shocked at your mother,” Grandma Lynn said. “She let the kid get something stylish!”

My father called up from the hallway that he expected everyone downstairs in ten minutes.

Grandma Lynn went into preparation overdrive. She helped Lindsey get the dark blue dress over her head, and then they ran back to Lindsey s room for shoes, and then, finally, in the hallway, under the overhead light, she fixed the smudged eyeliner and mascara on my sister’s face. She finished her off with firmly pressed powder, whisking the cotton pad lightly in an upward direction along either side of Lindsey’s face. It wasn’t until my grandmother came downstairs and my mother commented on the shortness of Lindsey’s dress while looking suspiciously at Grandma Lynn that my sister and I realized Grandma Lynn didn’t have a spot of makeup on her own face. Buckley rode between them in the back seat, and as they neared the church he looked at Grandma Lynn and asked what she was doing.

“When you don’t have time for rouge, this puts a little life into them,” she said, and so Buckley copied her and pinched his cheeks.

Samuel Heckler was standing by the stone posts that marked the path to the church door. He was dressed all in black, and beside him his older brother, Hal, stood wearing the beat-up leather jacket Samuel had worn on Christmas Day.

His brother was like a darker print of Samuel. He was tanned, and his face was weathered from riding his motorcycle full-tilt down country roads. As my family approached, Hal turned quickly and walked away.

“This must be Samuel,” my grandmother said. “I’m the evil grandma.” “Shall we go in?” my father said. “It’s nice to see you, Samuel.”

Lindsey and Samuel led the way, while my grandmother dropped back and walked on the other side of my mother. A united front.

Detective Fenerman was standing by the doorway in an itchy-looking suit. He nodded at my parents and seemed to linger on my mother. “Will you join us?” my father asked.

“Thank you,” he said, “but I just want to be in the vicinity.” “We appreciate that.”

They walked into the cramped vestibule of our church. I wanted to snake up my father’s back, circle his neck, whisper in his ear. But I was already there in his every pore and crevice.

He had woken up with a hangover and turned over on his side to watch my mother’s shallow breathing against the pillow, His lovely wife, his lovely girl. He wanted to place his hand on her cheek, smooth her hair back from her face, kiss her-but sleeping, she was at peace. He hadn’t woken a day since my death when the day wasn’t something to get through. But the truth was, the memorial service day was not the worst kind. At least it was honest. At least it was a day shaped around what they were so preoccupied by: my absence. Today he would not have to pretend he was getting back to normal-whatever normal was. Today he could walk tall with grief and so could Abigail. But he knew that as soon as she woke up he would not really look at her for the rest of the day, not really look into her and see the woman he had known her to be before the day they had taken in the news of my death. At nearly two months, the idea of it as news was fading away in the hearts of all but my family-and Ruth.

She came with her father. They were standing in the corner near the glass case that held a chalice used during the Revolutionary War, when the church had been a hospital. Mr. and Mrs. Dewitt were making small talk with them. At home on her desk, Mrs. Dewitt had a poem of Ruth’s. On Monday she was going to the guidance counselor with it. It was a poem about me.

“My wife seems to agree with Principal Caden,” Ruth’s father was saying, “that the memorial will help allow the kids to accept it.”

“What do you think?” Mr. Dewitt asked.

“I think let bygones be bygones and leave the family to their own. But Ruthie wanted to come.”

Ruth watched my family greet people and noted in horror my sister’s new look. Ruth did not believe in makeup. She thought it demeaned women.

Samuel Heckler was holding Lindsey’s hand. A word from her readings popped into her head: subjugation. But then I saw her notice Hal Heckler through the window. He was standing out by the oldest graves in the front and pulling on a cigarette butt.

“Ruthie,” her father asked, “what is it?”

She focused again and looked at him. “What’s what?” “You were staring off into space just now,” he said. “I like the way the graveyard looks.”

“Ah kid, you’re my angel,” he said. “Let’s grab a seat before the good ones get taken.”

Clarissa was there, with a sheepish-looking Brian Nelson, who was wearing a suit of his father’s. She made her way up to my family, and when Principal Caden and Mr. Botte saw her they fell away and let her approach. She shook hands with my father first.

“Hello, Clarissa,” he said. “How are you?”

“Okay,” she said. “How are you and Mrs. Salmon?”

“We’re fine, Clarissa,” he said. What an odd lie, I thought. “Would you like to join us in the family pew?”

“Um” – she looked down at her hands – “I’m with my boyfriend.” My mother had entered some trancelike state and was staring hard at

Clarissa’s face. Clarissa was alive and I was dead. Clarissa began to feel it, the eyes boring into her, and she wanted to get away. Then Clarissa saw the dress.

“Hey,” she said, reaching out toward my sister. “What is it, Clarissa?” my mother snapped.

“Um, nothing,” she said. She looked at the dress again, knew she could never ask for it back now.

“Abigail?” my father said. He was attuned to her voice, her anger. Something was off.

Grandma Lynn, who stood just a bit behind my mother, winked at Clarissa.

“I was just noticing how good Lindsey looked,” Clarissa said. My sister blushed.

The people in the vestibule began to stir and part. It was the Reverend Strick, walking in his vestments toward my parents.

Clarissa faded back to look for Brian Nelson. When she found him, she joined him out among the graves. Ray Singh stayed away. He said goodbye to me in his own way: by looking at a picture-my studio portrait-that I had given him that fall.

He looked into the eyes of that photograph and saw right through them to the backdrop of marbleized suede every kid had to sit in front of under a hot light. What did dead mean, Ray wondered. It meant lost, it meant frozen, it meant gone. He knew that no one ever really looked the way they did in photos. He knew he didn’t look as wild or as frightened as he did in his own. He came to realize something as he stared at my photo-that it was not me, I was in the air around him, I was in the cold mornings he had now with Ruth, I was in the quiet time he spent alone between studying. I was the girl he had chosen to kiss. He wanted, somehow, to set me free. He didn’t want to burn my photo or toss it away, but he didn’t want to look at me anymore, either. I watched him as he placed the photograph in one of the giant volumes of Indian poetry in which he and his mother had pressed dozens of fragile flowers that were slowly turning to dust.

At the service they said nice things about me. Reverend Strick. Principal Caden. Mrs. Dewitt. But my father and mother sat through it numbed.

Samuel kept squeezing Lindsey’s hand, but she didn’t seem to notice him. She barely blinked. Buckley sat in a small suit borrowed for the occasion from Nate, who had attended a wedding that year. He fidgeted and watched my father. It was Grandma Lynn who did the most important thing that day.

During the final hymn, as my family stood, she leaned over to Lindsey and whispered, “By the door, that’s him.”

Lindsey looked over.

Standing just behind Len Fenerman, who was now inside the doorway and singing along, stood a man from the neighborhood. He was dressed more casually than anyone else, wearing flannel-lined khaki trousers and a heavy flannel shirt. For a moment Lindsey thought she recognized him. Their eyes locked. Then she passed out.

In all the commotion of attending to her, George Harvey slipped between the Revolutionary War gravestones behind the church and walked away without being noticed.

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