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可爱的骨头 英文版 Sebold Alice-Lovely Bones


The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold Inside the snow globe on my father's desk, there was a penguin wearing a red and white striped scarf. When I was little my father would pull me into his lap and reach for the snow globe. He would turn it over, letting all the snow collect on the top, then quickly invert it. The two of us watched the snow fall gently around the penguin. The penguin was alone in there, I thought, and I worried for him. When I told my father this, he said, "Don't worry, Susie; he has a nice life. He's trapped in a perfect world." ONE My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973. In newspaper photos of missing girls from the seventies, most looked like me: white girls with mousy brown hair. This was before kids of all races and genders started appearing on milk cartons or in the daily mail. It was still back when people believed things like that didn't happen. In my junior high yearbook I had a quote from a Spanish poet my sister had turned me on to, Juan Ramon Jimenez. It went like this: "If they give you ruled paper, write the other way." I chose it both because it expressed my contempt for my structured surroundings a la the classroom and because, not being some dopey quote from a rock group, I thought it marked me as literary. I was a member of the Chess Club and Chem Club and burned everything I tried to make in Mrs. Delminico's home ec class. My favorite teacher was Mr. Botte, who taught biology and liked to animate the frogs and crawfish we had to dissect by making them dance in their waxed pans. I wasn't killed by Mr. Botte, by the way. Don't think every person you're going to meet in here is suspect. That's the problem. You never know. Mr. Botte came to my memorial (fas?), may I add, as did almost the entire junior high school (I was never so popular) and cried quite a bit. He had a sick kid. We all knew this, so when he laughed at his own jokes, which were rusty way before I had him, we laughed too, forcing it sometimes just to make him happy. His daughter died a year and a half after I did. She had leukemia, but I never saw her in my heaven. My murderer was a man from our neighborhood. My mother liked his border flowers, and my father talked to him once about fertilizer. My murderer believed in old-fashioned things like eggshells and coffee grounds, which he said his own mother had used. My father came home smiling, making jokes about how the man's garden might be beautiful but it would stink to high heaven once a heat wave hit.

But on December 6, 1973, it was snowing, and I took a shortcut through the cornfield back from the junior high. It was dark out because the days were shorter in winter, and I remember how the broken cornstalks made my walk more difficult. The snow was falling lightly, like a flurry of small hands, and I was breathing through my nose until it was running so much that I had to open my mouth. Six feet from where Mr. Harvey stood, I stuck my tongue out to taste a snowflake. "Don't let me startle you," Mr. Harvey said. Of course, in a cornfield, in the dark, I was startled. After I was dead I thought about how there had been the light scent of cologne in the air but that I had not been paying attention, or thought it was coming from one of the houses up ahead "Mr. Harvey, "I said. "You're the older Salmon girl, right?" "Yes." "How are your folks?" Although the eldest in my family and good at acing a science quiz, I had never felt comfortable with adults. "Fine," I said. I was cold, but the natural authority of his age, and the added fact that he was a neighbor and had talked to my father about fertilizer, rooted me to the spot. "I've built something back here," he said. "Would you like to see??± "I'm sort of cold, Mr. Harvey," I said, "and my mom likes me home before dark." "Its after dark, Susie," he said. I wish now that I had known this was weird. I had never told him my name. I guess I thought my father had told him one of the embarrassing anecdotes he saw merely as loving testaments to his children. My father was the kind of dad who kept a nude photo of you when you were three in the downstairs bathroom, the one that guests would use. He did this to my little sister, Lindsey, thank God. At least I was spared that indignity. But he liked to tell a story about how, once Lindsey was born, I was so jealous that one day while he was on the phone in the other room, I moved down the couch - he could see me from where he stood - and tried to pee on top of Lindsey in her carrier. This story humiliated me every time he told it, to the pastor of our church, to our neighbor Mrs. Stead, who was a therapist and whose take on it he wanted to hear, and to everyone who ever said "Susie has a lot of spunk!" "Spunk!" my father would say. "Let me tell you about spunk," and he would launch immediately into his Susie-peed-on-Lindsey story. But as it turned out, my father had not mentioned us to Mr. Harvey or told him the Susie-peed-on-Lindsey story. Mr. Harvey would later say these words to my mother when he ran into

her on the street: "I heard about the horrible, horrible tragedy. What was your daughter's name, again?" "Susie," my mother said, bracing up under the weight of it, a weight that she naively hoped might lighten someday, not knowing that it would only go on to hurt in new and varied ways for the rest of her life. Mr. Harvey told her the usual: "I hope they get the bastard. I'm sorry for your loss." I was in my heaven by that time, fitting my limbs together, and couldn't believe his audacity. "The man has no shame," I said to Franny, my intake counselor. "Exactly," she said, and made her point as simply as that. There wasn't a lot of bullshit in my heaven. Mr. Harvey said it would only take a minute, so I followed him a little farther into the cornfield, where fewer stalks were broken off because no one used it as a shortcut to the junior high. My mom had told my baby brother, Buckley, that the corn in the field was inedible when he asked why no one from the neighborhood ate it. "The corn is for horses, not humans," she said. "Not dogs?" Buckley asked. "No," my mother answered. "Not dinosaurs?" Buckley asked. And it went like that. "I've made a little hiding place," said Mr. Harvey. He stopped and turned to me. "I don't see anything," I said. I was aware that Mr. Harvey was looking at me strangely. I'd had older men look at me that way since I'd lost my baby fat, but they usually didn't lose their marbles over me when I was wearing my royal blue parka and yellow elephant bell-bottoms. His glasses were small and round with gold frames, and his eyes looked out over them and at me. "You should be more observant, Susie," he said. I felt like observing my way out of there, but I didn't. Why didn't I? Franny said these questions were fruitless: "You didn't and that's that. Don't mull it over. It does no good. You're dead and you have to accept it."

"Try again," Mr. Harvey said, and he squatted down and knocked against the ground. "What's that??± I asked. My ears were freezing. I wouldn't wear the multicolored cap with the pompom and jingle bells that my mother had made me one Christmas. I had shoved it in the pocket of my parka instead. I remember that I went over and stomped on the ground near him. It felt harder even than frozen earth, which was pretty hard. "It's wood," Mr. Harvey said. "It keeps the entrance from collapsing. Other than that it's all made out of earth." "What is it?" I asked. I was no longer cold or weirded out by the

look he had given me. I was like I was in science class: I was curious. "Come and see," It was awkward to get into, that much he admitted once we were both inside the hole. But I was so amazed by how he had made a chimney that would draw smoke out if he ever chose to build a fire that the awkwardness of getting in and out of the hole wasn't even on my mind. You could add to that that escape wasn't a concept I had any real experience with. The worst I'd had to escape was Artie, a strange-looking kid at school whose father was a mortician. He liked to pretend he was carrying a needle full of embalming fluid around with him. On his notebooks he would draw needles spilling dark drips. "This is neato!" I said to Mr. Harvey. He could have been the hunchback of Notre Dame, whom we had read about in French class. I didn't care. I completely reverted. I was my brother Buckley on our day-trip to the Museum of Natural History in New York, where he'd fallen in love with the huge skeletons on display. I hadn't used the word neato in public since elementary school. "Like taking candy from a baby," Franny said. I can still see the hole like it was yesterday, and it was. Life is a perpetual yesterday for us. It was the size of a small room, the mud room in our house, say, where we kept our boots and slickers and where Mom had managed to fit a washer and dryer, one on top of the other. I could almost stand up in it, but Mr. Harvey had to stoop. He'd created a bench along the sides of it by the way he'd dug it out. He immediately sat down. "Look around," he said. I stared at it in amazement, the dug-out shelf above him where he had placed matches, a row of batteries, and a battery-powered fluorescent lamp that cast the only light in the room, an eerie light that would make his features hard to see when he was on top of me. There was a mirror on the shelf, and a razor and shaving cream. I thought that was odd. Wouldn't he do that at home? But I guess I figured that a man who had a perfectly good split-level and then built an underground room only half a mile away had to be kind of loo-loo. My father had a nice way of describing people like him: "The man's a character, that's all." So I guess I was thinking that Mr. Harvey was a character, and I liked the room, and it was warm, and I wanted to know how he had built it, what the mechanics of the thing were and where he'd learned to do something like that. But by the time the Gilberts' dog found my elbow three days later and brought it home with a telling corn husk attached to it, Mr. Harvey had closed it up. I was in transit during this. I didn't get to see

him sweat it out, remove the wood reinforcement, bag any evidence along with my body parts, except that elbow. By the time I popped up with enough wherewithal to look down at the goings-on on Earth, I was more concerned with my family than anything else. My mother sat on a hard chair by the front door with her mouth open. Her pale face paler than I had ever seen it. Her blue eyes staring. My father was driven into motion. He wanted to know details and to comb the cornfield along with the cops. I still thank God for a small detective named Len Fenerman. He assigned two uniforms to take my dad into town and have him point out all the places I'd hung out with my friends. The uniforms kept my dad busy in one mall for the whole first day. No one had told Lindsey, who was thirteen and would have been old enough, or Buckley, who was four and would, to be honest, never fully understand. Mr. Harvey asked me if I would like a refreshment. That was how he put it. I said I had to go home. "Be polite and have a Coke," he said. I??m sure the other kids would." "What other kids?" "I built this for the kids in the neighborhood. I thought it could be some sort of clubhouse." I don't think I believed this even then. I thought he was lying but I thought it was a pitiful lie. I imagined he was lonely. We had read about men like him in health class. Men who never married and ate frozen meals every night and were so afraid of rejection that they didn't even own pets. I felt sorry for him. "Okay," I said, "I'll have a Coke." In a little while he said, "Aren't you warm, Susie? Why don't you take off your parka," I did. After this he said, "You're very pretty, Susie." "Thanks," I said, even though he gave me what my friend Clarissa and I had dubbed the skeevies. "Do you have a boyfriend?" "No, Mr. Harvey," I said. I swallowed the rest of my Coke, which was a lot, and said, "I got to go, Mr. Harvey. This is a cool place, but I have to go." He stood up and did his hunchback number by the six dug-in steps that led to the world. "I don't know why you think you're leaving." I talked so that I would not have to take in this knowledge: Mr. Harvey was no character. He made me feel skeevy and icky now that he was blocking the door. "Mr. Harvey, I really have to get home." "Take off your clothes." "What?" "Take your clothes off," Mr. Harvey said. "I want to check that you're

still a virgin." "I am, Mr. Harvey," T said. "I want to make sure. Your parents will thank me." "My parents?" "They only want good girls," he said. "Mr. Harvey," I said, "please let me leave." "You aren't leaving, Susie. You're mine now." Fitness was not a big thing back then; aerobics was barely a word. Girls were supposed to be soft, and only the girls we suspected were butch could climb the ropes at school. I fought hard. I fought as hard as I could not to let Mr. Harvey hurt me, but my hard-as-I-could was not hard enough, not even close, and I was soon lying down on the ground, in the ground, with him on top of me panting and sweating, having lost his glasses in the struggle. I was so alive then. I thought it was the worst thing in the world to be lying flat on my back with a sweating man on top of me. To be trapped inside the earth and have no one know where I was. I thought of my mother. My mother would be checking the dial of the clock on her oven. It was a new oven and she loved that it had a clock on it. "I can time things to the minute," she told her own mother, a mother who couldn't care less about ovens. She would be worried, but more angry than worried, at my lateness. As my father pulled into the garage, she would rush about, fixing him a cocktail, a dry sherry, and put on an exasperated face: "You know junior high," she would say. "Maybe it's Spring Fling." "Abigail," my father would say, "how can it be Spring Fling when it's snowing?" Having failed with this, my mother might rush Buckley into the room and say, "Play with your father?± while she ducked into the kitchen and took a nip of sherry for herself. Mr. Harvey started to press his lips against mine. They were blubbery and wet and I wanted to scream but I was too afraid and too exhausted from the fight. I had been kissed once by someone I liked. His name was Ray and he was Indian. He had an accent and was dark. I wasn't supposed to like him. Clarissa called his large eyes, with their half-closed lids, "freak-a-delic," but he was nice and smart and helped me cheat on my algebra exam while pretending he hadn't. He kissed me by my locker the day before we turned in our photos for the yearbook. When the yearbook came out at the end of the summer, I saw that under his picture he had answered the standard "My heart belongs to" with "Susie Salmon." I guess he had had plans. I remember that his lips were chapped. "Don't, Mr. Harvey," I managed, and I kept saying that one word a lot. Don't. And I said please a lot too. Franny told me that almost everyone begged "please" before dying.

"I want you, Susie," he said. "Please," I said. "Don't," I said. Sometimes I combined them. "Please don't" or "Don't please." It was like insisting that a key works when it doesn't or yelling "I've got it, I've got it, I've got it" as a softball goes sailing over you into the stands. "Please don't." But he grew tired of hearing me plead. He reached into the pocket of my parka and balled up the hat my mother had made me, smashing it into my mouth. The only sound I made after that was the weak tinkling of bells. As he kissed his wet lips down my face and neck and then began to shove his hands up under my shirt, I wept. I began to leave my body; I began to inhabit the air and the silence. I wept and struggled so I would not feel. He ripped open my pants, not having found the invisible zipper my mother had artfully sewn into their side. "Big white panties," he said. I felt huge and bloated. I felt like a sea in which he stood and pissed and shat. I felt the corners of my body were turning in on themselves and out, like in cats cradle, which I played with Lindsey just to make her happy. He started working himself over me. "Susie! Susie!" I heard my mother calling. "Dinner is ready." He was inside me. He was grunting. "We're having string beans and lamb." I was the mortar, he was the pestle. "Your brother has a new finger painting, and I made apple crumb cake." "Why don't you get up?" Mr. Harvey said as he rolled to the side and then crouched over me, His voice was gentle, encouraging, a lover's voice on a late morning. A suggestion, not a command. I could not move. I could not get up. When I would not - was it only that, only that I would not follow his suggestion?-he leaned to the side and felt, over his head, across the ledge where his razor and shaving cream sat. He brought back a knife. Unsheathed, it smiled at me, curving up in a grin. He took the hat from my mouth. "Tell me you love me," he said. Gently, I did. The end came anyway. Mr. Harvey made me lie still underneath him and listen to the beating of his heart and the beating of mine. How mine skipped like a rabbit, and how his thudded, a hammer against cloth. We lay there with our bodies touching, and, as I shook, a powerful knowledge took hold. He had done this thing to me and I had lived. That was all. I was still breathing.

I heard his heart. I smelled his breath. The dark earth surrounding us smelled like what it was, moist dirt where worms and animals lived their daily lives. I could have yelled for hours. I knew he was going to kill me. I did not realize then that I was an animal already dying. TWO I had earned my status as protecting misfit kids in the cafeteria. When someone taunted Give Saunders for walking like a girl, I would deliver swift vengeance with my foot to the taunter's less-protected parts. When the boys teased Phoebe Hart for her sizable breasts, I would give a speech on why boob jokes weren't funny. I had to forget that I too had made lists in the margins of my notebook when Phoebe walked by: Winnebagos, Hoo-has, Johnny Yellows. At the end of my reveries, I sat in the back of the car as my father drove. I was beyond reproach. I would overtake high school in a matter of days, not years, or, inexplicably, earn an Oscar for Best Actress during my junior year. These were my dreams on Earth. When I first entered heaven I thought everyone saw what I saw. That in everyone's heaven there were soccer goalposts in the distance and lumbering women throwing shot put and javelin. That all the buildings were like suburban northeast high schools built in the 1960s. Large, squat buildings spread out on dismally landscaped sandy lots, with overhangs and open spaces to make them feel modern. My favorite part was how the colored blocks were turquoise and orange, just like the blocks in Fairfax High. Sometimes, on Earth, I had made my father drive me by Fairfax High so I could imagine myself there. Following the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades of middle school, high school would have been a fresh start. When I got to Fairfax High I would insist on being called Suzanne. I would wear my hair feathered or up in a bun. I would have a body that the boys wanted and the girls envied, but I'd be so nice on top of it all that they would feel too guilty to do anything but worship me. I liked to think of myself-having reached a sort of queenly After a few days in heaven, I realized that the javelin-throwers and the shot-putters and the boys who played basketball on the cracked blacktop were all in their own version of heaven. Theirs just fit with mine-didn't duplicate it precisely, but had a lot of the same things going on inside. I met Holly, who became my roommate, on the third day. She was sitting on the swing set. (I didn't question that a high school had swing sets: that's what made it heaven. And no flat-benched swings-only bucket seats

made out of hard black rubber that cradled you and that you could bounce in a bit before swinging.) Holly sat reading a book in a weird alphabet that I associated with the pork-fried rice my father brought home from Hop Fat Kitchen, a place Buckley loved the name of, loved so much he yelled "Hop Fat!" at the top of his lungs. Now I know Vietnamese, and I know that Vietnamese is not what Herman Jade, who owned Hop Fat, was, and that Herman Jade was not Herman Jade's real name but one he adopted when he came to the U.S. from China. Holly taught me all this. "Hi," I said. "My name is Susie." Later she would tell me she picked her name from a movie, Breakfast at Tiffany's. But that day it rolled right off her tongue. "I??m Holly," she said. Because she wanted no trace of an accent in her heaven, she had none. I stared at her black hair. It was shiny like the promises in magazines. "How long have you been here?" I asked. "Three days." "Me too." I sat down on the swing next to her and twisted my body around and around to tie up the chains. Then I let go and spun until I stopped. "Do you like it here?" she asked. "No." "Me either." So it began. We had been given, in our heavens, our simplest dreams. There were no teachers in the school. We never had to go inside except for art class for me and jazz band for Holly. The boys did not pinch our backsides or tell us we smelled; our textbooks were Seventeen and Glamour and Vogue. And our heavens expanded as our relationship grew. We wanted many of the same things. Franny, my intake counselor, became our guide. Franny was old enough to be our mother-mid-forties-and it took Holly and me a while to figure out that this had been something we wanted: our mothers. In Franny's heaven, she served and was rewarded by results and gratitude. On Earth she had been a social worker for the homeless and destitute. She worked out of a church named Saint Mary's that served meals to women and children only, and she did everything there from manning the phones to swatting the roaches-karate-chop style. She was shot in the face by a man looking for his wife. Franny walked over to Holly and me on the fifth day. She handed us two Dixie Cups of lime Kool-Aid and we drank. "I??m here to help," she said. I looked into her small blue eyes surrounded by laugh lines and told

her the truth. "We're bored." Holly was busy trying to reach her tongue out far enough to see if it had turned green. "What do you want?" Franny asked. "I don't know," I said. "All you have to do is desire it, and if you desire it enough and understand why-really know-it will come." It seemed so simple and it was. That's how Holly and I got our duplex. I hated our split-level on Earth. I hated my parents' furniture, and how our house looked out onto another house and another house and another-an echo of sameness riding up over the hill. Our duplex looked out onto a park, and in the distance, just close enough to know we weren't alone, but not too close, we could see the lights of other houses. Eventually I began to desire more. What I found strange was how much I desired to know what I had not known on Earth. I wanted to be allowed to grow up. "People grow up by living," I said to Franny. "I want to live." "That's out," she said. "Can we at least watch the living?" asked Holly. "You already do," she said, "I think she means whole lives," I said, "from beginning to end, to see how they did it. To know the secrets. Then we can pretend better." "You won't experience it," Franny clarified. "Thank you, Brain Central," I said, but our heavens began to grow. There was the high school still, all the Fairfax architecture, but now there were roads leading out. "Walk the paths," Franny said, "and you'll find what you need." So that's when Holly and I set out. Our heaven had an ice cream shop where, when you asked for peppermint stick ice cream, no one ever said, "It's seasonal"; it had a newspaper where our pictures appeared a lot and made us look important; it had real men in it and beautiful women too, because Holly and I were devoted to fashion magazines. Sometimes Holly seemed like she wasn't paying attention, and other times she was gone when I went looking for her. That was when she went to a part of heaven we didn't share. I missed her then, but it was an odd sort of missing because by then I knew the meaning of forever. I could not have what I wanted most: Mr. Harvey dead and me living. Heaven wasn't perfect. But I came to believe that if I watched closely, and desired, I might change the lives of those I loved on Earth. My father was the one who took the phone call on December ninth. It was the beginning of the end. He gave the police my blood type, had to describe the lightness of my skin. They asked him if I had any identifying features. He began to describe my face in detail, getting

lost in it. Detective Fenerman let him go on, the next news too horrible to interrupt with. But then he said it: "Mr. Salmon, we have found only a body part." My father stood in the kitchen and a sickening shiver overtook him. How could he tell that to Abigail? "So you can't be certain that she's dead?" he asked. "Nothing is ever certain," Len Fenerman said. That was the line my father said to my mother: "Nothing is ever certain." For three nights he hadn't known how to touch my mother or what to say. Before, they had never found themselves broken together. Usually, it was one needing the other but not both needing each other, and so there had been a way, by touching, to borrow from the stronger one's strength. And they had never understood, as they did now, what the word horror meant. "Nothing is ever certain," my mother said, clinging to it as he had hoped she might. My mother had been the one who knew the meaning of each charm on my bracelet-where we had gotten it and why I liked it. She made a meticulous list of what I'd carried and worn. If found miles away and in isolation along a road, these clues might lead a policeman there to link it to my death. In my mind I had wavered between the bittersweet joy of seeing my mother name all the things I carried and loved and her futile hope that these things mattered. That a stranger who found a cartoon character eraser or a rock star button would report it to the police. After Len's phone call, my father reached out his hand and the two of them sat in the bed together, staring straight in front of them. My mother numbly clinging to this list of things, my father feeling as if he were entering a dark tunnel. At some point, it began to rain. I could feel them both thinking the same thing then, but neither of them said it. That I was out there somewhere, in the rain. That they hoped I was safe. That I was dry somewhere, and warm. Neither of them knew who fell asleep first; their bones aching with exhaustion, they drifted off and woke guiltily at the same time. The rain, which had changed several times as the temperature dropped, was now hail, and the sound of it, of small stones of ice hitting the roof above them, woke them together. They did not speak. They looked at each other in the small light cast from the lamp left on across the room. My mother began to cry, and my father held her, wiped her tears with the pad of his thumbs as they crested her cheekbones, and kissed her very gently on the eyes. I looked away from them then, as they touched. I moved my eyes into the cornfield, seeing if there was anything that in the morning the

police might find. The hail bent the stalks and drove all the animals into their holes. Not so deep beneath the earth were the warrens of the wild rabbits T loved, the bunnies that ate the vegetables and flowers in the neighborhood nearby and that sometimes, unwittingly, brought poison home to their dens. Then, inside the earth and so far away from the man or woman who had laced a garden with toxic bait, an entire family of rabbits would curl into themselves and die. On the morning of the tenth, my father poured the Scotch down the kitchen sink. Lindsey asked him why. "I'm afraid I might drink it," he said. "What was the phone call?" my sister asked. "What phone call?" "I heard you say that thing you always say about Susie's smile. About stars exploding." "Did I say that?" "You got kind of goofy. It was a cop, wasn't it?" "No lies?" "No lies," Lindsey agreed. "They found a body part. It might be Susie's," It was a hard sock in the stomach. "What?" "Nothing is ever certain," my father tried. Lindsey sat down at the kitchen table. "I'm going to be sick," she said, "Honey?" "Dad, I want you to tell me what it was. Which body part, and then I'm going to need to throw up." My father got down a large metal mixing bowl. He brought it to the table and placed it near Lindsey before sitting down. "Okay," she said. "Tell me." "It was an elbow. The Gilberts' dog found it." He held her hand and then she threw up, as she had promised, into the shiny silver bowl. Later that morning the weather cleared, and not too far from my house the police roped off the cornfield and began their search. The rain, sleet, snow, and hail melting and mixing had left the ground sodden; still, there was an obvious area where the earth had been freshly manipulated. They began there and dug. In places, the lab later found, there was a dense concentration of my blood mixed with the dirt, but at the time, the police grew more and more frustrated, plying the cold wet ground and looking for girl. Along the border of the soccer field, a few of my neighbors kept a respectful distance from the police tape, wondering at the men dressed in heavy blue parkas wielding shovels and rakes like medical tools. My father and mother remained at home. Lindsey stayed in her room. Buckley was nearby at his friend Nate's house, where he spent a lot

of time these days. They had told him I was on an extended sleepover at Clarissa's. I knew where my body was but I could not tell them. I watched and waited to see what they would see. And then, like a thunderbolt, late in the afternoon, a policeman held up his earth-caked fist and shouted. "Over here!" he said, and the other officers ran to surround him. The neighbors had gone home except for Mrs. Stead. After conferring around the discovering policeman, Detective Fenerman broke their dark huddle and approached her. "Mrs. Stead?" he said over the tape that separated them. ?°Yes.?± "You have a child in the school?" "Yes." "Could you come with me, please?" A young officer led Mrs. Stead under the police tape and over the bumpy, churned-up cornfield to where the rest of the men stood. "Mrs. Stead," Len Fenerman said, "does this look familiar?" He held up a paperback copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. "Do they read this at the school?" "Yes," she said, her face draining of color as she said the small word. "Do you mind if I ask you ..." he began. "Ninth grade," she said, looking into Len Fenerman's slate blue eyes. "Susie's grade." She was a therapist and relied on her ability to hear bad news and discuss rationally the difficult details of her patients' lives, but she found herself leaning into the young policeman who had led her over. I could feel her wishing that she had gone home when the other neighbors had left, wishing that she was in the living room with her husband, or out in the backyard with her son. "Who teaches the class?" "Mrs. Dewitt," Mrs. Stead said. "The kids find it a real relief after Othello.?± "Othello?" "Yes," she said, her knowledge of the school suddenly very important right now-all the policemen listening. "Mrs. Dewitt likes to modulate her reading list, and she does a big push right before Christmas with Shakespeare. Then she passes out Harper Lee as a reward. If Susie was carrying around To Kill a Mockingbird it means she must have turned in her paper on Othello already." All of this checked out. The police made calls. I watched the circle widen. Mrs. Dewitt had my paper. Eventually, she sent it back to my parents, unmarked, through the mail. "Thought you would want to have this," Mrs. Dewitt had written

on a note attached to it. "I'm so very very sorry." Lindsey inherited the paper because it was too painful for my mother to read. "The Ostracized: One Man Alone," I had called it. Lindsey had suggested "The Ostracized," and I made up the other half. My sister punched three holes down the side of it and fastened each carefully handwritten page into an empty notebook. She put it in her closet under her Barbie case and the box that held her perfect-condition Raggedy Ann and Andy that I'd envied. Detective Fenerman called my parents. They had found a schoolbook, they believed, that might have been given to me that last day. "But it could be anyone's," my father said to my mother as they began another restless vigil. "Or she could have dropped it along the way." Evidence was mounting, but they refused to believe. Two days later, on December twelfth, the police found my notes from Mr. Botte's class. Animals had carried off the notebook from its original burial site-the dirt did not match the surrounding samples, but the graph paper, with its scribbled theories that I could never understand but still dutifully recorded, had been found when a cat knocked down a crow's nest. Shreds of the paper were laced among the leaves and twigs. The police unbraided the graph paper, along with strips of another kind of paper, thinner and brittle, that had no lines. The girl who lived in the house where the tree stood recognized some of the handwriting. It was not my writing, but the writing of the boy who had a crush on me: Ray Singh. On his mother's special rice paper Ray had written me a love note, which I never read. He had tucked it into my notebook during our Wednesday lab. His hand was distinct. When the officers came they had to piece together the scraps of my biology notebook and of Ray Singh s love note. "Ray is not feeling well," his mother said when a detective called his house and asked to speak to him. But they found out what they needed from her. Ray nodded to her as she repeated the policeman's questions to her son. Yes, he had written Susie Salmon a love note. Yes, he had put it in her notebook after Mr. Botte had asked her to collect the pop quiz. Yes, he had called himself the Moor. Ray Singh became the first suspect. "That sweet boy?" my mother said to my father. "Ray Singh is nice," my sister said in a monotone at dinner that night. I watched my family and knew they knew. It was not Ray Singh. The police descended on his house, leaning heavily on him, insinuating things. They were fueled by the guilt they read into Ray's dark skin, by the rage they felt at his manner, and by his beautiful yet too exotic and unavailable mother. But Ray had an alibi. A whole host of nations could be called to testify on his behalf. His father, who taught postcolonial history at Penn, had urged his son to represent the teenage

experience at a lecture he gave at the International House on the day I died. At first Ray's absence from school had been seen as evidence of his guilt, but once the police were presented with a list of forty-five attendees who had seen Ray speak at "Suburbia: The American Experience," they had to concede his innocence. The police stood outside the Singh house and snapped small twigs from the hedges. It would have been so easy, so magical, their answer literally falling out of the sky from a tree. But rumors spread and, in school, what little headway Ray had made socially was reversed. He began to go home immediately after school. All this made me crazy. Watching but not being able to steer the police toward the green house so close to my parents, where Mr. Harvey sat carving finials for a gothic dollhouse he was building. He watched the news and scanned the papers, but he wore his own innocence like a comfortable old coat. There had been a riot inside him and now there was calm. I tried to take solace in Holiday, our dog. I missed him in a way I hadn't yet let myself miss my mother and father, my sister and brother. That way of missing would mean that I had accepted that I would never be with them again; it might sound silly but I didn't believe it, would not believe it. Holiday stayed with Lindsey at night, stood by my father each time he answered the door to a new unknown. Gladly partook of any clandestine eating on the part of my mother. Let Buckley pull his tail and ears inside the house of locked doors. There was too much blood in the earth. On December fifteenth, among the knocks on the door that signaled to my family that they must numb themselves further before opening their house to strangers-the kind but awkward neighbors, the bumbling but cruel reporters - came the one that made my father finally believe. It was Len Fenerman, who had been so kind to him, and a uniform. They came inside, by now familiar enough with the house to know that my mother preferred them to come in and say what they had to say in the living room so that my sister and brother would not overhear. "We've found a personal item that we believe to be Susie's," Len said. Len was careful. I could see him calculating his words. He made sure to specify so that my parents would be relieved of their first thought-that the police had found my body, that I was, for certain, dead. "What?" my mother said impatiently. She crossed her arms and braced for another inconsequential detail in which others invested meaning. She was a wall. Notebooks and novels were nothing to her, Her daughter might survive without an arm. A lot of blood was a lot of blood. It was not a body. Jack had said it and she believed: Nothing is ever certain.

But when they held up the evidence bag with my hat inside, something broke in her. The fine wall of leaden crystal that had protected her heart-somehow numbed her into disbelief-shattered. "The pompom," Lindsey said. She had crept into the living room from the kitchen. No one had seen her come in but me. My mother made a sound and reached out her hand. The sound was a metallic squeak, a human-as-machine breaking down, uttering last sounds before the whole engine locks. "We've tested the fibers," Len said, "It appears whoever accosted Susie used this during the crime." "What?" my father asked. He was powerless. He was being told something he could not comprehend. "As a way to keep her quiet." "What?" "It is covered with her saliva," the uniformed officer, who had been silent until now, volunteered. "He gagged her with it." My mother grabbed it out of Len Fenerman's hands, and the bells she had sewn into the pompom sounded as she landed on her knees. She bent over the hat she had made me. I saw Lindsey stiffen at the door. Our parents were unrecognizable to her; everything was unrecognizable. My father led the well-meaning Len Fenerman and the uniformed officer to the front door. "Mr. Salmon," Len Fenerman said, "with the amount of blood we've found, and the violence I'm afraid it implies, as well as other material evidence we've discussed, we must work with the assumption that your daughter has been killed." Lindsey overheard what she already knew, had known since five days before, when my father told her about my elbow. My mother began to wail. "We'll be working with this as a murder investigation from this point out," Fenerman said. "But there is no body," my father tried. "All evidence points to your daughter's death. I'm very sorry." The uniformed officer had been staring to the right of my father's pleading eyes. I wondered if that was something they'd taught him in school. But Len Fenerman met my father's gaze. "I'll call to check in on you later today," he said. By the time my father turned back to the living room, he was too devastated to reach out to my mother sitting on the carpet or my sister's hardened form nearby. He could not let them see him. He mounted the stairs, thinking of Holiday on the rug in the study. He had last seen him there. Into the deep ruff of fur surrounding the dog's neck, my father would let himself cry. That afternoon the three of them crept forward in silence, as if the

sound of footsteps might confirm the news. Nate's mother knocked on the door to return Buckley. No one answered. She stepped away, knowing something had changed inside the house, which looked exactly like the ones on either side of it. She made herself my brother's co-conspirator, telling him they would go out for ice cream and ruin his appetite. At four, my mother and father ended up standing in the same room downstairs. They had come in from opposite doorways. I worried that my sister, left alone, would do something rash. She sat in her room on the old couch my parents had given up on and worked on hardening herself. Take deep breaths and hold them. Try to stay still for longer and longer periods of time. Make yourself small and like a stone. Curl the edges of yourself up and fold them under where no one can see. My mother looked at my father: "Mother," she said, and he nodded his head. He made the phone call to my only living grandparent, my mother's mother, Grandma Lynn. My mother told her it was her choice whether she wanted to return to school before Christmas - there was only one week left - but Lindsey chose to go, On Monday, in homeroom, everyone stared at her as she approached the front of the classroom. "The principal would like to see you, dear," Mrs. Dewitt confided in a hush. My sister did not look at Mrs. Dewitt when she was speaking. She was perfecting the art of talking to someone while looking through them. That was my first clue that something would have to give. Mrs. Dewitt was also the English teacher, but more importantly she was married to Mr. Dewitt, who coached boys' soccer and had encouraged Lindsey to try out for his team. My sister liked the Dewitts, but that morning she began looking into the eyes of only those people she could fight against. As she gathered her things, she heard whispers everywhere. She was certain that right before she left the room Danny Clarke had whispered something to Sylvia Henley. Someone had dropped something near the back of the classroom. They did this, she believed, so that on their way to pick it up and back again, they could say a word or two to their neighbor about the dead girl's sister. Lindsey walked through the hallways and in and out of the rows of lockers - dodging anyone who might be near. I wished I could walk with her, mimic the principal and the way he always started out a meeting in the auditorium: "Your principal is your pal with principles! " I would whine in her ear, cracking her up. But while she was blessed with empty halls, when she reached the main office she was cursed with the drippy looks of consoling secretaries.

No matter. She had prepared herself at home in her bedroom. She was armed to the teeth for any onslaught of sympathy. "Lindsey," Principal Caden said, "I received a call from the police this morning. I'm sorry to hear of your loss." She looked right at him. It was not so much a look as a laser. "What exactly is my loss?" Mr. Caden felt he needed to address issues of children's crises directly. He walked out from behind his desk and ushered Lindsey onto what was commonly referred to by the students as The Sofa. Eventually he would replace The Sofa with two chairs, when politics swept through the school district and told him, "It is not good to have a sofa here-chairs are better. Sofas send the wrong message." Mr. Caden sat on The Sofa and so did my sister. I like to think she was a little thrilled, in that moment, no matter how upset, to be on The Sofa itself. I like to think I hadn't robbed her of everything. "We're here to help in any way we can?± Mr. Caden said. He was doing his best. "I'm fine," she said. "Would you like to talk about it?" "What?" Lindsey asked. She was being what my father called "petulant," as in, "Susie, don't speak to me in that petulant tone." "Your loss," he said. He reached out to touch my sister's knee. His hand was like a brand burning into her. "I wasn't aware I had lost anything," she said, and in a Herculean effort she made the motions of patting her shirt and checking her pockets. Mr. Caden didn't know what to say. He had had Vicki Kurtz fall apart in his arms the year before. It had been difficult, yes, but now, in hindsight, Vicki Kurtz and her dead mother seemed an artfully handled crisis. He had led Vicki Kurtz to the couch-no, no, Vicki had just gone right over and sat down on it-he had said, "I??m sorry for your loss," and Vicki Kurtz had burst like an overinflated balloon. He held her in his arms as she sobbed, and sobbed, and that night he brought his suit to the dry cleaner's. But Lindsey Salmon was another thing altogether. She was gifted, one of the twenty students from his school who had been selected for the statewide Gifted Symposium. The only trouble in her file was a slight altercation early in the year when a teacher reprimanded her for bringing obscene literature-Fear of Flying-into the classroom. "Make her laugh," I wanted to say to him. "Bring her to a Marx Brothers movie, sit on a fart cushion, show her the boxers you have on with the little devils eating hot dogs on them!" All I could do was talk, but no one on Earth could hear me. The school district made everyone take tests and then decided who was

gifted and who was not. I liked to suggest to Lindsey that I was much more pissed off by her hair than by my dumbo status. We had both been born with masses of blond hair, but mine quickly fell out and was replaced with a grudging growth of mousy brown. Lindsey's stayed and acquired a sort of mythical place. She was the only true blonde in our family. But once called gifted, it had spurred her on to live up to the name. She locked herself in her bedroom and read big books. When I read Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, she read Camus's Resistance, Rebellion, and Death. She might not have gotten most of it, but she carried it around, and that made people-including teachers-begin to leave her alone. "What I'm saying, Lindsey, is that we all miss Susie," Mr. Caden said. She did not respond. "She was very bright," he tried. She stared blankly back at him. "It's on your shoulders now." He had no idea what he was saying, but he thought the silence might mean he was getting somewhere. "You're the only Salmon girl now." Nothing. "You know who came in to see me this morning?" Mr. Caden had held back his big finish, the one he was sure would work. "Mr. Dewitt. He's considering coaching a girls' team," Mr. Caden said. "The idea is all centered around you. He's watched how good you are, as competitive as his boys, and he thinks other girls would come out if you led the charge. What do you say?" Inside, my sister's heart closed like a fist. "I'd say it would be pretty hard to play soccer on the soccer field when it's approximately twenty feet from where my sister was supposedly murdered. " Score! Mr. Caden's mouth opened and he stared at her. "Anything else?" Lindsey asked. "No, I ..." Mr. Caden reached out his hand again, There was a thread still - a desire to understand. "I want you to know how sorry we are," he said. "I'm late for first period," she said. In that moment she reminded me of a character in the Westerns my father loved, the ones we watched together on late-night TV. There was always a man who, after he shot his gun, raised the pistol to his lips and blew air across the opening. Lindsey got up and took the walk out of Principal Caden's office slow. The walks away were her only rest time. Secretaries were on the other side of the door, teachers were at the front of the class, students in every desk, our parents at home, police coming by. She would not

break. I watched her, felt the lines she repeated over and over again in her head. Fine. All of it is fine. I was dead, but that was something that happened all the time - people died. As she left the outer office that day, she appeared to be looking into the eyes of the secretaries, but she was focusing on their misapplied lipstick or two-piece paisley crepe de chine instead. At home that night she lay on the floor of her room and braced her feet under her bureau. She did ten sets of sit-ups. Then she got into push-up position. Not the girl's kind. Mr. Dewitt had told her about the kind he had done in the Marines, head-up, or one-handed, clapping between. After she did ten push-ups, she went to her shelf and chose the two heaviest books-her dictionary and a world almanac. She did biceps curls until her arms ached. She focused only on her breathing. The in. The out. I sat in the gazebo in the main square of my heaven (our neighbors, the O'Dwyers, had had a gazebo; I had grown up jealous for one), and watched my sister rage. Hours before I died, my mother hung on the refrigerator a picture that Buckley had drawn. In the drawing a thick blue line separated the air and ground. In the days that followed I watched my family walk back and forth past that drawing and I became convinced that that thick blue line was a real place-an Inbetween, where heaven's horizon met Earth's. I wanted to go there into the cornflower blue of Crayola, the royal, the turquoise, the sky. On their haunches they sat wailing. Other doors opened then, and women stepped out from where they lived alone or with roommates. I would step outside, Holly would go into an endless encore, the sun going down, and we would dance with the dogs-all of us together. We chased them, they chased us. We circled tail to tail. We wore spotted gowns, flowered gowns, striped gowns, plain. When the moon was high the music would stop. The dancing stopped. We froze. Mrs. Bethel Utemeyer, the oldest resident of my heaven, would bring out her violin. Holly trod lightly on her horn. They would do a duet. One woman old and silent, one woman not past girl yet. Back and forth, a crazy schizoid solace they'd create. All the dancers would slowly go inside. The song reverberated until Holly, for a final time, passed the tune over, and Mrs. Utemeyer, quiet, upright, historical, finished with a jig. The house asleep by then; this was my Evensong. Often I found myself desiring simple things and I would get them. Riches in furry packages. Dogs. Every day in my heaven tiny dogs and big dogs, dogs of every kind, ran through the park outside my room. When I opened the door I saw them

fat and happy, skinny and hairy, lean and hairless even. Pitbulls rolled on their backs, the nipples of the females distended and dark, begging for their pups to come and suckle them, happy in the sun. Bassets tripped over their ears, ambling forward, nudging the rumps of dachshunds, the ankles of greyhounds, and the heads of the Pekingese. And when Holly took her tenor sax, set herself up outside the door that looked onto the park, and played the blues, the hounds all ran to form her chorus.

THREE The odd thing about Earth was what we saw when we looked down. Besides the initial view that you might suspect, the old ants-from-the-skyscraper phenomenon, there were souls leaving bodies all over the world. Holly and I could be scanning Earth, alighting on one scene or another for a second or two, looking for the unexpected in the most mundane moment. And a soul would run by a living being, touch them softly on the shoulder or cheek, and continue on its way to heaven. The dead are never exactly seen by the living, but many people seem acutely aware of something changed around them. They speak of a chill in the air. The mates of the deceased wake from dreams and see a figure standing at the end of their bed, or in a doorway, or boarding, phantomlike, a city bus. On my way out of Earth, I touched a girl named Ruth. She went to my school but we'd never been close. She was standing in my path that night when my soul shrieked out of Earth. I could not help but graze her. Once released from life, having lost it in such violence, I couldn't calculate my steps. I didn't have time for contemplation. In violence, it is the getting away that you concentrate on. When you begin to go over the edge, life receding from you as a boat recedes inevitably from shore, you hold on to death tightly, like a rope that will transport you, and you swing out on it, hoping only to land away from where you are. Like a phone call from the jail cell, I brushed by Ruth Connors - wrong number, accidental call. I saw her standing there near Mr. Botte's red and rusted Fiat. When I streaked by her, my hand leapt out to touch her, touch the last face, feel the last connection to Earth in this not-so-standard-issue teenage girl. On the morning of December seventh, Ruth complained to her mother about having had a dream that seemed too real to be a dream. When her mother asked her what she meant, Ruth said, "I was crossing through the faculty parking lot, and suddenly, down out of the soccer field, I saw a pale running ghost coming toward me." Mrs. Connors stirred the hardening oatmeal in its pot. She watched

her daughter gesticulating with the long thin fingers of her hands-hands she had inherited from her father. "It was female, I could sense that," Ruth said. "It flew up out of the field. Its eyes were hollow. It had a thin white veil over its body, as light as cheesecloth. I could see its face through it, the features coming up through it, the nose, the eyes, the face, the hair," Her mother took the oatmeal off the stove and lowered the flame. "Ruth," she said, "you're letting your imagination get the best of you." Ruth took the cue to shut up. She did not mention the dream that was not a dream again, even ten days later, when the story of my death began to travel through the halls of the school, receiving add-on nuances as all good horror stories do. They were hard-pressed, my peers, to make the horror any more horrible than it was. But the details were still missing-the what and when and who became hollow bowls to fill with their conjectures. Devil Worship. Midnight. Ray Singh. Try as I might, I could not point Ruth strongly enough to what no one had found: my silver charm bracelet. I thought it might help her. It lay exposed, waiting for a hand to reach out, a hand that would recognize it and think, Clue. But it was no longer in the cornfield. Ruth began writing poetry. If her mother or her more approachable teachers did not want to hear the darker reality she had experienced, she would cloak this reality in poetry. How I wished Ruth could have gone to my family and talked to them. In all likelihood, no one but my sister would have even known her name. Ruth was the girl who got chosen next to last in gym. She was the girl who, when a volleyball sailed in her direction, cowered where she stood while the ball hit the gymnasium floor beside her, and her teammates and the gym teacher tried hard not to groan. As my mother sat in the straight-backed chair in our hallway, watching my father run in and out on his various errands of responsibility-he would now be hyperaware of the movements and the whereabouts of his young son, of his wife, and of his remaining daughter-Ruth took our accidental meeting in the school parking lot and went underground. She went through old yearbooks and found my class photos, as well as any activities photos like Chem Club, and cut them out with her mother's swan-shaped embroidery scissors. Even as her obsession grew I remained wary of her, until that last week before Christmas when she saw something in the hallway of our school. It was my friend Clarissa and Brian Nelson. I'd dubbed Brian "the scarecrow" because even though he had incredible shoulders that all the girls mooned over, his face reminded me of a burlap sack stuffed with straw. He wore a floppy leather hippie hat and smoked hand-rolled cigarettes in the student smoking lounge. According to my mother, Clarissa's penchant for baby blue eye shadow was an early warning sign,

but I'd always liked her for just this reason. She did things I wasn't allowed to do: she lightened her long hair, she wore platform shoes, she smoked cigarettes after school. Ruth came upon the two of them, but they didn't see her. She had a pile of huge books she had borrowed from Mrs. Kaplan, the social science teacher. They were all early feminist texts, and she held them with their spines resting against her stomach so that no one could see what they were. Her father, a building contractor, had made her a gift of two super-strong elastic book bands. Ruth had placed two of them around the volumes she planned to read over vacation. Clarissa and Brian were giggling. His hand was inside her shirt. As he inched it up, her giggling increased, but she thwarted his advances each time by twisting or moving an inch or two away. Ruth stood apart from this, as she did most things. She would have passed it in her usual manner, head down/eyes averted, but everyone knew Clarissa had been my friend. So she watched. "Come on, honey," Brian said, "just a little mound of love. Just one." I noticed Ruth's lip curl in disgust. Mine was curling up in heaven. "Brian, I can't. Not here." "How 'bout out in the cornfield?" he whispered. Clarissa giggled nervously but nuzzled the space between his neck and shoulder. For now, she would deny him. After that, Clarissa's locker was burgled. Gone were her scrapbook, random photos stuck to the inside of her locker, and Brian's stash of marijuana, which he had hidden there without Clarissa's knowledge. Ruth, who had never been high, spent that night emptying out the tobacco from her mother's long brown More 100s and stuffing them with pot. She sat in the toolshed with a flashlight, looking at photos of me and smoking more grass than even the potheads at school could suck down. Mrs. Connors, standing at the kitchen window doing dishes, caught a whiff of the scent coming from the toolshed. "I think Ruth is making friends at school," she said to her husband, who sat over his copy of the Evening Bulletin with a cup of coffee. At the end of his workday he was too tired even to speculate. "Good," he said. "Maybe there's hope for her yet." "Always," he said. When Ruth tottered in later that night, her eyes bleary from using the flashlight and from the eight More cigarettes she'd smoked, her mother greeted her with a smile and told her there was blueberry pie in the kitchen. It took a few days and some non-Susie-Salmon-foe used research, but Ruth discovered why she had eaten the entire pie in one sitting.

The air in my heaven often smelled like skunk-just a hint of it. It was a smell that I had always loved on Earth. When I breathed it in, I could feel the scent as well as smell it. It was the animal's fear and power mixed together to form a pungent, lingering musk. In Franny's heaven it smelled like pure, grade-A tobacco. In Holly's it smelled like kumquats. I would sit whole days and nights in the gazebo and watch. See Clarissa spin away from me, toward the comfort of Brian. See Ruth staring at her from behind a corner near the home ec room or outside the cafeteria near the nurse's station. At the start, the freedom I had to see the whole school was intoxicating. I would watch the assistant football coach leave anonymous chocolates for the married science teacher, or the head of the cheerleading squad trying to capture the attention of the kid who had been expelled so many times, from so many schools, even he had lost count. I watched the art teacher make love to his girlfriend in the kiln room and the principal moon over the assistant football coach. I concluded that this assistant football coach was a stud in the world of Kennet Junior High, even if his square jaw left me cold. On the way back to the duplex each night I would pass under old-time street lamps that I had seen once in a play of Our Town. The globes of light hung down in an arc from an iron post. I had remembered them because when I saw the play with my family, I thought of them as giant, heavy berries full of light. I made a game in heaven of positioning myself so that my shadow plucked the berries as I made my way home. After watching Ruth one night I met Franny in the midst of this. The square was deserted, and leaves began to swirl around in an eddy up ahead. I stood and looked at her-at the laugh lines that were clustered near her eyes and mouth. "Why are you shivering?" Franny asked. And though the air was damp and chilly I could not say that that was why. "I can't help thinking of my mother," I said, Franny took my left hand in both of hers and smiled. I wanted to kiss her lightly on the cheek or have her hold me, but instead I watched her walk off in front of me, saw her blue dress trail away. I knew that she was not my mother; I could not play pretend. I turned around and went back to the gazebo. I felt the moist air lace its way up along my legs and arms, lifting, ever so slightly, the ends of my hair. I thought of spider webs in the morning, how they held small jewels of dew, how, with a light movement of the wrist, I used to destroy them without thinking. On the morning of my eleventh birthday I had woken up very early. No one else was up, or so I thought. I crept downstairs and looked into

the dining room, where I assumed my presents would be. But there was nothing there. Same table as yesterday. But as I turned around I saw it lying on my mother's desk in the living room. The fancy desk with an always-clean surface. "The bill-paying desk" was what they called it. Swaddled in tissue paper but not yet wrapped was a camera-what I had asked for with a tinge of whining in my voice, so sure they would not get it for me. I went over to it and stared down. It was an Instamatic, and lying beside it were three cartridges of film and a box of four square flashbulbs. It was my first machine, my starter kit to becoming what I wanted to be. A wildlife photographer. I looked around. No one. I saw through the front blinds, which my mother always kept at a half-slant - "inviting but discreet" - that Grace Tarking, who lived down the street and went to a private school, was walking with ankle weights strapped to her feet. Hurriedly I loaded the camera and I began to stalk Grace Tarking as I would, I imagined, when I grew older, stalk wild elephants and rhinos. Here I hid behind blinds and windows, there it would be high reeds. I was quiet, what I thought of as stealthy, gathering the long hem of my flannel nightgown up in my free hand. I traced her movements past our living room, front hall, into the den on the other side. As I watched her receding form I had a brainstorm-I would run into the backyard, where I could see her with no barriers. So I ran on tiptoe into the back of the house, only to find the door to the porch wide open. When I saw my mother, I forgot all about Grace Tarking. I wish I could explain it better than this, but I had never seen her sitting so still, so not there somehow. Outside the screened-in porch she was sitting on an aluminum fold-out chair that was facing the backyard. In her hand she held a saucer and in the saucer was her customary cup of coffee. That morning there were no lipstick marks because there was no lipstick until she put it on for ... who? I had never thought to ask the question. My father? Us? Holiday was sitting near the birdbath, panting happily, but he did not notice me. He was watching my mother. She had a stare that stretched to infinity. She was, in that moment, not my mother but something separate from me. I looked at what I had never seen as anything but Mom and saw the soft powdery skin of her face-powdery without makeup-soft without help. Her eyebrows and eyes were a set-piece together. "Ocean Eyes," my father called her when he wanted one of her chocolate-covered cherries, which she kept hidden in the liquor cabinet as her private treat. And now I understood the name. I had thought it was because they were blue, but now I saw it was because they were bottomless in a way that I found frightening. I had an instinct then, not a developed thought, and it was that, before Holiday saw and smelled me, before the dewy

mist hovering over the grass evaporated and the mother inside her woke as it did every morning, I should take a photograph with my new camera. When the roll came back from the Kodak plant in a special heavy envelope, I could see the difference immediately. There was only one picture in which my mother was Abigail. It was that first one, the one taken of her unawares, the one captured before the click started her into the mother of the birthday girl, owner of the happy dog, wife to the loving man, and mother again to another girl and a cherished boy. Homemaker. Gardener. Sunny neighbor. My mother's eyes were oceans, and inside them there was loss. I thought I had my whole life to understand them, but that was the only day I had. Once upon Earth I saw her as Abigail, and then I let it slip effortlessly back-my fascination held in check by wanting her to be that mother and envelop me as that mother. I was in the gazebo thinking of the photo, thinking of my mother, when Lindsey got up in the middle of the night and crept across the hall. I watched her as I would a burglar circling a house in a movie. I knew when she turned the knob to my room it would give. I knew she would get in, but what would she do in there? Already my private territory had become a no man's land in the middle of our house. My mother had not touched it. My bed was still unmade from the hurried morning of my death. My flowered hippo lay among the sheets and pillows, and so did an outfit I'd discarded before I chose the yellow bell-bottoms, Lindsey walked across the soft rug and touched the navy skirt and red and blue crocheted vest that were two separate, heatedly despised balls. She had an orange and green vest made from the same pattern. She took the vest and spread it out flat on the bed, smoothing it. It was ugly and precious all at once. I could see that. She petted it. Lindsey traced the outline of the gold tray I kept on my dresser, filled with pins from elections and school. My favorite was a pink pin that said "Hippy-Dippy Says Love," which I'd found in the school parking lot but had had to promise my mother I wouldn't wear. I kept a lot of pins on that tray and pinned to a giant felt banner from Indiana University, where my father had gone to school. I thought she would steal them-take one or two to wear-but she didn't. She didn't even pick them up. She just swept her fingertips over everything on the tray. Then she saw it, a tiny white corner sticking out from underneath, She pulled. It was the picture. A deep breath rushed out of her, and she sat down on the floor, her mouth still open and her hand still holding the picture. The tethers were rushing and whipping around her, like a canvas tent come loose from its stakes. She too, like me until the morning of that photograph, had never seen the mother-stranger. She had seen the photos right after. My mother looking tired but smiling. My mother and Holiday standing

in front of the dogwood tree as the sun shot through her robe and gown. But I had wanted to be the only one in the house that knew my mother was also someone else-someone mysterious and unknown to us. The first time I broke through, it was an accident. It was December 23, 1973, Buckley was sleeping. My mother had taken Lindsey to the dentist. That week they had agreed that each day, as a family, they would spend time trying to move forward. My father had assigned himself the task of cleaning the upstairs guest room, which long ago had become his den. His own father had taught him how to build ships in bottles. They were something my mother, sister, and brother couldn't care less about. It was something I adored. The den was full of them. All day at work he counted numbers - due diligence for a Chadds Ford insurance firm - and at night he built the ships or read Civil War books to unwind. He would call me in whenever he was ready to raise the sail. By then the ship would have been glued fast to the bottom of the bottle. I would come in and my father would ask me to shut the door. Often, it seemed, the dinner bell rang immediately, as if my mother had a sixth sense for things that didn't include her. But when this sense failed her, my job was to hold the bottle for him, "Stay steady," he'd say. "You're my first mate." Gently he would draw the one string that still reached out of the bottle's neck, and, voila, the sails all rose, from simple mast to clipper ship. We had our boat. I couldn't clap because I held the bottle, but I always wanted to. My father worked quickly then, burning the end of the string off inside the bottle with a coat hanger he'd heated over a candle. If he did it improperly, the ship would be ruined, or, worse still, the tiny paper sails would catch on fire and suddenly, in a giant whoosh, I would be holding a bottle of flames in my hands. Eventually my father built a balsa wood stand to replace me. Lindsey and Buckley didn't share my fascination. After trying to create enough enthusiasm for all three of them, he gave up and retreated to his den. One ship in a bottle was equal to any other as far as the rest of my family was concerned. But as he cleaned that day he talked to me. "Susie, my baby, my little sailor girl," he said, "you always liked these smaller ones." I watched him as he lined up the ships in bottles on his desk, bringing them over from the shelves where they usually sat. He used an old shirt of my mother's that had been ripped into rags and began dusting the shelves. Under his desk there were empty bottles - rows and rows of them we had collected for our future shipbuilding. In the closet were more ships-the ships he had built with his own father, ships he had

built alone, and then those we had made together. Some were perfect, but their sails browned; some had sagged or toppled over after years. Then there was the one that had burst into flames in the week before my death. He smashed that one first. My heart seized up. He turned and saw all the others, all the years they marked and the hands that had held them. His dead father's, his dead child's. I watched him as he smashed the rest. He christened the walls and wooden chair with the news of my death, and afterward he stood in the guest room/den surrounded by green glass. The bottles, all of them, lay broken on the floor, the sails and boat bodies strewn among them. He stood in the wreckage. It was then that, without knowing how, I revealed myself. In every piece of glass, in every shard and sliver, I cast my face. My father glanced down and around him, his eyes roving across the room. Wild. It was just for a second, and then I was gone. He was quiet for a moment, and then he laughed-a howl coming up from the bottom of his stomach. He laughed so loud and deep, I shook with it in my heaven. He left the room and went down the two doors to my bedroom. The hallway was tiny, my door like all the others, hollow enough to easily punch a fist through. He was about to smash the mirror over my dresser, rip the wallpaper down with his nails, but instead he fell against my bed, sobbing, and balled the lavender sheets up in his hands. "Daddy?" Buckley said. My brother held the doorknob with his hand. My father turned but was unable to stop his tears. He slid to the floor with the sheets still in his fists, and then he opened up his arms, He had to ask my brother twice, which he had never had to do before, but Buckley came to him. My father wrapped my brother inside the sheets that smelled of me. He remembered the day I'd begged him to paint and paper my room purple. Remembered moving in the old National Geographies to the bottom shelves of my bookcases. (I had wanted to steep myself in wildlife photography.) Remembered when there was just one child in the house for the briefest of time until Lindsey arrived. "You are so special to me, little man," my father said, clinging to him. Buckley drew back and stared at my father's creased face, the fine bright spots of tears at the corners of his eyes. He nodded seriously and kissed my father's cheek. Something so divine that no one up in heaven could have made it up; the care a child took with an adult. My father draped the sheets around Buckley's shoulders and remembered how I would fall out of the tall four-poster bed and onto the rug, never waking up. Sitting in his study in his green chair and reading a book, he would be startled by the sound of my body landing. He would get up

and walk the short distance to my bedroom. He liked to watch me sleeping soundly, unchecked by nightmare or even hardwood floor. He swore in those moments that his children would be kings or rulers or artists or doctors or wildlife photographers. Anything they dreamed they could be. A few months before I died, he had found me like this, but tucked inside my sheets with me was Buckley, in his pajamas, with his bear, curled up against my back, sucking sleepily on his thumb. My father had felt in that moment the first flicker of the strange sad mortality of being a father. His life had given birth to three children, so the number calmed him. No matter what happened to Abigail or to him, the three would have one another. In that way the line he had begun seemed immortal to him, like a strong steel filament threading into the future, continuing past him no matter where he might fall off. Even in deep snowy old age. He would find his Susie now inside his young son. Give that love to the living. He told himself this-spoke it aloud inside his brain-but my presence was like a tug on him, it dragged him back back back. He stared at the small boy he held in his arms. "Who are you?" he found himself asking. "Where did you come from?" I watched my brother and my father. The truth was very different from what we learned in school. The truth was that the line between the living and the dead could be, it seemed, murky and blurred. FOUR 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. The Flanagans never suspected for a moment that the girl they read about in the papers over the next few years-MISSING, FOUL PLAY SUSPECTED; ELBOW FOUND BY NEIGHBORING DOG; GIRL, 14, BELIEVED KILLED IN STOLFUZ CORNFIELD; WARNINGS TO OTHER YOUNG WOMEN; TOWNSHIP TO REZONE ADJOINING LOTS TO HIGH SCHOOL; LINDSEY SALMON, SISTER OF DEAD 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.

FIVE Part of me wished swift vengeance, wanted my father to turn into the

man he could never have been-a man violent in rage. That's what you see in movies, that's what happens in the books people read. An every man takes a gun or a knife and stalks the murderer of his family; he does a Bronson on them and everyone cheers. What it was like: Before my father left for Mr. Harvey's, my mother had been sitting in the front hall next to the statue they'd bought of St. (??) Every day he got up. Before sleep wore off, he was who he used to be. Then, as his consciousness woke, it was as if poison seeped in. At first he couldn't even get up. He lay there under a heavy weight. But then only movement could save him, and he moved and he moved and he moved, no movement being enough to make up for it. The guilt on him, the hand of God pressing down on him, saying, You were not there when your daughter needed you. Francis. She was gone when he came back. He'd called for her, said her name three times, said it like a wish that she would not appear, and then he ascended the steps to his den to jot things down in a small spiral notebook: "A drinker? Get him drunk. Maybe he's a talker." He wrote this next: "I think Susie watches me." I was ecstatic in heaven. I hugged Holly, I hugged Franny. My father knew, I thought. Then Lindsey slammed the front door more loudly than usual, and my father was glad for the noise. He was afraid of going further in his notes, of writing the words down. The slamming door echoed down the strange afternoon he'd spent and brought him into the present, into activity, where he needed to be so he would not drown. I understood this - I'm not saying I didn't resent it, that it didn't remind me of sitting at the dinner table and having to listen to Lindsey tell my parents about the test she'd done so well on, or about how the history teacher was going to recommend her for the district honors council, but Lindsey was living, and the living deserved attention too. She stomped up the stairs. Her clogs slammed against the pine boards of the staircase and shook the house. I may have begrudged her my father's attention, but I respected her way of handling things. Of everyone in the family, it was Lindsey who had to deal with what Holly called the Walking Dead Syndrome-when other people see the dead person and don't see you. When people looked at Lindsey, even my father and mother, they saw me. Even Lindsey was not immune. She avoided mirrors. She now took her showers in the dark. She would leave the dark shower and feel her way over to the towel rack. She would be safe in the dark-the moist steam from the shower still rising off the tiles encased her. If the house was quiet or if she heard murmurs below her, she knew she would be undisturbed. This

was when she could think of me and she did so in two ways: she either thought Susie, just that one word, and cried there, letting her tears roll down her already damp cheeks, knowing no one would see her, no one would quantify this dangerous substance as grief, or she would imagine me running, imagine me getting away, imagine herself being taken instead, fighting until she was free. She fought back the constant question, Where is Susie now? My father listened to Lindsey in her room. Bang, the door was slammed shut. Thump, her books were thrown down. Squeak, she fell onto her bed. Her clogs, boom, boom, were kicked off onto the floor. A few minutes later he stood outside her door. "Lindsey," he said upon knocking. There was no answer. "Lindsey, can I come in?" "Go away," came her resolute answer. "Come on now, honey," he pleaded. ?°GO away!?± "Lindsey," my father said, sucking in his breath, "why can't you let me in?" He placed his forehead gently against the bedroom door. The wood felt cool and, for a second, he forgot the pounding of his temples, the suspicion he now held that kept repeating itself. Harvey, Harvey, Harvey. In sock feet, Lindsey came silently to the door. She unlocked it as my father drew back and prepared a face that he hoped said "Don't run." "What?" she said. Her face was rigid, an affront. "What is it?" "I want to know how you are," he said. He thought of the curtain falling between him and Mr. Harvey, how a certain capture, a lovely blame, was lost to him. He had his family walking through the streets, going to school, passing, on their way, Mr. Harvey's green-shingled house. To get the blood back in his heart he needed his child. "I want to be alone," Lindsey said. "Isn't that obvious?" "I'm here if you need me," he said. "Look, Dad," my sister said, making her one concession for him, "I'm handling this alone." What could he do with that? He could have broken the code and said, "I'm not, I can't, don't make me," but he stood there for a second and then retreated. "I understand," he said first, although he didn't. I wanted to lift him up, like statues I'd seen in art history books. A woman lifting up a man. The rescue in reverse. Daughter to father saying, "It's okay. You're okay. Now I won't let anything hurt." Instead, I watched him as he went to place a call to Len Fenerman. The police in those first weeks were almost reverent. Missing dead girls were not a common occurrence in the suburbs. But with no leads coming in on where my body was or who had killed me, the police were

getting nervous. There was a window of time during which physical evidence was usually found; that window grew smaller every day. "I don't want to sound irrational, Detective Fenerman," my father said. "Len, please." Tucked in the corner of his desk blotter was the school picture Len Fenerman had taken from my mother. He had known, before anyone said the words, that I was already dead. "I'm certain there's a man in the neighborhood who knows something," my father said. He was staring out the window of his upstairs den, toward the cornfield. The man who owned it had told the press he was going to let it sit fallow for now. "Who is it, and what led you to believe this?" Len Fenerman asked. He chose a stubby, chewed pencil from the front metal lip of his desk drawer. My father told him about the tent, about how Mr. Harvey had told him to go home, about saying my name, about how weird the neighborhood thought Mr. Harvey was with no regular job and no kids, "I'll check it out," Len Fenerman said, because he had to. That was the role he played in the dance. But what my father had given him offered him little or nothing to work with. "Don't talk to anyone and don't approach him again," Len warned. When my father hung up the phone he felt strangely empty. Drained, he opened the door to his den and closed it quietly behind him. In the hallway, for the second time, he called my mother's name: "Abigail." She was in the downstairs bathroom, sneaking bites from the macaroons my father's firm always sent us for Christmas. She ate them greedily; they were like suns bursting open in her mouth. The summer she was pregnant with me, she wore one gingham maternity dress over and over, refusing to spend money on another, and ate all she wanted, rubbing her belly and saying, "Thank you, baby?± as she dribbled chocolate on her breasts. There was a knock down low on the door. "Momma?" She stuffed the macaroons back in the medicine cabinet, swallowing what was already in her mouth. "Momma?" Buckley repeated. His voice was sleepy. "Mommmmm-maaa!" She despised the word. When my mother opened the door, my little brother held on to her knees. Buckley pressed his face into the flesh above them. Hearing movement, my father went to meet my mother in the kitchen. Together they took solace in attending to Buckley. "Where's Susie?" Buckley asked as my father spread Fluffernutter on wheat bread. He made three. One for himself, one for my mother, and one for his four-year-old son.

"Did you put away your game?" my father asked Buckley, wondering why he persisted in avoiding the topic with the one person who approached it head-on. "What's wrong with Mommy?" Buckley asked. Together they watched my mother, who was staring into the dry basin of the sink. "How would you like to go to the 200 this week?" my father asked. He hated himself for it. Hated the bribe and the tease- the deceit. But how could he tell his son that, somewhere, his big sister might lie in pieces? But Buckley heard the word zoo and all that it meant-which to him was largely Monkeys! - and he began on the rippling path to forgetting for one more day. The shadow of years was not as big on his small body. He knew I was away, but when people left they always came back. When Len Fenerman had gone door to door in the neighborhood he had found nothing remarkable at George Harvey's. Mr. Harvey was a single man who, it was said, had meant to move in with his wife. She had died sometime before this. He built doll-houses for specialty stores and kept to himself, That was all anyone knew. Though friendships had not exactly blossomed around him, the sympathy of the neighborhood had always been with him. Each split-level contained a narrative. To Len Fenerman especially, George Harvey's seemed a compelling one. No, Harvey said, he didn't know the Salmons well. Had seen the children. Everyone knew who had children and who didn't, he noted, his head hanging down and to the left a bit. "You can see the toys in the yard. The houses are always more lively," he noted, his voice halting. "I understand you had a conversation with Mr. Salmon recently," Len said on his second trip to the dark green house. "Yes, is there something wrong?" Mr. Harvey asked. He squinted at Len but then had to pause. "Let me get my glasses," he said. "I was doing some close work on a Second Empire." "Second Empire?" Len asked. "Now that my Christmas orders are done, I can experiment," Mr. Harvey said. Len followed him into the back, where a dining table was pushed against a wall. Dozens of small lengths of what looked like miniature wainscoting were lined up on top of it. A little strange, Fenerman thought, but it doesn't make the man a murderer. Mr. Harvey got his glasses and immediately opened up. "Yes, Mr. Salmon was on one of his walks and he helped me build the bridal tent." "The bridal tent?" "Each year it's something I do for Leah," he said. "My wife. I'm a widower." Len felt he was intruding on this man's private rituals. "So I

understand?± he said. "I feel terrible about what happened to that girl," Mr. Harvey said. "I tried to express that to Mr. Salmon. But I know from experience that nothing makes sense at a time like this." "So you erect this tent every year?" Len Fenerman asked. This was something he could get confirmation on from neighbors. "In the past, I've done it inside, but I tried to do it outside this year. We were married in the winter. Until the snow picked up, I thought it would work." "Where inside?" "The basement, I can show you if you want. I have all of Lean's things down there still." But Len did not go further. "I've intruded enough," he said, "I just wanted to sweep the neighborhood a second time." "How's your investigation coming?" Mr. Harvey asked. "Are you finding anything?" Len never liked questions like this, though he supposed they were the right of the people whose lives he was invading. "Sometimes I think clues find their way in good time," he said. "If they want to be found, that is," It was cryptic, sort of a Confucius-says answer, but it worked on almost every civilian. "Have you talked to the Ellis boy?" Mr. Harvey asked. "We talked to the family." "He's hurt some animals in the neighborhood, I hear." "He sounds like a bad kid, I grant you," said Len, "but he was working in the mall at the time." "Witnesses?" "Yes." "That's my only idea," Mr. Harvey said. "I wish I could do more." Len felt him to be sincere. "He's certainly a bit tweaked at an angle," Len said when he called my father, "but I have nothing on him." "What did he say about the tent?" "That he built it for Leah, his wife." "I remember Mrs. Stead told Abigail his wife's name was Sophie," my father said. Len checked his notes. "No, Leah. I wrote it down." My father doubted himself. Where had he gotten the name Sophie? He was sure he had heard it too, but that was years ago, at a block party, where the names of children and wives flew about like confetti between the stories people told to be neighborly and the introductions to infants and strangers too vague to remember the following day. He did remember that Mr. Harvey had not come to the block party. He

had never come to any of them. This went to his strangeness by the standards of many in the neighborhood but not by my father's own standards. He had never felt completely comfortable at these forced efforts of conviviality himself. My father wrote "Leah?" in his book. Then he wrote, "Sophie?" Though unaware of it, he had begun a list of the dead. On Christmas Day, my family would have been more comfortable in heaven. Christmas was largely ignored in my heaven. Some people dressed all in white and pretended they were snowflakes, but other than that, nothing. That Christmas, Samuel Heckler came to our house on an unexpected visit. He was not dressed like a snowflake. He wore his older brother's leather jacket and a pair of ill-fitting army fatigues. My brother was in the front room with his toys. My mother blessed the fact that she had gone early to buy his gifts. Lindsey got gloves and cherry-flavored lip gloss. My father got five white handkerchiefs that she'd ordered months ago in the mail. Save Buckley, no one wanted anything anyway. In the days before Christmas the lights on the tree were not plugged in. Only the candle that my father kept in the window of his den burned. He lit it after dark, but my mother, sister, and brother had stopped leaving the house after four o'clock. Only I saw it. "There's a man outside!" my brother shouted. He'd been playing Skyscraper and it had yet to collapse. "He's got a suitcase." My mother left her eggnog in the kitchen and came to the front of the house. Lindsey was suffering the mandatory presence in the family room that all holidays required. She and my father played Monopoly, ignoring the more brutal squares for each other's sake. There was no Luxury Tax, and a bad Chance wasn't recognized. In the front hall my mother pressed her hands down along her skirt. She placed Buckley in front of her and put her arms on his shoulders. "Wait for the man to knock," she said. "Maybe it's Reverend Strick," my father said to Lindsey, collecting his fifteen dollars for winning second prize in a beauty contest. "For Susie's sake, I hope not," Lindsey ventured. My father held on to it, on to my sister saying my name. She rolled doubles and moved to Marvin Gardens. "That's twenty-four dollars," my father said, "but I'll take ten." "Lindsey," my mother called. "It's a visitor for you." My father watched my sister get up and leave the room. We both did. I sat with my father then. I was the ghost on the board. He stared at the old shoe lying on its side in the box. If only I could have lifted it up, made it hop from Boardwalk to Baltic, where I always claimed the better people lived.

"That's because you're a purple freak," Lindsey would say. My father would say, "I'm proud I didn't raise a snob." "Railroads, Susie," he said. "You always liked owning those railroads," To accentuate his widow's peak and tame his cowlick, Samuel Heckler insisted on combing his hair straight back. This made him look, at thirteen and dressed in black leather, like an adolescent vampire. "Merry Christmas, Lindsey?± he said to my sister, and held out a small box wrapped in blue paper. I could see it happen: Lindsey's body began to knot. She was working hard keeping everyone out, everyone, but she found Samuel Heckler cute. Her heart, like an ingredient in a recipe, was reduced, and regardless of my death she was thirteen, he was cute, and he had visited her on Christmas Day. "I heard you made gifted," he said to her, because no one was talking. "Me too." My mother remembered then, and she switched on her autopilot hostess, "Would you like to come sit?" she managed. "I have some eggnog in the kitchen." "That would be wonderful," Samuel Heckler said and, to Lindsey's amazement and mine, offered my sister his arm. "What's that?" asked Buckley, trailing behind and pointing to what he thought was a suitcase. "An alto," Samuel Heckler said. "What?" asked Buckley. Lindsey spoke then. "Samuel plays the alto saxophone." "Barely," Samuel said. My brother did not ask what a saxophone was. He knew what Lindsey was being. She was being what I called snooty-wooty, as in "Buckley, don't worry, Lindsey's being snooty-wooty," Usually I'd tickle him as I said the word, sometimes burrowing into his stomach with my head, butting him and saying "snooty-wooty" over and over until his trills of laughter flowed down over me. Buckley followed the three of them into the kitchen and asked, as he had at least once a day, "Where's Susie?" They were silent. Samuel looked at Lindsey. "Buckley," my father called from the adjoining room, "come play Monopoly with me." My brother had never been invited to play Monopoly. Everyone said he was too young, but this was the magic of Christmas, He rushed into the family room, and my father picked him up and sat him on his lap. "See this shoe?" my father said. Buckley nodded his head.

"I want you to listen to everything I say about it, okay?" "Susie?" my brother asked, somehow connecting the two. "Yes, I'm going to tell you where Susie is." I began to cry up in heaven. What else was there for me to do? "This shoe was the piece Susie played Monopoly with," he said. "I play with the car or sometimes the wheelbarrow. Lindsey plays with the iron, and when your mother plays, she likes the cannon." "Is that a dog?" "Yes, that's a Scottie." "Mine!" "Okay," my father said. He was patient. He had found a way to explain it. He held his son in his lap, and as he spoke, he felt Buckley's small body on his knee-the very human, very warm, very alive weight of it. It comforted him. "The Scottie will be your piece from now on. Which piece is Susie's again?" "The shoe," Buckley said. "Right, and I'm the car, your sister's the iron? and your mother is the cannon." My brother concentrated very hard. "Now let's put all the pieces on the board, okay? You go ahead and do it for me." Buckley grabbed a fist of pieces and then another, until all the pieces lay between the Chance and Community Chest cards. "Let's say the other pieces are our friends." "Like Nate?" "Right, we'll make your friend Nate the hat. And the board is the world. Now if I were to tell you that when I rolled the dice, one of the pieces would be taken away, what would that mean?" "They can't play anymore?" "Right." "Why? "Buckley asked. He looked up at my father; my father flinched. "Why?" my brother asked again. My father did not want to say "because life is unfair" or "because that's how it is." He wanted something neat, something that could explain death to a four-year-old. He placed his hand on the small of Buckley's back. "Susie is dead," he said now, unable to make it fit in the rules of any game. "Do you know what that means?" Buckley reached over with his hand and covered the shoe. He looked up to see if his answer was right. My father nodded. "You won't see Susie anymore, honey. None of us will." My father cried. Buckley looked up into the eyes of our father

and did not fully understand. Buckley kept the shoe on his dresser, until one day it wasn't there anymore and no amount of looking for it could turn it up. In the kitchen my mother finished her eggnog and excused herself, She went into the dining room and counted silverware, methodically laying out the three kinds of forks, the knives, and the spoons, making them "climb the stairs" as she'd been taught when she worked in Wanamaker's bridal shop before I was born. She wanted a cigarette and for her children who were living to disappear for a little while. "Are you going to open your gift?" Samuel Heckler asked my sister. They stood at the counter, leaning against the dishwasher and the drawers that held napkins and towels. In the room to their right sat my father and brother; on the other side of the kitchen, my mother was thinking Wedgwood Florentine, Cobalt Blue; Royal Worcester, Mountbatten; Lenox, Eternal. Lindsey smiled and pulled at the white ribbon on top of the box. "My mom did the ribbon for me," Samuel Heckler said. She tore the blue paper away from the black velvet box. Carefully she held it in her palm once the paper was off. In heaven I was excited. When Lindsey and I played Barbies, Barbie and Ken got married at sixteen. To us there was only one true love in everyone's life; we had no concept of compromise, or retries. "Open it," Samuel Heckler said. "I'm scared." "Don't be." He put his hand on her forearm and - Wow!-what I felt when he did that. Lindsey had a cute boy in the kitchen, vampire or no! This was news, this was a bulletin - I was suddenly privy to everything. She never would have told me any of this stuff. What the box held was typical or disappointing or miraculous depending on the eye. It was typical because he was a thirteen-year-old boy, or it was disappointing because it was not a wedding ring, or it was miraculous. He'd given her a half a heart. It was gold and from inside his Hukapoo shirt, he pulled out the other side. It hung around his neck on a rawhide cord, Lindsey's face flushed; mine flushed up in heaven. I forgot my father in the family room and my mother counting silver. I saw Lindsey move toward Samuel Heckler. She kissed him; it was glorious. I was almost alive again. S I X 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


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