Title: The Lovely Bones
Author: Alice Sebold
Purchase: Bookshop.org (affiliate link)
“People grow up by living,” I said to Franny. “I want to live.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
She was perfecting the art of talking to someone while looking through them. . . . but that morning she began looking into the eyes of only those people she could fight against.
“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 walks away were her only rest time.
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.
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.
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.
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 morn-ing, 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 startled 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.
Something so divine that no one up in heaven could have made it up; the care a child took with an adult.
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.
I grew to love Ruth on those mornings, feeling that in some way we could never explain on our opposite sides of the Inbetween, we were born to keep each other company. Odd girls who had found each other in the strangest way—in the shiver she had felt when I passed.
His eyes were the darkest gray. When I watched him from heaven I did not hesitate to fall inside of them.
The words fell out of him like burdens he was delivering, backlogged verbs and nouns, but he was watching her feet curl against the dun-colored rug and the way the small pool of numbed light from the curtains touched her right cheek.
“She wasn’t much of a talker when there was nothing to say.”
But an odd thing happened when she arrived in her rented limo that day, opened up our house, and barged in. She was, in all her obnoxious finery, dragging the light back in.