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The eponymous heroine of Miss Wyoming is one Susan Colgate, a teen beauty queen and low-rent soap actress. Dragooned into show business by her demonically pushy, hillbilly mother, Susan has hit rock bottom by the time Douglas Coupland's seventh book begins. But when she finds herself the sole survivor of an airplane crash, this "low-grade onboard celebrity" takes the opportunity to start all over again: She felt like a ghost. She tried to find her bodily remains there in the wreckage and was unable to do so.... Then she was lost in a crowd of local onlookers and trucks, parping sirens and ambulances. She picked her way out of the melee and found a newly paved suburban road that she followed away from the wreck into the folds of a housing development. She had survived, and now she needed sanctuary and silence. She's not, of course, the only Hollywood burnout who'd like to vanish into thin air. Her opposite number, a producer of big-budget, no-brainer action flicks named John Johnson, stages a similar disappearing act. After a near-death experience, in the course of which he is treated to a vision of Susan's face, he roams the western badlands. And even after his return to L.A., Johnson is determined to unravel the mystery of this woman's fate. Throughout, Coupland displays his usual gift for capturing the absurdities of modern existence. The distinctive minutiae of our age--junk mail and fast food, sitcoms and Singapore slings, and the "shop fronts bigger and brighter and more powerful than they needed to be"--come to vivid, funny life in this author's hands. And while Susan and John occupy center stage, Coupland is just as generous with his peripheral characters. A scriptwriter and his supernaturally intelligent girlfriend, a recluse who spends his evening generating Internet rumours--all manage to be blessed and cursed, numbed by their pointless existences but full of humanity when put to the test. Picture Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut collaborating on a Tinseltown version of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and you come halfway to grasping Coupland's brand of thoughtful, supremely funny storytelling. Douglas CouplandChapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter FourChapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter ThirteenChapter FourteenChapter FifteenChapter SixteenChapter SeventeenChapter EighteenChapter NineteenChapter TwentyChapter Twenty-oneChapter Twenty-twoChapter Twenty-threeChapter Twenty-fourChapter Twenty-fiveChapter Twenty-sixChapter Twenty-sevenChapter Twenty-eightChapter Twenty-nineChapter ThirtyChapter Thirty-oneChapter Thirty-twoChapter Thirty-threeChapter Thirty-fourChapter Thirty-fiveChapter Thirty-six

Douglas Coupland
Miss Wyoming


Chapter One


Susan Colgate sat with her agent, Adam Norwitz, on the rocky outdoor patio of the Ivy restaurant at the edge of Beverly Hills. Susan was slightly chilly and kept a fawn-colored cashmere sweater wrapped around her shoulders as she snuck bread crumbs to the birds darting about the ground. Her face was flawlessly made up and her hair was cut in the style of the era. She was a woman on a magazine cover, gazing out at the checkout-stand shopper, smiling, but locked in time and space, away from the real world of squalling babies, bank cards and casual shoplifting. Susan and Adam were looking at two men across the busy restaurant. Adam was saying to Susan, «You see that guy on the left? That's “Jerr-Bear” Rogers, snack dealer to the stars and the human equivalent of an unflushed toilet.» «Adam!» «Well, it's true.» Adam broke open a focaccia slice. «Oh God, Sooz, they're looking at us.» «Thoughts have wings, Adam.» «Whatever. They're both still staring at us.» A waiter came and filled their water glasses. Adam said, «And that other guy — John Johnson. Semisleazebag movie producer. He vanished for a while earlier this year. Did you hear about that?» «It sounds faintly familiar. But I stopped reading the dailies a while ago.You know that, Adam.» «He totally vanished. Turns out he OD'd and had some kind of vision, and then afterward he gave away everything he had — his house and cars and copyrights and everything else, and turned himself into a bum. Walked across the Southwest eating hamburgers out of McDonald's dumpsters.» «Really?» «Oh yeah. Hey …» Adam lowered his voice and spoke out the side of his mouth. «Oh Lordy, it looks like John Johnson's fixated on you, Sooz, gawping at you like you were Fergie or something. Smile back like a trouper, will you? He may be gaga, but he's still got the power.» «Adam, don't tell me what to do or not to do.» «Oh God. He's standing up. He's coming over here, » said Adam. «Lana Turner, be a good girl and tuck in your sweater. Wow. John Johnson. Whatta sleazebag.» Susan turned to Adam. «Don't be such a hypocrite, Adam, like you're so pure yourself? Know what I think? I think there's a touch 'o the 'bag in all of us.» John was by then standing a close but respectful distance from Susan. He looked at her with the unsure smile of a high school junior bracing himself to ask a girl one social notch above him to dance at the prom, his hands behind his back like a penitent child. «Hello,» he said. «I'm John Johnson.» He stuck out his right arm too quickly, surprising her, but she took his hand in hers and slid her chair back onto the flagstones so that she could survey him more fully — a sadly handsome man, dressed in clothes that looked like hand-me-downs: jeans and a frayed blue gingham shirt, shoes a pair of disintegrating desert boots with a different-colored lace on each foot. «I'm Susan Colgate.» «Hi.» «Hi to you. » «I'm Adam Norwitz.» Adam lobbed his hand into the mix. John shook it, but not for a moment did he break his gaze on Susan. «Yes,» ' said John. «Adam Norwitz. I've heard your name before.» Adam blushed at this ambiguous praise. «Congratulations on Mega Force, » he said. Owing to John's radical decision of the previous winter, he was not making a single penny from his current blockbuster,Mega Force. In his pocket were ninety $20 bills, and this was all the money he had in the world. «Thank you,» said John. «Adam told me that you're a sleazebag,» said Susan. John, caught completely off guard, laughed. Adam froze in horror, and Susan smiled and said, «Well, you did say it, Adam.» «Susan! How could you — » «He's right, » said John. «Look at my track record and he'd be bang on. I saw you feeding birds under the table. That's nice.» «You were doing it, too.» «I like birds.» John's teeth were big and white, like pearls of baby corn. His eyes were the pale blue color of sun-bleached parking tickets, his skin like brown leather. «Why?» Susan asked. «They mind their own business. No bird has never tried to sneak me a screenplay or slagged me behind my back. And they still hang out with you even if your movies tank.» «I certainly know that feeling.» «Susan!» Adam interjected. «Your projects do well.» «My movies are crap, Adam.» Across the terrazzo, Jerr-Bear made the ah-oooo-gah, ah-oooo-gah noise of a drowning submarine in order to attract John's attention, but John and Susan, alone among the annoyed lunchtime crowd, ignored him. Adam was trying to figure a way out of what he perceived as a dreadful collision of faux pas, mixed signals and badly tossed banana cream pies, and said, «Would you and your, er, colleague, like to join us for lunch, Mr. Johnson?» John suddenly seemed to realize that he was in public, in a restaurant, surrounded by people bent on eating food and gossiping, and that this was the opposite of the place he wanted to be. He stammered, «I — » «Yes?» Susan looked at him kindly. «I really need to get out of here. You wouldn't want to come with me on a — I dunno — a walk, would you?» Susan stood up, catching Adam's bewildered eyes. «I'll call you later, Adam.» Staff scurried about, and in the space of what seemed like a badly edited film snippet, John and Susan were out on North Robertson Boulevard, amid sleeping Saabs and Audis, in dazzling sunlight that made the insides of their eyeballs bubble as though filled with ginger ale. «Are you okay for walking in those shoes?» John asked. «These? I could climb Alps in these puppies.» She smiled. «No man's ever asked me that before.» «They look Italian.» «I bought them in Rome in 1988, and they've never let me down once.» «Rome, huh? What was going on in Rome?» «I was doing a set of TV commercials for bottled spaghetti sauce. Maybe you saw them. They were on the air for years. They spent a fortune getting everybody over there and then they shot it inside a studio anyway, and then they propped it with cheesy Italian stuff, so it looked like it was filmed in New Jersey.» «Welcome to film economics.» «That wasn't my first lesson, but it was one of the strangest. You never did commercials, did you?» «I went right into film.» «Commercials are weird. You can go be in a reasonably successful TV weekly series for years and nobody mentions it to you, but appear at threeA.M. in some god-awful sauce plug, and people phone to wake you up and scream, “I just saw you on TV!” » A mailman walked by, and once he'd passed John and Susan, in cahoots they copied his exaggerated stride, then made devilish faces at each other. «You gotta hand it to him,» Susan said about the mailman, now out of earshot, «for a guy his age, he sure works it.» «How old do you think I am?» asked John. Susan appraised him. «I'll guess forty. Why do you ask?» «I look forty ?» «But that's good. If you're not forty, then it means you've accrued wisdom beyond your, say, thirty-five years. It looks good on a man.» «I'm thirty-seven.» «You still haven't told me why you asked.» «Because I think about how old I am,» John replied, «and I wonder,Hey, John Johnson, you've pretty much felt all the emotions you're ever likely to feel, and from here on it's reruns. And that totally scares me. Do you ever think that?» «Well, John, life's thrown me a curveball or two, so I don't worry about the rerun factor quite so much. But yeah, I do think about it. Every day, really.» She looked over at him. «For what it's worth, today is my twenty-eighth birthday.» John beamed. «Happy birthday, Susan!» He then shook her hand in a parody of heartiness, but secretly savored how cool her palms were, like a salve on a burn he didn't even know he had. The novelty of strolling in their city rather than barreling through it inside air-conditioned metal nodules added an unearthly sensation to their steps. They heard the changing gears of cars headed toward the Beverly Center. They listened to birdcalls and rustling branches. John felt young, like he was back in grade school. «You know what this feels like — our leaving the restaurant like that?» Susan asked. «What?» John replied. «Like we're running away from home together.» They walked across a sunbaked intersection where a Hispanic boy with a gold incisor was selling maps to the stars' homes. John asked Susan, «You ever been on one of those things?» «A star map? Once, for about two years. I was deleted in a reprinted version. Cars would drive past my place and then slow down to almost a stop and then speed up again — every day and every night. It was the creepiest thing ever. The house had good security, but even then, a few times I was spooked so badly I went and stayed at a friend's place. You?» «I'm not a star.» Just then the Oscar Mayer wiener truck drove by and cars all around them honked as if it were a wedding cortège. Screwing up his courage, John asked, «Susan — Sue — speaking of curveballs, here's one for you. A simple question: do you think you've ever met me before?» Susan looked thoughtful, as though ready to spell out her reply in a spelling bee. «I've read about you in magazines. And I saw a bit of stuff about you on TV. I'm sorry things didn't work out for you — when you took off and tried to change yourself or whatever it was you were trying to do. I really am.» The wiener hubbub had died down, and Susan stepped in front of John to survey him. His eyes looked like those of somebody who's lost big and is ready to leave the casino. «I mean, I've been pretty tired of being “me” as well. I sympathize.» John moved as if to kiss her, but two cars behind them squealed their tires in a pulse of road rage. They turned around and the walk resumed. «You were a beauty queen, weren't you?» John asked. «Miss Wyoming.» «Oh Lord, yeah. I was on the beauty circuit since about the age of JonBenet-and-a-half, which is, like, four. I've also been a child TV star, a has-been, a rock-and-roll bride, an air crash survivor and public enigma.» «You like having been so many different things?» Susan took a second to answer. «I never thought of it that way. Yes. No. You mean there's some other way to live?» «I don't know,» said John. They crossed San Vicente Boulevard, passing buildings and roads that once held stories for each of them, but which now seemed transient and disconnected from their lives, like window displays. Each recalled a bad meeting here, a check cashed there, a meal… . John asked, «Where are you from ?» «My family? We're hillbillies. Literally. From the mountains of Oregon. We're nothing. If my mother hadn't escaped, I'd probably be pregnant with my brother's seventh brat by now — and somebody in the family'd probably steal the kid and trade it for a stack of unscratched lottery cards. You?» In a deep, TV-announcer voice he declared, «The Lodge Family of Delaware. “The Pesticide Lodges.” » His voice returned to normal. «My maternal great-grandfather discovered a chemical to interrupt the breeding cycle of mites that infect corn crops.» A light turned green and the boulevard was shot with traffic and the pair walked on. Susan was wrapped in a pale light fabric, cool and comfortable, like a pageant winner's sash. John was sweating like a lemonade pitcher, his jeans, gingham shirt and black hair soaking up heat like desert stones. But instead of seeking both air-conditioning and a mirror, John merely untucked his shirt and kept pace with Susan. «You'd think our family had invented the atom bomb from the way they all lorded about the eastern seaboard. But then they did this really weird thing.» «What was that?» Susan asked. «We went through our own family tree with a chain saw. Ruthless, totally ruthless. Anybody who was found to be socially lacking was erased. It was like they'd never even lived. I have dozens of great-uncles and aunts and cousins who I've never met, and their only crime was to have had humble lives. One great-uncle was a prison warden.Gone. Another married a woman who pronounced “theater” thee-ay -ter.Gone. And heaven help anybody who slighted another family member. People weren't challenged or punished in our family. They were merely erased. » They were quiet. They'd walked maybe a mile by now. John felt as close to Susan as paint is to a wall. John said, «Tell me something else, Susan. Anything. I like your voice.» «My voice? Anybody can hear my voice almost any time of day anywhere on earth. All you need is a dish that picks up signals from satellite stations that play nonstop cheesy early eighties TV shows.» They were outside a record store. Two mohawked punk fossils from 1977 walked past them. John looked at her and said, «Susan, have you ever seen a face, say — in a magazine or on TV — and obsessed on it, and maybe secretly hoped every day, at least once, that you'd run into the person behind the face?» Susan laughed. «I take it that's a yes?» «How come you're asking?» John told Susan about a vision he'd had at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center the year before that led him to make a drastic life decision. He told Susan that it was her face and voice that had come to him during his vision. «But what happened was that months later, after I'd gone and completely chucked out all of my old life, I realized I didn't have this great big mystical Dolby THX vision. I realized that there'd merely been some old episode of that TV show you used to star in playing on the hospital's TV set beside my bed. And it must have melted into my dream life.» It made a form of sense to Susan that this man with sad, pale eyes like snowy TV sets should have seen her as a refuge and then found her. Years before she'd stopped believing in fate. Fate was corny. Yet with John that long-lost tingle of destiny was once again with her. A leaf blower cut the moment in two, and just as John was about to raise his voice, Cedars-Sinai came into view far in the distance, between a colonnade of cypress trees and a billboard advertising gay ocean-liner cruises. John's shirt was now soaked through with sweat, so they stopped at a convenience store and bought an XXLI -LOVE-LAwhite cotton shirt and two bottles of water. He changed out in the parking lot to the amused ogling of teenage boys who yelled out, «Boy supermodel steals the catwalk!» John said, «Fuck 'em,» and they crossed Sunset. It was getting to be late in the afternoon, and the traffic was crabby and sclerotic. They entered a residential neighborhood. Susan was feeling dizzy and sleepy and said, «I need to sit down,» so they did, on the curb before a Wedgwood-blue French country-style house under the suspicious gaze of an Asian woman on the second floor. «It's the sun,» said Susan. «It's not like it used to be. Or, I can't take as much as I used to.» She lay back on the Bermuda grass. Suddenly worried he'd been the only one spilling the beans, John said, «Tell me about the crash. The Seneca crash. I'll bet you never talk about it, do you?» «Not the full story, no.» «So tell me.» Susan sat up and John put his arm around her. Staring at the pavement, like Prince William behind his mother's coffin, she told the story. And she might have talked to him all night, but two things happened: the lawn sprinklers spritzed into frantic life, and a Beverly Hills police patrol car soundlessly materialized. Two grim-faced officers got out, hands on weapons on hips. Soaked, Susan started to stand up, but her tired knees buckled. John helped pull her up, saying, «Jesus, we try and take a quick rest and in comes the SWAT team. Who pays your salaries, you goons?I pay your salaries… .» «There's no SWAT team, Mr. Johnson. Stay calm,» said one of the officers. «Ma'am» — he looked more closely at her — «Mrs. Thraice? Can we help you? Give you a lift? You were great in Dynamite Bay. »Dynamite Bay was a low-budget action picture now in wide video release and not doing too badly. Adam had been proclaiming it as the revival of Susan's acting career. She took a professional tone. «Hello, boys. Yes, I'd love a ride.» She turned toward John and smiled regretfully. «I'm great for long walks but otherwise I'm not really Outward Bound material. Another day, another pilgrimage.» She entered the rear passenger seat, and the officer shut the door. She rolled down the window. «To Beechwood Canyon, boys.» She looked out at John. «You know — I don't even know my own phone number. Call Adam Norwitz.» Just as the cruiser pulled away, she rolled up a silk scarf, wet from the sprinkler, and handed it to John. «What actually happened after the crash is a much better story. I should have told you that instead. Phone me.» And then she was gone and John stood, clutching the silk to his heart while the sprinkler drenched his feet, as though they were seeds. Chapter Two


Two days before she turned twenty-five, Susan took a plane from New York, where she'd gone to audition for the part of a wacky neighbor on a sitcom pilot. Not the lead — the wacky neighbor. Next stop: mother roles. The audition hadn't gone well. The producer's Prince Charles spaniel had the runs, which had the hotel management badgering him with phone calls and door knocks while Susan was bravely making the most of stale coffee-tea-or-me jokes written by USC grads weaned on a lifetime of Charles in Charge, plus four years of Gauloises and Fellini ephemera. In beaten retreat she boarded Flight 802 from New York to Los Angeles, sitting in Coach Class, as Where-Are-They-Now? waves of pity washed over her from the other passengers eagerly attuned to the scent of celebrity failure. Thank heaven for the distracting tarmac rituals — the safety demonstration, the small tingle of anticipation just before acceleration and lift-off. Banks of TV screens dislodged from the ceiling hawking Disney World, the Chevy Lumina and sugary perfumes. A Cheers rerun began. The seat-belt light went off, and the flight attendants glumly hurled packets of smoked almonds at the passengers. Airlines were so disinterested in food these days, thought Susan, who had once been reigning queen of the old MGM Grand airline flights between coasts, playing poker with Nick Nolte, polishing toenails with Eartha Kitt and trading gossip with Roddy McDowell. Her fellow Flight 802 passengers ripped into their nuts all at once, a planewide locustlike chewing frenzy followed by the salty solvent odor of mashed nuts.Ah, the fall from grace. Susan sat in her window seat, 58-A, and idly watched the landscape below. To her left was an older couple — he an engineer of some sort, and she a mousy 1950s wife. Mr. Engineer was convinced they were currently flying directly over Jamestown, New York, «the birthplace of Lucille Ball,» and craned over Susan, jabbing at what looked like just another American town that bought Tide, ate Campbell's soup and generated at least one weird, senseless killing per decade. Later, Susan would look at a map of the eastern United States and realize how truly wrong Mr. Engineer had been, but at the time she gawked downward in some misplaced mythical hope of seeing a tiny little dot of flaming red hair. It was at this point the engine blew — the left engine, clearly visible to Susan from her seat. Like a popcorn kernel — poomp! — the blast was muffled by the fuselage. The recoil shot flight attendants and their drink trolleys into the center bank of seats, while oxygen masks dropped like lizard tongues from the ceiling. The jet began tumbling and the unseat-belted passengers, such as Susan, floated like hummingbirds. She thought to herself,I can float. She thought,I'm an astronaut. Everything was moving too quickly for fear. There was some moaning during the drop, some cursing, but no hysteria and little other noise. Then the pilot regained control of the plane, and the harnessing of its reins made it feel as if its bulk had walloped onto concrete. The oxygen hoses swooned like cartoon water lilies, and the TV screens resumed playing Cheers. For the next two minutes normal flight resumed. Susan felt some relief as Mr. Engineer described to Mrs. Engineer exactly why the plane would remain flyable. Then the descent began again, a descent as long as a song on the radio, a downward free float — smooth and bumpless. Susan felt as though the other passengers must be angry at her for jinxing their flight — for being the low-grade onboard celebrity who brought tabloid bad luck onto an otherwise routine flight. She avoided looking at them. She put on her seat belt. She felt clenched and brittle. She thought,So this is how it ends, in a crash over Lucy's hometown, amid syndicated TV reruns, spilled drinks, and moaning engines. Once the plane hits the ground, I'll no longer be me. I'll go on to being whatever comes next. She felt a surprising relief that the plastic strand of failed identities she'd been beading together across her life was coming to an end.Maybe I'll blink and open my eyes and I'll find myself hatching from a bird's egg, reincarnated as a cardinal. Maybe I'll meet Jesus. But whatever happens, I'm off the hook! Whatever happens, I'll no longer have to be a failure or a puppet or a has-been celebrity who people can hate or love or blame. Then, like the yank of a cyclone roller coaster, the plane sheared and bounced and slid into soil. The noise was so loud that it overpowered all other sensations. The visions she saw came at her fast as snapshots — bodies and dirt and luggage strewn toward her as though from a wood chipper — the screams of tortured metal and compressed air. And then silence. Her seat had come to a stop along with a section of fuselage. The engineer, his wife and their two seats were …gone. Her chair rested alone, bolted to its piece of fuselage, perfectly vertical. She was still for about a minute, a small plume of smoke rising far off to the right. She smelled fuel. Gently she unclasped the seat belt of 58-A and rose to look across a fallow sorghum field. A brief survey of her body showed she was unscratched, yet it appeared to her that all the other passengers were crushed and broiled and broken along a debris path that stretched half a mile across the sorghum field hemmed with tract housing. There was a brief gap between when her plane crashed and when people began streaming from the suburb toward the wreckage. During that moment Susan had the entire plane wreck and the crumpled passengers to herself, like a museum late on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. The bodies around her seemed as though they'd been flocked onto the plane's hull and onto the gashed sorghum field from a spray can. A clump of unheated foil-wrapped dinners covered a stewardess's legs. Luggage had burst like firecrackers and was mixed with dirt and roots and dandelions, while cans of pop and bottles of Courvoisier were sprinkled like dropped marbles. Susan tried to find somebody else alive. There were limb fragments and heads. The sootcovered fuselage contained a cordwood pile of dead passengers. She felt like a ghost. She tried to find her bodily remains there in the wreckage and was unable to do so. She grew frightened that the relationship between her mind and body had been severed. Teenage boys on bicycles were the first to arrive, dropping their bikes as they began sleepwalking around the perimeter. They looked so young and vital. Susan approached them and one of them shouted out, «Hey, lady, did you see that ?! Did you see it come down?» to which Susan nodded, realizing the boys had no idea she was a passenger and didn't recognize her. Then she was lost in a crowd of local onlookers and trucks,parp ing sirens and ambulances. She picked her way out of the melee and found a newly paved suburban road that she followed away from the wreck into the folds of a housing development. She had survived, and now she needed sanctuary and silence. She looked at the street names: Bryn Mawr Way, Appaloosa Street, Cornflower Road. After a short walk down Cornflower, past its recently dug soils and juvenile trees, she saw a newly built home with a small pile of newspapers accumulated on the front stoop. She went to the door, rang the bell and felt her shoulders relax when no one answered. Peeking in, she saw a cool, silent middle-class chamber, as quiet and inviting as the treasure vaults of King Tut must have seemed to their discoverers. She felt a calm that reminded her of riding in the back of the family's Corvair at night as a child, looking up to see stars through the sun roof, the most glamorous concept in the world. She tried opening the front door, but it was locked. At the side of the house, the garage door was locked, and at the back she tried the kitchen's sliding door. No luck. With a rock the size of a peach, she smashed a hole in the glass, released the latch, and entered the kitchen. She made a quick scan for alarm systems — life in Hollywood had made her an expert — but there were none. Relief! And so quiet. She smelled the air, poured a glass of tap water and scanned the various items magneted onto the fridge door: family photos, two attractive children, a boy and a girl, and a photo of the mother, who looked to Susan like one of those soccer moms she saw profiled in women's magazines, the sort of woman who endures childbirth with a brave smile, incapable of preparing nutritionally unbalanced picnic lunches. There was a photo of the father, athletic, in a blue nylon marathon outfit with the daughter papoosed onto his back. Also on the fridge was a calendar whose markings quickly let Susan know that «The Galvins» were going to be in Orlando for seven more days. She looked in the fridge and found some forgotten carrot sticks and nibbled on them as she walked into the living room and lay on the couch. The faint barks and wails of sirens reached her and she turned on the TV. A local news affiliate's traffic helicopter was covering the crash. The events on TV seemed more real to her than did her actual experience. Rescue workers, she was told, had yet to locate a survivor. The death toll was placed at 194. Susan took it all in. She was frightened by her inability to react to the crash. She was old enough to know about shock, and she knew that when it came, its manifestation would be harsh and bizarre. Late afternoon sun filtered in through the living room sheers. Susan turned on the air-conditioning and walked through the silent house, and paused to press her cheek against the cool plaster of the upstairs hallway. She saw a warren of three bedrooms and two bathrooms, whose normalcy was so extreme she felt she had magically leapt five hundred years into the future and was inside a diorama recreating middle-class North American life in the late twentieth century. The bathroom was large and clean. Susan drew a bath, disrobed and entered the tub, submerging her head in the chlorinated gem-blue water, and when she came up for air, she began to cry. She had emerged flawless — unpunctured and unbruised, like a Spartan apple fresh from the crisper at Von's. Her skin clammy, her knees pulled up to her chin, Susan thought of her mother, Marilyn, and of Marilyn's addiction to lottery tickets: Quick Picks, Shamrock Scratches, 6/49s. From an early age Susan had a deep suspicion of lotteries. Sure, they gave a person the opportunity to win $3.7 million, but in opening the doors to that possibility, they also opened other doors — doors a person probably didn't want opened, and doors that would remain uncloseable. A person opened herself up to the possibility of both catastrophic good and bad. Was deliverance Susan's repayment for years of refusing to scratch Marilyn's Pokerinos? She splashed water on her face, rinsing away her tears. Her teeth felt gluey, and she spritzed water into her mouth and rubbed her tongue around them. She no longer felt she might be dead or a ghost. Her chest stopped heaving. The sky was darkening, and she toweled herself dry, put on Karen Galvin's terry robe and returned to the kitchen, where she heated a can of cream-of-mushroom soup. Once the soup was ready, she took it and a box of Goldfish crackers into the living room to watch TV. Would the neighbors see the lights and suspect an intruder? She pushed the thought away. The neighborhood seemed to have been air-freighted in from the Fox lot, specifically designed for people who didn't want community, and she suspected she could probably crank up a heavy metal album to full volume and nobody would bat an eye. The local news teams were out in force, and Susan wasn't surprised when an old news service head shot of herself appeared on screen behind the anchor's head. She remembered the day she'd posed for that particular shot. Her husband Chris, the rock star, had stood behind the photographer making quacking noises. She was happy to be away from Chris and auditions and mean tabloid articles. Wait — where was she? Ohio? Kentucky? She got up and went to check mail on a small credenza by the front door. Seneca, Ohio. Good. She returned to the couch to hear more about her supposed death, wondering how long it would take the authorities to reassemble the bodies and dental fragments and realize she wasn't there. She wondered if her unbuckled seat belt in 58-A would be a giveaway. She fell asleep on the couch, and woke up the next morning hungry and curious. The TV was still on, and as she surfed its channels, she learned the truth of the axiom that the last thing we ever learn in life is the effect we have on others. She was also able to calculate with disheartening precision the exact caliber of her rung in entertainment hell: * «Forfeited a middling acting career for the trash of rock and roll.» * «Small-town girl makes it big and then small again.» * «Smart enough, but made some bad decisions.» * «Long-suffering wife of philandering rocker hubby.» * «A recent small brainless part in a small brainless movie.» She saw her mother and stepfather being interviewed on CNN on their lawn in Cheyenne. Marilyn held a framed photo of Susan up against her stomach as though hiding a pregnancy. It was an early teenage photo taken about three minutes before she became famous, just before her world expanded like an exploding spacecraft in a movie. Her stepfather, Don, was cross-armed and stern. Both were speaking about Susan's death, both uttering «No comment» to the prospect of suing the airline. Following them was a ten-second clip of Susan in her most remembered role as Katie, the «good» daughter in the longrunning network series Meet the Blooms. Following the clip, the newscaster added gravely, «Susan Colgate — beauty queen, child star, rock-and-roll wife and devoted daughter. Her star now shines in heaven,» at which Susan took a deep breath and said, «Ugh.» She made orange juice from frozen concentrate, and then a plate of cooked frozen peas served in a puddle of melted margarine, with two well-done hamburger patties garnished with Thousand Island dressing, served with dinner rolls, each stuffed with a once-folded-over processed cheese slice. The meal reminded her of a childhood hospital stay for an appendectomy, and she was conscious of this regression. On CNN there was no real news footage to add to yesterday's. By tomorrow she figured there would be no mention of her, and by the day after, the nation's memory scar would be healed over completely. The world would forget her and she would forget the world. Whatever trace she'd left on the world would vanish as quickly as a paper cut. All that work and time and spirit she'd spent trying to become a plausible Susan Colgate — for nothing. She zapped off the TV and upstairs tried on some of Karen Galvin's clothes, her own size, but a bit on the athletic side. A few pieces of okay jewelry — her husband's taste? Later that week, Susan caught a snippet of her memorial service on Entertainment Tonight , with Chris Thraice, flown in from Germany to lead well-wishers at the Westwood Memorial Chapel in a painful, rockified version of «Amazing Grace» that sounded like a Live Aid hugging anthem. She was ashamed of the shallow, pathetic tribute arranged by God only knows whose people — Chris's probably — but then realized that it would have been the PR people for her action-adventure movie, masterminding some contorted variation of a pity fuck to get people into the theaters and pump up the third weekend's gross. Her mother and stepfather, interviewed again after the service, had become key figures in the class-action suit being launched against the airline. «We'd sacrifice anything we might gain from this suit just to have our precious Suzie back in our fold.» Suzie? Marilyn had called Susan many things before, but Suzie had never been one of them. In more local crash news, the airline had paid the sorghum farmer for three years' worth of crops and, using sifting devices borrowed from a local mine, had already sanitized the site of all fragments. The county coroner admitted that many passengers had been too badly charred to be identified, and any fears Susan might have had that authorities had noticed her absence were scotched by an interview with a teary-eyed gate attendant who recounted how thrilled she'd been showing Susan into the jet ramp («So real! And in coach class, too»). The gate attendant's testimony was the one moment of sincere warmth during the whole memorial charade. At any rate, Susan was taking a risk that the Galvins, as a thrifty, bulk-purchasing family, would remain in Orlando for the fully-paid-for extent of their holiday, regardless of having one of North America's largest civil aviation disasters a short walk from their back door. The fridge calendar indicated an arrival in Columbus the next day at 6:10P .M., in Seneca by 8:00. On the morning of the Galvins' scheduled return, she went around the house with rags and Windex to wipe clean any surface that might conceivably bear her fingerprints. She washed sheets and towels and restored them to their original positions. She rearranged the remaining foods in the cupboards and deep freeze so that they appeared undepleted. She then selected items stuffed in the back of Karen Galvin's wardrobe, and from boxes where evidence indicated garments that looked rarely if ever used. Also at the back, buried behind shoes and a stack of energy-rich athletic candy bars, she found ash blond wigs in a style she associated with women connected in some way to second- and third-generation entertainment money. She placed some of the wigs and a selection of clothes into a disused athletic bag from a shelf beside the washer and dryer, along with a box of energy bars, some older cosmetics, and a pair of Karen's almost touchingly practical shoes. She improvised a look for the day to come, and then nodded to the mirror. Done. Now she had one more job to do. She went into Mr. Galvin's liquor cabinet and selected what she thought would appeal most to teenagers — Jack Daniels — and poured three-quarters of the bottle down the sink. She took the partially filled bottle as well as some emptied beer cans and arranged them in a semicircle around the TV set. Then, with a thick-pointed Sharpie in what she hoped was teenage boy-looking handwriting, she scribbled on the TV screen, «Metallica rocks on.» She also put out six drinking glasses tinged with Jack Daniels, two of them with lipstick traces. She mussed up the couch and a few pieces of bric-a-brac. The returning family would find evidence only of a low-threat minor occupation by teens. Bewigged and sporting Karen's clothes, Susan was feeling good as she walked out the unlocked patio door, onto a back lane, where she heaved a plastic bag of her week's garbage into a stranger's trash can. She tried to think of a place to go. She chose Indiana.
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