Marilyn meandered through the Seneca crash site and remembered a movie she'd seen years before, one where the wife of a Hollywood movie executive is hacked to bits and left strewn about a lemon grove. But Seneca — this was no movie, this was the odor of burning plastics, her shin scraped from bumping into a sheared aluminum panel. This was the crackle of walkie-talkies, the wail of competing sirens. She saw a drink service trolley, little liquor bottles and all, flattened like a cardboard. She saw a Nike gym bag run over by a fire truck. She saw prescription bottles, juice cartons and exploded cans of ginger ale pressed into the Ohio soil like seeds, watered with aviation fuel and germinated by fire. She'd been at O'Hare in Chicago, and was heading back to Cheyenne after helping organize a regional pageant in Winnetka. Inside one of the air terminal's snack bars, she'd seen crash footage with Susan's old promo shot inset in the upper left corner. Within a blink she had checked the departure screens, purchased an electronic ticket and boarded a flight to Columbus, where she rented a car. She was at the crash scene within three hours. Once there, Marilyn learned that there are no rules for crash sites. They occupy huge amounts of space in the strangest locations. Most local disaster crews are overwhelmed by the workload and are sickened by the things they see. There had been a yellow plastic tape hastily strung up around much of the site to keep away the gawkers, and Marilyn knew that the easiest way to get inside the tape without hassle was to give the impression of already having been there. To this end she smeared her face, blouse and jacket with rich Ohio soil and nimbly stepped inside, into the space where chaotic orders were barked through megaphones, past blue vinyl tarps fluttering over stacked bodies and inside the supermarket meat trucks used to refrigerate body fragments for later DNA examination. There were any number of photographers on the scene, and one photo of Marilyn in particular, with her lost face and soiled wardrobe, made the cover of several national publications («One Mother's Loss»). Marilyn bought four dozen copies of each issue. In Marilyn's mind, Susan was either completely intact or completely incinerated. Any point between these two extremes was intolerable, for Susan was a beauty, a result of Marilyn's own good looks and teaching. Marilyn's own pursuit of beauty had raised her out of the Ozarks of the Pacific, out of the family's Oregonian mountain shit shack, with its seven children, two of whom were alcoholic by the time Marilyn began generating memories. Hers was a beautiful-looking family, but one with a hellish ugly core, no morals, too many guns, no God to fear, reared in isolation, mostly illiterate and sticking their dicks wherever the opposition was overcome. She abandoned the shit shack at sixteen, pregnant by one of two brothers, and miscarried in a Dairy Queen bathroom after a fourteen-hour walk into McMinnville. Using one of three dollar bills she'd stolen from her father's rifle bag, she bought a banana split and marveled at the free red plastic spoon that came with it. The other two dollars she used to buy foundation at the Rexall to cover up her tear-blotched complexion. She hitchhiked out of town and got a ride with Duran, a half-Cajun drainage pipe salesman. Almost immediately he asked her to marry him, and she accepted because she had nothing else going for her, and besides, Duran was a gentleman who didn't wake her up in the middle of the night, heavy, wet and pounding. In fact, except for the first few times that produced Susan, Duran didn't touch her much, and that was just fine. Duran's love was more like worship, and he insisted Marilyn do all she could with what she had, yet he was also a pragmatist and insisted she learn a nonbeauty skill. To this end he oversaw Marilyn's two-part education of daytime courses at the Miss Eva Lorraine Institute of Cosmetology (since 1962), and night school courses in typing and office procedures, which Marilyn soaked up like a cotton ball. Susan was born, but Duran insisted Marilyn continue with her studies, which ultimately raised her to paralegal status. «Marilyn, please stop talking and study the woman on TV.» «I'm tired of watching her.» «That is not an issue. Just keep watching.» Duran was convinced that the most useful accent a woman could use was the concise nasal telegraph of the network news goddesses, and made Marilyn watch and mimic their style. «Durrie, why are you making me learn all of this stuff?» «Because, Marilyn, you know I'm not going to be here forever, and please don't talk like such a heek.» «What do you mean you're not going to be around? And by the way, it's hick, not heek, and please don't call me a hick.» «I need to know you'll be able to make it on your own. The world is hard. You need skills.» «And when am I going to be alone?» «When you're twenty-one.» «And then what, Durrie?» What Duran did was leave, just as he said he would, and Marilyn accepted it without rancor and thought she had gotten good value for her time with him. As Marilyn had cultivated no friends, and had pretty well jettisoned her family, she didn't mention him again to anybody else. But when the screen door slammed, Marilyn sensed an absence in her life as blunt and frightening as a freshly cut tree stump. And it was at this point that her enthusiasm for Susan's entry into the world of pageants was born. Miss Eva Lorraine's primary cosmetological message was that the traits humans perceive as beautiful are those that bespeak of fertility. «Big titties mean milk, girls, no secret about that. Shiny hair means healthy follicles, and our eggs, girls, come from follicles just as surely as does our hair and fingernails. And so that's why we keep a buffin' and a primpin'.» Marilyn found the message eminently scientific, and thereafter as a rule she let the pursuit of babies govern all of her future beauty decisions — push-up bras, rouge in the décolletage, cellophane rinses on her hair and, as time wore on, silicone injections to plump up some facial sagging. But the injections didn't come until long after Don Colgate entered her life, a hefty logger from Hood River. He was blown away by a looker who worked at a genuine legal office, with a daughter like a china figurine on his granny's mantelpiece. After they got married, he insisted she quit working, and so she did. Marilyn saw this as decidedly old-fashioned thinking, but it also implied that Don wouldn't go leaving her like Duran. It was with her conquest of Don Colgate that Marilyn obtained the final proof she needed that fertility and the proven ability to bear beautiful babies were integral to her allure and her sense of being. But then there was the issue of Don and his fertility. His sperm were dead or lazy or stupid or overheated, and he and Marilyn didn't conceive. As his sterility became more evident, so did his drinking and the number of pageants in which young Susan was entered increased. The bunny hutches behind the trailer increased, too, and it was a trailer,never a house, because Don just didn't seem to get promoted at the lumberyard. Marilyn found that she could funnel her native intelligence into the world of pageants, an intelligence she was convinced she had passed on to Susan. Other pageant girls whined and screeched and pulled princess routines, but Susan sat like a hawk on one of the Interstate light posts, scanning for roadkill, watching and learning from the others. She tended to win, and after a point released Marilyn from the need to shuck bunnies. Don said that some of the makeup and attire Marilyn made Susan wear was cheap and slutty. She told Don that she'd once read that girls in China have babies at the age of nine, «so if girls can have babies that early, there's nothing wrong with highlighting that capacity.» «It's bad morals is what it is, Marilyn.» «Don, cool your jets. Get off the pulpit.» «Marilyn, nine-year-old girls do not wear tittie-bar stilettos.» «Don't be so coarse. They're evening shoes.» «I thought hill folk were supposed to be so wise, like the Waltons.» The issue of morals usually quieted Marilyn, if only briefly. Knowing about morals was in no way the same thing as actually having them. She'd been raised in a hog pen and was lacking in ethics. Some nights she genuinely did worry about the sins of the parent being handed down to the child — her own feral upbringing overriding Susan's angelic manner. But she wouldn't speak these thoughts aloud. Instead, for example, she told Don that morals were whatever got the job done at the time. «Like those Polynesians who eat Spam.» «The whats who eat what ?» «Spam. That's what Mr. Jordan, my old boss, told me. He'd read that in supermarkets down in the South Pacific they have whole aisles that are devoted to nothing but Spam. The Americans tried to figure out why these island people liked Spam so much, and it turns out that nothing else approximates the taste of cooked human flesh like the salty porky taste of Spam.» Don's mouth hung open. «We think of those jolly little Island people down there in their jolly little hula skirts and being oh so moral. But to them, cannibalism is perfectly moral, so it seems to me, Don Colgate, that morals are a pretty flexible little concept, so don't go getting preachy on me. » But it was Marilyn whose mouth was agape while walking through the sprays of cooked human flesh at Seneca. She was asked her name by a person inside one of the many biohazard protection suits swarming the site. She replied, «Susan Colgate is my daughter. I'm her mother. Have you seen her?» Marilyn's shoes' heels had broken. She was wearing a pair of pink women's running shoes she'd found intertwined with a stereo headset a few minutes back when she'd scraped her shin. At sunset a Gannett reporter named Sheila drove Marilyn to the local Holiday Inn and gave Marilyn her bed. Sheila filed her stories and bounced between her laptop PC, her cell phone and the TV. Marilyn called Don. He arrived the next morning. Both spent the day at the local ice rink, temporarily converted into a morgue. Skating music serenaded family members of crash victims who appraised what remains were «readable.» There were rows upon rows of limbs and torsos and shards, all covered in black vinyl tarps, arranged like 4-H projects atop plywood sheets that straddled sawhorses. Five days went by and still they found no trace of Susan. Marilyn donated blood samples for DNA testing, to help analyze those bodies too far gone for visual or dental identification. They returned to Cheyenne, their spirits fogged like wet car windows, their emotions on hold. Sheila called each day to see if an ID had been made, but no. This in itself became a story, and the local coroner, in conjunction with the airline and the civil aviation authorities, were at a total loss as to where Susan's remains might have ended up. There hadn't been enough heat for vaporization to occur, and all eyelashes and fingernail clippings within a half-mile radius had been DNA-cataloged. It was at this point that Sheila hooked up Marilyn with a prominent claims litigator, Julie Poyntz, who spent the next year winning her claim, arguing about the profound stress for family members arising from the airline's losing the bodyof a passenger, a body that might very well be in the deep freeze of some psychotic fan. «You just don't lose a body, Mrs. Colgate — Marilyn.» It was early on in their lawyer-client relationship. «And I don't want to dwell on the possibilities of what might have become of her remains,but … » «What if she's alive?» asked Marilyn. Julie tsk-tsked. «You were there, Marilyn. Everybody on that flight was dead and/or severely mutilated.» Marilyn squeaked. «I'm sorry, Marilyn, but you can't be squeamish. Not now. We're going to win this. They know it. We know it. It's only a matter of how much and how soon. It's no compensation for losing Susan — who, I might add, was a role model for me from Meet the Blooms — but at least the money is something. » Money was flowing into Marilyn's life from many directions at that point, and each new development, or each new recently discovered baby photo of Susan was carefully brokered with all facets of print and electronic media. She bought two new cars, a Mercedes sedan for Don, and a BMW the color of homemade cherry wine for herself. She also took out a mortgage on a Spanish mission—style house and indulged herself with clothing and jewelry, her prize being a pair of genuine Fendi wraparound sunglasses which, not five minutes after buying, she wore as she snapped arms off the fakes she'd bought years ago at a Laramie swap meet. Marilyn spent like a drunk in a casino gift shop. There was no overall scheme to her buying — she simply thrilled with the burst of power each time a piece of loot that once belonged to somebody else suddenly belonged to her. Yet for all this, Don and Marilyn didn't speak much about Susan, mostly because long before the crash, back in 1990 after her TV show was canceled, Susan had eliminated them from her life with a finality that approached death. Marilyn truly saw no reason why Susan should be as angry about the money as she was. Hadn't Marilyn done half the work? They'd read of Susan's marriage to Chris in the Arts & Lifestyle section of the local weekend paper. They met Chris only once, at a midnight vigil for Susan that Marilyn had staged in a Cheyenne town square (exclusive continental European photo rights to Paris Match, UK rights to Hello! magazine, U.S. and Canadian rights to the Star, film and TV rights reserved, as live footage was to be inserted into a possible A&E special about Susan to begin production the following year). Marilyn and Chris hugged for the cameras, lit candles, and bowed their heads for the cameras. All the while, Chris's young fans chanted from across the square. Afterward, Chris left and didn't speak with Marilyn again. («Guess what, Don — I think Sir Frederick Rock Star is an asshole.») Then came Julie's phone call one morning: «Marilyn, come to New York. It's over.» When Marilyn found out the amount, she whooped with pleasure, then immediately apologized to Julie for whooping in her ear. She tried to find Don, and did, passed out in the back corner of his favorite seedy sports bar. So that afternoon she left for Manhattan without him. The next day, with Julie, she walked down the courthouse steps and spoke with the press. That afternoon she spent $28,000 while shopping on upper Madison Avenue. The next day Marilyn went home to Cheyenne, and the day after that she got the call from a sparkle-voiced airline PR woman about Susan's return to the living. She hung up the phone and reached for half a Shitsicle Don had left beside the phone book. Susan would be home the next morning. Chapter Thirty-three
Back in Cheyenne's outskirts, Marilyn lurked inside her motel room with the drapes closed, the TV blaring. Vanessa and Ryan were standing behind the rental car keeping sentinel on her, while Ivan and John headed to the lobby. Ivan called Cheyenne's airport about the jet's overnight parking and then rented rooms for the group in case they had to watch Marilyn into the evening. John was looking out the window covered in grit and credit card stickers, also scoping the door to Marilyn's room. The group reconvened at the car, where Ryan said, «I'm starved. We didn't eat lunch.» «Me, too,» said Ivan. «I'm going to go make a burger run. There's an A&W a quarter mile back on the road.» «Well, you can't use the car,» said John. «What?» said Vanessa. «As if Marilyn's going to vamoose right now or something? We're all sugar crashing. It's a worthwhile risk to get ourselves properly nutrished. Get me a large fries — make sure they use vegetable oil, no lard — and an iced tea.» John was too hungry to fight and he gave Ivan his order. As he left in the rental car, Vanessa walked up to the door of number 14, and knocked loudly. Even from a distance, the sound of blaring cartoons and commercials tumbled from the room, the windows rattling as if they possessed stereo woofers. Vanessa's unexpected charge shattered John and Ryan's complacency, and they dive-bombed behind Marilyn's BMW. «Hellooo …» said Vanessa, and she knocked again, louder this time. «Hellooo — Mrs. Heatherington? Fawn Heatherington?» Vanessa rapped the windowpane and then a slit in the curtains, which were yellowed, nicotine-soaked and threadbare, fluttered open. The room's door opened a crack. «Yes?» Bugs Bunny shrieked from within. «I'm Mona. My uncle runs this place. Did you leave a twenty-dollar bill lying on the counter by mistake?» She held up the bill. The door opened a notch wider. «Why yes, I did — how thoughtful of you.» «Think nothing of it, Mrs. Heatherington. Wyoming hospitality.» Marilyn plinked the bill from Vanessa's fingertips and mumbled the words «Wellthankyouverymuchgoodbye,» to Vanessa, but Vanessa stuck her foot in the door so it couldn't close. «Excuse me?» said Marilyn in a forced huff. «Sorry to disturb you even more, Mrs. Heatherington, but — » «Fawn. Call me Fawn.» «Sorry to disturb you even more, then, Fawn, it's just that …» Vanessa's eyes saw the aged curtains. «It's just that for the past year I've been trying to get my uncle to buy new curtains for the units. See how ratty these are?» «Well, I suppose, yes.» «Exactly. If you could just mention this when you check out, it would sure help me build a stronger case. He's kinda cheap.» «Absolutely,» said Marilyn. The door shut and Vanessa strode over to her room, number 7. She was followed by John and Ryan, who scrambled out from behind the BMW, then beneath Marilyn's window. They came into the room and Vanessa said, «She's not alone.» «How can you tell?» asked John. «I heard someone rattling about in the bathroom. Even through the cartoon noise.» «Did you see anything else in there? Clothing? Books? Magazines?» «No. It looks like an unoccupied room.» Ryan asked if the room was the same configuration as the one they were in, and Vanessa suspected it was. «Then come back here with me,» Ryan said. «Let's see if there's some kind of escape route we should watch for.» They walked back to the bathroom and inspected the window beside the sink. «I don't know if that window is crawl-out-of-able,» said John. «I think it is,» said Ryan. «Watch me.» He hoisted himself up, his stomach resting on the dusty and blackened aluminum slide rail. «Ryan,» said Vanessa. «Get down from there.» «No. I just want to see if — » He was cut short by the sound of Marilyn's BMW charging out of the parking lot and left, westward, onto the highway. «Shit,» said John. He kicked a hole in the door of number 7. «Don't be so melodramatic,» said Vanessa. «Ivan'll be back soon enough. Let's sit tight.» «I bet she saw us behind her car,» said Ryan. They waited outside for Ivan, and John was visibly falling apart. Vanessa asked him if he was going to be okay, and he wasn't sure if he would be. The sun was still above the foothills off to the west, but only just. Wind whistled by, and John recalled the wind, back when he'd been lost. He remembered how it never leaves the air. Ryan tried to atone for his having distracted the trio away from Marilyn's exodus. He went up to the door of 14 and tried turning the knob. It did and the door opened. He inspected the room but found no clues. «Gosh, Sheriff Perkins,» said Vanessa, «those darn crooks left a book of matches from the Stork Club.Look — there's even a phone number written on the inside: Klondike 5-blah-blah-blah-blah.» «A bit more support, a bit less sarcasm, Vanny.» Ivan pulled in and the trio rushed into the car like puppies. «That way,» said John. «She has a two-minute lead.» The car skidded out in a lazy spray of gravel. They flew west down the Interstate, back toward Utah and California, amid the truckloads of lettuce and hay bales and lumber that John thought seemed to never leave the roads, as if they existed in some sort of perpetual caffeinated loop. An Exxon station lay ahead like a beacon. Ryan scoped it out with the binoculars. «She's there,» he said. «Parked over by the tire pump.» «Thank Christ,» said John. «Ivan, pull in, but not too far, because she might see us and bolt.» Ivan veered into the station, then empty. «Is she in the office buying gum or something?» asked John. «If you're like me,» said Ryan, «whenever you're being pursued, your first impulse is to stop the chase and stock up on gum.» «She's probably in the bathroom,» said Vanessa. «I'll go look.» She got out of the car and walked to the ladies' room entrance by the side. She knocked on the door and Marilyn's voice called out, «Yeah?» Vanessa faked a southern accent and said, «No hurry then, ma'am,» then gave the thumbs up to the men in the car, and walked back. John got out and stood at the back of the car, absentmindedly eating a cheeseburger. «If we keep following her, we could be on the road for hours,» he said. «She could be driving anywhere.» A black minivan drove by. Susan was at the wheel. She saw John and wrenched the van to a halt. Camper and Willy avalanched into the dashboard. She and John locked eyes, smiled. She recovered her wits. «Shit, Susan,» Randy yelled, a drink spilled in his lap. «What the hell are you — ?» Susan plunged the minivan into reverse gear and made a crazy donut, then looped around and pulled up beside John's car. «Your mother is in there,» John said, pointing to the rest-room. «I found her for you. You were looking for her, weren't you?» Susan climbed out of the van, lifted her arms up to her mouth, and started to rock back and forth slightly, like a stick in the wind. She said, «Oh,John … » but her voice vanished, and instinctively Randy and Dreama, now out of the van, stepped back in surprise, as though Susan were a highway smash-up during rush hour. She took geisha steps toward the rest room door. Vanessa quickly pulled back from the door, allowing Susan to approach alone. The others in the group formed a semicircle around her. A truck zoomed by on the freeway. The sun was halfway behind a mountaintop and their shadows were black ribbons. The dogs romped and yelped in the grass scrub behind the station. Susan knocked on the door. Marilyn shouted out, «Jesus Christ, I'm hurrying, I'm hurrying. I'm changing a diaper in here, okay?» «Mom?» Everybody felt the silence from within the locked bathroom. The last glint of sun went behind a hill and their shadows vanished and the air became that much cooler. The station's attendant rounded the corner to check out the crowd. Randy asked him, «Do you have an extra key to the ladies' room?» «No sir, just the one.» From inside the door came a child's crying. Instantly, Susan bolted toward the door and tried smashing it with her shoulder, unsuccessfully. She slammed into it again, then Marilyn opened the lock and Eugene Junior raced out. «He's okay,» said Marilyn, then Susan grabbed him and swept him over to a small wall beside the propane filling tanks where she held him close to her chest. Marilyn sat down on the toilet in haggard defeat. «Mom,» said Susan, «it's okay.» Marilyn didn't come out of the bathroom. Her body deflated and she took a breath. The group's eyes peered into the small, harshly lit room. Chapter Thirty-four
Susan slammed the door of the house in Cheyenne, and almost immediately Marilyn felt as if she were on fire. But the fire didn't go away. It burned within her, underground, flaring up hourly across the following months, and when she burned, she lost her head and said hateful, vengeful things, which finally drove Don away. She beetled about inside her clean, white petrified house with nobody to talk to and nobody to phone. She felt like her head was filled with larvae. Her doctor said it was «the change,» and Marilyn said, «Dammit, why can't you just call it menopause?» The doctor said, «We look at things differently these days. This isn't an end. It's a beginni — » Marilyn said, «Why don't you just shut the fuck up and prescribe me a suitcase full of pills and make this blasted fire go away.» The fire didn't go away, and pills were useless in snuffing it out. She cried and then she felt elated, but mostly she was bewildered and burning. And then the bills came due and all of the money was gone. She'd been proud, and didn't want to give Susan the satisfaction of seeing her mother cash in on paid interviews, so she did no press after Susan had left for California. Yet at the same time she hoped that Susan would see her mother's refusal to pocket some money and then maybe, just maybe, Susan would forgive her. And if Susan forgave her, then maybe she'd one day allow Marilyn access to the brood of children she'd seemed suspiciously intent on mentioning. In the end, Marilyn's pride and hope had left her vulnerably broke. She phoned the networks, but it was too late, the Susan Colgate story stale. Marilyn offered no new angle. Marilyn pawned what she could, yard-saled some more, and then rented a cheap apartment. She developed a phobia about touching her lower stomach. She was afraid of her fallopian tubes and her uterus, sure they'd dried out like apricots or chanterelle mushrooms, and she didn't think she could cope at all were she to feel their lumpiness within her. Fertility. Babies. Desirability. Love. These words were so fully joined together in her head, like pipes and wires and beams in a building. And now, suddenly she was barren. A houseplant. As if on cue, parts of her face started to migrate and shift. Silicone injections from a decade ago became like rogue continents within her skin, and Marilyn ran out of supermarkets and convenience stores in the Cheyenne area because she had shrieked at the clerks in the stores for focusing even a blink too long on the inert sensationless bulges beneath her left eye, her right cheek or the bridge of her nose. She lost her energy. She became unable to drag herself out of bed in the morning. And then the landlord's henchmen gave her a month to leave her apartment. So she threw what she could into the BMW (which she refused to surrender) and sold what remained to a guy from a local auction house. She went out onto the road, like so many people had done before her, discharged from a world that no longer gave a damn if she burned or mummified or vanished or was sucked up into the sky by a spaceship. And then one day, somewhere in Colorado, it all stopped. Her head cleared, and it was as if the months of hell had been merely a fevered patch. Though she had lost her husband, her house, almost all of her possessions, she felt — free. She took a room by the week over by the Cheyenne air force base, where weekly rentals were common. She changed her name to Fawn because she saw a fawn behind her rental unit one morning, and Heatherington because that was the fake I.D. name they gave her in the back room of Don's old sports bar haunt as she exchanged her Piaget wristwatch for a new identity. Good old Duran had been spot on about Marilyn's needing a skill not tethered to beauty to help her through her life. She resumed including him in her prayers, when she prayed, which wasn't too often. He'd been dead for maybe fifteen years. In 1983 she'd read that he'd whacked his car into the side of a dairy van. She said,«Hey Durrie, at least I sound like a lady on TV announcing the news. Sleep tight, honey.» Marilyn's clerical and organizational skills, acquired so many years back, landed her a job at a company called Calumet Systems, which, as far as she could tell, built UFOs for the government. Nobody there recognized «Fawn» as Marilyn, despite her recently televised reunion. She'd morphed into somebody utterly new. She was now a cropped brunette with pitted skin who bought her Dacron frocks off the rack that in a previous life she wouldn't have deigned to use to wipe crud off the snow tires in the garage. She was cool and serene and proud to help her government manufacture UFOs at Calumet. This went on for a year. She assembled bits and pieces of daily necessities from thrift shops, and she went out once a month to see a movie with two of the girls from Calumet, who ribbed her about her BMW, which she said her brother gave to her. She watched TV. She was happy because she figured she could live this unassuming life until she died and she wouldn't ever again have to put so damnable much energy into being a complicated person with tangled relationships that only seemed to wear her out in the end. She typed like a woodpecker, even with long fingernails. She was so good at it that a man from a company outside Calumet was brought in to witness her skills for himself, to identify her «metrics.» He praised Marilyn for her low error rate and he noted her biggest weakness, her frequent inability to capitalize sentences that began with the letter T. The man had smiled at her just before he left, and it was then that Marilyn intuited that he knew she might not be Fawn Heatherington. He'd asked her if she'd ever worked anywhere else before, and she'd said she hadn't. This had to seem like a bald-faced lie, but it actually wasn't. Her job with Mr. Jordan, the Spam Man, had been in another era altogether, and her only other typing-based work was time spent in a satellite office of the Trojan nuclear plant, raising money for Susan's gowns. That same night the fire in her body came back again, and it was worse than before, possibly because its reemergence seemed like such a sick joke and she'd worked so hard to erase Marilyn Colgate, the Burning Woman. The loneliness that she thought she had so effectively thwarted began to rip apart her insides. She phoned in sick to Calumet. She screamed and wept in her car, and drove to California with a plan to beg for Susan's forgiveness, though she knew this was only dreaming. She drove past the Cape Cod house on Prestwick and parked in front of a house down the street. It was garbage night. Nobody saw her. She picked up Susan's small zinc garbage can and threw it into her car's back seat. She drove to a Pay-Less lot past the Beverly Center and dissected the contents of the can: two nonfat yogurt tubs, an unread paper, three Q-Tips and a phone bill with thirty-eight long-distance calls to the same number in the San Fernando Valley, plus a receipt for a jungle gym delivered to a Valley address. Bingo. She went to a pay phone and dialed the Valley number, and a man's voice answered, «Hel lo?» Marilyn said she was from the company that had delivered the jungle gym and wanted to see if they were satisfied customers. «Eugene adores it — lives on it, practically. And it really does help pull together the whole back yard.» «That's good, then,» Marilyn said. «Would Eugene be needing anything else for the back yard?» «Oh you re lent less sales folks. Not now, but he's getting a real thing going for airplanes, so don't be surprised if we order the Junior Sopwith Camel in a half year or so.» «We'll look forward to it.» The call ended. Marilyn went into the Pay-Less and bought a foam 747 made in Taiwan. She drove out to Randy's house, parked down the street and slept there overnight. In the morning she carried the plane around to the edge of the house and there saw the most beautiful child she'd ever laid eyes on — a child of almost celestial beauty. He looked so much the way Susan had as a child, and like someone else — a face she couldn't quite place. Suddenly she knew something about where Susan had spent her year of amnesia. Marilyn wanted desperately to hug this child. She held up the 747 and made it loop up and down with her arm until Eugene Junior noticed her. He skipped delightedly her way. Two minutes later, with Marilyn in tears, they drove away from the jungle gym in her BMW. Randy had been folding laundry in the living room, and though it had been less than five minutes since he'd last checked on the child, his radar blipped. Something was wrong. He looked in the back yard and his spine froze. Then he saw the car pull out of the driveway. He phoned Susan, just back from her walk with John Johnson. Before he could speak, she burst out, «Randy! I just got a ride home from the cops — and I met this guy — » Randy interrupted and told her what had happened.