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Hidden Bodies 2
She digs up these shirts at various Goodwills all over the city. Her chest is always screaming Go Tigers! Arizona State! PITT. I tend to the stacks and eavesdrop as people who come into the shop try to connect with her—Did you go to Princeton? Did you go to UMass? Do you go to NYU?—and she always answers yes. She makes nice with the women and she lets the dudes think they have a shot. (They don’t.) She likes a conversation. She likes a story, my little anthropologist, my listener.
We are nearing the road that takes us to Little Compton and just when I think life can’t get any better, I see flashing lights. A cop is coming at us. Hard. His lights are on and his sirens are blaring and the music is gone. I brake and I try to keep my legs from shaking.
“What the fuck?” Amy says. “You weren’t even speeding.”
“I don’t think so,” I say, keeping my eyes on the rearview mirror as the cop opens his door.
Amy turns to me. “What did you do?”
What did I do? I murdered my ex-girlfriend Guinevere Beck. I buried her body in upstate New York and then pinned it on her therapist, Dr. Nicky Angevine. Before that, I strangled her friend Peach Salinger. I killed her less than five fucking miles from here, on a beach by her family’s house, and made it look like a suicide. I also did away with a drug-addled soda jerk named Benji Keyes. His cremated body is in his storage unit, but his family thinks he died on a bender. Oh, also. The first girl I ever loved, Candace. I put her out to sea. Nobody knows I did any of these things so it’s like that if-a-tree-falls-in-the-woods question.
“I have no idea,” I say, and this is a fucking nightmare.
Amy rummages around the glove box for the rental’s registration, takes it out, and then slams it shut. Officer Thomas Jenks doesn’t take off his sunglasses. He has round shoulders and his uniform is slightly too large. “License and registration,” he says. His eyes burrow into on my chest, the word brown. “You heading back to school?”
“Just going to Little Compton,” I say. And then I cover. “Eventually. Taking my time.”
He doesn’t acknowledge my passive-aggressive defense. I was not fucking speeding and I am not a Brown asshole and this is why I don’t wear college shirts. He studies my New York driver’s license. A century passes, and then another.
Amy coughs. “Officer, what did we do wrong?”
Officer Jenks looks at her, then at me. “You didn’t signal when you turned.”
Are you kidding me, motherfucker? “Ah,” I say. “I’m sorry.”
Jenks says he needs “a few minutes” and he plods back to his car, breaking into a jog and he shouldn’t be jogging. He also shouldn’t need “a few minutes.” As he opens the door to his cruiser and slips inside, I think of my prior offenses, my secret activities, and my throat closes up.
“Joe, relax,” Amy says, putting her hand on my leg. “It’s just a minor traffic violation.”
But Amy doesn’t know that I killed four people. I am sweating and I’ve heard about things like this. A guy gets pulled over for a minor infraction and somehow, through the sadistic magic of computers and system, the guy is pinned for all kinds of other shit. I could shoot myself.
Amy turns the radio back on. Five songs play and twenty minutes tick by and Officer Thomas Jenks is still in his automobile, holding my personal information. If he’s issuing me a simple ticket for failing to signal, if that’s all there is to this, then why is he on the phone? Why does he keep pushing buttons on the computer? Does my freedom end at the beginning of the season when my iPhone shows sun and the sky above is swollen with rain? Because I do know a cop in this state. His name is Officer Nico and he thinks my name is Spencer. What if he saw my picture in the computer? What if he recognized me and called Jenks and said, I know that guy. And what if—
“Joe,” Amy says, and I almost forgot she was here. “You look like you’re having a panic attack. It’s not bad. It’s not even a speeding ticket.”
“I know,” I say. “I just hate cops.”
She strokes my leg. “I know.”
She reaches into the cooler and takes out a peach. A peach. Of course it kills me that we are moving backward. She is eating a peach and I am obsessing about Peach Salinger and my mug of piss.
I try to believe that it’s gone. I picture a maid swiping it, disgusted, scouring it clean, dousing it with bleach. I picture a golden retriever—people with summer homes, they love their great big dogs—and he’s sniffing around, pawing at the mug, and he knocks it over and his master calls and he runs and my urine seeps into the floorboards and I am safe. I picture a Salinger child playing hide-and-seek. The mug gets knocked over. I’m safe. I see a Salinger cousin, cunty, texting, absentmindedly throwing shoes into the closet, losing her shit when a full mug soaks her precious Manolos, her Tory Burch sandals. She trashes the shoes. I am safe.
I hear the door slam. Jenks is on foot. He might ask me to step out of the car. He might lie to me. He might try to trick me. He might ask Amy to step out of the car. He wears cologne, poor guy, and he hands me my license and the rental registration.
“Sorry about the holdup,” he says. “You know, they give us these computers and half the time they’re jammed up.”
“Technology,” I sigh. Free. Free! “It’s the end of us all, right?”
“All the more reason I’d like you to use that blinker,” he quips.
I smile. “I’m truly sorry, Officer.”
Jenks asks us if we live right in the city and I tell him it’s quieter in Brooklyn and everything is going to be okay. I am blessed. I smell Jenks’s hopeful body spray. I see his small life, it’s all in his eyes, unlived, dreams he didn’t chase, dreams he won’t chase, not because he’s a pussy, because he simply doesn’t see his dreams in detail, the kind of details that drive a person to pack their shit, to move. He became a cop because of the simplicity of the uniform; you don’t have to think about what to wear every day.
“You have fun,” he says. “Be safe.”
I pull back onto the road and I’m relieved that my day, my life, doesn’t end here. I have one hand on the wheel and I maneuver the other under Amy’s cutoffs. I see our turn up ahead, the one that leads to Little Compton. I don’t want the police anywhere in my future and I accept that I fucked up, that I left one loose end, and I will never, ever do that again.
This time, when I turn, I use my fucking blinker.
WE stop at Del’s Lemonade and sit at a picnic table, toasting with lemon slushie cups. Amy shrugs. “It’s fine,” she says. “But honestly, this isn’t that good, you know?”
I love her contrarian way. “People think everything is better when they’re on vacation.”
“Yelp Nation,” she says. “Miserable people want to call it a one-star slushie and insecure people want everyone to be jealous of them and be all, ‘best slushie everrrr.’”
Sometimes I wish she could have met Beck. “Wow,” I say. “You just described my ex to a T.”
She smacks her lips. “Which one?”
It’s vacation, so I let loose. I tell her a little about Beck even though you’re not supposed to talk about your old girlfriend with the new one.
“So she was an Ivy League chick?” she asks. “Was she snobby?”
“Sometimes,” I say. “But mostly she was sad.”
“You know, most of the people who go to those schools, they are psycho because they spend their whole childhoods trying to get into those schools. They can’t live in the moment.”
I will fuck her on this table right here, right now. “You are so right,” I say. “Did you ever date anyone like that?”
She shakes her head. “You can show me yours, but I don’t want to show you mine.”
She is the only woman left who knows the value of mystery. She tosses her slushie into a trash bin and we lie back on the table, watching the branches above us sway.
“Talk,” she says. “Tell me.”
I start at the beginning, in the shop
, Beck without her bra—Amy says that’s attention seeking—and Beck buying her Paula Fox—Amy says that was to impress me—and this is where Amy is so beautiful and unusual. She doesn’t interrupt me to tell her own story or slip into a jealous rant. She listens to me and she is a sponge. It’s cathartic for me to describe Beck’s viciousness, and this is why you need to get in a car and go sometimes. I don’t think we could have had this conversation in New York. I feel so aware with Amy, and she just gets it when I tell her about Beck Tweeting from Bemelmans Bar, the way she had to look up solipsistic in the dictionary. When I tell her that Beck referred to Little Compton as LC, she kicks the air. She gets it. All of it. I am known. She turns her head.
“You guys came here together?” Her voice is higher, suspicious.
“No,” I say. And technically I’m not lying. I followed Beck here. There’s a difference.
I tell her about the way Beck cheated on me with her shrink.
“How terrible,” Amy says. “How did you find out?”
I held her prisoner and broke into her apartment and found the evidence on a MacBook Air. “I just had a feeling,” I lie, because it’s also sort of true. “So I asked her and she told me and then that was it. We broke up.”
She strokes my leg. I tell her to Google Nicholas Angevine and she does and she scans the headlines and she looks at me, horrified. “He killed her?”
“Yep,” I say. And it’s impressive. I framed him for the murder so effectively that I don’t even exist in the Wikipedia page about the crime. “He murdered her and he buried her near his family’s second home upstate.”
She shudders. “Do you miss her?”
“No,” I say. “I feel sorry for her, of course. But it wasn’t good between us, you know? And when you came along, I mean, it sounds sick, but that was like, well, then I really didn’t miss her anymore.”
She bumps her knee into mine. “That’s sweet.” She promises me she won’t cheat on me with a shrink. She is wary of physicians and psychiatrists, “people who thrive on other people’s pain.”
God, I love her brain, all pink and mushy and suspicious. I kiss her.
“I’ll be right back,” she says and she leaves her purse with me and crosses the parking lot to the restroom. She walks for me and she turns back and winks, same way she does in the shop. When she disappears into the restroom I take her phone out of her purse.
I’m never afraid of what I’m going to find when I look through her phone. I just want to know everything. It’s like that guy in that old Julia Roberts movie who loves to watch her try on hats and dance around to “Brown Eyed Girl.” Nothing in Beck’s phone ever made me smile, but rummaging through Amy’s always reaffirms the way I feel about her. The first item in her Google search history is Henderson sucks. She is reading recaps of his talk show [email protected]#k Narcissism, the one we hate-watch a couple of times a week, where he sits on the couch and the guests sit at the desk. The hook is that he’s sitting on the couch because he’s a narcissist who only wants to talk about himself, but every interview obviously devolves into talk about whatever shitty movies the guest host is promoting. She says Henderson’s success is proof that our culture is edging toward a cannibalistic apocalypse.
“What are you doing?”
I startle and nearly drop Amy’s phone. I look up guiltily as her shadow falls over me. She’s standing, arms crossed, eyes narrowed.
Fuck. I swallow. I am caught.
“Amy,” I say, clenching her phone. “I know what this looks like but this isn’t that.”
She holds out her hand. “Gimme my phone.”
“Amy,” I plead. “I’m sorry.”
She looks away. I give her the phone and I want her to sit with me but she crosses her arms again. Her eyes are wet. “And I was literally just thinking how happy I am with you.”
“I’m sorry,” I say again.
“Why are you snooping around?” she demands. “Why are you ruining this?”
“It’s not like that,” I tell her, reaching out.
“No,” she says, waving me off. “I get it. You don’t trust me. And why should you? I’m the one who showed up with a stolen fucking credit card the first day I met you. Of course you don’t trust me.”
“But I do trust you,” I say, and how strange the truth sounds. “I’m looking in your phone because I’m fucking crazy about you and when you go in the bathroom I miss you.” I get onto my knees and grovel. “Amy, I swear. I have never been so crazy about anyone and I know this is crazy. But I love you. Even when you’re in the bathroom, I just want more.”
At first there is nothing. She is blank. And then she sighs and scruffs my hair. “Get up.”
We settled back on the bench as a family emerges from a minivan, loud, sandy. Five minutes ago, we would have been cracking jokes about them. Now we are somber. I nod toward them.
“You and I didn’t grow up like that and we’re a little messed up because of it,” I say. “It’s hard for people like us to trust each other, but I do trust you.”
She watches the mother squirt lotion onto the kids. “Okay,” she says. “That’s fair. About the shitty childhoods and the trust.”
I hold her hand as we watch the father try to reason with his unreasonable four-year-old son, telling him he can’t have another slushie because he won’t have any room for hot dogs at the barbecue. The kid shrieks. He doesn’t want a hot dog—he wants a slushie. The mother comes around and squats and hugs the child and says please tell Mommy what you want. The child screams slushie and the father says the mother is spoiling the child and the mother says it’s important to communicate with kids and respect their own desires. It’s like watching TV and when they disappear back into the minivan, the show is over.
Amy puts her head on my shoulder. “I like you.”
“You’re not pissed at me?”
“No,” she says. “I’m the same way. Sometimes I can’t believe how alike we are.”
I stiffen. “You’ve looked in my phone?” CandaceBenjiPeachBeckMugofUrine.
She laughs. “No,” she says. “But if you would ever leave your phone, I totally would. I’m not very good at trusting people either.”
I nod. “Look. I don’t wanna be that guy. But we can get better.”
She squeezes my hand. “I might fuck up.”
Being together is the best feeling in the world, better than sex, better than a red convertible or that first I love you.
“Yeah?” I ask.
“Yeah,” she says, and mimicking is a sign of love.
This was a good idea, this trip. We get more slushies for the road and get back into the ’Vette. There’s been an atomic meltdown and we’re the only two people left on Earth and this is why people shouldn’t commit suicide, because maybe, someday, you might get to sit in the shade with someone who is refreshingly different! I make her laugh so hard that she has slushie spilling out of the corners of her mouth. And then we drive away and find a quiet spot and I eat her out and when I finish I have her spilling out of the corner of my mouth. Your vacation is not the best vacation ever. Mine is. I earned it. She caught me sneaking around in her phone and still she spread her legs.
When we get to the hotel, she gasps. “Wow.”
And when we walk into the room and onto the terrace, I don’t gasp. I knew we were close, but I didn’t realize I’d be able to see it so clearly—the Salinger cottage, twinkling, lit by fireworks, full of people. People who may or may not have seen my mug. Amy nods toward the house. “Do you know those people?”
“One of them,” I tell her. “They’re the Salingers.” I tell Amy about Peach’s dysfunctional friendship with Beck and her inevitable suicide. Amy wraps her arms around me and if this were a cartoon, I could stretch my rubber arm all the way across the beach, into that house, up those rickety stairs, into that bedroom, reclaim my mug of urine, and then, then I would have it all.
THE next day we hit the beach with Ralph Lauren towels. We sit near the Salin
gers’. I figure maybe, maybe, I can ask to use their bathroom. We can ask to use a bathroom. Nobody is going to say no to Amy and while she’s making small talk I can go upstairs. It’s a reach but it’s all I’ve got.
“Whoa,” she says, shielding her eyes with her hands. “He looks pissed.”
I turn. A Salinger man whistles and storms toward us. My balls crawl back inside of me. Amy groans. “They’re as bad as you said.”
“Let’s be calm.”
But he’s not calm. He’s spitting. “This beach is private,” he snarls. Families fascinate me; Peach is dead, but there is her nose, her frizzy hair. “You need to be on the other side of the sand.”
You can’t be on the other side of the sand and Amy peels off her shirt like she’s Phoebe Cates in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. “I’m so sorry,” she says. “Did you want to let us know about anything else?”
She smiles at him and he’s staring at her body and she’s a fucking genius. He skulks back to his ugly wife and Amy laughs. “Can we get in the water already?”
“I need to warm up,” I say, but really I need to do recon on the Salingers. There are so fucking many of them, romping on their trampolines on the water, on the sand, as if the sand and the waves and the cottage aren’t enough. Children scamper and older Salinger men in madras shorts with short-sleeve shirts talk Vineyard Vines, golf courses in Ireland, reunions. The women bitch about nannies and salesgirls and a waitress they all think is after their chubby husbands. You would never know that this family lost their daughter, their sister, their auntie. They are on vacation in every sense of the word and their only purpose is to alert passersby that they can’t use the trampoline or sit too close. I have never seen such a family of cunts, living for barricades. We’ve already been yelled at and I am not getting in that house today.
So fuck it.
I grab Amy and throw her over my shoulder and she screams and the Salingers glare, jealous of us, young, poor, in love. I carry her toward the water, the same water where I disposed of Peach, the same shore where she washed up months later after her tragic so-called suicide. Amy wraps her legs around me and envious Salinger men watch, wish, drink. We stay like this, glued in Peach’s ocean grave and by the time we get out of the water, most of the Salingers have retreated into the house. It’s colder now and we put on sweaters and Amy reaches into her beach bag and pulls out a children’s book called Charlotte & Charles. “This was my favorite,” she says. “Can I read it to you?”