Authors: Alice Sebold
Tags: #Fiction, #Psychological, #FIC025000
Copyright © 2002 by Alice Sebold
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including
information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may
quote brief passages in a review.
The characters and events in this book are fictitious.
Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and
not intended by the author.
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First eBook Edition: August 2002
Inside the snow globe on my father’s desk, there was a penguin wearing a red-and-white-striped scarf. When I was little my
father would pull me into his lap and reach for the snow globe. He would turn it over, letting all the snow collect on the
top, then quickly invert it. The two of us watched the snow fall gently around the penguin. The penguin was alone in there,
I thought, and I worried for him. When I told my father this, he said, “Don’t worry, Susie; he has a nice life. He’s trapped
in a perfect world.”
y name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973. In newspaper photos
of missing girls from the seventies, most looked like me: white girls with mousy brown hair. This was before kids of all races
and genders started appearing on milk cartons or in the daily mail. It was still back when people believed things like that
In my junior high yearbook I had a quote from a Spanish poet my sister had turned me on to, Juan Ramón Jiménez. It went like
this: “If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.” I chose it both because it expressed my contempt for my structured
surroundings à la the classroom and because, not being some dopey quote from a rock group, I thought it marked me as literary.
I was a member of the Chess Club and Chem Club and burned everything I tried to make in Mrs. Delminico’s home ec class. My
favorite teacher was Mr. Botte, who taught biology and liked to animate the frogs and crawfish we had to dissect by making
them dance in their waxed pans.
I wasn’t killed by Mr. Botte, by the way. Don’t think every person you’re going to meet in here is suspect. That’s the problem.
You never know. Mr. Botte came to my memorial (as, may I add, did almost the entire junior high school—I was never so popular)
and cried quite a bit. He had a sick kid. We all knew this, so when he laughed at his own jokes, which were rusty way before
I had him, we laughed too, forcing it sometimes just to make him happy. His daughter died a year and a half after I did. She
had leukemia, but I never saw her in my heaven.
My murderer was a man from our neighborhood. My mother liked his border flowers, and my father talked to him once about fertilizer.
My murderer believed in old-fashioned things like eggshells and coffee grounds, which he said his own mother had used. My
father came home smiling, making jokes about how the man’s garden might be beautiful but it would stink to high heaven once
a heat wave hit.
But on December 6, 1973, it was snowing, and I took a shortcut through the cornfield back from the junior high. It was dark
out because the days were shorter in winter, and I remember how the broken cornstalks made my walk more difficult. The snow
was falling lightly, like a flurry of small hands, and I was breathing through my nose until it was running so much that I
had to open my mouth. Six feet from where Mr. Harvey stood, I stuck my tongue out to taste a snowflake.
“Don’t let me startle you,” Mr. Harvey said.
Of course, in a cornfield, in the dark, I was startled. After I was dead I thought about how there had been the light scent
of cologne in the air but that I had not been paying attention, or thought it was coming from one of the houses up ahead.
“Mr. Harvey,” I said.
“You’re the older Salmon girl, right?”
“How are your folks?”
Although the eldest in my family and good at acing a science quiz, I had never felt comfortable with adults.
“Fine,” I said. I was cold, but the natural authority of his age, and the added fact that he was a neighbor and had talked
to my father about fertilizer, rooted me to the spot.
“I’ve built something back here,” he said. “Would you like to see?”
“I’m sort of cold, Mr. Harvey,” I said, “and my mom likes me home before dark.”
“It’s after dark, Susie,” he said.
I wish now that I had known this was weird. I had never told him my name. I guess I thought my father had told him one of
the embarrassing anecdotes he saw merely as loving testaments to his children. My father was the kind of dad who kept a nude
photo of you when you were three in the downstairs bathroom, the one that guests would use. He did this to my little sister,
Lindsey, thank God. At least I was spared that indignity. But he liked to tell a story about how, once Lindsey was born, I
was so jealous that one day while he was on the phone in the other room, I moved down the couch—he could see me from where
he stood—and tried to pee on top of Lindsey in her carrier. This story humiliated me every time he told it, to the pastor
of our church, to our neighbor Mrs. Stead, who was a therapist and whose take on it he wanted to hear, and to everyone who
ever said “Susie has a lot of spunk!”
“Spunk!” my father would say. “Let me tell you about spunk,” and he would launch immediately into his Susie-peed-on-Lindsey
But as it turned out, my father had not mentioned us to Mr. Harvey or told him the Susie-peed-on-Lindsey story.
Mr. Harvey would later say these words to my mother when he ran into her on the street: “I heard about the horrible, horrible
tragedy. What was your daughter’s name, again?”
“Susie,” my mother said, bracing up under the weight of it, a weight that she naively hoped might lighten someday, not knowing
that it would only go on to hurt in new and varied ways for the rest of her life.
Mr. Harvey told her the usual: “I hope they get the bastard. I’m sorry for your loss.”
I was in my heaven by that time, fitting my limbs together, and couldn’t believe his audacity. “The man has no shame,” I said
to Franny, my intake counselor. “Exactly,” she said, and made her point as simply as that. There wasn’t a lot of bullshit
in my heaven.
Mr. Harvey said it would only take a minute, so I followed him a little farther into the cornfield, where fewer stalks were
broken off because no one used it as a shortcut to the junior high. My mom had told my baby brother, Buckley, that the corn
in the field was inedible when he asked why no one from the neighborhood ate it. “The corn is for horses, not humans,” she
said. “Not dogs?” Buckley asked. “No,” my mother answered. “Not dinosaurs?” Buckley asked. And it went like that.
“I’ve made a little hiding place,” said Mr. Harvey.
He stopped and turned to me.
“I don’t see anything,” I said. I was aware that Mr. Harvey was looking at me strangely. I’d had older men look at me that
way since I’d lost my baby fat, but they usually didn’t lose their marbles over me when I was wearing my royal blue parka
and yellow elephant bell-bottoms. His glasses were small and round with gold frames, and his eyes looked out over them and
“You should be more observant, Susie,” he said.
I felt like observing my way out of there, but I didn’t. Why didn’t I? Franny said these questions were fruitless: “You didn’t
and that’s that. Don’t mull it over. It does no good. You’re dead and you have to accept it.”
“Try again,” Mr. Harvey said, and he squatted down and knocked against the ground.
“What’s that?” I asked.
My ears were freezing. I wouldn’t wear the multicolored cap with the pompom and jingle bells that my mother had made me one
Christmas. I had shoved it in the pocket of my parka instead.
I remember that I went over and stomped on the ground near him. It felt harder even than frozen earth, which was pretty hard.
“It’s wood,” Mr. Harvey said. “It keeps the entrance from collapsing. Other than that it’s all made out of earth.”
“What is it?” I asked. I was no longer cold or weirded out by the look he had given me. I was like I was in science class:
I was curious.
“Come and see.”
It was awkward to get into, that much he admitted once we were both inside the hole. But I was so amazed by how he had made
a chimney that would draw smoke out if he ever chose to build a fire that the awkwardness of getting in and out of the hole
wasn’t even on my mind. You could add to that that escape wasn’t a concept I had any real experience with. The worst I’d had
to escape was Artie, a strange-looking kid at school whose father was a mortician. He liked to pretend he was carrying a needle
full of embalming fluid around with him. On his notebooks he would draw needles spilling dark drips.
“This is neato!” I said to Mr. Harvey. He could have been the hunchback of Notre Dame, whom we had read about in French class.
I didn’t care. I completely reverted. I was my brother Buckley on our day-trip to the Museum of Natural History in New York,
where he’d fallen in love with the huge skeletons on display. I hadn’t used the word
in public since elementary school.
“Like taking candy from a baby,” Franny said.
* * *
I can still see the hole like it was yesterday, and it was. Life is a perpetual yesterday for us. It was the size of a small
room, the mud room in our house, say, where we kept our boots and slickers and where Mom had managed to fit a washer and dryer,
one on top of the other. I could almost stand up in it, but Mr. Harvey had to stoop. He’d created a bench along the sides
of it by the way he’d dug it out. He immediately sat down.
“Look around,” he said.
I stared at it in amazement, the dug-out shelf above him where he had placed matches, a row of batteries, and a battery-powered
fluorescent lamp that cast the only light in the room—an eerie light that would make his features hard to see when he was on
top of me.
There was a mirror on the shelf, and a razor and shaving cream. I thought that was odd. Wouldn’t he do that at home? But I
guess I figured that a man who had a perfectly good split-level and then built an underground room only half a mile away had
to be kind of loo-loo. My father had a nice way of describing people like him: “The man’s a character, that’s all.”
So I guess I was thinking that Mr. Harvey was a character, and I liked the room, and it was warm, and I wanted to know how
he had built it, what the mechanics of the thing were and where he’d learned to do something like that.
But by the time the Gilberts’ dog found my elbow three days later and brought it home with a telling corn husk attached to
it, Mr. Harvey had closed it up. I was in transit during this. I didn’t get to see him sweat it out, remove the wood reinforcement,
bag any evidence along with my body parts, except that elbow. By the time I popped up with enough wherewithal to look down
at the goings-on on Earth, I was more concerned with my family than anything else.
My mother sat on a hard chair by the front door with her mouth open. Her pale face paler than I had ever seen it. Her blue
eyes staring. My father was driven into motion. He wanted to know details and to comb the cornfield along with the cops. I
still thank God for a small detective named Len Fenerman. He assigned two uniforms to take my dad into town and have him point
out all the places I’d hung out with my friends. The uniforms kept my dad busy in one mall for the whole first day. No one
had told Lindsey, who was thirteen and would have been old enough, or Buckley, who was four and would, to be honest, never
Mr. Harvey asked me if I would like a refreshment. That was how he put it. I said I had to go home.
“Be polite and have a Coke,” he said. “I’m sure the other kids would.”
“What other kids?”
“I built this for the kids in the neighborhood. I thought it could be some sort of clubhouse.”
I don’t think I believed this even then. I thought he was lying, but I thought it was a pitiful lie. I imagined he was lonely.
We had read about men like him in health class. Men who never married and ate frozen meals every night and were so afraid
of rejection that they didn’t even own pets. I felt sorry for him.