of Susie Salmon:
My 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 had a quote from a
Spanish poet my sister had turned me on to, Juan Ramon Jimenez. 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 a 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.
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 eggshell 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 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
. . . . . . . . . . . .
As he kissed his wet lips down my face and neck and
then began to shove his hands up under my shirt, I wept. I began to
leave my body; I began to inhabit the air and the silence. I wept
and struggled so I would not feel. He ripped open my pants, not
having found the invisible zipper my mother had artfully sewn into
"Big white panties," he said.
I felt huge and bloated. I felt like a sea in which
he stood and pissed and shat. I felt the corners of my body were
turning in on themselves and out, like in cat’s cradle, which I
played wit Lindsey just to make her happy. He started working
himself over me.
"Susie! Susie! I heard my mother calling. "Dinner is
He was inside me. He was grunting.
"We’re having string beans and lamb."
I was the mortar, he was the pestle.
"Your brother has a new finger painting, and I made
apple crumb cake."
Mr. Harvey made me lie still underneath him and
listen to the beating of his heart and the beating of mine. How mine
skipped like a rabbit, and how his thudded, a hammer against cloth.
We lay there with our bodies touching, and, as I shook, a powerful
knowledge took hold. He had done this thing to me and I had lived.
That was all. I was still breathing. I heard his heart. I smelled
his breath. The dark earth
surrounding us smelled like what it was, moist dirt where worms and
animals lived their daily lives. I could have yelled for hours.
I knew he was going to kill me. I did not realize
then that I was an animal already dying.
"Why don’t you get up?" Mr. Harvey said as he rolled
to the side and then crouched over me.
His voice was gentle, encouraging, a lover’s voice
on a late morning. A suggestion, not a command.
I could not move. I could not get up.
When I would not — was it only that, only that I
would not follow his suggestion? — he leaned to the side and felt
over his head, across the ledge where his razor and shaving cream
sat. He brought back a knife. Unsheathed, it smiled at me, curving
up in a grin.
He took the hat from my mouth.
"Tell me you love me," he said.
Gently, I did.
The end came anyway.