There was something in her face then, something sympathetic, something hurt in her that recognized the same in me. She looked in my eyes and held them and didn’t say anything and neither did I.

“Want to tell me about it?” she said.

I found that I did. But there are things you don’t say in a restaurant with bored waitresses standing around pretending not to listen. We paid the check, collected our coats, and started back toward the campus.

It was close to midnight, and we walked alone in the dark up Broadway. It was strangely silent, so that what few sounds there were—a single taxi whispering by on the street, a grocer at an all-night bodega scraping carrots for tomorrow’s salads—seemed like the ghosts of sounds, a lulling threnody.

I found myself telling her about Miranda, my girlfriend from high school, and the murder on the roof of the strip club. I told her about Susan and how she’d almost been killed, and I told her how it had ended, with both women’s blood on my hands. I told her more than I’d ever told anyone. I hadn’t realized how badly I wanted to tell it.

I felt tears start to come and I remember feeling grateful that in the darkness she couldn’t see them, this beautiful woman by my side, this stranger I was telling my secrets. But she must have heard it in my voice, because she stopped me and I felt her fingertips on my cheeks, and then I was in her arms and we were both crying for what we’d lost, what we’d been and were no longer.

“John,” she whispered in my ear, “I’ll tell you why I stopped being a fairy princess.”

“You don’t have to,” I said.

But she did. She told me why she’d stopped, and she told me what she’d become instead.

Dorrie died on a Sunday morning, some hours before dawn. Her landlord didn’t have a key to her top lock, so when the police came they had to break the door down. They found an apartment that was immaculate, as though it had been put in order for the benefit of visitors. Nothing was out of place: not a dish in the sink, not a piece of clothing on the carpet. There were some things missing, but they had no way of knowing that.

The police found the apartment this way because that’s the way I left it. I did have a key to her top lock, had had one for months.

I found her in the bathtub, the bathroom door open, the water still and cool. The plastic bag was taped tightly around her neck with gray duct tape and it was still slightly inflated with her final exhalations. Her eyes were closed.

The empty pill bottle was on the edge of the sink, its cap by its side. There was some water left in the bottom of her toothbrushing cup.

I stood there for I don’t know how long, looking at her, knowing that it wasn’t what it looked like, that it couldn’t be. Knowing that I’d have to find the person responsible. But first I did what I’d promised I’d do if this day ever came, what I’d hoped I’d never have to do. I found her laptop and her cell phone, packed them away in my bag; I found the bottles and tubes in her bedside drawer, a dozen of them; I found the sheer outfits folded neatly in her dresser, the g-string panties and mesh underwire teddies and the one long leopard-print chemise she’d told me a client had given her and liked her to wear. I took them all, together with what few papers I found intact on the shelf in her closet. In the bottom of her garbage can, beneath the blades of the crosscut shredder she’d bought herself at Staples, I found a pile of confetti that looked like it had once been phone bills, bank statements, photographs. I got a plastic grocery bag from under her sink and packed the shreds into it, taking care not to leave any fragments behind.

On her bed, leaning against one of the pillows, was a large blue teddy bear, stubby arms spread wide as though asking for a hug. Across the bottom of one of its feet were the letters “FAO,” embroidered in gold thread. She’d bought the bear, she told me, with her first week’s pay as a fairy princess; even with the employee discount, it had consumed the better part of her paycheck. But it was plush and special and expensive, and for a two-time college dropout from Philly living in a one-room walk-up apartment in a bad part of town, owning one thing that was plush and special and expensive felt very important. Another woman might have bought an art print and framed it, or a nice dress. Dorrie bought the bear.

In the kitchen there was one mug in the sink and one plate, and I washed them, dried them, and put them away. There were three messages on her answering machine; I’d left them earlier that morning, and now I erased them. I thought about fingerprints, but I knew it was useless to wipe the place down; I’d visited often and my fingerprints were all over. I also thought about the penalty for tampering with a crime scene. But I didn’t think about it for long. The police wouldn’t recognize it as a crime scene, because they didn’t know what I knew. They wouldn’t investigate, with or without the things I was taking away. All I’d accomplish by leaving them would be to reveal Dorrie’s other life, providing a sordid footnote that would make newspaper readers nod knowingly over their coffee, certain they’d identified the reason why a beautiful young woman would take her own life. And that’s what I’d promised I wouldn’t let happen.

I hesitated at the front door, one hand on the light switch. Then I went back into the bedroom and returned with the bear under one arm.

From a payphone a few blocks away I called 911. I told them I was a neighbor across the street, that I’d seen something through the window that frightened me, a woman taping a plastic bag over her head. I gave them the address, hung up when they asked for my name.

I waited till I heard a siren approaching, then climbed the stairs to the subway platform at 125th Street. There was only one other person in the subway car with me when I got on, a gray-haired man in a khaki jumpsuit, like a maintenance man’s uniform. He pointed at the bear. “For your daughter?” he said.

I hesitated, then nodded.

“Oh, she’s gonna love it,” he said. “Big bear like that. Gonna make her very happy. Very happy. She’s one lucky girl.”

Then the car plunged into its tunnel and the squeal of its wheels against the track mercifully drowned out whatever more he had to say about happiness and luck.

Chapter 3

I got off the 1 train at Houston Street and walked the few blocks to Carmine, near Bedford. It’s a long way from 125th Street. It’s a long way from anywhere.

The bookstore on the first floor of my building called itself “Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books,” which gave you a sense of the neighborhood. Down the block was Father Demo Square, named for the pastor who’d held rallies there for the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. Around the corner was the Little Red Schoolhouse, so called for more than just the color of its bricks. Jack Kerouac used to hang out down here and so did Allen Ginsberg and Dylan Thomas and on and on—there were signs to tell you if you didn’t already know. All of which added up to a nice little progressive neighborhood, and if you asked people they’d tell you that’s why they chose to live here, but it wasn’t true. There was only one reason to live way the hell down on Carmine Street, and it was the same reason Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac had liked it: because it was cheap.

I let myself into my studio apartment. I cleared off a space on a bookshelf and set the bear down. It shared the shelf with a shabby styrofoam bird in a wooden cage, another bit of flotsam to which I’d developed a sentimental attachment. At this rate I’d have a menagerie before long.

I plugged Dorrie’s cell phone into its charger and the charger into a wall outlet, then turned it on and began the painstaking process of copying out all the entries in her address book and calendar by hand. I imagine there was some way I could have connected the phone to my computer and downloaded it all at the press of a button, but I didn’t know what it was, and anyway the mechanical labor was good for me. It occupied my brain with the mental equivalent of white noise; better than what would’ve occupied it otherwise. Because I was furious. I wanted to scream. I wanted to punch a wall. But that would have helped no one, least of all Dorrie. So I copied. Allgor, Alison. Avena, George. Ballinger, Max.

She hadn’t killed herself. Not because she wouldn’t have—she’d talked about suicide plenty. We both had. It’s what unhappy people who were ashamed of their past and not too sure about their future did. I wasn’t proud of it and neither was she, but you know what, better to talk about it than to do it. And that was the promise we’d made each other: If one of us ever felt like doing it, seriously felt that way, we’d call the other and talk it out instead. I’d never gotten to that point myself, but she had, more than once, and she’d called me every time. But not this time. And she would have. She would have.

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