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MORNING With a bag in each hand, I paused for a moment outside the van, staring at her. “Well, it was a helluva - 23


into anywhere. It was just occasional back then, but now we go out like three times a week. There’s
places all over. There’s an abandoned mental hospital over in Clearwater. It’s amazing. You can see
where they strapped down the crazies and gave them electroshock. And there’s an old jail out west of
here. But she wasn’t really into it. She liked to break into the places, but then she just wanted to stay.”
“Yeah, God that was annoying,” added Ace.
The Carpenter said, “She wouldn’t even, like, take pictures. Or run around and find stuff. She just
wanted to go inside and, like, sit. Remember, she had that black notebook? And she would just sit in
the corner and write, like she was in her house, doing homework or something.”
“Honestly,” Gus said, “she never really got what it’s all about. The adventure. She seemed pretty
depressed, actually.”
I wanted to let them keep talking, because I figured everything they said would help me imagine
Margo. But all of a sudden, Lacey stood up and kicked her chair behind her. “And you never thought
to ask her about how she was pretty depressed actually? Or why she hung out in these sketch-ass
places? That never bothered you?” She was standing above him now, shouting, and he stood up, too,
half a foot taller than her, and then the Carpenter said, “Jesus, somebody calm that bitch down.”
“Oh no you didn’t!” Ben yelled, and before I even knew what was going on, Ben tackled the
Carpenter, who fell awkwardly out of his chair onto his shoulder. Ben straddled the guy and started
pounding on him, furiously and awkwardly smacking and punching his mask, shouting, “SHE’S NOT
THE BITCH, YOU ARE!” I scrambled up and grabbed one of Ben’s arms as Radar grabbed the other.
We pulled him away, but he was still shouting, “I have a lot of anger right now! I was enjoying
punching the guy! I want to go back to punching him!”
“Ben,” I said, trying to sound calm, trying to sound like my mom. “Ben, it’s okay. You made your
point.”
Gus and Ace picked up the Carpenter, and Gus said, “Jesus Christ, we’re getting out of here, okay?
It’s all yours.”
Ace picked up their camera equipment, and they hustled out the back door. Lacey started to explain
to me how she knew him, saying, “He was a senior when we were fr—.” But I waved it off. None of it
mattered anyway.
Radar knew what mattered. He returned immediately to the calendar, his eyes an inch away from
the paper. “I don’t think anything was written on the May page,” he says. “The paper is pretty thin and
I can’t see any marks. But it’s impossible to say for sure.” He went off to search for more clues, and I
saw Lacey’s and Ben’s flashlights dipping as they went through a Troll Hole, but I just stood there in
the office, imagining her. I thought of her following these guys, four years older than her, into
abandoned buildings. That was Margo as I’d seen her. But then, inside the buildings, she is not the
Margo I’d always imagined. While everyone else walks off to explore and take pictures and bounce
around the walls, Margo sits on the floor, writing something.
From next door, Ben shouted, “Q! We got something!”
I wiped sweat from my face with both sleeves and used Margo’s desk to pull myself up. I walked
across the room, ducked through the Troll Hole, and headed toward the three flashlights scanning the
wall above the rolled-up carpet.
“Look,” Ben said, using the beam to draw a square on the wall. “You know those little holes you
mentioned?”
“Yeah?”
“They had to have been mementos tacked up there. Postcards or pictures, we think, from the
spacing of the holes. Which maybe she took with her,” Ben said.
“Yeah, maybe,” I said. “I wish we could find that notebook Gus was talking about.”
“Yeah, when he said that, I remembered that notebook,” Lacey said, the beam of my flashlight
lighting up only her legs. “She had one with her all the time. I never saw her write in it, but I just
figured it was like a day planner or whatever. God, I never asked about it. I get pissed at Gus, who
wasn’t even her friend. But what did I ever ask her?”
“She wouldn’t have answered anyway,” I said. It was dishonest to act like Margo hadn’t
participated in her own obfuscation.
We walked around for another hour, and just when I felt sure the trip had been a waste, my
flashlight happened over the subdivision brochures that had been built into a house of cards when we
first came here. One of the brochures was for Grovepoint Acres. My breath caught as I spread out the
other brochures. I jogged to my backpack by the door and came back with a pen and a notebook and
wrote down the names of all the advertised subdivisions. I recognized one immediately: Collier Farms
—one of the two pseudovisions on my list I hadn’t yet visited. I finished copying the subdivision
names and returned my notebook to my backpack. Call me selfish, but if I found her, I wanted it to be
alone.
26.
The moment Mom got home from work on Friday, I told her that I was going to a concert with Radar
and then proceeded to drive out to rural Seminole County to see Collier Farms. All the other
subdivisions from the brochures turned out to exist— most of them on the north side of town, which
had been totally developed a long time ago.
I only recognized the turnoff for Collier Farms because I’d become something of an expert in hard-
to-see dirt access roads. But Collier Farms was like none of the other pseudovisions I’d seen, because
it was wildly overgrown, as if it had been abandoned for fifty years. I didn’t know if it was older than
the other pseudovisions, or if the low-lying, swamp-wet land made everything grow faster, but the
Collier Farms access road became impassable just after I turned in because a thick grove of brambly
brush had sprouted across the entire road.
I got out and walked. The overgrown grass scraped at my shins, and my sneakers sunk into the mud
with each step. I couldn’t help but hope she had a tent pitched out here somewhere on some little piece
of land two feet higher than everything else, keeping the rain off. I walked slowly, because there was
more to see than at any of the others, more places to hide, and because I knew this pseudovision had a
direct connection to the minimall. The ground was so thick I had to walk slowly as I let myself take in
each new landscape, checking each place big enough to fit a person. At the end of the street I saw a
blue-and-white cardboard box in the mud, and for a second it looked like the same nutrition bars I’d
found in the minimall. But, no. A rotting container for a twelve-pack of beer. I trudged back to the
minivan and headed for a place called Logan Pines farther to the north.
It took an hour to get there, and by now I was up near the Ocala National Forest, not really even the
Orlando metro area anymore. I was a few miles away when Ben called.
“What’s up?”
“You hittin’ those paper towns?” he asked.
“Yeah, I’m almost to the last one I know of. Nothing yet.”
“So listen, bro, Radar’s parents had to leave town real suddenly.”
“Is everything okay?” I asked. I knew Radar’s grandparents were really old and lived in a nursing
home down in Miami.
“Yeah, get this: you know the guy in Pittsburgh with the world’s second-largest collection of black
Santas?”
“Yeah?”
“He just bit it.”
“You’re kidding.”
“Bro, I don’t kid about the demise of black Santa collectors. This guy had an aneurysm, and so
Radar’s folks are flying to Pennsylvania to try to buy his entire collection. So we’re having a few
people over.”
“Who’s we?”
“You and me and Radar. We’re the hosts.”
“I don’t know,” I said.
There was a pause, and then Ben used my full name. “Quentin,” he said, “I know you want to find
her. I know she is the most important thing to you. And that’s cool. But we graduate in, like, a week.
I’m not asking you to abandon the search. I’m asking you to come to a party with your two best
friends who you have known for half your life. I’m asking you to spend two to three hours drinking
sugary wine coolers like the pretty little girl you are, and then another two to three hours vomiting the
aforementioned wine coolers through your nose. And then you can go back to poking around
abandoned housing projects.”
It bothered me that Ben only wanted to talk about Margo when it involved an adventure that
appealed to him, that he thought there was something wrong with me for focusing on her over my
friends, even though she was missing and they weren’t. But Ben was Ben, like Radar said. And I had
nothing left to search after Logan Pines anyway. “I’ve got to go to this last place and then I’ll be
over.”
Because Logan Pines was the last pseudovision in Central Florida— or at least the last one I knew
about—I had placed so much hope in it. But as I walked around its single dead-end street with a
flashlight, I saw no tent. No campfire. No food wrappers. No sign of people. No Margo. At the end of
the road, I found a single concrete foundation dug into the dirt. But there was nothing built atop it, just
the hole cut into the earth like a dead mouth agape, tangles of briars and waist-high grass growing up
all around. If she’d wanted me to see these places, I could not understand why. And if Margo had gone
to the pseudovisions never to come back, she knew about a place I hadn’t uncovered in all my
research.
It took an hour and a half to drive back to Jefferson Park. I parked the minivan at home, changed into a
polo shirt and my only nice pair of jeans, and walked down Jefferson Way to Jefferson Court, and then
took a right onto Jefferson Road. A few cars were already lined up on both sides of Jefferson Place,
Radar’s street. It was only eight-forty-five.
I opened the door and was greeted by Radar, who had an armful of plaster black Santas. “Gotta put
away all of the nice ones,” he said. “God forbid one of them breaks.”
“Need any help?” I asked. Radar nodded toward the living room, where the tables on either side of
the couch held three sets of unnested black Santa nesting dolls. As I renested them, I couldn’t help but
notice that they were really very beautiful— hand-painted and extraordinarily detailed. I didn’t say
this to Radar, though, for fear that he would beat me to death with the black Santa lamp in the living
room.
I carried the matryoshka dolls into the guest bedroom, where Radar was carefully stashing Santas
into a dresser. “You know, when you see them all together, it really does make you question the way
we imagine our myths.”
Radar rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I always find myself questioning the way I imagine my myths when
I’m eating my Lucky Charms every morning with a goddamned black Santa spoon.”
I felt a hand on my shoulder spinning me around. It was Ben, his feet fidgeting in fast-motion like
he needed to pee or something. “We kissed. Like, she kissed me. About ten minutes ago. On Radar’s
parents’ bed.”
“That’s disgusting,” Radar said. “Don’t make out in my parents’ bed.”
“Wow, I figured you’d already gotten past that,” I said. “What with you being such a pimp and
everything.”
“Shut up, bro. I’m freaked out,” he said, looking at me, his eyes almost crossed. “I don’t think I’m
very good.”
“At what?”
“At kissing. And, I mean, she’s done a lot more kissing than me over the years. I don’t want to
suck so bad she dumps me. Girls dig you,” he said to me, which was at best true only if you defined
the word girls as “girls in the marching band.” “Bro, I’m asking for advice.”
I was tempted to bring up all Ben’s endless blather about the various ways in which he would rock
various bodies, but I just said, “As far as I can tell, there are two basic rules: 1. Don’t bite anything
without permission, and 2. The human tongue is like wasabi: it’s very powerful, and should be used
sparingly.”
Ben’s eyes suddenly grew bright with panic. I winced, and said, “She’s standing behind me, isn’t
she?”
“‘The human tongue is like wasabi,’” Lacey mimicked in a deep, goofy voice that I hoped didn’t
really resemble mine.
I wheeled around. “I actually think Ben’s tongue is like sunscreen,” she said. “It’s good for your
health and should be applied liberally.”
“I just threw up in my mouth,” Radar said.
“Lacey, you just kind of took away my will to go on,” I added.
“I wish I could stop imagining that,” Radar said.
I said, “The very idea is so offensive that it’s actually illegal to say the words ‘Ben Starling’s
tongue’ on television.”
“The penalty for violating that law is either ten years in prison or one Ben Starling tongue bath,”
Radar said.
“Everyone,” I said.
“Chooses,” Radar said, smiling.
“Prison,” we finished together.
And then Lacey kissed Ben in front of us. “Oh God,” Radar said, waving his arms in front of his
face. “Oh, God. I’m blind. I’m blind.”
“Please stop,” I said. “You’re upsetting the black Santas.”
The party ended up in the formal living room on the second floor of Radar’s house, all twenty of us. I
leaned against a wall, my head inches from a black Santa portrait painted on velvet. Radar had one of
those sectional couches, and everyone was crowded onto it. There was beer in a cooler by the TV, but
no one was drinking. Instead, they were telling stories about one another. I’d heard most of them
before—band camp stories and Ben Starling stories and first kiss stories—but Lacey hadn’t heard any
of them, and anyway, they were still entertaining.
I stayed mostly out of it until Ben said, “Q, how are we going to graduate?” 1 ... 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 ... 34 2010-07-19 18:44 Читать похожую статью
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