Sharp objects, p.22
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       Sharp Objects, p.22

           Gillian Flynn
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  The three blondes held Ann down, while Amma strangled her with a clothesline she’d stolen from a neighbor’s tool shed. It took an hour to calm Jodes down and another hour for Amma to pull the teeth, Jodes crying the whole time. Then the four girls carried the body to the water and dumped it, zipped back over to Kelsey’s home, cleaned up in the back carriage house, and watched a movie. No one could agree what it was. They all remembered they ate cantaloupe and drank white wine from Sprite bottles, in case Kelsey’s mom peeked in.

  James Capisi wasn’t lying about that ghostly woman. Amma had stolen one of our pristine white sheets and fashioned it into a Grecian dress, tied up her light-blonde hair, and powdered herself until she glowed. She was Artemis, the blood huntress. Natalie had been bewildered at first when Amma had whispered into her ear, It’s a game. Come with me, we’ll play. She spirited Natalie through the woods, back again to Kelsey’s carriage house, where they held her a full forty-eight hours, tending to her, shaving her legs, dressing her up, and feeding her in shifts as they enjoyed the increasing outcry. Just after midnight on the 14th, the friends held her down while Amma strangled her. Again, she pulled the teeth herself. Children’s teeth, it turns out, aren’t too hard to remove, if you put real weight on the pliers. And if you don’t care how they end up looking. (Flash of Amma’s dollhouse floor, with its mosaic of jagged, broken teeth, some mere splinters.)

  The girls putt-putted in Adora’s golf cart to the back side of Main Street at four in the morning. The aperture between the hardware store and beauty parlor was just wide enough to allow Amma and Kelsey to carry Natalie by hands and feet, single file, to the other side, where they propped her up, waited for the discovery. Again Jodes cried. The girls later discussed killing her, worried she might crumble. The idea was almost in action when my mother was arrested.

  Amma killed Lily all by herself, hit her on the back of the head with a stone, then strangled her with bare hands, plucked the six teeth, and cut her hair. All down an alley, behind that Dumpster where she’d left the body. She’d brought the rock, pliers, and scissors to school in the hot pink backpack I’d bought for her.

  Lily Burke’s chocolate-colored hair Amma braided into a rug for my room in her dollhouse.


  Adora was found guilty of murder in the first degree for what she did to Marian. Her lawyer is already preparing the appeal, which is enthusiastically chronicled by the group that runs my mother’s Web site, Alan shut down the Wind Gap house and took an apartment near her prison in Vandelia, Missouri. He writes letters to her on days he can’t visit.

  Quickie paperbacks were released about our murderous family; I was showered with book offers. Curry pushed me to take one and quickly backed off. Good for him. John wrote me a kind, pain-filled letter. He thought it was Amma all along, had moved into Meredith’s place in part to “keep watch.” Which explained the conversation I’d overheard between him and Amma, who’d enjoyed toying with his grief. Hurt as a form of flirtation. Pain as intimacy, like my mother jabbing her tweezers into my wounds. As for my other Wind Gap romance, I never again heard from Richard. After the way he looked at my marked-up body, I knew I wouldn’t.

  Amma will remain locked up until her eighteenth birthday, and likely longer. Visitors are allowed twice a month. I went once, sat with her in a cheerful playground area surrounded by barbed wire. Little girls in prison slacks and T-shirts hung on monkey bars and gym rings, under supervision of fat, angry female guards. Three girls slipped jerkily down a warped slide, climbed the ladder, went down again. Over and over, silently for the duration of my visit.

  Amma had cut her hair close to the scalp. It may have been an effort to look tougher, but instead gave her an otherworldly, elven aura. When I took her hand, it was wet with sweat. She pulled it away.

  I’d promised myself not to question her about the killings, to make the visit as light as possible. Instead it came out almost immediately, the questions. Why the teeth, why these girls, who were so bright and interesting. How could they have offended her? How could she do it? The last line came out chidingly, as if I was lecturing her on having a party when I wasn’t home.

  Amma stared bitterly at the three girls on the slide and said she hated everyone here, all the girls were crazy or stupid. She hated having to do laundry and touch people’s stuff. Then she went silent for a minute and I thought she was simply going to ignore my question.

  “I was friends with them for a while,” she said finally, talking into her chest. “We had fun, running around in the woods. We were wild. We’d hurt things together. We killed a cat once. But then she”—as always Adora’s name went unsaid—“got all interested in them. I could never have anything to myself. They weren’t my secrets anymore. They were always coming by the house. They started asking me questions about being sick. They were going to ruin everything. She didn’t even realize it.” Amma rubbed her shorn hair harshly. “And why did Ann have to bite…her? I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Why Ann could bite her, and I couldn’t.”

  She refused to say more, answered only in sighs and coughs. As for the teeth, she took the teeth only because she needed them. The dollhouse had to be perfect, just like everything else Amma loved.

  I think there is more. Ann and Natalie died because Adora paid attention to them. Amma could only view it as a raw deal. Amma, who had allowed my mother to sicken her for so long. Sometimes when you let people do things to you, you’re really doing it to them. Amma controlled Adora by letting Adora sicken her. In return, she demanded uncontested love and loyalty. No other little girls allowed. For the same reasons she murdered Lily Burke. Because, Amma suspected, I liked her better.

  You can come up with four thousand other guesses, of course, about why Amma did it. In the end, the fact remains: Amma enjoyed hurting. I like violence, she’d shrieked at me. I blame my mother. A child weaned on poison considers harm a comfort.

  The day of Amma’s arrest, the day it finally, completely unraveled, Curry and Eileen parked themselves on my couch, like concerned salt and pepper shakers. I slipped a knife up my sleeve, and in the bathroom, I stripped off my shirt and dug it deep into the perfect circle on my back. Ground it back and forth until the skin was shredded in scribbly cuts. Curry broke in just before I went for my face.

  Curry and Eileen packed my things and took me to their home, where I have a bed and some space in what was once a basement rec room. All sharp objects have been locked up, but I haven’t tried too hard to get at them.

  I am learning to be cared for. I am learning to be parented. I’ve returned to my childhood, the scene of the crime. Eileen and Curry wake me in the mornings and put me to bed with kisses (or in Curry’s case, a gentle chuck under the chin). I drink nothing stronger than the grape soda Curry favors. Eileen runs my bath and sometimes brushes my hair. It doesn’t give me chills, and we consider this a good sign.

  It is almost May 12, one year exactly from my return to Wind Gap. The date also happens to be Mother’s Day this year. Clever. Sometimes I think about that night caring for Amma, and how good I was at soothing her and calming her. I have dreams of washing Amma and drying her brow. I wake with my stomach turning and a sweaty upper lip. Was I good at caring for Amma because of kindness? Or did I like caring for Amma because I have Adora’s sickness? I waver between the two, especially at night, when my skin begins to pulse.

  Lately, I’ve been leaning toward kindness.


  MUCH THANKS to my agent, Stephanie Kip Rostan, who walked me gracefully through this whole first-book thing, and to my editor, Sally Kim, who asked incisive questions and supplied many, many answers while helping me whittle this story into shape. Smart and encouraging, they also happen to be charming dinner companions.

  Gratitude also to D. P. Lyle, M.D., Dr. John R. Klein, and Lt. Emmet Helrich, who helped me sort out facts involving medicine, dentistry, and police work, and to my editors at Entertainment Weekly, particularly Henry Goldblatt and m
anaging editor Rick Tetzeli (clever kicker TK, I swear).

  More thanks to my great circle of friends, particularly those who offered repeated readings, advice, and good cheer while I was writing Sharp Objects: Dan Fierman, Krista Stroever, Matt Stearns, Katy Caldwell, Josh Wolk, Brian “Ives!” Raftery, and my four witty sister-cousins (Sarah, Tessa, Kam, and Jessie) all provided kind words at crucial points, like when I was about to burn the thing. Dan Snierson may be the most consistently optimistic and decent human being on the planet—thanks for your unwavering confidence, and tell Jurgis to be gentle in his review. Emily Stone gave guidance and humor from Vermont, Chicago, and Antarctica (I highly recommend her Crazytown shuttle service); thanks to Susan and Errol Stone for that lake-house refuge. Brett Nolan, world’s best reader—a compliment not given lightly—steered me away from accidental Simpsons references and is the author of the most reassuring two-word e-mail ever. Scott Brown, Monster to my Mick, has read countless iterations of Sharp Objects, poor thing, and also joined me on many a needed retreat from reality—me, Scott, and a neurotic unicorn with a daddy complex. Thanks to all.

  Finally, much love and appreciation to my massive Missouri family—who I’m happy to say were absolutely no inspiration for the characters in this book. My faithful parents have encouraged me in my writing since third grade, when I declared I wanted to be either an author or a farmer when I grew up. The farming thing never really took off, so I hope you like the book.

  About the Author

  GILLIAN FLYNN is the chief TV critic at Entertainment Weekly. She lives in Chicago, where she’s writing her second novel.

  Copyright © 2006 by Gillian Flynn

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