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August 24 ... and Three-Quarters
WITH THE WHOLE WALL shredded, all the old cabbage roses and pale green stripes peeled away in long strips, here’s what Peter left for people to find.
What you left.
“I’m in love with Angel Delaporte, and I’m sorry but I will not die for our cause.” Written around and around the walls, it says, “I won’t let you kill me the way you’ve killed all the painters’ husbands since Gordon Kincaid.”
The room’s littered with curls and shreds of wallpaper. Dusty with the dried glue. You hear voices in the hallway, and Misty waits frozen in the wrecked room. Waiting for the summer people to open their door.
Across the wall, it’s written, “I don’t care about our traditions anymore.”
It says, “I don’t love Misty Marie,” it says, “but she doesn’t deserve to be tortured. I love our island, but we have to find a new way to save our way of life. We can’t keep harvesting people.”
It’s written, “This is ritual mass murder, and I won’t condone it.”
The summer people, their stuff is buried, the luggage and cosmetics and sunglasses. Buried in shredded trash.
“By the time you find this,” the writing says, “I’ll be gone. I’m leaving with Angel tonight. If you’re reading this, then I’m sorry, but it’s already too late. Tabbi will have a better future if her generation has to fend for itself.”
Written under the strips of wallpaper, it says, “I’m genuinely sorry for Misty.”
You’ve written, “It’s true I never loved her, but I don’t hate her enough to complete our plan.”
It’s written, “Misty deserves better than this. Dad, it’s time we set her free.”
The sleeping pills Detective Stilton said Peter had taken. The prescription Peter didn’t have. The suitcase he’d packed and put in the trunk. He was planning to leave us. To leave with Angel.
You were planning to leave.
Somebody drugged him and left him in the car with the engine running, shut in the garage for Misty to find. Somebody didn’t know about the suitcase, packed and ready in the trunk for his getaway. They didn’t know the gas tank was half empty.
“Dad,” meaning Harrow Wilmot. Peter’s father, who’s supposed to already be dead. Since before Tabbi was born.
Around the room, it’s written, “Don’t unveil the devil’s work.”
Written there, it says, “Destroy all her paintings.”
What they don’t teach you in art school is how to make sense of a nightmare.
It’s signed Peter Wilmot .
IN THE HOTEL dining room, a crew of island people are hanging Misty’s work, all her paintings. But not separate, they fit together, paper and canvas, to form a long mural. A collage. The crew keeps the mural covered as they assemble it, only letting one edge show, just enough to attach the next row of paintings. What it is, you can’t tell. What could be a tree, could really be a hand. What looks like a face, might be a cloud. It’s a crowd scene or a landscape or a still life of flowers and fruit. The moment they add a piece to the mural, the crew moves a drape to cover it.
All you can tell is it’s huge, filling the longest wall of the dining room.
Grace is with them, directing. Tabbi and Dr. Touchet, watching.
When Misty goes to look, Grace stops her with one blue, lumpy hand and says, “Have you tried on that dress I made you?”
Misty just wants to look at her painting. It’s her work. Because of the blindfold, she has no idea what she’s done. What part of herself she’s showing to strangers.
And Dr. Touchet says, “That wouldn’t be a very good idea.” He says, “You’ll see it opening night, with the rest of the crowd.”
Just for the record, Grace says, “We’re moving back into the house this afternoon.”
Where Angel Delaporte was killed.
Grace says, “Detective Stilton gave his all clear.” She says, “If you’ll pack, we can take your things for you.”
Peter’s pillow. Her art supplies in their pale wood box.
“It’s almost over, my dear,” Grace says. “I know exactly how you feel.”
According to the diary. Grace’s diary.
With everyone busy, Misty goes to the attic, to the room Grace and Tabbi share. Just for the record, Misty’s already packed, and stealing the diary from Grace’s room. She’s carrying her suitcase down to the car. Misty, she’s still dusted with dried wallpaper glue. Paper shreds of pale green stripes and pink roses in her hair.
The book that Grace is always reading, studying, with its red cover and gold script across the front, it’s supposed to be the diary of a woman who lived on the island a hundred years ago. The woman in Grace’s diary, she was forty-one years old and a failed art student. She’d got pregnant and dropped out of art school to get married on Waytansea Island. She didn’t love her new husband as much as she loved his old jewelry and the dream of living in a big stone house.
Here was a ready-made life for her, an instant role to step into. Waytansea Island, with all its tradition and ritual. All of it worked out. The answers for everything.
The woman was happy enough, but even a hundred years ago the island was filling up with wealthy tourists from the city. Pushy, needy strangers with enough money to take over. Just as her family money was running out, her husband shot himself while cleaning a gun.
The woman was sick with migraine headaches, exhausted and throwing up everything she ate. She worked as a maid in the hotel until she tripped on the stairs and became bedridden, one of her legs splinted inside a massive plaster cast. Trapped with nothing to do, she started to paint.
Just like Misty, but not Misty. This imitation Misty.
Then, her ten-year-old son drowns.
After one hundred paintings, her talent and ideas seemed to disappear. Her inspiration dwindles away.
Her handwriting, wide and long, she’s what Angel Delaporte would call a giving, caring person.
What you don’t learn in art school is how Grace Wilmot will follow you around and write down everything you do. Turn your life into this kind of sick fiction. Here it is. Grace Wilmot is writing a novel patterned after Misty’s life. Oh, she’s changed a few bits. She gave the woman three kids. Grace made her a maid instead of a dining room server. Oh, it’s all very coincidental.
Just for the record, Misty’s waiting in line at the ferry, reading this shit in Harrow’s old Buick.
The book says how most of the village has moved into the Waytansea Hotel, turning it into a barracks. A refugee camp for island families. The Hylands do everyone’s laundry. The Burtons do all the cooking. The Petersens, all the cleaning.
There doesn’t look like one original thought in any of it.
Just by reading this shit, Misty’s probably going to make it come true. Self-fulfill the prophecy. She’ll start living into someone’s idea for how her life should go. But sitting here, she can’t stop reading.
Within Grace’s novel, the woman narrator finds a diary. The diary she finds seems to follow her own life. She reads how her artwork is hung in a huge show. On the night it opens, the hotel is crowded with summer tourists.
Just for the record, dear sweet Peter, if you’ve recovered from your coma, this might put you right back there. The simple fact is Grace, your mother, is writing about your wife, making her out to be some drunken slut.
This has got to be how Judy Garland felt when she read Valley of the Dolls .
Here in line at the ferry dock, Misty’s waiting for a ride to the mainland. Sitting here in the car where Peter almost died, or almost ran off and left her, Misty’s sitting here in a hot line of summer people. Her suitcase packed and in the trunk. The white satin dress included.
The same way your suitcase was in the trunk.
That’s where the diary ends. The last entry is just before the art show. After that ... there’s nothing.
Just so you don’t feel bad about yourself, Misty’s leaving your kid the way you were abandoning them both. You’re still married to a coward. The same way she was ready to run away when she thought the bronze statue would kill Tabbi—the only person on the island Misty gives a shit for. Not Grace. Not the summer people. There’s nobody here Misty needs to save.
JUST FOR THE RECORD, you’re still one chicken-shit piece of work. You’re a selfish, half-assed, lazy, spineless piece of crap. Yeah, sure, you were planning to save your wife, but you were also going to dump her. Stupid brain-damaged fuck that you are. Dear sweet stupid you.
But now, Misty knows just how you felt.
Today is your 157th day as a vegetable. And her first.
Today, Misty drives the three hours to see you and sit by your bedside.
Just for the record, Misty asks you, “Is it okay to kill strangers to prop up a way of life just because the people who live it are the people you love?”
Well, thought you loved.
The way people are coming to the island, more and more every summer, you see more litter. The fresh water is in shorter and shorter supply. But of course, you can’t cap growth. It’s anti-American. Selfish. It’s tyrannical. Evil. Every child has the right to a life. Every person has the right to live where they can afford. We’re entitled to pursue happiness wherever we can drive to, fly to, sail to, to hunt it down. Too many people rushing to one place, sure, they ruin it—but that’s the system of checks and balances, the way the market adjusts itself.
This way, wrecking a place is the only way to save it. You have to make it look horrible to the outside world.
There is no OAFF. There’s only people fighting to preserve their world from more people.
Part of Misty hates these people who come here, invaders, infidels, crowding in to wreck her way of life, her daughter’s childhood. All these outsiders, trailing their failed marriages and stepchildren and drug habits and sleazy ethics and phony status symbols, these aren’t the kind of friends Misty wants to give her kid.
To save Tabbi, Misty could let happen what always happens, Misty could just let it happen again. The art show. Whatever it is, she could let the island myth run its course. And maybe Waytansea would be saved.
“We will kill every one of God’s children to save our own.”
Or maybe they can give Tabbi something better than a future of no challenges, a calm, secure life of peace.
Sitting here with you now, Misty leans over and kisses your puffy red forehead.
It’s okay that you never loved her, Peter. Misty loved you.
At least for believing she could be a great artist, a savior. Something more than a technical illustrator or commercial artist. More than human, even. Misty loves you for that.
Can you feel this?
Just for the record, she’s sorry about Angel Delaporte. Misty’s sorry you were raised inside such a fucked-up legend. She’s sorry she ever met you.