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The leftovers, p.1
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       The Leftovers, p.1

           Tom Perrotta
 
The Leftovers


  For Nina and Luke

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  I count myself lucky to be able to thank the usual suspects—Elizabeth Beier, Maria Massie, Dori Weintraub, and Sylvie Rabineau—for joining me in this Sudden Departure, and for their guidance along the way. Thanks also to Mary, Nina, and Luke, for each and every day.

  CONTENTS

  Title Page

  Dedication

  Acknowledgments

  Prologue

  Part One: Three-Year Anniversary

  Heroes’ Day

  A Whole Class of Jills

  Special Someone

  Part Two: Mapleton Means Fun

  The Carpe Diem

  Blue Ribbon

  Vow of Silence

  Get a Room

  Part Three: Happy Holidays

  Dirtbags

  Snowflakes and Candy Canes

  The Best Chair in the World

  The Balzer Method

  Part Four: Be My Valentine

  A Better-than-average Girlfriend

  The Outpost

  Barefoot and Pregnant

  At the Grapefruit

  Part Five: Miracle Child

  Any Minute Now

  So Much to Let Go Of

  I’m Glad You’re Here

  Also by Tom Perrotta

  Copyright

  PROLOGUE

  LAURIE GARVEY HADN’T BEEN RAISED to believe in the Rapture. She hadn’t been raised to believe in much of anything, except the foolishness of belief itself.

  We’re agnostics, she used to tell her kids, back when they were little and needed a way to define themselves to their Catholic and Jewish and Unitarian friends. We don’t know if there’s a God, and nobody else does, either. They might say they do, but they really don’t.

  The first time she’d heard about the Rapture, she was a freshman in college, taking a class called Intro to World Religions. The phenomenon the professor described seemed like a joke to her, hordes of Christians floating out of their clothes, rising up through the roofs of their houses and cars to meet Jesus in the sky, everyone else standing around with their mouths hanging open, wondering where all the good people had gone. The theology remained murky to her, even after she read the section on “Premillennial Dispensationalism” in her textbook, all that mumbo jumbo about Armageddon and the Antichrist and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It felt like religious kitsch, as tacky as a black velvet painting, the kind of fantasy that appealed to people who ate too much fried food, spanked their kids, and had no problem with the theory that their loving God invented AIDS to punish the gays. Every once in a while, in the years that followed, she’d spot someone reading one of the Left Behind books in an airport or on a train, and feel a twinge of pity, and even a little bit of tenderness, for the poor sucker who had nothing better to read, and nothing else to do, except sit around dreaming about the end of the world.

  And then it happened. The biblical prophecy came true, or at least partly true. People disappeared, millions of them at the same time, all over the world. This wasn’t some ancient rumor—a dead man coming back to life during the Roman Empire—or a dusty homegrown legend, Joseph Smith unearthing golden tablets in upstate New York, conversing with an angel. This was real. The Rapture happened in her own hometown, to her best friend’s daughter, among others, while Laurie herself was in the house. God’s intrusion into her life couldn’t have been any clearer if He’d addressed her from a burning azalea.

  At least you would have thought so. And yet she managed to deny the obvious for weeks and months afterward, clinging to her doubts like a life preserver, desperately echoing the scientists and pundits and politicians who insisted that the cause of what they called the “Sudden Departure” remained unknown, and cautioned the public to avoid jumping to conclusions until the release of the official report by the nonpartisan government panel that was investigating the matter.

  “Something tragic occurred,” the experts repeated over and over. “It was a Rapture-like phenomenon, but it doesn’t appear to have been the Rapture.”

  Interestingly, some of the loudest voices making this argument belonged to Christians themselves, who couldn’t help noticing that many of the people who’d disappeared on October 14th—Hindus and Buddhists and Muslims and Jews and atheists and animists and homosexuals and Eskimos and Mormons and Zoroastrians, whatever the heck they were—hadn’t accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior. As far as anyone could tell, it was a random harvest, and the one thing the Rapture couldn’t be was random. The whole point was to separate the wheat from the chaff, to reward the true believers and put the rest of the world on notice. An indiscriminate Rapture was no Rapture at all.

  So it was easy enough to be confused, to throw up your hands and claim that you just didn’t know what was going on. But Laurie knew. Deep in her heart, as soon as it happened, she knew. She’d been left behind. They all had. It didn’t matter that God hadn’t factored religion into His decision-making—if anything, that just made it worse, more of a personal rejection. And yet she chose to ignore this knowledge, to banish it to some murky recess of her mind—the basement storage area for things you couldn’t bear to think about—the same place you hid the knowledge that you were going to die, so you could live your life without being depressed every minute of every day.

  Besides, it was a busy time, those first few months after the Rapture, with school canceled in Mapleton, her daughter home all day, and her son back from college. There was shopping and laundry to do, just like before, meals to cook, and dishes to wash. There were memorial services to attend as well, slide shows to compile, tears to wipe away, so many exhausting conversations. She spent a lot of time with poor Rosalie Sussman, visiting her almost every morning, trying to help her through her unfathomable grief. Sometimes they talked about her departed daughter, Jen—what a sweet girl she was, always smiling, etc.—but mostly they just sat together without speaking. The silence felt deep and right, as if there was nothing either of them could say that could possibly be important enough to break it.

  * * *

  YOU STARTED seeing them around town the following autumn, people in white clothing, traveling in same-sex pairs, always smoking. Laurie recognized a few of them—Barbara Santangelo, whose son was in her daughter’s class; Marty Powers, who used to play softball with her husband, and whose wife had been taken in the Rapture, or whatever it was. Mostly they ignored you, but sometimes they followed you around as if they were private detectives hired to keep track of your movements. If you said hello, they just gave you a blank look, but if you asked a more substantive question, they handed over a business card printed on one side with the following message:

  WE ARE MEMBERS OF THE GUILTY REMNANT. WE HAVE TAKEN A VOW OF SILENCE. WE STAND BEFORE YOU AS LIVING REMINDERS OF GOD’S AWESOME POWER. HIS JUDGMENT IS UPON US.

  In smaller type, on the other side of the card, was a Web address you could consult for more information: www.guiltyremnant.com.

  That was a weird fall. A full year had passed since the catastrophe; the survivors had absorbed the blow and found, to their amazement, that they were still standing, though some were a bit more wobbly than others. In a tentative, fragile way, things were starting to return to normal. The schools had reopened and most people had gone back to work. Kids played soccer in the park on weekends; there were even a handful of trick-or-treaters on Halloween. You could feel the old habits returning, life assuming its former shape.

  But Laurie couldn’t get with the program. Besides caring for Rosalie, she was worried sick about her own kids. Tom had gone back to college for the spring semester, but he’d fallen under the influence of a sketchy self-appointed “healing prophet” named Holy Wayne, failed all his classes, and refused to come home. He’d phone
d a couple of times over the summer to let her know he was okay, but he wouldn’t say where he was or what he was doing. Jill was struggling with depression and post-traumatic stress—of course she was, Jen Sussman had been her best friend since preschool—but she refused to talk to Laurie about it or to see a therapist. Meanwhile, her husband seemed bizarrely upbeat, all good news all the time. Business was booming, the weather was fine, he just ran six miles in under an hour, if you could believe that.

  “What about you?” Kevin would ask, not the least bit self-conscious in his spandex pants, his face glowing with good health and a thin layer of perspiration. “What’d you do all day?”

  “Me? I helped Rosalie with her scrapbook.”

  He made a face, disapproval mingled with forbearance.

  “She’s still doing that?”

  “She doesn’t want to finish. Today we did a little history of Jen’s swimming career. You could watch her grow up year by year, her body changing inside that blue bathing suit. Just heartbreaking.”

  “Huh.” Kevin filled his glass with ice water from the built-in dispenser on the fridge. She could tell he wasn’t listening, knew that he’d lost interest in the subject of Jen Sussman months ago. “What’s for dinner?”

  * * *

  LAURIE COULDN’T say that she was shocked when Rosalie announced that she was joining the Guilty Remnant. Rosalie had been fascinated by the people in white since the first time she saw them, frequently wondering out loud how hard it would be to keep a vow of silence, especially if you happened to bump into an old friend, someone you hadn’t seen in a long time.

  “They’d have to give you some leeway in a case like that, don’t you think?”

  “I don’t know,” Laurie said. “I kind of doubt it. They’re fanatics. They don’t like to make exceptions.”

  “Not even if it was your own brother, and you hadn’t seen him for twenty years? You wouldn’t even be able to say hi?”

  “Don’t ask me. Ask them.”

  “How can I ask them? They’re not allowed to talk.”

  “I don’t know. Check the website.”

  Rosalie checked the website a lot that winter. She developed a close I.M. friendship—evidently, the vow of silence didn’t extend to electronic communications—with the Director of Public Outreach, a nice woman who answered all her questions and walked her through her doubts and reservations.

  “Her name’s Connie. She used to be a dermatologist.”

  “Really?”

  “She sold her practice and donated the proceeds to the organization. That’s what a lot of people do. It’s not cheap to keep an operation like that afloat.”

  Laurie had read an article about the Guilty Remnant in the local paper, so she knew that there were at least sixty people living in their “compound” on Ginkgo Street, an eight-house subdivision that had been deeded to the organization by the developer, a wealthy man named Troy Vincent, who was now living there as an ordinary member, with no special privileges.

  “What about you?” Laurie asked. “You gonna sell the house?”

  “Not right away. There’s a six-month trial period. I don’t have to make any decisions until then.”

  “That’s smart.”

  Rosalie shook her head, as if amazed by her own boldness. Laurie could see how excited she was now that she’d made the decision to change her life.

  “It’s gonna be weird, wearing white clothes all the time. I kind of wish it was blue or gray or something. I don’t look good in white.”

  “I just can’t believe you’re gonna start smoking.”

  “Ugh.” Rosalie grimaced. She was one of those hard-line nonsmokers, the kind of person who waved her hand frantically in front of her face whenever she got within twenty feet of a lit cigarette. “That’s gonna take some getting used to. But it’s like a sacrament, you know? You have to do it. You don’t have a choice.”

  “Your poor lungs.”

  “We’re not gonna live long enough to get cancer. The Bible says there’s just seven years of Tribulation after the Rapture.”

  “But it wasn’t the Rapture,” Laurie said, as much to herself as to her friend. “Not really.”

  “You should come with me.” Rosalie’s voice was soft and serious. “Maybe we could be roommates or something.”

  “I can’t,” Laurie told her. “I can’t leave my family.”

  Family: She felt bad even saying the word out loud. Rosalie had no family to speak of. She’d been divorced for years and Jen was her only child. She had a mother and stepfather in Michigan, and a sister in Minneapolis, but she didn’t talk to them much.

  “That’s what I figured.” Rosalie gave a small shrug of resignation. “Just thought I’d give it a try.”

  * * *

  A WEEK later, Laurie drove Rosalie to Ginkgo Street. It was a beautiful day, full of sunshine and birdsong. The houses looked imposing—sprawling three-story colonials with half-acre lots that probably would have sold for a million dollars or more when they were built.

  “Wow,” she said. “Pretty swanky.”

  “I know.” Rosalie smiled nervously. She was dressed in white and carrying a small suitcase containing mostly underwear and toiletries, plus the scrapbooks she’d spent so much time on. “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”

  “If you don’t like it, just give me a call. I’ll come get you.”

  “I think I’ll be okay.”

  They walked up the steps of a white house with the word HEADQUARTERS painted over the front door. Laurie wasn’t allowed to enter the building, so she hugged her friend goodbye on the stoop, and then watched as Rosalie was led inside by a woman with a pale, kindly face who may or may not have been Connie, the former dermatologist.

  Almost a year passed before Laurie returned to Ginkgo Street. It was another spring day, a little cooler, not quite as sunny. This time she was the one dressed in white, carrying a small suitcase. It wasn’t very heavy, just underwear, a toothbrush, and an album containing carefully chosen photographs of her family, a short visual history of the people she loved and was leaving behind.

  Part One

  THREE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

  HEROES’ DAY

  IT WAS A GOOD DAY for a parade, sunny and unseasonably warm, the sky a Sunday school cartoon of heaven. Not too long ago, people would have felt the need to make a nervous crack about weather like this—Hey, they’d say, maybe this global warming isn’t such a bad thing after all!—but these days no one bothered much about the hole in the ozone layer or the pathos of a world without polar bears. It seemed almost funny in retrospect, all that energy wasted fretting about something so remote and uncertain, an ecological disaster that might or might not come to pass somewhere way off in the distant future, long after you and your children and your children’s children had lived out your allotted time on earth and gone to wherever it was you went when it was all over.

  Despite the anxiety that had dogged him all morning, Mayor Kevin Garvey found himself gripped by an unexpected mood of nostalgia as he walked down Washington Boulevard toward the high school parking lot, where the marchers had been told to assemble. It was half an hour before showtime, the floats lined up and ready to roll, the marching band girding itself for battle, peppering the air with a discordant overture of bleats and toots and halfhearted drumrolls. Kevin had been born and raised in Mapleton, and he couldn’t help thinking about Fourth of July parades back when everything still made sense, half the town lined up along Main Street while the other half—Little Leaguers, scouts of both genders, gimpy Veterans of Foreign Wars trailed by the Ladies Auxiliary—strode down the middle of the road, waving to the spectators as if surprised to see them there, as if this were some kind of kooky coincidence rather than a national holiday. In Kevin’s memory, at least, it all seemed impossibly loud and hectic and innocent—fire trucks, tubas, Irish step dancers, baton twirlers in sequined costumes, one year even a squadron of fez-bedecked Shriners scooting around in those hilarious midget cars. Afte
rward there were softball games and cookouts, a sequence of comforting rituals culminating in the big fireworks display over Fielding Lake, hundreds of rapt faces turned skyward, oohing and wowing at the sizzling pinwheels and slow-blooming starbursts that lit up the darkness, reminding everyone of who they were and where they belonged and why it was all good.

  Today’s event—the first annual Departed Heroes’ Day of Remembrance and Reflection, to be precise—wasn’t going to be anything like that. Kevin could sense the somber mood as soon as he arrived at the high school, the invisible haze of stale grief and chronic bewilderment thickening the air, causing people to talk more softly and move more tentatively than they normally would at a big outdoor gathering. On the other hand, he was both surprised and gratified by the turnout, given the cool reception the parade had received when it was first proposed. Some critics thought the timing was wrong (“Too soon!” they’d insisted), while others suggested that a secular commemoration of October 14th was wrongheaded and possibly blasphemous. These objections had faded over time, either because the organizers had done a good job winning over the skeptics, or because people just generally liked a parade, regardless of the occasion. In any case, so many Mapletonians had volunteered to march that Kevin wondered if there’d be anyone left to cheer them on from the sidelines as they made their way down Main Street to Greenway Park.

  He hesitated for a moment just inside the line of police barricades, marshaling his strength for what he knew would be a long and difficult day. Everywhere he looked he saw broken people and fresh reminders of suffering. He waved to Martha Reeder, the once-chatty lady who worked the stamp window at the Post Office; she smiled sadly, turning to give him a better look at the homemade sign she was holding. It featured a poster-sized photograph of her three-year-old granddaughter, a serious child with curly hair and slightly crooked eyeglasses. ASHLEY, it said, MY LITTLE ANGEL. Standing beside her was Stan Washburn—a retired cop and former Pop Warner coach of Kevin’s—a squat, no-neck guy whose T-shirt, stretched tight over an impressive beer gut, invited anyone who cared to ASK ME ABOUT MY BROTHER. Kevin felt a sudden powerful urge to flee, to run home and spend the afternoon lifting weights or raking leaves—anything solitary and mindless would do—but it passed quickly, like a hiccup or a shameful sexual fantasy.

 
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