Gone Girl

By: Gillian Flynn

To Brett: light of my life, senior and

Flynn: light of my life, junior



PART ONE


BOY LOSES GIRL


NI

N C

I K

C

DU

D N

U N

N E

N

THE DAY OF

When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of

it, to begin with. The very first time I saw her, it was the back of

the head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles

of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil. She had

what the Victorians would call a finely shaped head. You could

imagine the skull quite easily.

I’d know her head anywhere.

And what’s inside it. I think of that, too: her mind. Her brain, all

those coils, and her thoughts shuttling through those coils like fast,

frantic centipedes. Like a child, I picture opening her skull,

unspooling her brain and sifting through it, trying to catch and pin

down her thoughts. What are you thinking, Amy? The question

I’ve asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to

the person who could answer. I suppose these questions

stormcloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are

you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other?

What will we do?

My eyes flipped open at exactly six a.m. This was no avian

fluttering of the lashes, no gentle blink toward consciousness. The

awakening was mechanical. A spooky ventriloquist-dummy click

of the lids: The world is black and then, showtime! 6-0-0 the clock

said – in my face, first thing I saw. 6-0-0. It felt different. I rarely

woke at such a rounded time. I was a man of jagged risings: 8:43,

11:51, 9:26. My life was alarmless.

At that exact moment, 6-0-0, the sun climbed over the skyline of

oaks, revealing its full summer angry-God self. Its reflection flared

across the river toward our house, a long, blaring finger aimed at

me through our frail bedroom curtains. Accusing: You have been

seen. You will be seen.

I wallowed in bed, which was our New York bed in our new house,

which we still called the new house, even though we’d been back

here for two years. It’s a rented house right along the Mississippi

River, a house that screams Suburban Nouveau Riche, the kind of

place I aspired to as a kid from my split-level, shag-carpet side of

town. The kind of house that is immediately familiar: a generically

grand, unchallenging, new, new, new house that my wife would –

and did – detest.

‘Should I remove my soul before I come inside?’ Her first line

upon arrival. It had been a compromise: Amy demanded we rent,

not buy, in my little Missouri hometown, in her firm hope that we

wouldn’t be stuck here long. But the only houses for rent were

clustered in this failed development: a miniature ghost town of

bank-owned,

recession-busted,

price-reduced

mansions,

a

neighborhood that closed before it ever opened. It was a

compromise, but Amy didn’t see it that way, not in the least. To

Amy, it was a punishing whim on my part, a nasty, selfish twist of

the knife. I would drag her, caveman-style, to a town she had

aggressively avoided, and make her live in the kind of house she

used to mock. I suppose it’s not a compromise if only one of you

considers it such, but that was what our compromises tended to

look like. One of us was always angry. Amy, usually.

Do not blame me for this particular grievance, Amy. The Missouri

Grievance. Blame the economy, blame bad luck, blame my parents,

blame your parents, blame the Internet, blame people who use the

Internet. I used to be a writer. I was a writer who wrote about TV

and movies and books. Back when people read things on paper,

back when anyone cared about what I thought. I’d arrived in New

York in the late ’90s, the last gasp of the glory days, although no

one knew it then. New York was packed with writers, real writers,

because there were magazines, real magazines, loads of them. This

was back when the Internet was still some exotic pet kept in the

corner of the publishing world – throw some kibble at it, watch it

dance on its little leash, oh quite cute, it definitely won’t kill us in

the night. Think about it: a time when newly graduated college

kids could come to New York and get paid to write. We had no

clue that we were embarking on careers that would vanish within

a decade.

I had a job for eleven years and then I didn’t, it was that fast. All

around the country, magazines began shuttering, succumbing to a

sudden infection brought on by the busted economy. Writers (my

kind of writers: aspiring novelists, ruminative thinkers, people

whose brains don’t work quick enough to blog or link or tweet,

basically old, stubborn blowhards) were through. We were like

women’s hat makers or buggy-whip manufacturers: Our time was

done. Three weeks after I got cut loose, Amy lost her job, such as it

was. (Now I can feel Amy looking over my shoulder, smirking at

the time I’ve spent discussing my career, my misfortune, and

dismissing her experience in one sentence. That, she would tell

you, is typical. Just like Nick, she would say. It was a refrain of

hers: Just like Nick to … and whatever followed, whatever was just

like me, was bad.) Two jobless grown-ups, we spent weeks

wandering around our Brooklyn brownstone in socks and pajamas,

ignoring the future, strewing unopened mail across tables and

sofas, eating ice cream at ten a.m. and taking thick afternoon

naps.

Then one day the phone rang. My twin sister was on the other end.

Margo had moved back home after her own New York layoff a year

before – the girl is one step ahead of me in everything, even shitty

luck. Margo, calling from good ole North Carthage, Missouri, from

the house where we grew up, and as I listened to her voice, I saw

her at age ten, with a dark cap of hair and overall shorts, sitting on

our grandparents’ back dock, her body slouched over like an old

pillow, her skinny legs dangling in the water, watching the river

flow over fish-white feet, so intently, utterly self-possessed even as

a child.

Go’s voice was warm and crinkly even as she gave this cold news:

Our indomitable mother was dying. Our dad was nearly gone – his

(nasty) mind, his (miserable) heart, both murky as he meandered

toward the great gray beyond. But it looked like our mother would

beat him there. About six months, maybe a year, she had. I could

tell that Go had gone to meet with the doctor by herself, taken her

studious notes in her slovenly handwriting, and she was teary as

she tried to decipher what she’d written. Dates and doses.

‘Well, fuck, I have no idea what this says, is it a nine? Does that

even make sense?’ she said, and I interrupted. Here was a task, a

purpose, held out on my sister’s palm like a plum. I almost cried

with relief.

‘I’ll come back, Go. We’ll move back home. You shouldn’t have to

do this all by yourself.’

She didn’t believe me. I could hear her breathing on the other end.

‘I’m serious, Go. Why not? There’s nothing here.’

A long exhale. ‘What about Amy?’

That is what I didn’t take long enough to consider. I simply

assumed I would bundle up my New York wife with her New York

interests, her New York pride, and remove her from her New York

parents – leave the frantic, thrilling futureland of Manhattan

behind – and transplant her to a little town on the river in

Missouri, and all would be fine.

I did not yet understand how foolish, how optimistic, how, yes,

just like Nick I was for thinking this. The misery it would lead to.

‘Amy will be fine. Amy …’ Here was where I should have said,

‘Amy loves Mom.’ But I couldn’t tell Go that Amy loved our

mother, because after all that time, Amy still barely knew our

mother. Their few meetings had left them both baffled. Amy

would dissect the conversations for days after – ‘And what did she

mean by …,’ – as if my mother were some ancient peasant

tribeswoman arriving from the tundra with an armful of raw yak

meat and some buttons for bartering, trying to get something from

Amy that wasn’t on offer.

Amy didn’t care to know my family, didn’t want to know my

birthplace, and yet for some reason, I thought moving home

would be a good idea.

My morning breath warmed the pillow, and I changed the subject

in my mind. Today was not a day for second-guessing or regret, it

was a day for doing. Downstairs, I could hear the return of a

long-lost sound: Amy making breakfast. Banging wooden

cupboards (rump-thump!), rattling containers of tin and glass

(ding-ring!), shuffling and sorting a collection of metal pots and

iron pans (ruzz-shuzz!). A culinary orchestra tuning up, clattering

vigorously toward the finale, a cake pan drumrolling along the

floor, hitting the wall with a cymballic crash. Something

impressive was being created, probably a crepe, because crepes

are special, and today Amy would want to cook something special.

It was our five-year anniversary.

I walked barefoot to the edge of the steps and stood listening,

working my toes into the plush wall-to-wall carpet Amy detested

on principle, as I tried to decide whether I was ready to join my

wife. Amy was in the kitchen, oblivious to my hesitation. She was

humming something melancholy and familiar. I strained to make

it out – a folk song? a lullabye? – and then realized it was the

theme to M.A.S.H. Suicide is painless. I went downstairs.

I hovered in the doorway, watching my wife. Her yellow-butter

hair was pulled up, the hank of ponytail swinging cheerful as a

jumprope, and she was sucking distractedly on a burnt fingertip,

humming around it. She hummed to herself because she was an

unrivaled botcher of lyrics. When we were first dating, a Genesis

song came on the radio: ‘She seems to have an invisible touch,

yeah.’ And Amy crooned instead, ‘She takes my hat and puts it on

the top shelf.’ When I asked her why she’d ever think her lyrics

were remotely, possibly, vaguely right, she told me she always

thought the woman in the song truly loved the man because she

put his hat on the top shelf. I knew I liked her then, really liked

her, this girl with an explanation for everything.

There’s something disturbing about recalling a warm memory and

feeling utterly cold.

Amy peered at the crepe sizzling in the pan and licked something

off her wrist. She looked triumphant, wifely. If I took her in my

arms, she would smell like berries and powdered sugar.

When she spied me lurking there in grubby boxers, my hair in full

Heat Miser spike, she leaned against the kitchen counter and said,

‘Well, hello, handsome.’

Bile and dread inched up my throat. I thought to myself: Okay, go.

I was very late getting to work. My sister and I had done a foolish

thing when we both moved back home. We had done what we

always talked about doing. We opened a bar. We borrowed money

from Amy to do this, eighty thousand dollars, which was once

nothing to Amy but by then was almost everything. I swore I

would pay her back, with interest. I would not be a man who

borrowed from his wife – I could feel my dad twisting his lips at

the very idea. Well, there are all kinds of men, his most damning

phrase, the second half left unsaid, and you are the wrong kind.

But truly, it was a practical decision, a smart business move. Amy

and I both needed new careers; this would be mine. She would

pick one someday, or not, but in the meantime, here was an

income, made possible by the last of Amy’s trust fund. Like the

McMansion I rented, the bar featured symbolically in my

childhood memories – a place where only grown-ups go, and do

whatever grown-ups do. Maybe that’s why I was so insistent on

buying it after being stripped of my livelihood. It’s a reminder that

I am, after all, an adult, a grown man, a useful human being, even

though I lost the career that made me all these things. I won’t

make that mistake again: The once plentiful herds of magazine

writers would continue to be culled – by the Internet, by the

recession, by the American public, who would rather watch TV or

play video games or electronically inform friends that, like, rain

sucks! But there’s no app for a bourbon buzz on a warm day in a

cool, dark bar. The world will always want a drink.

Our bar is a corner bar with a haphazard, patchwork aesthetic. Its

best feature is a massive Victorian backbar, dragon heads and

angel faces emerging from the oak – an extravagant work of wood

in these shitty plastic days. The remainder of the bar is, in fact,

shitty, a showcase of the shabbiest design offerings of every

decade: an Eisenhower-era linoleum floor, the edges turned up

like burnt toast; dubious wood-paneled walls straight from a ’70s

home-porn video; halogen floor lamps, an accidental tribute to my

1990s dorm room. The ultimate effect is strangely homey – it

looks less like a bar than someone’s benignly neglected

fixer-upper. And jovial: We share a parking lot with the local

bowling alley, and when our door swings wide, the clatter of

strikes applauds the customer’s entrance.

We named the bar The Bar. ‘People will think we’re ironic instead

of creatively bankrupt,’ my sister reasoned.

Yes, we thought we were being clever New Yorkers – that the

name was a joke no one else would really get, not get like we did.

Not meta-get. We pictured the locals scrunching their noses:

Why’d you name it The Bar? But our first customer, a gray-haired

woman in bifocals and a pink jogging suit, said, ‘I like the name.

Like in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Audrey Hepburn’s cat was

named Cat.’

We felt much less superior after that, which was a good thing.

I pulled into the parking lot. I waited until a strike erupted from

the bowling alley – thank you, thank you, friends – then stepped

out of the car. I admired the surroundings, still not bored with the

broken-in view: the squatty blond-brick post office across the

street (now closed on Saturdays), the unassuming beige office

building just down the way (now closed, period). The town wasn’t

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