Thanksgiving Day at noonish, Lynnie showed up at my house with two bottles of wine. I let her in and went back to the kitchen. Lynnie opened one of the bottles and poured some into coffee mugs.
“So, I’ve been thinking about that cult,” Lynnie said. “I’m still not sure what it has to do with Devon.”
“Maybe nothing,” I said. “Probably nothing. I just wanted to see if it was real.”
“Maybe Devon found out something about it and they killed her.” Lynnie was still thinking about motives.
“I don’t think the cult’s really a cult,” I said. “It’s just some feminist thing.”
“Dude, I’m a feminist,” Lynnie said. “You don’t see me out there screeching at the moon in the fucking freezing cold.”
“You’d be good at it, though,” I said. “Maybe you should start a real cult. I’d join.”
Lynnie sipped at her wine and thought for a moment. She said, “Maybe they were all naked behind that fence.”
“Who knows,” I said. I thought about Courtney—naked. Then I wondered if anyone had ever thought about Courtney naked before. Probably not. I felt almost sort of sorry for her, for a moment. But it passed. I said, “I think these people are up to all sorts of bad shit—pseudo-cults, bullying, who knows what else….”
“Yeah—and that,” I said. I looked around the kitchen—turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, biscuits. If Lynnie wanted anything else, she needed to bring it. I said, “I guess this is it.”
That first year at Gulag State I’d been surprised that none of my new colleagues had invited me over for Thanksgiving dinner. I was new in town, new to the department, in a strange place, and no one had opened up to me. I wasn’t bummed, exactly—I had already decided that my colleagues were mostly people I didn’t want to hang around with outside work—but I was, yeah, surprised. I mean, every Thanksgiving in graduate school I got four or five invitations from other grad students or from faculty. In Weirton—nothing. No one ever tried to make me feel welcome. That first Thanksgiving eve, I’d gone down to the Tri-State for happy hour and had run into Lynnie, who was in the same position I was in—alone. Ostracized by the dipshits and losers in the History Department. So we got drunk and went to Walmart and we bought a turkey and a bunch of supplies, and we did Thanksgiving together, and the next year Devon joined us and we had turkey and wine and jaeger shots and football—and fun. The way a holiday was supposed to be. Though of course now Devon was gone.
I looked out at the TV. The Texas game was starting. Devon liked to root against Texas—a Georgia fan, always. She liked to remind me that the Bulldogs beat the Longhorns in the 1984 Cotton Bowl, 10-9. Knocked Texas out of contention for the national title. 1984! So long ago—before our times, but it was still we both heard about growing up, part of our shared history, and something she could tease me about.
Lynnie cut off a big chunk of turkey and loaded up on mashed potatoes and grabbed a couple of biscuits and went over and sat on the couch in front of the television. Lynnie of course had gone to Rice—a school always terrible at football, so for her a game was just another good reason to get drunk. Fuzzhead climbed up on Lynnie’s lap and tried to get at her plate. I scooped up the cat and carried him off to the bedroom.
“C’mon,” I said. “You’re exiled.”
After we ate, Lynnie said, “Why don’t you show me that notebook?”
I hesitated. And felt weird about that hesitation. But I went to my office and got the brown art notebook and handed it to her.
“It’s a narrative of some sort,” I said. “Mostly pictures.”
“Yeah,” Lynnie said. She was already leafing through the notebook. Frowning, interested. Thinking.
I stood over Lynnie, watching her turn pages—nervous. I guess I felt—possessive of the notebook. Then I realized I was looming over her, rude, and I sat in a chair and watched. I could catch glimpses of pages—Madonna, car wrecks. I glanced at the TV—UT was punting—then back at Lynnie.
“Sherlock Holmes!” Lynnie said. She held up the Benedict Cumberbach picture. “Devon’s trying to figure things out.”
“Maybe,” I said.
Lynnie held up the picture of George C. Scott in They Might Be Giants.
“See, that’s what I don’t know,” I said. “In that movie, he was crazy—he was just a guy who thought he was Sherlock Holmes.”
“Exactly,” Lynnie said. “Devon was unsure. Also those cult assholes were gaslighting her, probably.”
Lynnie flipped a few more pages. On TV, Texas was playing lousy defense.
“Ha!” Lynnie laughed. She held up the picture of me—the picture of the fucking stupid pile of sand.
“Yeah,” I said. I could feel my face getting red—shame, embarrassment. “Thanks.”
“She thought you were a solid foundation.”
“Stolid,” I said.
“That, too,” Lynnie said. She looked up at me, saw my red face. Got serious. “I mean, Tommy, you are kind of dense, sometimes. You don’t think about other people as often as you should—that’s a problem.”
I didn’t say anything. Aloof, standoffish, whatever. I took a deep breath. I looked at the TV, didn’t see what was on the screen. Things moving around. I could feel Lynnie looking at me.
“Like,” Lynnie said. “After Devon died? You never once asked me how I was feeling.”
“Oh,” I said. That was actually true. I blushed harder, if that was possible. Fucking shame is a killer. Yes, I remember Lynnie texting me that day. I guess I could have texted her back, or something. Should have.
Lynnie said, “You didn’t think about me at all, did you?”
If I had been anyplace other than my house, I would have gotten up right then and left. Unable to face the truth or myself. Shamed. But I was at home, and I didn’t have anywhere to go. I forced myself to look at Lynnie. Of course I hadn’t thought about her! I was a fucking asshole.
I said, “I’m—sorry?”
Lynnie laughed. “Yeah, it’s okay. I mean, I do kinda love you and all—you’re like the brother I never had, right? And I know Devon really loved you.”
“Yeah,” I said. I doubted that. She had no reason to. “Whatever.”
“But don’t expect me to do your emotional labor,” Lynnie said. “Right? And maybe you should pay more attention to people, too—and maybe pay more attention to yourself. Do a moral inventory. Go look in a mirror sometime. You’re an angry man, Tommy, you know? People fucking feel that. Maybe you can use that to your advantage.”
I looked uselessly at the football game, pouting. I could hear Lynnie turning pages in the notebook. I didn’t need to do a moral inventory. I didn’t need to go look in a mirror. I knew there probably was some coldness in me—shit, people had been pointing that out for years. All my life. So, yeah, I guess I was cold. And mad.
Okay—I was an angry man.
A year before, I’d taught a senior seminar I called “Book and Film,” and one of the texts we used was The Godfather, both Mario Puzo’s novel and Francis Ford Coppola’s film. The line, “It’s not personal, just business” is the famous catchphrase that helps tie the film together, but in the book there’s some pushback against that line. “It's all personal, every bit of business,” Michael says to Tom. “Every piece of shit every man has to eat every day of his life is personal.” I’d discussed the two different lines in class, and the implications of the lines, but I’d never actually internalized the meaning of the texts—never made the meaning personal.
And so I sat there pouting and looking blindly at the TV, and I guess I was actually doing a quick moral inventory, because I thought of those lines from The Godfather, and it occurred to me that I’d eaten a lot of shit in my life, from Gulag State all the way back to my childhood, and it was all all all personal, every bit of it. And it pissed me off. I couldn’t do anything about what had happened to me as a kid, but—now? In the end, The Godfather is a story about justice, and there was no justice at Gulag State.
What would Michael Corleone do?
Lynnie said, “The fuck!”
I looked over at her and she held up a picture of one of the ancient statues.
Lynnie asked, “Look familiar?”
I said, “No.”
“The moon goddess, dude. Selene!”
I got up and stood behind Lynnie, looking over her shoulder. One of the old statue pictures. I’d only glanced at it before, hadn’t even thought about, really. A handsome pale marble woman with a crescent moon coming out of her head. She looked kind of sad.
Lynnie said, “The Romans called her Luna.”
I said, “Huh.”
“This is why the world needs historians,” Lynnie said. “To figure this shit out.”
“Gentle white-armed goddess,” I said.
“The whole story’s in here,” Lynnie said. ‘It’s got to be.” She skipped through the pages until she came to the one of Courtney in the prairie dog costume.
“Shameful,” Lynnie read aloud. “Prison.” Then she turned two pages to the picture of the big red flopping herpetic dong. She said, “Damn.”
“I’m assuming that’s not you, but—”
“I’m the stupid sack of sand.”
“Stop that,” Lynnie said. Then she tapped the picture on the herpes sore. “But—you know this belongs to somebody.”
Somebody. Of course it belonged to somebody.
I sat back down. Sighed. I said, “So—now, what do you think happened?”
“Oh,” Lynnie said. “I’m seeing it now—they fucking killed her. Mrs. Prairie Dog or whoever. Or Sick Dick Man. But we don’t know why they killed her, and until we do, we’re going to have a hard time getting anybody to believe us.”
After Lynnie wandered off to my bedroom and passed out, I sat on the couch, leafing through the notebook. It was all there, I guess, just as Lynnie had said—whatever it was, the famous bad shit, it was all there. But I was also pretty sure Devon hadn’t deliberately left posterity a map to the bad shit. I mean, it was there, but I didn’t think that was the intention—the stupid motive!—behind the notebook. It was more of a visual prompt for her writing.
And where was her actual writing about the bad shit?
It wasn’t in her Dropbox. Maybe it was on her machine at work. Maybe it was on her machine at home. Maybe it was hidden in her work emails. Maybe Mrs. Prairie Dog or Mr. Herpes Dick had found it already, or maybe they erased everything when they killed her.
Maybe she hadn’t started writing about the bad shit.
None of that mattered. There was this notebook, and I had it.
I looked again at the photo of the statue. Selene. Moon Goddess. Luna. Devon told me she’d never been invited to the ceremonies—the poetry readings, the orgies, the who knew whatever was actually going on.
Yet there was that little drawing—a circle, the moon. And below it--
Fuck Courtney’s stupid cult!!!
Maybe Devon lied? Or maybe she just heard about what whatever weird happened there and hated it…?
I looked at a photo of a huge sparkling savage brindled dog. No caption. Just a giant angry snarling dog, somehow photoshopped in glitter. Of course I thought of the huge vicious dogs Courtney had guarding her porch just the night before.
Devon was a writer. To me it seemed like she was trying here to think through her experience—think through her life at Gulag State University—trying to understand it, trying to understand what was happening to her. If so, Lynnie was wrong—the whole story wasn’t in here. The notebook was a path, not a solution.
Still, maybe the path led somewhere.
And maybe it didn’t—or maybe it just led to a swamp.
Fuck, I didn’t know.
I got up off the couch and checked on Lynnie. She was stretched out face down on my bed, Fuzzhead curled up on the small of her back. Sweet.
I went across the hall to my office. I had a multi-function printer-scanner, and I spent the rest of the night scanning the notebook into a PDF. I printed out two hard copies—one for me, one for Lynnie—and I stored copies of the PDF on my home machine, in my Dropbox, and on a couple of flashdrives. I hid the original notebook sort of at the bottom of a box at the back of my office closet. Then I crawled into bed next to Lynnie, stole the blanket from her, and tried to sleep.