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Suzanne Beecher

Dear Reader,

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Suzanne is out today, but she's sharing one of her favorites…

I was walking into a meeting last week when I looked down and I saw the dreaded "white smear" on the front of my black suit jacket. If you have no idea of what I'm talking about, consider yourself one of the lucky ones, and please immediately email me and let me know what brand of deodorant you use, because I'm fed up with mine.

The main color in my wardrobe is black, so you can see that I'm not kidding about what a serious problem this has become. I have three different brands of deodorant in my drawer that claim "36 Hours of Power--glides on clear, with no white residue." Well I'd be okay with only eight hours of power before I had to redo my armpits, if they would just get rid of the white residue.

I know the so-called secret to avoiding the "white smear" and yes, I did put my deodorant on after I got dressed. But something still went terribly wrong when I put my suit coat on. Fortunately, I noticed the problem before I walked into the meeting, and I made a quick beeline to the women's restroom.

Maybe this "white residue" thing is actually a marketing ploy to keep me using more and more deodorant. It's a cycle so I use up my deodorant quicker. I fear the white smear on my clothing. The thought of it makes me start to sweat. I apply more deodorant, but now I start sweating again worrying about the white stuff--so I apply more deodorant--I start worrying....

Thanks for reading with me. It's so good to read with friends.

Suzanne Beecher

P. S. Congratulations to the winners of last week's book giveaway: Dorothy H., Barbara F., Darcy W., Eve F., Vesna D., Deborah R., Jeffrey R., Kat G., Bette M., Aimee D. You could be a winner, too, but you have to enter for your chance!

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(continued from Wednesday)

And Maya's life was divided into a Before and an After. She lost her closest friend. Saw it happen before her eyes, yet to this day sensed that there was more to the incident than what she saw. Like watching a magic trick and understanding that it was an illusion, but not knowing how the magician had pulled it off.

It didn't make sense. Aubrey was healthy, didn't have any preexisting conditions. Her parents had an autopsy performed, but that didn't answer anything, and the medical examiner eventually labeled it "Sudden Unexplained Death"—the name for when someone drops dead for apparently no reason. It was often blamed on an arrhythmia of the heart or a certain kind of seizure.

Only Maya felt sure that it was Frank.

There was no weapon, no poison, no contact of any kind. No bloodshed or wounds on Aubrey's body. Maya couldn't prove it—couldn't explain it, even—but she insisted that he had deceived them all somehow.

Maybe if she'd had a shred of evidence, the police would have taken her seriously. But as it was, they questioned Frank and, finding no reason to keep him, let him go—with a warning to Maya about false accusations. They said she could ruin a man's life that way.

Her mom had more patience for Maya's suspicions, but when they failed to add up, she began to worry about her daughter's mental health. Mental illness ran in the family like a curse, and at seventeen, Maya was right at that age when it could strike.

This was how she wound up under the care of Dr. Fred Barry, who Maya's mom had found in the Yellow Pages.

Within an hour of meeting her, Dr. Barry diagnosed Maya with brief psychotic disorder. Grief could bring it on. He said her fears about Frank were delusional but assured her that she wasn't the first to react with magical thinking to a death so sudden and unexpected. Less than two out of every hundred thousand people suddenly drop dead for reasons that can't be explained by an autopsy.

Some cultures blame such deaths on evil spirits. The mind will always try to explain what it can't understand—it will make up stories, theories, whole belief systems—and Maya's mind, Dr. Barry said, was of the type that saw faces in clouds and messages in tea leaves. Patterns where others saw none. It meant she had a good imagination—but one that could trick her.

The antipsychotics dulled the certainty burning in her gut that Frank had deceived them all somehow, but the feeling never went away completely. It came over her sometimes, a dark crawling. The horrible conviction that Dr. Barry was wrong, even though everyone believed him, and that Frank had, in fact, murdered her best friend.

And with that conviction came fear. Maya was a loose end for Frank, a witness to whatever it was he had done. If he was a killer, she had every reason to be afraid, and the fact that she didn't know 'how' he'd done it made it worse, a dreadful uncertainty that kept her from moving on. But over time she learned not to talk about her suspicions with Dr. Barry, or anyone else for that matter. She couldn't stand it when people looked at her like she was crazy. Satisfied that she was no longer delusional, Dr. Barry pronounced her cured, if a little anxious, and swapped out her antipsychotics for Klonopin.

It worked. The Klonopin dulled her fear and knocked her out at night.

Alcohol helped too. All through college, she was blackout drunk several nights a week. She still managed to get A's and B's, but that was just the easy classes she was taking, overcrowded lectures where no one knew her name and it didn't matter if she was hungover. She kept telling herself she was having fun, and maybe she was; it was hard to remember. There were enough embarrassing pictures of her online dancing on tabletops, always a drink or a shot in hand, to suggest she was having the time of her life.

After college, she was happy to take the job at Kelly's Garden Center. And though every now and then she would sit at her desk to write, she never made it past the first page of anything. The problem was that she no longer liked being alone with her thoughts. She had been working at the garden center and sharing an apartment with her friend Lana for over a year when she met Dan.

They met at a party, at the hour when everyone was either dancing in a sweaty clump, slurring too loudly in the kitchen, or sprawled on the host's bed, doing coke. Maya had assumed that she and Dan were both high when they started talking while in line for the bathroom— how else to explain that they were still talking at breakfast the next morning, seated across from each other at Maya's favorite Mexican restaurant?

Over huevos rancheros and cinnamon-spiced café de olla, they talked about everything, but what Maya remembered most was learning that Dan, like her, had read a children's version of 'The Iliad' as a child, and been obsessed with Greek mythology ever since.

Maybe it was the intimacy of being with someone who loved the same stories. Or maybe it was that, in talking about such stories, they were really talking about themselves. It had been years since Maya had spoken to anyone of the central trauma of her life, and while she certainly hadn't spoken of it then, she found a certain comfort in Dan's tenderness toward Cassandra, the woman cursed to utter a truth no one would believe.

It wasn't until their third or fourth date that Maya realized he hardly drank—had, at most, two drinks at a party— and didn't use drugs. This meant that their first conversation had not, in fact, been cocaine-fueled, at least not on Dan's part, which felt significant.

It also meant that he was utterly lucid around her, unlike most of the men she had dated, who, in retrospect, had been more like drinking buddies. The thought of all that sober attention on her was nerve-racking, but over time—over brunches and dinner tables, long talks and increasingly cozy silences—Maya found herself wanting to be lucid around him too, so as not to miss out on their time together. Their bike rides along the Charles River. The 'Iron Chef' marathons on the couch. The messy, elaborate meals cooked together in his kitchen.

Spending all that time sober hadn't been easy for Maya at first. Sometimes, out of nowhere, memories like longsleeping leviathans would stir, threatening to rise up and swallow her whole. Aubrey collapsing on the ground. The dark glitter of Frank's eyes. The terror of knowing that none of Maya's efforts to stay under the radar would mean anything if he decided he wanted to find her.

This wasn't all that haunted Maya these days. After nearly a decade of constant inebriation, she found that she had forgotten how to handle day-to-day struggles, like going to the RMV or winding down for bed at a reasonable hour. It felt strange, when frustrated, not to get drunk.

Sometimes she caught herself snapping at Dan for no reason and hating herself for it. Afraid of pushing him away, she did her best to hide her anxiety, the air itself suddenly raw and jagged, and never mentioned the cold sweats that woke her at dawn, or the insomnia that kept her from sleeping in the first place. But eventually all that subsided, helped along by the Klonopin she took in place of the vodka or gin she normally would have used to knock herself out.

She took Klonopin during the day sometimes too, in upward-creeping doses as her tolerance grew. What mattered to Maya was that the old dread wasn't nearly as pervasive as she'd feared. Most of the time, her thoughts left her alone, or maybe it was just that enough time had passed. She ate well and exercised, rarely having more than a single drink per night (along with a few pills from the aspirin bottle, which she kept in her purse so that Dan would never accidentally take one, thinking it was aspirin).

And these days, when Maya thought of Aubrey or of Frank, or dreamed that she was back at the cabin, she comforted herself with the words of Dr. Barry, who had assured Maya that there was nothing she could have done for Aubrey. Nothing that anyone could have done. No one whose fault it was. Not even Frank.

This was what Maya told herself every time the phone rang and she didn't recognize the number, or she heard footsteps behind on her a dark street. But how could two women drop dead for no apparent reason while talking to the same man?

(continued on Friday)

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