On this warm October night, if you turned into
Brightwood Trace beside the handsome brick entryway, and
followed the graceful curve of Brightwood Circle past the
three cul-de-sacs that branch off like fingers, youâ€™d
notice even through the gathering fog that a white bow with
long streamers, one that might look good atop a large
wedding present, has been secured to a tree in front of
every house. Every house. This is not because of hostages
in some foreign country or a deeply-felt political cause.
It is to support one of their own. Paisley Lamm lives at
the top of Lindenwood Court, the highest point in the
development, and has to pass this way on every trip in or
No one is sure who tied the first ribbon to a tree this
afternoon. Most people think it was Andrea Chess,
Paisleyâ€™s longtime friend, who knows her better than anyone
in Brightwood Trace except Paisleyâ€™s husband, Mason.
Andrea is the one with the mushroom-colored hair falling in
a bowl around her face, and those odd gray-green eyes that
seem somehow colorless, like slightly dirty water. You
wouldnâ€™t imagine Andrea as Paisleyâ€™s best friend, but she
is. For twelve years theyâ€™ve shared secrets, gotten each
other through every crisis, given each other space. In
Andreaâ€™s view, this has led to a special, dignified
friendship few women ever enjoy. Andrea loves Paisley like
Most of the neighbors are much more ambivalent. Paisley
is pleasant to everyone, so affable and good-natured the
women find it hard to stay jealous even after their
husbands stare longingly at her at a party and it ruins
their night. They burn hot for a day or two, incensed that
a woman of forty-six should look so good. Itâ€™s unnatural.
Then on Monday or Tuesday they run into Paisley at the
supermarket or in the gym, where she offers a tomboyish
wave and spills benevolence onto them from her snappy blue
eyes. â€śHey,â€ť she trills, and â€śHey,â€ť they call back, and at
that moment their ill-will vanishes like smoke. Thereâ€™s
something irresistible about Paisley. Thereâ€™s something
that makes her seem the gracious hostess even in the
grocery store. The next time Paisley issues an invitation
for coffee or wine, the neighbor will say, yes, of course,
and forget until itâ€™s too late the way her husband looked
at Paisley that time and probably will again.
Of course Iona Feld doesnâ€™t feel this way. At sixty,
Iona is practically old enough to be Paisleyâ€™s mother â€“
maybe not quite â€“ and hasnâ€™t been much interested in men
since her husband died. . . . Iona isnâ€™t jealous of
Paisley, but she enjoys her. At Paisley and Masonâ€™s many
social gatherings, she watches with wry amusement the way
Paisley works a room. The more aware Paisley is of men
eyeing her, the more conscientious she is about
distributing her charms with judicious fairness, a little
for John, a little for Eddie, some for the women, too.
Itâ€™s almost an art form. . . .
This morning, Iona fought alarm, irritation, and an
actual lump in her throat while driving to A.C. Moore to
buy the biggest white bow she could find. . . . She was
furious at being sucked into this ordinary, unexotic
tragedy. Sheâ€™s had her own tragedy. She doesnâ€™t need
this. At home she tied the ribbons around the enormous
willow oak in her front yard, a tree she has always
despised, while its rough gray bark practically glowered
disapproval at having to wear a shiny white bow. . . .
By nightfall when the fog begins to gather, Iona is so
worked up that sheâ€™d like nothing better than to take one
of her long treks through the undeveloped field behind
Lindenwood Court, her usual way of burning off
energy. . . . She goes into her house instead, picks up the
newspaper, and fumes.
Up on Lindenwood Court, across the cul-de-sac from
Paisleyâ€™s house, Ginger Logan stands rigid at her bedroom
window, watching her twelve-year-old daughter, Rachel, slip
quietly out into the front yard. Itâ€™s all she can do not
to follow Rachel outside. They had their family discussion
about Paisleyâ€™s situation at dinner. Theoretically,
thereâ€™s nothing more to say. Ginger wishes Paisley well,
of course; theyâ€™ve been across-the-cul-de-sac neighbors for
more than nine years. But mostly, sheâ€™s concerned about
her children. Well, not so much about Max who at fifteen
wants only to drive. She worries more about her daughter.
Twelve is such an impressionable age. Lately Rachel has
become thoughtful and quiet, no longer a jabbering
child. Ginger wants to act before itâ€™s too late. Do
something. Make sure her daughter is not scarred by this,
whatever happens. . . .
In the third house on Dogwood Terrace, Julianne Havelock
paces back and forth in her kitchen for such a long time
that her seventeen-year-old son, Toby â€“ the only one of her
three sons who still lives at home â€“ turns off the TV comes
in to ask if sheâ€™s all right.
â€śIâ€™m fine. Just upset,â€ť she says, though she hasnâ€™t
been fine for days. More than anyone, Julianne knows
whatâ€™s going on. She knew how things would turn out even
while Paisley and Mason were waiting for the definitive
word. She knew from the beginning. And this . . . this
foreknowledge . . . is eerie. She might as well be a palm
reader or a gypsy with a crystal ball. Moving into the
front hallway, she squints out the window toward her maple
tree with its bow. She doesnâ€™t see it. She is like
everyone else. It is not invisible just because of the
As they put up the bows today, Julianne thinks, everyone
in Brightwood Trace must have acted by rote. None of them
could possibly have thought about what they were doing.
The situation is, in the most literal sense, unthinkable.
They are in shock. At the beginning of this unknowable
journey, they sense â€“ especially Julianne, Andrea, Ginger
and Iona â€“ that this is happening not just to Paisley, but
to them all.