Chapter 4, continued
Though the boys have intended to remain true to the Lisbon girls, they are troubled that their memories and experiences of the sisters are slipping away as the spring progresses. A year after Cecilia's death, the boys still do not know why she committed suicide, nor the sisters' true feelings about the suicide. The boys begin to wonder if they had ever really known the Lisbon sisters. Just as the boys feel they have lost the girls entirely, secret messages begin appearing. Plastic cards of the Virgin Mary are left in bushes or between bicycle spokes. At night, Lux's Chinese lantern blinks an indecipherable code, and the flames of candles are visible in Cecilia's old room. On May 7, neighborhood boy Chase Buell finds a note in his mailbox instructing the recipient to tell Trip that he is a creep and that "Guess Who" is over him. In the next few weeks, various notes arrive, though the boys are never able to catch the girls delivering them. Unable to devise a suitable means of reply, the boys finally decide to use the telephone.
The first call is answered by Mr. Lisbon. The boys remain silent until Mr. Lisbon hangs up, after which a tentative girl's voice says hello before hurriedly hanging up. The next day, at the same time, the boys' call is answered on the first ring. Without speaking, the boys play a song into the phone, give their phone number, and hang up. The following day, same time, the boys' phone rings. The boys answer immediately and hear a song playing. At song's end, the boys play a song back, and the game continues for much of the evening. Years later, the boys will not be able to remember the exact songs played, only that the exchange suggests a kind of seduction, as the boys play love songs while the girls demurely play folk songs in reply. Finally, in a burst of intimacy, the girls play David Gates' "Make It With You," and the line goes dead.
Thrilled and barely able to believe that the girls might like them back, the boys continually try to call the Lisbon house again, but no one answers. Three days later, they observe the girls packing trunks, and presume that they are plotting an escape. On June 14, a note appears in the boys' mailbox scrawled on a plastic picture of the Virgin Mary: "Tomorrow. Midnight. Wait for our signal."
On the night of June 15, each boy tells his parents that he is sleeping over at someone else's house, and the boys climb into their childhood treehouse to drink and wait. Midnight passes, and some time later, a flashlight blinks three times in the Lisbons' window. Almost as one, the boys descend and make their way to the Lisbon house.
Through the back window, the boys see Lux sprawled alone in a beanbag chair in a halter-top smoking a cigarette. Disarmed by her presence, they quietly open the door and enter. Lux appears to have been expecting them. The boys tell Lux that they have a car and a full tank of gas and promise to take the girls anywhere they want. Lux claims her sisters are not quite finished packing, as it has taken her parents forever to fall asleep. The boys beg her to hurry. Lux stands up, walks over to Chase Buell, and unbuckles his belt. The room is silent and every boy imagines that Lux is unbuckling his own belt. Hearing a soft thud from downstairs, Lux stops and decides that time is of the essence. She tells the boys to wait in the living room for her sisters while she waits in the car. The boys do as they are instructed, and dream of their flight with the girls.
Perhaps twenty minutes later, aware of the house's complete silence and noticing a light coming from the basement, the boys decide to venture downstairs. As they enter the basement, they see the punch bowl from the Lisbons' party still half- full and covered with scum, and an inch of floodwater covering the floor. One boy wades out and begins to dance. Behind him, the others catch sight of Bonnie, in a pink dress and confirmation stockings, hanging dead from a beam. As they watch in horror, her body begins to slowly twist. The boys flee, silently, and forget to check the garage for Lux. Later, they will learn that Bonnie probably died while they sat in the living room, that Therese was dead by sleeping pills before they entered the house, and that in their dark path to the basement they narrowly missed Mary with her head in the oven. Meanwhile, Lux's death by carbon monoxide poisoning must have occurred shortly after the boys' departure. The boys realize how cleverly Lux stalled them, giving herself and her sisters time to die in peace.
The novel's steady progression toward crisis erupts in this section with the devastating events of June 15. The boys' receipt of the "Tomorrow. Midnight" note, recalls the party invitation they received in Chapter One. The novel begins to read like a horrific caricature of its former self, which serves to give the events of June 15 an air of prophetic or tragic fulfillment. Lux is the lookout in the living room, just as she was lookout on Homecoming night, only now she is buying time not for primping but for suicide. The boys' descent to the Lisbon basement mirrors their descent on the night of Cecilia's party over a year before. Then, as now, they walk carefully down the stairs towards the source of light. The basement they find on June 15 is still assembled for a party, with the punch bowl still out and the sorbet melting, covered with flies and a thick layer of scum. It is as if time stopped for the Lisbon family at the moment of Cecilia's death. Bonnie's death, foreshadowed during Cecilia's party, is now realized, so that instead of swaying to the music she now swings slowly from a beam. The boys, once speechlessly awkward, are now speechless in horror. They flee back to their homes as they did on the night of Cecilia's suicide, unable to endure the sight of death.
The events of this chapter shed a stark light on the boys' motives for wanting to save the girls. At the book's end, the boys will denounce the girls' suicides as "selfish," but the boys' own sexually charged dreams of driving off into the sunset with the adoring girls seem selfish too. True, the boys want to save the girls, but largely because they think that this will make the girls love them. The boys' dreams of the open road, as they wait in the Lisbons' living room for the girls to "finish packing," recall the ride to Homecoming, the boys' last exhilarating interaction with the girls. The boys' dream of an infinite drive is a dream of postponing the girls' one moment of happiness. They want to extend youth, happiness, and innocence—the ideals of suburbia—instead of re-entering the realm of old age, reality and death. When the boys find the girls dead, the boys feel betrayed, as if suicide is the girls' ultimate rejection of their heroic masculinity. The boys realize that the girls had been planning all along to go on a "trip" without them. Instead of driving off with four grateful blondes, the boys realize that they have been trivial accessories to the girls' flight.
At the same time, the girls could easily have killed themselves without inviting the boys to witness. The girls' invitation to the boys seems to be a cruel joke, designed only to confront the boys with their own inadequacy and ignorance. Yet the novel as a whole, and the girls' careful preparations, suggest a motive more profound than shallow cruelty. Instead, it was a test. Had the boys not come, the boys could have spent the subsequent years telling themselves "I could have saved her if I'd been there." But the boys were there, sitting in the living room, too caught up in their own fantasies to notice that the girls were killing themselves in the surrounding darkness. The scene in the living room is an appropriate end to the preceding year, where the boys were too caught up in their dreams of the Lisbon girls to inquire into the horrors that the girls were actually experiencing. Thus, by letting the boys fail to stop their suicides, the girls assert their independence, but also suggest the countless times in which the boys have failed them before, and will continue to fail them after death.
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