When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. […] 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?
“Don’t let [Amy] worry you.” Go lit a cigarette. She smoked exactly one a day. “Women are crazy.” Go didn’t consider herself part of the general category of women, a word she used derisively.
My parents have always worried that I’d take Amy too personally—they always tell me not to read too much into her. And yet I can’t fail to notice that whenever I screw something up, Amy does it right… […] This used to drive me mad… […] That my parents, two child psychologists, chose this particular public form of passive-aggressiveness toward their child was not just fucked up but also stupid and weird and kind of hilarious. So be it.
I am fat with love! Husky with ardor! Morbidly obese with devotion! A happy, busy bumblebee of marital enthusiasm. I positively hum around him, fussing and fixing. I have become a strange thing. I have become a wife. I find myself steering the ship of conversations—bulkily, unnaturally—just so I can say his name aloud. I have become a wife, I have become a bore, I have been asked to forfeit my Independent Young Feminist card. I don’t care. I balance his checkbook, I trim his hair.
“People think they know [Amy] because they read the books growing up,” I said.
“I can see that,” Boney said, nodding. “People want to believe they know other people. Parents want to believe they know their kids. Wives want to believe they know their husbands.”
[Nick] promised to take care of me, and yet I feel afraid. I feel like something is going wrong, very wrong, and that it will get even worse. I don’t feel like Nick’s wife. I don’t feel like a person at all: I am something to be loaded and unloaded, like a sofa or a cuckoo clock. I am something to be tossed into a junkyard, thrown into the river, if necessary. I don’t feel real anymore. I feel like I could disappear.
I felt a surge of angst. What a fucking day. Boney was out to get me, Noelle was insane, Shawna was pissed, Hilary was resentful, the woman at the security company was a bitch, and my wife had stumped me finally. It was time to end this goddamn day.
“This is going to be a real test for you, Nick,” [Go] murmured, not looking at me. “You’ve always had trouble with the truth—you always do the little fib if you think it will avoid a real argument. You’ve always gone the easy way. […] You’re still fibbing like a little boy. You’re still desperate to have everyone think you’re perfect. You never want to be the bad guy.”
Amy was blooming large in my mind. She was gone, and yet she was more present than anyone else. I’d fallen in love with Amy because I was the ultimate Nick with her. Loving her made me superhuman, it made me feel alive. […] Amy made me believe I was exceptional, that I was up to her level if play. That was both our making and undoing. Because I couldn’t handle the demands of greatness. […] I turned her into the brittle, prickly thing she became. I had pretended to be one kind of man and revealed myself to be quite another.
I’m so much happier now that I’m dead.
Technically, missing. Soon to be presumed dead. But as shorthand, we’ll say dead. It’s been only a matter of hours, but I feel better already: loose joints, wavy muscles. At one point this morning, I realized my face felt strange, different. I looked in the rearview mirror—dread Carthage forty-three miles behind me, my smug husband lounging around his sticky bar as mayhem dangled on a thin piano wire just above his shitty, oblivious head—and I realized I was smiling. Ha! That’s new.
That night at the Brooklyn party, I was playing the girl who was in style, the girl a man like Nick wants: the Cool Girl. Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, l don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.
Men actually think this girl exists.
[Amy] knew she’d punish me good. Now at our final stop, Amy was ready for me to know how clever she was. Because the woodshed was packed with about every gizmo and gadget that I swore to Boney and Gilpin I hadn’t bought with the credit cards I swore I didn’t know anything about. The insanely expensive golf clubs were here, the watches and game consoles, the designer clothes, they were all sitting here, in wait, on my sister’s property. Where it looked like I’d stored them until my wife was dead and I could have a little fun.
I looked at the puppets. “So she’s giving me the narrative of my frame-up.”
“I can’t even wrap my brain around this. Fucking psycho.”
“Yeah, right: You didn’t want her to be pregnant, you got angry and killed her and the unborn baby.”
“Feels anticlimactic somehow,” I said.
“The climax is when you are taught the lesson that Punch never learns, and you are caught and charged with murder.”
“And Missouri has the death penalty,” I said. “Fun game.”
I could hear the tale, how everyone would love telling it: how Amazing Amy, the girl who never did wrong, let herself be dragged, penniless, to the middle of the country, where her husband threw her over for a younger woman. How predictable, how perfectly average, how amusing. And her husband? He ended up happier than ever. No. I couldn’t allow that. […]
I changed my name for that piece of shit. Historical records have been altered—Amy Elliott to Amy Dunne—like it’s nothing. No, he does not get to win.
So I began to think of a different story, a better story, that would destroy Nick for doing this to me. A story that would restore my perfection. It would make me the hero, flawless and adored.
Because everyone loves the Dead Girl.
“My wife, she just happens to be the coolest girl I’ve ever met. How many guys can say that? I married the coolest girl I ever met.”
Youfuckingbitchyoufuckingbitchyoufuckingbitch. Come home so I can kill you.
I spent the rest of my day picturing how I’d kill Amy. It was all I could think of: finding a way to end her. Me smashing in Amy’s busy, busy brain. I had to give Amy her due: I may have been dozing the past few years, but I was fucking wide awake now. I was electric again, like I had been in the early days of our marriage.
I gestured to the twine, the hacked hair, the dried blood. “So, what’s your story, wife?”
“I’m back,” she whimpered. “I made it back to you.” She moved to put her arms around me. I moved away.
“What is your story, Amy?”
“Desi,” she whispered, her lower lip trembling. “Desi Collings took me. It was the morning. Of. Of our anniversary. And the doorbell rang, and I thought... I don’t know, I thought maybe it was flowers from you.”
I flinched. Of course she’d find a way to work in a gripe: that I hardly ever sent her flowers, when her dad had sent her mom flowers each week since they’d been married. That’s 2,444 bouquets of flowers vs. 4.
Who will 1 be then? The question wasn’t recriminatory. It wasn’t like the answer was the pious: Then you’ll be a killer, Nick. You’ll be as bad as Amy. You’ll be what everyone thought you were. No. The question was frighteningly soulful and literal: Who would I be without Amy to react to? Because she was right: As a man, I had been my most impressive when I loved her—and I was my next best self when I hated her. I had known Amy only seven years, but I couldn’t go back to life without her.
I have a book deal: I am officially in control of our story. It feels wonderfully symbolic. Isn’t that what every marriage is, anyway? Just a lengthy game of he-said, she-said? Well, she is saying, and the world will listen, and Nick will have to smile and agree. I will write him the way I want him to be: romantic and thoughtful and very very repentant—about the credit cards and the purchases and the woodshed. If I can’t get him to say it out loud, he’ll say it in my book. Then he’ll come on tour with me and smile and smile.
I’m calling the book simply: Amazing.
Yes, I am finally a match for Amy. The other morning I woke up next to her, and I studied the back of her skull. I tried to read her thoughts. For once I didn’t feel like I was staring into the sun. I’m rising to my wife’s level of madness. Because I can feel her changing me again: I was a callow boy, and then a man, good and bad. Now at last I’m the hero. I am the one to root for in the never-ending war story of our marriage. It’s a story I can live with. Hell, at this point, I can’t imagine my story without Amy. She is my forever antagonist. We are one long frightening climax.