I would like to write a happy ending for Charlotte. Here are three:

"Someone takes care of me and I squirm like I'm caught in a lie.," she wrote once, in lipstick, on my mirror, on her way out the door.

I was coming to. I remember it like a dream, a half-awake hallucination ... an ethereal vision, which is in so many ways what Charlotte was.

But the evidence was there: lipstick traces long after I wiped the mirror.

Little visions of Charlotte -- who after all could not tell a lie -- squirming like a kid with a damning secret.

I mean, we all have damning secrets, don't we? But Charlotte's were never so far below the surface that you didn't wonder about them.

And for all her talk and all her silence, I never found out what kept Charlotte awake at night, why she thrashed so fiercely in her sleep.

And she never stopped squirming.

In one of my possible endings, she does: Charlotte takes a deep breath and takes it in, finds a good man and does not question her right to him, any more than she would to oxygen.

I can think of Charlotte smiling, in white, in 30 years of afterglow.

I can think of Charlotte bandaging banged-up little boys' knees. I can think of her driving little girls to soccer practice.

Yeah, Charlotte. Restless, shifty-eyed, one-hot-month Charlotte. I can see it.

Charlotte radiant against a June sunset, grinning broadly -- no more deer-in-the-headlights face.

No more disappearing acts, no more anger, self-loathing, no more post-adolescent neuroses.

No more midnight haircuts. No more vicious circles. No more squirming like a woman, caught.

I can see her in a battered station wagon, no rings on her finger, with a madman -- two fabulous Kerouacian Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.

I can see her and her beau, ruddy-faced, biking Route 66 on a honeymoon.

I can see Charlotte finally getting what she has asked for, if never out loud.

I can see her finally telling her secrets, if not to me. Or: I can see Charlotte donning a habit, or dying in a canyon in the Southwest somewhere, on a mountain in Nepal, unafraid -- smiling coyly, but a Buddha nonetheless.

If she was a religious experience for me, life-changing, a catharsis, I'd like to write an ending in which she begins to have her own series of catharses -- every noise a joyful noise.

I can see her taking a vow of silence, and keeping it. She never really liked to talk.

I can see her striking out across the country with a prayer on her chapped lips.

I can see Charlotte working in cotton fields, until her little fingers are raw. I can see her working in wheat fields, in bowling alleys, in hospitals.

She is a shape-shifting angel in this version of the ending, a Cheshire cat with a constant, gentle smile.

I can see her serene in the early morning sun. I can see her serene under harsh fluorescent and neon lights.

I can see Charlotte with a halo.

She bursts into bloom, finally. The smoke diffuses and the mirrors are broken and Charlotte, that beautiful ball of light, is freed.



Or: Just as happy, but bittersweet:

Maybe she simply becomes unattractive to men, lets herself go, stops eating and wastes away, or eats too much and blows her curves.

Maybe Charlotte becomes a shriveled, angry librarian and no man makes eyes at her for years and years. And she likes it this way -- a new life like a hospital room and not a messy bachelor pad, clean and sterile and entirely uncomplicated. She ceases to become the center of attention. Charlotte always squirmed under the spotlight. If I can't write it so she learns not to squirm, I can maybe just adjust the light, take it off her, or dull it.

Charlotte fades into the background. Charlotte ceases to become the center of so many men's attentions.

Or learns not to torture them, learns not to run so hot or so cold.

Charlotte, bright Charlotte, once so hot and cold, becomes a lukewarm memory. Charlotte diffuses, and her scent hangs in the air, but not so thickly as before.

Charlotte, I hope your glossed, red lips are finally smiling. Charlotte, this is goodbye.

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