Jim walked like a man spoiling for a fight, but he couldn’t help it. His hands were curled into fists, and he clenched his jaw, the muscles in his neck and shoulders drawn tight. The hostess, Miranda, had bottle-red hair and a top cut so low her breasts seemed about to pop out and say hello. She smiled as he approached. “Wow, Jim, you look so serious,” she said, her voice almost teasing. “Someone key your car or something?”

He almost couldn’t get the question out, that cold dread filling him with a terrible certainty. “Has Jenny been in today?”

Miranda frowned. “Jenny?”

“Yes, Jenny!” he said, slamming both hands down on the hostess’s podium. “My wife, goddamn it! Have you seen …” He faltered, emotion welling up in him, feeling utterly lost. “Oh, Christ, Miranda. Please tell me you’ve seen my wife.”

But Miranda’s eyes had narrowed to cold slits. The dozen or so people waiting to be seated had moved to a safe distance, eyeing him warily, but Miranda only stared contempt in his direction. “You never told me you had a wife, Jim,” she said, biting off each word. “Don’t you think you should’ve told me?”

He shook his head. “This isn’t real. This isn’t my life.”

Miranda shouted something at him as he staggered out the door, but he didn’t hear. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a heavy, unfamiliar key ring, only vaguely noticing that it was different before he bent over a metal trash can and vomited. Blinking, trying to catch his breath, he stared down into the can, grateful that he couldn’t tell what it was he’d just thrown up … because he knew it wasn’t blueberry pancakes.

Spitting on the sidewalk, he turned the corner and hurried around to the back of the building, where the reserved parking spaces that came with the apartment were located. It must have been nearly six o’clock by now. The shadows had grown long and the sky had the strange, ethereal quality of autumn evenings, almost like a dream.

Jim wished he could believe this was all a dream, but he knew he was awake.

Awake, yeah. But sane? He didn’t know the answer to that.

He stopped short, staring at the silver Mercedes parked in his spot. Jim drove a six-year-old blue Audi. His hand closed around his car keys, and the unfamiliarity of their shape and heft struck him again. He opened his hand and looked down at the logo on the key ring. Mercedes.

Jim made up his mind then. He gritted his teeth as he clicked the button to unlock the car. The Mercedes chirped.

“Fine,” he said as he slid into the driver’s seat and plunged the key into the ignition. “I don’t care.”

And he didn’t. The details didn’t matter. Only Jenny and Holly mattered. It was almost as if they had been erased from the world, but Jim knew—as sure as he knew that the road beneath his tires was solid and that the Earth revolved around the sun—that people couldn’t be deleted from existence. Either he was crazy, or something impossible had happened.

It was time to find out which.

The knot in Jim’s gut twisted tighter as he drove over to Jonathan’s apartment in the Back Bay. With one hand on the wheel and only occasional glances at the road, he scanned the contacts list on his cell phone, thinking he would call friends, try to find someone who would end the nightmare, tell him it was all a joke. Somehow, he had to fight the growing certainty that it was neither a joke nor a dream, that either reality or his own sanity had been abruptly and brutally altered. Now that he was away from the apartment, he could pretend it was possible that he had been drugged, that someone had come in and erased all traces of her from his life. And though that idea horrified him, it was somehow preferable to the alternatives.

But now he saw that something had happened to his cell phone contacts list. Names were missing—Jenny’s best friend, Trixie Newcomb, who had become Jim’s friend as well. Matt and Gretchen Kelleher, whom Jenny had met at the gym and who had become their go-to dinner companions—the one couple they really seemed to get along with. The office number for the Atherton School, where Jenny taught.

In place of those listings there were new contacts, names that were unfamiliar to him, and it chilled Jim to wonder who they were and how their information had gotten into his cell phone. If he phoned them and introduced himself, what would they say to him? How well would they know him, these people whose names he did not know?

But not all of his familiar contacts were gone—only the ones he had known through, or because of, Jenny.

A car braked too fast in front of him, and he stopped fast enough for the tires to skid, cutting the wheel and slewing to the right. Another night he would have shot the guy the finger or at least muttered some curse under his breath, but his focus was on the phone instead of the road. The car drove on and Jim accelerated. He had driven this route to Jonathan’s apartment hundreds of times. One hand on the wheel, he navigated on autopilot, scanning the list, finding Steve Menken, and hitting CALL.

Menken answered on the third ring. “Jimbo! To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I need to ask you a question,” Jim said.

“Oooh. Sounds ominous.”

“It is.”

A hesitation on the line. Jim could practically see the smile fading from Menken’s face. They had known each other for more than a decade, running in the same circles in Boston’s artistic community. Menken worked at Hiram Davis Press in Cambridge, editing nonfiction from biographies to art books. He and Jim had become friends without ever managing to work on a project together—Hiram Davis couldn’t afford Jim Banks. They had bonded over a mutual love of beer, old science-fiction movies, and Boston sports teams—common enough interests for men in the city, but not in their line of work.

“You can ask me anything, Jim,” Menken said. “What’s going on? You sound awful.”

“This is … this may sound weird. Do you remember Jenny and Holly?”

Menken paused in thought before replying. “I don’t think I know anyone named Holly. Are you talking about Jenny Garza?”

Jim went numb. “No. Not Jenny Garza.”

“You’re gonna have to give me something more to go on,” Menken said.

“Never mind, I’ll talk to you later,” Jim said, ending the call.

He tossed the phone onto the seat beside him. There were other people still in his contacts list—friends and colleagues who knew him well enough to know his wife and daughter—but he no longer had any desire to call them. Another conversation like the one he’d just had with Menken, and he might completely fall apart.

Instead, he drove in silence. No talk radio. No music. No phone. Several times he encountered snarled traffic, but he knew these streets well enough by now to avoid most of it, and soon he was pulling up to Jonathan’s Marlborough Street brownstone. He cruised another block before noticing an aging BMW pulling out, and he slid into the vacated parking space.

As Jim climbed out of the car, an unseasonably icy breeze swept along the street and seemed to eddy around him. He looked toward Jonathan’s apartment, and a coil of fear encircled him. He could almost picture Marlborough Street as the road to Oz, and he felt a terrible trepidation at the prospect of approaching the wizard. Jonathan had been the last to see Jenny and Holly.

Hollybaby, he thought, missing his daughter so much that he nearly fell to his knees. He practically flung himself across the street, picking up his pace as he hurried toward Jonathan’s brownstone, so that by the time he reached the front door he was running. With a quick glance at the intercom, he pressed the bottom-most button. It made a sound less like a buzzer than an old-fashioned school bell. Seconds ticked by, each one an eternity, and he hit the button again.

Crackle. “Who is it?”

“It’s Jim. I need to—”

“What are you doing here?” Jonathan asked sharply, the intercom crackling.

“We have to talk,” Jim said, hearing the pleading in his own voice and hating it. “I really … I’m at my wit’s end here, Jonathan. I need a reality check, man. I need a friend.”

For several seconds the intercom did not even crackle. And then the door buzzed.

Jim hauled it open, then made sure the heavy door latched behind him. The foyer of the building smelled of disinfectant. He headed past the stairs toward the door at the rear of the foyer. Jonathan lived on the ground floor. He could have easily afforded the view from the top-floor apartment, but he didn’t like heights.

As Jim approached the door he heard the dead bolt slide back, and then the door swung open. Jonathan stood outlined in the doorway, the wan light from the hall casting shadows on the lines and hollows of his face. The sight of him startled Jim so much he came to an abrupt halt. At fifty, Jonathan had perfected the aura of a 1940s movie idol trying to hold on to his looks. Always tan, his silver hair always neatly trimmed, he was a man with expensive tastes.

But this was not the Jonathan that Jim knew. This man was a withered husk, his clothes hanging on his thinning frame, his silver hair gone dull and gray, his skin jaundiced and sagging. “Jesus,” Jim whispered. “What the hell’s happened to you?”

Jonathan’s eyes flashed with anger, and he straightened himself up. “What kind of question is that? First that crap on the phone, and now you show up here with your eyes wide like it’s your first fucking day on Earth? What’s so goddamned important?”

Jim shook himself and took a step forward, frowning. “Sorry. You caught me by surprise.”

“I caught you?”

But Jim barely registered the sarcasm. He took another step nearer, the sadness that already enveloped him growing heavier. “Are you sick?” he asked. Then he shook his head. “I mean, obviously you are. But what is it? How did it happen so fast? Christ, Jonathan, you never said anything.”

Jonathan cocked his head, regarding Jim anew. His eyes narrowed. “You’re really asking that,” Jonathan said, almost to himself. When he spoke again, he had softened. “What’s wrong with you? You really forgot I have cancer?”

Jim closed his eyes, shaking his head, wishing it all away. “Cancer?”

“In my brain. I … hell, Jim, you know all this. I’ve got eight, maybe nine months.”

They stood in the hallway, those two old friends, and stared at each other.

“So you can’t have been at my place this morning,” Jim said.

“I haven’t been over to your place since Labor Day,” Jonathan replied. Then he stepped back into his apartment. “Come in, Jim. Call your shrink. I’m serious. I don’t know what that stuff was on the phone before about Julie or whatever—”


“—but you’re having an episode or something. Are you on any medication?”

Jim stood paralyzed in the hall, bathed in that hideous yellow light.

“Hey,” Jonathan said, coming out into the hall and reaching for his arm. “Please, don’t. I’ve had enough tears.”

Only when Jim tasted salt on his lips did he understand that he had started to cry. Instantly he shut off the tears, wiping them from his cheeks. He pulled away from Jonathan. “I have to go.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Jonathan said. “Come in. Please. Sit with me. I’ll make tea and you can clear your mind, talk to me about what’s going on in your head right now.”

Jim backed away from him, toward the foyer. “I’m sorry. I have to go.”

This isn’t my Jonathan. This isn’t my life. Somehow, the world he knew had been stolen from him while he slept. Or maybe this is my life, and the rest was just me inventing one that isn’t so fucking ugly. Maybe I’m meant to be alone.

But he rejected that instantly. Even with all the hours that had passed, his lips could still remember Jenny’s kiss. He could close his eyes and picture her, recall her smell, the perfect way her body cleaved to his when they slid into bed at night. He knew Holly’s laugh, the dimple in her left cheek, the silly way she would dance to make him smile whenever he grew too serious for her liking.

They were his wife and his little girl. They weren’t inventions.

“Call Dr. Lebowitz,” Jonathan said, starting to follow him into the hall but too weary to chase him.

“First thing in the morning,” Jim muttered.


“I’ve got to go.”

Then he was out the door and running for his car, wondering what else would be taken from him today … and then realizing that he had nothing else in his life that really mattered.

Jim felt invisible to the world. He drove home in a fog, trying to figure out what to do next. Memories of Jenny and Holly kept crowding into his thoughts. He found himself singing softly in the silence of the car—all those songs he had used as lullabies on nights when Holly had trouble falling asleep as a toddler. No one remembered them. If he called the police, they would probably think he was crazy. He might even end up on some psych ward for evaluation. But what other choice did he have? He couldn’t just do nothing. Prayer wasn’t going to bring them back. He knew a private detective—a poker buddy of Menken’s—who would at least listen without calling him crazy.

Jonathan had been afraid for him. Jim had seen it in his eyes, the sympathy for the artist who had finally lost his mind. But he refused to believe that insanity could summon up the vivid details and the heartbreaking emotions that filled him now. Maybe schizophrenia could produce such delusions, but didn’t the very fact that he could so coolly examine the possibility make that unlikely?

“Oh, Jesus,” he whispered, gripping the steering wheel tighter as though holding on for his life. Perhaps, in spite of himself, he was praying without even realizing it.