The nice thing about my kind of fame is that I can still find a grocery store where I can go in my shorts, a sloppy T-shirt, with ratty old plastic thongs on my feet and no makeup on my face, and no one will recognize me. There are still plenty of places in the world -- if I seek them out -- where nobody's going to brake their carts and squeal in the produce aisle, "Oh, my God, you're Marie Lightfoot! Can I have your autograph?"
That has never happened in this store. Not yet at least. If it ever does, maybe I'll shop by phone. But for now, I'm blissfully anonymous, at least until the Miami Book Fair starts in three weeks. Why did I ever agree to appear there while I'm still in the middle of a book? I'll have to drop everything for a day and don my "author" persona like a witch puts on her "glamour." I'll flick my magic wand and twirl three times and transform myself into a public figure again. Then there will be television interviews and pictures in the newspapers; then there will be crowds and autographs and stacks of my own books to sell, and I'll feel like the grinning bull's-eye in the middle of a promotional target. After that, maybe even a few shoppers in here will recognize me the next time I come in, but probably not. I hope not.
Fame is, as they say, definitely a mixed blessing.
Today I'm just a working writer, standing ninth in line at the Publix supermarket in West Bahia Beach, and feeling happily inconspicuous. This chain has huge stores, scattered all over south Florida. This one is my favorite because it is way out of my neighborhood, making it even less likely that anybody I know, or anybody who might know me, will spot me.
This being south Florida in early April, it's even more crowded in Publix than usual, because not all of the spring breakers have taken their hangovers home yet. Some of them -- the girls in bikini tops and cutoff jean bottoms, the boys in baggy swim trunks and shirts they've thrown on just to come indoors -- are in line with me, mixed in with the retirees in their tidy shorts outfits and their muumuus. The kids are buying bread, cold cuts, and bottled water; their elders are here for their frozen dinners. Me, I'm here to stock up on fresh fruit, because our long-running drought has dried up my little backyard crop of avocados, oranges, grapefruit, and limes this year.
Sometimes I wonder if maybe I'm the biggest fruit in the bunch.
Here I am, again, alone in a crowd, like some character out of one of those old private-eye novels. Hell, even Travis McGee -- from those great John D. MacDonald detective novels -- had his best bud, Meyer. Who have I got next to me, really? And I'm a woman, for God's sake! Aren't we supposed to be the relationship sex? Aren't we supposed to be talking on the phone every day to our girlfriends?
I must've missed that lesson.
Where are my husband, my children, my best girlfriend?
I don't see them here in my shopping cart.
When I'm writing -- oh, hell, anytime -- this is what generally passes for a social life for me. Going grocery shopping. Eating alone in a restaurant, writing in a notebook while strangers around me carry on their apparently normal lives. I do have a boyfriend, Franklin. There's that to be said for me, but we've conducted most of our love life in such intense privacy, madly enjoying only each other's company, that a person could be excused for confusing it with an isolation chamber. And by God, I have friends, too. I do. Male friends, female friends. None from my childhood, except for my screenwriter cousin Nathan, whom I adore, but he lives three thousand miles away in L.A. Nathan's my only family, really. I sure don't count my Aunt Julia and Uncle Joe -- his parents who raised me -- as Mom and Dad. Ugh. No way. It's hard enough for Nathan to call them Mom and Dad, and he's their real boy. But I have other friends besides him. I do. One left over from high school. Three people I sort of keep in contact with from college. A lot of business friends and acquaintances. I'm pretty close to my longtime agent and editor. I have an assistant now, Deborah, and she's beginning to feel like a younger sister, for better or worse. Of course, except for her and my boyfriend, Franklin, and a few business friends from around here, all of my other "close" friends are an airplane ride away, but we're still friends, it still counts. It does.
These people around me, though, some of them seem to have friends with them right here and now, but that's only because they're kids on spring break.
Take the two boys in line in front of me, for instance.
"Dude," mutters one of them to his lanky, sunburned friend. "Check it out."
I check it out, too, as if I'm actually a part of their conversation: it's the cover of this week's US magazine, which features a famous female singer in a photograph that reveals a lot of the chest from which her dulcet tones emerge.
"Oh, man" is his friend's considered judgment.
Being a writer -- even a best-selling one -- is usually not anywhere near as public as being a movie star, at least not when I'm out in "real life," like this. Not that I don't use what fame I have, every chance I get, to help sell more books. I do. (My specialty is the section in the bookstores called True Crime, the one with all those hot titles -- Dying to Be Loved -- and gory covers.) Then I'm recognized as Marie Lightfoot, and glad of it. But times like this, I just want to pay for my juicy fruits and get back home to work.
The kids in the front of the line are having trouble coming up with enough change to pay for their stuff. They're digging in their pockets and backpacks and pooling their quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies on the counter in front of the cashier. She's keeping a hand firmly on the handles of the plastic bag that holds their groceries and she looks suspicious, as if she thinks they might just grab it and run. That would be interesting: I'd get to be an eyewitness to a true crime, but hardly of the sort that I usually cover. My books are long on sensational murders and heinous killers -- not on teenagers copping Doritos and bean dip.
"Just charge it, for crissake," one kid says to the other.
That seems to light up the ol' beer-saturated brain cells. Now all his friend has to do is dig through his fanny pack and backpack to find a MasterCard or a Visa he can use.
While I wait, I peruse the rest of the magazine and tabloid racks.
Hm, what have we here?
I'll be damned, Bigfoot's been sighted in Washington State again. Isn't that amazing. And my goodness, it appears that he has fathered twins this time. I'm tempted to pick up the tabloid and open it to find out who the lucky mom might be -- Janet Jackson? Hillary Clinton? Rosie O'Donnell? -- but what would the people behind me think? Oh, but will you look at that? Elvis is flying UFOs again. He must have trained out there in Nevada when he was doing all those Vegas shows. And here's a little color picture of --
Oh, my God.
"Ma'am? You want to move your cart on up? Ma'am?"
I barely hear the cashier. The world just stopped for me. I can hear the other shoppers only through the deafening roar in my ears. I feel sick. I have to hang on to the handle of my shopping cart. There is a little photograph of me in the upper-right-hand corner of the tabloid newspaper, The Insider. And not just me, either, but me and my boyfriend. I've been on magazine covers before, that's not the problem. He's been on the front pages of newspapers before, that's not the problem. My boyfriend and I have even been photographed together, now that we're going public about our relationship, so that's not the problem, either. Everybody knows now that Marie Lightfoot, the true crime writer, is dating Franklin DeWeese, the state attorney of Howard County, Florida. They know I'm a white woman; they know he's a black man. That's not news anymore. What's different, appalling, shocking to me about this particular cover on the newsstands is the headline, printed in a small typeface, but one that is all caps, all black, and all too easy to read: "Best-Selling Author Hides Her Racist Past."
"Ma'am? You going to check your stuff through now?" the cashier asks.
My hand reaches out for the top copy and places it in my shopping cart and I move numbly toward her. "Yes, I'm sorry."
I'm sorry, I'm sorry.
Yes, I hide it, wouldn't anybody?
But it's not my past, it's my parents'. I'm not a racist; I date a black man, for God's sake. It was them, it was my mother and my father. It was them. And I haven't hidden anything from Franklin. He knows...
And now it appears the rest of the world will, too.
"That'll be seventeen dollars and twenty-seven cents, ma'am."
No, Angie -- the young checker's name is Angie, according to her name tag, which I stare at as if somebody has just walloped me with a two-by-four -- you have no idea how much this will cost us, and neither do I.
I hand her my cash, take my change and my bags with the tabloid newspaper tucked down inside one of them.
"Have a nice day," she says.
I was actually having a pretty nice life until five minutes ago. I was, that is, if you don't count the fallout from my "racist past." I can explain that -- I have explained it in a book I've only partly written, because I only partly know the truth. It's called Betrayal.
Copyright © 2002 by Nancy Pickard
The Truth Hurts
My dear Marie,
Do you give any thought to life after death? They say that when dead people hover around the living, it is because they are stuck at the place where they died. They can't move on. I hope for your sake that doesn't happen to you, Marie, because I don't think you'll want to linger in the place where I will kill you....
When the first E-mail arrives it seems like a joke: A man writes that he loves Marie's work and wants her to collaborate with him by becoming his victim and writing a book about her own murder right up to the moment of her death. If she doesn't cooperate, he promises, he will hurt someone close to her. Marie is merely unsettled until more threatening E-mails arrive and the young children of her lover, State Attorney Franklin DeWeese, become targets of vicious pranks.
Until the police can apprehend her tormentor, Marie has no choice but to play along, following her "co-author's" instructions to write her life story and return to her birthplace, a small town in Alabama. There Marie seeks out a group of the town's most prominent citizens. Forty years ago, they worked clandestinely in the civil rights movement alongside her parents, who disappeared during the explosive summer of 1963. Trying to untangle the divided loyalties, secrets, lies, and misunderstandings that have obscured the truth about her parents, Marie races to unravel the secrets of the past and outwit a killer before she is forced to write her final page.
Filled with rich characterizations, steadily escalating suspense, and a rare depth of emotion, The Truth Hurts draws readers into a mystery that spans the present day and the tense, heartbreaking early days of America's civil rights movement. In a novel as complex and captivating as her inimitable heroine, Nancy Pickard keeps readers guessing until the Wnal page is turned.
- Atria Books |
- 336 pages |
- ISBN 9780743423236 |
- July 2002