Adriana was twenty-two years my junior and two years my daughter Cecily's senior, a tall leggy brunette, a smoker who knew how to smoke, a light eater, a joker, a crier. She killed herself with a butcher knife she used to chop vegetables, a seven-inch, serrated blade she plunged into her own jugular while sitting in a chaise lounge on my backyard deck.

She left a note inside the pocket of her clear rain jacket. It was written on stationary of our hotel.

The Interstate Holiday Inn. Home of the Holidome.

Sadie phoned me as I slept in a Atlanta high-rise luxury suite that shot upward into space so far, the blinking scope lights of skyscrapers seemed within grasp, like Gatsby's green beacon. I was at a convention.

"The blood," she said. "Agony."

Sadie cried for Adriana.

"You prick."

A night into my fourth year of marriage to Sadie, I found love notes she stuffed in the back of the closet written to a cousin, Daniel, and notes written in return.

Daniel. Brown-haired fop; he stroked his chin whiskers and smoked long, brown cigarettes like Sadie.

Progressing through the notes, the last was dated two weeks after I proposed to her.

It explained her honeymoon tears a lot better. Daniel had not attended the wedding. They do not talk even now. It is that kind of ordeal.

"Love? Yes," she said, dragging hard on her cigarette between sentences. "Kill yourself crazy. I'd hug him goodbye and go sob in the bathroom. And he just wanted to keep going on and on like that. Stealing glances. Groping each other going downstairs for more beer. I just broke and said 'fuck it, we either run off and fuck these people or it's over.' But Daniel has pretty uncompromising standards. He called me a whore. For marrying you."

"A lot," I said, holding up one of the last notes, scrawled a yellow legal tablet. The note was dated at the top, and presented like a memo would be: To, from, regarding, all that.

"Over and over," she said. "I broke 'our meaning.' Suffering."

She laid out her plan for us to stay together. She had been structuring this moment. It pissed me off.

She gave me a week. I took two days.

We stayed married because Sadie asked if we could. Cecily, she said.

But I dial back to it now and know Sadie was the type who'd rather be with someone - stability, a talking partner, errand runner - than toil unrequited. She liked nice things like most people, and I worked at a tax firm. Sadie worked part time for a while, then eventually not at all. We found a ranch-style house in an older neighborhood. Sadie cleaned, cooked, made home life easy for me. Cecily stayed home and grew up without the usual daycare illnesses. In the summer Sadie turned on the sprinkler, and Cecily dashed through it in my cotton t-shirts. I settled down into something. Better than I had expected. Cecily had her mother's measured looks, and my smile, which was the better of our two.

But Cecily turned sullen at seven or eight. She never broke free of it. She roamed the playground alone at lunch recess, her teachers told us. Sometimes she just sat by the door waiting for the last bell, reading a girl spy book. Sadie didn't believe in doctors, but Cecily never got better on her own.

"She feels the gap between us," I said one night in bed. Sadie was long past denying it.

"Cecily's introspective. She notices," Sadie said. "But you're putting too much on her. She doesn't know anything. I spend all day with her around here. She's just not very exceptional."

"That's a hell of a thing to say."

Sadie sat up and reached for her nightstand pack of cigarettes - empty - so she crumpled the paper and went to the bathroom trashcan. She sat to pee and her voice echoed. "Spend all day with her. You'd know," she said. "Even little kids can sense when there's nothing about a person."

"She reads," I said.

"The same book." Sadie twisted on the bathroom faucet and put a glass under it. "She pours over the same hundred pages. And she'd run through that sprinkler, you know, if I'd let her."

"She's nine," I said. "Let her."

"Oh God. Grow out of it."

Cecily moved into middle school, then high school, still a flatliner. At the time Sadie cut a slight, attractive figure, forged by cigarettes and salad, and Cecily took after her in habit and diet. Yet Cecily's body had the texture of warm, curried cream, tepid and lumpy, her hair equally flat and drab. She wore things oversized, and only t-shirts after March arrived. At sixteen she looked twelve.

She carried guilt, it seemed, and she listened to sad female rock songs of lost loves and drug addictions in her bedroom. Her grades were just outside the honor roll. Her summer job for two years was on the phones at a debt collection center, where she could read her books - she had graduated to four or five different titles, until their bindings fell apart - and magazines. She quit when a new boss arrived and restricted all the workers to company reading material only and one bathroom break per shift. After that she stayed at home and watched television, took long showers, ate bowls of cereal and peanut butter toast in the afternoon and moved the sprinklers around the yard for watering. I'd come home for lunch and see her underneath her sleeping bag on the couch, barely clothed, dozing with a fan blowing her dirty brown hair all over. Sadie had long before developed a near physical illness to confrontation with anyone, so there Cecily slept more days than not.

I avoided inhabiting space with her. I hadn't a clue where to begin a talk; I had no memories of happier times to draw upon. Cecily didn't brood or sulk as much as set herself on blank; she didn't talk back, she wasn't brazen or smart, nor did she ever bother to complain, although it was clear she didn't think much of her mother's cooking.

"Now I know she felt that gap," I said to Sadie.

Sadie shook her head at the kitchen table, snorting smoke out her nose and sipping her after dinner coffee.

"I do," I said, jabbing a finger toward Sadie. "Because she is the gap."