ON OCTOBER 11, 1996, a woman registered herself under the name "Mary Anderson" at the Hotel Vintage Park in Seattle. Her life had probably gotten wadded up by then, or stuffed down, the way unhappy lives sometimes do. Her life was not an open field of possibilities, not any longer. It was an obdurate, stupid mass. Things kept adhering to it: grievances, hungers. Her heart was a flight of stairs that her brain couldn't climb one more time without having a heart attack.

She killed herself by swallowing cyanide; no possibility of last-minute rescue, and no dreamy, narcotic slide into the afterworld. She mixed the cyanide with a powdered drink she brought with her when she checked in.

She left nothing by which to identify her--no purse, no wallet, no keys. The medical examiner's investigator thinks she may have been from the East Coast. She had written an invalid New York City address in the hotel register, and a New York phone number that was in use but not hers. She had some prescription medicine with her. She had torn the labels off.

Her note said, "To Whom It May Concern: I decided to end my life. No one is responsible for my death.

"P.S. I have no relatives or friends. Do with my body as you choose."

What county officials chose to do with her body was this: They had it embalmed and buried, and kept a record of her burial place. She was not burned, as the named but penniless are. She is encrypted, and in principle always retrievable. All against the day when her last act, the act of total erasure, can be undone, and she can at last be identified.

For now, she can neither be mourned nor forgotten.

The medical examiner's report says there was a Bible in the room, open to the 23rd Psalm, the one that begins, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." Who is to say? She may have been reading the 22nd Psalm, which says, in part, "But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.

"I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.

"My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death."