Girls Only

Girls Only originally appeared in –One Story-Winter 2011

One summer when they were all still friends, they were the bridesmaids, determined for once to do their best. Their jobs were to smile and fuss, offer agreement and an extra set of hands. They were to play at intimacy, past and present. They were to overlook that they hadn’t been together for the past five years. While they believed the bride belonged in their little human pyramid, they also agreed she’d always been bottom row material. They’d seen the movies and read their Jane Austen. They understood this one time they were to be her back-up singers, her session drummers. Her beaver posse, Cleo said on the day they arrived at the bride’s childhood home for their week of pre-wedding Girl Fun, but Cleo had always said things like that. She was spacey and tone-deaf, and since college—could it already be nine years?—had made her living as an escort. Anna, the Legal Aid lawyer and former President’s great-great-granddaughter, told her her remark was repulsive. Cleo said she had just been kidding. “Can’t we just be nice to each other?” she added.

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Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When

Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When originally appeared in – Tin House Issue 48 Summer 2011

            People who don’t know better envy Zizi.  She has a cool nickname and some guy who seems to pay the bills in a pinch.  She dresses East Village extreme (shredded leggings, careless boots, layers and layers); her bangs are Mamie Eisenhower, her complexion is Louise Brooks, her jewelry is vintage.  She’s twenty-something.  Her body is Japanese teen, but dark chocolate and single-malt scotch are an everyday thing.  It’s unclear how she makes a living.  She has circles under her eyes, but the dabbling in heroin was over years ago.  Early childhood development.  She’s an only child, and knows everyone, but not even her guy has seen her cry.  Her father lives in a faraway country and is vaguely famous, but no one can ever remember for what.  Her mother is kind and easy to deceive.  Her apartment is throw-back tenement with exposed brick walls and a bathtub in the kitchen.  He bought it for her.  It’s directly below the one he shared with his wife.  For convenience, he said at the time.  Why be getting to, when I could just be getting, he said, smiling at his own bad joke, spreading her legs, the sounds of his wife walking above them, doing the ironing, or the dishes, or whatever it was that wives did, making Zizi flush with heat.

Now, four years after he installed Zizi in the apartment and a month after his death, the sounds of his wife, her name is Mabel, make Zizi freeze and flatten like a cat alert to danger.  Now the sounds mean complicated feelings that at any moment Mabel might want to come downstairs and share.  To be fair, other than the day the towers went down (the guy he was having breakfast with was the last man on the last elevator that made it down, and Zizi has spent way too much time imagining how that all shook out), Mabel has shown only occasional interest in Zizi.  This is fine with Zizi, since people who do know better know that she’s not the kind of person it’s useful to rely on.  She’ll say yes, and then end up meaning no.  The level of her intent and self-consciousness about this trait was for a while a topic of discussion amongst her acquaintances.  Now it’s just something they keep in mind as they make their plans, the way they do with their vegen friends or the ones who can’t drive.

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There Be Monsters

There Be Monsters originally appeared in – Tin House Issue 42 Winter 2009

However many years ago, Natalie and her husband used to amuse each other with the dealbreaker conversation.  Over dinner or drinks, they would list the dealbreakers of a first date—NRA membership, pro-life bumper stickers, gold chains, cologne—then move on to the dealbreakers of a twenty-year life together: abuse, adultery, other kinds of extremity.  The secular Jewish investment banker with a wife and three kids who announces he’s going to become a rabbi: that woman got to jump ship.

Now Natalie thinks of the things that deserved to be dealbreakers, but that you let slip while you waited for further evidence, extenuating circumstances, explanations worthy of forgiveness.  And that now, twenty years down the road, are off–limits, unfair game.  You took them off the table yourself.  They sequestered themselves in their own little room, emerging for purposes of mockery and torment.

Natalie makes herself unexpectedly grim thinking about this in the car on the way home from dinner at the new Brazilian place.  She’s driving.  Her husband of twenty years rides beside her studying the darkened margins of the road with a toad’s interest.  When she’s at her grimmest, she thinks of him as a toad.  When she’s not, she looks at him and remembers what she fell in love with.

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Incognito with My Brother

Incognito with My Brother originally appeared in – BOMB 85/Fall 2003

I count the number of times he’s left me. I categorize them in a journal.

Accidental means couldn’t be helped. Voluntary means the ones I hold him responsible for. In that category, I stick forgotten meetings, blown-off movie dates, family gatherings he never showed up for. Parties with friends I was supposed to have been invited to. Lovers. Marriages. Weddings. Wives.

He’s nine years older. A half-brother. My father’s son from a first marriage. He never lived with us. Full-time he was with his mother, but some weekends and most summers he came to stay with our father and me. Our father traveled a lot. Then it was the two of us, and it was easier to pretend that my family was a different kind of family, and that I was a different kind of me.

My brother’s first wife left him when he was twenty-four. He’d been married for two years and a father for one. The rest of the family wanted to know what happened.

I wanted to know too; I just didn’t want to have to ask. I waited for him to volunteer, and when he didn’t, that was all right, too. I just made sure I was around for whatever happened next. Read More…

Popular Girls

Popular Girls originally appeared in-The Atlantic Monthly-October 2001

You know who we are. We’re Kaethe and Alina, CJ and Sydney. Stephanie. Our hair is blonde or brown or black. Rarely red, rarely curly. It’s thick and straight, and falls back into place after we run our fingers through it and hold it away from our faces long enough for you to see our striking eyes. When we do this, you get shivers.

It’s 1982, and we sit on the benches lining our New York private school’s entrance, after classes are over and before we head home. They are old church pews, and we are from another world. Our canvas book bags mass at our feet. They’re from Sweden. They come with an excess of zippers, a plastic ID tag on a small chain, and a ruler that we never use. We buy them at Chocolate Soup, on Madison, the store for cool kids. We say things like “Tenth grade is the Howard Johnson’s of school life.”

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