Living Deluxe

Sign in to access Harper’s Magazine

Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?

  1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
  2. Select Email/Password Information.
  3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.

Locked out of your account? Get help here.

Subscribers can find additional help here.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!

Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
Subscribe for Full Access
Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.

Living Deluxe


By Diane Williams, from a collection in progress. Williams’s most recent book is Vicky Swanky Is a Beauty.

True! Yes! Mother always gave me a tribute with a sigh.

I was her favorite, and that was another reason I took money from her that rightfully belonged to my sister and my brother.

My mother knew I needed to be a person with flair and I can be.

It may require a little time.

No lack of courage could have caused me to turn away from a day laborer on the foot pavement who sneezed a larger-than-life-size sneeze with an open mouth. Then he crossed himself multiple times, as I went by him.

It pained me to hold my breath while outdistancing him, and I wondered how far I’d need to go to keep free of any noxious air. I thought briefly I might count out the accurate, necessary number of cubic feet or yards.

But I was restful during a letup in the late afternoon, when my sister visited me. Her metal necklace caught at my shawl collar and it pulled loose a thread as I embraced her.

Her appearance needed some repair, too.

She is Liz Munson. She is a judge! She decides whether people live or die!

She declined a drink but ate a few of the hemp seeds I’d left out in my hors d’oeuvre dish.

“How is Maurice?” I said. “Did that one end?”

“He’s with the boys,” she said, and then took a pause to round out her lungs to their capacity.

Henry the cat put his paws up on me and called out a critical remark. Then he made his other noise that is tinged with bitterness. He is sand color in the style of the day with cement accents.

Liz’s Henry is black chestnut.

I’ll make no attempt to explain a cat’s problems that are basic to all cats — schemes that are unrealistic.

I held tightly, for an instant, onto Henry’s tail, when he moved to go far afield, for his suffering and his sacrifice.

Although the cat’s tail is a branch that refuses to break.

Henry, once upon a time, had charm. Now he wastes it stalking. “Stay and eat with me, Liz.”

“Oh, dear,” she said.

What had she come for?

My sister picked up a piece of bric-a-brac that was on the console and put it into the unimpressive realm of her handbag.

What I call a toy — what she took — was mine, never Mother’s: a leaden mammal of some sort, with horns.

Oddly, Liz has never noticed here her ten-pounder da Vinci omnibus with its gravure illustrations, its spine sensationally exhibited on a shelf, that bears this inscription on the frontispiece: To Liz and Neville, with best wishes for a happy life in a world of friendship and guz. (That last was illegible.) Signed Stephen and Lil Cole.

Leonardo may not have founded science, but I learned from him that genius does not bog down.

I lit the stove top and put water on to boil and next poured in baby peas. I made parallel straight rules — incisions in the chunk of Gruyère. The water foamed in the pot and I filled a rare antique potato basket with New York rye.

“You are a wonder,” my sister said. “I am not after your food. I want to bring you bad luck.”

“No harm done!” I said.

The peas had cooked and cooled. I prepared a pea cheese stuffed-tomato salad. Enough for two.

My visitor was nagging at me, which was hurtful to the pride I intend to take along with me into my future.

And just where am I now?

I live near a dip in the suburbs. Some would call this a ravine — which I make visible at night with floodlights.

I believe it demands cunning enterprise on my part to reveal the fancywork of bare winter poplar and oak, maple and ash. I saw a sycamore tree bent at more than fifteen degrees from vertical!

My dining table is only nominally illuminated, so that our hands and our arms and Liz’s face became quickly — sickly. Unaccountably, she had sat herself right across from me.

My sister sneezed and put her hand to her mouth in time.

“God bless you,” I said.

She sneezed again rather more sloppily and that reminded me of a joke. She underwent yet another sudden, spasmodic action — and this time she did not try to keep her bacteria back.

My harrier removed two handmade beeswax candles from their brass serpent candleholders on her way out.

She yelled my name — “Ola!” — and I turned away for relief — aiming to sit in my wingback rather than the lounge chair.

I saw the downed sycamore through the pane, the suggestion of a sky far away, and some of the sharply peaked trees straining to bend or to unbend, or at least to shed their shapes, or to be somewhat more neatly executed.

Very well. I took from my family one hundred thousand dollars — say fifty thousand. Say it was three million! It was thirty thousand — thirty-five thousand! — forty. It was two hundred dollars.

There was aggravated tapping near the tall wraparound window.

By way of a conclusion — I need to say I had divided a pack of gems between Liz and myself. In doing this, I’d forgotten my brother. The nonpareils, I wear in my ears.

There was that tapping again — a repeated and demonic phrase — and the repellent sight of animals through the glass.

They are my very own public property.

Such bollixed and blank expressions.

These flocks and herds and creeping things! Don’t you think they all go to work so wretchedly for what then never amounts to a feast for the soul?

How to live: there are two factors to consider? — my husband says there are five! — and one of them puts me into a rage.

My fingers are graceful when I lay the table. My voice is clear when I speak. For God’s sake! For the Lord’s got such style, such originality and boldness.

More from