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Story — From the March 2018 issue

Violations

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He had wanted to make sure she wouldn’t write about him, but he knew he couldn’t ask her outright not to write about him, since he was sure such a question would set off a lecture about how he was not within his rights to put restrictions on her work, and she might even tease him for being narcissistic enough to believe that she was planning to write about him, and he would take issue with that word — “narcissistic” — a diagnosis she was well aware he’d often feared his friends and acquaintances might have been, all along, privately giving him — and he would insist it was merely practical, not narcissistic, to assume that she, his ex-wife, whose two previous books had contained many arguably autobiographical details, might choose to include some or many details that might appear, to some, to have been lifted from their complicated years together and their not exactly undramatic ending, but she would probably respond to this by saying that it was ridiculous and childish of him to accuse her of writing autobiography — especially since he knew how much trouble such accusations had caused her in the past — and even if she did end up writing something that contained some or many details that echoed her life (as every writer did or had done at some point or sometimes constantly), she knew that he knew that she was not interested in writing memoir, and she knew that he knew that she was, as a reader and as a writer, interested only in work that used the tangibility of character and plot as a method of elucidating intangible ideas, not to record a personal history, and even if she did write a character who somewhat resembled him she could never really write about him, the truest and realest him, because there was no such thing as an immovable, constant self, and even if there were such a thing she certainly couldn’t claim she knew his, or if she did it was far too abstract to put into words, and, anyway, he had always seemed either incapable of or indifferent to being emotionally vulnerable with her and even after all their years together she was still baffled and deeply hurt by the sudden revelation of his secret cruelty and the damage he had been capable of inflicting on her, so of course she wasn’t going to write about him, because she had clearly never known him — and no matter how many times he would try to interrupt this tirade (which all the while would have been increasing in speed and volume), he would not be able to speak loudly or forcefully enough to correct her original misunderstanding of what he had said (of course he didn’t think that she wrote autobiography), but by the time she had finished her speech he would be too tired to say anything else, and his being too tired to make his case would be the equivalent of raising a white flag, a submission that might later double as his waiving any right to be dismayed by the inclusion of some phrase or plot element or character in her next work that he might recognize, whether narcissistically or correctly, as being based on something he had said or done or been.

Illustration by Leigh Wells

So he never directly asked her not to write about him, as he estimated it would cause more problems than it could possibly assuage, yet he felt unable to stop craving some sort of assurance that she would not write about him, or at least that she would not write about him in a way that was immediately recognizable, but the longer he dwelled on it and the more he talked about it in therapy and the more he talked about it in his head to the imagined company of his therapist for the rest of the week, the more he realized that part of his desire to make sure that she would not write about him was an even stronger desire for her to write about him constantly, a desire for her to feel his absence so profoundly that she was forced — like a child — to create a simulacrum of him and to spend so many years with that simulacrum that she would write one of those thousand-page tomes she’d claimed she would never write, a book that fictively continued the relationship that she’d left — because regardless of whatever she believed about him really leaving her before she officially left him, she had been the one to technically and officially leave him — and in this book, perhaps a love story set in a lesser-known World War II combat zone, her fictional equivalent would be a flawed, sentimental antiheroine and his fictional equivalent would be the sometimes misunderstood but ultimately valiant moral compass of the novel, and she would personally mail him a copy of the galley and just as he opened it to the dedication page to see his initials he would receive a phone call telling him that his ex-wife had mysteriously and quickly succumbed to a rare but completely painless disease — as he didn’t fantasize about her suffering, just her immediate death — and fresh with this news he would read her last novel, and in it he would see how she had finally admitted to being wrong about leaving him, and even if he had somehow misinterpreted the work — as she had often accused him of doing when he read drafts of her stories while they were together — this time she wouldn’t be there to argue. This time he would be right and that would be the end of the story.

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’s most recent novel is The Answers. This story will appear in the collection Certain American States, forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. In 2017, Lacey was named one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists.

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