Story — From the March 2018 issue

Violations

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But she did not write about him and she did not die and he was often reminded of her not being dead when the mail came. Traffic and parking violations. Credit card offers and furniture catalogues. He would open the tickets sometimes, examine the surveillance photograph of her car running a red light in order to be bolstered, to feel a little superior before calling to ask her, yet again, to make sure she had changed her car-registration address, a task she said she’d completed months ago but that she clearly had not. But when he called she just said that she was sorry, that she thought she had already changed the address and maybe it just took some time in the system and anyway he didn’t need to tell her about the tickets because they were all linked to an app on her phone — just as everything in her life, it seemed, was linked to an app on her phone — so he could just throw away the tickets and everything else, just rip them up and throw them out, and he did this for a while, until he realized that if he kept throwing out the mail from people or entities that believed his ex-wife still lived at this address he might just keep receiving her mail for years, and he would probably lose hours of his life to receiving, ripping, and recycling her mail. So he began writing “Return to sender: no such addressee” in large black letters on every envelope and leaving them out for the carrier to take back to wherever they’d come from, and this did seem to solve the problem, though the catalogues and credit card offers continued to come, addressed to her but also, uncertainly, to “or current resident.”

He did continue to sometimes partially read the magazines — a few she’d written for and a few in which she’d aspired to publish. After peeling off and discarding the address label, he’d bring an issue along for his commute to the university or let several of them stack up on the coffee table, and once the backlog was too large he’d recycle the magazines in which she had previously published, often without even looking much at them, not wanting to stumble across her byline or, worse, to catch himself seeking it out. He never expected to see her name in one of the magazines in which she’d never published, an expectation that had become so firmly rooted that he almost did not recognize her name beside a short story titled “It Wasn’t,” a title that, he smirked to himself, wasn’t very good. He put the magazine down — he would, he thought, not read the story, not put himself through it — and he even went as far as placing the magazine into the recycling bin, but he felt immediately guilty for not being happy for her, as there was really no reason not to be happy that his ex-wife had found some success, no matter how ultimately inconsequential it was. So he let himself read the first sentence —

It wasn’t the day he told her he was leaving that was the most painful, and it wasn’t the day he moved out, or the day he re–moved out after half–moving back in, and it wasn’t even the day they filed their paperwork together at the same courthouse where they had some years before — full of hope and endorphins — turned from two people who cared for each other into a single legal entity, and it wasn’t that evening walk in the park during which Gregory, a friend of his who she believed was also a friend of hers, did not return her wave and abruptly took a left turn to avoid her path, and it wasn’t even the day she got a string of texts from her soon-to-be-former and grossly misinformed mother-in-law that alternated between passive-aggressive sorrow and outright rage, and it wasn’t even that overcast Saturday morning when there was a fire in the apartment building where she was renting after selling her house and she was shivering on the sidewalk across the street with her quilt wrapped around her shoulders and realized that she had no one to call but him and he, to her surprise, answered despite the early hour, and she briefly wondered whether their months of separation had changed them enough that they might be good for each other again, but as she was telling him that she was standing barefoot in the cold street and had no place to go, she heard a woman’s muffled voice saying something in the background of whatever his life was now, a life she knew increasingly less about, and just then her super came out of the building and the fire alarm stopped and the super told the weary tenants waiting in the street that there was no fire, false alarm, so sorry, no big deal, go back inside, go back to sleep.

It was a long sentence — really, way too long and for no apparent reason — and he remembered she’d once confessed to him that even though these long sentences came naturally to her, and even though they’d been approved by her agent and other writers and editors and critics, she sometimes wondered whether they weren’t a crutch or a limitation, though they did create a sort of momentum that she liked, and perhaps there was something pleasantly flamboyant about how sprawling and nearly baroque they could become, and she’d said that Ursula K. Le Guin once wrote that Ernest Hemingway would rather have died than have syntax, and she liked that, and she liked her syntax, but she liked Hemingway’s too, and though she was confident in her work she also doubted she had the nerve or ability to write those sorts of bullet sentences, those quick little school-of-fish sentences, and shouldn’t a decent writer be able to choose a technique rather than have a predetermined technique that pushed her around? But perhaps all this sprawling was, she’d told him, the living heart of her work and she shouldn’t question it, as it seemed to be serving her just fine for now, but she did still wonder whether it was a limitation, a gimmick, and now here it was, her first story in this magazine she’d always wanted to be in, and perhaps he was the only one who knew that she might suspect herself to be leaning on a crutch.

Even that wasn’t the most painful moment. No. The most painful thing in this series of painful things would come later, long after she’d stopped bracing.

A little dramatic, he thought. Hyperbolic. Whiny. Certainly no Hemingway. He put the magazine down. At least it wasn’t directly or clearly about him. For one thing, they hadn’t divorced at the same place at which they’d married and none of their mutual friends would do something as rude as avoid her in public and his mother didn’t even have a cell phone and there had not yet been, unfortunately, another woman’s voice softening the hard edges of the apartment in which he now lived alone. In fact, she had been the one who’d jumped immediately into another relationship and he was the one who’d sometimes heard another voice in the background when he called about her traffic violations. He picked up the magazine again, started the next sentence — another long one — but put it down. He wanted to be happy for her because he knew how many times she’d been rejected by this particular magazine, but the truth of it, he felt, was that no matter how shitty he may have been to her, she had been much shittier to him during their separation and divorce, and he just couldn’t be happy for someone who had given up on him so quickly, after he’d done and later confessed to doing only this one terrible but totally human thing. It all made him feel carsick, or as if he’d just gotten off a cheap carnival ride, and how was it that nearly a decade could happen so quickly and in the end all you had to show for it was a stack of misdelivered mail?

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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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