Temporary Housing, by Kathleen Alcott

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Countertransference, by Sam Bornstein. All artwork © The artist. Courtesy Charles Moffett, New York City

[Story]

Temporary Housing

Adjust

Only Greg ever noticed the notch in my tooth, and only in outline did I tell him about how I got it—how Guin and I stole that couple’s developed film from the “J” cubby at the pharmacy. Tall and poor, she and I had walked through downtown Petaluma in each other’s clothing, our pupils dilated by one drug or shrunk by another. People thought we were fucking, or whatever mean verb they’d use to describe what bodies like ours could do with another, but the closest we came was sleeping naked. The closest we came was dreaming some vague man on top, and waking up holding a pristine, warm woman. If asked to explain the end of that friendship, I might still blame the night we ruined that marriage. It’s easier to claim there was one bad day, a cheap little kindness you can spend against the debt of one bad life.

Guin was originally from Utah, spanked to welts for swearing against Jesus too often, asking about the looks her family had started to get at church, but I’d been punished more by chance, and silence. Little girl dinners I had to fix myself in the pantry, saltines and brown apples, on evenings my parents wouldn’t emerge after a fight. That Guin and I were poor, or unhappy, for different reasons—my parents boomer dropouts who came from middle-class security but destroyed their own chance of it, her mother a missionary never given a thing—didn’t register in the aisles of the Grocery Outlet where our families both shopped. During those years when I’d all but dropped out myself, becoming the gossiped-about mystery of the honors class girls who had been my friends, our miseries seemed to correspond exactly. I convinced myself soon after that this was closer to a coincidence, a tacky suitcase you find at a flea market that happens to bear your own monogrammed initials. You register the fact and move on, a little embarrassed that a part of you could be so recognizable, and reproducible.

“You are unwell,” a client snaps at me, on what is something like a Tuesday afternoon, something like eight months into the virus. She’s angry about my suggestion—an antipsychotic, Latuda, for a pattern of intrusive thoughts about killing her husband—and that I’ve seemed tired, and elsewhere. “Have you even been listening to the complexity of this, or are you just another pusher? That’s what my fucking schizophrenic uncle takes, and I’m not a schizophrenic. I’m a good mother and a successful entrepreneur.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, and roll my chair a little toward the screen to let her know I’m listening. “I hear that you’re feeling misunderstood.

The client’s thoughts have become the defining feature of all our recent sessions—how they intrude as she watches her husband take the bottles of formula from the fridge, or teach the five-year-old about the lawn mower by giving its different parts funny voices. A screwdriver in the neck! A gas leak while she’s out! They flash to her mind like things that have already happened, and can’t be helped.

“How could I be running an award-winning yarn store,” she says, “if I were some dangerous lunatic?” That line I would have repeated to Greg, and it would have fed us for months. Oh, quite easily, he would have retorted in apostrophe, his handsome face smiling in a way that tripled my devotion. “Also,” she says, “I hate that thing you do with your tongue.” I start to apologize: it’s just a habit of thoughtfulness, how I push it visibly against my teeth, but she closes her laptop and shuts me back into my life. Maybe two hours later, as I take in the pond from our Palladian window—its placement under the side gable is unusual for a Federal house—my phone lights up, a spam call with my hometown area code. Social Security number soon to be erased, a voice says, due to illicit possession.

It’s a good trick, on their part. They must bet on how many Americans might like it, the opportunity to pick up a familiar number, if only for the turn to say no!, if only for the chance to say no longer!

Desktop Worker (Ban Bela), by Sam Bornstein

Desktop Worker (Ban Bela), by Sam Bornstein

Guin and I were waiting, that day, on a roll I’d taken of a dreaming, episodic acid trip—mostly of her, a few with the twenty-eight-year-old speed freak she was dating. We took turns slamming our palms flat on the bell until the balding, name-tagged Kenneth appeared from behind the curtain to absorb our complaint and disappear again. We rifled through the paper sleeves from opposite ends of the alphabet, bored with the same old photos of our shiny lip-glossed enemies—posing on Jettas in stretch denim, glittery thongs apparent, or holding each other in mirrors bombed by a disposable’s flash—and met in the middle. I found the envelope, but Guin snatched it from my hands.

A childless couple in their early thirties, the Joneses lived near me, five blocks uphill, far from the sounds of the boulevard’s traffic that filled my mother’s apartment. He taught sixth grade and choir at a grammar school—unhappily, it was known, and pedantically—and she designed websites for people in cities. I’d only ever noticed the dog they followed in and out of their Queen Anne, a saluki whose elegance seemed gaudy in that town of hokey editorials and ripped, bored cops. I loved Petaluma, even as I looked forward to leaving, and felt a pride in where I was from, maybe trained by my father who had adored it, always honking when crossing back into city limits.

You could see the Joneses’ dog outside the café where they stopped in the mornings for espresso, sitting calm and certain. The couple were part of a wave of others like them, leaving San Francisco after the tech bubble burst. They were the same people who would make it so the docks where we drank had gated fences, and the smarter restaurants took down their folksy, loving signs—one day they were pleased to serve you, the next they knew the pleasure had better be yours.

The first photos bragged of their house’s restoration—midmorning singing onto lacy white pediments, molded cherubs floating at high corners. I wasn’t as compelled by it all as Guin. The subtleties of money, how it could be spent, didn’t interest me yet, perhaps because my father had been fixated on a lack of it. He was two years sober when he received his larceny sentence. A winsome barber with sixty college credits in philosophy, he’d run a scam he claimed to believe only hurt the credit card companies, not the customers he charged three times.

By the summer before I left town, my mother was doing her own Sisyphean time, paying off the high-interest debt she’d run up the first year he was gone. There’d been nothing enormous: acrylic turtlenecks, a refurbished off-brand laptop for each of us. She ultimately declared bankruptcy, but in those years she was still trying to make it right, buying drugstore stockings for her job as a legal secretary. Soon they were going to change her position from contractor to employee, she would assure me, though I hadn’t asked. I didn’t need a doctor, and didn’t notice she couldn’t go to one. Clothes and books covered the bed she hadn’t made since my father left it, asking the same question her face did while she smoked. What was the lesson, could anyone say? For which occasion was she supposed to dress? It must have seemed to her that the moment she stopped picking him off the couch where he’d passed out drunk, he stood up quietly to become a thief.

Guin glanced through the snapshots with her eyes half raised, awaiting the clerk’s return. Here was the brass finial, rising above repainted lilacs and blues. Next was a day at Dillon Beach, Mrs. Jones disappearing behind mounds of sand in mauve leggings, the two of them in matching Cal baseball caps. As we came upon the image of her twined to the bed frame with luminous black cords, her face lifted in devotion, the clerk reappeared.

I kept his eye and nodded as he rang us up, knowing as I did that Guin had slipped the envelope down the back of her jeans. As he handed me our pictures, Guin put her hand in mine and thanked him so politely—Gee, I super appreciate it, Kenny—that he frowned in suspicion. Guin’s manners were a vestige of her Mormon childhood, a way of life killed as suddenly as her father was: his own gun, their garage, eleven in the morning. Guin had been eight, and lied to about the nature of his death, but she’d figured it out by the time she was twelve and they’d moved to California. A dyslexic who never spelled a word the same way twice, she was eighteen that summer, and had earned her GED two years before. After I’d stopped showing up to class, I graduated, barely, through some independent-study loophole granted to those with “trouble at home.” If we were free then, it was a peculiar kind of freedom—both the kind of daughters who needed to spy, we treated our own lives like something to be infiltrated, armed and blazing.

The June morning was warm, but not severe, as we left the drugstore and crossed the bridge toward the old mill. Its steel coruscated above the remains of the railroad, which had once carried eggs from the town’s farmers to San Francisco. The tracks now stood rotting over the estuary—slow, brown, fetid water the town called “the river.” Back at my mother’s apartment, a flat sectioned from a Stick Victorian, we took off our shirts and settled on the concrete back patio. It was almost pleasant out there, with a row of plants in terra-cotta plastic, a wobbly glass table sprouting a crooked umbrella from the center, and two wooden chaise longues that could no longer be adjusted, their hardware rusted from winter rain. The only object that worked as it should was the ashtray, a metal contraption that spun and lowered, when pressed, to conceal the butts in its belly. Guin loved that thing, and called it the Forgetter.

Memories, the drugstore packages said, in a bendy font that faded in thickness, toward the word’s conclusion, to become confetti. On the table between us Guin placed the image where we’d stopped before. The woman lay on her stomach, her wrists bound together behind her back, her legs held in a V by the cords that secured her ankles to either end of the footboard. Her turned face on the pillow, canted slightly up, didn’t look at the camera. As for the gag in her mouth, it seemed like something that had always been there.

Sick, Guin said, as she flipped to the next photo, where the husband appeared alongside the wife in the mirror—one arm crossing her torso like a seat belt to choke her, the other holding up a whip. Guin brought that print closer to look at the leather cord, trying to get a real sense of its harm. I can’t look anymore, she said, after scouring all of them twice. We should do something about this.

When I asked why she was so pissed about some boring softcore, she snapped. Anyone could have seen these, what he’s doing to her. If she believed her reaction to be on behalf of Mrs. Jones, I felt only a sad jolt of confirmation. Even if I couldn’t say it yet, I must have suspected the point of my body was its capture.

Guin sat there fuming, smoke pouring from her mouth toward the sun, but I was as calm as I always managed to be during that spell of my life. Like many children of alcoholics, I could read faces very well—as a psychiatrist, it’s been useful—and so those photos didn’t alarm me. Anger, fear, love, or hatred: those feelings seemed as absent from the Joneses’ bedroom as any other clutter, silenced by the dahlias on the end table, or folded neatly within the lilac throw. I didn’t much see the point in looking for them. But then I’ve always liked explaining people’s lives too neatly, or that’s what Greg thought, saying that was why I got into my line of work.

This isn’t real violence, I said. Guin looked at me then the way someone does when you brightly call them the incorrect name, long after you ought to have known it—hurt enough, by a mistake so crucial, that a correction hardly feels worth the breath.

I went inside to piss, and as I flushed I heard Guin shout she was leaving, a nasty slam of the gate. These sorts of exits were occurring more often, likely in reaction to my impending escape. In the fall I’d applied to college—drunk, online, receiving no acceptances but one waitlist from a mediocre private school I knew little about—and when the letter came, I made the mistake of showing Guin my excitement. The brochure of hideous, brand-new buildings, the palm trees that screamed useless, lifelong debt. It looks like a bad mall where you can’t even shop, she said, a line I would use as my own to people in my classes. By then Guin and I weren’t speaking.

That remark about my job: I think Greg made it the first year in Vermont, when we were thirty and mostly happy, chatting with people in the co-op about novels and politics. He taught rich kids classics at Deerfield, just over the Massachusetts border, and liked chiding them in Greek about ancient questions, being addressed as Doctor during coat-and-tie lunches. As for me, as the small-town shrink, I felt I was something like the masonry downtown—designed to protect people, but safe from being changed much by their lives. I loved all the granite in Brattleboro, the quartzite of the Gothic church sourced on Wantastiquet Mountain. That kind of architecture is hard to find in this country, where we were in such a hurry to get started that chopping down a tree made more sense than finding and quarrying the right kind of stone. I felt as devoted to Vermont as I did to Greg, loved its order and drama of time. That the leaves in October were as saffron as the snow would be white, that the mating bullfrogs in spring were as loud as the winter mountains had been silent. In northern California you get from primeval redwoods to sun-painted ocean in a half hour flat, piney peaks to tawny pasture without stopping for lunch. Sometimes I want to blame what Greg called my lost years on that landscape. Of course it was my father, of course it was my mother, but wasn’t it also that a day could feel like a year, that the scope of what you saw could explode one minute and shrink the next? Who knew what you were reacting to, the earth that didn’t need you or your life that only might? How could you trust any feeling? To my father, a southerner who still called the ocean the sea, that climate was thrilling. He had loved small talk about weather as much as the weather itself.

My family was nothing like Guin’s, but there was one strange coincidence between us, I guess I forgot to say—both of our fathers had killed themselves. He’d told my mother he couldn’t do prison, she would repeat in the months after the call came from the DOC. And as with many things—how to swim under a nasty wave, how to hike down a steep hill and keep your balance—he had been right.

The Joneses’ photos, I thought, couldn’t have shocked Guin as much as she paraded: we had learned hooks and jabs from a video we paused and replayed on my boxy laptop, and our party trick—she was more convincing—was to make the teenaged Spencers and Brians we knew, sweatshirted creatures with bong-water eyes, bleed from their noses without warning or reason. Local boys were friends, but little else: we had fake IDs used for nights in the city that felt like whole futures and required something like investigative journalism to piece together later. Oblivion or velocity, Guin had her preferences—already loyal to downers, she occasionally needed some all-night chatter—but I could do one or the other as if it were an aimless matter of left or right. For her birthday in the spring, we had gobbled Vicodin and sucked lollipops on the 80 into the city, playing up the irony that we might be girls who loved sugar, waving at sweet old women and calling them ma’am. I loved how an opiate made you aware of your lungs, the shallow breathing that courted those enormous sighs. At the Steinhart Aquarium, yet to be remodeled, redolent still with salt water leaking onto carpet, our breathing felt religious. We worshipped before enormous turtles who had lived forever, the shifting walls of fish whose only job was to be a certain color, and float toward the edges of their life. Oh, I love that ole dang squid, Guin said, kissing the glass, swiveling around to kiss me. Those drugs made her devoted to everything and everyone—on our way in, she had gasped at the blue eyes of an elderly security guard and said, Sir, are you aware you’re my husband?—but I took what I could get.

On nights there was blow or Dexedrine glowing through our pockets, the goal was a room that looked like nowhere with a door closed to everything, paid for often with the tips we both made bussing tables. When we had less money there were men in tourist neighborhoods, harmless commuters or Cal State bros, who could be convinced to come along to whichever motel and pitch in. Greg would have been upset if I told him that part, or thought it was something like prostitution. There are so many nice, half-safe places on the way to getting rid of yourself, I wouldn’t have been able to persuade him, decent people who only give you what you’ve promised them you need.

So much I didn’t say, and still he was the rare person who knew much about that part of my life—only because I’d had to explain why I’d gone to such a bad college, or could sip some turned wine without flinching, or would know what drug slang meant in an art-house addiction movie. We had met at twenty-six as Americans vacationing in Rome, passing down the stairs from the umbrella pines at the top of the city to the travertine arches over the gold-green Tiber. As a couple we were best when explaining something together, an idea or a poem, and could laugh until tears, holding each other’s elbows, about a faux pas or malapropism. The remark I had made in my failing French: Hitler and Stalin were one big problem. The time at a lake in Slovenia when Greg hardly glanced over his shoulder where I pointed, to a fire in an oil drum trash can, and the cavalier way he rebuffed it—Typical Slavic grill—right before some of the burning garbage exploded. He’d grown up wealthy, which made me feel his choosing me was a greater compliment, but the way my poverty came up began to be a problem. He wanted to be alone together, to have pulled me cleanly from my life into ours. I still don’t know if that was unfair, only that most facts of his background were not things he felt hunted by, and from which he had to cower, or stand up to shoot.

The photos of us I reviewed without her: it was a ritual we typically loved, Guin keeping a hand light on my back. She was comforted by the idea of a record, evidence that her life went on without her memory of it, and I by her who-lessness, how in one image she could give off many people—the floppy wave of a toddler, the deep stare of real age. The day of that trip, we’d taken the 6 up from Civic Center to Golden Gate Park, where vanished, gray-complected men my parents might have partied with, still known as Fuzzy Bear and Socrates and Hazy Davy, mumbled as they sold most of everything for next to nothing. Those boomers were like the park’s cyprus trees to us, everywhere you looked, as unmoving and as pissed upon. There’s a photo of Guin, euphoric right after we scored, going down the nearby concrete slides—an oddity in design that requires filthy playground sand in the descent, to create speed, and pieces of cardboard you ride on, gripping either side. The day itself became a segmented spectacle, clearly divided into different situations and the feelings they radiated. I love boundaries like that, clean transitions.

We peaked on the bus ride back to town, filling with anxious laughter we felt bounce down the aisle. By the time we deboarded we weighed nothing, and were no one. Petaluma was still made up of forgotten places, sheds meeting little beaches of scrubs and anise, and we spent a small lifetime in the grass by the abandoned Ghirardelli barn on the water, believing the river was not reflecting pink light but producing it. We needed to be free and outside on those drugs, because of how they could flip your senses—leaves could chirp, light could drip—and work a similar inversion on your life, a punch line you might hear and laugh at but soon forget. Well, I can’t speak for myself, I panted after a silence, face down in cool dirt to quiet the colors, fucking up the idiom, and we laughed for a year. Sometimes you make a mistake and it feels like a blessing: lucky and funny: clear and perfect: so much purer than anything you could work for.

When we’d come down enough that buildings no longer felt vicious, we went to visit Tim at the bar where he newly had a job. Depending on the drugs he didn’t mention and I never saw him use—was he smoking meth, shooting speed?—he could drink to shouting, captious oblivion or down a twelve-pack with no sign of it. He spent his shifts reading, Tom Robbins novels and histories of ancient civilizations, sagas and victories that played in the caves of his face. The swirls and spikes of his hair seemed like an expression of his intelligence. He’d been accepted to Berkeley but refused to pay for an education he could give himself, a fact most of his conversations eventually included. He had the kind of fine, aquiline face I saw later in sculpture halls, and the Gen X slouch that went with their coffee-shop sofas. Tim could be useful and charming, playing us Psychic TV records and asking what we thought, taking us, when he had a car, out to the ocean, where he made a game of running up the high dunes—surprising us with a kite he’d hidden in his jacket, or reciting the bit of Eliot he had memorized. Maybe it wasn’t as much his age that was thrilling but his generation, the art they’d made of the T-shirt, the masterpiece of wasting time.

Guin had been sleeping with him on and off for eight months. Sometimes he seemed to worship her, and sometimes he disappeared, and there’d come a tight coil of days in which Guin was always in my bed, asking anxious, funny questions in the middle of the night. Darlin’, when you finish school could we get a little house out down D Street, and have some chickens and sell the eggs? Do those Ren Faire girls think owning a lute is the same as having a personality? Are you sleeping? How old were you when you spelled your own name? During those sleepovers we’d roll around cackling, doing impressions of people we hated, pretending to fart into the other’s bare ass. Even my teeth wanted to fuck her. I could never decide if she wanted that, too, or if both of us did, whether it was for the wrong reason—that we’d shared everything else. The idea of there being some sound we’d never heard the other make, some face we’d never seen that meant exactly that, was as illogical as the fact we’d soon parcel our lives apart.

Hurrying back to my bed on one of these nights in the winter, having gone out in the 10 pm rain to the store that took our IDs, we found Tim in the empty town plaza. He stood under an awning in a thermal and shower sandals, making the kind of snort he did at a dumb remark, over and over—except there was no remark, just the world around him. I felt Guin’s hand clench where I held it. His eyes opened and closed, opened and closed, seeming to rinse almost greener, the simple fact of us offending him. How could we have been there, went the blink of his tic, when he was somewhere fucking else? There was a string of screaming cursing, nasal and elated, and when Guin said let’s go and took my elbow to walk on, he followed us up some stairs and half a block, shouting and laughing for a terrible minute. Then he saw a left turn that somehow reconfigured him—he made a noise of recognition and disappeared without a word.

Guin wouldn’t discuss it when I brought up these episodes later, acting like I’d violated his privacy. I didn’t consider how he must have treated Guin’s blackouts with the same hushed acceptance. Respect comes in where love should be, I once read in Tolstoy, stopping to underline it, thinking that distinction would be easy to see.

Guin and I saw each other only once in our twenties, at the grocery store where she had taken a job bagging—I saw her, actually, apron clutched in her fist as she cleared the magazine rack by the bathrooms, not looking back long as she called goodbye to a co-worker. Had she seen me where I stood in line? I was twenty-four, and fooling people in medical school with the silk shirts I hand-washed in my bathroom sink, a change in the way I pronounced either and neither, and I reasoned it was possible she hadn’t recognized me. She’d gotten sober for the first time a few years before, and I knew she had suddenly married, an ex-con line cook—she’d worn celery green to the city hall wedding, I saw on Facebook. Other than that she never posted, and sometimes I tried to google her, pulled my phone out and typed Guin di Salvo Petaluma, as though she were an unusual domestic problem, and I expected the internet to tell me what to do, and to hear from people similarly afflicted. Her life was never online in the way mine was—just those creepy aggregators of phone numbers and addresses. She had so many, over the years.

Crossing through the grocery store parking lot a minute later, I watched her get into her husband’s car. Standing on that same concrete, we’d once run into a former friend of mine, Sophie, who was star of symphony and debate, and she had sneered with rich concern. Um, have you ever considered just coming to school? Guin’s answer came easily, in the same breath she took me by the waist. Um, Sophie? Have you ever considered just furiously masturbating?

As Guin and her husband roared by, I was ready to wave, but her face was pitched down, and it seemed to me he’d hit the gas before she’d even closed the door.

Fighting Over a Butterfly, by Sam Bornstein

Fighting Over a Butterfly, by Sam Bornstein

The photos of us blitzed and senseless I left scattered across the kitchen table, some dare for my mother to find, and then I read away the afternoon. Guin showed up drunk two hours later, announcing her arrival by pitching her bag through my open bedroom window, reorganized under an idea she’d had about what we should do. About what, I said, as she took off her shoes and socks, making a grotesque face at her own smell, then leaning one cheek to the cool promise of the wall. She made a snapping gesture at the bag, gone enough that the pads of her fingers barely made a sound, and I threw it at her harder than was necessary. Moving a hand through loose tobacco and coins and fireworks, chapstick and condoms and shoe glue, she took out the envelope of photos, and I saw a new little tear at its fold.

Pointing at the neat capitals where Mr. Jones had written his contact information, a Yahoo email address, Guin told me to get out my computer. I bet his AIM is the same, she said, crawling into my bed with the splayed limbs. Take off your jeans, I said, they’re filthy. She did, then held them way above her, grinning, poking her head through the two legs. Guin created a new account and added him to the buddy list, and then we waited, watching the videos we often did as we swilled the bottle she’d brought. Again we laughed at Kelsey Grammer walking right offstage during a talk, James Brown calling into a news show hammered, saying I feel good! in answer to every serious question, allegations of domestic abuse. These were our favorites: a man falling, a man refusing to fall. Would we have enjoyed these clips if they featured important women? I don’t know, just how in that grainy iteration of the internet, they did not exist. This only followed the pattern of the world we knew, triumphs and losses occurring mostly on the male side of things. There were clips of women stumbling and tripping, pert meteorologists accidentally drawing cocks that crossed oceans, but they were almost always anonymous—matronly or preadolescent shapes to be known only for the comical errors they made. When the sound came that meant a buddy had appeared online, Guin grabbed for my computer, roughly pressing the screen way back to squint at it. Hey, I said, that cost money. The alert was just our weed dealer, and I took the laptop back and primly shut it. That lady could be in real trouble, Guin said. That man could be hurting her. Why aren’t you worried about her?

Because of her face in the fucking photos, I could have said. Because sometimes a small insult pays insurance against a larger, I wouldn’t have thought yet, because maybe to be primitive for an hour a day is to be in control for the rest. Instead I asked a vicious question, one I sensed she wouldn’t remember fielding anyway. She’d already dropped her bag onto the porch and put one leg out the window, and I propped myself up in my bed. Are you trying to tell me Tim loves you while he fucks you?

Guin returned to my bed, briefly, mounting me on my hip bones. Give me your hand, she said, laughing, and then she spit in it, smoker-thick and wet, closing my fingers onto my palm. You’re gonna learn so much at school. I cried in the half hour after she left, loud enough that my mother came tentatively to my door and I sent her away, barking only Why is it so fucking hot in this house? Excepting the rare occasion a high temperature lasted into evening, she had the habit of moving the thermostat up to sixty-five at night, saying the early morning fog came in a cold draft. She was a thin, mysterious person, always putting on another sweater, never going farther than her ankles into the chilly ocean, smiling when I begged as a child for her to come, waving and saying she loved to watch me. By the time it was just the two of us I despised her caution, that aversion to the outside air. I would open all the windows and smoke her cheap cigarettes, shrugging when she cursed about her empty pack, saying maybe she should quit.

I’m sorry, I T9’d Guin that night. I love you. You’re right. Let’s make that man afraid of himself.

When I heard about Guin’s marriage—he had hit her a few times, she had left him, my mother saw his mug shot online—I felt a real victory for her, then something too close to jealousy. There was no good reason for what had happened between Greg and me: why he’d started sneering if I asked if he’d like to take a bath, walk and see the full moon, why I’d become some corrupt guard assigned to his life alone, asking what that look meant, that gesture, that pause, waking him in the morning to continue the argument. I would hear him brag about me to other people, and I praised him often, too, but in private he’d do and say things that I still can’t unsee or unhear. Their cruelty was almost hidden, almost elegant. I think you talk about your childhood for the attention, darling, he’d say calmly, but you already have mine. One spring he stopped wanting sex, would shade his eyes if he saw me coming naked from the shower, or wince if I squeezed him in the kitchen. By summer he’d moved to the guest room, asking politely for my help in hanging some new art there. Often, I couldn’t help it, I’d appear in his doorframe to beg and weep. Oh, here’s the quixotic quack again, he liked to say, rolling his eyes, often in the same gesture he reached for his clean, warm handkerchief.

After he was gone, I wanted friends to say about my husband what people must have about Guin’s, that he was a bad man, or how it was something bigger than him, the drug he loved, which made him hurt her. But Greg stacked his books so neatly when he left: he looked only like himself in his old maroon sweater, crossing the lawn to his truck until the boxes were loaded. There was his pageboy bob I loved, his high rower’s ass I used to hold in the shower. We were married by that pond, we ran through that house, yelling some news that would make the other laugh. And all anyone could say, bored with my wretched mourning, was that he had been a person.

I had tried to get Guin alone, the few days after she’d slammed my window shut, but she was always at Tim’s apartment. It was a top-floor one-bedroom he took great pride in, regaling us often with battles he waged against his landlord. That motherfucker, he would say, is dealing with somebody who knows his rights as a renter. After Guin had turned me down twice for whiskey by the river, I agreed when she invited me to his place, though I had sworn myself against it. The last time I’d gone, I’d refused to join them in the shower, and Tim had mocked my weak explanation. I’m really already clean, I had said.

I stood there knocking a long time before they let me in. It was 7 pm, and I had passed by windows where families were just sitting down to dinner, fathers standing over tables with large serving spoons, children unfolding blue napkins. Tim kept his door locked and dead-bolted, and when Guin finally opened it, wearing a black lace bra and grass-stained jeans, she looked damp and peaceful. In his room he kept a bed on a low, imitation-wood frame, and in the kitchen a pool table. He’d been teaching Guin to play, all that spring and summer, and she took to it naturally, sliding the cue behind her back as if it were a part of her body. She was good at everything process-oriented she tried, tools and games and diagrams—that year she’d built a solar panel, taught herself fifty birdcalls.

The moment I was inside, Guin crawled back into bed with him where he lay smoking and holding a beer on his bare chest. They were so far in their drunk they’d turned placid and kind, Tim telling me there were Chinese leftovers in the fridge if I was hungry, Guin asking from her place on his shoulder what the weather had done all day. I gestured to a glass quart of tequila on the floor and began to catch up. When I asked Guin if she’d told Tim about the photos, she made a strange face, as if this were not the time—then, seeing his interest, she laughed and produced them. If anyone deserves to be fucked, she slurred as he flipped through, it’s that serious prince of a dog. It was my thought that we call Mr. Jones, but I used words like somebody, playing in the hypothetical realm of juvenile humor. Somebody should call him? I said, and tell him the police have the photos? Like the clerk reported them? Tim spread them in a careful grid across the peaks and valleys of the unmade bed, chin tucked into his hand like the scientist he might have been. Oh, so they were maybe in my class at Berkeley, I remember him saying.

I saw the suggestion as airy and unreal, only something to feel better for joking about—but Tim lived beyond that, in the place of real rent and real anger, and soon was dialing the number on speaker. The moment rippled in a sensation I remembered from childhood, of a secret feeling exposed by adult force. The malt ball I’d stolen from the plastic grocery bin, rich and perfect in my cheek: lost to the trash can as my mother demanded, replaced by mealy shame. Guin leaned back on the bed behind where he sat up, saying maybe we should talk about it first. She called him honey then, something I hadn’t heard before and that made me look at her another way. In it was a wish for peace that was nowhere in how she held her body, the muscled shoulders that appeared to meet the wind before the rest of her. Guin and I exchanged a look as he started to speak, something like a man as he first enters you, that tentative question of cruelty or kindness—will I hurt you or love you, their faces always seem to say, or is there something in you that might allow me both.

Yes, am I speaking with Matthew Jones, we heard Tim say, sensed the pause and the assent. The voice he used was one he hadn’t around me, clear and clipped. This is Lieutenant O’Reilly down here at the Petaluma Police Department. I’m calling about some photos you took, reported by a concerned citizen. That’s right.

Once he was really going, Guin wouldn’t look at me, just started to press her feet into the curve of his back. I could tell she was deepening the pressure there the more he refused to acknowledge it with any kind of glance back or touch, hinting at the kick that lived somewhere within her. Guin reached for the bottle between Tim’s legs, trying thinly to get in the spirit of things. And then, for a moment, she seemed as if she might smile, looking like someone gamely following a story spoken in another language—only a thought behind at first, but soon dissociated from it entirely.

Well, my first question, sir, and pardon my impertinence, I think is the word, but is that your wife in those photos, or another consenting party? I see. And do you have any way of proving that?

The man’s faltering equivocations came in a rush, making amendments as they went. We were enjoying ourselves privately, Mr. Jones said, and as far as I’m aware that’s perfectly legal, but I’m, uh, of course happy to help clear up any misconceptions, officer, truly sorry for any alarm. Tim went on to clarify that, because of Mr. Jones’s status as an educator in town, the department had a policy in place for anything untoward. However Guin or I had imagined Mr. Jones, cold with control, smooth with luck—he was something else on that call, namely uncertain on which part of his life he was meant to insist. The honor of his wife? The law as he knew it? The meaning of his privacy? The goodness of his heart?

Guin made a noise, a horsey exclamation from her fat, pursed lips, and Tim shot his hand back to cover her mouth. I could tell she was tonguing his palm, and in retaliation he tightened his grip and pinched her nipple, moving the phone away from his face to giggle. I hated them and I hated everything around them, the butts wilted in glass, the condom wrappers blooming on the wood crate that was the bedside table. Is your wife at home, sir? Of course you’ll understand I’ll need her to tell me she was absolutely complicit. If you’d prefer, I can come down there, have a talk on the porch.

No, Guin said, into Tim’s fingers. Stop it.

Fucking prank, we heard Mr. Jones say in the background. Probably. Small town. I don’t know, to be sure ... And then there was his wife’s voice, calmer than his, saying something like let me take care of it. Mrs. Jones spoke her name firmly, sincerely, and I watched the sound of it pass over Tim’s face. He hadn’t planned that far, or had only expected to move against her resistance—only to mock these people in an underhanded advance against their bigger part of the world. Saying something specious about protocol, spewing bullshit numbers, naming a bullshit code, Tim asked whether the gag in her mouth was definitely what she wanted. Are we done, she said.

It was clear then that the woman had never believed his lie. Understanding this, Guin’s eyes were filling as she pressed her fingernails into her temples. She curled her toes into Tim’s back. Before she erupted—would she cry, would she hit?—there were always signs like this, her insides protesting their limits. She lived in her body as some people live in temporary housing. Unsure how long the arrangement will last, they ruin the walls with holes and marks, they slam the cheap doors. Tim began to speak in the high shriek I’d heard that misting night we’d run into him, adding an affected babying lisp. Do you hate your yuppie life so much that having your gerbil of a husband tie you up is the only way to come?

Guin was on top of Tim then and slapping his ears, trying to wrest the phone away for a long time after the Jones household had gone silent. Fucking stop it, Guin kept saying, for too long after he had. As the phone fell from his hand and his giggle accelerated, I grabbed my jacket and pulled it around my sweatshirt, leaving his door unlocked. My hood was up against a thick mist as I walked home, and I felt glad to be obscured. I knew how soon I would pay for misunderstanding what Guin needed: to feel righteous about a crime that didn’t involve her, but was hers to define. To fantasize inviolably, and indefinitely, about some justice only she could dispense.

I stopped going back to Sonoma County, in part because it lost its weather—I used to love that drizzle and fog, but now it only floods or catches fire. Guin and I spent a decade angry at each other, but the year we were twenty-eight we returned to our friendship and confessed. She had found me online and sent me a note rich in her singular misspellings, telling me only a little about her ex and the heroin, which always went unnamed. There’d been hard work and a little bit of luck, she said, but now! She was clean. She was new. We talked about Suboxone and her first-ever bout as a single person, the audiobooks she loved on politics and psychology, the granny unit she had triumphantly rented, a few towns over from Petaluma, despite bad credit and an eviction and a mug shot on her record. Once a month, for most of six, we’d skype—the internet was another one now, capable of bringing our lives closer together, but still faulty enough that her face might slow down, her language stop. I don’t know what happened, I notice everyone always rushing to say, just as Guin and I did, after a connection drops. Why? Don’t we know exactly what happened, that the kind of intimacy made possible by twitching screen is improbable to begin with? That if you know behind you is the safety or danger of your own home, that if you can’t smell someone starting to sweat, or see the way they curl their fingers when they mention a certain person’s name, the version of life you get and give can’t really be trusted?

That’s what happened with Guin and me, ultimately. During a conversation that was creaking anyway—she seemed far away as she was, and was answering most questions about the past few weeks with a limited set of good, okay, and not the best—her face poured into bits. Two minutes later, she took advantage of the conversation restarting to ask about me. Were my patients behaving themselves? As I began to describe a client’s unique delusion, Guin’s husband called her name, and then he moved onscreen to kiss her forehead. Anything from the store, babe? She blushed deeply, saying something quickly about smokes, and sent him away.

We were silent a long time, the country between us redrawing our faces in pixelated revolutions if she shifted or I did. She apologized first for the state of the connection, saying the internet was bad in what she called west county. They’d gotten back together a few months before, she admitted, when they both were sober, and I knew, I knew—I knew—by the way her glance fell that they were no longer. He’d been living there and they were doing sobriety together, she said, hoping I’d say something accepting—but I had returned to who I’d become again, and I refused even to ask how long.

The lie had been as beautiful as she still was, but I’d forgotten how she smelled, that she was handy with a pocketknife—the time she had, with loving conspiracy, convinced a waiter to send a crying child a milkshake in an IHOP. Devotion rarely goes on without novel surfaces, isn’t that right? Without the grain of new situations it can be confirmed against. Greg, when I told him about the call, nodded in sympathy. He scrounged up some stained little words that we’ve all, in heedlessness, used. There is only so much you can do.

It’s funny he could say that when he’d heard the sound I’d made, on that call, when I saw the face of her husband. I cried out in the way I do when I see a cockroach, as though it’s the first time and I haven’t been living all my life in these fucking American houses, built quickly of pest-friendly wood. If you get from one side of this country to the other, or the bottom to the top, you find out that even the wealthy are living in buildings that were not meant to last, and that the American imagination is selfish and short, and that the shrug we give when someone else needs something is a consequence of how long our memory is, and how far we can see into the future—and the answer to all of it is, well, about a hundred years. That’s how long the walls will stand if you do nothing, and that’s also the scope of history you’re expected to know or care about. It’s a friendly, easy figure, because it stretches just about one life, indicating any person’s decades as an exception, not a pattern. There are accidents of passion, here, not designs of cruelty. And so we go around chirping life is short!, which is a way of saying my life is mine!, which is a way of saying best of luck with yours!

Greg moved out just before the virus, actually—I don’t even have that to blame. In the first six months of it, I seemed to spend my sadness only on my friends’ and clients’ lives, laughing at the right moments, adjusting their medications, often avoiding the diagnoses that would do little to help them and everything to set them against me. You tell a person they’re a recognizable type, you call a symptom specific to a pattern of others, and they’re likely to rage or turn mute. Few of us want to believe that our pain is so common it can be treated.

In my personal life anyway, I’ve tried to select against certain categories, and have never gotten it quite right. Greg had accepted exactly one drink in his life—his father was an alcoholic, too—and I’d chosen his sobriety, his pellucid memory. Living with him I learned his religious tidiness, to empty rooms in order to sweep them. Oh, love, he had said laughing, in our first apartment together, looking at my dishes as he washed them, would you let me teach you? I was then twenty-six, and the undersides of my pots all looked almost caramelized. How funny that you never, Greg said, kissing me, learned to wash the bottoms of things.

He was careful and tender with all his senses, coming home with dark chocolate and olive oil soap in his tote bag, straightening the rooms we slept in so that nothing bigger ever sat on anything smaller, and all the angles were right. But once he was unhappy, his tongue seemed to fatten with another decade, and his pupils expanded, as he stayed up all night reading the internet, until his brown eyes seemed only to be black. He had the snap of a drunk, the lurching impulses that hated to be seen. Toward the end I woke once, frightened, around 3 am, to the bed frame vibrating with a deep, frantic bass, Mahler’s Fifth booming from his office speakers a floor below. As if I were his neighbor, I knocked timidly, asking if he might turn that down. And he stomped across the room, slamming a hand down to quiet the noise, his eyes flashing that deep black and holding mine. He would say things I imagined had been once said to him (Do you think you’re the first person to suffer?) or pose a mean, specific question (You never got over your father dying, did you?) and behave with no memory of it the next day, when I might find him whistling as he cleaned the kitchen, or arranging narcissi in my office with a lucky wink. Even as they horrified me, I envied him those outbursts. Because the worst things I’ve said or done, and the worst said and done to me, have worked on my life more quietly, like some embarrassing, insuperable superstition—keeping me from walking where it must be safe to, assuring me I know something other people don’t.

I waited an hour on my porch for Guin, knowing she would come, thinking of the Joneses’ house nearby—the dog who might be passing from room to room, wondering about the change in the way his people were speaking, the lights maybe not turned on at dusk. Through the walls behind me was the bed where I slept, the narrow corridor of sink and pantry where my mother drank her coffee alone by the small, high window. The unhappiness of my life in that apartment was perfectly tailored, shaped like the two of us, and I knew the unhappiness beyond would be a surprise for which I had no retort prepared.

When Guin showed up, I announced straightaway we would return the photos. She nodded and took the package from her bag, handing it to me with a look she must have learned in her childhood—Was her sin so bad? Would she be forgiven? I could see in the streetlight how battered it was, the photo on top of the pile a little bent at an edge. I didn’t ask why the stack seemed slimmer, or about the tape she’d run on the envelope where it had torn, in some kind of apology. Even her anger she couldn’t really care for, or be loyal to, in the way so many people do for the rest of their lives, using the same language to describe it. My father’s narcissism was one of small differences, a client will tell me, again and again, seeming proud of their articulation. Whatever Guin’s failings, she never gave me the same sentence twice.

In college I didn’t mention her, though I understood that I was desirable mostly because of the print she’d left on me. She had taught me how you remove a bottle cap with any edge, how you breathe around a cock in your mouth or run backward from a bottle rocket. You’re not going to be this sad your whole life, she had said once in bed, holding me from behind, her ribs bigger than my ribs, her voice clearer than my voice, and I knew it was something like an insult. She was standing at the perspective of distance between us she already saw. Even if I could drink to nothing with her, stay up on speed and get sliced to ribbons by hateful daylight, I eventually felt the need to return to myself. Faithful student I was at heart, I wanted the home in my mind that would ratify anything I’d done, convert it into some lesson or anecdote.

In the middle of my first semester of college, I heard from my mother that the Joneses’ dog had gone missing. Flyers punctuated the neighborhood, using the word “love,” entreating the town’s sympathy. My mother admitted that she’d seen it—trotting downhill, one early morning she was half asleep and smoking out front—but its beauty was such, its certainty so evident, that she could not stop to worry. From her voice on the phone, I understood that she knew this was wrong, how it’s those creatures most easily alone you’re supposed to call after as they run toward traffic.

Can you imagine losing your dog the same month you lost your job, she asked, but I wouldn’t take the bait, wouldn’t ask how or why. That was roughly the position I held on anything having to do with Petaluma, and that might be why we never really talked about the time after dad died, when she’d kept the apartment too warm and we’d acknowledge each other like roommates. Once, when she came to visit me and Greg, and he had slipped off to fix dessert, the topic did come up. Her thin hand grabbed for mine, and she smiled wetly in the sweet candlelight and mentioned those years and said, Someday, babe, when we have a sign the time is right.

I did tell a friend the full story of what we did to the Joneses’ marriage, recently, during a series of Zooms about what she was willing to do for her husband’s pleasure. With the pandemic on, they needed something new in their life, but it would have to be a compromise, she reiterated, and I agreed: he’d been watching the kind of down, sex-pig! porn where women’s makeup forms runnels down their alarmed faces, and she was interested in shibari, if she could get the right kind of silk ropes from Japan. The friend had been calling often, and I would allow her to repeat her banal remarks, or call me back when her contractor needed to run through something on her kitchen’s renovation. Listening to my details of fifteen years before, she laughed at the mischief of it all, and repeated a line I sensed she had read on internet forums about that kind of sex. Sometimes the bottom is the top. Then she changed the subject.

It had been so nice to say Guin’s name, but the friend had asked nothing further about her, who she had been to me or what she’d become to herself. The next time she texted I vanished the text, the next time she called I silenced the call, the next time she emailed I archived the email. I told myself I was bored by the conversation. False power, voluntary confinement, doesn’t interest me. If you add it up, the leather with the lotion, the cruelty with the kindness, doesn’t that only get you somewhere neutral? And that’s worse than being alone—which I actually like fine—given the lie of being together.

All I had wanted, on that call, was the chance to say the outrageous, impossible words that had become true a few weeks before. It was the only conversation in which it would have been appropriate, because I had never really mentioned Guin to anyone else. She had existed before I became myself. It would anyway require so many steps down their empathic ladders, those lawyers and doctors, a series of bleak facts going lower and lower, deeper and deeper, and by the time I got to the phrase, they would have been worn out. Because first, I’d want to say how once she was sober again she realized her wisdom teeth were so painful she had no choice but to pull them and that two thousand dollars was impossible . . . and so her landlord had cut off the electricity . . . and when the virus hit she was living in a trailer without water, which was meant to be temporary . . . she had a good job at a restaurant but all but two of the front of house staff were cut . . . and the NA meeting that was important to her didn’t go remote, for some reason, and it felt wrong to start a new meeting on a screen, with intermittent Wi-Fi . . . and actually . . .

She died.

It was Tim who let me know, calling me on repeat from midnight in California, and I picked up in my sleep, as weak and confused as he must have remembered me. My terror, when I heard his voice, was so pure it touched everything—it made the rug I brought my feet onto rough, the books splayed all around me in my bed jagged and menacing. He said something first about Guin being the love of his life, testing out how it sounded. I could tell he was outside, and I remembered how natural he always looked near a streetlamp, as thin, and as cold, and as punitive.

There was no euphemism: Guin had not “passed on.” “Four milligrams of pure fucking fentanyl,” he announced. “She never did anything lightly, which I have to admit I fucking admire.” That he and Guin had not talked in some seven years, that he and I had not in fifteen, that she saw my life as a put-on and I saw hers as a curse on mine—these things weren’t a part of the conversation. Shortly after relating some gruesome details, he switched topics, but I was still thinking about the week she’d been alone with her dead body, and only vaguely registered what he said next. He had heard I’d become a doctor, which didn’t surprise him. He wanted to tell me about a combination of ingredients he’d been using to treat a recurrent sinus infection—maybe we could talk, have a meeting of the minds, get it on the shelves. I could feel myself readying the condescending remark, that I was not that kind of doctor, that he hadn’t the right to . . . and then it drifted away, easily as an hour does when you spend it lying down. I couldn’t hold on to my offense at his having called me, asking myself in the next instant what I’d kept the same number for, if not this. You must want to be reached, I told myself. You must need some part of you that goes all the way back.

“Do you want to meet up?” Tim said. “A drink for the old days.” Well, where are you, I asked, rather than answering I was in Vermont. I was convinced, somehow, by the short-circuiting of his mind. Even his ruined thinking was clever, understanding that I had left and couldn’t have really, daring me to deny it.

“Downtown,” he said, like the answer was obvious. I clarified my location, apologizing, and he got off the call soon after, pulling the phone away from his mouth to shriek, “Oh, is that fucking right,” to something or someone I couldn’t see. And then I knew it, certain as the draft through the bedroom window—that if he’d been three blocks away, that if I could walk to him I would have, saving the buttons of my coat for the walk through the weather.

The days or weeks after seem to fall down, their natural order like something you only narrowly catch, the save so close you’ve already imagined the irretrievable break. Some people go and you can’t imagine the bridge, how their bodies went from being memories to being silence, but it wasn’t difficult to picture Guin dying. She had practiced a long time. What bothers me about her death, the thought that cracks my chest open to a sob in the bulk-food aisle, is that I believe it so easily I keep trying to remember it. That the last place she’d ever gone was one where we’d never been together—it’s the force that holds me down in my bed until noon some mornings, and makes me wrench my stove from the wall to sweep behind it another.

The fentanyl I keep in my bedside drawer, for months after I hear about Guin, an insult to her, I know—that I got it easily and legally and paid nothing, that I can keep it hidden in a room where I read and clean, sleep and masturbate. There is only so much you can do, to use Greg’s phrase, but in another selfish context—as in, only so much you can do of this drug, if you want to come back. The threshold is famous, the bottom. I know I wouldn’t have gotten it if he had still been nearby, in his tidy other bedroom, and also how lucky I feel to be alone with her—in my mind, I mean, in my body.

“I just think you’re unwell,” the client chirps again, how many sessions after the first time I can’t truly say. “And I want you to know I respectfully decline the opportunity to work with you anymore.” You are the only one here, the HIPAA-compliant office software informs me after that, so why do I stay there a moment longer, looking at the frame of my life as it’s been presented? The window that’s best for western light, the row of plants we all keep to remind ourselves of an outside. Then I float upstairs, thinking I’ll get some laundry together, and I take a pill. It happens so easily: the idea of once has always seemed friendly. I could forgive anything in myself or in him, Greg liked to say, a compliment one day and an insult the next.

In the depth of August, Guin and I pass up quiet, sloping streets. Outside the Joneses’ house, we stop, maybe hoping to learn something about that man and that woman, but in their lit bedroom the curtains are drawn, and all we can understand is that they are together. I push the photos into the mailbox that stands on a post, and we continue up the hill to the park we like, situated high above the rambling town. From a damp bench we take in Petaluma, the enormous grain elevator and the purple hills occurring all around it.

You wanted to hurt them because they’re lucky, I say to Guin, and the underside of that sentence is that there is nothing she could do to make her life like theirs, but there’s plenty I could, and will. Guin cocks wide and clips short, and when I start to bleed from my top lip, when I feel the notch in my tooth where it will be forever, she laughs brightly as a toddler who has just understood that ice can melt, or green give way to blossom.

She doesn’t tell me that Tim has taken some of the photos, and she can’t know that a few weeks from now he’ll be over at McNear Elementary in the middle of the night, supergluing them image-in to the tilt-and-turn Fifties windows of the choir classroom. It’s not her fault that the children who trot in on their first day of school will see those adult secrets, those strange expressions, as part of their view of outside, or that their teacher will seem scary as he tries to pick them off, cursing when he finds he can’t cleanly detach one part of his life from another.

It’s dark early in Vermont, and a sound is more likely to come from within the house than out, a faucet, a radiator. As for my life, I’ve got thick, hand-knit socks on, a full glass of cool water, and a third pill, now, another half a milligram: it’s such a small thing against such a big house. Narcan in the drawer, she might have teased me for that, and fuck her. What did I owe her? A call every day? A check every month? A plane ticket would have been easy, an inpatient spell someplace else where her ex couldn’t wait in the parking lot. I could have given an apology for her life, not because it was my fault, but because it should have been somebody’s. In my bedroom the objects have been rearranged since Greg left, end tables and necklaces, oils and creams. There’s the rug from Athens, the vase from Sausalito, another pill on my tongue, then a dull, happy truth. It makes my ribs bigger, lets each breath go farther.

I laugh when I know it! The absurdity in counting! Six? When was the last time you saw one in real life, a number? I can only speak for myself, but I never see a pretty wall of trees, or a stark impasse of mountains, and know there are twelve. No one ever goes on loving someone because it’s been so many years. They might just be a category, numbers, something that helps other people understand what we don’t need to.

Somewhere under the covers, somewhere under my mind, we snake our way through town in the middle of the night, up and down the gravel of those little alleys, named School and Telephone and Pepper, seeing into the backsides of magnificent houses. Half-gabled, cross-timber. She’s learned to describe the homes of other people, faithful and tender as the owners must be, pointing with her chin tucked on my neck. Frieze, coffer. I kiss her for knowing, I adore her again, she walks deep into shadow, I go deep in my body, lick my tooth where she’s chipped it, she forgives us all distance, we come from the same place, we are parts of the same life.

Maybe we aren’t girls, surely we were never children, but we might have the talents of animals, sensing everything that wants to kill us, and that we need to kill. Hills aren’t a problem, gates we can perch on, dark we can see in, and now we’re quiet by the glow of that couple’s back window. What’s the ancient idea, we’ve read it somewhere, we turn in the chilly bed to find it, we turn her face in the light of other lives to tell her. We’re born knowing everything, which is why we wail. We begin to forget, which is how we can stop. And here’s the thing: here’s the thing: here’s the strangest, loving thing, which helps until it doesn’t, which is kind until it’s wicked:

At the end of your life, you’ve forgotten the most.

 is the author of three novels, most recently America Was Hard to Find.


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