“Do you like it?”

    “I guess,” Ginny said.

    “You don’t like it,” Cara said, not yet accusatory, as if she couldn’t imagine that Ginny wouldn’t like it, wouldn’t find it (with all the expected changes in the apartment) charming in an eccentric way, more evidence of Cara’s theatrical skills.

    “Well, what is it?”

    They were standing on the back porch of Ginny’s—actually, now Cara and Ginny’s—apartment on the top floor of a broken-down triple-decker in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Not “Harvard, Cambridge,” Ginny was quick to point out. More like Somerville, Cambridge. Kind of a dump. Her street had actually scared her, when she first took the lease—a neighbor shrieking incomprehensible curses because of something, she never figured out what, she’d done wrong when she’d pulled her car up to the curb; a murder (a swim by shooting, she now joked) in the pool at the projects around the corner—but she liked her place now, had missed it during her two weeks in New Mexico.

    “It’s an Indian,” Cara said.

    “Well, I got that,” Ginny said. She weaved her hair into a French knot behind her head and then, having nothing to secure the effort, let the whole mess fall back down her neck. Jesus, it was hot.

    “Like a cigar store Indian.”

    An Indian chief, in fact: chest-high, with a massive headdress, buckskin clothing and dark face, its fierce scowl edging into dementia.

    “But is it supposed to be … funny?” Campy, she meant, some sort of a joke, a play on its own horribleness.

    Cara stared at her.

    “Don’t you think . . . I mean, it’s sort of offensive.”

    Cara said nothing.

    “But, ” Ginny rushed in to add. “But ….” She couldn’t think of a but. Not one she’d say out loud.

There were other changes. Some of them expected. Like: the Czechs. Their belongings in Ginny’s bedroom. Their economical food stuffs filling the pantry shelf. Half-bags of single serving Ramen noodles, taped shut for future use. Small plastic bowls of unidentifiable mush in the fridge. For the two additional weeks that Petrova and her son, Marcus, were staying, Ginny would sleep on an air mattress by Cara’s bed, a reversal of their childhood situation, when Cara (the younger of the two) was allowed to bring her ladybug sleeping bag over to Ginny’s house for the night. They were cousins, but more like sisters, having grown up in neighboring houses in a Boston suburb. The truth was Cara herself was the biggest unexpected change: in 14 days, she’d bloated into obesity—the steroids having a field day with her face and torso—and there was something else wrong. She wouldn’t say what. “Mom’ll explain,” she told Ginny dismissively, as if she couldn’t be bothered to go into it. Tell me, Ginny thought with such intensity, she imagined the words forming a large, cartoon bubble above her head, tell me, tell me now. But she kept quiet. Cara could—Cara should—have her way. The cigar store Indian was going to stay.

And maybe it wasn’t so bad. Maybe it was just that everything seemed off on her return. The sky too small, trees too close at hand. Outside, the world seemed colorless. Downright ugly. Inside, there was the disastrous pairing of her aunt’s old pea green refrigerator (the apartment was a “cold flat,” which meant “supply your own fridge”) with the kitchen’s worn red-and-white-checked linoleum, the tan paint on the wainscoting and the striped wallpaper above. Rule (from what? A house and garden magazine?): colors you wouldn’t wear together shouldn’t be together in your garden or your living room. But what did it matter? For a long time, the only person who came to the apartment was a friend from college, who’d sit on a kitchen chair while Ginny made dinner. She was a decent cook. From the start, Cara had insisted that she was happy about moving in. Ginny would get Cara eating right. Big healthy salads. No more potato chip dinners.

When Ginny lived alone, the back porch was unfurnished. Once Cara came to stay—just two years ago, when Cara was 25 and Ginny was 28—the entire apartment filled with leftovers from Cara’s parents’ house. It would have been a terrible 70s flashback with Peter Max fabric paintings and orange and purple furniture, if not for Cara’s skill with needle and thread. She’d stitched coverings for the couch, added her various dressmaker’s busts (two shapely women, one Pavarotti-sized man) to the living room. She’d been working as a costume designer in New York, when she’d got the news that forced her back to Boston and her doctors. She’d plunked her parents’ old kitchen table on the back porch, covered it with her collection of Fiestaware teapots, all turned into planters.

    There were chairs out back, too, but, on that first night home, Ginny took up her customary place on the porch: butt on the chipping gray floorboards, back to the gray vinyl siding, a glass of white wine with ice cubes by her side.

    “So tell me about Petrova.”

    Cara sighed and plopped into one of the porch chairs. “You’ll see. It’s not like what we expected.” Over the phone, Cara had already made it clear that the charm of Petrova had worn off, though she adored Petrova’s two-year-old son.   

    And what had the cousins expected, back when they agreed to put Vaclav Havel’s press secretary up for a month?  Well, nothing really. Their thoughts hadn’t got any further than a vague pleasure at being able to help out, at getting to meet someone close to Havel. The situation was this: Petrova was supposed to attend a month-long seminar at Tufts University’s school for international relations. She’d been given $500 to live on for the month, which wasn’t going to get her very far in Cambridge. A woman Cara used to bump into in New York—Parker, now interim artistic director at the American Repertory Theatre—knew someone at the burgeoning Prague Opera Company who knew about Petrova’s situation. Since the cousins lived within walking distance of the university (though it was admittedly a rather long walk), and since for two weeks of the month in question, Ginny had work in New Mexico, it seemed natural enough to agree to put her up. Cara seemed to have taken a turn for the better and said she wouldn’t mind the adventure of the visitors in Ginny’s absence. Ginny was an art director, too, but for mail order catalogs. (She’d be doing a hiking catalog in New Mexico.) Nothing, at any rate like Parker, whom Cara had described as a cross between a Gumby doll and Catherine Deneuve. Not an image Ginny could quite wrap her mind around. “Well,” Cara had said, “picture someone flat and blonde and glamorous. With cat eyeglasses.” 

    “Oh,” Ginny replied, dispiritedly. “Do I have to?”

“I don’t think press secretary there is like press secretary here,” Cara said now.

    “What do you mean?” There was a photo of Vaclav Havel under the Felix the Cat magnet on their refrigerator. His eyes were the blueberry blue of an infant’s.

    “Well, first, she’s not the only press secretary. I mean: you’d wonder how a press secretary could take off for a month. I guess Havel has a few press secretaries. And it’s not like she has any training. She was a tour guide before. I mean, her English is good, but otherwise ….”

    “But I thought that was the thing, the charm of the Czech government,” Ginny said. “A bunch of writers who don’t know a thing about politics. Artists running the government.”

    “Well, Petrova’s not an artist. She’s just kind of needy.”

    Needy. A put-down for Cara, who wasn’t needy, not even when most ill. Each morning last winter, during the worst of her chemo, she’d had a business-like manner about coughing till she vomited, quickly spraying the bathroom’s sink’s surface with disinfectant, then sitting down cheerfully to her breakfast—always half a dry bagel and a diet Coke. “In what way needy?” Ginny asked now.

    “Oh, you’ll see, you’ll see. I can’t really explain it.”

Ginny didn’t see, not right away. The woman who came through the door later that evening was sweet. A blonde, straight hair cut to her shoulder with girlish bangs. She was slim, in a faded cotton skirt and a T-shirt with a tiny butterfly appliqued under the scalloped neckline.  Ginny was getting a tissue from the bathroom when she heard the front door open. “I’m out here,” Cara had called back into the house and then a red-haired little boy charged past the bathroom door. “Ca-ra,” he cried.

    “He’s in love with your cousin,” Petrova said, right off to Ginny, knowing, of course, who the strange woman emerging from the bathroom was. They followed Marcus onto the porch.

    “Under the sea,” Marcus shouted and threw himself into Cara’s arms. Cara pulled the boy to her lap. “Under the sea.”

    “His first words in English,” Cara smiled.

    “It’s The Little Mermaid,” Petrova said but Ginny hardly needed the explanation. Cara had bought the Walt Disney video, because she’d liked the movie. Another piece of evidence, as far as Ginny was concerned, that even though she was only three years older than her cousin, they lived on opposite sides of a sharp, cultural divide, one that put Cara, for all her love of serious theatre, in the camp of those adults who knew all The Brady Bunch episodes by heart, who thought Mr. Potato Head was a hoot, who weren’t ashamed to own a Pat Benatar album. In college, Ginny had gone to Memphis to spend Christmas break with her then-boyfriend. “If you don’t go to Graceland,” Cara had said, knowing Ginny wasn’t inclined, “I want a divorce.” 

    “This little boy,” Petrova said, mussing her son’s hair, “has seen that movie 35 times.”

    “Thirty-six,” Cara said, as she stood to cue up the video for him in the living room.

“I think I have something to tell you,” Petrova said, when Cara reemerged from the apartment.

    Cara cocked her head.

    “Ernest is coming for a visit.”

    “Oh,” Cara cried, “that’s great. When?”

    “This Friday. The people from the program … we’re going out on a boat in the harbor on Friday night, and he said he’d meet me after. It’s near the … the what-do-you-say, the fish house, no .. the fish museum. You know what I mean.”


    Petrova nodded. “But I have a favor to ask ….”

    “Sure,” Ginny said quickly, aware of an adolescent desire to reassert her place in this apartment, to gain some fast intimacy with Petrova and her son.

    “Can you watch Marcus on Friday? It’ll be too late to take him.”

    “Yes, oh, sure,” Cara said.

    “I’ll put him to bed, so it’ll only be if he wakes up.”

    “No problem.”

    “And maybe Ernest won’t come anyway,” Petrova said, a bit mournfully.

    “But,” Cara said, “you just said he was.”

    “Yes,” Petrova allowed, “he says he’ll fly in after work on Friday.”

    Cara said, “This is good news, right?”

    “Who’s Ernest?” Ginny put in.

    Ginny knew from Cara that Marcus’s father was out of the picture. Petrova and he had been married, but then, early on, Petrova had found out something dark about her husband. “He liked doing it with little girls or he was having an affair with his brother. Something like that,” Cara had said on the phone, while Ginny was pulling on her hiking shoes, getting set for the day’s pre-shoot trek. “I didn’t care to find out the specifics. Anyway, I think they were only married a few months. At least, she got Marcus out of the deal.”

    “Ernest is ….” Ginny said leadingly.

    “The crush,” Cara put in. “Petrova’s love interest.”

    “Five years ago, I was giving a tour. I used to work as a tour guide, and he stayed to talk to me after. We’ve sent letters ever since, but I can’t say he’s interested.”

    “You don’t fly up to Boston from Florida if you’re not interested,” Cara said.

    “Really?” Petrova asked, as if this weren’t a self-evident fact. Petrova was at least ten years older than Cara, but clearly Cara had taken the parental role. Not that Cara spoke from direct experience. She was 27, and, so far, had never had a boyfriend. Losing your breast at age 21 did sort of complicate things. “At what point,” she’d once said to Ginny, “am I supposed to say, ‘Hey, buddy, one of these isn’t real.’?”

    “Really,” Cara said now. “You’re golden.”

    Ginny allowed herself to hate Petrova for a second. The kind of women for whom men bought plane tickets. Ginny had had her share of boyfriends—was even currently and somewhat half-heartedly seeing Joe Langlais, a mechanic who worked down the street—but as of yet, no one had ever actually plunked down a major chunk of change for the pleasure of her company.

    “Oh, well,” Petrova waved her hand as if wiping the conversation away. “I better go check on that little guy.” She turned for the short hall that led back into the apartment.

    “Ugh, she drives me nuts,” Cara said, when she was gone.

    “She’s not that bad.”

    “She’s got that helpless thing, though. She takes good care of Marcus, but otherwise, she’s the little girl.”

    “Oh, I guess,” Ginny said, not yet sure if this was a fair characterization. But sensing that it was, that there was something in her own waffling reaction to this last exchange that proved Petrova was the kind of person you wanted to protect and criticize, all in the same breath.

On Friday, the night of the harbor ride, when Marcus first woke, a little disoriented at not finding his mother with him in the big bed, the cousins said they were having a pajama party in the living room, and he should come join them. He padded out, ate a small handful of popcorn and played with a dancing chicken toy. “Under the sea,” he finally said, rather plaintively, and Cara cued up The Little Mermaid video. After ten minutes, he was asleep, and Cara scooped him up and back to bed.

    “He was patting my shoulder blades, as I carried him,” Cara said when she returned to the living room. “I think he was trying to burp me.”

    The second time Marcus woke it was 1:00, and the cousins had turned in themselves. “Mommy,” they heard. “Mom—ee,” an edge of real panic in the boy’s voice.

    “It’s OK,” Ginny heard Cara whispering in the next room. “Mommy will probably be here in a few minutes.” But the boy wouldn’t stop calling out.

    Ginny went in to offer her own reassuring words, but Cara waved her away. “He was just starting back to sleep,” she hissed. Ginny retreated to her air mattress. Sometimes, even now, Cara’s harshness could make her gasp. When Cara came back to the room, it was 1:30.

    “She’s never stayed out this late before,” Cara said, sitting on the edge of her bed. The streetlights gave her bedroom a silvery glamour, touched the computer screen and the edge of a chair draped in blue jeans, like a benign moonbeam. It wasn’t so hard to imagine the cousins’ exchange as the first scene in a movie in which the next scene was the cousins’ adoption of the poor little boy whose mother disappeared into the endless night.

    Ginny said, “Oh, I bet she’ll be back in a few minutes.” But by 2:00, both cousins were worried.

    “What should we do?” Cara finally said, sitting up, a hulking shadow.

    “Don’t worry,” Ginny said, starting for the phone by Cara’s computer. “I’ll take care of it. You go back to bed.”

    “Fuck you. I’m not going to bed.”

     “Well, I’ll try Tufts,” Ginny said. “Just see when the boat docked.”

    But no one at the Tufts switchboard had ever heard of the international conference or its members who were visiting Boston Harbor that night. Ginny was transferred and transferred. Then the line went dead. “Idiots,” she crabbed at the phone, then dialed again.

    “Let me have the phone,” Cara demanded, holding out her arm, but Ginny shook her head no. So imperious, she thought then tried to calm herself. Why did she care? Eventually she was put through to someone who said, “Oh, the van got back here around 11:00.”

    Ginny looked out the window, but no cars were coming down the street. “Maybe they went … I don’t know if she really liked this guy, maybe they went and got a hotel room.”

    “No,” Cara said, emphatically. “Trust me. She wouldn’t do that.”

    “Well, why not, she’s a grown woman. She ….”

    “No,” Cara said, angry this time, as if she’d had it with Ginny and the way she lorded her sexuality over Cara. “I know her. She wouldn’t.”

At 3:00, they rang the police station to ask about reports of accidents, and then shortly after, Ginny started calling hospital emergency rooms. She was on the line, when Cara—stationed at the bedroom window—called, “Hold it, hold it. It’s her.” There was the sound of the front door closing then feet on the stairs. Cara opened the apartment door to Petrova, looking as freshly showered and powdered as she had hours earlier, when readying herself for her evening.  “Hello,” she said cheerfully. She held out three silver Mylar balloons, the whole of the landing, with its six-foot, yellow eighth note (something from a New York City Opera set), bent around their surfaces. “We bought everyone a balloon.” She didn’t seem to think it surprising that the cousins were awake in the middle of the night.

    A man trudged in Petrova’s wake, a gentleman apparently, not being invited upstairs for a drink, but walking his date all the way to the door. Not really crush material, in Ginny’s eyes. He was somewhere in his 40s, bearded and graying, not fat exactly, but pudgy around the middle, a thin man who’d gone soft. He wore a wrinkled gray suit, without a tie, undershirt sticking out from beneath his checked dress shirt. No hair on the top of his head, but a thick untrimmed muff above his ears that made him look a bit like a clown.

    “I’d better be going,” he said, and put his hand to the back of his neck, as if he needed this sort of support to think clearly.

    “We were so worried,” Cara said, ignoring him. “And you’d better go see Marcus. He was scared. Where were you?”

    “Oh,” Petrova said, “we were just having fun.”

    “But the boat docked hours ago,” Cara said. This wasn’t something Ginny would have pursued. You didn’t ask a grown adult where she’d gone after dark. And yet, Cara seemed to have read the situation correctly, for there was something super-innocent about Petrova’s response, as if sexual dalliance weren’t a possibility.

    “Oh, I’m so sorry. We took a long walk. Over the bridges of the river. We didn’t even notice the time.”

    “I used to row,” Ernest said, as if this were why they had been looking at the river.

    “He was showing me the boathouses for MIT and Harvard.”

    “Oh,” Ginny said. “Were you in school up here?”

    “No, not me,” Ernest said.

    “Ma ma, ma ma,” Marcus called from his bedroom.

    “The little guy,” Petrova said and turned to press her hand to Ernest’s forearm. “Will you excuse me?” she asked and before an answer came, she darted into the apartment.

    “Well.” Ernest smiled at Cara, sensing of course that she was the one to make up to here. “I’m so sorry we worried you. It’s my fault, of course. I should have been paying attention to the hour.”

    Cara nodded non-commitedly, as he turned and made his way down the stairs. “Asshole,” she whispered, when the thud of the downstairs door meant he was truly gone.

“So what happened last night?” Cara said, turning to Petrova, who was putting a small teaspoon of jam in her oatmeal.

    “Well,” Petrova began slowly, “I went out on the boat, of course. All around the harbor, and then when we came back, I saw Ernest, waiting for me at the end of the … whatdoyoucallit …” She brushed her hand out in front of her to indicate a walkway.

    “Gangplank, I guess,” Cara said and shrugged. “Is that what you call it?”

    Ginny shrugged.

    “Well, there he was, and I thought he’d recognize me, but he didn’t seem to. And I thought, well, if he doesn’t recognize me, then that’s that. So I walked off the boat and went all the way past him and still he didn’t recognize me. So I thought I’d just better come home.”

    “Wait a second,” Cara put in. “A guy flies all the way from Florida to see you, and you think you’re going to blow him off because he doesn’t recognize you?”

    “Of course,” Petrova said reasonably, and Ginny had to suppose that something had been lost in translation.

    “Christ Almighty,” Cara said and Marcus chirped, “Crisp Almighty.”

    “Go get your jacket,” Petrova instructed, “we’ve got to get ready to go.” Marcus ran for his room, but the toy trucks on the bedroom floor distracted him from his errand. “All the other people from the program got back on the van, and even though there were only a few people left on the dock, he still didn’t know me.”

    “Well, it had been a long time, right?” Ginny said. “Wasn’t it five years?”

    “And then finally he did say my name.” Petrova paused and smiled. “And that my hair had gotten much longer.” She put the pads of her fingers to her hair lightly, as if it were he who were touching her. “The van went off, and then we went to that Quincy Market, and took the subway back to Cambridge. We walked over to the river and onto the bridges, then back again. And that was that. We took a taxi here.”

    “So ….” Cara said, waiting for the summary statement. What did she think about Ernest now? But her manner made it clear. She was smitten as ever.

    “Well, why don’t you invite him for dinner tonight, if you’d like?” Ginny said. “Joe’ll be by. Maybe we can invite George.” George was a friend from around the corner, owner of a local—and rather popular—Caribbean restaurant, a reliable procurer of good snacks, tostones and sometimes even conch fritters.

    “Crap,” Cara said, and stuck her finger into her mouth, as if trying to dislodge something from her back teeth.

    “That’s attractive,” Ginny said.

    “Fuck you,” Cara said, though Ginny had only been joking. “I can’t swallow this thing. It’s like something got stuck back here.”

    “God, I’m sorry,” Ginny said, standing. “Do you want something to drink? I can get some water. Maybe some water will make it go down.”

    “No,” Cara snapped. “I don’t want anything to drink.”

    The news, Ginny suddenly knew, the news that Cara didn’t want to go into with Ginny, the other night, could only be one thing. The cancer wasn’t gone, not really.

It wasn’t a great night for a party. Humid, the air a thick soup. Even moving one’s mouth for conversation felt like too much of a workout. Still, Ernest showed up. And Joe and George.

    Ernest seemed comfortable enough, though his arrival in a suit—in this weather! And he was from Florida!—seemed to suggest he was used to more formal gatherings. And older people.

    “What do you do for a living?” George asked, after he’d deposited two platters from his restaurant on the table. Ginny wondered why she’d even bothered to cook. Who ate in this heat? “I brought some rum punch, too,” George announced.

    “Excellent,” Ginny said, wiggling her fingers, like some craftily pleased madwoman. She loved George’s super-strong rum punch. “This is so generous. Do you want some?” she turned to Ernest.

    “Oh, no,” he said. “I don’t drink. Except for a sherry, now and then.”

    “We don’t have that, I’m afraid.”

    “I’m happy with anything.”

    “Well, what would you like?” Cara put in, testily. “Some water?”

    “Water’s great,” Ernest said.

    “Hey, man,” Joe emerged from the kitchen with a beer and gave George a slap on the back. “I haven’t seen you in forever.”

    Ginny sat at the kitchen table with Petrova and Ernest, while the others ate in the living room. “So what do you do?” Ginny said. “We never gave you a chance to answer.”


    “What kind?”

    “Oh, international.”

    “So when you were in Prague, when you met Petrova, you weren’t there on holiday?”

    “Oh, no. That was before Prague changed, before it became fashionable to go. Before you saw Kafka mugs and Kafka key chains and Kafka t-shirts.”

    Ginny smiled.

    “I’m serious. It’s like that now. The people who go there now, see the castle, and they walk over the bridge, and they think they’ve seen the true Prague.”

    “And …,” but Ginny didn’t want to continue this conversation—there was something boring and slightly contentious in his manner. “Florida. Are you from there, or did … how did you end up there?”

    “No, no. I’m from all over. I lived up here for awhile. Down in the Square, in one of those apartment houses with the Harvard boys.” He rolled his eyes, in the way that people always did around Cambridge. “Still I love that regatta. I used to row, you know.”

    “Yeah, I think you mentioned that.”

“That guy’s kind of weird,” Joe said later that night, as he was readying to leave the apartment. Ginny had walked him out to his truck. She never stayed at his place—not a place really, but an upstairs room with a tiny kitchenette in one of the grand Victorians over by Fresh Pond Parkway. He had to walk through his landlady’s house to get to his rooms, often stopping to open a jar for her or hear about the state of her impending divorce.

    “Weird, like how?” It had been Ginny’s impression, too, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on what seemed off about Ernest.

    “I don’t know, just weird. Like, well ….when I went upstairs, after you guys went for your walk?”

    Ginny nodded. Earlier in the evening, they’d all had an after-dinner stroll, save Ernest, who wanted to rest, and Joe who came down with everyone but, at the last minute, decided to stay, too.

    “Well, I went back upstairs, thinking I’d cover up the food. And Ernest was gone. I thought, “Hey, that’s strange.’ But I just got out the saran and all. Then, I hear something in Cara’s bedroom, and I went in there, and there he is. ‘Can I help you?’ I say, and he says, ‘No, no. Just needed to use the phone.’ Only he isn’t standing by the phone. He’s across the room by the dresser.”

    Ginny grimaced and nodded in agreement. “Weird. And he’s a little pompous, too, a little weirdly pompous, don’t you think? Sort of a know-it-all about everything.”

    “Yeah, well. If Petrova likes him, it’s not our place to judge.”

    Ginny had a brief desire to hip-check him off the sidewalk. She hated this: stupidity masking as morality. “I don’t analyze them. I just watch them,” he’d once said, when Ginny had tried to get him to join some debate she and Cara were having about a movie. He made it sound like a virtue. He was a simple soul, who appreciated things, while the cousins talked and talked things to death.

    “It is so our place to judge,” Ginny said.

    Joe huffed, and Ginny huffed, and had a sense that the relationship wouldn’t last the week.

One night, when Cara was out at the movies, Ernest sat opposite Ginny at the kitchen table, as Petrova told them about her mother’s death. She’d had cancer. “And in the end,” Petrova said, looking down at her lap, her voice breaking, “she was just all full of these soft spots.” Petrova lifted her hand into the air to demonstrate. “Like an overripe melon. Just all soft. It was so horrible. My poor, poor mother, just all…” Petrova seemed to be searching for a word, but then she skipped right over it and continued on: “… into herself. The progress of the disease it’s just…. Like some rotting fruit, you know.” She shook her head.

    “You know,” Ginny said, slowly, but then her question to Petrova seemed ridiculous, so she directed it to Ernest, “that Cara has cancer.”

    “Well, obviously,” Ernest said, pointing to his head, as if to indicate baldness or a headscarf.

    “But she’s in remission,” Petrova said quickly.

    “Noooo,” Ginny said, “I wouldn’t exactly say that.”

    “Oh, my God,” Petrova said, “but she’ll be fine, no? It would be too much for the little guy. I mean, he loves her so much, and I love her so much. And….”

    A spot below Ginny’s breastbone suddenly hollowed out, as if someone had abruptly reached in and torn open a space there, because Ginny’s body wasn’t quite big enough, it turned out, for all it was going to have to absorb. Ginny pressed her hand to her chest, as if trying to hold something still. “Of course,” she said, “Cara’s going to be fine.”

The air had a still, white quality. Even the fat purple grapes in the landlady’s grape arbor, tucked improbably inside the back yard’s chain link fence, had seemed decidedly gray this morning, when Ginny had stepped under the leaves, simply hoping for a little of the plant’s green coolness.

    Now, Ginny was washing Cara’s head with its patches of crusty, yellow skin. They were going to take Marcus and Petrova for a farewell dinner at Ginny’s mother’s house. Marcus and Petrova would sleep in the suburbs that night, and then Ernest would come in the morning to take them to the airport.

    “Stamp out dry, scalpy skin,” Ginny said, and Cara laughed.

    They were in the bathroom, Cara seated on the toilet lid, Ginny above her.

    Marcus and Petrova were making one final loop through the apartment, checking for belongings.

    “It’s so fucking hot,” Cara said. Day twenty of the heat wave.

    “Not that bad, not yet,” Ginny said absentmindedly.

    Cara slapped at Ginny’s hand, the one with the washcloth. “Just get the fuck away from me.”

    “What’s the matter?”

    Cara was silent.

    “What is it?”

    “You know,” Cara started to stand, but then didn’t, “what it is. Just get the fuck out of here.”

After the evening party, the plan was for Cara and Ginny to head back to Cambridge, but at the last minute, Cara decided she’d just as soon stay with her folks till the heat broke.

    “You stay, too,” Ginny’s mother said, but Ginny didn’t want to.

    “Come on,” Cara demanded, but Ginny still refused, enjoying the small triumph of saying no to Cara.

    The wrong decision, Ginny thought, when she re-entered her apartment, for the place seemed eerie on return. Sooty and empty. So much gray dust on the moldings, so many waterstains on the ceiling. Purposely abandoned. Was that it? Or only the fact that there was no one occupying the rooms. No Joe—they hadn’t spoken since the night of the dinner party, so Ginny supposed they were off-again, no Cara, Marcus or Petrova.

    It had been a whole month since she’d slept in her own bed, so she set to reoccupying her room. Stripping the sheets, moving her clothes. Dumping some of the leftover bits of food into the trash. And still this sense of being unsettled.

    The phone rang.

    “Hun?” Ginny’s mother.


    “Sweetheart, I’ve got some bad news. It’s the real reason I wanted you to stay over, so I could tell you.”

    Ginny felt cold, the cold of panic. She looked up from the phone. Something was off with the back door. It looked like it had been jimmied open.

    “Oh, God,” she said and pulled the phone cord into Cara’s bedroom. She opened the jewelry box on Cara’s dresser .

    “Cara’s going to have to have another mastectomy.”

    “Shit,” Ginny said. Her eyes teared immediately. “Oh, shit.”


The warehouse was dark, so they’d brought lights, enough lights to create the effect of sunlight falling on the caboose of the train. This was in Portland, at the Maine Narrow Gauge Railway, a dark, bayside building stuffed with antique trains. Actually the trains from the old Meadville railway, which Ginny had ridden as a child. Or maybe she’d just seen a TV ad for the place. It had sounded familiar, at any rate, when she’d got the assignment—which was a big one—as art director for a travel catalog. Now she was standing to the side as a photographer considered a lumpy duffel bag placed at the train’s rear. It was black so the challenge was to come up with a photograph that would still reveal the bag’s details—its many zippered compartments, its attachable shoulder strap, and so on.

    There were 1,000 sensible questions one could ask about the lengths to which they were going to create the illusion of daylight. The first being: why not just shoot outside? But the company wanted this particular train caboose, even though it had rusted into immobility years ago.

    “Ginny,” called one of her assistants, holding up a cell phone and waving it above his head like a flag.

    “Hi,” Ginny’s mother said, her voice leisurely, as if ready for a long chat.

    “What’s the matter?”

    “Nothing’s the matter. I’m calling to wish you a happy birthday.”

    “I’m at work.”

    “I know, but you can talk.”

    No, I can’t, Ginny almost said, but the truth was she could take a break just now. It was almost five, and her work was more or less done for the day. She carried the cell phone out to her car.

    “What’re you doing?”

    “Photographing luggage. Tomorrow, the models come and we’ll do clothes.”

    “No, I meant for your birthday. You’re 31.”

    “Well, I know that. I didn’t make plans. But the crew usually gets dinner out. There are supposed to be a lot of good restaurants here.”

    “I got you a pearl necklace.”

    “Oh, Mom, you didn’t need to do that.”

    “I wanted to, to replace the one that got stolen.” Ginny’s apartment had been broken into last summer, on the day of the good-bye party for Petrova, just before Cara took her final turn for the worse.

    “Someone who knew what they were doing,” the police had said, for the junk jewelry had been left behind; the pearl necklaces, Cara’s antique charm bracelet, and Ginny’s great-grandmother’s wedding ring were all gone.

    “And speaking of that … here’s something interesting. Aunt Judy got a call from Petrova.” Judy was Cara’s mother.

    “Oh, yeah. What’s up with her?” After they’d left Cambridge, Petrova and Marcus had gone back to Prague for a few months, then Petrova had married Ernest and settled in Florida. “So much,” Cara had said, “for those free vacation digs in the Czech Republic.”

    “It’s a crazy story. Ernest flew Petrova back home, for a treat supposedly, but then he called her in Prague and told her the marriage was over. She flies back to Florida to see what’s going on, and he’s cleaned the whole house out. Robbed her of everything.”

    “He what?

    “There’s more. Judy says, it turns out, he never really quite moved in with her. I mean, they were married—or Petrova thought they were—and they had the house and all, but he didn’t really stay there, most nights.”

    “That doesn’t make any sense.”

    “I know. Completely crazy.”

    “So it must have been that Ernest. Who robbed us. Back then. Remember how weird we thought it was that he didn’t want to come to the goodbye party for Marcus and Petrova? Joe actually found Ernest in Cara’s room once, saying he was going to use the phone, but he wasn’t near the phone.”


    “Joe Langlais. That guy I was seeing back then.”

    “Oh,” her mother sighed. “I can never keep all your men straight.”

    “There haven’t been that many.”

    “Whatever,” her mother said. “Parker met that Ernest fellow, you know.” Parker, the old ART director, who had introduced Cara to Petrova in the first place, Parker who’d left the ART and was now running The New World Theatre in Baltimore. “Parker said she thought he was CIA.”

    “Mom. I said that. Not Parker. I said he must have been CIA—the way he’d never say what his job was.”

    Her mother ignored her. A truth was more interesting out of Parker than Ginny’s mouth. “Anyway,” her mother breathed now, “what’s done is done.”

    “But Petrova …. I mean, what could you steal from her? I’d think a plane ticket back to Prague would cost more than the sum total of everything she owned.”

    Perhaps Parker had more of a line on the whole story. Not that Ginny could place a call and ask. Parker, who Ginny had met only at Cara’s funeral and knew only through Cara’s descriptions—Parker with her catfish glasses, her art object clothes, her tendency to find herself written up in pages of magazines (the ten most fabulous women in Boston!)—she was beyond the Cadishes with their ordinary lives. Parker and her husband (a fairly well known movie star, it turned out) had caused a vague stir at the shiva; there was something in knowing that important people were taking notice of this.

    At shiva, the night that Parker came, Ginny remembered hearing George—George who had loved Cara, who had always brought her all that soca and tuk music from his restaurant—saying, “You just want to say, ‘You do know you’re gay, right?’” He was talking to somebody about Parker’s actor-husband. George had laughed, and Ginny had remembered leaning into the room to say sarcastically, “Yeah, they’re both each other’s beards.” But then she’d shaken herself. What was she doing? Cara was dead. Why weren’t they talking about her? Why wouldn’t anyone give Cara the attention she deserved? At her own funeral, for Christ’s sake?

    Cara had died young, and in that she was extraordinary—worthy of Parker and her actor-husband’s attention—but Cara’s whole family, they might get their ordinary, unglamourous hooks in, expect phone calls and attention. Parker knew better than to get mixed up with that. Parker had a plane to catch the night of shiva. Parker couldn’t do as real friends did and return for shiva each night. Parker was gone, gone, gone.

But she wasn’t. A month after the Portland shoot, FAO Schwartz flew Ginny to the Hands On museum in Michigan. And there was Parker, shepherding a silent little boy (her own?) through an exhibit about peanuts. “I’m here for The Festival,” Parker explained.


    “Visionary Playwrights,” she said flatly. She was wearing a lilac coatdress, and her hair had changed—it was slicked back into a little duck’s tail above her neck.

    “What’s that?”

    “Ohhhh—“ Parker waved her hand in the air, as if it was too much of a bother to explain.

    The women were silent, and the boy at Parker’s side didn’t have the good sense to tug Parker along. Above them, a funny contraption on the ceiling let go of a wooden ball, which sped along a clear tube before dropping into the wall and then along a clear maze down to the floor. The boy with Parker watched all this carefully, but with no apparent pleasure.

    “Well…,” Ginny said, “did you hear about Petrova?”

    “Oh, yeees,” Parker’s eyebrows arched up. “Strange.”

    “What do you think that was about?”


    “I mean. Doesn’t it seem that the whole ruse of duping Petrova cost more than the sum total of everything she had? It just never fit together in my head.”

    “I suppose. I never thought about it.” There was a hint of reprimand in Parker’s voice, as if Ginny’s question weren’t stupid so much as boring, leading the women down a corridor of Norman Rockwells, when there was so much visionary art to be had in the museum of conversation.

    And yet Ginny persisted. “Are you still in touch with her?”

    “Me? No. She wanted to come live with me after Ernest ripped her off, but I said no. And then she must have gone back to Prague. I never heard.”

    “But your friends in Prague. They must have known.”

    “No, the whole opera project fell through. I’m not in touch with those folks anymore.”

    “God,” Ginny breathed then told Parker the story of being robbed last summer. Parker tilted her head in something like interest. At her side, the boy finally piped up, “Where’s that ball?” he said.

    “Another one is going to come out in a second,” Parker said, and as she did, there was the whirr-plop of a ball falling out of the ceiling and back into the clear tube.

    “We never really cared,” Ginny added, “you know, about getting robbed. There was so much else going on then. Cara was going back in for surgery, and then they found this tumor at the back of her tongue and well ….” It was Ginny’s turn to wave her hand in the air at a piece of information she didn’t care to elaborate on.

    Parker turned her head and scanned the wall, as if looking for a clock, but she didn’t move.

    “I just don’t get the motive. Petrova was a struggling single mother. Why pick on her? Or on Cara? Cara who in the last months of her life was extending herself to two strangers?”

    Parker shrugged, twisted her mouth into a helpless I-don’t-know grin.

    “Don’t you wonder?” Ginny said. She wanted the reasonableness of her curiosity to be confirmed. Or maybe for Parker to admit she’d had a role in bringing about both losses.

    “Well, that’s the thing about it,” Parker said wisely if absent-mindedly.

    “The thing about what?”

    “You just have to accept that the unknown is part of life.”

    How visionary of you, Ginny might have said. Or: Fuck you. Instead, she stepped back, gesturing to the boy, as if he was pulling Parker forward, to the wall maze and beyond, “Well, I should let you go.”

A New England storm delayed all flights east, so Ginny and Kevin Mehta, a photographer from New York, found themselves with a free night in Ann Arbor. Over dinner, they decided to go over to the University to check out the theatre festival. This was the fourth time Kevin and Ginny had worked together, though the shoots had been spread out over the past five years. Every time they saw each other, Ginny was between boyfriends, and the two of them slept together, a bit of casualness that Ginny suspected was ordinary for Kevin, but altogether unusual for her. She’d said as much to him the last time that they saw each other. “I don’t really have sex with my friends.”

    “Oh,” he’d said. “Well, let’s just go to sleep,” and then they were in bed together, fumbling around. But when she next saw him (which was a few days ago, when the shoot started), he was, as always, cordial and friendly, there being nothing in his manner to suggest they’d ever touched each other. And Ginny followed suit, though wondered why it seemed a priori ridiculous to suppose they would ever get involved involved, as Cara used to put it.

    There were three plays being performed that night: on the University’s main stage, in the black box theatre, and (improbably, given the temperature) outdoors on the football field.

    “Can we go to this one?” Ginny said, reading aloud from the newspaper. “Folk Wisdom. It says it’s at the main stage. ‘About youth, the world and death.’” It was an original play the paper said, written by Parker Martin.

    “Sure,” Kevin shrugged. Ginny liked him. Another man would have rolled his eyes at that description and observed that a Big Ten school like Michigan must have some team playing something tonight.

    “Oh, good, because I sort of know the playwright from Cambridge.”

It had been a long time since Ginny had been to the theatre. She loved the frisson of excitement in the audience, the sense you were going to an event, not just watching a story. And Kevin always made her feel rather special—his light touch at her back as he steered her past the ushers, the automatic way he slipped her coat off when they reached their seats. He grinned—boyish, excited, for all his worldliness—as the lights dimmed then rose on two young men sitting on a bench in front of the curtain.

    “Here we go,” Kevin whispered.

At the intermission, Kevin and Ginny went outside so Kevin could have a cigarette.   

    Act I—“Youth”—had been about a group of hip students experimenting with some Fountain of Youth drug. The second act—which began with the word “World” projected on the stage curtain—was about depression, but played depression not as the problem of an individual, but of the world itself. The point seemed a little strained.

    “Want to stay?” Ginny asked, feeling apologetic about the play, as if it were her fault it weren’t better.

    “It is pretty lousy.” Kevin admitted then smiled. “But how can we miss death?”

    “You’re right,” Ginny said. “That would be terrible. We’d be, like, 200 years old if we miss death.”

    “Plus your friend, if you see her, you won’t want to confess you didn’t weather it out.”

    “That’s what I was thinking, though she’s not really a friend. Just someone I know.”

    So back inside they went to see the word “Death” projected onto the curtain, which then parted to reveal a cozy contemporary apartment, decorated with rattan furniture covered with colorful throws, a place (with its Siennese colors—all those muted browns and mauves and greens) in which Ginny wouldn’t have minded living

    “I’m just not going to take that part,” a very pretty women on stage was saying to someone on the phone. “I’m just not going to take it. Once you’ve done Chekhov, you don’t have to take parts like that.” There was a pause while the women apparently listened to whatever the caller had to say. “Yeah, well, then, I’m a snob. So what? Listen, I’ve got to go. Kylie Marks is coming over.” Another pause. “Yes, you do. Kylie Marks, costume designer. Talented, young kid who’s got breast cancer. She’s coming for tea.”

    Ginny turned to look at Kevin, but his eyes were trained on the stage.

    A buzzer sounded. The actress walked to a button on the wall. “It’s me,” called a voice, and there was another buzz. The actress straightened tea things on a table that sat stage center, then turned for the door. “Come in,” she shouted. In walked a woman wearing a headscarf. Thin, pretty, presumably bald.

    “Hey,” the women embraced. “How’s it going, Kylie?”

    “All right. Well, all right, save my roommate. Jesus Christ, my roommate’s driving me nuts. She’s shtupping this stupid guy from down the street who fixes her car, and ever since she got back from the west, with her new enthusiasms for all things big sky, she’s going on and out about how claustrophobic our place is and then…. And then … catch this? You know that woman from Prague who’s been staying with me? The actress?”

    Kylie nodded. “Yeah. Well, she turned out to be a real character. Impossible, but my roommate’s all buddy-buddy, like she’s discovered the charms of the Eastern bloc. Which wouldn’t be so irritating, but she’s always staging these parties and dinners for us all. It’s just un-fucking-bearable.”

    “Why don’t you just tell her you don’t want to go?”

    “Me? Tell Miss Thin-Skin anything? Can you imagine? She’d just flip out. ‘Oh, was I really bothering you? Was I really?’ until I say, ‘No, not really.’ Like I need it. Like a dying woman needs this sort of shit.”

    “You’re not dying,” the actress said.

    “I’m dying,” Kylie said matter-of-factly. “I am, like, so outta here.”

    The act went on, though with Kylie as a minor character. A series of other people came to the actress’s apartment—a FedEx man, a house cleaner, a playwright—all revealing sooner or later that they were, despite appearances, fatally ill. None of them were going to see old age, and the actress ended up seeming like the unfortunate one, having to survive old age all alone. In the end, she concludes, to a lover, that “we’re not under death’s thumb, but death is under ours. It’s right here, all around us.”

    “Idiotic,” Kevin pronounced the play, when it was all over. “I mean … you’re not under death’s thumb, because death is under your thumb? What kind of bullshit semantics is that? And that …what was that she was doing at the end? Smushing an ant under her thumb?”

    “What do you mean?”

    “When she was grinding her thumb into the table, and then she picks it up and flicks something off? She kills something with her thumb, so … “ Kevin gestured for Ginny to step before him into the slow-moving departing audience.

    “I guess I missed that,” Ginny said. She guessed she’d missed a lot of the play’s end. Miss Thin Skin. Could Cara have felt that way about her? Could she have? Could all of Ginny’s sense of the love between the cousins just be … just wrong? Could letting a robber into your home and feeding him dinner just be the tip of the iceberg when it came to bad judgment?

    “Should we go backstage?” Kevin said, not sounding too enthusiastic about the idea, but he was a man, if nothing else, of propriety.

    “No, no, I don’t think so.” But when they pushed into the lobby, Ginny changed her mind.

The room where Parker was—to all appearances—accepting fervent compliments from strangers and friends alike was a typical, untidy green room, recently subject to a snowfall of old coffee cups. At least, that’s what people kicked aside as they pushed past the costumes that fringed the walls. At the far end of the room, Parker half-sat on the edge of a cluttered old conference table.

    “She’s got her fans,” Kevin whispered. “So add that to your list of wonders of the western world.”

    Ginny hung back a bit, not quite wanting to join the dense circle around Parker, but then there was a little rustling in Parker’s crowd, as if the group as a whole had taken notice of Ginny by the door, but had politely decided not to turn and stare.

    “Maybe,” Ginny said to Kevin, ready to change her mind again, and half-turning as she did, but then she realized what it was: Parker’s husband had entered the room behind them.

    “Oh,” Ginny said and smiled. “This is…” she started to say to Kevin.

    “Oh, but I know who you are,” Kevin said politely. “I saw you in Happenstance. Great movie.”

    “Thank you,” the actor said.

    “Kevin Mehta,” Kevin offered.

    “Sorry,” Ginny shrugged, and then the actor—Ginny couldn’t get herself to remember his name—leaned toward Kevin. Ginny pressed her palm to her throat. It looked like he might kiss Kevin, but he stopped short of Kevin’s ear and whispered, “I’m that…” He wrinkled up his nose, gestured over to Parker with a slight upward tip of his chin, “that woman’s beard.”

    “Ginny!” Parker cried, at just that moment, as if they were old friends. “You came to my play. I didn’t even know you knew about it. And I’m so glad you came, because I figured it out.”

    Ginny just looked at her, then said flatly, “What out?”

    “Why, your problem. I’ve been thinking about it since I saw you this afternoon.” Parker stopped, as if she was expecting a compliment, and in that moment, some roses were handed from the people at the door to other admirers and then pushed into Ginny’s arms, so she had no choice but to extend them forward, as if in thanks for the insult of the third act.

    “Thanks,” Parker said, and turned to put the flowers on the table behind her. “Passports,” she said, as she turned back.


    “Cara and Petrova. He wasn’t stealing their things. He was stealing their identities, their passports. That’s worth something.”

    Ginny was silent, then said, “But I have Cara’s passport. I’ve got it in a little … a little Godiva chocolate box that she saved for some reason. It’s in there with some snapshots of her wrapping her arms around the neck of a Wild Thing. One of those huge Wild Things for the NYC Opera’s production of … you know, that Sendak’s kid story.” Her voice was breaking up. Miss Thin-Skin. What could be worse than to enact the truth of the character’s terrible words in front of its author?

    “Well,” Parker said. “That’s probably just an out-of-date passport. That guy, Ernest, wasn’t that his name? He probably left the out-of-date one and took the one that was still good.”

    Ginny didn’t say anything. She could be right. Cara had been to England when she was 11—they all had, for a family wedding—and then again in college. And if she’d planned to travel after, she might have gotten it renewed. In which case there would have been two passports in that chocolate box, but Ginny knew there weren’t. She knew everything there was to know about all Cara’s things, which had been carefully touched and evaluated and then re-evaluated before they were kept or given away or discarded.

    “Why else? Not to be crass,” Parker began, “but why else steal from a dying woman?”

    Your play, Ginny could imagine herself saying, your play was so mean to me. Or: But Cara couldn’t have told you that. She couldn’t. Instead, she said, “But what about Petrova and Marcus? He couldn’t have taken their passports. He’d sent them out of the country, so they’d have to have their passports with them.”

    “True, but….” Parker waved her hand as if bored and then grinned a broad grin at someone she recognized behind Ginny, someone probably just now coming through the door. She looked back at Ginny. “Ernest was probably using Petrova and her kid as a cover of some sort, an explanation for why he was traveling in certain countries.”

    “I guess that makes a kind of sense,” Ginny allowed.

    “It does,” Parker said. “Doesn’t it?  So many creeps in the world.”

    “But…” Ginny began, and as she did, someone pushed in front of her to give Parker a big hug.

    “Kevin,” Ginny said, reaching out for his forearm, and then quickly pulling her hand back. She didn’t touch Kevin in public. “Let’s go.”

    “What was that all about?” Kevin asked when they were back out in the now-empty lobby.

    “Nothing,” Ginny said. “It’d take too long to explain.”

    “Okay,” Kevin said, “then tell me this. What’s with the beard comment? Hans Martin …”

    “Yes, that’s his name.”

    “…said it to me again when you were talking to your friend.” Kevin paused, and then mimicked Martin, saying, “I’m that woman’s beard."

    “I guess….” Ginny rolled her eyes, but then realized. “I think he thinks I said something about him that I didn’t say. Or didn’t mean to say. I think they must both think that. Something I said when my cousin died.”

They were well onto other subjects—an exhibit he’d liked in New York, a friend they had in common—by the time they were back at the hotel. They agreed they’d meet back at the bar for a drink, but would first run up to their respective rooms, to check their messages, and so forth.

    There were no phone messages for Ginny, and none on her answering machine back home. But she didn’t want to get to the hotel bar before Kevin, so she decided she’d call Nan Williams—an art director-friend, someone who knew Kevin, too, from mutual projects.

    “Hey,” Nan said when Ginny identified herself. “Haven’t heard from you in awhile.” She seemed genuinely glad to hear from Ginny, and Ginny realized that this was what she’d called for—or part of what she’d called for—for someone to acknowledge the pleasure of her company.

    “Just called to say hi,” Ginny said. “I’m out here in Michigan on a shoot. With Harvey Wilson, you know him?”

    “Unt-ah,” Nan said.

    “And Kevin Mehta, you know him?”

    “Oh, of course, Kevin Mehta. He’s a charmer. Guy who’ll sleep with anyone but only have relationships with Indian women?”

    “Oh, no. I mean … I didn’t know that.”

    “Oh, yeah. It’s that whole Indian Brahmin marriage thing. I don’t completely get it.”   

    “Well,” Ginny said, “how’ve you been? What’s up with you?”

By the time Ginny got herself downstairs into the bar, she wasn’t up for a drink. She told Kevin she was too tired, and given that the East Coast airports would be open in the morning, she’d better just get to bed.

    “Well, hell,” Kevin said, flipping a bill out of his wallet and leaving it with half a glass of whiskey at the bar. “You’re right. I should turn in, too.” He nodded with his chin to a TV in the corner of the bar. “News was just saying that storm’ll be out to sea in a few hours. It’s still ripping through now though.”

    In the elevator, Ginny pressed the 3 for her floor, and then when he didn’t do it, the 5 for Kevin’s floor.

    “Well, ” Kevin said, and he tipped his head sideways. She could see he was waiting for her to ask him back to her room, and she let herself hold on to this little gesture of his, let herself acknowledge that, for the moment, he wanted to go to bed with her.

    The door opened on her floor. She stepped out.

    “I’ll see you,” she said and let the elevator door close between them.

    Just then, back in Cambridge, a broken fence from the lumber yard next to Ginny’s triple-decker was flapping in the wind. Later that night, it would break loose, landing on Ginny’s car, driving a pole through her front windshield. Out on the back porch, Cara’s cigar store Indian toppled forward, its plaster form cracking into three large pieces, exposing the thick metal piping around which it had been cast.

Two days later, when Ginny reached to pick the Indian chief’s head up, the plaster didn’t break away from the piping, so she had to scoop her arms under the Indian’s entire body. She hefted him up—a cracked and drowned boy—balancing him first on the front of her thighs then carrying him over the threshold of her apartment, and then through her kitchen and Cara’s bedroom and the front hall. She would move, she knew. She would move away from this place, very soon. At the landing outside her apartment door, she rested him back on her thighs then took a deep breath and edged herself to the staircase’s railing, steadying herself against a fall. Down one flight, the turn of the second floor landing, and then down another flight. At the building’s door, she gasped. The weight was too much for her, but she took the five stairs to the concrete walkway, and then the final two steps to the large green garbage cans by the chain link fence. The legs fell into the trash can, and the body folded over, in a crash, bits of plaster hitting the sidewalk. “Traitor,” Ginny thought, nonsensically. Of herself, she supposed. She had thrown Cara away! Or maybe not. She pulled her sleeve across her damp eyes—she would not cry here, out in the yard—and stepped back to study the statue. Paint (goldenrod yellow, hunter green, chimney brick red), wire, and plaster. It surprised her, though she didn’t know why. What, after all, had she thought it was made of?

Debra Spark is author of the novels Coconuts for the Saint (Faber&Faber, Avon) and The Ghost of Bridgetown (Graywolf), and editor of the anthology Twenty Under Thirty: Best Stories by America's New Young Writers (Scribner).  Her most recent book is Curious Attractions: Essays on Fiction Writing (University of Michigan Press).

photo by Garry Mitchell

Back to Freight Stories No. 1


Debra Spark

I Should Let You Go