Thursday, December 25, 2008


There are two new stories from the Authentic Writing workshops up on

Sunday, December 07, 2008

What's Not To Like?

The window was long and looked out over Washington Square Park. The window was in the section of the living room that held what could have been the dining room table. It was a rectangular alcove opening out from the living room, large enough to fit the table which looked like it came from a farmhouse in Tuscany. A good-looking table that only ever held our clutter. Kitty had chosen the table, like all the other furnishings in the apartment except for the scraps of furniture in Jeffrey’s bedroom that were left over from his childhood apartment on East 65th Street, the apartment he was still living in during our first year of togtherness when we were mostly separated by schools, but when it seemed, looking back, that our togetherness was still new and unpredictable.

The move that he made to the fancier Fifth Avenue apartment was one of those bends in the river that redefined our time together. The 65th St. apartment was the beginning – tempting to call it the happy innocent time but it was not. The Fifth Avenue apartment was the horrendous middle. The L.A. place was the lingering death.

The first apartment was already pretty much abandoned when I came along. But it was available when needed. The kitchen functioned. Jeffrey cooked there. Mostly on baking sheets, chicken breasts coated in rice krispies, butter and peppery spices.

The living room full of sad old furniture, cramped, somber red cartons of Parliaments left behind by his mother who had returned to her home state of Mississippi.

We stood waiting for the elevator to take us down to street level. Jeffrey looked at our reflection in the mirrored wall. “We look good together,” he said, surprising me. Looking good together was not something I had thought about.

He wanted to take photographs of me. Had his clunky black and white 35mm camera and took me the first day we were at his father’s big Southampton house to a graveyard where had me pose. I wore the beige short cotton halter dress that I felt good in. We both waited for the contact sheets and were both disappointed when I didn’t look particularly good in any of the shots. I hadn’t expected to look good, but had been hopeful. Jeffrey had been so sure. Maybe he’d see now that I wasn’t as beautiful as he said I was.

The Southampton house was a white mansion with a circular drive where you were informed upon arrival which bedroom would be yours for the weekend. Jeffrey delighted in the place, delighted in the company of his siblings – one full sister, one half sister, one step-brother. Jeffrey had started to teach me backgammon. It felt like a foreign language in which he and his sister were fluent. Their conversation was aimed at getting laughs. Wit or nothing. I pretended this was easy for me too, that I like it here – the plush drawing room with drapes, carpets, leather couch, room after room, especially the large kitchen where the Guatemalan maid presided, the over-filled double refrigerator, where Kitty and her friends would spend Saturday morning grocery shopping and return with brown paper bags to cover the counters. I hoped to be included in this circle of Kitty and her friends, all of them older but like buzzing queen bees, confident glamorous women, Jeffrey I could tell awed by Kelly who was deep-voiced, dark, beautiful and so about-town with her tales of Afghanistan and hookah pipes.

Jeffrey talked to all of them as if he’d known them all his life and I feeling like the new girl in class but there are no handicaps here. If you don’t talk you’re boring.

Jeffrey’s father spends most of his day in the bedroom he shares with Kitty, his second wife. He sits on his bed, fully dressed in clothes Kitty has bought – pressed pants, starched shirt – leaning against the headboard, his legs stretched out on the flowered quilt, watching golf on television and smoking. When he appears downstairs, quietly, unimpressed by the stretch of lawn and patio, the croquet, the ocean on the other side of the hedge, Kitty’s friends defer to him despite his low-key demeanor. He’s the only one who doesn’t have to vie for attention.

When I see him sitting alone I sit next to him. I say hello. “How ya doin’, sweetheart,” he’ll say, and it sounds so friendly and warm, but then he doesn’t have much more to say.

One day there in Southampton, one of the first weekends with this new boyfriend who also keeps urging me to talk more, to tell him more, me who am not used to that at all, who finds it so hard to say anything as if my vocal chords have been paralyzed – I say that I want to go back to New York with him. Now. Not wait til Sunday. I want to go back to the 65th Street apartment where it is just me and him and the hamburgers we eat in coffeeshops and the hot fudge sundaes in the afternoons, just him and me. Because the new boyfriend has also been telling me that’s it’s all right to have what you want – to have ice cream in the afternoon. To go to two movies in one day.

We are in our pretty assigned bedroom when I reveal this truth and Jeffrey asks why. Why do I want to leave when it’s so nice here? I can only say I don’t know. I don’t know. “Well, you should go tell my father then that we’re leaving,” says Jeffrey, as if this is protocol, etiquette, and I don’t question this though it is scary to knock on Alvin’s bedroom door, to gain entrance, to say to him as he sits on his bed, tight against his nighttable that holds the ashtray, that I’d like to leave – not for any reason, but I’d just like to go. He isn’t perturbed. “Whatever you like, sweetheart,” he says.

We leave the house and its people. I feel the relief, the great relief. I have failed. I have given in to my weakness. But I am relieved for the moment, leaving the crowds behind, headed back to New York City.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Road

I wanted the pink knee socks. From the seat in my mother’s shopping cart I wanted them. They were soft and a little fuzzy. I didn’t ask for them. I took them from the hook and put them in my pocket without anyone seeing and when we got home I went to the living room.

The floor of the living room was bare boards. My mother liked the boards because, she said, they were wide and that meant we lived in an old house and that was better than living in a new one. There was a rug in the living room, a big one. I lifted the edge near the door that led into the dining room and then the kitchen, the part of the house where my mother usually was. I slid the pink socks under the rug and covered them. Then I pretended to find them and that’s when I showed them to my mother. “Look what the fairies brought me!” I said.

This was the house with the bare wood floors and glass in the dirt outside, the house that was up on a steep slope and looked down on the road. There weren’t any houses very close by and cars did not go by often. It was like we lived there by ourselves.

Old Tony lived across the road, on the other side, back in the woods. I went there sometimes with my mother and sometimes I went by myself, walking down the dirt pathway. Old Tony had an old van parked back there. That’s what he lived in. Beside the van he had a small table and a couple of chairs. He was an old man. He gave me sips of his beer from a can. He told me I could touch his dick one day when he had it out because he had been peeing. I stretched out one finger and touched it. It was hard underneath the skin and soft and wriggly on top.

A long ways down the road was the school I went to, an old school with three rooms: one for kindergarten, one for first grade, one for second. The school was a short distance back from the road. The road there was lined with pine trees and beneath them was a wealth of soft brown cast-off needles. My friends and I arranged the needles, heaping them up in long rows to define the rooms of our play-houses. This is the kitchen. This is the bedroom.

I hit Danny Moses by accident one morning down by the pine trees before we were called in for class. He was in the second grade. I only even knew his name because my mother knew his mother. I sat on the floor or behind a desk in kindergarten and Danny marched in with his teacher. They stood in front and the teacher asked him who did it and he pointed at me with a straight arm. I said I didn’t do anything.

We left that school in the middle of first grade to drive down to Virginia and live there instead. The first grade teacher stood next to me in front of the class and introduced me to the rows of faces staring at me."This," she said, "is Marta."