Our library is dying. The books break apart like hard dust, and we can no longer read their stories. A film of oil sticks to the skin of the jackets, which emit the slightest belch when they are handled. We have all felt this breath rising up our own gullets—how curious to note that the library is similarly bloated.
The day Eugene told me his secret he gave me a bouquet of lilies. Ice clung to the petals like fuzz.
Sorry about the frost, he said. That was an accident.
I stuck my nose into the flowers but they were too chilled to get any smell out of them. It puzzled me that the ice hadn’t melted—this was mid-June.
The thing is, he said, my trick is the weather.
The weather, I repeated.
That’s my schtick, you know? Everyone’s got to have a schtick.
We were in Washington Square Park. There was a guy playing Rachmaninoff on an upright piano.
Pick a weather, Eugene said.
I crossed my arms. Snow. Bet you can’t do snow.
Snow? Well … might be complicated.
You’re so full of shit, I said, giving him a playful punch to the shoulder.
It’s not that. He hesitated.
He straightened. Alright, he said, closing his eyes, clenching his fists.
Once on a bright spring morning in a time much like now but also different there was a young Craigy in a room full of friends. Standing apart, stilled by feelings of affection and terror, he cast about at their mostly pretty, mostly childlike faces. Debbie, Andy, Billy, Stacy, Bobby, Cindy, Russian Stan. Here they were, lounging freely, lounging well, a braided scent above of donuts, marijuana, tobacco, shampoos, soaps, oils, sweat. Soon, taking care, thinking how really kind of beautiful this all is, Craig stepped into their center. “Hey, uh, listen everyone,” he said. “I think I could, well, you know…”
Trappers came and dragged the alligator out of the ditch in my backyard, bound her front legs and threw her on the flatbed of their pickup truck one afternoon in late May. They wore cutoff denim jeans and sleeveless shirts called “wife beaters,” and carried poles with big loops on the end that tightened when you pulled on them, duct tape, and big coolers of raw meat.
I had heard the neighbors talking about the gator. They said it came out of the drainage pipe at the end of the subdivision, made its way down the length of the ditch, and disappeared into the pipe at the other end. It was nine feet long, at least, and looked sinister and possibly pregnant. It ate half my neighbor’s Yorkie and left the other half rotting on the grass on the edge of her yard. She showed me a Polaroid of the corpse while I toed the banks of the ditch looking for baby minnows, which I later learned were mosquito larvae.
Excerpted from the in-progress novel, Buffalo.
Because Bea’s collection consisted of more than what she could store in refrigerators or under the bed she took Kotter on a tour of Buffalo’s female body parts. Cities were, according to Bea, a patriarchal invention and the urban space was one in which women were forced to navigate in a way that was uncomfortable and unnatural. The Feminist’s Guide to Walking the City also encouraged an awareness of, and subsequent tribute to the working women enslaved throughout the urban landscape. This suggestion was contained within a chapter called “Stoned” which Kotter thought was funny and Bea did not. She put on her hat, a scarf and some waxy lip balm from a green tin. Her hands then black in leather gloves, she pointed a finger at him.
“You think this will be boring.”
“I guess so,” he said.
“The worst toy for a bulimic is a garbage disposal,” you say.
Saturday afternoon on the balcony, flattened out in bikinis with pink rosettes kissing the waist, glasses of Perrier and a bowl of limes on the towel between you and Lisa. Summer physics ended yesterday, and you’ve been fasting since the final to be angles and elbows for back-to-school.
Lisa flips. Her blonde hair drips down her back and her shoulder blades jut like wings.
“No way,” Lisa says. “All-you-can-eat buffet.”
“You’re cliché,” you say. “Everyone says that.”
The life coach sits on the couch. He sits on the edge, palms-to-knees. His chin stays up. Behind him, the light pierces the blind in horizontal slivers. It sears into the room and spreads weakly in the murky air. The dust motes shine dimly. As usual, he doesn’t figure anything out right now, or even figure what he’s trying to figure, he just sits reflecting and wondering, pondering, how or where exactly things could have gone, let’s just say . . . differently.
Outside, the yard is soaked in sun. Fat bees bumble on blossoms of honeysuckle; hummingbirds jab at amber trumpets of brugmansia.
Excerpted from the essay collection What Would Lynne Tillman Do? forthcoming from Red Lemonade books this March. Pre-order it here.
I once read: “All journeys have destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” The beginnings of journeys and narratives can be as surprising as their secret destinations. They can start as mysteriously as they end, they can start before one thinks.