I haven’t seen Ivy in nearly a decade now and haven’t spoken to her in longer. Really, there was only the briefest window when we were anything akin to friends, back in the first days of graduate school, before I made the surprisingly consequential misjudgment of supposing that because she kissed me once she would again. For some years she crossed my mind only rarely, if at all, though now, as I wile away the final days before the publication of my debut novel — plagued by anxiety, yes, but also aswim in preemptive nostalgia for these last hours of innocence — she flits through my thoughts with increasing regularity. In fact, it might not be unreasonable to posit that Ivy, or at least the version of her that is trapped, Persephone-like, in my psyche, is as intrinsic to the book as its very binding. Sometimes I think I wrote it for her.
Vanessa and Monty were standing well back from the door when he opened it, an abundance of suitcases strewn around their feet. They were slumped in identical, defeated postures against the waist-high Buddhas that decorated his walkway, arms folded across their chests. Both had long yellow falls of bleached and curled hair and wore interchangeable Bohemian get-ups: flimsy dresses, bare legs, and loose boots drooping with straps and buckles. Their faces were dwarfed by huge sunglasses, and Vanessa cradled her Chihuahua, Scarlett, in the crook of her arm. Holly, perceptible through the tinted windows of her SUV only as more sunglasses and pale hair, waved, and drove off. Simon watched his gate close slowly after her bumper. According to Vanessa, she described their marriage as a misunderstanding.
Watch a short animation inspired by the story here
The Cowboy Tango
VQR, Fall 2009
Best American Short Stories, 2010
When Mr. Glen Otterbausch hired Sammy Boone she was sixteen and so skinny that the whole of her beanpole body fit neatly inside the circle of shade cast by her hat. For three weeks he’d had an ad in the Bozeman paper for a wrangler, but only two men had shown up. One smelled like he’d swum across a whiskey river before his truck fishtailed to a dusty stop outside the lodge, and the other was missing his left arm. Mr. Otterbausch looked away from the man with one arm and told him that the job was already filled. He was planning to get away from beef-raising and go more towards the tourist trade, even though he’d promised his Uncle Dex, as Dex breathed his last wheezes, that he would do no such thing.
Since the beginning of their honeymoon, whenever something went wrong she had been eager to remind him. Is this enough of an adventure for you? Aren’t adventures fun? But here they were, in Bucharest, sitting on the edge of a fountain and looking at an elegant, dormered building that could have been in Paris except for the soldiers standing guard in ill-fitting green uniforms. Even the flag flying from the mansard roof looked almost French, except for its yellow middle and its coat of arms with wheat and a red star and an oil drill. They would reach Paris eventually, near the end of the trip, but the thought of the time and travel separating them from the city of lights exhausted Bill. In the near distance, an enormous cement slab apartment block was going up, nursed by three wobbly cranes.
Pierre Maillard lay dying of a stroke in his creaky old canopy bed at the age of seventy-six. Above him drooped a swag of faded blue, patterned with tiny silver stars, but he did not see it. Born blind, he saw nothing, not even darkness. In the cool and quiet predawn, sheets and plumes of numbness and electricity traveled through his body in silent, spectacular auroras. As his mind crackled and clouded, it returned him to his earliest memory:
He is emerging from an afternoon nap to the sound of his mother playing the piano. His noisy dreams fall away, leaving a solitary melody, bittersweet, drifting up the stairs. Sunlight warms his face; his wandering fingers sleepily strum the varnished bars of his crib. He doesn’t question who is playing. The sound of the piano is as essentially his mother as the warm, lavender-smelling body that embraces him. That is the memory: the comfort of her flowing around him, moving through him like a breath.
When Ingrid was twenty-five, she lived for four months in a big house on the edge of an unfinished—never to be finished—ski resort. This was in Montana, on Adelaide Peak, twenty years ago. Richie, her much older kind-of boyfriend, and mastermind of the whole sad enterprise, had borrowed against his land to build the house, a baronial place full of grandiose touches like antler chandeliers and stone fireplaces and a drawer that warmed plates. It was the only structure on the mountain. After Richie went missing and Ingrid was left alone, all his expensive possessions started to seem foolish, and a careless contempt for them would steal over her—for him, too, who had been dumb or weak enough to probably die.