As an art student, I learned very quickly that one person’s neutral vessel is another person’s politically freighted, irreducibly marked load.
Home of the Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Company
It seemed like a miracle when the Germans called. The brass at Wunderleather wanted my husband Peter to establish their direct mail business not only because he was gifted, but most importantly he had been born and raised in Berlin. I had wondered if perhaps it wouldn’t be painful for Peter to return to Berlin, and speak the language that was the soundtrack of his parent’s marriage, a marriage that ended abruptly in his 11th summer when Peter’s father’s best friend took him out for a stroll in the botanical gardens and told him that he had been sleeping with Peter’s mother. He hoped Peter’s father would be as understanding as his own wife had been.
Peter’s father had not been understanding. He had taken his son back to the States, leaving the mother behind.
Now Peter was back in Berlin for the first time in 15 years. Every week there was a new project, every week there were compliments like, “Only you can help us market these lace-up leather pants to the Poles. Only you can come up with a strategy to sell eel skin mini-skirts to the Dutch.” It worked like a drug on my husband. His skin turned rosy and his gray eyes sparkled. To my delight, my once shy and undemonstrative lover kissed me in public places and held my hand like the newlyweds we truly were. I was enjoying time away from the florist’s shop where I’d worked since graduating college. I’d distinguished myself with my sympathy bouquets which were not stiff arrangements of dour yellow carnations and baby’s breath or a stark vase of grieving roses, pink as an overblown nose. They were precise and delicate gatherings of sweet pea and myrtle, lilies and foxgloves, oxalia and freesia. Unlike other florists, who considered hearty gladiolas the official coffin-friendly flower, I resisted them, and where others eschewed poppies because of their ephemeral nature, their tissue-paper petals and thin hairy stalks, I embraced them, cauterizing their stem bottoms to ensure long life. My arrangements looked like a good life felt, exuberant, full of color and sweetness. I liked my work, but I couldn’t imagine being away from my new husband for a night let alone a month or maybe two. This trip was a second honeymoon, and I wasn’t going to miss it.
Three weeks into our stay, strolling around the old part of Berlin, along the Victory walkway, we shared a sweet roll and a paper cup of silty black coffee. I interrupted Peter just as he began to share his strategy on selling breathable leather shorts to Greek fishermen. “You want to know something?” I said squeezing his hand.
“You love me,” he laughed.
It’s hard to believe I ever worried about his happiness.
“Yes, that and something else you funny boy,” I said.
“While you’ve been out gallivanting with your Wunderleather cronies I’ve been reading up on this city,” I said waving my arm like an over-zealous tour guide.
“Honey, you know you could have come,” Peter said sounding a little hurt. He’d spent the night before drinking with his buddies from work. It’s true, he’d invited me. He always did, but he didn’t fit in so well with his non-German speaking wife in tow, and I wanted him to fit in, to make friends and do well. I wasn’t concerned with making friends, which was good since my German vocabulary was larded only with Ich liebe dich, I love you, and Ich vernichte dich, I will destroy you, which I liked to whisper in Peter’s ear when we made love because it sounded so powerful and ridiculously dirty. I didn’t need friends because we’d be leaving any day. I needed only be a polite little wifey until it was time to return home.”
“Forget it,” I said, feeling a little bad for making him feel guilty and pulled him closer to me. I was eager to share something he might not know about the city he once called home.
“This walkway, and the government buildings over there were all built by Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer. He designed all of his buildings with an eye for how they would look destroyed, what the remaining ruins would look like.”
“You want this?” he asked, offering me the end of the coffee. I shook my head. Suddenly I was weary from having spent the day wandering around the city and watching toddlers throw rocks at the swans behind the Bauhaus museum.
We headed into the shopping district, and Peter began peering with great interest into the windows of furniture stores.
“Let’s go home,” I said meaning back to the apartment, but thinking of our place in New York.
“Wait, we need some essentials, just some chairs and a table, not much,” Peter said and cupped his hands around his eyes so he could see into the darkened store, picking out the shadows of furniture lurking in the murky showroom.
“Listen, if we have to get furniture, and I guess we have to, it’s not going to be this overpriced bourgeois crap, not when we could get great furniture for free,” I said.
While Peter was at work I had been trolling around the streets of East Berlin. Since the Wall had come down East Germans were throwing out all their furniture and housewares from the last thirty years and flocking to the West to shop, filling their little cars with hair dryers, electric can openers, blue jeans and cases of Coca Cola. Those unfortunate enough not to have cars loaded up shopping carts, and fueled by paranoid disbelief at their good fortune, pushed them for miles back across the non-existent border. I discovered that the sidewalks around Kathe Kollwitzplatz were often a jumble of 1940s carved fainting couches, comically overstuffed armchairs, and ornately carved Victrolas. That was where I led Peter that afternoon, giving him directions as our rental car bounced over cobblestoned streets.
“This is incredible,” Peter said, holding up a giant gilt-framed photograph of Uri Gagarin, the first Russian cosmonaut. A photo which he’d found by the curb along with an enormous old tube-technology radio. “They could sell this stuff for hundreds of dollars in the States.”
I was thinking how ashamed I’d be if someone rooted through our trash and found one of my Barbie dolls and, examining the feet, noticed my teeth marks, or if someone unearthed Peter’s old collection of bottle caps and butterflies, the hallmark of a shy boy.
“But you know, why shouldn’t they pitch their old junk? These people finally have access to what they have always dreamed of,” Peter said as he tugged on the leg of a huge grey dresser scarred with long scratch marks as if someone had been marking their days in solitary confinement.
I held up a delicate blue and green frosted bowl with tiny elephants walking in a circle around the base, holding each other’s tails in their mouths.
“This,” I said solemnly, “was little Heidi’s chewing gum bowl.”
“Exactly. Now she stows her wad on her brand new bedpost,” Peter said gingerly holding up an ancient frying pan.
“You can learn so much about a person by what they choose to throw out,” he said. “Marika’s husband just bought her a fancy electric skillet. In gratitude she has been broiling him a lamb chop every night and giving him a blow job.”
“You’re cracked,” I laughed, loved how silly my Peter was acting.
Driving home, giddy with the thrill of possession, we continued to imagine the lives of the people whose stuff we found that afternoon. There was Helga, who despite her gruff appearance secretly fed hungry children cold pats of butter to thank for a giant red rooster cookie jar, milky-glass mixing bowls, and a waffle iron. The dresser, as well as two biergarten steins that we found in a paper bag with some “Frisky Fräulein” girlie magazines featuring Viking-sized women, were left behind by the hard-drinking, big-hearted lugs Hans and Gunter, who we imagined dated a set of red headed twins, Gerta and Berta, and worked at a meatpacking plant.
And of course there was Heidi, over the next few weeks we collected her detritus all over East Berlin. In our minds she was a pale tired fräulein with yellow braids who lived in the neighborhood and occasionally worked as our maid. I pretended that she was from a bad family, and one day we would adopt her as our daughter.
As a rule Peter tended to find Gunter and Hans’s hulking Bismarckian furniture, and that once moved in to the apartment could never be moved again by one man, while I concentrated on the smaller artifacts, like Heidi’s cracked compact and tiny plastic horses with human expressions.
After three months, our apartment was crammed with the cast-off furniture of strangers, all with their own stories and smells—damp mildew, old paint, lemon oil that somehow made me feel less lonely. Polite invitations from Peter’s female co-workers to go to the museum or for a hike had dried up once I had begun demurring. I’d thought of calling up someone for a lunch date, but felt sure they thought me rude, or at the least dim-witted because I didn’t speak German.
At night Peter wrote in his diary while sitting at Rolf’s heavy oak desk. Rolf was the tortured philosopher who labored by day digging ditches and at night smoked Russian cigarettes, composing brilliant manifestos, and the occasional poem. When he had money he spent it on paper and ink, or the occasional bunch of flowers. I wished I knew Rolf, he’d be a friend.
“Maybe some of Rolf’s genius will rub off on me,” Peter liked to joke as he rubbed his hands over the pitted desk surface. It was the happiest I’d ever seen him.
Every Saturday for three months we went together into the gray fog of morning and walked the grimy streets of East Berlin. It was our only regular time together, and I looked forward to it on those nights when Peter was working late, or had come home from work exhausted and fallen asleep right after dinner.
Sometimes while he slept I’d listen to the old mahogany radio whose tubes glowed orange and whose dial lit up with the names of former Communist bastions, Leningrad, Minsk, Warsaw. I wondered if my friends in the flower shop thought of me when my favorite songs came on the radio, if they thought of me at all. I kept the volume low scanning the dial for some familiar language or song and I’d tell myself that soon we’d be leaving—there was no need to write postcards, who knew, perhaps we’d beat them home.
All around the city the Berlin Wall was being dismantled. Every day huge stretches of white concrete were air-lifted over the city and transported to museums or private collectors. Some of the slabs bore anti-fascist slogans: “Nazis Raus!” and “The Red Army Faction Was Here.” The wall near our dumpster diving grounds was populated today with entrepreneurial men and boys in stiff new, cuffed-up blue jeans who splattered bright paint on the wall, and after it dried, chipped it off to sell to tourists.
I was a tourist, also hungry for history, but of a more intimate sort. I liked imagining the past lives of our objects. I liked playing the game with Peter. It made me feel close to him. Sometimes I wondered if perhaps I might find some remnant of Peter’s parents’ past, a lace apron, a leather glasses case.
“Interesting,” Peter said peering over my shoulder at a dusty needlepointed manicure set complete with silver scissors, tweezers and an ancient orange stick.
“But, honey, don’t you think we’re drowning in junk? Maybe we should save ourselves for the good stuff. Like that beauty there,” he said and pointed across the street. Even from behind I could tell it was a hideous little love seat.
“No,” I said, hands on my hips. “You talk about junk! No, there’s no space for it. Peter. It’s purple. No. I mean it, no. It’s awful.”
“Ah, come on,” he said, his voice low and grumbly like the sofa could hear us and perhaps leap from the top of the dumpster and camouflage itself behind a lamp post.
“Forget it,” I said. “I’m going home.”
“Come on honey, I can’t get it alone.”
“I’m going home,” I said feeling my lip quiver. I wanted to go home now, my home, our home in New York City. “I mean it, I’m leaving,” I said feeling stupidly close to tears, and puffed up with a threat he didn’t even know I was making.
“Suit yourself,” he said, and jogged across the street toward the dumpster, narrowly avoiding being hit by a Mercedes whose driver shook his fist. Safe on the other side he waved at me, like nothing could ever touch him.
Once Peter would have loved the manicure set, kissed my temple and told me I was a genius for finding it, I thought as I meandered slowly home in the fading afternoon light, hoping to hear our car crunching gravel behind me, Peter leaning out the window apologizing for being so gruff, apologizing for keeping us here. I thought about how dark and cramped our apartment had become. How it was impossible to walk without getting wounded, without tripping over foot stools I’d swear I’d crammed in a closet, or having a chair or table seem to bound in front of me biting my shin or banging my hip bone. My body was covered with green and purple bruises that proved I’d been attacked. As I walked home I replayed Peter’s collecting crimes. The colder it got and the uglier the neighborhood became, the more egregious they seemed to me. The squat mahogany coffee table whose top was a mosaic of burns painstakingly made by the cigarettes of Wilhelm, a 12-year-old depressive. The posters in our bathroom of German pop star Heino whose blank opiated stare seemed to follow you from the shower to the toilet. And then there was the pair of blunt and ugly yellow armchairs with deep mealy corduroy seat cushions that sucked you in, so you had to scramble, actually claw the armrests to get free. They belonged in an old folks home, but Peter insisted we adopt these chairs because he believed that their owners had been happily married for fifty years and died side by side in them. He thought they were good luck. I loved the sentiment, but hated the way they looked and the smell they left on my clothing. Sometimes, when I was alone in the apartment I could hear their voices. I could hear Wilhelm’s adolescent lament of die die die, and the whispered confidences of the old couple, so faint I can only catch words like love and wait.
In the first glimmers of twilight I noticed a bit of dark blue fabric waving at me from the roof of a shiny grey BMW, and as I got closer I could discern the flapping sleeve and white cuff of a wool dress that laid across the top of the BMW as though a woman had leapt from a window and landed on the hood, disappearing in a puff of smoke. I stared at the dress for a while without touching it. Circling the car, I checked the dress for cigarette holes or stains. It was impeccable, and smelled faintly of talcum powder and gardenias, the scent of someone sitting in a room with dying flowers, so I took it. It was only when I was almost home that I thought maybe a woman had left it there for only a second, maybe she had been on her way to the dry cleaners but had to rush back in to the house to turn off the coffee pot, or answer the phone. Maybe I’d stolen it.
As I opened the door, the dress hidden under my coat, I had the unsettling feeling I always had when I entered our apartment, a feeling that the room had just fallen silent as soon as the furniture heard my key in the lock. As though the sofas, arm-chairs, coffee tables, end tables, dressers, high boys and assorted rugs were all speaking at once, conspiring. Just as I dropped the dress on the kitchen table I heard a bump at the door and my heart did a happy tumble imagining Peter struggling with the door because his arms were full of flowers.
“Baby,” his voice was muffled behind the door, “you weren’t serious were you?”
“Peter!” I barred the door with my body.
“Come on, you will love it,” he pleaded, easily pushing the door open. He forced the purple love seat inside so there was no way to escape it, or the wooden stare of two lascivious swans whose slender necks curved up to form the sofa’s arms, their bills slightly parted with the labored breath of lust, their eyes wild and sinister. The seat astride their fat feathered backs was loosely upholstered with bald purple cushions leaking feathers and dotted with a broad dusty ejaculate of what looked like old candle wax. It wasn’t until I noticed the legs that I realized why it seemed so horrible even from far away. Instead of a slender set of swan legs, or the straight workmanlike leg of many sofas, the legs were ornately carved so they appeared luxuriantly hairy, and ended in the pointed hooves of a wild boar. This creature could only have been born in a laboratory.
“I don’t want this in my house,” I said. My stomach felt sick.
“It is Violetta’s,” he said, his voice suddenly deep and husky. “She was a madam,” he murmured, crawling over the back of the swans, his hands on their heads, his hands on my hips. Then under my dress and between my legs. It had been days since he had kissed me, let alone touched my sex, and against my desire to stay angry I felt my body go soft in his arms. He pressed his body against mine and walked me back into the room.
“If you didn’t have cash for a room at Violetta’s, you got the sofa in the parlor where the other Johns waited,” he whispered. I closed my eyes.
This wasn’t my husband, this man, and I let him take me on the floor.
That was over six months ago, the last time I went on an urban archaeology dig with Peter, who still got up at first light to comb the streets, although rarely bringing anything home, except a sugary elephant ear from a sweet shop cross town. When I asked him now, “Tell me about this ottoman, what about the fainting couch?” He responds, “Let us talk about reality. Why have you not called even one of my co-workers wives? It’s been over six months and you haven’t made a friend. You don’t even leave the house anymore.”
I say, “Six months—that’s right. I feel like I’m going crazy here. Like the woman who threw her silver comb and brush set, and all her amber hair combs out the window and then killed herself. I know I found those things.”
Peter rolled his eyes. “You are making that up. Everything is drama with you.”
“No, it’s not. I’m not making it up, it’s true. Her husband didn’t love her anymore, and she took a lover,” I said.
“For Christ’s sake, why can’t people just be happy. Doesn’t anybody in your world ever live happily ever after?”
“Does anybody in yours?”
His face darkened. He played with his shirt tail for a long moment.
“Yes, actually they do,” he said.
I was beginning to wonder. Every week it seemed Wunderleather found new and inventive ways to delay our departure. Every week Peter told me his boss predicted, “Just a few more days, a week or two no more than that … ” then, they would give him a bonus of a few hundred dollars. “The German mark is doing well,” his boss would say and clap Peter on the back, “We can afford to be generous.”
“Peter,” I said, “will you ask them today when the assignment will be over?”
He did not meet my eye.
“Did you or did you not promise me?” I asked him so quietly that I didn’t know if he even heard me.
“I had the strangest experience today,” Peter said as he lay beside me in bed. Out in the kitchen were the remains of our dinner, which was cut short after a kiss for cooking supper led to making love.
“A man got on the subway without paying his fare. How he thought he was going to pull it off I don’t know. As he started to sit down everyone started to hiss at him,” he said.
“What’s so surprising about that?” I said. After all, I was frequently hissed at when I dared cross an empty street against the light—something that I now took every opportunity to do, it was a small rebellion that made me feel like an American. It reminded me I wasn’t one of them.
“Let me finish,” he said. “Through the doors comes a policeman. The guy starts to run, before I could think about it I stuck out my leg, not to trip him necessarily but to slow him down,” he said. “He fell, and then the cop was there swinging his club, beating his stick against the guy’s knee-caps … “
Peter paused, “I’m ashamed to say it felt good. It felt good to be part of something, it felt good to see justice done even if it was brutal.”
He hugged a pillow to his chest and waited for my response, as though he were holding his breath, like he thought I might tear into him, but I didn’t, I couldn’t. He frightened me.
After he fell asleep that night I got up, removed his diary from the drawer of Rolf’s desk, and took it into the bathroom. For weeks I’d been good about not reading his diary, but now I needed to know what was going on in his head. In the past I’d allayed any guilt I had about snooping by rationalizing that since my husband was often too busy, or too tired to sit down and spend intimate quality time with me I was entitled to read his journal. I wanted answers to questions I couldn’t ask anymore. I wanted to know if he still loved me, and what his plans were for us, but instead the entries were usually about sales strategies, and perhaps a joke that his boss had told him. So why were my hands shaking now?
“I have never been happier or more alive in all my life. My old life is dead. I feel I have finally found the place I am supposed to be.”
I read the last line over and over again. I saw how the ink bled into the paper, how definite the words were, how they could mean nothing but what they signified. How could the place he was supposed to be not be the place I wanted to be?
After that night I stopped reading his diary.
After that night it just seemed to happen naturally that when we fell asleep we ended up sleeping under separate covers, one of us wrapped in the blanket the other in the bed spread, our skin never touching. In the dark when he pulled me towards him I ground my teeth together so I wouldn’t cry out, “Don’t.”
I wanted to be out of bed when Peter came home from his dumpster diving so he wouldn’t think I was wasting away my day. He had been at me for pleading sick so I wouldn’t have to attend his company picnic, and he was annoyed that after more than a year I still couldn’t speak the language. This was my excuse for not making friends. I knew I was an embarrassment to him, and it shamed me. I knew his co-workers wondered what was wrong with his wife. He had told someone on the phone last week that, “My wife is very delicate.” This was code for crazy.
I had my German primer in my lap. I was ready to say I’d been up for hours practicing my conversation skills, How are you? What a quality bratwurst! Do you like cats? but I was thinking about climbing back into the safety of my bed until I heard his key in the lock. I was surprised to see he had an object wrapped in brown butcher paper in his hands.
Suddenly, I felt nostalgic.
“Honey, what is it? What did you find?”
“Guess who?” he smiled at the package and gave it a little shake.
My pulse quickened at his invitation to play our old game.
“Who? Who is it?”
“Come on now, guess!”
“Heidi?” I said imagining a tea cup, that would mean he still loved me.
“No, think harder.”
“Oh, it’s Helga … ” I started to say.
“What? Oh, please,” he said. “It’s Rolf!”
Rolf was one of the few I didn’t mind sharing my home with. He wore turtlenecks with ravelled necks and was missing a tooth. He didn’t care that he was missing the tooth. He had, himself, tattooed the first initial of a woman he loved on his chest. Peter had once hoped that Rolf’s genius would rub off on him, and I had wished it too. Now, I just wished for a return of my husband’s kindness, and love for me.
“What do you think?” he asked placing in my hands a crudely carved dark-wood desk lamp, with a waxy shade dotted with a few dark brown spots, faded pony skin. Running my fingers over it, I could feel the faintest bit of hair. I didn’t think it was Rolf’s. I thought such a thing would make him gag. It belonged to someone whose life I didn’t want to imagine. I wished I’d never touched it.
“Isn’t she marvelous,” he said.
He got down on all fours and plugged the balding brown cord into the wall. The light glowed milky yellow, making the polka dots on the lamp shade look like melanomas. He beamed and straightened the shade with his index finger.
“She’s going on my desk,” he said, unplugging it gently. His desk, Rolf’s desk, the desk that will never move. We will be here for the rest of our lives, I thought, stunned into silence. One year will turn into 60 years.
“Or, maybe this baby should go in our bedroom,” Peter said.
I went into our room, and searched my closet for the blue dress, Greta’s dark blue dress I can find by touch alone, the dress that smells of a woman’s breath sweet with sherry.
“You didn’t forget that we’re going to my boss’s for dinner tonight did you?” Peter called out. His tone was one he had been using with me a lot lately, it said that along with my mind he believed I was also losing my memory.
“Have you been practicing your German? I’m going to tell them not to speak English with you. You will never learn if you don’t practice,” he says.
“I’ve been practicing,” I say back. “I can say, I am sorry I don’t speak German well. Please don’t be mad,” I said this even though I knew it would make him mad.
“There is no reason to try and make them think you are uncomfortable,” he said as he entered the room, and frowned at the dress.
I knew that after a few beers my German would improve, but a couple more and my paranoia would set in, and their eyes would feel like the pin-point flashlights doctors shine in your eyes to check for glaucoma. I didn’t tell Peter I was working on Don’t hate me.
“You are not wearing that are you?” he said waving his hand disdainfully at Greta’s dress. “Why don’t you wear the burgundy skirt and lace-up top I got for you for Valentine’s Day. Remember? The one you have never worn … ”
I knew it. I told him when he took the Wunderleather job that I really didn’t like leather. I didn’t like being able to smell my clothing. To placate Peter I wore the sample belts he brought home for me, and I carried a two-tone cowhide wallet I tried to pretend was plastic. The dress wasn’t me, and it wasn’t him either. It was too tight and the lace up front was borderline slutty. I suspected one of his co-workers, one of the women he worked with, suggested it would make a nice present for his wife.
“You know, if you didn’t like it why didn’t you just tell me so I could exchange it?” he said, sounding hurt and running his fingers gently around the rim of the lamp shade as though it could feel his touch.
“I’m sorry. It’s just the opportunity hasn’t come up where I could wear such a fancy thing,” I offered, knowing he knew it was a lie.
“Please, for me,” he said. “It’s a matter of respect you know. My boss will love the fact you’re wearing the product. Please.”
I knew there was no getting around it, either way I’d end up wearing it, but I shut the bathroom door and locked it, so he couldn’t watch me put it on. I could hear him in the living room singing some frothy pop song in German. It sounded like he was dancing.
The burgundy top slid over my head with difficulty, sticking to my skin and binding my arms, the pungent scent of tanned cow skin souring my stomach. It was too tight and cut too low in the back so you couldn’t wear a bra. The lace-up front painfully mashed my breasts flat against my ribs, and the skirt fit snugly around my waist, flaring out slightly below the thigh. The panels of the skirt were sewed together with surgical thread, the sutures minute.
Tugging on the bottom I tried to readjust it. I could feel a small band of skin protruding between the, waistband of the skirt and where the shirt began. Standing there in bare feet I looked like a reluctant and amateurish prostitute.
“You look nice,” he said when he heard me come out of the bathroom. He wasn’t looking at me, so he missed the look of horror that washed across my face as I saw him holding the lamp in his arms like a woman. It seemed more terrible to me than the fact that he was wearing a dark brown leather suit.
“Wow,” he said, finally focusing on me. He rested the lamp on Rolf’s desk.
“That looks as though it were made for you. My boss will be pleased to see how well it fits.”
“You could have me all to yourself … ” I said, staring at the stitching on Peter’s suit, it reminded me of the cow diagrams in butcher-shops that show where each cut of meat comes from.
“We could have a romantic dinner,” I said.
He considered this for a moment, after all it had been months since we last made love, but he shook his head.
“You haven’t said one word about my suit. Do you like it? It’s the finest quality,” he said and turned in a slow circle, opening up the jacket to show me the pale silk lining. “Nice huh? It’s a gift from my boss,” he said. I felt perspiration dripping down my back.
“I’ll go get the car,” he said.
He shut the door. I waited, half-expecting the sound to start up, the mumbling, and grumbling of furniture, the swan settee craning its necks from under the blanket, Helga’s table tut-tut-ing, What a bad wife you are. But I heard nothing. I unlaced the top and pulled it over my head, then quickly unzipped the skirt and pushed it past my knees. I stood naked in the apartment for a moment, the night air cool and delicious on my skin. I leaned out the window. The light from inside spilled down into the dark street and pooled beneath our window. I picked up the skirt and top and dropped them down into the darkness. They landed on the cobblestoned sidewalk with a gentle thwap. I stepped into Greta’s dress, zipping her skin over mine, and crawled on to the fire escape and out into the night.
For a moment I imagined a young couple finding my clothes. What would they think of our lives as they traced the rivulets of sweat inside the lace-up top, then tested the skirt’s zipper? Would they wonder about our history? Would they look up at our windows and wonder what kind of a woman could do such a thing? What had happened to the woman who had thrown out such a precious thing and simply walked away?
Elissa Schappell’s fiction has appeared in BOMB, Witness, Interview, Ark/Angel Review, and Fat. She is the book columnist for Vanity Fair and a contributing editor at The Paris Review. She lives in New York City.
As an art student, I learned very quickly that one person’s neutral vessel is another person’s politically freighted, irreducibly marked load.