I know that I’m depressed, sensitive, and selfish. I’m just determined to do this thing, which is paint in solitude, and I will burn bridges to do it, including relationships.
Anne called before Independence Day with an invitation to stay for the week.
It wasn’t odd, just unexpected.
The heat was too familiar and bullying. Hanna fanned herself limply and looked at her watch. David would not be back from his sociology conference for another two hours. As it was, they hardly spent any time together, between his expanded teaching engagements, and his wife and two children in Connecticut; they had four weekday nights from 6:00 to 6:00: dinner, sex, then bed. Fridays were always rushed. Breakfast, a shared subway ride to Penn, and then the mildly anticlimactic goodbye, watching the back of his head as it slowly descended down the escalator to the commuter train idling underground. Hanna promised herself that it was just for the summer. She would live rent free at David’s city apartment, quit her copywriting job, and spend the weekends alone, fully focused on her thesis.
David would know what to do. He had been delighted by her peccadilloes. On their few first dates Hanna remembered the way his eyes would perk up at the mention of other men. He would put his fork down or at least stop chewing and gaze intently at her. It seemed the more debased the better. She had enjoyed it as well, learning to elaborate on her past experiences, dressing up each moment in lurid detail. Somehow, held up to the gaze of David’s eyes, each experience gained weight, added importance. It seemed she was reaffirming something very dear to him, that beautiful women were whores, that they should be whores. He spoke with great pride of his wife, whom he rescued from a life on the streets. And look at her now, the lady of the house in a Connecticut suburb. There was one story about her brother-in-law, Gerald, which David particularly liked and somehow got in the habit of making her repeat before sex. Featuring a drunken Hanna in the summer before college, on the kitchen counter with Gerald as Anne slept soundly upstairs. All of which would have been fine, if it weren’t true.
The surprising thing about Gerald was his pliability. Without clothes, his hips took on a womanly shape, his pelvis seeming gentle and shy. When Hanna first touched him he shuddered, almost letting out a whimper. Anne was already away at the office. Gerald was in the kitchen with Johnny, making bunny-shaped pancakes and chocolate milk. Gerald never finished law school. His father died before he could take the bar and, with his mother crippled with arthritis, he took over the entire operation, running a small chain of tanning salons throughout Long Island until the market dried up, forcing him to close most of the stores except the flagship store. When Anne’s business finally started to take off and their adoption of Johnny came through, he sold the family business and took on the mantle of stay-at-home dad.
It was at breakfast that Hanna noticed Gerald watching her closely. She was midbite, happily decapitating a rabbit with syrup running down her chin, Johnny in his seat, sticking out his tongue with half-chewed food still stuck to it, when Gerald ran his index finger from the bottom of her chin to her mouth and licked the syrup off it. The move struck Hanna as stupid, an act insulting in its banality. When Johnny was not looking, she quietly told Gerald to fuck off. Hanna decided to ignore Gerald for the rest of the day, but after nap time, the house suddenly quiet and, feeling alone, she went looking for him. He was sitting in the den in the dark, watching the cooking channel. A smiling fat lady was ladling a shocking heap of butter into a cast iron skillet, her southern twang jangling metallically in the air. The afternoon sun was coming in at an odd slant, cutting him in two, leaving his head in shadow and his bottom half glaringly illuminated. He was wearing ridiculous salmon-colored shorts with little embroidered lobsters all over them, some sort of nod to the country-club set, undoubtedly one of Anne’s contributions which he so gamely paraded. He must have known he looked ridiculous, and it filled Hanna with a tenderness that almost made her want to laugh as she silently straddled Gerald’s lower half, lifting up the hem of her sundress in a gentle whoosh. The cleaning lady had come and gone an hour ago. They were safe. Gerald’s shadow half-let out a sigh in agreement.
Hanna busied herself with dinner preparations: a Spanish egg bake, with red peppers, onions, chorizo, and a generous heaping of manchego. A plume of nausea unfurled itself in her stomach, causing her hands to shake. She told herself to concentrate on the task. Cut the peppers and onion in uniform slices. Chop the chorizo into bite-size pieces and cook everything over medium heat. Grate the manchego and set aside. Crack six eggs and combine all. Hanna did not notice the compromised membrane as she went to crack the fifth egg, and the shell softened by rot crumpled all over the counter, its ruined yolk spreading amoeba-like in every direction, releasing a sick stench all over the house. Hanna opened the front and back windows of the railroad apartment and shoved the entire bake into the garbage disposal. She poured bleach over every contaminated surface and rubbed grimly, her yellow rubber gloves squeaking against the granite countertop. The crosscurrent was sluggish but did the job, leaving only a slight trace at her fingertips. She rubbed her hands vigorously against the sterling-silver sink walls.
Anne had sounded so earnest, almost desperate, a trembling baseline of emotion slipping out in the “please.”
“Please come. Come see Johnny and the new house.”
When David finally came home, they ordered pizza and talked it over in bed.
“Go. Don’t be maudlin.” Maudlin was the insult du jour.
“What if he tries something?”
“Well then, just tell him you’ll chop it off. Or better yet, do it. And then, tell me all about it.”
He flipped her onto her face and entered her rear.
But it wasn’t as clear cut as that. Hanna didn’t tell David that she had fantasized about it all summer long.
The only other person who knew was her mother, Grace. She was still at the Ardsley Rehab facility at the time and was recovering from setting herself on fire in bed. Grace was in her default mood, morbidly game, swinging her bandaged arm about the hospital room in dramatic swoops. She was rehearsing for the community production of The African Queen.
“To keep my hand in, so to speak.” She flashed her perfect white teeth. “You know, the one before Katherine Hepburn gets all bobble-heady.”
Mr. Jankowski from two doors down would be playing Bogart. He was seated by the bed, holding the water glass as Grace drank from a pink glitter straw. He had a grateful smile plastered to his face.
“Hello, my favorite daughter. Come to visit your ailing mother?”
Grace waved her hands like some giant crustacean as she shooed Mr. Jankowski out of the room. He left with a diminutive bow, surprisingly nimble in his orthopedics. She folded the wrinkles of her black kimono about her sides, preparing herself for conversation.
“Greetings, Mater.” Hanna tucked an errant hair back into Grace’s bouffant. Her hair was fully gray now, shocking and a little intimidating in its abundance. The strand refused to be tamed and sprung back into its upright position. Hanna moved to put it back in place. “You know better than to smoke in bed.” Grace swatted her hand away.
“Don’t baby me.”
Her gray eyes sparked with prickly spots of intelligence, the skin around them tightening like a sphincter. There was a moment of silence when both women regarded the other; their physical similarities exaggerated by their proximity, each a mirror of their former and future selves. Grace clucked, suddenly impatient.
“Want to see my war wounds?”
“No, not really.”
Grace grinned and pulled back the bandages, revealing a swatch of wet pink flesh, like the insides of mouths, but dotted with raw, uneven sore-like blotches.
“They need to wrap the fingers separately so that they won’t fuse together.” She continued with a certain amount of relish. “Third-degree burns.”
She flexed her hand. The red blotches flexed and retracted with terrifying indifference. The strands of gristle keeping her hand together wriggled underneath the ruined skin like botfly larvae. Grace pulled the bandages back on with a satisfied look.
“So, what’s the news? You only come to visit when you have some news.”
Hanna began to cry.
“Aren’t you going to tell me that I’m a horrible shit.”
“You are a horrible shit.”
Hanna searched her mother’s face for a discernable emotion.
“But that’s what makes you interesting.”
When Anne finally pulled up to the Tarrytown train station she was dragging a small child with what looked like shit smeared all over his face. Hanna took this to be Johnny, Anne’s newly adopted son. He was smaller than she had imagined for a six year old. He had that wheedling sort of look of a beaten puppy.
Anne panted like a fat woman.
“Chocolate,” Johnny screamed, suddenly animated.
“A mistake,” Anne said.
A strange adrenal scent pushed its way out of the pores of her skin. She looked older than Hanna remembered, hacked down. Bones jutted out of her usually homely face. Her smile was a toothy grimace, but Hanna could feel genuine warmth radiating from it. Hanna went in for a hug and was surprised by the careful way that Anne allowed herself to be held. She turned her head away, reflexively, her neck muscles twitching in ropey strands. She pulled back, seeming to rotate by pulley. Dark pockets underneath the shining black points of her eyes gave her a feral look.
“Back at the house, ready to give you the grand tour, I’m sure,” Anne said as she hefted a bag of books into the trunk.
Older by five years, Anne was infinitely more defined as an adult: wife, mother, homeowner, successful business owner. She made household goods, closet organizers, space savers, useful gadgets that she sold in the millions on home-shopping channels. Her most successful venture so far was a metal hanger covered in velvet that took up a third less space than a traditional hanger. Hanna had received a set of a hundred: black velvet with gold-enameled hooks. When she replaced the jumble of mismatched hangers—leftovers from old boyfriends, rusting wire hangers, crumbling plastic ones from department stores—with the ones Anne had given her, the uniformity was striking, if not beautiful. The gold hooks gleamed with inner competence. Hanna would never pay money for such ephemera, found the idea bourgeois, but every morning as she decided what to wear, she was greeted with the surprise of order and extra closet space.
The house was a large mock-Tudor monstrosity that rambled over its five-acre plot, ranch-style. The resulting mass formed a sort of semicircle around a circular drive with a central fountain that spewed water in anemic bursts. Everything gleamed with self-satisfied newness. At night, the fountain lit up in a minilight show that Anne had specially designed herself with rainbow LEDs installed underwater, which could tell its own color story. Currently it played red, white, and blue, in anticipation for the fourth of July. Anne explained that she had planned the single-story layout with their mother in mind, with the hopes that she would come live with them at some point, but she had refused, claiming to be very happy living in the retirement community in Miami with Mr. Jankowski.
Gerald was standing in the front door. He looked as he always looked, a man used to the good life, self-assured and confident in his manliness. Hanna would have found all this galling, if not for the furtive, blunted look to his features. At odd moments, he gave off a tremulous air of uncertainty, like a boy who had misplaced something very important and was convinced that if he concentrated hard enough, he could find it. He was wearing a pink button-down with light blue and white stripes on the collar and cuffs—the effect was almost demure.
They approached each other with the invisible bubble of decorum which they awkwardly maneuvered around. His expression showed affection but his embrace was hesitant, as though his body was not sure of what to do. And though she had seen Gerald on the odd occasion when he came into the city with Anne to watch a taping, their meetings were brief and comfortingly contained by the desire to leave before rush-hour traffic, the lunch lasting just a little over an hour. They regarded each other apprehensively in the moment after the embrace, until Johnny barged in, his need brawny and magnificent. He tugged at his father’s leg with his entire body.
“Swim time. Swim time,” he squealed, pulling at leg hair. Gerald winced in amused pain.
“Guess I’m going swimming.” He pulled Johnny in front of him and looked at Hanna with something like relief, his hand palming Johnny’s head. It seemed they had come to an understanding. Hanna relaxed.
Unlike the exterior, which suggested the same mass-produced smugness of new construction, the single-story layout allowed for unexpected spaces of intimacy, odd cages of light. The central hub of the house circulated out from the kitchen, which featured a domed roof with a ring of windows. The sun passed through and bounced off the earthy Mexican tiles, creating a sundial of light. Anne passed back and forth through the circle as she prepared coffee, her movements performed with the calm confidence of knowing exactly where everything was, every inch considered, every thing in its place. Even the mincing delicacy of her gait had a sense of deliberation, as though the entire length of her foot was in full contact with the ground at all times.
Hanna used to think this confidence self-righteous, a display of utilitarianism that Anne performed for her benefit. She thought of the mess of cabinets at David’s apartment, the kitchen drawer bursting with plastic bags, manuals for appliances no longer extant, rogue earrings once part of a pair—the endless casualties of everyday life. Hanna thought about what Freud’s daughter had said about daily living activities. They were the real meat of life.
“You’ve ordered the universe,” said Hanna. Anne smiled, stirring her coffee. There was a small pause as she sipped, her expression sussing out whether it was meant as an insult or a compliment. Anne settled on the latter.
“No, just named a couple of galaxies.”
They looked outside the kitchen window. Gerald was doing a somersault off the elevated trampoline into the swimming pool. Johnny watched from the shallow end haplessly flapping his arms in inflatable arm bands like a beleaguered duck. Gerald emerged from the water whooping loudly, throwing Johnny into the air.
Hanna watched as Johnny’s expression changed midflight into terror, his features coalescing into a good cry. He was really crying now, the sobs coming out in ragged jags, his entire body occupied with the effort. Hanna feared he might break.
“Aren’t you going to go help?”
“No, no. Gerald’s got it. He makes a wonderful mother,” Anne said, a finger of contempt tracing the side of her mouth. Both sisters watched as Gerald scooped the child up, gently rocking Johnny back and forth, his face a mask of Madonna-like Pietàs.
“You know what I call him at work?” Anne’s voice was a hard, shimmering object. “My castrato.”
There was nothing to say, so Hanna said nothing. Confused by the sudden vehemence, she continued to look out at father and son, little waves still breaking to pieces all around them. They watched as Gerald left the pool and entered the side entrance to the house, his footsteps smacked wetly across the floor toward Johnny’s room. Anne smiled a smile of tenderness and cruelty bound so tightly it formed a perfect sphere.
“Miguel called.” There was a reflexive tensing of Anne’s shoulder muscles.
“Ah, how is the old repatriate?”
“Same old, same old, accusing you of pandering to the cult of domesticity.” Hanna sucked on a sugar cube, measuring Anne’s expression. “Or, as he put it, ‘She still shilling that stuff on TV?’”
Anne rolled her eyes. “You should have asked him if he’s still putting white features on rich Mexican ladies.”
The sisters laughed, recognizing their familiar game. Hanna, the blithe intercessory between father and elder daughter; the main point of contention was his belief in vanity and Anne’s lack of it. Their father, whose wide, graceless hands, useless with other tasks, were remarkably adept at wielding a scalpel, and after the divorce he traveled extensively throughout South America, setting up charitable organizations in Peru and Patagonia, eventually settling in Mexico City, where he established a flourishing practice as a plastic surgeon for the Mexican elite. And though Miguel openly preferred the easy charm and beauty of Hanna, he and Anne shared a deeper connection. Their bickering was underlined by a prickly mutual respect. It was easy for them to be petty about aesthetics, for they shared the hard, inscrutable bond of money, the making of it and the keeping of it. The tension devolved and spread out into space.
The week passed. Anne spent most of her time at the office, overseeing the production of a new line of storage containers with antimicrobial lids. Hanna and Gerald fell into a routine of genial avoidance, aided by the rambling layout of the house. They could spend almost an entire day not seeing each other without even trying.
Hanna was sprawled out on the floor, books piled up around her in little ruins.
“What you doing?” Johnny asked, making a throne for himself on a pile of Mesoamerican history books. He sucked at a fudgesicle with a sensual relish far beyond his years and regarded her with the detached interest of a bored connoisseur.
“Compiling lists of the word whore?”
Johnny nodded with grave understanding. He seemed to enjoy the sucking sound he made and pulled the fudgesicle out with a satisfying wet pop.
“What’s a whore?”
“A woman.” Hanna grabbed one of the books he was sitting on. He made a cute little umphwhen he fell to the floor.
“See? That’s a whore.”
She presented him with a black-and-white illustration of a woman naked from the waist up, her exposed breasts pendulous and defiant. She was posed at the water’s edge, her reflection stretched out in front. A primitive port spread out behind her in the distance. Johnny stared intently, spilling little drops of fudge along the way. There was something proud in her carriage. Her hair was styled in a distinctive half ponytail. A crimson line, made with the crushed shells of cochineal snails, bisected her lip. The caption underneath read: “Women on the Water.” He stuck a finger in one of the fudge drops and began to finger-paint all over the page. Hanna snapped the book shut.
“You are a very naughty boy.” He nodded with agreement. “This book cost $100.” A momentary quiver of concern seized his face.
“But now it tastes good.” He peered at her, his eyes spread wide and intent on confirmation.
“Yes, I suppose you are right.” He smiled, infinitely pleased with himself.
The preparations for Independence Day were neverending. Anne compiled a list ten pages long, scrawled out in her impossible hand. Five pounds of Maine lobster were flown in the day before and the critters were stirring in their ice chests. Anne had chartered a boat from one of her distributors at a reduced rate, and the plan was to take it all the way down to the East River Basin and watch the Macy’s fireworks from the water. Gerald’s sister, her husband, and their three girls joined the ranks. Everyone was in a festive mood despite the humidity, which had set its stubborn haunches up to the sky. But after a preliminary trickle of rain the humidity lifted, letting the sun peak out from under its skirts. The boat was loaded and pushed off from the Tarrytown Marina. The huge mass of the Tappan Zee loomed ahead of them, straddling the Hudson with the indifference of large objects.
Johnny immediately encrusted himself to the fore of the boat, his tiny legs wrapped about the front railing. Anne tried to disengage him, but the threat of another cry kept her at bay. Hanna mediated, consenting to sit with Johnny at the prow, her own thighs wound about his smaller ones, a double set of legs dangling over the water. She buried her face into the top of his sun-warmed hair smelling of baby sweat and salt, a bass-note of boat diesel a level deeper underneath. The other children could be heard clambering about, their high, thin voices floating above the grind of the engine. The brusque tones of men accompanied the sound of beers being opened and glasses being clanked; the women murmured in a register somewhere between the two. The solitary captain on the top deck remained silent. Hanna and Johnny watched as a commuter train rattled in the opposite direction, toward Croton, the faces in the windows a pale blur. The Palisades, on the other side of the Hudson, rose tall and impassive, its rocky facade covered with a dense beard of vegetation. Hanna remembered her grandmother’s story about running across the frozen river toward the children on the other side and greeting the little strangers with the warmth of long-lost relatives, the ordeal of running proving enough to bond them. Floating at the point where they might have met, Hanna and Johnny watched the sun turn orange.
The lobster was ready an hour and a half later, as they turned onto the Harlem River. The water was brown and opaque with swirling little islands of debris. A pair of children’s sneakers hung, desultory, on a sagging electrical line. A young man in a basketball jersey, perched on top of a rotting pier post, tugged gamely on a wooden fishing pole.
Anne sat earnestly, sucking out the brain of her lobster. Its little red head with its shiny black eyes and trailing whiskers of antennae, mounted to the front of Anne’s face, was both charming and obscene. The sisters reclined against the front window of the boat. The empty carcasses of lobsters lay strewn about them in bright jumbles. They had spread a thick picnic blanket over the prow and the children were half-asleep, the three girls were knotted up in an animal heap; their brown legs splayed this way and that. One was drooling with luxurious abandon. Another contemplatively picked her nose. Their mother was protectively curled about them on her side, looking out into the water. The sun was almost entirely set now, its residual light just a blush of pink on a darkening layer cake of sky.
Johnny was lying listlessly at their feet, scratching his stomach in lazy little circles. The men were up top with the captain, their voices floating down in soothing drips and drabs. Hanna studied Anne’s profile in the dark. Attenuated and quivering on the brink of fleshlessness, Hanna was surprised to see a strange likeness to herself. A wry half smile was embedded on Anne’s face. She was beautiful, but darker somehow, more condensed. It was as if Hanna’s ethereality had been brought down to earth with a hard smack. The effect was extreme.
“Do you remember when Mom and Dad got into that huge fight on the ride down?”
Anne nodded. “The one where Grace called Miguel a dirty Mexican?”
“Yeah, and he called her an imperialist slut?”
“Funny, I was just thinking about that. It was the last time we all, I mean Mom, Dad, you, and I, did something like this.” Anne waved to the boat, the portable family unit, and its moveable feast. Hanna smiled at the shared knowledge of the shared event, feeling reassured and full.
The captain dropped anchor around 42nd Street. There was a large area cordoned off by patrolling police boats. The leisure crafts bustled and jockeyed for prime position. Hanna could see people lined up all along the tip of Roosevelt Island. Music from portable stereos carried in the heavy air, their disparate tones jostling and mingling in odd couplings midflight. The unpretentious smells of fried chicken, hot dogs, and hamburger grease wafted by in bullish waves. There would be another hour before the display. They sweated with impatience.
Anne announced she wasn’t feeling well and went into the back cabin to lie down. The boat rocked gently with stultifying effect. Hanna was on the verge of sleep when she became aware of something breathing nearby her. She could feel the moist impressions of hot breath meeting skin. For a fleeting moment she thought it might be Gerald. But her eyes opened up to the dark face of the female grotesque. Hanna let out a strangled gasp.
There was a delighted shriek and the little imp, an uncanny mix of straggling hair, black-smudged face, and tiny stomping feet, was gone before she could even get up. The trailing cry of a child screaming, “Whore, whore,” rang in the air.
She caught up to him in the outer cabin. Hanna could see him better in the light. The black wig on his head was askew. Thick clumps of it clung to his face where chocolate had been smeared with a sloppy, liberal hand. Or lots of tiny hands. He did a Native American dance, twirling around in a tight circle. The three girls trailed around him, their white sundresses smeared with chocolate, all screaming, “Whore, whore, ai, ai, ai, ai!” A smudge of stolen red lipstick ran down the middle of their lips, some even caked onto their teeth.
“Did you know that humans are the only animals that bare their teeth in greeting,” she said, hands on hips. The miniature savages bared theirs. “You monsters.”
Hanna scooped them all up in a writhing mass and gave them a violent squeeze. The girls got free and one by one ran giggling, back to their mother. Johnny remained, crushed to her chest.
“Where did you get this?” He looked up. Hanna pointed to the wig.
“Momma. She takes it off when she’s sleeping.” He removed the wig and brandished it in her face.
“It smells funny.”
The back cabin was dark, but Hanna could see Anne lying crumpled on her side. Her face in repose took on a waxen smoothness undetectable when awake. Her mouth hung slightly ajar. The top of her bald head was a misshapen luminous orb. Starved little patches of hair sprouted rebelliously up. From a distance it looked like a map of the world or the pocked face of the moon. Hanna sat down on the bed a little too hard, her legs suddenly lacking efficacy. The wig hung in her hands like an emptied animal skin. She stared hard at Anne, suddenly unfamiliar with the species. Hanna placed a hand on Anne’s withered neck. She could feel the muscular engine of Anne’s heart in hot, live pulses. Her hand came away with a thin layer of sick sweat.
Anne opened her eyes. Hanna watched as surprise, anger, and resignation flashed across her face, but her body remained still. Anne smiled, her teeth shining too brightly in her head.
“Is that my wig?” She sat up and placed it on her head, automatically adjusting it into its correct alignment. “Thank you.” Gobs of chocolate clung to the strands. Anne ran her fingers through it and sniffed the tips.
“Is that chocolate? That little bastard.” Anne laughed, her body loose and free, completely relaxed.
“What the fuck, Anne. This isn’t funny.”
“Oh, come on Hanna, there’s nothing more funny than cancer.” A look of pity and exasperated love came over her face as she rose from the bed.
“Listen, we’ll talk about this later. The fireworks are going to start.”
Hanna stared in disbelief but allowed herself be pulled up.
They were going to be delayed another 30 minutes. Hanna and Anne reclaimed their spot on the blanket; the children and the men stood by the front railings. The kids were wearing life vests and they looked radioactive in the dark. The heat had lifted a little and the people along the shore were moving around, pushing, bumping, and colliding with atomic logic. A wisp of pot coiled its way across the water. All the stereos had been turned off and the only sound was the gentle slap and suck of the water against the hull. The air throbbed in anticipation.
Hanna felt a thin filament of anger flare up.
“Who else knew? Mom? Dad?”
Anne turned to face Hanna, her expression asking, “Really?” She sighed.
“You know perfectly well that Mom’s useless in a crisis. And Dad, well, he recommended a couple of old colleagues at the hospital. But really, there is no need to get mad.” Her voice was a cool, clean line.
“You should have fucking told me.” Bile was starting to root about Hanna’s intestines, assembling into an animate shape.
“God, can’t we do this later?”
“Jesus, you push too much.” Anne snorted in disbelief. “Listen. We caught it early and I went into chemo right away. As far as cancers go, Hodgkin’s is the easiest to treat. I’ve finished my first round of chemo and the results were great.”
Anne’s face was an empty glass, her tone was condescension.
“Anyways, what would you have done?” The question was a cool, clean line with barbs running along it.
“Honestly, Hanna, what would you have done?” Cold barbs ripped in and out. They tangled nastily with whatever was growing in Hanna’s stomach.
Anne sighed, taking Hanna’s silence as assent.
“I fucked Gerald.”
The moment came and went. Anne’s expression did not change.
Hanna started to shake.
“Gerald told me a couple weeks later.”
Anne paused and placed an arm around Hanna’s shoulders. “He’s done it before and he’ll probably do it again. But he’s a good man and a good father.”
Hanna could feel the bones jutting out of Anne’s side, but the warmth of her body was reassuring. Anne breathed out.
“Some people just don’t know how to control themselves.”
She wanted to shake Anne.
“Why aren’t you mad at me?” Her words came out in garbled, abortive shapes. She looked at Anne through a scrim of tears. Her expression seemed remote and far away. She didn’t look mad, but tired.
“Why aren’t you trying to kill me?”
The question flopped around like a torso without limbs.
“Hanna, stop being ridiculous. That’s just who you are.” She spoke with the slow deliberation one reserves for a child. “I’ve chosen to forgive you.” Her tone was calm and unwavering. “Now stop.”
The children sent up a delighted scream. The fireworks were starting. Gerald called for them to come join the group, but Anne told him they were fine where they were. Hanna could hear their shallow shrieks as they tore their way through the night sky. They exploded, creating their own thunderous applause.
“Look up, Hanna, it’s beautiful.”
Hanna looked at Anne’s upturned face. She watched the tiny rainbow-colored bursts reflected in her eyes. The blasts came in time with the music of Dave Matthew’s “Satellite.” Anne’s face showed alternately red, white, and blue. Hanna gazed across the water as the music soared and flipped. The fireworks broke, shivered, and merged in the dark water.
Anne had seen her, a vain little monster.
Hanna thought about jumping off the boat and swimming to shore. She thought of pulling herself out of the water and running across the FDR, her wet footprints leaving a glistening trail that would reflect the eruptions in the sky. She would run into David’s apartment in Stuy Town and imagine him with his wife and children looking up at a different section of the same exploding sky. She would cover her ears against all that loud, clamoring noise and lie very still. The stillness would infect and inform her.
She would be cleansed of all noise.
And become a cool, clean line.
Anne’s arm was still around her, the heat from it drawing out sweat in pore-sized balls. They quivered, live little beads, before being absorbed into the fabric of her shirt. The wind picked up, dispersing them into the cool night air. They spread out over all those upturned rainbow-splattered faces.
Humans are the only animals that bare their teeth in greeting.
Everything would be quiet despite the noise. Hanna chose the uninteresting thing to do and looked up.
Victoria Moon received her MFA from the New School. She lives in New York City.
I know that I’m depressed, sensitive, and selfish. I’m just determined to do this thing, which is paint in solitude, and I will burn bridges to do it, including relationships.