Thursday, May 10, 2007

Published

I got published in the undergraduate fiction magazine Short Cuts. Here is the story that got published! (Again, forgive the formating - this is imported from Word.)


We in New York

The D pushes air in front of it as it enters the station blowing strands of Arcadia’s chocolate hair into temporary disarray. Her feet hurt. Discomfort from her pumps and weight from a bag with a dozen roses in it and a briefcase. On the train, she stands perfectly straight holding the pole next to her, watching some teens rounding first and heading to second on the subway seat below.

Above ground, her scarf wrapped tightly, she heads east across Manhattan.

There is a poor man lying there on the street with his cardboard and upturned hat; she walks past like she doesn’t even notice anymore, as if to say, “Such ugliness cannot exist with my order.” She is beautiful, and, abstractly, she knows it. The flowers will wilt if she does not get to water. She quickens her pace.

Her cat, Chaplin, is sleeping on the couch when she arrives. He is twitching, deep in sleep, eyes fluttering under lids in their REM state. She pets him once, stirring him. She long since stopped wondering what he dreams of, having concluded with her ‘unfortunate’ art period – a period of time marked by a small flat shared with her three friends; her devotion to postmodern film; Tantric sex with her boyfriend at the time, and her brightly colored scarves.

Now, she drinks black tea with lemon and eats yogurt for lunch, pretending she likes it. Her flat is perfect and unassuming. It could belong to anyone in New York with its cheaply assumed class. She used to have beanbags. They have been replaced with an Ikea couch, attractive but uncomfortable to sit on. Colors have turned to shades. Like the rest of Manhattan, she is devoted to tones.

The flowers are in a vase, and Arcadia is in the kitchen tracing out triangles of grapefruit with her knife when Tyler walks in. Tyler is pleasant, unsurprising, and unassuming. He could be just anyone with his neutral personality, his new Millennium name. She pretends that she likes the fact that he is so dependable, that he is the sort of person a twenty-seven year old should marry because he would be a good father to her eventual children. He is only remarkable in how well he adores her, which scares and entrances her at the same time. He is, she admits to herself, however rarely, a simple person, so content with life that he does not wonder if there could be more. However, he loves her, and she thinks, at times, she loves him in her own more complex way. At the moment that seems all right.

“Hello, Darling,” Tyler says, entering the kitchen, kissing her, hugging her from behind before she can turn. He smells of cold New York air making her recall that winter is coming. He reminds her of an episode of The Brady Bunch. He is kind and has paternal looks. His sandy brown hair needs to be cut. It graces his eyes. She looks for a minute and thinks that she sees beauty, that the air shimmers, but then she is back in her New York City apartment with a man that she should marry.

“Hello, Honey.”

They call each other stereotypical loving names. They cannot put a finger on names that defines each other, that grasp what they are to one another. It is another of his failings that he is too dull to care and too unimaginative to think life could be better. He is happy in this drab apartment that is defined by a society that says this is what he should want. He is happy with this woman, who he considers extraordinarily beautiful in her tall shoes with her small waste hidden under layers: shirts, skirts and jackets. In his moments of imaginary inspiration he calls her by the names of famous actresses and talks about Broadway shows they should see or museums they should visit. It all amounts to nothing in the end, and she goes to the shows on her own without telling him, lest she hurt his feelings. It seems to her that he wanted a quiet life and somehow ended up in New York, the bustling center of the world, and is trying to cope with regular work hours and a clean apartment with a sweet woman to come home to.

Defying the norm, they go to the Museum of Natural History. The lights are dim, giving an underwater feeling. A giant blue whale hangs overhead. They have passed through the hall of biodiversity and are here, in this underwater land surrounded by antiquated stuffed creatures. A walrus seems to regard her with mirth from beneath his curled mustache. She holds Tyler’s hand without really feeling it. They read the plaques separately. Her attention is elsewhere.

They journey back into biodiversity. Dead sea creatures from pre-history to modern day hang above. The thought of all the surrounding death should induce panic, but everyone is calm. They walk through the tropical jungle, birds calling in MIDI. She wishes Tyler would kiss her. She longs for something romantic and sudden. She wants the spontaneous side of Tyler to show through. She wants things she cannot have.

Biodiversity yields to geo-science, yields to astronomy. The globe of the planetarium is suspended above, silver and glittering. She tries to feel something, a marvel at the endless knowledge of humanity contained, symbolically in the halls of this museum. She tries to think, “This is my life. This is what I want.”

She tries not to break.

Arcadia is curled in a ball on the sofa, shades on shades of grey. Inside her mind races, thinking, “I’m drowning. I’m drowning. I’m drowning in emptiness.” Words are nonsense. “I feel like I am drowning. I feel like I am panicking.” She can’t because it is order that she relies on, if nothing else. In the midst of all this pretended not feeling, some of that numbness has become real. Order has lead to a disregard for all that is meaningful. Coffee doesn’t smell as powerfully as it used to, beauty in unexpected places goes unseen. The world has lost its wonder along the way, and, how, how, how, can it get it back? It is so acute right now, a compounding of moments disregarded. Life cannot go on like this. There is a need for color, for feeling, for intense love that hurts. She must leave.

She flees to the country. She flees to Connecticut. Litchfield, with its large houses and large farms and expanses of land. The houses around the town center are all white. There is order in these estates. These beautiful houses. The order sickens her. She fled to the country, to her sister’s house, in hopes of avoiding such order, and here she is again surrounded by non-color and conformity.

Her sister comforts her, saying all the right things, and suggesting a therapist, although Arcadia is not crazy.

“When were you last happy?” her sister asks. Arcadia thinks of the ‘unfortunate’ art period, the shared apartment, the scarf. She thinks of paint, but says, “I don’t remember.”

Tyler calls, of course he does. He calls and says all the right things as well, which infuriates her.

“When are you coming back? Can I come and see you? I miss you? Are you sure you are all right?” Arcadia’s answers are monosyllabic.

“Do you really love me?” she asks suddenly, and he is stunned. She is acting out of his vision of her character. And wasn’t he just the perfect boyfriend? Always there for her, loving quietly, kind. To Tyler love isn’t about passion and falling into bed at two in the afternoon because you can’t keep your hands off one another. Love isn’t about a wild crazy needy feeling. Love is something quiet. Love is something that you feel and you put away in yourself. It is something that is required for a good life. It is, in its way, a part of the equation. A perfect life: take a good apartment, add some furniture in expensive woods; take a good job, add a promotion; take a girl, add a marriage. It is as simple as that. Arcadia used to find romance in everything. In film and paint and clay. In graffiti on the subway, grass in Central Park, the wrinkles on her lover’s hand. Love is all around. It is mystical and passionate and not quite of this world. Unlike Tyler’s love it is without time and place. It is ubiquitous and wonderful and not quite something that can be explained with words.

“I don’t know if this is going to work,” she says, voice crossing wires, the signal being relayed to New York.

Separated by time and space, Tyler, alone in the apartment, is trying to work things out. He is lost in the midst of her confusion, not knowing why she left.

Last Tuesday he had come home to a half eaten strawberry Yoplait and open draws on the vanity. An empty flat and a note in Arcadia’s handwriting reading simply, “I can’t,” and, out of politeness, a telephone number. He was crushed. Hadn’t they been the best couple? Hadn’t they complimented each other perfectly? He had tried so hard and didn’t understand. Why did she have to leave? They could have at least tried to work it out. He was lost in questions, uncertainty and loneliness. Limitless pain.

In real time, he listens to the dial tone, thinking, “This is what it feels like. This is love dying.” He must not cry.

Tyler comes to Litchfield. He shows up at Arcadia’s sister’s door demanding to see her. It is sort of romantic and out of character, so she acquiesces. They walk towards the open land stretching in back of the house. The previous owner of the house had horses, and the land is level and open. Her sister took down the fence when moving in, owning no horses but having a love for open flat land, following a summer spent in the English country side.

“Marry me,” Tyler says in a sudden rush of air. Arcadia laughs.

“Are you completely serious?” It seems so rash for him, so out of the question, for an instant she might really love him.

“Yes, marry me, come back to New York, home. Come back to your life. I love you. I will take care of you. Please, just please come back to New York.”

It is the word choice, “ ‘Come back to New York,’ ” not “Come back to me,” or “I can’t live without you,” because it is Tyler, and he does not need her love like something vital. It is only a small part of him, not all parts. He wants her to go back to New York, back to her old life when she has nothing figured out.

In the art period, her boyfriend had this terrible fascination with Post-it notes. He stuck them everywhere. There was one on her cup of coffee. “I love you,” it read. When she took up painting, an unfortunate thing, for she was terrible; there was one on her canvas. “Only someone so perfect and so beautiful could create such perfect beauty,” it read, clich├ęd and lovely. The time when she was going on about Christ symbolism in modern film, and there it was a Post-it that he pressed against her mouth. “Shut up and kiss me,” it read. He had kissed her before she had had a chance to read it, making the memory all the more wonderful. Tyler would never press her with Post-its; he would never do anything of the sort.

“I can’t do this Tyler. Go back to New York. Go back to your life.”

She wanted Tyler to say, “No,” to grab her hand, anything other than just turn around and go because then, then just maybe she could go with him.

She resides in Litchfield a while longer, but she knows she cannot stay.

Tyler had sent her belongings to her a week after the disastrous trip, neatly packed without a note. Now, her sister packs them in her Saab.

Arcadia has quit her job, Tyler has sent her folded suits. She wants a new life, one without monochrome couches and grapefruits and briefcases.

“I want to wear jeans from nine to five,” she thinks. “I want to paint badly. I want to wake up next to someone who will kiss me at four am.”

Arcadia goes to New Haven. Here, she works at a fancy club that hosts wedding receptions and baby showers for other people. The secretary there, Cole, is a youngish man with dark, dark hair and blank eyes. He wears a purple sock with a pink sock. His dog, Bengy, sees for him, a dog that carries him over snow drifts in the winter and into traffic year round and who has a tendency to sit sleepily under Cole’s desk.

Cole cannot see her chocolate hair and emerald eyes. Cannot see the designer shirts that she favors from her past life, as she would like to be able to think of it. He has an allure with his innocence. He has never seen anything that could make him cry. He cannot see art. Cannot view the post-modern films she has begun to favor again. He loves to listen to NPR and read. He reads volumes and volumes. Anything he can get his hands on. He traces the brail out with anticipatory fingertips. He has begun to ride the public bus with relative ease. These are victories, as is his apartment on Chapel Street in the nice area near Yale Rep. He passes the theatre some days, when the weather is nice and he decides to walk to work. The doors are the brightest red Yale could find. The signs in front of the building offer plays that the elite will see. The Merry Wives of Windsor is showing and something by Chekhov. He has read Shakespeare and will never, ever, see it performed. Now, at the age of twenty-five, this has ceased to make him sad.

Cole has never met a woman that did not care for him out of some misplaced maternal pity, but Arcadia does, and she asks him to come with her to Willoughby’s for coffee over lunch Monday and then Tuesday and then all the days after that for a month, after which she ventures dinner, to which he comes better dressed than usual managing a jacket, tie, and matching socks (somewhat to her disappointment, she must admit. She had become so fond of his odd color combinations.). So, when they arrive at her apartment after the car ride, the socks are the first thing she removes.

They do it in the car the first time because she has always wanted to. Cole demurs, afraid that people will see them, but she puts a hand lightly over his mouth and says, “Shh,” to stifle his outburst. They are in his back yard, anyway, and the fence is tall. The driveway is long. She feels dangerous. And then she doesn’t think about very much anymore.

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