I promised Larissa I’d look into it. Byron turned out to be an astrophysics major at Johns Hopkins. That meant he was smart enough to know better, but you know those JHU boys. They can find a cat that’s in two places at once but they can’t keep their own shoes tied. He placed a wanted ad for an atomic force microscope on Craigslist and I had my in. I followed up, and Tuesday night we met at a diner on Route 40 outside Baltimore. We said 8:30, but the bus took its sweet time and I scoped the side door of the diner first, so by the time I rolled in it was closer to nine.

Better to keep Byron hungry, I figured. I didn’t react when the hostess asked if I wanted a table for one, just made a beeline for the back. Found him at a two-top reading a book, head shaved and beard waxed. Woof.

I sat down across from him and kept my shades on.

“What’s that you’re reading?” I asked instead of saying hello.

He closed the book, holding his place with one finger, and revealed the cover: A Brief History of Time. His smile was shy.

“Ah. Did you know Stephen Hawking travels with an entourage?” I asked. “His grad students, every nurse on the planet, friends, family, paparazzi, you name it.” Another nervous smile.

“What’s your name anyway?” Like I didn’t already know. “Your ad didn’t say.”

“Byron.” He spoke softly with a British accent. Yorkshire, if my ear didn’t lie. The smile was growing. “Yours?” he asked.

“Sergei.” I couldn’t risk the truth. “So, you’re enjoying your book?”

He glanced at the cover like he’d never seen it before, then nodded. “Do you have it?” he asked, glancing under the table. “I mean, did you bring it?”

“The microscope? Sure, it’s in my trunk.”

Luckily the waitress appeared and took me off the hook.

“What can I get you, gentlemen?” Her pen and pad looked new. I signaled Byron to go first.

“Steak and eggs, please. Steak bloody, eggs scrambled.”

I snorted. “Don’t be a cliché, man.”

He grinned at the waitress. “And a glass of grapefruit juice.”

“And you, sir?”

“Me?” I leaned back in my chair, didn’t bother opening the tome of a menu. “I’ll have one egg, soft-boiled so the guts ooze out, two pieces of toast the color of Beyoncé’s skin, and coffee blacker than a moonless night. You got all that, Sunny?” I read her name off the tag on her left breast.

“Sure,” she said.

“See, it’s all in the delivery,” I told Byron, who was admiring Sunny’s retreat. I leaned across the table and got close enough for a kiss, put one hand on top of his, A Brief History of Time resting comfortably underneath, like we were taking an oath. He had perfect lips. I raised my shades. “Why don’t you read me something from old Hawking here?” He still had one finger on his page.

“What—now?” Byron snatched his hand out from underneath mine and glanced around the place like I’d just asked him to blow me.

“Why not?” The diner was hopping and nobody was paying any attention to us. “Just pick up where you left off.”

He flipped open and started reading. “Quantum mechanics predicts a number of different outcomes—” I had to admit his mangled accent was cute. I wondered if that’s why Larissa let things go so far.

Sunny delivered our food, and my yolk was dry.

“I asked for soft boiled,” I told her.

“Go file a complaint with the cook, sir.” I raised my shades but she’d already moved on to another table.

Byron dog-eared his book and set it aside before he lifted the five-inch serrated knife that accompanied his meal. Perfect. I tore a chunk out of my toast and dipped it in my coffee while he methodically diced his meat into perfect half-inch segments. Larissa mentioned he was anal.

“It’s entanglement I can’t abide,” I said apropos of nothing as he chewed his first bite. He raised his eyebrows. “You’re telling me some Japanese girl takes a shit halfway around the world, and I get a panic attack because of it? No effing way.” I raised my shades again and he laughed with his mouth full.

“That’s not how entanglement works,” he said when he’d swallowed.

“Oh, really?” We ate in silence after that. I ignored the egg. After he finished everything on his plate, he downed his grapefruit juice in one gulp. Time to get the show on the road. “Your ad said 40K,” I reminded him.

“I need to see the equipment first.”

“Like I said, it’s in my trunk. Let’s talk financials. You got the dough?”

“I can have my father do a bank transfer.”

“I take PayPal.” I tossed a couple of twenties on the table to keep Sunny happy. “You want to go see the scope?” Byron didn’t notice me palm the steak knife.

He nodded vigorously and shoved his book under his arm as he stood up. He was over six feet, taller than me.

“Thanks for the meal,” he said.

“Sure thing.” I half smiled.

“Have a nice night, gentlemen,” Sunny called as we pushed in our chairs.

“This way,” I showed Byron to the side exit. “I’m parked around back.”

When I steered Byron into the dark crevasse at the back of the building, he didn’t resist. It was almost like he wanted to. Larissa said he was easy.

“I’ve got the microscope right here,” I said, burying the steak knife in his gut. Teach him to fuck with my sister and break her heart. I left him lying face down, his blood seeping out onto the cement.

While I waited for the bus, I called Larissa and filled her in.

“I told you not to kill him, you psycho,” Larissa screamed. I hung up on her and opened to Byron’s page.


 My submission to the Yeah Write Super Challenge, Round 2. The prompts were “File a complaint” and this photo:









Safe Passage

My entry for the Yeah Write Super Challenge #2. The prompt was envy and a funeral. I made it to Round 2!


The bus shrugs to the curb as Evan dives for an oil-slick rainbow oozing on the asphalt.

“Get up from there.” I tug his wrist and we shuffle up the trio of steps onto the bus. I fuss with the Ventra.

“Can I do it, Mommy?”

I let him. The driver frowns as he lurches back into traffic.

Evan finds a seat behind a girl about his age, her pretty auburn hair done in braids twisted into buns. The man she’s with could be either her father or her grandfather. He’s got silver hair, a crisp white beard, and a black three-piece suit. I sink into the plastic seat behind him.

Evan leans forward between them and cranks right up.

“I’m five,” he tells her. “It’s my birthday.” The girl turns and I see she’s been crying; twin streaks run down her face. Evan doesn’t notice. “We’re going to the aquarium to see the sharks.”

“Happy birthday,” she says.

The gentleman aims his granite glare at Evan.

“I’m going to a funeral.” She’s almost whispering.

The gentleman lays a hand on her shoulder. “Quiet, Sophia.”

I make my voice oil-slick bright. “Evan, sit back please.” He wails when I yank his bony wrist. Then, softer, to the gentleman. “I’m so sorry.”

Our window is splattered with grime.

Across the aisle, a young man shoots daggers at me through his shaggy hair.

Evan fidgets with the broken emergency release lever dangling from our windowsill. The sky is a sack of rocks.

“Sit still.” My fingers leave rosy prints on his arm. I can feel the young man’s hot eyes on my hand.

“Mommy, what’s a funeral?”


I watch the girl, graceful and still as a Degas. Did the gentleman braid her hair? Her part looks cut with a cleaver. I imagine him spiraling her buns, pinning them into place, all the while she’s weeping. Not because it hurts. Evan won’t let me get a comb through his unruly curls.

I wonder who died.

The gentleman reaches over her perfect head and draws the sagging cord to signal a stop, and they rise, his fingers gently intertwined with hers. She looks back longingly at Evan as she trudges to the exit, the hem of a black dress sticking out beneath her pink coat. The gentleman takes the angel’s elbow as they descend the three steps to the street.

The driver lurches into motion and the two of them vanish.

The young man across the aisle pulls my sleeve.

“Ma’am. Your son.” His voice trails off as he leans forward. Evan’s seat is empty. The man holds Evan’s wrist lightly as he helps him off the floor and back to me.

“Evan—” I don’t recognize my voice. “You’ve gotten yourself all dirty.” His knees are filthy and he’s clutching a man’s leather satchel. Black.

“Look what I found.” He hands it to me, the leather creamy soft and worn, much older than it looks. He climbs over me into his seat. “It’s my birthday,” he announces to the young man.

“Happy birthday, then.” The man grins and reaches over to ruffle Evan’s curls.

I turn the gold latch on the bag.

“We’re gonna see the sharks.”

“That sounds great. I wish I could come with you.”

“You can!” Evan nearly leaps over me, but I press him back down with my palm on his chest.

“Stay in your seat.”

The young man shakes his head, more at me than at Evan. “I have to get to work. Have fun, though.” He retreats into his phone.

“Look, Mommy. He has a phone.” Evan kneels on the seat, rocking back and forth.

“You’ll have one too, when you’re an adult.”

“How long will it be til I’m an adult?”

“A long time.”

I lift the flap on the satchel as the driver’s bass travels the cavern of the bus. “Museum campus, next stop.”

Evan is smiling again. “That’s our stop, Mommy.”

“Go ahead and ring the bell.”

Inside the bag, nestled among a ream of files and slips of paper, is a girl’s diary. The sort with a padlock and a bit of poetry on the cover. I tuck it back in and close the satchel. It fits perfectly under my arm.

The bus driver nods at us as Evan drags me by two fingers to the exit.

“We’re gonna see the sharks!” Evan beams up at the driver.

“Have fun now, you hear?” His chocolate brown eyes have an unmistakable glister.

“Thank you, sir.” My smile is sudden and wide. Evan’s wrist bones jut into my fingers as we descend. Outside, the sky has brightened. I give his hand a little squeeze as we wait for the light to change. “Happy birthday, Ev.” The bag under my arm has a comforting weight.




Deal with it

My daughter idolizes you, Donald Trump. You’re the star of her comics, and she does a killer impression of you. You’ve infiltrated her ten-year-old psyche. You’re rich, and she has a thing for money. You’re powerful, and she craves power. Plus, you’re funny, and she has a great sense of humor.

Not to disappoint you, Mr. Trump, but Hillary has my vote. Still, I pay attention to my kids, so my daughter’s infatuation with you has given me pause. I’ll admit it, I’ve given your candidacy some consideration.

Every time my daughter tells her brothers to DEAL with it, I think of you.

You’re scrappy, Mr. Trump. You started out small, with only a $1M investment from your father. Everyone deserves an investment, if not in money then in time and attention. I hope my kids make the most of my investment in them, same as you. You’ve worked your way up, worked tirelessly to put your mark on the world.

My daughter knows exactly where to find your tower on the Chicago skyline.

I hear you’ve got a concealed carry permit, Mr. Trump, and I like knowing that you want to defend yourself. Like I teach my kids, you’ve got all the tools you need within yourself.

Good, honest people should feel safe inside and out.

I like how much you want to protect us Americans, Mr. Trump. When you say you want to build a great wall on the Mexican border, I know how much you want to keep us safe. Trust me, I wish I could put a layer of cement between my kids and the rest of the world. Sometimes I even want to protect them from one another.

But one thing I’ve learned is that once you start putting up walls, parts of you die.

I know you care about the world, Mr. Trump. I’ve been to Vegas, I’ve seen what wonders you’re capable of producing with a bit of money and raw materials. And I know you’ve got to tear down the old before you can build the new. So when you suggest bombing the hell out of ISIS, part of me gets where you’re coming from, Mr. Trump.

Like I tell my kids, when you’re mad it feels really good to punch someone, anyone. But it’s funny, when you hurt someone else, you’re always hurting yourself, too.

When you suggest deporting Muslims from the U.S., Mr. Trump, I think you’re just scared. Everyone has their fears, but be careful, Mr. Trump. Fear can make you reductive, and even worse, reactive. I’m not proud to admit the relief I felt when a bully was removed from my daughter’s class a few years ago, never mind that the bully was just one child in a class of twenty, acting out, making a desperate plea for help. Never mind that all children act out at some time or another.

It’s simpler to shut down in the face of adversity than to face our fears head-on.

I like how you want to invest in mental healthcare for veterans, to treat the invisible wounds of war. It’s introspective of you, Mr. Trump. Everyone has those subconscious wounds, you know. I know I do. I often wonder what scars my kids will bear by the time they escape their childhoods, what damage I’m inflicting on them, or they are, to each other.

Mr. Trump, I see how you want to send all kinds of trouble packing, to lock it up somewhere so we Americans can find the solitude to consider the best course of action to ensure a safe future for ourselves. Trouble is, Mr. Trump, solitude is a luxury that even most Americans can’t afford, and silence is virtually unattainable these days. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about with three kids at home.

If you can manage to calm your thoughts though, you’ll find the quietest place on Earth right inside your own head. It doesn’t matter what’s raging outside.

I believe you really want to be a nice guy, Mr. Trump, and I have an idea for you, a gentle suggestion. Take your own advice: Deal with it. In fact, let’s all try it, regardless of race, orientation, or belief. Deal, as in cope, rather than confront or bargain. Be still. Look inward, be honest. Acknowledge your emotions. It’s difficult to weather the storm, I know.

You’ll probably find that you remember things that you haven’t thought of in years. You’ll recall what your life was like before you became a success. You’ll remember hurts, fears, and doubts that you’ll probably wish had remained buried. But it’s never all bad: You’ll also recall loves, and joys, all the small things that have lit you up inside over the years. And that’s when you’ll know what you’re made of.

It’s hard to admit that we really are all made of the same stuff.

Like I tell my kids, eventually the storm will pass. Your emotions will settle down, and you’ll be able to build something new from all the rubble.

Photo via wsj.com
Photo via wsj.com

It’s not magic

“A lady’s gotta carry a pistol,” my grandmomma used to say. Grandmomma used to say lots of yimmer-yammer ‘fore she passed on, God bless her. After she died, daddy got her all set up real nice over on the hill there up behind the house. I got her a real marble, inlaid headstone so everybody knows it’s her they’re kneeling on, just like grandmomma wanted.

When she was livin’, grandmomma used to share lots of her gems up there in her kitchen. She’d have me sittin at her table, a glass of sweet tea or lemonade on a doily by my wrist faster than I could say gotchya, and she’d be fixin’ a sandwich more like than not. Sandwiches were her specialty.

I always brought grandmomma presents whenever I came up to visit. Nice vase of flowers, lilies like her name. Grandmomma always liked those even when she was livin’. I’d bring her those cookies she liked with the chocolate icing inside, and we’d have a talk. Really, grandmomma would be givin’ me the third degree ‘bout when I was gonna go on and finally get married, but at least her mouth’d be movin’ like it was a real conversation.

Course the first time I brought it by, she noticed my brand-new, cherry red Corvette outside. “Woo-ee! Where you gettin’ the money for that spitfire, girlie?” Grandmomma demanded, juttin’ out one hip under her apron with the little blue hearts, and clampin’ her hand down on it like she was sixteen. “You ain’t got a husband I don’t know about, do ya, darlin’?”

“Nah, Grandmomma,” I told her, gulping down my lemonade so I didn’t have to fill her in on my private business.

“I want an invitation to the weddin’, ya hear,” she laughed, sitting down across from me. “Now ya know I just want ya to be happy, darlin’. Ya know that, right?”

“Of course, Grandmomma.”

“So who’s makin’ the payment on that shiny red apple out there, girlie?”

“Me, Grandmomma.” I didn’t bother telling her I paid cash for the car. “Have some cookies, Grandmomma,” I opened the tin and pushed it over near her. She couldn’t resist.

Nobody wants a crook for a grandbaby, ‘specially if that grandbaby’s a girl. Still, round here, people prefer mayhem to the cold, hard truth. Ain’t no way I was gonna break my dear, sweet grandmomma’s heart with the news that her favorite grandbaby’s grown up and can take care of herself. I made more money in a month than daddy ever saw in one place.

Grandmomma had a lotta gems up there in her attic, but she never knew squat ‘bout makin’ rain, how a lady can make the bigwigs at a conference table blush just by shifting her thighs, how she can make the big shots fill her purse if she plays her cards right. Grandmomma would’ve wrung my neck if I’d opened up, so she died not knowin’. It’s too bad, ‘cause she woulda laughed, too. And she probably woulda liked knowin’ how right she was ‘bout the pistol thing.

Un certain âge

I lowered my sunglasses and double-checked the street outside the bank before going in. “Pas des mechants, mes poulettes,” I whispered to the girls as I held the door open with the heel of my boot, wedged my orange BOB Revolution through the door, and made my way to the teller. She was très jolie, I had to admit, with her long brown hair and perfect lipstick, but I didn’t return her smile.

“May I help you, miss?” she asked, still smiling, giving me the benefit of the doubt, making nice.

“Bonjour,” I called over the counter, flaunting my accent. I still didn’t smile. “I need to close my account.” I showed her my license.

The teller furrowed her perfect brow. “Is there a problem?” she murmured confidentially.

“A problem? No.” Mais oui. Agathe and Édith were waking up now; their little chirps emerged from the stroller, which I jostled a bit while I debated how to tell the teller what she wanted to hear. I stooped down and pulled the leather satchel from underneath the Revolution and calmly passed it over the counter. “Here, take this. Give me all cash. Nothing smaller than hundreds, please.”

She nodded. I watched the second hand make a slow round of the clock above her pretty face. Mais oui, une problème, I thought as I recalled the past six months in the apartment with only the staff and the bébés. It wasn’t natural. “You can’t go outside alone,” David insisted. “It isn’t safe out there,” he’d coo to the girls as he’d part the blinds to peek at the street below.

Not long ago, I thought as I watched the teller’s manicured fingernails match the rhythm of the second hand, I used to enjoy David’s protectiveness. He loved me and didn’t want to share, I used to think. Merveilleux, I used to think when he had a museum shut down for the afternoon so we could wander through uninterrupted, or when he emptied out the restaurants first so we could dine privately. Oui, I used to love it.

“Just a moment while I go downstairs, miss,” the teller smiled.

The girls’ chirps turned to screeches. I clucked and jostled, jostled and clucked, but they wouldn’t settle. This was new to them, I realized, reaching into my handbag for their bottles. I shoved the plastic nipples into the girls’ open mouths and thank God, they shut up. I pulled out their twin bowls of organic crackers and plunked them on their matching trays. We were getting looks by then. I could feel the prying eyes on the back of my head and the skin on my bare hands began to crawl. I wished I’d worn gloves.

The teller returned, my bag hanging empty in her hand. “Please come with me, miss.”

“Just call me ma’am, why don’t you?” I screamed, slipping into my native drawl. My heart was pounding. The teller blinked but didn’t lose her composure. She pressed the bag into my hand and ushered me and the baby stroller through a door into a small room.

It turned out that my asshole husband had rolled my whole $50 million savings into one of his private accounts. It turned out to be a teensy clause in our fucking pre-nup. The teller smiled and handed me a tissue.

It wasn’t the bitch’s fault, so I backed the BOB out of the bank, turned on my heel, and headed for the park. At least that was free. “Ladies, don’t ever go and get married,” I called to the girls, who cooed back.

I like Belle Knox

Photo via Rolling Stone
Photo via Rolling Stone

Have you heard of this girl? Maybe you’d recognize her by her real name, Miriam Weeks. That’s what I’m going to call her. Miriam is a Duke University freshman (yes, freshman) who was recently outed as a porn star. A friend and Duke frat boy recognized her in a porn scene and asked her about it. She admitted doing porn, and he promptly shared his bounty of knowledge with his entire fraternity.

The thing is this girl is honest. When news traveled beyond the frat party, Miriam spoke up for herself. I’ve read a bunch of interviews on her and blog posts that she wrote herself. I particularly love this quote from xoJane, where she stands up for herself, “My sexuality is not some sort of blackmail to be used against me, granting you ownership over my life or my story. It is my life. It is my story.”

This girl keeps her cool. From what I can tell, Miriam didn’t start slinging mud to vent her anger. She never even named the frat boy who outed her, although another Duke student did. She simply defended her decisions and her family, saying, “My family deserves to be left alone…let’s keep this one to one. You don’t like what I do? Tell it to me. Have some guts.”

This girl is realistic. “The adult industry,” she writes for xoJane, “racks up $13.3 billion in the U.S. alone, and do we honestly wish collective evil, shame, and condemnation upon every human being involved in this gigantic (and… legitimate) business?” As they say, money doesn’t lie. So can’t we just hit the pause button on the public shaming and see Miriam as a girl who has discovered a way to get herself a first class education without racking up tons of debt?

This girl owns her pain. Miriam has admitted to being raped at a party in high school. So instead of giving into her fear and becoming a victim, she’s tried to turn her experience around. It’s exposure therapy. Plus she’s doing something she loves. “For me, shooting pornography brings me unimaginable joy,” she writes. “When I finish a scene, I know that I have done so and completed an honest day’s work. It is my artistic outlet: my love, my happiness, my home.”

This girl is smart. She’s turned the negative conversation around, speaking out against sexual shaming, and in alliance with other sex workers whose experiences have been more degrading and whose prospects in life are leagues below hers. She’s taken her so-called 15 minutes of fame as a chance to market herself, and to take opportunities as they are presented to her. Miriam wants to become a lawyer one day and advocate for women’s rights, using her gifts and experiences to help other women in the sex industry. I have no doubt that she will succeed.

This girl is responsible for herself. I admire her. She has a plan for the big picture, but she’s going with the flow along the way. She’s willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wants. She’s not letting her parents’ financial misfortune determine her future. I hope that each of my three kids grows up to be as daring, courageous, and intelligent as her.

This girl is learning. As a women’s studies major, Miriam has tossed around a fair amount of feminist commentary. I respect her for it, but I think feminism is beside the point. What really matters is being whole. In other words, to be truly healthy, each of us, regardless of gender, needs to come to terms with our dark side, sexuality included. Miriam’s is an extreme case, but it’s a good template for everyone. Let’s take a lesson from a teenage girl: The world would be a happier place if we could all share porn with our friends, shame excluded.

Miriam impresses me. She’s got guts. She proves that a girl can be smart and sexy at the same time.


Just a girl


MYOB on the C train, I see his eyes on me like he’s got me in his crosshairs. Creep’s shirt says VERGENSTEIN like he’s Frankenstein’s cousin. I smile, give him the finger, and hop off before I turn up in a whodunit.



I got the late shift so I went straight to work after. I came in and straightened up, then sat at the counter drinking water and reading. The truth is, that’s why I do this job. The lights in here at night are just so and hardly anyone comes in so I can read in peace.

I was tired and the smell of whiskey was the only thing keeping me sane, to tell the truth. I love the warm feel of the bottles all lined up behind the bar, glowing. A few chapters in, I got sucked into the story so I didn’t notice my customer til he cleared his throat inches away from me.

“Good evening, sir,” I said, squinting into his face. I must need reading glasses because I couldn’t focus on him at first. From what I could tell, he looked slightly disheveled. I wondered what he’d been doing all night.

I think I saw a faint smile cross his face at the word sir. It was hard to tell.

“Yes,” he said and paused like he was thinking. “Yes, a double single-malt Oban, neat, please,” he finally asked. He was soft spoken and it was hard to hear him. I really wasn’t doing great tonight. I needed sleep.

“Just a sec, sir,” I said with a little laugh and he laughed too, right away. I got him his whiskey and he sat by the window, against the reflection of all the lights. It was Monday night, and Monday nights are always slow, so I snatched a chocolate bar from my purse and returned to my book. I couldn’t concentrate though. Every few sentences, I’d catch a glimpse of him lifting his whiskey and I’d have to look. Then I’d sneak a little bit of chocolate. We don’t officially serve food here.

“Is that dark chocolate?” he asked, emphasis on the word dark.

I smiled guiltily.

“May I try some?”

I walked around the bar with my chocolate bar. “Here you go, sir,” I put the chocolate down on his table.

He smiled. “Thank you,” he said.

I went back behind the bar and leaned back against the wall next to the whiskey shelves. I squinted at my customer, trying to be cool about it. The lights are pretty dim and it really is hard to see. On the table next to his glass, the guy had a small book, maybe a sketchbook. I tried to decipher what he was doing. He seemed to be doing the same to me. I have to admit, after a few minutes I started getting goose bumps and wishing for another customer, so I pretended to clean up the bar. He must have felt the same way because he pushed the chocolate out of his way and opened his little book. I tried not to look at him.

A lady in cowgirl boots and pushed open the door and to be honest I was thrilled to see her. “Hello!” I called cheerfully. “What are you up to tonight?” I asked as she came to the bar and sat down. “What can I get for you?” I just kept talking, barely stopping to let her order. Definitely not like me.

“Knob Creek on the rocks, please,” she said absentmindedly. She put her feet up on the next barstool and began typing furiously on her phone.

“Here you go,” I said extra cheerfully since I was grateful for the distraction. I set the drink in front of her but she wasn’t even there.

“Mmm,” she said. I couldn’t tell whether she was talking to me or her phone. She finished typing, downed her drink, put some money on the bar, and moved toward the door. Sketchbook guy didn’t even look at her.

Alone again, I fussed with the amber bottles for a few minutes, then changed the music, switching out the nice classical for Beck. In a minute the place was throbbing with white-boy hip-hop threatening drive-by body piercings, and sketchbook creep ought to be getting the message, I hoped. I wiped the already-clean bar and pretended not to watch him drawing in his notebook.

Meanwhile, halfway through the song a bunch of guys in suits pushed the door open, started to come in but then froze when they heard Beck blaring. They frowned in unison and backed out the door. Damn, I thought.

I caught sketchbook guy humming along to the music. Fuck, I thought, as he looked up at me again. He must have shifted his chair by then, or my eyes decided to do me a favor, because all of a sudden I could make him out. He was actually pretty cute in an art-nerdy kind of way. Too bad I’d been giving him the stink eye for so long. He probably thought I was crazy. I mean, I probably was certifiable by then.

My heart about jumped out of my chest when I looked up and saw him inches away. He was smiling and holding out a page from his little sketchbook.

“This is for you,” he said kindly. “Thanks for sharing your chocolate.” There was nothing creepy about him whatsoever. I looked down at the paper in my hand. It was a sketch, a really freaking good sketch, of me.

“Wow,” I said, speechless. I felt bad about blaring the music. The sketch was unbelievable. He got my dark hair, its edges curled. He got my eyes perfect, even showing a hint of the fear I was feeling. And my cute Peter Pan collar so crisp against my dark sweater – I felt like I could feel the fabric if I touched the paper. I couldn’t believe he did this in just a few minutes. Sketching somebody without their permission – is that even legal?

Note: The thing I like best about this story is that it started out in a coffee shop, and when I thought of the title, I knew I had to change the setting. This is my first attempt at a big edit of a piece of fiction, and I’m happy with how it turned out.

Somebody please tell me to shut up

There are some things about me that I can’t tell you.

I’m talking about speech, not secrets.

There are some things about me that I’m not capable of telling you because words ruin them.

I resisted my name for years. Until I was about five, I refused to say my name that is really my middle name, my second name, my mom’s afterthought. It’s only one of many names I’ve had, but knowing it leads you into a maze of incorrect assumptions. Did I know that at age three? Maybe. If I had been named like my preschool friend, Summer, maybe I wouldn’t have been so silent when the other kids asked my name.

I’m the shy kid swinging alone on the playground while the other kids play on the monkey bars.

At twelve, I must have misspoken to my best friend’s rabbi. “Are you Jewish?” he asked me as I sat by her at Hebrew school.

“Yes,” I said.

“What’s your name?” he asked, kind, hopeful.

His face fell when I told him. Confusion furrowed his brow, shock glimmered in his eye. “Don’t you know what that means?” he asked.

Yes, I did. Of course I do.

I’m a Jewish girl who can never say her name in a synagogue.

On my honeymoon, thrilled to be in Paris, I tried out my conversational skills at our first dinner. The waiter turned my question into a little joke, I’m pretty sure a pun at my expense. After that I stopped speaking except in emergencies, preferring to remain still and silent as much as possible. Silent, the waiters were much more polite.

I’m French, but only when I’m absolutely silent.

There have been more times when speech has betrayed me. It definitely did in grad school. There was a night long ago in a crummy motel room. Every time I’m driven to yell at my kids, speech stabs me in the gut.

Yes, it’s true, we’ll know each other better if I don’t speak. Silence never contradicts itself.


My mom was murdered by a used-car salesman.

If my mom were telling you this story, it would be a comedy. She would twist her heartbreak into dark tendrils of humor until you were on the floor laughing. But she’s dead, so I will try to do it justice.

My mom died under mysterious circumstances but she was not murdered. In retrospect, her death fell at the end of a long line of clues, as well documented as any stack of stolen credit card receipts shoved in a dresser drawer could hope to be.

My mom liked creeps and I suspect that she knew a lot of them. Three creeps in particular she knew intimately. She married one at nineteen, my sister’s dad, and she had a run-in with one at 35 that left her with me. She found the worst of her creeps in a phone-sex chat room in early 2002. She was 64 and ten years older than him – you can do the math.

Mike was an on-again, off-again used-car salesman. He’d sell you a used car whether you wanted one or not. He’d sell you a used car if you asked him about the weather and he’d sell you a used car on your birthday. He sold used cars so well that he went to jail for it several times, the last time just weeks after he married my mom in 2003.

My mom waited patiently for his return a year later. I won’t tell you about how I paid her rent and her expenses while he was in prison. It’s beside the point how much I worried that Mike the used-car salesman would return, or worse, that he wouldn’t.

Mike the used-car salesman returned shortly before my Bubbie died. He timed his reappearance well, and made off with my Bubbie’s life savings, an act that revealed his great ingenuity and patience. He spent his treasure trove on scummy motel rooms and gifts for younger, hotter finds from the sex chat room.

In 2006, my mom fell on the grass while she was walking their Yorkie. She waited hours on the ground for Mike to return from the used-car lot cum scummy motel room. My mom died a few days later in a crummy hospital ICU, her organs shutting down because of drug complications. My mom was not murdered by a used-car salesman, but she may as well have been.

In a cruel twist of fate like most twists of fate are, Mike the used-car salesman died two months later in my mom’s bed of all places. When I got there, I found all of his receipts and bank statements stuffed in a drawer and I had to laugh.


A revision of last week’s Yeah Write essay. Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Obed, I do think this post is a lot cleaner now.