Rough Night

“Someone’s having a hell of a night out there.” Earl’s rough palm was wrapped around the glass of cool beer, his body heat seeping through it. In ten minutes he would make a face and complain that his beer was warm and blast it all, what was it these days, it was October, the weather shouldn’t be this nice, something was happening and Lord only knows who’s being punished for what.
But his beer was still cool as he lifted it to his puffy lips to drink and he listened to the car alarm circle around itself in endless loops that changed tone and pitch depending on how he concentrated his ears. It sounded either like a repetitive beep-beep-beep or like a continuous whine then pitched up and down like the cheap roller coaster ride he’d helped put up at the Harvest Fair the week before. It was a sound he couldn’t keep his mind as firmly wrapped around as his hand around his glass, and it puzzled and pleased him.
“Mhm.” Rosie agreed, too late, to Earl’s assertion. Maybe she was humming in her head and had let a note slip out. Maybe she was nodding assent at the litter of kittens suckling in the corner of the yard under the cover of the mulberry bush. You could never tell, with Rosie.
“Poor bastard, somebody’ll call the police on him if it keeps on going.” Earl couldn’t tell if the car alarm’s volume was actually shifting or whether it was his ears. He had to go to the doctor again, get some wax taken out. They’d wanted to give him a hearing aid last time. He’d said no-sirree, it was just wax buildup and please take it out. The gold nuggets in his ears would have been worth millions if they were the real metal, Earl always joked. The doctor and his assistant shrugged and looked at each other and Earl had known what they were thinking, because it kept happening – that look. Just wait, just you wait, he’d wanted to tell them, until you get old, and see how you like that look then.
Rosie brushed her hands off from the dirt she’d been digging in. It was soft and moist from the watering can sprinkling she’d given it, and it looked good enough to eat, the richness exuding a smell as succulent as chocolate-pecan pie.
The sun was setting and the car alarm was still going and Earl hoped there was someone out there having a bad night of it. It was all part of the experience, having bad nights. All part of the same process, that getting old part people forget about.

Doing a Karenina

   Red wine goes wonderfully with steak, but Mimi is vegan now. This is her newest thing. Linda drinks the Cabernet in the kitchen, alone, facing the wallpaper she regrets getting now. It is tapestry-like, black and white threaded workers in rice-fields wearing round conical hats. What did she hear someone call it the other day? Coolie hats? She’s sure that’s not the right name. It was probably her husband. He sometimes comes up with racist shit that reminds her that he is, after all, the man who hid a coke habit from her for years, sinking them both into debt.
    Mimi doesn’t help. Her newest thing, gluten-free veganism, means that Linda and Greg are both starving all the time. They sneak out to get pizza in the middle of the night sometimes, giggling and pulling on jeans and baggy sweatshirts, like they’re having an affair.
    The phone’s ring is a pathetic approximation of Fur Elise. Linda’s shoulders tense. She hates the sound so much. Tinny and obnoxious, calls mean work or bad news, almost inevitably. No one calls the landline anymore anyway, except for some of the older people at the PR company she works at and Mimi’s therapists and psychiatrist.
    “It’s Allison!” Greg yells from the other room. Linda looks at the rice-field workers, at the waving bamboo patterns, at whatever nonsense it is on her wall that’s meant to look comfortingly exotic to her Western sensibilities. She picks up the portable out of its cradle and takes another sip of wine before screwing the top back and putting in the fridge. The phone is between her shoulder and her ear, the same spot it’s nestled since she was a teenager. Since she first met Allison.
    “Hey, Greg, you can hang up now.”
    “Okay. Bye, Alli!”
    “Bye! Hi Linda. You sound tired.”
    “I am. It’s been a day.”
    “Want to talk about it?”
    “No. Tell me how Noel is doing.”
    Linda regrets this immediately. As Allison begins telling her about her daughter, a senior in college who’s just returned from an academically rigorous year abroad and is doing great, wonderful, fantastic, all Linda can see is the image of Mimi lying on the subway tracks that time she jumped and survived.
    When your own kid has tried to commit suicide half a dozen times, Linda thinks, you don’t find 4.0 GPAs all that interesting anymore. She knows that if she told Alli that she’d rather not hear about her kids – Alli has two, and the other, the boy, is doing equally well, with a long-term girlfriend who lives with him and makes more money than him – if Linda told Alli she’d rather not hear about any of these fantastic things, Alli’d understand. That’s what friends are for, right? She’s asked before, and Alli’s accepted, keeping quiet about her kids until Linda asks.
            She always does, in the end. She wants to know. She wants to hear about college classes, about PhD programs, about how the daughter is getting published here and joining a singing group there, about how the son has finished his qualifying exams to get into his PhD program and how he’s house sitting for two cats. She needs to know these things. Otherwise she has no images to superimpose Mimi’s face into. And if she doesn’t try to cut-and-paste her daughter’s face into situations other than the thirty-and-home one she’s in, Linda will continue to see her lying in between the subway tracks, or inside her bed in the ward where she’s basically got a bed named after her by this point, or sitting behind the desk of Greg’s office, the only place she’s managed to hold down a job in years. Then again, Greg also employs his no-good, asshole brother, so Linda never knows how much work Mimi actually does there, despite the praise Greg lavishes on her.
    Linda listens, her right ear pressed to the phone, her left ear straining for sounds of an emergency. The worst part of her conversations with Alli is the resentment. Allison’s children had their moments, their years of therapy and fucked-upedness, but then they got over it. They got better. Mimi doesn’t get better. Mimi jumps from veganism to Buddhism to exercising everyday to playing the viola and deciding to join the circus as a trapezoid artist. Mimi stays a constant, unchanging. Allison’s kids get to change. Linda hears the change in Alli’s voice, too, and she knows that she, Linda, will have to remain a forever too. It’s almost worth the train having succeeded in its mission that day.
    Almost.

A Part

Spiraling light fixtures collapse the spectrum of the rainbow into single expressions of color. Mass. You are part of a moving mass. The snow in your veins is made up of each and every one of the lights flashing in front of your eyes. White is not the absence of color. Black is, like the holes in space that haunt your dreams on nights of dark sweats that crawl across the covers in teams of walkie-talkie communicating ants. Dance. Your body is one of a hundred thousand others in a stadium radiating with sweating sound. The screams are as distressed as any single body would be in the presence of such staged magnificence. Sorting out one scream from another is like seeing leaves on trees as individuals when you’re looking at the blotchy rendering three year olds make of the oaks in front of their suburban homes. It is an imaginary, purely self-serving process. Can you do it? Are you good enough? Can you see through the mediocrity into the art? Well. Can you? Hands tighten around your waist. Connection. Is that what it is? Skin on clothing woven by Taiwanese children lying on skin burned by yesterday’s oven mishap. All there is to it is to imagine that this contact is pure melding. The melting of whitened blood snow into your consciousness. Bodies bumping in the night. Carnality made spiritual. Spirituality made carnal. Does it matter which? You are an animal, your pulses tell you this, your sight tells you this. Each of your thoughts is rewarded when put into action, reinforcing the thought – your desire for contact pulses into your nether regions, pushing your back into the depth of a stranger behind you, bringing his arms around your waist. Thought. Action. Reward. Dionysus would be pleased. A spectacle of such end of the world beauty was rarely seen by his maenads.

Haytches

A list. This is what this piece of paper is called. You read it, carefully, before leaving the house. As you shop, you refer to it, often. You don’t get anything – anything – that isn’t on the list. The items on this list are the only ones you are supposed to, and allowed to, spend money on. This is the deal. This is what responsibility feels like. You asked for it. So here goes.
 
*Half-baked cookie-dough, found between the yogurts and the organic milk/yogurt/butter section. It’s in a little area of its own, because it’s a guilty pleasure that most people don’t allow themselves to eat. You’re not allowed to eat it either, so if I see the package open when you get home, or if I see you bought more of it than arrives on the kitchen table, adult privileges are over. 
*Herbal-mint-tea sheep’s yogurt. This is in the organic section, near the cookies. You are allowed to eat this, but not at the store. You wait until you get home. 
*Half-and-Half for your father, because he is spoiled and won’t drink his coffee any other way.
*Honey Bunches of Oats cereal, which you will find in the cereal aisle (you should also get milk, but wait until the end for that, because it’s heavy, and you know how your back gets when you carry something heavy for too long. Also, we, that is unspoiled people, drink 2% milk in this house, not whole, not skim, so look carefully.)
*Honey-nut cornflakes for your little sister, but make sure that it is the gluten free version. There should be a round button-shaped thing in red or blue or green or yellow that says GLUTEN FREE in big letters like that.
*Healthy granola bars – I’m trusting you here. Choose some kind of flavor you like that doesn’t have chocolate chips or drizzles of caramel all over it. You know what I mean. Something with fruit, or with almonds or apple or pear in it or something like that.
*Holly’s Oatmeal. You need to go to the organic section of the grocery store to find this if you don’t see it in the aisle where the rest of the cereals and granola bars are. It’s near the produce section, sort of near the meat section, but not near enough to the meat for you to be able to see anything. Don’t worry, I’m not sending you into anywhere dangerous for you.
 
Now that you have the list, you can go. Remember before you leave to bring: keys, cellphone, sunglasses, sunscreen, grocery list, pen (for crossing off items), wallet (for money), and the whistle your father and I gave you just in case. Also put on your necklace that lets people know you have an allergy to penicillin. If anything happens, I don’t want anyone injecting you with anything you’re not allowed to be injected with.
 
The minute you’re finished shopping, while you’re waiting in line at the registers, call me, and I’ll come in the car to pick you up. After you pay – ask them to bag everything in double bags because we need the plastic for the cat-box – head to the door to the left because that’s where they let cars stop. If you have to wait for me for a while, don’t worry, don’t freak out, it’ll be fine, I’ll be there in a jiffy.
 
Put your calming music on while you shop. Sometimes people are scary in the grocery store. They can be aggressive, or impatient. But if you take your time and do everything you need to do, you should be okay and nothing will happen to you. If anyone asks you to move, move. If anyone asks you about your stye, ignore them, because it’s none of their business. People are just rude sometimes, just like we talked about. Remember that if you get nervous, you can call me anytime, but also remember what doctor Ronaldo said about you taking some steps. You wanted to do this, so.
 
Love, xox, hugs and kisses,
Mom

Prompted: Explain Christmas to a young pine tree

I only know what they showed me on television. But you don’t know what that is either. It’s sort of like how you, one day, might want to feel what it’s like to fly. When you grow up, you’ll have bird families nesting on you. They’ll build their homes in your branches, and they’ll use the worms and caterpillars climbing down your spine to feed their young. And they’ll fly. They’ll fly around your topmost branches and even though you’ll be intimate with the wind, you won’t know what it will feel like to touch a cloud. But you’ll think about it sometimes. And maybe even wish for it. When you see the birds flying – that’s sort of how I think Christmas is. It’s a joyous thing that I’ve seen from far away. I’ve seen others stretch into it like it’s a habit, like it’s as easy as plunging off a branch and rising high into the blue. It’s not something they need to think about. But you and me, we have our roots in different places and no matter how hard we try to picture what it’s like up there in that space, we won’t be able to.

Someday, maybe you’ll learn the language of the birds. Maybe you’ll manage to talk to them. And you’ll ask them what it’s like to fly. That’s what I did. I asked what Christmas was really like. Not the pretend kind I saw from far away. But I don’t know if I ever asked the right question, not exactly. Because even if you’re speaking the same language as someone else, when your roots are in different places, can you be sure you mean the same thing when you say “always” and “regular” and “just”? Could you explain to the birds what it’s like to draw water from the earth?

Prompted: You wake up covered in paint

All you want is some peace and quiet, you know? You’re sitting there, hanging with the terps and the other canvies, and you’re chilling. You’re all a little high, see what I’m saying? Can’t help it, those terps are always high, you catch a contact off them no matter what. Whetheryou like it or not. It’s not a bad life. Sure, some got it better than others. Canvie 98/4 over there, he’s hanging on the wall, just chilling, but every day the skins come in and boy do they worship him. They can’t get enough of him! They’re always talking about what a piece of work he is. Or maybe work of art? I don’t know, man, you can’t expect a canvie to get things straight in this kind of situation. Anyway, point is, I was just minding my own business, you see? Just hanging out, just chilling, and suddenly, I get snatched up from my comfy spot where I was getting to know this new canvie, a real beauty she was too, this really rare oval and tight man, tight like a drum. So I get snatched up just as she’s beginning to warm to me, and I just know that old bastard River Scene At Dawn will go for her because he’s been really nasty ever since he got retired and can’t even enjoy his high anymore, always just talking about the good old days.

So anyway, I get put up right in the light and next thing you know the turps are there with me and damn if I don’t get smothered with them! I mean it’s great for a while, sure, best high I ever had, but you know, it does wear off and eventually I wake up from the drowsy and find I’m covered in paint. All over me, just covered, top to bottom, end to end, and not just that but I find out next thing that they’ve changed my name too! Now I’m not 563/2, I’m bloody Nude On a Bathtub Rim! What kind of name is that, I ask you? Nothing, nothing, not even the wall and the attention, is worth this.

An Unaccepted Submission (#1)

“Sorry. Stinky, get down. He’s got this chemical stuff all over him, you know, the flea stuff. Sorry.”
The paws receded, and the little dog with the wet, searching muzzle was pulled off my lap. His owner was a skinny woman with black hair and a bright metal ball dotting the skin above her lip. She was slurring and her voice filtered through a throat plugged by permanent cigarette smoke and a thick layer of mucus.
“Mummy’s trying to get you money. Oh, he’s so hungry. Stinky – no. You stink.”
The dog was under my legs, eating a sandwich that someone had abandoned at the bus stop. The woman saw me glance down at him, assumed that I wanted him away, and she pulled him back hard. He looked up at me with sad eyes, licking his chops.
“What’s his name?” I asked, reaching down to him. I didn’t meet the woman’s eyes. If the dog’s name was Stinky, I wanted her to admit it to me.
“Simo.”
“Simone?”
“Simo. Es-eye-em-oh. Si-mo.”
“He’s cute. Is he eating enough?”
“I’m trying, I’m trying, but he’s…” She stopped in the middle of her sentence. “Sorry, I’m just waiting for someone.” This was something she’d been repeating for a while. I’d stopped believing it. But this time she added, immediately, “There you are.”
The man I assumed she’d been waiting for seemed to step out of the shadows behind her, clutching a bottle of amber liquid to his chest. He looked as surprisingly clean, young and healthy as she did. He reeked of alcohol too, even worse than her. It was ironic that she thought the chemical smell coming off her dog was bad.
The woman picked up her heavy-looking black duffle bag from where she’d set it between other people waiting for the bus, scaring them away. She pulled Simo’s leash again. I continued not looking at her, kept my eyes on the dog. Animals are easier than people. Even when they’re fierce.
“Are you feeding him enough?” This was a different question than my previous one. I felt justified in asking it. The woman was shorter than me and she managed to stare at my face. I could tell, out of my peripheral vision. She had a pale face. I looked at the man behind her who was tugging at her puffy jacket now, trying to get her to move faster.
“Are you feeding him enough?” I asked him.
“Ask her, he’s hers.” He giggled, and hugged, actually hugged, his bottle. I stared. He ignored me.
“Come with us, you’ll see,” the woman said, jutting her chin up challengingly, pulling the dog’s head closer to her every time he tried to move. She was hurting him. “He eats better’n I do.” She didn’t emphasize any words; just spoke in a flat, dead tone. I met her eyes and thought about Nora, my last alcoholic.
“Okay. Show me,” I said.

Assistant Costumer B [Flash Fiction]

Crowded with scenery, the storage rooms of the Opera House are never silent. The old cardboard and wood sets seem to breathe as they shifts, gravity slowly doing its work on the heavier cloth and paint and plastic glued all over them. A perpetual cool, musty smell permeates the space, and the air is full of dust.

Lena coughs and the magical quiet is broken. She is looking for a crown for Cleopatra. She tried to explain to the director that the Egyptians didn’t wear Western crowns, but he wants one anyway. He’s a dolt, a pompous man in his forties who knows quite a lot about the music but very little about theatrics. Opera, Lena knows, is the essential and rarely achievable mixture of the two; it is a gentle recipe, to be handled with the hands of a gourmet chef, not a meat grinder.

Some of the older costumes are shoved in here on old metal racks. The kind of crown that the director wants to try on his Cleo – as he calls her, familiarly, as if she’s his mistress – is here, Lena knows. She’s been working here for seven years. She sometimes sleeps in the storage room, when she and Alicia are having a fight. The guards don’t bother checking the storage room before locking up for the night, because it stays locked unless things are being removed from it or put back. Lena is one of the people who has the key. She’s trusted.

Fights with Alicia have become more frequent recently. Alicia is ten years older than Lena, and she’s growing tired of her younger partner’s lifestyle. She never says this openly. She fights with Lena about other things, the laundry, the garbage, the dishes, the mundane facts of life. When Lena tries to fight back, Alicia slams her against the wall, beads of sweat standing out in the dips of her collarbone, and then they kiss and end up in bed. This isn’t productive, and so Lena has been leaving the apartment instead of fighting back most of the time. She loves Alicia, but she’s stopped liking her. She’s pretty sure that it’s a bad idea to maintain a partnership with someone whose chatter about the day’s news has become irksome and grating.

The crown is exactly where Lena remembers seeing it, between a sequined plus-size black dress and a shawl of deep-red that she’s pretty sure belong to Carmen, star of her own opera. Lena tries the crown on, but it’s too big and it slips down over her eyes and stops at her ears, which bulge out of her small head. She smiles at herself, alone in the storage room, her refuge, and takes the thing off. She rubs at the fake red rubies with her sleeve but they don’t shine or gleam; they’ve been purposefully made not to glint, probably so they wouldn’t catch the strong stage lights and blind the audience. Whoever made it actually knew what they were doing, Lena thinks with appreciation.

Lena carries the crown back to the director who takes it and thanks her out of the side of his mouth. It’s a trick he has, speaking sideways like this. She thought only cartoon characters could do it. She asks him if he needs anything else and he shakes his head, already jumping onto the stage to hand the crown to his Cleo, who’s fanning herself with one of the prop palm leaves.

Back in the dressing rooms, Lena gets back to her real job, which is Assistant Costumer B. Assistant Costumer A is a nice, brisk man in his late thirties who’s married and has two young children who sometimes come to work with him and sit underneath the dressing tables, reverentially quiet, staring wide-eyed at the glamorous clothes. Lena wondered once whether it was quite normal for them to be so well-behaved, but when she leaned down to say hi to them she saw that they were both sucking on long-lasting lollipops that they always got as an incentive for staying silent. They whispered to her that they also got an extra dollar on their allowance if they didn’t make a mess. Their mother, apparently, was some political activist who sometimes needed to dash off to protest something, somewhere, which would be when she’d drop them off at the Opera House.

Lena sometimes wished she were part of Assistant Costumer A’s family rather than her own. She sometimes wished she could go home with him, maybe as a new cousin or a live-in nanny, and never go back to live with Alicia.

The Night City [To Be Continued…? Maybe?]

In the Night City, the children ruled. Most of them weren’t taken care of, and they ran the streets, gangs of them, skateboarding on starlight and sliding recklessly down moonbeams. Once in a while, the Council tried taking control, cracking down on the lawlessness that had settled into their city, but every effort ended in failure. The children adapted to the new rules and found one loophole after another until the system broke down and they had free reign once more.

The smallest, most exclusive gang was also the strongest. The Secreteers, they were called. The boys and girls who belonged to the Secreteers wore masks over their mouths, symbolizing their abilities to be silent, to keep and ferry secrets. It wasn’t a uniform, though, and each mask was different. One girl tied a pink bandanna around the lower half of her face. A boy, young enough not to worry about ripping out any tender whiskers that might grow on his upper lip, strapped his mouth shut with thick, black electrician’s tape. An androgynous little thing, with golden ringlets and overlarge ears, had a pacifier firmly placed between his or her plump lips.

“Those are the kids you want to join,” Sheila whispered, perched on a lamppost, watching a Secreteer zoom across the Night City air in bright pink roller-skates. Sheila scratched her shoulder where a stray feather was poking her. She shifted, fixing the costume wings she wore over her worn blue t-shirt.

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why would I want to join them? They work all the time, don’t they? Working isn’t fun.”

“You’re an idiot.”

Royal, a little kid who’d come into the Night City with a weird birth mark shaped like a crown on his forehead and no memory of what his name was, swung like a monkey underneath Sheila. He was still in the acrobat phase, getting used to the low gravity of the Night City.

“Look at me!” he shouted, and Sheila looked down in spite of herself. He was swinging on a rope he’d found somewhere, and he’d tied a sort of ring in it, which he was now using as a handhold to help him do somersaults in the air as he pushed off the post with his feet over and over again. “This is awesome!”

“You’ll get used to it.” Sheila kept watching the house across the street, waiting for her target to appear in the window. She wasn’t here to play games. Royal was a newbie, and she was his babysitter – doing her duty, like everyone had to – and that was fine, but she had to concentrate, too. It was also painful, being reminded of that dreaminess that she and everyone else had had at the beginning, the awe of what you could do in the Night City that you couldn’t do before.

“Can we go get food? I’m hungry.” Royal hung his legs up in front of her and swung upside down, his blue-black hair looking spiky and his face becoming full of unfamiliar shapes.

“Not yet. When I’m done here.”

“But what are you doing?” he whined.

“Wait and see.”

“But I’m bored!”

“Shh – here we go!” Sheila saw a woman in a purple dressing gown appear in the window. She looked outside, seeming to wait for something, and Sheila launched herself down from the lamppost, twisting the air around her on the way. By the time she’d arrived at the window, anyone not in the Night City would see her as a cat. She mowed, pawing at the window, and the woman smiled and opened it, letting her in.

The moment she slid inside, Sheila let the illusion around her unwind. Before the woman could scream, though, Sheila had already passed a hand over her eyes and pressed her cool lips on the woman’s cheek. She whispered in her ear, “Go back to bed. Everything is alright.” The woman blinked, her eyes heavy, and walked back to bed.

Sheila watched her go and went to the window to wave Royal inside after her.

“Don’t touch anything.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s not good for us. Most of this isn’t in the Night City.”

“Then why are we here?”

“Because we’re looking for something that IS in the Night City, dumbo. Something that got in here when someone who lives here picked it up or bought it or I don’t know what. But it doesn’t belong to them. It belongs to us. So we’re taking it back.”

“Oh.”

Insider [Flash Fiction]

In the spaces between my shallow breaths, I heard someone moving around the house. I knew, rationally, that my heartbeats weren’t audible to any ears besides my own, but I worried that my increasing panic would lead to hyperventilation and the kind of wheezing, huffing, gasping for air that would wrack my entire body with convulsive shudders, making me knock against the precariously stacked shelves of the storeroom I was hiding in; not only would the air passing through my constricting throat move my vocal cords, but, most likely, a whole slew of boxes, bottles and dusty bits of machinery would fall down on me, giving away my location.

I counted to myself, looking at the seconds moving on my digital watch, for once blessing my age-old habit of going to bed with it, a habit that my husband hated. I breathed in for two seconds, let the air out for three – the goal was to reach four seconds in and eight out, achieving maximum calm and minimal panic, but I was only human, after all, and someone was prowling around out there, looking for me.

Graham wasn’t home; he was on a rare business trip. He hated them and tried, whenever possible, to send our son, Graham Junior, in his stead. Junior actually liked the travel, the plane rides, the novelty of staying in hotels alone and getting to be the big boss among the small fry. Graham never really liked that stuff, and he still teases me sometimes that Junior isn’t really his son, because where did he get his outgoing streak? Maybe he got it from my side of the family, I tell him. Hiding in the closet, I was thinking about how convenient it was that Junior was spending the night with his new girlfriend and not at home. Junior isn’t nearly as outgoing as his father likes to think he is.

A tinkling sound, following by a soft rip made me lose track of my measured breaths and I felt the pins and needles begin to crawl up my fingers and toes as I started to hyperventilate. I opened my eyes wide and forced myself to track the seconds on my watch again – 00:03:26 – 00:03:27 – breathe in – 28, 29, 30 – breathe out. The intruder, whoever he was, was being careful. He was looking for something. The sounds I’d heard – I tried to figure them out. The first was probably my perfume bottles – my one concession to vanity; working in a hospital, I’ve come to appreciate being surrounded by a scent of something that isn’t death, pus, ooze, urine, feces or antibacterial hand wash. The second sound, the rip… That was harder to figure out and it made me very nervous.

A creak. A groan. That was the floor near my hiding place and a voice, the voice of someone who wasn’t aware of the loose floorboard and twisted an ankle in it. Even very rich people get lazy about house repairs, I thought sardonically, noticing with pride that my breathing was slowing and that I could afford to make it a smidgen shallower and thus quieter. The door I was behind was locked, of course, with the key inside it on my end. I had not even the tiniest bit of curiosity as to what the intruder looked like. I simply wanted him to think that the house was empty and to leave.

Graham and I have gotten death threats before. We both do work that’s controversial, in its own way, and there are many people who don’t like the wealthy in this day and age. I can’t blame them for it, though their discontent doesn’t excuse their bad behavior, nor does it allow them to ignore the fact that we are human beings with rights as well. We pay our taxes and perform our social and public duties and shouldn’t be attacked. But high powered couples are always seen as somewhat problematic and Graham and I have always been aware of it and have fought our battles together or alone, as need and our lawyers deemed fit. We are not sentimental about such things. But I know that this break-in is about me, because this is the first time that I have had a secret. My family knows nothing of it, nor does anyone else.

Except someone does, apparently, know. Someone, walking around my house that night, knew. He knew, and he was going to do something about it. I stood in my closet and counted breaths, quietly, determined not to be heard.