Skip to main content



We Are Water

Chapter One

“Annie Oh”

Viveca’s wedding dress has a name: Gaia. It’s lovely. Layers of sea green silk chiffon, cap sleeves, an empire waist, an asymmetrical A-line skirt with the suggestion of a train. I forget the designer’s name; Ianni something. He’s someone Viveca knows from the Hellenic Fashion Designers Association. It arrived at the apartment from Athens yesterday, and Minnie has pressed it and hung it on the door of Viveca’s closet.

Gaia: I Googled it yesterday after Viveca’s dress arrived and wrote down what it said on an index card. It’s on the bureau. I pick it up and read.

After Chaos arose broad-breasted Gaia, the primordial goddess of the Earth and the everlasting foundation of the Olympian gods. She was first the mother of Uranus, the ancient Greek embodiment of heaven, and later his sexual mate. Among their children were the mountains, the seas, the Cyclopes, and the Hundred-Handed giants who aided Zeus in his successful battle against the Titans, whom Gaia had also birthed.

Chaos, incest, monsters, warring siblings: it’s a strange name for a wedding dress.

The three Vera Wang dresses Viveca had sent over for me to consider were delivered yesterday, too. (Vera is one of Viveca’s clients at the gallery.) There’s an ivory-colored dress, another that has a tinge of pink, a third that’s pearl gray. Minnie spread them across the bed in the guest bedroom, but after she went home, I carried them into our bedroom and hung them to the left of the Gaia. This morning when I woke up, they scared me. I thought for a split second that four women were standing over by the closet. Four brides—one in gorgeous green, three in off-white.

Viveca is abroad still. She went to Athens a week ago for a fitting but then decided to stay several more days to visit with an elderly aunt (her father’s surviving sister) and to finalize the details for our wedding trip to Mykonos. She called me from there last night. “Sweetheart, it’s the land of enchantment here. Have you looked at the pictures I e-mailed you?” I said I hadn’t—that I’d been more in the studio than at the apartment for the last several days, which was a lie. “Well, do,” she said. “Not that photographs can really capture it. In daylight, the Aegean is just dazzling, and at sunset it turns a beautiful cobalt blue. And the villa I’ve rented? Anna, it’s to die for! It sits high on a hill above town and there’s a panoramic view of the harbor and some of the other islands in the archipelago. The floors are white marble from a quarry in Paros, and there’s an oval pool, an indoor fountain, a terrace that looks out on a grape arbor that’s unbelievably lush and lovely.” Why a pool if the sea is right there? I wonder. “The houses here are sun bleached to the most pristine white, Anna, and there are hibiscus growing along the south side of the villa that, against that whiteness, are the most intense red you could ever imagine. I just can’t wait to share it all with you. You’ll see. This place is an artist’s dream.”

“I’ll bet it is,” I said. “For an artist who’s interested in capturing what’s pretty and picturesque. I’m not.”

“I know that, Anna. It’s what drew me to your work from the start.”

“It?” I said. “What’s ‘it’?”

There was a long pause before she answered me. “Well, it’s like I was telling that couple

that bought those two pieces from your Pandora series. Your work looks people in the eye. It comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable. But this will be a vacation, sweetheart. You work so hard. Mykonos is my gift to you, Anna. My gift to us. Four weeks surrounded by what’s lovely and life affirming at the start of our married life. Don’t we deserve that?”

The room went blurry with my tears. “I miss you,” I said.

“I miss you, too, Anna. I miss you, too.”

It’s not that I don’t want to be with her in Mykonos. But four whole weeks? In all the years I’ve been at it, I’ve never been away from my work that long. Well, to be fair, she’ll be away from her work, too. “It’s not a very savvy business decision,” she said when she told me she’d rented the villa for the entire month of October. “ People will have awakened from their Hamptons comas by then, reengaged with the city, and be ready to buy. But I said to myself, ‘Viveca, the hell with commerce for once! Seize the day!’ I smiled and nodded when she said that, swallowing back my ambivalence instead of voicing it.

You do that for someone you love, right? Keep your mouth shut instead of opening it. Bend on the things that are bendable. This wedding, for instance. It’s Viveca who wants to make our union “official.” And where we’ll be married: I’ve had to bend on that, too. Okay, fine. I get it. Connecticut has legalized gay marriage and New York hasn’t. But why not book a place in some pretty little Gold Coast town closer to the city? Cos Cob or Darien? Why the town where Orion and I raised our kids? She’d wanted to surprise me, she said. Well, she’d achieved her objective, but it’s . . . awkward. It’s uncomfortable.

Okay then, Annie. If you have misgivings, why go through with it? Why not tell her you’ve had second thoughts? . . . I look up, look around our well-appointed apartment, and I see a part of the answer hanging on the wall in the hallway: the framed poster announcing the opening of my first show at viveca c. The headline, annie oh: a shock to the system!, and beneath it, the full-color photo of my sculpture Birthings: the row of headless mannequins, their bloody legs spread wide, their wombs expelling serial killers. Speck, Bundy, Gacy. Monsters all.

My art comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable: she’d put it better than I ever could have. It’s one of the reasons why I love Viveca. The fact that she not only promotes my work and sells it at prices I couldn’t have imagined, but that she also gets it. And yes, her apartment is as lovely as she is, and our lovemaking feels satisfying and safe. But for me that may be the foundation of our intimacy: the fact that she understands what my work attempts to do.

Orion never did. But then again, why would he have? I’d been so guarded all those years. A twenty-seven-year marriage of guardedness, based on nothing more than the fact that he was a man and, therefore, not to be trusted with the worst of my secrets.

But come on, Annie. You haven’t told Viveca your secrets either. Why is that? Because you’re afraid she might change her mind? Stop taking care of you? Be honest. Your own mother dies in the flood that night. Then your father drinks himself out of your life. And your foster parents were just stop-gaps. They fed you, clothed you, but never loved you. You wanted the real thing. Do you think it’s a coincidence that Orion and Viveca are the same age? That both your ex-husband and your wife-to-be are seven years older than you?

No, that’s irrelevant. . . . Or is it? Is that the real reason why you married him? Why you’re marrying her? Because Little Orphan Annie still needs someone to take care of her?

I need to stop this. Stop being so hard on myself. I love Viveca. And I loved Orion, too. . . . But why? Because he had taken me under his wing? Because for the first time in my life, intimacy with a man was enjoyable? Safe? Maybe not as safe as it feels with Viveca, or as wild as it had been with Priscilla. But pleasurable enough. And very pleasurable for him. It made me a little envious, sometimes. The intensity of his . . .

No. I wanted to give him pleasure. But his pleasure had a price.

No, that’s not fair. It had been a joint decision. I had stopped using my diaphragm because we both wanted a child. But when my pregnancy became a fact instead of a desire, I was suddenly seized with fear. What if I wasn’t up to the job of motherhood? What if I miscarried again like I had that time when I was seventeen? I had never told Orion about my first pregnancy, and I held off for a week or more before I told him about this one. The night I finally did tell him, Orion promised me that he was going to be the best father he could—the opposite of his own absentee father. We cried together, and I let him assume that mine were happy tears, the same as his. They weren’t. But little by little my fear subsided, and I began to feel happy. Excited. Until I had that ultrasound. When I learned we were having twins, I got scared all over again. And when, in the delivery room, it looked like we might lose Andrew, I was terrified. . . .

Still, I loved being a mother. Loved them both as soon as I laid eyes on them, and more and more in the weeks that followed. Until then, I hadn’t understood how profound love could be.

Not that having two of them wasn’t challenging. Demanding of everything I had to give and then some. While Orion was away at work all day, I was home changing diapers, feeding them, grabbing ten-minute naps whenever—miraculously, rarely—their sleeping schedules coincided. And true to his word, Orion was a devoted father. When he’d get home from the college and see them, his face would light up. He’d bathe them, walk with one of them in each of his arms, rock them until they’d both gone down for the night. Part of the night, anyway. Andrew was a colicky baby, and it would drive me crazy when he’d cry and wake up his sister. And then Ariane would start crying, too. Our marriage suffered for that first year or so. Orion would come home tired from dealing with his patients and give whatever energy he had left to the twins. I resented that he didn’t have much left for me. But I didn’t have much left for him, either. Double the work, double the mess. Carting both of them to the pediatrician’s when one of them was sick. And then going back there the following week when Andrew came down with what Ariane was just getting over. Sitting in that waiting room with those other mothers—the ones with singletons who were always making lunch dates. Playdates. They’d ooh and ah over my two but never invite me to join them. Not that I even wanted to, but why hadn’t they ever asked? They always acted so confident, those moms. It was as if everyone but me had read some book about how to be a good mother. . . .

But I had read the books. Consulted Dr. Spock so often that the binding cracked in half and the pages started falling out. But I had no mother of my own to rely on the way those other women did. Those grandmothers who could spell their daughters. Babysit for them, advise them. . . .

Still, I could have had that kind of help. How many times had Orion’s mother volunteered to drive up from Pennsylvania and help out? Maria was retired by then, available. She kept offering. It’s just that she acted so goddamned superior! Made me feel even more insecure. When I got that breast infection? Said I was thinking of bottle-feeding the babies because I was in such pain? She just looked at me—stared at me like how could I be so selfish? And then, without even asking me, she had that woman from the La Leche League call and talk me out of it.

Because she wanted what was best for her grandchildren. . . .

And she always knew what was best. Right? Not me, their own mother. She never said as much, but I got the message. Her son had made a mistake, had married beneath himself. He should have stayed with what’s-her-name.

You remember her name, Annie. How could you forget when Maria was always bringing her up to him? “Thea’s gotten a fellowship, Thea’s gotten her book taken.” Thea this, Thea that, like I wasn’t even standing there. So no, I didn’t want her help or her advice. Who was she to pity me?

But you showed her, didn’t you? Didn’t even go to her funeral. Hey, I couldn’t go. Both of the twins had come down with the chicken pox. What was I supposed to do—leave them with a sitter?

Except I did leave them with one. I had just started making my art. I wanted to be down there working on it, not upstairs with two sick kids. So I hired that Mrs. Dunkel to watch them. . . . He was down there in Pennsylvania for almost three weeks! Sitting with Maria at the hospital. Calling me with the daily reports. “I don’t think it’s going to be long now. She seems to be going downhill fast.” And then, in the next phone call, it would be, “She was better today. Awake, alert. I fed her some pudding, and she managed to eat about half of it.” The twins were running fevers, crying, clinging to me. But I was supposed to celebrate because she had had a few bites of pudding? And okay, Maria was his mother. But I was his wife, the mother of his kids. We needed him, too. I was going out of my mind.

But that was no excuse. I shouldn’t have hit him even if he wouldn’t stop scratching his chicken pox. I’d tell Ariane to stop, and she would. But not Andrew. So I slapped him on his tush, harder than I meant to. At first he just looked at me, shocked, and then he cried and cried. I was so scared. What kind of a mother hit her child that hard? It left a mark. But by the next day, it faded. If I had let him keep scratching, he would have had scars for the rest of his life.

And what was Orion supposed to do? He couldn’t abandon his mother, no matter how long she lingered. But when she finally did die, there were the arrangements to make, the funeral, cleaning out her condo for resale. . . . And that babysitter hadn’t worked out anyway. How could I concentrate on my work when they were up there crying, calling for me, banging on the basement door?

But I did not boycott Maria’s funeral. I stayed home with our sick kids. And then he tells me that Thea flew in to pay her respects. That the two of them went out to dinner after the services. And I started wondering about how else she might have comforted him. . . .

Okay, Annie, you were insecure, even if, deep down, you knew he wouldn’t cheat on you. But then when he finally gets everything squared away down there in Harrisburg, he pulls into the driveway and walks in the door like the returning hero. “Daddy! Daddy’s home! Give us a pony ride, Daddy. Read us a bedtime story.” He shows up again, they’re over the worst of their chicken pox, and suddenly I’m irrelevant. The fun parent was back. The good cop. Who cares about Mommy now that Daddy’s back? And I resented that. Held on to that resentment until we landed in couples counseling.

Because he didn’t value my work. That’s why we were having trouble. Because everything was about his work, and mine didn’t count. I was just supposed to be home with the kids all day, at their beck and call, and then grab an hour or two after they were finally down for the night, when I was too exhausted to tap into my creativity. Half the time I’d be down there, trying to work on something, and I’d fall asleep. He’d have to come down, wake me up, and lead me upstairs to bed.

But boy, I balked at that marriage counseling idea. I thought the deck would be stacked. Me versus two psychologists. I was afraid she was going to tell me to give up my art. But instead Suzanne validated what I was doing. Helped Orion to see that my work mattered, too. And she helped me to realize the extent of his grieving for his mother.

“Now that my mother has passed, it’s like we’re both orphans,” he said, trying hard to hold back his tears. “I mean, I was the result of my mother’s affair with a married man. A Chinese man who wouldn’t leave his Chinese wife for his Italian girlfriend, and then . . . took a powder. Just goddamned disappeared.” He had never said much about his father’s absence from his life, and until then I’d assumed he just accepted it. “The only thing I ever got from him was his last name,” he said. “And it’s different. I know it is. I had my mother a hell of a lot longer than you had yours, but . . .” He broke down in sobs then, and I ached as I witnessed the pain he was in. I reached over and put my hand on his shoulder. Pulled tissues from the box on the table and handed them to him. Watched him wipe his eyes, blow his nose. For the next several seconds, none of us spoke. Suzanne kept looking at me. Waiting for me to say something. And in the middle of that uncomfortable silence, I almost risked telling him my truths. My secrets were on the tip of my tongue. But then Suzanne glanced at her clock and said we had to wind up. That we’d gone a little bit over and her two o’clock would be waiting.

I don’t know. Maybe if we had kept going to those sessions, I would have told him. But we didn’t. Things were better between Orion and me—more like they’d been in the beginning. The closeness, the way he could get me to laugh. Like that time he took me to Boston Haymarket Square—and taught me how to slurp oysters from the half-shell. Took me that first time to the Gardner Museum. . . . And being a mom had started getting a little easier by then. The twins were growing out of the “terrible twos.” They had begun to amuse each other, catching bugs out in the backyard or going down to the stream out back to capture tadpoles and crayfish. That bond they’d developed gave me a reprieve. I could sit near them. Keep an eye on them while I was sketching out new ideas for pieces I wanted to make. And thanks to those counseling sessions, Orion had become more supportive of what I was doing. What I was trying to do. He began spelling me on the weekends so that I could do my work, go on my hunts for new materials. When I won that “best in show” prize? It was Orion who had urged me to enter the competition.

And then, in the middle of this better time, I got a little careless about birth control and along came Marissa. Our unplanned child.

He had kept promising he was going to get a vasectomy but never followed through with it. I was furious when I realized I was pregnant again, but only at first. I calmed down, just like I had with the twins. Accepted it. But my work suffered. I had to make all kinds of sacrifices because I put them first. Because I was a damned good mother. . . .

Most of the time. But then there were those times when I wasn’t. When Andrew would make me so mad that . . . Because he was always goading me. Challenging me. Wasn’t that why he took the brunt of it? Or was it because, of the three kids, he has the most O’Day in him? The reddish hair, the Irish eyes. He resembles my father around the eyes. And he has my father’s walk.

And who else does Andrew resemble? Go ahead. Say it.

“Miz Anna?”

“Hmm?” I look up, startled. Our housekeeper is standing there.

“Yes? What is it, Minnie?”

“I axed you if you got anything else needs washing?”

“Washing? Uh, no. Just the stuff that’s in the basket. Thanks.”

“Did I scare you just now, Miz Anna?”

“What? Oh, no. I was just thinking about something else.”

Minnie doesn’t say so, of course, but I get the feeling she doesn’t really approve of two wealthy women marrying each other. Or maybe she just doesn’t get why we’d want to. . . . Our housekeeper: I feel guilty even thinking it, let alone saying it out loud, which I did to Hector yesterday when he showed me the umbrella he’d found leaning against the wall downstairs in the lobby. “This isn’t yours, is it, Miss Oh?” he asked me.

“No, but I’ll take it. It’s our housekeeper’s. Thanks, Hector.” I reached into my purse, took a twenty from my wallet, and held it out to him.

“No, no, that’s okay. This thing don’t look like it cost twenty bucks to begin with. You don’t have to tip me all the time.” But I waved away his resistance and made him take it. I had just withdrawn two hundred dollars from the ATM at that Korean grocery store around the corner, so there were nine other twenties in my wallet. It wasn’t as if I was going to miss the tenth. Twenty dollars: what’s that these days? A taxi ride up to the Guggenheim plus tip? A couple of those fancy coffee drinks at Starbucks and a slice of their pricey pound cake? I’d rather let Hector have it.

Hector’s affable and he’s a talker. He works construction during the week, at the site where they’re building the 9/11 memorial. Works at our building on weekends. I like it when he tells me about his life. He has custody of his three kids for reasons he’s not gone into with me. One boy and two girls—the same as Orion and me, although his kids are still young. They’re beautiful children; he’s shown me their parochial school pictures. Now that school’s started again, he pays a neighborhood abuela to watch the kids from the time they get home until the time he does. His sister takes them on the weekends when he’s here. When I asked him once if it bothered him to work every day in that hole where the towers used to be, he shrugged and said that thing everyone says now: “It is what it is.” Ariane used to have that feminist poster in her bedroom: Rosie the Riveter, flexing her bicep, and beneath her, the motto: We can do it! Obama’s campaign motto last year was a variation on that. “Yes, we can!” he promised, and we needed so much to believe him that we actually elected a black man. I remember staring at the headlines and the TV news the morning after the election, in happy disbelief. But the economy’s even more of a mess than it was, our kids keep dying over there in those wars we started but can’t end, and it’s turned out that Obama isn’t a superhero after all. Maybe that’s the legacy of those fallen towers, all those lost lives: our national feeling of futility. No, we can’t do it. It is what it is. And who’s most affected by the way things are now? Not the people who can still afford the prices at the pump and at Starbucks. I heard on the news the other day that 77 percent of the children in New York’s public schools qualify for free breakfast and free lunch. That by next year, the unemployment rate may reach past 10 percent.

Last weekend, Hector was on second shift. Earlier that day, he’d borrowed his sister’s car and taken his kids to Six Flags for a last summertime hurrah. But coming back, the car broke down, and he was over an hour late. I’d just come back from a movie, and the building manager was berating him right in front of me while I waited for the elevator. There’d been complaints, he said, about the entrance being left unsupervised. Hector was mistaken if he thought he was irreplaceable; there was a stack of applications sitting on his desk. “And who do you think’s going to have to stand there before the co-op board and listen to them gripe this coming Monday? You, Martinez? No, me, that’s who.” I wanted to walk over there and ask that stupid manager if he’d ever been late. If he was perfect. What was that thing Jesus said when he was defending the adulteress? Let he without sin cast the first stone. But then the elevator doors opened, and I got in and pressed five without having said a thing. When Viveca called me from Greece and I mentioned the incident between Hector and the building manager—told her I wish I’d spoken up—she said it was probably better that I hadn’t. “The co-op board doesn’t like it when tenants get mixed up in issues involving the help,” she advised. . . .

My daughter Ariane wouldn’t have been a wimp about it; she’d have jumped right in and stuck up for Hector. She’s been a defender of the underdog ever since she was a kid. There was that time in high school when she had the party on prom night for all the girls who, like her, hadn’t been asked. I can still hear them all, down in our rec room, laughing and playing music, yakking away. And then there was the time when she defended that mentally retarded boy who was being taunted by the bullies. They were getting their kicks by circling him and pitching pennies at him, and Ariane had elbowed her way past them, taken the boy by the hand, and led him out of the circle. The bullies had targeted her for a few days after that, but when they saw that they couldn’t get to her, they knocked it off. It had stopped being fun. . . .

The help: it angered me, that superior tone, but I kept my mouth shut. That co-op board is like some kind of supreme body around here that everyone’s supposed to kowtow to. Before I moved into the building, Viveca had to have them approve my occupancy of her guest room, which, in my opinion, was bullshit. Whose apartment is it? Hers or theirs? The co-op board: they’re like those athletic boys in junior high that the principal picked to be hallway monitors. They’d put on their sashes and boss around the rest of us mere mortals. Move to the right! No talking during passing time! I said no talking! What are you, deaf? How’d you like to get reported? Goddamned Gestapo hall monitors. Well, it was previews of coming attractions. It’s not as if, after you leave junior high, you’re ever going to be free of bullies. They follow you through life. And okay, maybe I didn’t say anything when that stupid building manager was chewing out Hector. But my art says it. What did it say in that Village Voice review of my last show? That my pieces are political. Howls of protest against the misuse of power. Something like that. . . .

Coffee. I need coffee. Maybe a couple of cups of caffeine will motivate me to get to the studio today. I’m not sure why I’ve been avoiding going there, or why I lied to Viveca and said I was going. Is it wedding nerves? Has my creativity begun to abandon me? I take the beans out of the freezer (fair-trade, Guatemalan, thirteen dollars a pound at Zabar’s). Grind them, hit the “brew” button. Everything’s high end here. This new coffeemaker Viveca had sent over from Saks brews espresso and cappuccino, froths up milk for latté. I should check the manual; for all I know, it’ll dust the furniture and wipe your rear end for you as well. When it arrived, I saw the price on the receipt: seven hundred dollars. Jesus! The last I checked, you could get a Mr. Coffee on sale for $19.99. . . . Comfort the disturbed, disturb the comfortable. Maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m avoiding the studio because my life’s become too goddamned comfortable.

To stop thinking, I put on the TV, the morning news, and there’s Diane Sawyer, looking as pretty as ever. She must be in her sixties by now. Has she had work done? Have her lips always been that full, or have they been plumped with collagen? These are New York questions. Before I moved to Manhattan, I wouldn’t have given a rat’s ass one way or another. Well, she’s probably got her burdens, too. Ratings wars, celebrity stalkers. Being that famous must be so strange. . . . Last week, when I recognized Diane’s husband buying toothpaste at that Duane Reed, I couldn’t remember any of the movies he’s directed, but what I did recall was that his family had had to escape from the Nazis when he was a little boy, and that some childhood illness had left him without body hair. Passing him in the aisle, I glanced over to see if he had eyebrows, but when he caught me looking, I had to turn away. It’s not that I’m a celebrity. Far from it, thank god. But I’m known in the art world now to some extent—here in Manhattan at least. How would I like it if some collector knew more about my shitty childhood than they did about my work?

One time on this morning show—Valentine’s Day, I think it was—Diane said that when her husband travels and she misses him, she sometimes wraps herself in one of his shirts and his scent comforts her. . . . The Graduate: wasn’t that one of his films? “Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?” The evening Viveca came into my room, sat down next to me on the bed, and touched her impeccably manicured fingernails to my lips, kissed them, I remember feeling as confused as Dustin Hoffman was in that scene. But when we made love that night and she brought me to that long, unhurried orgasm, it reduced me to happy tears. It had been so long, and I was so grateful for the release, that I could barely catch my breath. But Viveca isn’t predatory the way Mrs. Robinson was. And our relationship is about much more than good sex. She loves me, and I love her. Trust her. I’ve missed her so much since she’s been away. Miss her the way I missed Orion when he was down there tending to his mother. The way I missed my own mother after those floodwaters carried her away. Missed my father those nights when I’d wait for him to come home from the bars. Is that what love is all about? Needing them to come back to you when they’re away? To come home and keep you safe? . . .

There’s the doorbell. I call down the hall to Minnie. “I’ll get it!”

It’s Hector. “Package for Ms. Christophoulos-Shabbas,” he says, handing it to me. When I tell him he didn’t have to come up, that he could have given it to me when he saw me in the lobby, he shakes his head. Reminds me that Viveca’s instructions are to bring deliveries right up to the apartment.

“Oh, okay,” I say. “Hold on a sec.” I go get my wallet. There are a few singles in there, a five, a twenty. Five seems too little and twenty seems too much, but I give him the larger bill anyway. He glances quickly at it before putting it in his pocket. “Thank you,” he says.

The package is from Neiman Marcus, and I know what’s in it: that expensive perfume Viveca wears: Clive Christian Floral Oriental. Yesterday when we talked, she wanted to know if it had arrived yet. When I said it hadn’t, she asked if I’d track the shipment on the computer. Can’t blame her for that, I guess. After I found out it was en route, I went on the Neiman Marcus Web site to see what that perfume costs. I wish I hadn’t. Twelve hundred dollars an ounce: that’s just plain ridiculous. . . . But why shouldn’t she buy these luxury items if she wants them? She works hard, she’s inherited money from both her father and her late husband, she’s generous with the charities she supports—even sits on the boards of a couple of them: Literacy Partners, God’s Love We Deliver. I should stop being so goddamned judgmental. Stop feeling guilty that I love the smell of that perfume on her, the taste of the coffee that our Esclusivo Magnifica makes. I guess I’m suffering from . . . what would you call it? Lifestyle guilt? I should ask Orion to look it up in that book he was always consulting—the DSM whatever it was. Maybe I’ve got some fashionable rich lady’s neurosis.

Independent of Viveca, I’m financially comfortable now—more than comfortable, actually, because of what collectors pay for my work. Well, independent of Viveca and independent because of her, too. My art is sold exclusively at her gallery, and I’m the featured artist on But I remember what it’s like to live a nickel-and-dime life. To count on waitressing tips—a couple of pounds of change per shift, plus dollar bills and the occasional five or ten. I doubt Hector would be putting on that gray doorman’s uniform and standing in the lobby every Saturday and Sunday if he didn’t need the extra income. Still, he’s always so good-natured. Hector may be the most noncynical New Yorker I’ve met in the four years I’ve lived here. . . . Unless it’s an act. Maybe that big, warm smile of his hides his resentment. “The service people aren’t your friends,” Viveca warned me once, shortly after I moved in here. “Nor do they want to be. Be respectful of that.”

One time? This was shortly after I began staying at Viveca’s but before we started sleeping together. A customer at viveca c—an investment banker—had just bought one of my pieces for thirty thousand dollars, and I was feeling so flush and free that I opened a window and tossed out a hundred-dollar bill. I watched it flutter end over end toward the street below, then looked away before it landed. I didn’t want to see anyone scrambling after it, or worse, two people fighting over it. I just wanted to imagine someone with a hard life happening by and getting a nice surprise. Picking it up and being on their way, a little less burdened because of that unexpected hundred-dollar bill.

I sit down at the table, unpeel a banana, and eat it while I work on the Sudoku puzzle I ripped out of yesterday’s paper. The Esclusivo Magnifica plays its little snatch of classical music, signaling that the coffee’s ready. I get up, grab a mug, pour, sip. Back in Connecticut, when Orion and I were first married, I’d reuse tea bags to economize. At the grocery store, I would buy whatever coffee was on sale that week: the store brand or Yuban or Chock full o’Nuts. Chock full o’Nuts is that heavenly coffee. Better coffee a millionaire’s money can’t buy. Ha! Guess again. This coffee from our high-priced machine is bracing and delicious. So shut up and enjoy it, Annie. You can’t have it both ways—live like this and resent it at the same time. Stop being such a goddamned hypocrite.

I give up on the Sudoku puzzle; this one’s too hard and I’m not that good at them in the first place. In fact, I stink. Numbers, logic: that’s never been my strong suit. On TV, Mario Cuomo’s son—the cute one, not the politician—is reading the news. I’m getting a yogurt out of the fridge when I hear him say something about Cape Cod. I look up. They’re showing footage of great white sharks cruising the water. Has Orion heard about this? He loves swimming in the ocean. I’d better call him. Mario’s son says that the Cape’s merchants and innkeepers are worried that this last hurrah of the tourist season will take a major hit during what’s already been an off year because of the bad economy.

You’ve reached the voice mail of Dr. Orion Oh. . . .

I don’t get it. Why hasn’t he changed his greeting yet? Orion left his practice at the university over a month ago, opting for early retirement—something I still don’t understand. Why would a worka-holic do that so abruptly? And why, all of a sudden, does he want to sell the house after he was so adamant during the divorce negotiations about not selling it? About staying put whether I’d left or not.

If this is an emergency, please call . . .

I was shocked when Orion took Viveca up on her offer to use her beach house for his Cape Cod getaway. He’d refused at first, but then he changed his mind. Why? Whatever’s going on with him, I don’t think he’s shared it with the kids. I talked to all three of them this week, and none of them voiced any worry about their father. Has he met someone? No, that can’t be it. If he had, Marissa would have wormed it out of him and called me. Andrew and Ariane can keep a secret but not their little sister.

There’s a long, long beep, which means he hasn’t been picking up his messages. “Hey, there. It’s me,” I say. “Have you left for the Cape yet? I just wanted to tell you, in case you haven’t heard, that they’ve been spotting sharks up there. Be careful, okay? I hope you’re well. Call me.”

Marissa’s probably right. I should learn how to text-message. “Daddy hardly ever answers the phone, Mom. But whenever I text him, he texts me right back,” she told me yesterday. Well, good for her, but I’d prefer to talk to her father—to hear it in his voice that he’s doing okay. Or not. When you’ve been married to someone for as long as Orion and I were, you can hear in a conversation if something’s wrong—not so much in what’s said as the way it’s said. The inflections, the hesitations

. . .

Is it the wedding? The fact that it will be in Three Rivers? Is that what’s bothering him? I didn’t want to not invite Orion. It’s doubtful that Andrew’s coming, but both of our girls will be there, and I know he’d like to see them. And Donald and Mimsy are driving up from Pennsylvania; Orion’s always liked my brother and his wife and he hasn’t seen them in ages. Still, I don’t want him to feel that he has to attend. Yesterday, Viveca’s assistant e-mailed me the list of who’s coming and who’s declined and apparently Orion hasn’t sent in his response card yet. . . . I was delighted, though, to see Mr. Agnello’s name on the list. I want to introduce Viveca to the man who validated my artistic efforts all those years ago when I was struggling against self-doubt, wondering if I should stop kidding myself and just give up. Mr. Agnello must be in his nineties by now. He and I have exchanged Christmas cards for twenty-something years, and when I didn’t get a card back from him this past Christmas, I was worried that he might have . . .

Is it because I’m marrying a woman? Is that why Orion hasn’t responded? He’s never been homophobic, but maybe this strikes too close to home. Bruises his male ego. That time when we met with the lawyers to negotiate the terms of the divorce, he’d already been drinking. I could smell it. And it wasn’t exactly the cocktail hour; it was 11:00 a.m. I’d wanted to say something to him about it after we left, but I didn’t. I was still trying to figure out what the new rules were about such things, now that we were almost divorced. The other day, I tried imagining what it would be like if the shoe was on the other foot—if he had left me for a man. It was a ridiculous exercise: picturing two hairy-chested men in bed with each other, one of them Orion. LOL, as Marissa would put it. LMFAO.

The truth, whether Orion believes it or not, is that I hadn’t left him for Viveca. I’d left him for New York—for the opportunities it offered me, creatively and commercially. What developed between Viveca and me had been unplanned, unpremeditated. . . .

My “defection,” Orion had called it on that awful Sunday back in Connecticut when I finally admitted that Viveca and I had become involved, that I’d fallen in love with her. I was “a Judas,” he said. I could get my own goddamned ride back to the train station, because he sure as hell wasn’t taking me there. He was through with being “a fucking sap.” I’d had to hire a cab to New Haven, and on the train ride back to the city, I’d kept replaying our argument. If I was Judas, then that made him Jesus Christ, right? Well, maybe he should come down from his cross and take some of the responsibility for the fact that our marriage had failed. Which of us had practically raised Andrew and the girls single-handedly all those years when he’d leave for work early and come home late? Sit in his office all day and into the evening, counseling college kids about their problems? What about my problems? What about the fact that I felt frustrated and neglected all those years while he was playing savior to those troubled students of his and then coming home and feeling sorry for himself because of the toll they took? Drinking his beers and falling asleep by nine when I still had laundry to fold and put away, and three school lunches to make for the next morning, before I could go down to my gloomy little studio and grab a measly hour or two for my work.

Thank god the bitterness has subsided on both our parts. We have our kids to thank for that and our mutual investment in their lives, our shared worries about their unhappiness and their safety: Ariane’s failed romances, our worries about where Andrew’s military career might take him, where Marissa’s impetuousness might take her. Our concern for our kids’ well-being binds us despite our divorce. Will always bind us. And he’s come around, made an effort with Viveca despite the fact that I can tell he doesn’t like her. . . . Whether Viveca understands it or not, I still care about Orion, which is why I’m worried about him. Why, maybe, I shouldn’t have put his name on the guest list—made the decision myself instead of listening to Marissa’s “Daddy’s an adult, Mom. He can decide if he wants to go or not.” The last thing I want to do is make him feel he has to come if it will be too weird or too painful for him. . . .

I don’t know. Marriage, parenting, divorce: it’s a complicated equation, but there’s no sense in pretending that we don’t still have feelings for each other, no matter who failed who. Or is it “whom”? Fifty-two years old and I still don’t know the difference. What mistake had I made that time when Marissa, in the middle of her bratty teenage phase, called me on my bad grammar? “Her and I”: that was it. Ariane and I were making supper, and Marissa was leaning against the counter, trying as hard as she could to annoy me. And I was doing everything I could to show her that she couldn’t get my goat. But when I happened to mention that I’d run into Ruth Stanley at the post office, and that “her and I” hadn’t seen each other in ages, Marissa felt obliged to let me know how stupid I was. “It’s she and I, Mother.” Whenever she was mad at me back then—which was most of the time—I was “Mother” instead of “Mom” or “Mama.” She went on to inform me that the way I murdered the English language embarrassed her in front of her friends, and so when they came over, would I please do her a favor and not speak to them? Well, that hit a nerve. I burst into tears, furious with myself for letting her see me cry. But then Ari had jumped to my defense. Had turned to her little sister and demanded that Marissa apologize to me. She did it, too. Ariane’s easygoing for the most part, but she can be fierce in the face of injustice. I’ve often thought she would have made a good lawyer. In the wake of Marissa’s remark, I’d gone out and bought one of those Dummies books on grammar. I studied it, spoke self-consciously for a while. I’m pretty sure it’s no matter who failed whom, now that I think about it, although I don’t remember why. . . .

Orion and Viveca have that much in common, at least: their intelligence and good educations, the way they know how to say things correctly without having to think about it. Viveca’s fluent in three languages, and he used to do the Times crossword puzzles in pen. Complete them most Sundays. Odd how they both got mixed up with me, the girl with three years of high school and a G.E.D. It’s funny. In all the years Orion and I were together, I can’t remember him ever correcting me. And the only reference Viveca’s ever made was that time, shortly after I started living here, when she kissed me on the forehead and called me her “Eliza Dolittle.” Do little: I’d assumed she was implying that I didn’t help enough around the apartment. But later that same day when she came in and I was running the vacuum, she pulled the plug and reminded me that that was Minnie’s job. It wasn’t until weeks later, when they were showing My Fair Lady on the old movie channel, that I finally got it: in Viveca’s mind, I was unschooled Audrey Hepburn to her upper-class Rex Harrison. It was what that marriage counselor Orion and I went to that time called “ouch moments”: when your spouse said something that felt hurtful. You were supposed to speak up immediately, let them know. I never called Viveca on what she’d said, though. It was weeks after the fact, and she probably wouldn’t have even remembered making the comment. And anyway, Viveca’s never corrected my grammar, either. She probably just cringes in silence whenever I make a mistake. Maybe that was what Orion did all those years, too. . . . That day when Ariane jumped to my defense after Marissa embarrassed me, I invited my A+ daughter to let me know whenever I said something wrong. I knew she’d be gentle about it. Clue me in privately. But Ariane never took me up on it. She was not only the best student of my three, but the kindest, too—more compassionate than either her twin brother or her little sister. She has her father’s temperament, his need to help others. Which is probably why she’s a soup kitchen manager, not a lawyer. She and her father have always been close. Ariane is Daddy’s girl. When I told her that morning that we were getting a divorce, she was immediately defensive on Orion’s behalf, and that was before I told her the reason why I was divorcing him. My god, when I did tell her, she was furious with me. But she came around, started speaking to me again soon enough. My mother is leaving my father because she’s in love with a woman, she must have decided. It is what it is. . . .

When I called Ari yesterday to let her know I wanted to pay for her flight in from California for the wedding, she said, “No, no, Mama. You don’t have to do that.” But I want to. I appreciate her making the effort. San Francisco to Boston: how much would that cost? Four hundred dollars? Five hundred? She can’t afford that. Not on whatever she makes managing that food bank out there. Her annual income is probably less than what Marissa makes on the residuals from that insurance commercial she’s in. That thing runs so often: Marissa as a newlywed shopping with her “husband” for insurance from that blissed-out saleswoman with the headband and the big hair. How much must that actress make? She’s on TV all the time, on the radio, in pop-up ads on the Internet. She always acts so hyped-up about the insurance she’s selling, it’s as if she’s taken amphetamines or something. I’m just going to write Ariane a check and send it to her, no matter how much she protests.

I offered to pay for Andrew’s and his fiancée’s flights up from Texas, too, but he says he doubts they’ll come. Can’t spare the time. It bothered me that he said it with such disdain. I told him I was looking forward to meeting his bride-to-be but that I understood, of course. Still, I got the message: he doesn’t approve of my marrying Viveca. I’m just not sure if he’s resentful on behalf of his father, his gender, or his newfound religious conservatism.

Of my three kids, Andrew was the least likely, I would have figured, to embrace evangelical Christianity. On the contrary, he was always the one most likely to break the rules if not the Commandments—the only one of the three his father and I ever had to sit in court with. The marijuana arrest, the shoplifting arrest, the time he and his high school pals got drunk and spray-painted those school buses. And then, at the beginning of his senior year, those hijacked planes hit the Twin Towers, and it changed him. I can still see him, glued to the TV on that awful day, tears running down his face. When he started in about how he wanted to be part of America’s response, it had frightened me.

I begged Andrew not to go into the military. Said all the wrong things. Argued that all those stupid Rambo movies he had grown up watching were all just macho Hollywood bullshit. But Orion was wonderful. He calmed me down, reminded me that the last thing we should do was make our son defensive. He was eighteen, after all; he didn’t need our permission to enlist. Then Orion had gone online. Had gone downtown and talked to that recruiter. Armed with the information he had gathered, he had approached Andrew with that measured, logical way of his. Explained to him that if he went to college, got his degree, and still wanted to serve, he could enter as a second lieutenant and be eligible for Officer Candidate School. And so Andrew had gone off to school instead of off to war. . . . It was that goddamned organic chemistry class he was taking junior year in college that had wrecked everything. Filled him with self-doubt every time he flunked a quiz. That, and the fact that the girl he’d been dating since his freshman year had broken up with him. He hadn’t even told us he’d withdrawn from school and enlisted until two weeks before he was due to report for basic training. . . .

Now he’s found his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And my guess is that the god he’s pledged himself to frowns upon gay marriage. When Ariane sent me the link to the newspaper article about Andrew’s engagement, it became obvious, more or less. Mr. and Mrs. Branch

Commerford of Waco are pleased to announce the engagement of their daughter, Casey-Lee, to Mr. Andrew Oh, son of Dr. and Mrs. Orion Oh of Three Rivers, Connecticut. Orion’s and my divorce was finalizedalmost a year ago, and I haven’t lived in Three Rivers for the last four.Either Andrew is in denial or he’s lying to his in-lawsand his bride-to-be.She’s a pretty little thing, a petite blonde. Casey-Lee:it’s a beautycontestant name. Somewhere along the way, I read or heard that Texashas had more Miss Americas than any other state. And those parents’names—Branchand Erlene. Erlene: I’d bet any amount of moneythat she’s got big hair. There’s a brother that Marissa says everyonecalls Little Branch. Big Branch and Little Branch: good god. Well,if Andrewneeds to hide the fact that I’m marrying Viveca, I guess Ican be discreet about it. But when they get married, I’m not about tofly down there and pretend that his father and I are still Mr. and Mrs.If I’m even invited to the wedding, that is. Maybe I’ll be expected tostay away, stay under wraps. What was that book they had us read inhigh school—theone where the crazy wife was locked upstairs in theattic? . . .

It’s ironic, really, that my son now seems to have an aversion to lesbians. He sure was curious about them when he was in high school. I remember that time when, after I’d told him a hundred times to go upstairs and clean his pigsty of a bedroom and heard “I will, Mom. . . . I’m gonna” that I finally gave up. Decided to go up there and do the job myself. And I did—with a vengeance. Filled up three big garbage bags with crap that I was going to throw out, whether he liked it or not. I was a woman on a mission. And when I went to flip his mattress, I discovered his stash of dirty magazines and all those gym socks that never seemed to make it into the hamper, most of them stiff with I-knew- what. . . . I didn’t much mind the Playboys and Penthouses. Half the teenage boys in America had those hidden away, I figured. But one of his socks was stuck to the cover of a magazine called Girl on Girl. I’d stood there, flipping through it—looking at all those hideous pictures of women having sex with cucumbers and other women wearing strap-on dildos. Fake sex, it was obvious to me, although it probably wasn’t to Andrew. They all had freakishly big breasts, and one of them, I remember, had areolas as big as the rubber jar opener down in our kitchen drawer. They all looked drugged. In the photo that infuriated me the most, two women were wearing nothing but cowboy hats and holsters cinched around their hips, and one was inserting the barrel of a gun into the other’s vagina. I flipped when I saw that one! Marched downstairs and out to the garage where Andrew was fiddling with the gears of his ten-speed. “Where did this come from?” I demanded, and when he saw what I was holding in my hand, even his ears turned red. He told me a kid in his homeroom had shoved it in his backpack without him knowing it. “Baloney!” I said. “You listen to me, young man. And look me in the eye, too.” I waited until he did. “Whoever took these pictures, and whoever publishes this garbage, is committing violence against women. You got that? And whoever’s looking at it is guilty, too. You have two sisters, Andrew. This junk is an assault on them and me and every other woman, including the ones in this picture.” He mumbled something that I didn’t catch. “What? I didn’t hear you. What did you say?”

“I said they posed for them, didn’t they?”

“Yes, they did. Probably in exchange for drugs. Or because they’d get beaten up by their pimps if they didn’t. This is violent male fantasy, Andrew. Do you think women want to have guns stuck up inside of them?”

“Okay,” he said. “You made your point.”

But I was just getting started. I waved the two “cowgirls” in his face.

“Do you think women really have breasts this size?”

He shrugged. “Some,” he said.

“Ha! Guess again. These poor girls have had their breasts sliced open and sacks of silicone put in so that men—and boys—can drool over them. Do you know what happens when that stuff starts leaking inside a woman’s body? I’m ashamed of you, Andrew. And if you ever bring this kind of garbage into my house again—”

Your house? I thought it was our house.”

I rolled up his dirty magazine and whacked him across the face with it. “Don’t you dare smart-mouth me, Andrew Oh! What do you think your father’s going to say when I show him this ‘reading material’ of yours?”

The shrug again. “He’s probably not going to go mental about it like you’re doing.” The next thing I knew, the wrench he’d been using on his bike was in my hand. I took a swing at him and missed. He froze for a second or two, shocked. Then he shielded his head with his arm. “Jesus, Mom, stop! You’re my mother, for cripe’s sake!”

I dropped the wrench. Watched him run down the driveway and out into the road. “And from now on, put your dirty socks in the hamper!” I screamed. “And don’t stick anything inside them except your big, smelly feet!” That was when I realized old Mr. Genovese across the street was standing in his doorway, watching. Fired up still, I shouted over to him. “Mind your own business! Shut your goddamned door!” Lucky for him, he did what he was told.

Fueled, still, by self-righteous anger, I pounded back up to Andrew’s room, lugged those three garbage bags to the landing and flung them down the stairwell. Dragged them out to the car, drove to the dump, and took enormous pleasure in heaving them onto a mountain of trash. By the time I got back home, I had cooled down. I decided not to tell Orion about Girl on Girl after all, and I was grateful that Andrew didn’t tell his father that I’d swung at him with the wrench—something I now felt ashamed of having done. But I have to admit that, in the aftermath of my having cleaned out his room, I enjoyed it whenever he asked me about his stuff.

“Is my Alonzo Mourning jersey still in the wash, Mom?”

“Nope. It’s at the dump.”

“Mom, do you know where that blue notebook is where I’m recording my weight-lifting routine?”

“I guess it’s probably sitting over in the landfill.”

“Mom, Mrs. Kilgallen’s ragging me because I haven’t handed in my copy of Heart of Darkness. You didn’t toss that out, did you?” “If it was on your bedroom floor, I did.” “Mom, that was school property. What am I supposed to tell Kilgallen?” I advised him to tell her he’d go to the bookstore and buy her a replacement copy. “Can I have the money for it then?”

“Not from me you can’t. Use your own goddamned money.”

Poor Andrew. I was always harder on him than I was on his sisters. Maybe his being “too busy” to fly up here for the wedding is payback. Maybe I’m getting exactly what I deserve. . . .

Unlike her brother, Marissa, our free spirit, is all for Viveca’s and my upcoming wedding. Her mother marrying a woman: she thinks it’s hip. And I’m a little concerned about the attention Viveca’s been giving her. They chat on the phone. They’ve gone out a couple of times, just the two of them. It’s not that I’m ungrateful that Viveca’s made an effort with my daughter. I appreciate that she has. But both times when they got back from those lunch dates, Marissa was carrying boxes and bags from Bergdorf’s. Viveca’s bought her that Jimmy Choo handbag she loves, the Prada platform pumps that I’d break my neck if I ever tried wearing. Designer things that an aspiring actress and part-time waitress could never afford. As good a kid as she is, Marissa’s always been a little too status conscious, and it’s almost as if Viveca is trying to buy her affection. And apparently it’s working. What was that thing Marissa said last week when the three of us were at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square? When she pointed out that children’s book? “Look. Heather has two mommies just like me.” It made me feel defensive on Orion’s behalf. She’s his daughter, not Viveca’s. . . .

What’s wrong with me today? Why am I worrying about all these things that probably don’t even matter? I walk around the apartment, wandering aimlessly from room to room. Passing the guest bathroom, I look in at Minnie. She’s down on the floor, wearing her knee pads, scouring the grout between the floor tiles. Viveca’s a stickler about clean grout; she has Minnie use some bleaching agent to get it white. I walk past my poster, annie oh: a shock to the system! February 1–March 31 at viveca c gallery. She went all out for that show: ads in the Times, the New Yorker, and New York. Hired that publicist who got me those TV interviews that I was such a nervous wreck about. . . . Back in the kitchen, I grab the remote and change the channel. On the Today show, that Dr. Nancy lady is cautioning Ann Curry about some new medical thing we all have to worry about. I channel-surf past Cookie Monster, cartoons, cake decorating. On CNBC, they’re talking about the global economy—the looming debt crisis in Greece that the Germans may or may not rescue them from. Viveca’s mentioned the possibility of Greece defaulting, too, and how, for some reason I didn’t understand, it could be good for her business if the euro is devalued. It’s funny: she identifies so strongly with her Greek heritage. You would think she’d be more concerned about the country’s balance sheet than her own. . . . The old movie channel’s showing Mildred Pierce. There’s Joan Crawford with her shoulder pads and severe eyebrows, talking to her maid, who I recognize. Whom I recognize? It’s that little actress from Gone With the Wind—the slave with the squeaky voice who didn’t “know nothin’ bout birthing babies.” Slaves, maids: it wasn’t as if the studios were going to hire that actress to play anything else. At least Viveca doesn’t expect Minnie to show up at the apartment in one of those old-fashioned uniforms with the little hat and frilly apron. Minnie wears the same clothes most days: her beige Sean John sweat suit and her plaid canvas sneakers. Marissa tells me that Sean John is that rap guy, Diddy or P. Diddy or whatever he calls himself. One time when she was here, she complimented Minnie on her taste. Told her she liked Sean John clothes, too. And Minnie had smiled her toothless smile and told her she picked it up “for cheap” at a street fair in Newark. . . . On the Christian channel, the pompadoured host is chatting about Jesus’s love with a plump old lady in a pastel party dress and bright red lipstick. I suddenly realize it’s Dale Evans. She died, didn’t she? This must be a rerun. My foster mother, the first one, used to send me to school every day with an American cheese and mustard sandwich and an apple inside a rusty Roy Rogers and Dale Evans lunch box. (No Thermos like the other kids; I had to drink from the fountain.) Roy and Dale were passé by then, and I was jealous of the cool lunch boxes some of the other girls in my class carried: Dr. Kildare, The Beverly Hillbillies, and then that crème de la crème of lunch boxes, Meet the Beatles. . . .

Carrying Viveca’s package down the hall to our bedroom, I glance in again at Minnie. She’s seated on the edge of our soaking tub, taking a break from her grout cleaning. She’s got her knee pads on, her legs spread so far apart that she could be giving birth. I wave; she waves back. When I enter the bedroom, they startle me again: those dresses. The brides.

All three of the Vera Wangs are beautiful, but none is me. What is me is the dress I’d already bought off the rack at that vintage dress shop I like in Tribeca: a basket-weave shift, bright yellow with bold diagonal turquoise stripes—two hundred dollars marked down to $129.99. I like those funky stripes, its above-the- knee length. The label says Mary Quant. I looked her up. Wikipedia says she was a mod British designer, popular during the 1960s. Cool, I thought, but when I tried it on and showed it to Viveca, she said, “Sweetheart, it’s cute and it looks adorable on you, but to me it says sundress, not wedding dress. It’s . . . youthful. On our special day, I’d love to see you in something a little more elegant and celebratory. Just think of all the lesbians over the years who couldn’t be brides. We’re honoring them, too. In another era, we would have had to pass as spinsters who couldn’t find men to marry them.” She’d laughed when she said “spinsters,” it’s so far out of the realm of who she is, who she thinks we are.

Lesbians: that’s what I am now. Right? I’m marrying a woman, aren’t I? And I’ve slept with another woman—Priscilla, the wiry tomboy I used to waitress with at Friendly’s. But I don’t see our marrying as something that necessarily balances the scales of justice or honors the dykes of yesteryear. . . . Spinsters who couldn’t find men to marry them: why had she said that? We’ve both been married to men. Viveca says I should pack the dress and bring it along on our wedding trip—that I can wear it when we shop or go out for lunch. She’s also suggested I go with her the next time she gets a bikini wax. “There’s more nudity than not on the beaches in Mykonos and hairless pussies are de rigueur,” she said. Viveca gets a massage and a wax every other week. Her pubic patch is a fashionably thin vertical line that stops just above her labia. I might go topless at those beaches when we’re over there, but I am not going bottomless. And anyway, I don’t even like the beach that much. It’s different for Viveca. She’s Greek. Her given name is Vasiliki, not Viveca. She’s anglicized the name for commercial reasons. She tans so effortlessly. But with my red hair and Irish complexion, I have to be careful. I could burn to a crisp.

I look over toward the bureau, and there’s that index card I scrawled on yesterday. I pick it up and read what I’d written down. After Chaos\ arose broad-breasted Gaia, the primordial goddess of the Earth. . . . Among their children were the Cyclopes, the Hundred-Handed giants. Monsters, like the monsters that are being birthed in the poster hanging in the hallway, the hundred-handed monster in my life—the shark who swims in the waters of my memory. Whose voice I both dread and entertain because it drives my art. . . . I’m hit by a pang of missing Viveca: the sound of her voice, the warm safety of her body next to mine. I approach the Gaia dress. Touch it, run the beautiful green silk between my fingers. After Chaos arose broad-breasted Gaia. I sit on our bed and open the Neiman Marcus box. Unscrew the top of Viveca’s perfume bottle and inhale her scent: orange blossoms, vanilla. I love her. Miss her the way Diane Sawyer misses Mike Nichols when he’s away and she puts on his shirt. . . .

I read the index card over and over, and as I do, I begin to feel the agitation, familiar and strange. Gaia . . . Gaia. Am I on the verge of something? Is it coming?

Maybe not. Maybe my comfortable life here has begun to snuff out my creativity. Maybe I’ve peaked and it’s all downhill from here.

I shake my head. Shake off my self-doubt. My brain is spinning. My fingers are flexing, making invisible art. It’s exciting and scary when it comes, like watching an approaching cyclone and standing defiantly in its path. Maybe before this day is out, the weather inside my brain will set me spinning. Maybe I’ll find myself in my studio, facing my need to scream out. Fight back against the monster. Make art.

We Are Water
by by Wally Lamb

  • Genres: Fiction
  • hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0061941026
  • ISBN-13: 9780061941023