Fiction by David Astrofsky
170x150cm, oil on canvas, 2021, by Thomas Mazzarella. Copyright the artist. Courtesy the artist.

It started with me breaking her coffee table. I’d just finished carrying her bags up four flights of stairs. I’d been stuck at home with the flu all day—I had a fever so bad I had to close one eye to see straight. When I saw her out my window though, with flush cheeks and snow in her rich auburn hair, I went outside to help.

It was kind of like that thing about how mothers, when their kids are in trouble, can lift SUVs. Guys, I think, when there’s a beautiful woman involved, can carry any amount of bags up any amount of stairs while running a fever.

I lay her bags down in a row along the floor. She was subletting my neighbor’s apartment. We talked about how long she’d be staying there, how well she knew my neighbor, other things that went in one ear and out the other. It wasn’t that I was disinterested, that she bored me—I was dizzy. 

You don’t remember much about fainting. I remember I tipped forward. I reached out to break my fall and this was how I broke her coffee table. I caught my elbow on the spotless glass top—it was a sleekly designed, modern looking thing—and the glass completely shattered. A sea of sparkly bits spread across the gray shag carpet.

Corinne got me up on the sofa. My arm bled, and she rolled back the sleeve of my ancient, I-Hate-LA Celtics shirt, pinching several shards from my elbow. 

She had cold, delicate hands.

“We should probably go to the ER,” she said.

I thought about that, how “we” should probably go. I got butterflies. Then I thought about how I didn’t have insurance. I thought of all those ailing strangers who’d be sitting there waiting, my own pathetic self joining their ranks in the harsh, sterile light… 

“God, you’re warm.” She pressed a hand to my forehead. “We should definitely go.”

She was older than me, about ten years or so, I guessed, maybe in her early forties. She had long and slender legs, a square and guarded face. She looked sexy and tough, like one of those marathon-running women I sometimes saw on fitness mags at the grocery store. All I could see was her sitting there beside me as I filled out the intake form. They always asked for way more information than they needed on those forms; I always skipped stuff. Nine times out of ten, the receptionist came out from behind the desk to find me.

“Maybe we could call ahead to see what the wait is like?”

She laughed. “We’re not exactly making dinner reservations…”

Determined to project a certain stoicism, I convinced her that I was OK. My sister was the one who took me in, when I didn’t stop bleeding, later that night. We sat in the waiting room. There was only this girl with a broken nose, surprisingly, and Maggie filled out my forms while I shut my eyes. She asked me how badly the table was busted.

“It wasn’t so bad.”

“How bad?” she said.


“Destroyed?” She knew she’d have to pay.

“Not destroyed, per se—”

“How bad?”

It wasn’t my plan to involve Corrine, because it wasn’t her problem, but the table—what was left of it, anyway—wouldn’t fit in the trunk of my Miata. On a Saturday afternoon, we took her station wagon to a furniture repair place in downtown Salem. I insisted she let me drive. I think she was surprised I could drive a stick shift, and I performed for her a little, heel-toeing through a stale yellow traffic light, downshifting tidily as I wound along an off-ramp. As it turned out, the coffee table was a fine and very expensive piece of furniture. It was a genuine Noguchi table. It was almost one hundred percent genuine Noguchi, in fact, save for its one glaring flaw: the knockoff glass countertop which shattered under my weight was counterfeit, not Noguchi at all. 

The furniture repair man was the one who explained this. He wore a wool sweater with fuzzy little bits of different colors stuck onto it. The glass tops of Noguchi tables, he told us, were often traded out and swapped for cheaper glass. The dealers who did this then sold the original glass, separately—it was nearly indestructible—swindling people.

“It will take us about a month,” he said, “to get you an original. We can set you up with a cheap-o piece of junk, but I can tell that you don’t want that.”

“How can you tell?” I said.

He laughed. “When I’m right, I’m right, huh?” he said to Corrine.

She made noise about splitting the cost, but I turned her down. I explained about Maggie, how not only did she have money, but unfortunately for her, she cared about me deeply.

“You know, I met her—your sister,” Corrine said. "The other day, in the hall. She was saying she was worried you were pulling your Howard Hughes shit. What’s your Howard Hughes shit?”

Over lunch at a Mexican restaurant not far from the shop, I explained that for many years my sister had been convinced that my “antics” began after seeing this long and stupid movie about the life of Howard Hughes.

“First of all, they aren’t antics,” I said.

“Wait,” she said. “You mean that movie with Leo Dicaprio?”

“We were on a double date,” I said. “It was Maggie and her husband—they’ve since divorced—and me and this woman who used to teach at the Prep.” I didn’t tell her I was only a substitute at the Prep; I hoped maybe she thought I was an actual teacher, an administrator even, not just some babysitter. “What my sister refuses to accept,” I told her, “is that she merely started recognizing stuff. I didn’t pick anything up from that movie. It’s just because she saw something similar in the movie, then all of a sudden she had something to call it. I didn’t even like that movie. To be honest, I fell asleep for a while.”

“But what do you do?” she said. “Are you weird? I don’t mean, are you weird-weird—we’re all weird, obviously—but what kind of stuff? I won’t judge, I swear. For example, I bite my nails. Seriously, I’ve done it since I can remember.”

I told her it was nothing so bad as peeing into milk jugs, watching the same movies over and over in the darkness of a screening room, letting my nails grow so long you needed a saw. These were all the things DiCaprio had done as Howard Hughes.

Somehow, I couldn’t explain. I kept explaining it like I was asking her a question. 

“Sometimes I talk to myself? Never in public,” I said. “It’s just when I’m alone.”

“I do that, too. Just this morning, I walked into the kitchen. I said, ‘Man, it’s so fucking cold in here.’”

“Yeah… Well, I do that also, but sometimes it’s like… Well, sometimes it’s like I’m talking to somebody else?”

We ended up watching a movie that night. It was in another language, a language Corrine had studied in college, and the plot had to do with two college roommates in 1980s Eastern Europe. They were trying to get an abortion. I guess, at the time in Eastern Europe, it was illegal, and very much verboten to get an abortion.

I didn’t like the movie. I can’t say why exactly, but it was something about the overall mood. Obtaining an illegal abortion was gloomy enough, and though I understood the need, dramatically-speaking, for things to go from bad to worse, I felt the filmmakers had rubbed our noses in it.

“I don’t know about you,” I said. “But I’m glad it’s not 1987, and we’re not in Yugoslavia, and neither of us needs an abortion.”

“Romania,” she said.

“Right; Romania,” I said.

Corrine liked the way they helped each other out. The girl who needed the abortion, she said, didn’t know anything. The other girl was running around, covering her ass, doing everything that needed to be done, everything she could possibly do, because she loved her friend.

“Poor girl. The girl who needed the abortion totally used her.”

“You think so?” she said. “I thought it was touching.”

In the kitchen, she poured us beers. After taking a deep, foamy sip from her glass, she looked up and took my face into both her hands. She kissed me. She bit my lower lip, hard, then kissed me again—on the mouth, on the nose, on the chin.

I hadn’t been with anyone since I dropped out of college. It was with a girl who had assumed I belonged to some fraternity. It was Halloween night, and I was dressed as Mr. Rogers, which worked, amazingly, since I began to go gray very early.

On Corrine’s bed, she stripped off her turtleneck. “My tits look sorta pendulous,” she said, covering each with her hands. “They’re not really pendulous, it’s just that they start further down. Most other people’s start higher. They’re not saggy, so don’t be mistaken.”

I kissed up and down her chest, saying, “I think your breasts are perfect.”

“Oh, and one more thing.” She was pinching my neck.

“Uh-huh,” I said, surfacing. “Was I breathing out my mouth?”

“Could you just not say ‘breasts’? I mean, while we’re… or whatever… Can you just not call them ‘breasts’?”

Eventually, we were going pretty good. I mean, if somebody was watching, we could’ve easily passed as two people having completely normal, even pleasurable sex. All the time though, feeling her breath on my shoulder, her hands on my waist, I thought of her name. I did that sometimes. It wasn’t just with other people’s names, but my own name, too. It either flashed inside my head, or else floated past like a sheer, rippling banner. I could hear it. It started to sound like a word I repeated so many times it lost all meaning, except it was me—I was the word.

I focussed on her eyes. I fixated on the tiny bits of orange around the pupils.

“Can I say something?” she managed.

“Of course.”

“I’m really not one of those stare-into-my-soul kinds of people.”

We went out a few more times. She let me start picking the movies we watched. We’d go to dinner before the movie, and mostly we watched them at her place, which I liked because not only was her TV bigger, but the apartment itself wasn’t crowded with all my junk.

I’d yet to go back to the Prep. I was also doing other stuff, not just falling for Corrine, or “the coffee table girl,” as Maggie liked to call her. For instance, once, when Corrine was unavailable, I went to Home Depot. I bought a bunch of wood and nails and screws. I showed up at Maggie’s with all the supplies; I had my tool kit in the car like I always do. I set to work on a treehouse for my nephew, Maggie’s only son, Stephen. He was a good kid, nine years old, a little stubborn, but essentially well-intentioned. All in all, the treehouse took three days. I picked out a tall, strong oak in the backyard and stayed over on Maggie’s couch.

I worked through snow and sleet, a long night of heavy rain. Once I even fell asleep in the middle of the night under the bare tree’s skeletal canopy. That was when I decided to cut a skylight in the green tin roof. Stephen could look up and see the stars whenever he wanted. I didn’t know the stars myself, but we could learn them, the names of constellations and everything. At some point it’d be substantial material for Stephen to show off to girls at school.

I would’ve killed for a treehouse like that when I was a kid. It had a trapdoor-like hatch, and a pulley system, meaning somebody on the ground could put something in the bucket and then the person in the treehouse could yank up the bucket to receive whatever was inside. I painted the walls in three thick coats of olive drab. On each exterior wall, I stenciled bright Red Cross emblems, like in M*A*S*H*. The treehouse—if Stephen really used his imagination—could also double as the rescue chopper in M*A*S*H*, just like in the opening of the show.

“It was a show I watched when I was a kid,” I told him. “Actually, when I was a kid it was already in reruns. In fact, the reruns are still on today. You could watch them, too, the reruns, then later tell your nephew to watch them. It’s the greatest thing about reruns, really.”

We watched a couple episodes on TV Land, but then Stephen got bored. We watched the movie M*A*S*H*, the movie that came out before the show, and Maggie got mad about all the cursing and the gore. Of course, she walked in during the only bit of nudity.

“But I think he likes it better than the show,” I whispered. She brought me into the kitchen to deliver the reprimand. “Maybe he’s a fan of Robert Altman,” I was saying. And I thought of other movies I could show him, rattling them off: Nashville, Short Cuts, The Long Goodbye…

Judging by the look on her face, a mix of disappointment and suspicion, I grasped her tone had less, if anything, to do with M*A*S*H*.

“You haven’t been going to work,” she said.

“I just did three days of work. Look at that beautiful work of art outside your house.” I pointed out the glass sliding door to the treehouse.

“And I appreciate that—”

“Those vacation days all pile up,” I said. “They carry over. The ones I didn’t use last year got added to my vacation days this year. By the time you retire, almost everybody’s got way too many days left to use up. And that’s what they want. They want you to be frugal with your vacation days. At the end of thirty years, they still want you to have some left, so in the long run they’ve gotten more days out of you than they should have.”

“Who’s they?” she said.

“They is them. The people in charge!”

“Since when do substitutes get vacation days? You’re there so everyone else can take their vacation days.”

“I know my own vacation days,” I said.

“I talked to Mrs. G. They haven’t seen you in over a month.”

Mrs. G was the woman who got me the job. Basically, she invented the job—an in-house substitute teacher, a four-day-a-week “floater,” they called it, though I resented the term. Mrs. G was the school psychologist. She was the woman I’d had to see once a week in ninth grade, when I was opening doors and flicking light switches on and off with my elbows and feet. After that first time I went into the hospital, I took all my tests and quizzes in her office.

“I called to check in,” Maggie said. “I do that sometimes.”

“Check in about what?”

“You know about what.”

At dinner, she was still brooding. First, I tried brooding right back, but that never worked, since once Maggie sensed it, rather than capitulate, she went from brooding to enraged.

She wasn’t eating. It got so quiet, at some point I just turned to Stephen. “Can I ask you something?” I said.

“I told you, I liked the movie,” he said.

“Do I seem happy to you, Stephen?”

Maggie sighed.

“You’ve known me for how long?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Since I was born?”

“Right. Since you were born. And how long is that?”

“Nine years and three quarters?”

“For those nine years and three quarters you’ve known me, how many times have you seen me with someone besides your mother?”

“Like out on a date?”

“Does it seem like I have any other friends besides your mother?”

“Just because you got yourself a girlfriend,” Maggie said. “It doesn’t mean you go and quit your job.”


I’d noticed the man with the flask several times. He sat on the front steps of the building with a leashed dog always beside him, a German Shepherd with a yellow and red bandana tied round its neck. From afar, the shepherd was a nice looking animal. Next to this guy though, its eyes took on an embittered and diseased quality.

The guy, like the Shepherd, looked OK from afar—decently dressed, usually in loafers, an oxford shirt, even a tie now and then. But then you got closer. His clothes were dirty, bulging at the seams. He was rotund, and had a sad, ruddy face.

I knew he didn’t live here because I hadn’t ever seen him. Dogs were not allowed inside the building. It was a rule our landlord had made explicitly clear. There were magic-markered signs on the corner of every floor that read plainly, and in giant script: No Dogs!

This one afternoon, not only was he sipping from the flask when I got home, he alternated between the flask and a tall can of Budweiser. On my way upstairs, I ran into Corrine. She had her jacket on, buttoned up to the top, and that green knit hat she wore when we walked to the park to watch the tennis games.

“Oh, Francis,” she said. “I want you to meet my husband.”

I said, “Your husband?”

They had been separated for many years—not divorced, but separated, she explained. It was the first time I’d heard about any of it.

On the way back downstairs, she took me by the arm. “He’s got some… issues,” she whispered. “It never worked out, and it’s why I haven’t told you. I mean, we basically haven’t been married since we got married, but also I’m helping him. I’m trying to help him, anyway.”

When they came back from lunch, I clocked them from my bedroom window. I met them once more in the stairwell. Her husband still had the dog on the leash, and the flask peeked out the pocket of his red waxy raincoat.

“I’m afraid dogs aren’t allowed in the building,” I said. I pointed to one of the signs. I’d removed it from the rear hall and re-taped it near the stairs.

“He’s just coming up to use the bathroom,” she said.

She brushed past me, laughing, but I stood there. I stood there between her and the dog and her husband.

“No dogs,” I said. “To put it simply, those are the rules. You aren’t even a resident, and to be honest I could have you charged with loitering.”

“Francis,” she started.

“It’s OK,” her husband said. “I get it. It’s cool. Them’s the rules, right?” He giggled, shaking his head at me.

Corrine stepped down on the staircase. She took the leash from her husband and pressed it, hard, against my chest. “You take the dog. Don’s taking a leak.”

Later I said, “Why didn’t you tell me you were married?”

“Divorced people don’t have to tell everyone they sleep with they're divorced,” she said. “It’s not an STD or something.”

“We’re not just sleeping together—and you’re not divorced. You’re married,” I said.

She held me very tenderly, almost patronizingly, by the shoulders. “Francis, I enjoy spending time together. The fact is, we only just met. I’m not obligated to share every indiscretion of my life with you.”

“Marriage is an indiscretion?”

“You know what I’m saying.”

“I’m entitled to that kind of information,” I said. “He was frequenting our building. And not only that—he brought a dog.”

“He’s sick!” she said.

“I know,” I said. “It’s clear as day that dog should see a vet.”

“I mean, Don—he’s sick.”

“The point is, like I said, I’m entitled."

“When it comes to me,” she said, “you’re entitled to what I say you’re entitled to.”

“Fine,” I said. “I know I’m not entitled, but it’s something I require.”


“I’d like you to leave,” she said. “We can talk about this later, but I’d like you to go.”

In the hall, before she closed the door, I looked her up and down. I said again: “I’m not entitled, but it’s something I require.”

“I heard you the first time.”

“Corrine, I’m not saying I’m entitled. It’s necessary, that’s all. It’s necessary, if you’re going to know me.”

Watching the light flickering over the stairwell, I said it once more to the door as she closed it. I said it to my own door. I told the apartment three more times it was necessary then paced the room.

A week later, I was talking to her voicemail. “Corrine,” I was saying. “We’re not one of those couples who give each other the silent treatment. We’re both too smart for the antics, so just call me back.”

It was the fourth or fifth time I called that morning. I went across the hall, and like always her door was unlocked. I know, it’s a little unbelievable, but Corrine was from a small town in rural Iowa, and she still never locked her door. I told her all the time: This is Ipswich, Massachusetts, not Iowa, and she’d always laugh and say, “Exactly.”

I lay on her couch, channel-surfing on the big TV. I checked the On Demand and selected the recently-watched section. It hadn’t been so long since we’d spoken, but there were movies she’d watched without me. It was odd, because When Harry Met Sally was one of them, a movie we both agreed was a watered-down version of Annie Hall. If she was feeling as bad as I was about us, the real, honest thing was what she needed, not some lightweight substitute.

I remembered she told me the Social Services office where she worked was in Beverly. I Googled the number. A woman answered when I called; she had a dispassionate, almost offended tone of voice.

“Ms. Scott isn’t here,” she said.

“Uh-huh,” I said. “But could you tell me where she is?”

“No, I cannot.”

“So she’s probably out in the field or something, right? Is that what you call it—being out in the field, on an on-site visit? Is she at someone’s house making an on-site visit?”

“That information, unfortunately, is confidential.”

“Well that is unfortunate,” I said. “It’s unfortunate for me, anyway, because I’m her husband. And it’s very important that I get in touch with her. If you have to know, our dog is dead. I mean, it was killed; he got hit by a car.”

Her voice softened. It was only for a second; I could tell by the breath she drew she was about to double down on the whole war-hardened bit.

“I just scooped him up with a shovel,” I said. “Most of him, anyway.”

I was peering into her refrigerator when I put in the next call. The number the woman gave up had a 781 area code—Lynn, or maybe Revere. It rang and rang. On my second try, a man answered, breathlessly.

“And which one is Corrine again?” he said.

“Are there more than one? Never mind. She’s the one with dark hair… She does this thing where it looks like she’s rolling her eyes at you, but really it’s more of a tick? The more you get to know her, the less she does it. With me, she barely does it now.”

“Ah—the nice one,” he said.

If he was still in the room when Corrine got on the phone, he probably thought twice about who the nice one was.

“It’s unacceptable,” she kept saying. “I’m not even going to engage here, because I’m at work. This is totally, completely unacceptable.”

Outside the building, I waited. She usually got in around six, but I couldn’t wait that long in the foyer, never mind in either of our apartments. I was up and down the block at least a dozen times before she pulled up. My face, that Irish skin, gets pink in the cold. I don’t know if I looked crazy, but at the very least I’m certain I didn’t look psycho-crazy. I know I don’t have one of those faces because Maggie has assured me, and with things like this she has a hard time lying.

“Since when do you like When Harry Met Sally?” I said. Obviously, she’d forgotten what I told her about the deviations they’d made from the original script. I reminded her, “Nora Ephron didn’t even want them together at the end.”

“Please don’t ever call my office,” she said. “Do you hear what I’m saying?”

I tried to help her with her tote, but she tugged it away. Locking the car, she headed straight for the building and wore an expression like she didn’t want to know me, or like she was embarrassed she ever had. I knew this expression. On Corrine, it felt theatrical though, too put-on, and I grabbed the bag again.

She turned. “Francis, I’m sorry things haven’t worked out. I’d like some space. If you’d please, just leave me alone.”

“If this is about you seeing those checks in the mail,” I started. I decided in the moment it was time to let this one go, that I might as well just lay all the cards on the table. “I honestly only cash every other one they send me,” I said. “I understand in your profession the people who get that kind of help must be really out there. It’s not uncommon for normal people to receive some assistance, though. I filed more when I actually needed it. It doesn’t hurt to have the income now and then. I know that’s probably wrong. Maybe I’m making excuses for myself. But hey, maybe that’s my pendulous breast thing, right? We have things we don’t like about ourselves. Stuff we’re ashamed of and embarrassed by, so we rationalize.”

I’d told the postman so many times—and I knew the mailbox filled up, but I’d told him, again and again: Don’t leave stuff with the ends sticking out!

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said.

“Lots of people go on disability,” I said. “You of all people should understand that. For crying out loud, let me carry your bag.”

I held the door open and she practically ran upstairs.

“Nora Ephron wanted that movie to be way, way simpler,” I called. The couple in 2B were on their way out and I got stuck holding the door. “Harry and Sally was just about two people helping each other. They were helping each other get from one relationship to the next!”

You try to ignore it, to let the thoughts pass like cars on the street, or whatever they tell you on that app where the guy with the accent speaks slowly and quietly, and soothes you to sleep. My hands would get hot. My arms and legs got hot, too. It felt like somebody was running a cool, damp comb along my skin. I couldn't sit still, and one night, after a long, hot shower didn’t work, I tried to clean. I started with the bathroom. More specifically, the bathroom mirror cabinet, which at least seemed semi-doable. 

There was all this dried-up toothpaste on the narrow middle shelf. I scraped it off and the crust of the toothpaste got under my fingernails. I cut them down to the quick to clean them, but I cut too far and drew blood. With the nail beds still bleeding, I took out the trash. Though I never recycled, I dumped the trash on the sidewalk, got down on my hands and knees and with a clear plastic bag separated the recyclable trash from the trash-trash. It was all covered in gray dust and hair, sticky with gunk from the vacuum cleaner.

I did stuff like this. I did stuff like this more than once, and in between listened to The Cars’ Greatest Hits on repeat, cheated on The New York Times crossword puzzle, and didn’t go to work. Then the furniture repair place called.

The day I drove over, I was hopeful. I thought it’d be a great way to get her to talk to me again, the table being the thing that brought us together in the first place. I even dressed like I did to go the Prep—tweed blazer, knit tie. I styled my hair with “forming cream.” It wasn’t till I got to the shop and saw the table––the new glass looked just OK––that I realized I drove over in the Miata.

When I drove back to the building and knocked on her door, Corrine wasn’t home. The door was locked, which kind of hurt. I had a spare key, left to me by my neighbor when he moved, and inside I found Tom Jones, Corrine’s cat, perched on the arm of the sofa. I shouldn’t have done what I did, but at the same time, how else were we going to get the table? I slipped her car keys from the rack by the door and took her car. Before Tom Jones, or I guess before as well as during the time that she had Tom Jones, she also had a dog, a white English Bull Terrier. She had thick wool blankets in the back of the station wagon, all of them coated in the dog’s fine white hair, and it was in these blankets that I wrapped up the table. I drove as carefully as possible from the furniture repair place, as carefully as I’d ever driven anywhere. A policeman was in front of the building when I came back.

He was standing on the curb taking notes. Corrine stood beside him. Where she’d been an hour ago, I had no idea, and I would’ve called to tell her I was stealing her car, but she blocked my number. She was tucked into her big puffy coat. Her hair blew in the wind. She looked like a woman in a movie who had just lost her child or her husband, a woman whose child or husband had probably been kidnapped.

She spoke frantically to the policeman, hugging herself to stay warm. She saw me go by in the station wagon and put a hand, lightly, on the policeman’s shoulder. He watched me go by too, and I waved to the both of them.

A foreign sedan was parked in her usual space. Twice I had to circle the block to find another space, and both times, as I drove past, Corrine threw her hands up.

At last, walking up to them, I tried: “Now, don’t tell me this is another ex-husband…”

Corrine was silent. The whole time she just kept looking not at me, but over my shoulder, behind me. At one point, she turned and hurried inside. She tried to slam the door on her way in, but the door was one of those steel-framed automatic type doors. The harder you tried to pull it shut, the slower it moved.

“It’s sort’ve this phase we’re in,” I told the policeman. “She runs away.”

He put his hand on my chest as I stepped forward. “Why don’t we just hold it here, sir.”

I am rarely called “sir.” Hearing myself referred to as such shocked me into understanding that whatever was about to happen—whatever was happening—didn’t only have the potential to be bad, it was bad already. The feeling of the combs ran up and down my body. Behind the glass front doors, the cop spoke to Corrine.

She looked at the cop, back at me, shook her head then nodded. When the cop came back out, he took me by the arm, and without putting me in cuffs, or reading me my rights (with all the TV I’d seen, this astounded me), he tucked me in the back of his cruiser.

We never went anywhere. I must have been in the back of the cruiser for an hour and a half, maybe longer. The policeman went back inside. I couldn’t see either of them in the doorway. Maggie showed up before they returned, and I raised up my hands in the window, to show I wasn’t in handcuffs, as if to say there wasn’t anything to be alarmed by. With Maggie, there was always something to be alarmed by.

She tapped the glass.

“What the fuck? What the fuck is going on?” 

She was trying the back door’s handle when the cop reappeared. In a kind of text-book, hand-on-his-hip cop stance, he instructed her sternly to step away from the car. She is not the kind of woman who cries in public, but I could tell—the contortions of her face, the way her hands stayed firmly at her sides while she listened—it was about to pour out of her.

After the cop let me out, he spoke mostly to Maggie. Someone must’ve called her. “Long story short,” he was saying, “I’ve had just as hard a time comprehending this all myself.” 

It was like I wasn’t there. They were talking, talking about me, the cop saying things like, “I’d advise he stays away…” “Things like this can’t happen twice…” “We don’t want anybody feeling that they might be at risk.”

The only thing he said to me directly, after finishing with Maggie was: “You need to be more aware of your surroundings.”

On the highway, as she drove, Maggie said, “I think I’m gonna be sick.”

Stephen was in the car. He wore his Little League uniform and cleats, and he was in the middle of asking me if I got caught robbing a bank. I told him I hadn’t robbed a bank. I said sometimes you did the wrong thing for the right reason, that a girl like Corrine was always the right reason.

“Just stop,” Maggie said. “Enough. Please.”

“But it’s true,” I said.

She pulled over on the side of Route One. She walked a little ways along the shoulder, and the rush of the traffic whizzing past made the car shudder. She stepped over the guard rail. She hinged at the waist and pressed her hands against her back.

“Gross,” Stephen said when she heaved.

“It’s just nerves.”

“I think it’s you, Uncle Fran.”

It was difficult to watch. I didn’t watch, not really. I noticed things like a jetliner flying overhead, the red blinking lights on either of its wingtips. I saw a flattened Mountain Dew can on the side of the road and a burned up mattress. It was like when we were kids and Maggie broke her arm. The painful thing wasn’t watching her break it — I’d been pushing her on the swing, crazily pumping so she’d fly up, up and over — but afterward, the way her arm stuck out of the car with that horrible cast, the way, when she explained it, she said: “I told him what would happen. I knew it was a bad idea.”

David Astrofsky

David Astrofsky is a writer and teacher from Boston, Massachusetts. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His work has been published by Narrative Magazine.

Thomas Mazzarella

Thomas Mazzarella (born 1983) lives and works in Brussels, Belgium.
With his pink and green hues, his windowsill views, flower vases and shelves, interiors looking outwards, hills and clouds in the distance, Thomas Mazzarella likes to paint moments of solitude. If everything seems frozen and immobile, time nonetheless flows by. A time of quietude, meditation and quest. Instead of jumping to conclusions, the artist seeks to linger - not so much as an escape, but simply to exist. His work is an ode to flânerie.

Thomas Mazzarella feeds on his readings and arms himself with the references that matter to him, returning again and again to his very personal atmospheres. It is a discreet melody where flower stems and grass shoots sway in the wind. The breeze rustles the curtains, pushes the clouds away. A figure sometimes glides from left to right, only to be seen from behind or in profile. It is in this movement, in this slow becoming, that lies the artist's true signature, inviting us to inhabit this time for ourselves.

(Claire Oberst-Rossicontemporary)