Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, April 30, 2018

Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli - 2003

I offer my great thanks to Max u for The Amazon Gift Certificate that allowed me to reread Milkweed.

“Funny or not, the bombs kept falling and the winter was cold and the people were hungry. Orphans by the thousands roamed the streets in their rags and boils, slumped in doorways, begging for food, clothing, anything. There was nothing to give them. So they starved and froze and died in the snow, their arms frozen outward, still begging. The children who lived were all scraps and eyes. This was the ghetto: where children grew down instead of up.”  And a wall, beautiful to those who built it, kept them where they were thought to belong.  From Milkweed by Jerry Spilleni, set in The Warsaw Ghetto

Recently a highly regarded Young Adult Holocaust novel, The Boy in The Striped Pajamas, was featured in a Facebook Forum I follow, Bookworms International. In the follow up people asked for suggestions  about other Young Adult novels set during the Holocaust.  

 I remembered that about 12 years ago I loved such a book but I could not at first recall the title or author other than I knew the title references a weed.  I recalled many details, the narrative voice of a Roma Boy left an orphan  in the Warsaw Ghetto and the elegant prose style of the author.  I searched for it in lists of best Young Adult Holocaust books to no avail.  Then I recalled the author’s first name was Jerry.  This was enough to bring up my old friend, Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli.

I was happy to be reunited.  Normally I dont read many Young Adult books but I enjoyed this tremendously second time around.   I recalled some of plot action and secondary characters but not all.  The orphan does not understand what a Jew is, why they must wear arm bands, why they are confined to the Ghetto and most of all he does not grasp why Germans are there, he calls them Jackboots and loves their uniforms.  At first he even wishes he were a Jackboot.

He has a friend, a Jewish boy a bit older, who helps him survive.  The quest for food dominates his life.  He ends up close to a Family and uses his expert skills to steal food for them.  He becomes part of their family.

Of course he sees many horrible things.  Death is everywhere.  The most hated people are Jewish enforcers for the Germans.  They are called “Flops”.  As I am maybe 15 percent from the end it comes to me that the closing of the story is a miracle of the story teller art.  Until I get into it, I don’t recall details but as I read on I was loving the ending. I let out a silent scream of joy over the close of the story. You will also.  

Everything we read sinks into our consciousness.  I give my great thanks to Jerry Spinelli for Milkweed.

JERRY SPINELLI won the Newbery Medal in 1991 for his novel Maniac Magee. He has written many other award-winning books for young readers, including Stargirl; Loser; Wringer, winner of a Newbery Honor Award; and Knots in My Yo-yo String: The Autobiography of a Kid, his memoir. A graduate of Gettysburg College, Jerry Spinelli lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, the poet and author Eileen Spinelli.

Mel u

“Spoiled” - A Short Story by Jaki McCarrick, author of Belfast Girls and The Scattering

A Wide Ranging Q and A Session with Jaki McCarrick

My Post Upon The Scattering A Collection of Short Stories by Jaki McCarrick

The Scattering - A Collection of Short Stories by Jaki McCarrick is an amazing body of work, with shimmering incredibly entertaining stories that go deep into the heart of many of the issues facing contemporary Ireland.  This book deserves tremendous success and a very wide readership.  

from my post on The Scattering

It both confirms and rises above the common elements of the Irish short story: the weak or missing father, the presence of the stage Irishmen, the uneasiness of the relationships of men and women,  the heavy reliance on alcohol, the temptation toward arrogance as a way of dealing with the humiliating consequences of colonialism, the obsession with death, and the false rebellions of posers of all sorts.

Jaki McCarrick is an award-winning writer of plays, poetry and fiction. She won the 2010 Papatango New Writing Prize for her play LEOPOLDVILLE, and her play BELFAST GIRLS, developed at the National Theatre London, was shortlisted for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the 2014 BBC Tony Doyle Award. BELFAST GIRLS premiered in Chicago in May 2015 to much critical acclaim (Windy City Times Critics’ Pick) and has since had numerous international productions. The play opens in Australia in May 2018. Reviews: 

Jaki has also recently been selected for the Irish Film Board’s Talent Development Initiative to adapt BELFAST GIRLS for the screen. 
Her play BOHEMIANS was read at RADA on January 18th 2017, starring Imogen Stubbs and Rob Jarvis, and is due to be staged in 2019. Another new play is soon to receive its world premiere in New York. In 2016 Jaki was shortlisted for the St. John’s College, Cambridge’s Harper-Wood Studentship for her short play TUSSY, about Eleanor Marx, a piece she is currently developing for Kibo Productions.

Jaki won the 2010 Wasafiri prize for short fiction and followed this with the publication of her debut story collection, THE SCATTERING, published by Seren Books. The book was shortlisted for the 2014 Edge Hill Prize. Formerly longlisted for the inaugural Irish Fiction Laureate, Jaki is currently editing her first novel and a second collection of short stories (provisionally entitled NIGHT OF THE FROGS) which will include the Pushcart Prize-nominated story, Fogarty.

She has held numerous residencies including Writer-in-Residence at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris & also regularly writes arts pieces for the Times Literary Supplement (TLS), The Irish Examiner and other publications.

Link to a recent interview with Jaki:


He had quoted from one of the Narnia Chronicles, something she could clearly remember reading once, from Prince Caspian, in which Lucy, faced with a difficult river journey, asks Aslan to promise she will be safe and Aslan cannot promise. The priest had said that this was the meaning of faith: to go forth without a promise of anything. Mary had been astonished by him and by what she was listening to in the small bright chapel in Paris. During the week she had thought of his sermon often. And of how she had been encouraged by it not to dwell on the thing she had done, that ‘sin’ for which she knew she was truly sorry. She had cried in the church, but was somehow able to choke back the tears so that Susan and Yves and the children would not see. Though Tristan, Susan’s oldest, had seen.
Mary had not wanted to go to the service at all. For what kind of Catholic was she? Beyond lapsed, that was certain. Nonetheless, she went again with Susan and family on the following Sunday. This time she did not like the homily: something about St. Paul and the Jews which she hated because it smacked of anti-Semitism and she felt uncomfortable listening to it and had wanted to walk out. Tristan also saw this reaction in her, her face reddening with rage at the words spoken by the pompous-sounding reader who’d come up to the altar, and her nephew had nudged her, playfully. But then when he began to speak, Father Cal astonished her again. It was not what he said, but how. A couple and their children had been making noise in the front row and though people were openly telling them to hush, they continued. Rather than raise his voice above the rattle of the children and their equally distracted parents, Father Cal did the opposite: his voice quietened, so that Mary began to hear birdsong from outside in the courtyard, and it became the job of those amassed in the chapel to hear Father Cal and not his to reach out to them.
But then, Father Calum O’Neil had been always astonishing. A brilliant student, he shocked his family in his late-teens by declaring his vocation to God. The journey from seminary to curate in a small town in Tyrone to this Paris posting had taken him a mere fifteen years. Fluent in several languages, he had almost completed a PhD at Aberystwyth University and had published several papers, two books. He pursued brilliance and it, seemingly, had pursued him. He would only be in the city for a few months, had broken off his PhD studies to cover for the elderly chaplain whose brethren was this group of mostly Irish ex-pats, some of whom lived in the suburbs but who travelled all the way in by car or train each Sunday to attend the English-language mass in Trinite d’Estienne d’Orvres in the 9th arrondissement.
On the third Sunday, Susan decided they should all stay for the after-service tea and cake. The tea was from home and the cake was a freshly baked tea-brack. (Each Sunday an army of mostly middle-aged women - African, Irish, French - who worked voluntarily for the Church, would swan into the courtyard at the commencement of the service and silently dress and set the table, so that when the worshippers emerged a glorious spread would be ready for them, as if by magic.)
Tristan nudged Mary as the priest finally appeared, his white and golden robes now gone in favour of a pale-blue short-sleeved shirt and dog-collar. He walked purposefully towards the congregation of thirty or so people gathered about the long table beneath the metal and glass awning of the chapel. Mary was about to chastise her nephew for teasing her yet again when Father Cal sidled up to them and stuck out his hand. She met Father Cal’s hand with hers and flashed a look up at him. She quietened the nervous movement of her mouth by biting her teeth together, even though she knew this action made her look old.
‘Susan’s sister?’ Father Cal said.
‘Yes,’ Mary answered.
‘Bonjour, Père Cal,’ Tristan said.
‘Bonjour Tristan,’ the priest said, and smiled. He ran his hand through the boy’s hair in a rough but playful manner. Tristan laughed and ran towards another boy who was kicking a white football by a large pink-flowered chestnut tree at the back of the courtyard.
‘I’m Mary,’ Mary said.
‘How long are you in Paris for?’ he asked. She shuffled uncomfortably as she wasn’t sure for how long she would continue to be in the city - but knew her sister’s invitation to have a change, forget about what had happened at home, was certainly not an open one. At most, Mary thought, they will only be able to stick me another month.
‘A month or so,’ Mary said. She noticed again how trim and compact the priest’s body looked. He had the build of a wiry sportsman – a footballer or hurler, perhaps – with no fat on him, and he was not weak. She had studied him carefully this past two Sundays as he bounded about the chapel before mass, nimbly laying out the prayer books and song sheets. He would chat to the choirmaster or to women with babies; he was efficient and quick, as if he had come, maybe, from small-farm people, or shop owners.
‘Are you on holidays, Mary?’ 
‘No, I…well, yes, that’s it. A holiday,’ she replied. Suddenly, a crowd of young students gathered about the priest. They knew him. There was amongst them a mixture of Irish and French accents and they seemed to be asking if they could sing something. Father Cal spoke at turns in French and English to the youths, who, with increasing enthusiasm, insisted he join them in a song. And so he was swept away from her as quickly as he had come. Mary returned to her sister and Yves who were now drinking the Irish tea and chatting to another couple, the Bradleys, the husband of which was an ex-priest who, Mary was surprised to learn the previous week, had been living in Paris for thirty years without having once returned to Ireland. 
As the group with Father Cal began to sing in a clear and precise acapella – some song she recognised but could not name – and Susan and Yves continued their conversation with the Bradleys about all the things they hated about life in France, the Conservatism, the rise of the Right – before going full-circle then and praising the healthcare and labour laws of the country, Mary saw a long, lean-limbed youth on roller skates turn gently into the courtyard from the street. She watched as he eyed the crowd while surreptitiously gliding along the flat, curving path opposite. Mary presumed the youth would continue along the concreted rim of the buildings and exit via the far side of the enclosure, by the chestnut trees, where there was a small wooden door that opened onto the street.
She cast her eye over at Father Cal, now sitting at the head of the table with the students and singers from the choir. The bottom of the tablecloth flapped lightly in the warm breeze. He represented something for them, she felt. Like some sporting or political hero of old, perhaps like the ones their parents or grandparents had spoken of. He was the Church reinvented: all short-sleeved modernity and lightness. Though she wasn’t sure if she trusted such casualness on a priest, as if it was a pose, designed or suggested by the Church itself - especially as it came from a man she had just observed be so canny and focused inside in the mass. 
Mary turned and found herself alone with Terence Bradley. His wife had gone to the table for more cake and when Mary looked across to locate Mrs Bradley so as to be saved from a conversation with her huge and awkward husband, she saw that the woman was caught up in another conversation with Susan. Mary struggled for something to say and remembered then the business Bradley had mentioned last time they had spoken, about never having gone home. She asked him about it and was shocked at the man’s candour. Bradley said that the people in his hometown in Offaly had referred to him as a ‘spoiled priest’ and that last time he was home he was so disturbed by this he never returned. He said it was an ecclesiastical term that had entered the language of the townsfolk, and that he felt branded by it, like an animal. Mary had heard the term before, many years ago. She thought it awful. But she would have liked to have said to Terence Bradley, in a way she wished she could say to herself, that if he were to go home now no one in his town would likely give a damn he’d once been in - or left - the priesthood. For wasn’t the place bursting to the seams these days with spoiled priests, with spoiled everythings? She would have liked to have said this, as a part of her believed it to be true. But only a part. For it occurred to Mary that despite the seismic changes that had happened at home in recent years (the decline in church attendance, the sexual openness), at some deeper level the place was almost impervious to change, and there were still many at home who believed that once a spoiled priest always a spoiled priest. Though she said nothing of this to Terence Bradley.
Joined by Susan and Yves, Mary turned from the chat between these ex-pats, who seemed to her much too interested in small town Ireland than was healthy for people who led such privileged lives in Paris. All the same, she noticed how lighter she felt after talking to Terence Bradley. She didn’t know how he’d done this to her. It was as if the man’s openness had liberated her somewhat from her own particular burden. Or perhaps it was Paris itself that had begun to soothe her, this ‘city of light’ in which, in recent weeks, she’d felt like a strange sort of castaway. She’d spent the whole of the previous week exploring by herself the gardens and lawns of the Jardin du Luxembourg, visiting the hothouses and menagerie at the Jardin des Plantes, found other smaller, more anonymous gardens in the city in which to sit and think and get her thoughts straight about what she had done at home, the wholesale stupidity of it.
‘Shall we go?’ Susan said. Mary nodded. Yves walked with the two younger children towards the car, parked outside on the road. Susan called to Tristan to come, and then made a dash for the toilets across from the chapel. As Mary waited for her sister outside the sleek grey-rendered cubicles, she heard a cry and raised voices. She looked around and saw that the boy who had strolled in on roller skates was now punching Tristan. He had the white ball clasped to his chest and Tristan was demanding it back. The smaller boy who owned the ball was crying at a distance from the two fighting.
‘Batard! Batard!’ Tristan shouted to the roller-skate boy. He screamed and screamed, as loud as a church bell. The acapella sputtered and stopped. Father Cal rushed across the gravelled courtyard towards Tristan, who was now lying, bleeding, on the ground. Mary ran quickly behind him, uncurled her nephew from his crouched position, checked him up and down for cuts and grazes as the priest rushed to the roller-skate boy who, she saw now, was more a man, about twenty years old - and rubbery looking, his skin moist and plump as a lizard. She called for Susan to come immediately out of the toilets and to Yves who was now outside on the street – hoping he might hear her. Then Father Cal astonished her again. He grabbed the roller-skate boy and thumped him, hard; lifted him in a scoop by the neck of his jumper and flung him out of the chapel courtyard, telling him to ‘fuck off home’, continuing furiously in what sounded like a Middle-Eastern language, or Arabic. Susan emerged from the grey cubicles and ran to her son. The young students were calling after the roller-skate boy and looking askance at the priest, as if they had never before seen him so ruffled and wild. With Tristan safe in his mother’s care, Mary walked slowly towards Father Cal who by now had wandered to the far wall of the yard. The noon sun tumbled onto the gravel as she walked; she felt her eyes fill with heat. Mary watched the priest fumble in his pocket, pull out a pack of cigarettes. She recognised the brand as ‘Major’ - strong, made at home: the broad green-striped box, the wine-coloured lettering. He wrenched a cigarette from the pack, lit up and sucked hard on it, pinching the tip towards his palm, between thumb and index finger. She wanted to ask if she should call the police, or how else she might be of help. Then she noticed, for the first time, the umber circles around the man’s eyes, the large beetle-like pupils. 
‘You’re shook up, Father. Is there anything I can do for you?’ He nodded, slowly, eyeing her all the way as she made her approach along the wand of sunlight between them. 
‘There is, Mary,’ he said. And she recognised then the look of despair in Father Cal’s eyes. ‘Would you have something to drink with me, maybe?’ he said. ‘Tonight?’ And Mary knew then that the person before her was not astonishing at all. He was just like her. Floundering and lost and open to all the possibilities that this most intimate and forgiving of cities had to offer.


this story is protected under international copy right law and is the exclusive property of the author

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The King of the Jews by Leslie Epstein - 1979

In the summer of 1942, the Germans confined around 300,000 Jews in a Ghetto in Warsaw.  This was to be the biggest Ghetto.  The Germans created a council of Jewish Elders, called the Judenrat Council to run the ghetto on their behalf.  This included selection of residents for shipping out to what they were at first lead to believe, some knew better, to remote work camps, enforcing all regulations.  One of the most chilling segments of the King of the Jews was when the German commander of the Ghetto cited the Codicils of the Council of the Elders of Zion to the Jewish leaders.  This document was created around 1905 by the Tsarist secret Police as if it were a Jewish plan for world domination.  I have never seen the impact of this forgery so brilliantly depicted as done in King of the Jews.  The German commander believes it real and just assume all elderly Jewish leaders are in on the plot.  He can recite from it from memory. 

At first able bodied residents were used as slave labourers building weapons.  The Ghetto had it’s own social structure and Epstein shows us this.  The Germans begin to cut food supplies.  Epstein lets us see how desperate conditions brought out the worse in some and the best in others.  In one powerful chapter we see how The Judenrat Council bargained with the lives of the inmates.  Some council members used their positiion to live well, with plenty of food, limos and mistresses.  Women became prostitutes to survive.

Some killed themselves rather than do the bidding of the Germans. Suicides increased and guards begin to be murdered.  For every guarded killed, the Germans killed 100.  

Everyone grasps for information about the war.  Epstein shows the planning of the uprising, starting on April 19, 1943.  We feel The residents gaining pride, they draw strength from ancient Jewish resistance to Romans.  In around 30 days the Germans crush the rebellion, kiling most of the remaining 50,000 residents.  Epstein makes it personal as we see characters in the story die.  

The King of the Jews should be read by all into Holocaust literature.  It is a masterpiece. 

Leslie Epstein was born into a filmmaking family in Los Angeles. His father and uncle were, respectively, Philip G. and Julius J. Epstein, legendary wits and the writers of dozens of films, including Casablanca, for which they received an Academy Award. Leslie studied at Yale and then Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. He has published eight other books of fiction, most recently San Remo Drive (Handsel Books), as well as Pinto and Sons, Pandaemonium, and two volumes on the adventures of Leib Goldkorn. His articles and stories have appeared in such places as Esquire, Atlantic Monthly, Harpers, Playboy, Yale Review, TriQuarterly, Tikkun, Partisan Review, Nation, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe. In addition to the Rhodes Scholarship, he has received many honors, including a Fulbright and Guggenheim fellowship, an award for Distinction in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, a residency at the Rockefeller Institute at Bellagio, and various grants from the NEA. For many years he has been the director of the Creative Writing Program at Boston University. He lives with his wife, Ilene, in Brookline, Massachusetts. They are the parents of three children—Anya, Paul, and Theo.. from The publisher.

Mel u

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Life A User’s Manuel by Georges Perec - 661 Pages- 1978 - translated from French 1987 by David Bellos

Life A User’s Manuel by Georges Perec is a fascinating novel entirely taking place at eight p.m June 23, 1975 in a hundred unit apartment house in Paris.  For sure it is very creative, at times amazing. Maybe those who call it one of The greatest  novels written since World War II and call it a work of genius are right.  Leaving that question for others, for sure it is the product of extreme high intelligence deeply focused.  Nine years in the making, it tells the story of the residents of the building in 99 chapters and an epilogue.  It might seem as you read it to be mainly a series of stories, some really interesting going deeply into the residents lives with wonderful descriptions of furniture, art, food, relationships and much more.  Everything is all tied together.  The book abounds with hidden and real puzzles, literary references, artistic allusiions, some real some who knows.  Culturally this is a very rich book. It will leave many readers, as it did me, stunned. He loved lists and the novel abounds in them.  It is also a social history of Paris in 1975, a very learned treatise on art and no doubt many things that went way over my head. 

Paul Auster has written a wonderful essay on Perec and Life A User’s Manual

I loved this strange book.

Georges Perec was a highly-regarded French novelist, filmmaker and essayist. He was a member of the Oulipo group. Many of his novels and essays abound with experimental wordplay, lists and attempts at classification, and they are usually tinged with melancholy.

Perec was born the only son of Polish-Jewish parents who both died in the second world war: his father fighting for the French army, and his mother at Auschwitz. He was born Georges Peretz but his parents had changed his name when he was young. When the Nazis came through the Alpine town where he had taken refuge with relatives, the name Perec, being plausibly Breton, did not attract suspicion. Thus, his survival as a child was linked with linguistic coincidence and wordplay. In La Disparition, Perec is not able to say his own name or use the words "mére", "pére" or "parents".

Born in a working-class district of Paris, Perec was the only son of Icek Judko and Cyrla (Schulewicz) Peretz, Polish Jews who had emigrated to France in the 1920s. He was a distant relative of the Yiddish writer Isaac Leib Peretz. 

Perec's first novel, Les Choses (Things: A Story of the Sixties) was awarded the Prix Renaudot in 1965.

In 1978, Perec won the prix Médicis for Life: A User's Manual (French title, La Vie mode d'emploi), possibly his best-known work. The 99 chapters of this 600 page piece move like a knight's tour of a chessboard around the room plan of a Paris apartment building, describing the rooms and stairwell and telling the stories of the inhabitants.

A heavy smoker throughout his life, Perec was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1981 and he died the following year in Ivry-sur-Seine at only forty-five years old. His ashes are held at the columbarium of the Père Lachaise Cemetery.

David Bellos wrote an extensive biography of Perec: Georges Perec: A Life in Words, which won the Académie Goncourt's bourse for biography in 1994. From various sources.

Sadly this is the only translated into English of his works available as a Kindle.

George Perec joins my growing lists of favourite writers that I had never even heard of a week before I began reading them.

Mel u

Friday, April 27, 2018

“Life and Light” By Shira Gorshman Translated from Yiddish by Faith Jones

July 1 to August 15, 1941; The Jewish population, 29,000 of Kovno, Lithuania was forced into a small area of primitive dwellings without running water.  The inmates were used as slave labor in factories outside the Ghetto.  

Pregnant women faced death and policy dictated all Jewish infants be murdered.  There was a network through which infants could be secretly placed with Lithuanian foster mothers. In January 1943 the Kovno Ghetto was converted to a concentration camp.  Thousands, including in one episode, 2400 children, were shot by Lithuanians. As it became clear Germany might well lose, most of the residents were sent to larger concentration camps.  There was organised resistance.  A few days before the end of the war the camp was blown up in an effort to kill all left and hide what happened there.

There is currently an effort underway in Lithuania to make it a crime to suggest the government of the country during WW Two aided in the killing of Lithuanian Jews.  This shameful action is the moral and intellectual equivalent of the United States making it illegal to suggest the government once supported slavery.  

There are not a lot of translated Yiddish short stories online.  The underlying works are often now in the public domain but the translations are not.  My main reason for picking this story to post upon is that it can be read online.  

This is an emotionally powerful story.  Nothing tugs at the heart more than an infant murdered because of their biological heritage.  The central character has been successful at hiding her pregnancy.  She asks the doctor helping her to take the baby, rather than let the Nazi supporters kill him.  She knows she cannot hope the baby will live but at least she does not surrender him.

The ending is heart warming. 

Copyright © Estate of Shira Gorshman 2011. Translation copyright © Faith Jones 2011

Shira Gorshman (1906–2001) was born in Krakes, Lithuania. Raised partly by her grandparents due to her family’s poverty, she became self-supporting and independent at a young age. In 1924, she went with her first husband to Palestine to become part of a communal labour group which attempted to live out their socialist ideals through the Zionist movement. When this group splintered, Gorshman went with the more radical branch to Crimea, taking her young children with her. Living on a communal farm in Crimea for several years, she came into contact with official visitors including the artist Mendel Gorshman. They married and she and her children returned with him to Moscow. At that point, with encouragement from her husband’s circle of artistic and literary friends, she began to write. Her stories were published in Soviet and Polish Yiddish periodicals, and she had several collections and novels published. After the death of her husband, and her children’s emigration, she followed them to Israel. Arriving in Israel in 1990 in her mid-eighties, she nonetheless energetically produced new stories and books until her death in 2001, as well as republishing many of her Soviet-era stories, which were otherwise not available in Israel.

Faith Jones is a librarian in Vancouver, Canada, and a graduate student investigating Yiddish print culture in Winnipeg. Her writing has appeared in Canadian Jewish Studies, The Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, Publishing Research Quarterly, The Forward, and Bridges: A Jewish Feminist Journal, where she also served as Yiddish editor.

Mel u

Thursday, April 26, 2018

“Sex with Exes”. - a complete Short story by Heather Fowler, author of Beautiful Ape Girl Baby

Website of Heather Fowler

My thoughts on “Sex with Exes”

Heather Fowler is a poet, fiction writer, essayist, librettist, and a novelist. Her debut novel Beautiful Ape Girl Baby released June of 2016. She is the author of four story collections and a collaborative poetry collection written with Meg Tuite and Michelle Reale.  She received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Orleans and an MA in English and Creative Writing from Hollins University.   Fowler's stories and poems have been published online and in print in the U.S., England, Australia, and India,with her work appearing in such venues as PANK, Night Train, storyglossia, Surreal South, Feminist Studies, and more.  From

This story is protected under international copyright law and is the exclusive property of Heather Fowler

“Sex with Exes”

By the time I get to Charlie’s, she’s already caffeinated, zesty. She answers her door, wearing a black strap-on above purple grannie panties, a gray shirt, and a white chef’s hat.  “L'chaim,” she says in Hebrew, though she’s not Jewish.  “Come on in!”
I don’t try to figure this out; I just enter because her creepy neighbor with two monster trucks and a big Malamute stands outside on his lawn, witnessing her naked thighs and the shirt with cutouts she wears above the strap-on.  
Charlie is batshit bonkers sometimes.  I say that with love. She’s been my best friend since fourth grade.  
“Fuck you looking at?” she shouts at the neighbor, doing the Italian arm gesture fuck off. She’s not Italian either.  She’s more an appropriator. Indiscriminate.
“Looking at you,” he shouts back. “Got a problem?”
She stands at her door, legs apart, glaring.  The strap-on bobs in what might be a humorous fashion, more so when she deliberately bobs her hips at him to draw his eyes to her groin.  On her feet are flip-flops. It’s a great outfit.
“Besides, you’re the one with the problem!” she says under her breath before again shouting, “Fuck you looking at?!”
“Just a stupid bitch who can’t keep a husband!” he responds. “And me?  Otherwise? Looking at nothing, you dyke!”
“Suck it, you shit-toast sandwich!” she shouts. “You wanted my husband! Admit it!  That’s why you’re so bitter now he’s gone!  Well, boo-hoo for you!”
There’s something about her tone that tells me she enjoys this exchange.  It’s like a safe rage argument. Except then she hears beeping, looks inside of her house, and says, “Come on into the kitchen, Jessica,” before once more flipping the neighbor off via arm gesture.
“Dyke!” he shouts again, before noticing me and getting generous. “Dykes!”
I’m briefly aghast wondering if the neighbor thinks I came for sex with Charlie. There are worse things. “You shouldn’t go to your door like that,” I say, still in shock.  “What if creepster tries to break in at night to get at you with hate crimes?  He probably has an anti-lesbian agenda. You living with someone now? Someone to protect you?”
“No. He’s impotent.” She strokes her strap-on and smiles.  “Want some, baby?  I’d dyke this puppy out for you.”
I think I start hyperventilating then, can’t decide on a quick retort.  Charlie could mean it. She might m—I start to think.
But Charlie laughs at my horror, like she does. “Kidding! I’m not gay, Jessica,” she says. “Please. I’m experiencing being a dick by wearing a dick. It’s an experiment. You see this dick?  I’m wearing it to see how it must feel to be a guy.  Don’t worry. And the neighbor? You think he wants some of this? Nah. That pussy.”  The beeper goes off again, and she grabs a pot holder, saying, “Oh, shit!  I gotta get those buns out of the oven.  Get out the way.”
On her kitchen counter is a VegaMix and a wide assortment of cookbooks.  Several vegetables are halved on the counter, in various stages of mutilation. Charlie doesn’t cook, or didn’t.  But since her divorce, it’s hard to predict what she’ll do.  She takes the buns out of the oven, and they’re golden brown. “From scratch,” she brags.  “So, I’m thinking of doing another experiment,” she tells me.  “Want to hear about it?”
“I’ve got twenty minutes,” I reply.  “Just came since you texted.”
“Good,” she says.  “This’ll take two minutes to explain. I think you’ll like the idea.  We can reflect upon results as they happen.”
“Shoot,” I say.  
“I’m going to go on a Fuck Odyssey,” she announces.  “With my past.  You know how Jerome got back together with his ex before the divorce?”
“Yeah,” I say.
“I’ll do the same with my exes. Back togethers for sex. But with a bunch of men.”
“Serious?” I ask. “That’s insane.  I’m sure a lot of them are hitched.”
“Well, I’m interested in the single exes,” she replies. “I think I should go back and sleep with about twenty of mine.  Whichever ones I can remember or locate.”
“Fuck,” I say.
“Yeah,” she says.  “Fuck ‘em all. About twenty! I want to prove something.”
“What do you think you’re going to prove?” I ask, leaning into the kitchen doorjamb.  “And what happened to your paintings?”
“Meh,” she says. “Boring! In the garage. Who cares?”  
She’s taken all the art and mirrors down, the whole house in flux. Boxes upon boxes are lined by her living room couches.  “By sleeping with exes, what I want to know,” she says, peering at me with those huge violet eyes, “is if they got any better in bed.  Haven’t you ever wondered that? Now Jerome knows if his ex did, so I want to know, too. I want to have something I’ve had before—but have it again and have it different.”
“You sure you aren’t just bitter?” I ask.
She starts to cry then.  I say nothing more.  I’ve made a tragic error. Her baked rolls on the counter look tasty. “They probably didn’t get any better,” I finally add. “Who gets better at sex? I admire the idea, but I’m thinking we all just get older, uglier, fatter, and less limber.”  
She cries more.  “Yeah, well that doesn’t make me feel any better,” she says.  “But thanks for coming to piss on my parade…”
I tell her I’m sorry.  I tell her maybe they do get better, and why doesn’t she just go ahead and try her ideas?  Charlie likes her manias encouraged.  
When she smiles, keeps crying, and doesn’t articulate her response with words, I hug her and try to ignore the enormous bulge on my leg. It’s her fake dick.  
There’s something strange bout tears, smiles, and fake dick at once, but it’s totally Charlie. As soon as she’s able, she ushers me out.  She then says, “Come back soon,” like her place is a restaurant, like her friends are recent customers who are welcome to return.
“L'chaim,” I tell her.  And I flip her neighbor my own bird as I get in the car.  It feels like the right thing to do.


Twenty minutes later, at the soccer field where I’ll pick up my son David, I can’t get the view of Charlie out of my mind.  The silly chef’s hat occurs to me like something I dreamed, a cartoon of her. The strap-on, too. I look at the soccer moms, like me, on lawn chairs at the side of the field.  I run into Becca, our mutual friend.  “Charlie’s off the hook,” I tell her.  “I am feeling kinda worried?”
“Yep,” she says.  “Don’t worry.  The whack stuff is transitory, always what happens when they first get a D-I-V-O-R-C-E.”
“It’s about divorce?”
“Yeah.  The redecorating. The life planning otherwise. Happened with my first two separations… But you get over it.”
“I wouldn’t know,” I say, watching our boys.  “I’ve never been divorced.”
“Well, I’m not advocating for divorce,” Becca says.  “Since then you hate the guy and can never get rid of him.  Especially if you had kids together.” She wears big green sweats that swallow her anorexic frame and a sweatshirt that says, Foxy Yoga Mats: No Up Dogs Here. The marketing strategy is whack. “Kids make the whole thing last decades,” Becca says.
My husband is thankfully not with me.  He would hate this conversation. On the field, David, kicks the ball out of bounds.  I see the gap from his missing tooth as his mouth opens wide.
“Get the ball!  Go, go, Ronny!” yells a sideline dad, the one whose son throws it back in.
David looks like he wants to kick the ball out again. “Charlie wants to find all her exes and sleep with them again,” I tell Becca.
Becca laughs.  “Best sex happened with the ones that got away! You can’t really talk with the ones who fuck too well.”
“It’s not that,” I say.  “Charlie’s not just looking for good ex-lovers.  She wants the bad  too, wants them all, like to discover whether they’ve improved over time. Do you think men improve as lovers over time?”
“Depends on what you mean by improvement,” Becca replies.  
“That seems clear. More sensitivity, more pleasure for the woman, more skillful lovemaking.”
“Fat chance,” Becca says.  “Those of us who’ve had spouses a long time can tell you: no improvement.  Fifteen years with John—if anything, it’s worse.  What about Sloane?”
I ask, “How does bad and boring get worse?”
“More bad?  More boring?” Becca says.  “Okay, true. Guess that’s hard to measure.”
“Yeah, but marriages like ours are static,” I reply. “Not interesting to Charlie. Charlie thinks all the things that come between lovers meeting and the next time they reconnect can create change. Or she wants to test it, to figure out: If things have changed, what has changed and how it will affect the chemistry? Charlie says there has to be a definitive split and lots of other lovers or time in between.”
“Fuck!” Becca says, but not about what I say. A boy has kicked her son Truman in the shin, so she runs to the field to retrieve him where he fell down sobbing.  “Let me know what you find out about that,” Becca yells back to me.  “I’d like to know more.”
I decide I’m probably not going to tell Becca anything further.  I know this already, but I shout back, “Okay. Full update. Sure thing!”


The next time I visit Charlie’s, it’s been three weeks.  She answers the door in a hot red dress and red stiletto heels.  Her make up’s immaculate. “Fantastic!” she says when I get there.  “I’ve been dying to see you!  Where’ve you been? What have you been doing?”
I tell her I’ve just left home for the day, where the husband and I have engaged in yet more uninspired sex, this stated simply as, “Sloane wanted some.”  
“Sucks balls,” she responds. “How bored that makes you.”
“It’s like doing the laundry,” I say.  “Same every time.”
“Ah,” she replies. “Well, I’m redecorating.” When I enter her living room this time, she’s painted all the walls all white and green.  Different shades of white, different shades of green.  Maybe fifty in all.  There’s not really a pattern. As I watch, she makes a pot of coffee.  
We talk about her divorce lawyer drama and her job and her cooking before I get the nerve to ask.  “Where’s the strap on? Have you worn it again?”
“Nah. Felt artificial,” she says.  “Besides, I realized something terrible and wonderful—this half-way through the fake dick experiment.  A plastic dick can’t feel a thing.  To use it is like doing aerobics with a small insensate limb.”
“Did you fuck something with it?” I ask.
“I did,” she agrees, smiling.
“The memory foam on my mattress.  Not so much on memory foam fucking, Jessica.”
“Must be about what the strap on does for the other person,” I say.  “For the fuckee. Memory foam isn’t exactly responsive.”
“Yeah,” she agrees. “Which is why I stopped fucking it. Nothing was shouting my name or calling to God, even after I made a fuck funnel in it and called it baby.”
“You stop cooking too?” The kitchen counter no longer has cookbooks or the VegaMix.  
“Cooking’s for the birds,” Charlie says.  “I decided that to really empower myself in this transition, I should have other people cook for me. All the time.  I’ve got trucks coming now.  Making deliveries.”
“Ah,” I say.  “Any luck with the past lovers experiment?”
She grabs my face between her hands and says, “I want to tell you something!  Right now. Are you ready?”
“Tell me,” I say, face close.  “I’ve been wondering what you’ve been doing since the last time I left here.”
“Fucking men right and left,” she says, flipping her red hair over her right shoulder. “I feel so strange.  It’s like I have a new skill.”
“Men fucking?”
“No.  Saying what I need to say to get an ex to sleep with me again. I know now exactly what to say to anyone.  It’s a skill.  I’ve had six so far, the past lovers. Two married, four single—”
“I thought you’d go only for singles.”
She shrugs. “I do what seems right. What looks hot.”
I quash a feeling of jealousy.  “What do you say to them?”
“Different for each,” she says.  “So let me tell you about my skill…”
“Aren’t you guilty about doing the married ones?”
“No way,” she says.  “Married cheaters will cheat for way more than just one-fuck stands.  In fact, if someone can be persuaded to one-fuck it with an ex, ever, I’m not sure I don’t already have moral objections to their characters. I have a two fuck minimum.”  She laughs so hard after she says this, she literally begins rolling on the floor.


When I get home, I tell my husband Sloane about her exploits because we have no life.  I figure he appreciates it.  “So, then she went back to this guy she’d slept with in her twenties, only he was a priest.  But she got him to have sex with her. How’d she do that?”
“Priests been celibate a while,” Sloane says.  “She’s got that pretty long hair.  How do you know he wasn’t aching for a woman to come onto him?”
“I don’t know anything,” I say.  “Supposedly he was working on his relationship with God. But I do know that somehow during that relationship, Charlie managed to get in there, make her case, and get his rocks off.”
“Okay,” Sloane says.  “But was Priest Guy better or worse?”
“Her vote was, he was better.”
“Could have been the kink of doing it with crosses all around,” Sloane replies.  “That might make it loads better, no matter who’s doing it...  The kink of perverting a leadership figure might have made it better for Charlie.  Just having something you don’t think you can have, in somewhere you clearly shouldn’t have it...”
“Yeah, and she told him it was her dying wish to have his baby.  God came to her.”
“Is she dying?”
“Is she pregnant?”
“On the pill.”
“Haha.  But she says he got better?”
“Well, the thing was, he was kinder to her, she says, gentler. But she did tell him chemo was involved.  Still, Good Priest Love wasn’t the case with all of them.  One of the other guys she did again, some kind of real estate broker, he was worse.  He had a big gut and could barely move.  She said he used to be able to lift and hold her against the wall. He was a super-stud. Now he can’t even see her without his reading glasses. Do you think big gut makes a penis seem smaller?”
Sloane nods. “Before she fucks them, what does she tell them’s the reason for why she wants to get together sexually again? And does she tell them it’s a one time deal?”
“She tells some she’s doing a study. She tells them all it’s just once.  One time for old time’s sake.  She tells them about her divorce, too, if they want to know.”
“Sublimated vengeance,” Sloane says.  “Now she’s done six exes.  Her ex just did one.  Charlie’s a crazy bitch.”
“Sure, but I love her.”
“Naturally. It’s been years.”
“She makes me feel boring,” I tell him.  “But maybe that’s okay.”  I think about Charlie every day after that.  I wonder where she’s at and what she’s doing or what she’s telling the other men on her list she showed me, which has been written on a yellow legal pad. I wonder in which order she’s contacting them.
Within a week, I start to text her about the various guys, wanting to know age, height, race, weight, stamina.  By the time two months have gone by, she’s done ten men.  She’s met them at bars, on trails, at airports. “I need to know these things about this experiment because I have no good sex life,” I tell her.  “I don’t count married sex as a sex life. It’s arguable if it was countable before wedlock.”
“I’d say countable for the first two months,” Charlie says.  “But, for now, if sex sucks, I agree, it shouldn’t count.  Some of the sex I’m having now doesn’t count, yet I like what I’m doing.  I find them all again, but I can’t sleep with all the exes I find, you know?  It’s fate or chance—all exciting. Like, if they have a disease, I rule them out.  Two were dead.  Ruled out. One had given me the wrong name.  This does not begin to count the one night stands from whom I’d received no contact information.”
“Charlie, how many guys did you sleep with before you got married?” I ask.
She smiles.  “About ninety.”
Envy streaks through me again.  Only six men before my marriage to Sloane and only one of them really good.  Where have I gone wrong? Charlie and I are about the same pretty, I think.  I guess she’s just more accomplished.  Whatever.
As I stare at her now, to feel less jealous, I think about those women who are less lucky than me financially, or uglier than me, or in the nunnery.  I say aloud, “It must suck to marry your first love if that guy isn’t any good in the sack.  Especially if you love him.  Imagine all those women out there with one man their whole life and nothing to measure him against.  Imagine the ones who married guys with small dicks… Those women would never know it wasn’t supposed to fall out, that they should feel more...  But is their ignorance bliss?”
Charlie laughs.  She’s a fan of my neurotic banter.  “I think so,” she says. “But for women’s sake, it’s better for men to be ignorant of excessive pasts. My exes never really know about mine.  Because you know when the guy asks you how many, and you just say, ‘Probably ten,’ thinking closer to one hundred and he still gives you the face, the grouchy face?”
Now I feel pathetic I haven’t had ten.  “Maybe,” I say, “But if I said ‘probably’ anything, then my guy would say, ‘Probably, really?  What’s so hypothetical?’”
“Which is when you should tell him, ‘Fuck you and your double-standard, you dick. How many girls have you had?’ Or, if he’s lame that way, and naïve, you just say instead, ‘I’m a private person, okay? If you ever ask me about this sex partner number again, I’ll never want to give you head.’ Then you let it rest. That works great.”
Charlie’s such a pro.  She takes sex warfare to new levels. I don’t think I can say anything she tells me to say convincingly, but I like the idea of all of it.
The next time I see her, she comes to get me at my house.  She has six dogs on leashes.  Big dogs and little dogs. “Time for a walk,” she says.  “I’m doing this for my cousin Dan. He’s out of town.”
We go to the park.  “Did you get all twenty men?” I ask, staring at children on the swing sets.
“Yes,” she says.  “More or less.”
“More? Or less?” I ask.  
“Nineteen.  But then I got bored. Men are so easy to persuade. Watch this.  Sex? Yes, please. Anyway, how are you? How’s your lovelife?” The dogs on her leashes alternately nip at each other and run off in odd directions, pulling her left and then right.
“I’m fine,” I say.  “Family’s good.  Stop rubbing my sore sex subject.”
“You should come for dinner next week with Sloane,” she tells me.  “I’m done with exes now.  I have a new boyfriend.”
I gape in shock.  “How did you stop doing old ones and find a new one?”
“Perseverance. Being divorced is grand,” she says.  “This one’s half my age.  Good stamina. Lots of times a day.  Show up.  Come meet him.”
“I will,” I say, and I do.  With a bottle of wine it turns out we don’t need, Sloane and I arrive at her place for dinner the next Friday and meet the new guy, whose name is Gavin.  Dinner is hamburgers on the grill. The new guy speaks in short simple sentences and dotes on her every move.  
Her boxes have been put in storage, and now she has posters on her walls of rock bands.  “Gavin moved in last week,” Charlie says.  
“So excellent, my old lady, having me here,” Gavin interjects.  
I think Charlie looks frazzled but beautiful in a midriff bearing t-shirt and old Levi jeans.  “I saw Jerome,” Sloane says.  “He left that girl, his ex, and he looks like shit now, Charlie.  Looks like someone broke his heart.”
“Old news,” Charlie says. “Don’t care. Jerome is not my problem anymore.”  She looks bored, but not vengeful, as she speaks.
“Sloane, maybe not to bring that up while she has company?” I whisper, tilting my head toward Gavin.
“Dude, my lady isn’t with that guy anymore.” Gavin says. “Righteous.”
Sloane drops the subject and I think I’ll check to see how Charlie feels later.  “Oh, it’s okay, guys,” Charlie says, when Gavin leaves the room to set up a beer bong.  “Jerome and I patched up our differences when we slept together again. I could care less what Gavin thinks, but it’s still better not to say in front of him.”
“You’re back together, with Jerome?” I ask.  Again with envy, I’m wondering if Charlie now has two men living in her house, servicing her.
“No.  Jerome and I will never be intimate again.”
“Then what happened with the getting together once more?”
“I made him have sex with me last month,” Charlie says.  “To get it, I did that thing I do where I just know what to say.  I’m not sure it’s a gift anymore, though.  Might just be intuition. Or maybe Jerome had been wanting me back for some time. He told me she bored him. I said, ‘Did you want to?—and he wanted to…”
Gavin re-enters with the beer bong in his hands.  “Let’s drink!  Into the kitchen! Who’s first?” he shouts.
I tell Gavin to go for it. “You! You! You! You!” I shout back in frat boy rhythm. Sloane stands beside Gavin and says he’ll go next.
“How long will you keep this young guy?” I ask Charlie when the men can’t hear.  
“Till tomorrow,” she says.  “I already wrote him the goodbye note and I’m giving him a check.  Go down and surf in Mexico,” I’ll tell him.  “Take your stuff. Have some beers on me.  I want to be alone.”
“Charlie, you OK now?” I ask her again.  She’s precariously close to rejoicing or tears.
“I’m fine,” she says.  “What makes you think I’m not fine?” A thousand origami cranes hang from strings on her ceiling in the foyer.  Looks like Senbazuru. She must have had a wish. Lots of them. I look at them. I walk to them. “Art project,” she says. “But, Jessica, listen.  There is one thing I forgot to tell you about the exes experience.”
“You’re starting to sound like a scientist,” I say. “And there were only eighteen or nineteen men.” I hear Sloane and Gavin laughing from the living room.  “But, what,” I ask, “were you going to tell me?”
“When I took Jerome back into my bed, I realized I didn’t miss him in bed,” she says.  “I missed him everywhere but in bed.  There he was better after that girl, sure...  Or maybe different.  Kissed with a bit more tongue than before, something she must like.  But he fell back into the old way we’d been soon enough.  And when he did, he said, ‘Oh, Charlie, I’m so sorry I left you for her.’ But I said, ‘Jerome, it’s all right, baby.  You tried to go back for your distant past when you wanted her, but you couldn’t.  Just like I couldn’t, with all those men I just slept with again in the last couple months. All seventeen of them.’  He didn’t like that at all, liked it even less when I went on to say, ‘Because the first time I slept with them, I’ve realized, I was someone else.  Not who I am now.  Someone younger and hotter and less interesting and more sheltered.  But now, I see them in their dream-faded stages, when they have guts and mortgages and wives.  And the world has worn them down.  Like our thing wore you down and wore me down. So maybe that thing with your former girl was great, was just right, and you didn’t feel she’d changed at all, but now, after you fucked her, I look at you now, Jerome, and I realize I can never get back together with a man who cheated on me just to taste sex from his past, trying to relive his glory days.’  So, I start bawling. Then he goes, ‘We all make mistakes, Charlie. Forgive me,’ and I respond, ‘And we all lose things sometimes, Jerome, when we make the wrong ones, often for good.’ Then he told me he’d make amends to me for years, would break up with the girl he’d left me for that same day. But I didn’t want him to break up with that woman.  Turns out, he did that on his own, after we slept together.  It’s kind of mysterious why.  Maybe she found out he’d cheated on her with me.  Again, not my problem. I walked away from him.  I drove off. Then I found Gavin at the surf-shop when I went for new flip-flops right after I left Jerome’s house.  I wanted something fun and new.  I took Gavin home.  I had him awhile.  Now I cut him loose.  But, Jess, there will be only one set of memories for me and Gavin! How powerful is that? One for the duration. No mistakes made twice. I’ll tell you the rest of what I’m planning to do later, about everything else.”
I want to know Charlie’s answers, but I don’t get to talk to her again later that night.  Sloane and Gavin involve us in a game of strip poker.  Charlie wins.  The men are naked and we are nowhere near. I feel like crying for no good reason.
By the time we leave Charlie’s, Sloane and Gavin are sloshed, so I get a Lyft for me and Sloane.  I leave Charlie sitting in her living room, reading a book, looking sleepy, looking happy.
I wish I could see into her mind to witness her distant and recent pasts, to see both the initial encounters with the exes and the ones that followed, but I can’t.  I wish I’d slept with a hundred people to have some memories to fall back on.
“You want to do it?” Sloane asks when we get home.  “We’re all alone.”  He pulls on my bra-strap, something I find repulsive. If we go that way, no matter what he promises, he’ll end up satisfied and I’ll end up dismayed and unfulfilled yet again.
“Is that enough of a reason?” I ask.  “Give me something more.”
Charlie gave me her strap-on before I left her house, because I’d asked for it. I remember she’d said, “What are you going to do with it, Jessica?” and I’d told her I wasn’t sure, maybe nothing, but “Do something,” she’d said.  “Someone. Just not the mattress.”
Sloane saw the whole hand-off, so when he attempts to reply, already against new variations, he says, “I want sex, yes, in any room you want, but we’re not using that thing she gave you on me, OK? That’s an out-hole only.”
“Don’t worry,” I say.  “I don’t want to use it on you.”
“Oh good,” he replies. He stares at me with his half-lidded eyes.  He’s trying to look sexy.  I’m not feeling it.  We made a child together, we’ve talked about increasing my pleasure for years, and yet each time, it’s this same thing.  A few kisses and then his release and back to go.  
In fact, the more I look at him, the more he starts looking like an ex already, so I just can’t fucking stand him all the sudden.  So long married and he never pleased me, I think?  I just did what I thought I was supposed to do, got married, because he loved me and wanted this commitment, but the marriage never solved any of my problems, and neither did having a kid.
I am only the tiniest bit drunk now, but I want to kill him for never having sexually satisfied me.  It’s a fucked up moment, but the second I walk into the bathroom to get away from him, I know I’ll have to leave him by and by. I can’t hide from my life anymore. Or waste it. Or sacrifice it for parenthood. This brings me a flood of unhappiness since so many parts of our lives are connected—bills, appliances, David, who’s only ten.  Luckily Sloane took David to a week-long camp the day before.  He’s gone.  He will not hear the break up I begin to know is coming.  I hold and regard Charlie’s strap-on.
“Come on, let’s fuck,” Sloane tries again from outside the bathroom door, harassing me even from there, but I don’t want to sleep with him.  Not today, not tomorrow, not ever again after we split.  I imagine my house being dismantled, thing by thing as Charlie’s was, some things disappearing to never return.  
I imagine selling our cars and how it would feel to hire a young guy like a gigolo for a month and then send him off when I’m done with him, giving him a check.  “I’ll come get you in a bit, when I feel like fucking,” I tell Sloane, knowing he won’t stand there long, knowing he’ll pass out in the bed in ten minutes.  
But after he’s out, I grab Charlie’s strap-on and carry the fake dick in my hands.   Later that night by the washing machine, with effort, I connect the straps and then wonder what to fuck.  I wag my hips side to side, watch it bob.  It feels good.  It feels good to have a dick.  But there’s nothing in the garage to practice with, nothing even as hypothetically good as memory foam.
I walk into the driveway, hoping to brandish my fake dick at my neighbors, but no such luck.  It’s one in the morning and everyone’s asleep.   I’m not sure what I do after that. Pass out?
When I wake up the next morning, I’m pressed up against the cement.  Sloane comes out. “You’re wearing the dick,” is all he says.  “Come in.”
“I don’t want to come in. Sloane, we need to talk, but later,” I say.  
I get my keys and drive right back to Charlie’s. I flip off her neighbor’s house as I run to her door, oblivious to whether he’s around.  If he is looking, I decide, maybe he’ll think this public strap-on wearing is a thing now, a housewife thing—a duality thing.  Is it?
Sloane doesn’t even bother to text or relentlessly call after I’ve said we needed to talk.  He gives me radio silence wrapped in a bulk package of neglect. That’s the problem.  I bring everything that’s ever come to our relationship. I keep bringing it.
He passively takes.
I ring the doorbell and wait for Charlie to answer.  I know she will. Her car is in her driveway with Just Married cans attached to the back, which I’m hoping are a joke.  
I’m not sure I know the secret to her newest rounds of exquisite madness via young surfers and past loves, but I’m thinking that I’ll stay with her a while, fold some cranes, bake some cookies, paint a wall.
Just watching, I will figure something out.