Britt Astrid Alphson
She had once dated a boy from Shiner, Idaho. He told her a story about a beautiful kid on the football team (popular, thick hair, bi-annual house parties), whose older sister came home from school one day and killed the entire family. Mom, Dad, the sanctified football player - and then herself. Renee doesn’t remember this boyfriend from Idaho’s middle name, will probably never speak to him again, but she remembers this story. Be wary of false prophets; when you are left you are left with nothing to hold, only stories about fallen quarterbacks in Shiner, Idaho. Cyprus was never “in the cards,” as one might say. Women weren’t even necessarily in the cards. But the beauty Renee had inherited, this genetic hierarchy she was lounging lazily at the top of, rendered her disinterested in the pain men gift you. She wasn’t carnally attracted to women; she could admit this to herself in back rooms and under linen covers. But she was aware that at the core of her attraction to men was something altogether impersonal. It wasn’t an attraction that belonged to her. Just like her beauty, it was generational, bequeathed – an inherited thing.
She met Eleanor at a reception for one of those events that have receptions. It was a stifling August day, a dilapidated roof below Canal Street, the turning of a tide. Renee was a Robin’s egg, all delicate and veiny and needing warmth. Eleanor was a force. And she wasn’t beautiful, but she managed in other ways. Where the world would not open for her, she pried it open. She developed all those secondary things: intellect and wit and a Point of View. Renee was at the age where things were starting to erode and Eleanor was relishing in the quiet comforts of a middle-aged stomach, a middle-aged salary. They talked in a stairwell for a time that felt holy and then they spoke about quiet things by the Hudson.
Eleanor got offered a Writer’s Residency in Cyprus. Renee had never intended to leave the island of Manhattan.
But maybe she just wanted someone to go up to on a plane with. She’d witnessed that - those families severed and scattered across a sea of vinyl navy seats, the way they’d walk up and down the aisles, arm touches and offhand questions and all those brutal, impenetrable marks of intimacy. And Eleanor provided that to her. What is love, really, if not an offering of bloodless family?
Cyprus, with its sanguine sky and its street cats and the violence of water that blue. Renee sunk into domesticity. She became friends with the labels on bottles, with the instructions for detergent, with the stuffed aisles of the dilapidated Peripteros. This was the American in her; this was The United States living in the pear-shaped cavity just left of her sternum. She tried to turn her head from the products but the pretty woman needed to consume. And not in a fickle way: not tinned cans of fish, not homegrown figs, not handwoven garments. Fuck the frailty and fuck locality and fuck the Mediterranean. She wanted Big. She wanted Duane Reade. She wanted home.
Her symmetry and her freckles, the way her eyes squinted when she found something irksome; these modes of currency didn’t hold the same strength they did in New York. These tanned Greeks with their hands in the soil, their salted wrists, their tolerance for the harsher things.
Months passed in that devastating way they do. Renee was a dull blade, a joke that’s lost its footing, a bloated and meandering story. She squirreled away old receipts. Her hair was dyed a garish shade of red on a whim. A taxi driver once kicked her out of his vehicle, after she stuck her head out of the window screaming at pedestrians to LOOK, LOOK, LOOK.
The night was warm and the air held you. Hapless tourist had finally fled, in pursuit of those sacred routines of theirs. Jamie watched them get on two tiered busses and duck in taxis, wondering where broad-shouldered players went after their game was through. Eleanor had sent in her first transcript. The women drank wine from a bosomed bottle; the older of the two withdrew into the carafe. This moment had been described in pantomime by every friend Renee had ever held dear. When someone stops wanting you, you feel it. Only a fool can’t feel it.
Two weeks later, Eleanor came home with a girl with the face of a girl and the body of a woman.
“Who the fuck is that?”
“This is Aagni,” Renee’s wife said, introducing her to their cessation.
“Are you leaving me?”
Eleanor and Aagni laughed like lovers, like teammates: “Jesus, honey, no. Fuck.”
“I do this with lots of couples. It’s way more common than you think.”
Renee wanted to scream. She had been upended by youth and a beauty even more potent and plain than her own, despite all her efforts to sidestep hurt. She had abandoned Man; she had driven out of Shiner. She had embraced this woman and yet here she was. Lying on her back, breathless, the stadium lights and the dewy grass and the crowd so far now, blackness taking over. A forgotten star, an abandoned teammate. A Fallen Quarterback.