Tag Archives: literary pretentions

Dear Aspiring Screenwriter

13 Mar

Dear Aspiring Screenwriter,

We are writing to thank you for the submission of your screenplay, The Common Life-Cycle of the Short-Beaked Garfish. We found it to be poignant and humorous with just the right touch of pathos, and feel that it is exactly the right fit for our studio. However, we do have a few notes about the protagonist Cate, and would like to see the following modifications made to the script:

– Name changed to something more “whimsical,” like Lula, Plum, Tulip or Pippa

– Tulip should have “quirkier” taste – maybe reads Salinger? Listens to “alternative” music? (Not too alternative)

– More emphasis on how “different” Tulip is and unlike other girls – should have a scene where she is dressed in feminine attire but holds her own drinking and trading lewd stories with the boys. Also maybe she drives a Vespa?

– Not sure why you describe Tulip as plain and “big-boned”????? Definitely should not be plain, unless in a girl-next-door or before-the-makeover sense. Audiences don’t respond to fat characters, unless in a humorous way. Should be no bigger than Jennifer Lawrence, maybe with her fresh-faced everywoman appeal. Viewers identify with Jennifer Lawrence.

– At least one scene where Tulip is lying on her couch in her underwear reading a book. Maybe David Foster Wallace to show her intellectual side?

– At least one scene where Tulip does something like jump into a lake fully-clothed to show how unconventional and care-free she is

– At least one sex scene – and no, the “awkward and uncomfortable blow job” she gives to the bartender in the bar bathroom does not count. Why does the scene end with her sharing a cigarette with him before she rejoins her friends? Why doesn’t she take him back to her place and then make him breakfast in the morning?

– Not sure that I buy Tulip as a full-fledged editor. Maybe an editor’s assistant? Seems more likely for a girl her age

– Definitely a vintage “feel” to Tulip’s look – full skirts (not too long), jewellery like you would find in your grandmother’s closet, “natural” looking makeup to emphasize her fresh-scrubbed beauty. Glasses with thick plastic frames for when she wants to be taken “seriously.”

– Maybe in the scene where Tulip is walking across the park describing her abortion to two of her close friends, some kids could be playing soccer nearby and accidentally kick the ball her way. Then she runs after it, and we see her doing some complicated footwork with the ball and running around with the kids for a few seconds before she kicks the ball into the net. Shows the ephemeral nature of life but also how quirky and unlike other people she is.

– Maybe instead of having an abortion she had a miscarriage? Or suffered the recent death of a family pet??? Not sure how abortion will play out with audiences, especially if she’s not consumed with regret. And really not feeling the line, “It was the easiest decision I’ve ever made.” Women don’t ever feel that way about abortion??

– Tulip seems to only have female friends?? Would like to see a male friend added to the mix, maybe someone who’s been in love with her for years and years. Maybe his name is Jack and he’s a sensitive, thoughtful writer type? Anyway how is Tulip going to drink with the boys if there are no boys.

– Not sure it’s believable that Tulip would break up with her boyfriend in order to pursue her career goals? She’s only an editor’s assistant after all. Maybe instead she could realize she has feelings for Jack?

– Instead of the “short-beaked garfish” maybe Tulip can be fascinated by butterflies. But quirky butterflies?

– Not sure why the script ends with Tulip boarding a plane by herself to Paris? Wouldn’t it be better if Jack went with her, and when they got there she helped him edit his book? No one goes to Paris alone

We very much look forward to reading your next draft! With these few small changes we really feel that we have a winner on our hands. Although of course little movies like this could never be our bread-and-butter (especially not with a female protagonist – that will eliminate at least half the population from wanting to see it), they are our labour of love and truly the work of which we are proudest. We very much look forward to producing The Common Life-Cycle of the Quirky Butterfly.

Kind regards,

Big Production Company

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Waiting For Spring, Or, The Moon Is In Free Fall

21 Jan

It’s almost four thirty in the afternoon, a month after the winter solstice, and the sky is still that bright, brittle cold-weather blue.

I can hear birds chirping outside my bedroom window. The noises they’re making are quiet, contented. Like me, they are settled in for the long wait until spring.

These days, spring seems like a dreamy idea I read about once a long time ago. It doesn’t just seem unreal, it seems like a childhood myth that I never quite gave up believing in. I keep clinging to this idea that things will be better, soon, soon, any day now. Waiting for spring is like my own personal religion, with all its accompanying rites and rituals. Except these days I’m dabbling in atheism; I’m not sure if I quite trust in this god anymore.

I’m not sad. I’m just in that funny suspended animation that happens this time every year, when everything goes cold and hard and very, very still.

I remember being very drunk at a party once when I was in my early twenties. The party was at my house, and at some point I found myself sitting in front of the book shelf, staring in awe at all of my books. One of my roommates asked what I was doing, and I turned and said to her,

“Look at this – look at how many words I own. Every single one of these books is filled with thousands and thousands of words, and they all belong to me. I bought them, with my own money. I bought the whole language!”

It seemed very profound to me at the time, even if my roommate just laughed and rolled her eyes and said, “Oh my god you are wasted.”

I do own those words, though. I own another person’s thoughts, the deepest parts of themselves that have spilled out through the tips of their fingers in the middle of their darkest nights. I might not own the things themselves that the words and passages describe, but I own their shadow, their printed idea on a page. And somehow that’s nearly as good. In the currency of thoughts and language, I am rich.

I know that this is true because when I think about it my skin prickles and my throat gets tight.

I want to think more beautiful thoughts this winter. I want better things to dream on until the spring wakes me up. I want to sit with a terrible stillness and find the right fancies to dive into. I don’t want things to move quickly anymore – action and then reaction over and over again, each shot fired in a split second – instead, I want things to move at a glacial pace, each approaching concept swallowing me whole, giving me time to learn it from the inside out. I want each new wonder to suffuse me, to drip out of my pores.

I think I want to be reborn, though I’m not sure as what.

One of the nicest ideas that I’ve ever read comes from the Wikipedia entry for free fall:

An object in the technical sense of free fall may not necessarily be falling down in the usual sense of the term. An object moving upwards would not normally be considered to be falling but if it is subject to the force of gravity only, it is said to be in free fall. The moon thus is in free fall.

I wish that I could explain to you exactly how and why I love this so much. The moon – the stolid old moon, making its endless circles around the earth – is in free fall. The words don’t change what the moon does or how it functions, but they change how I see it. It’s no longer tethered by some imaginary thread to the earth, but instead it’s falling, always falling, caught at the last minute by gravity. Over and over again the moon falls; over and over the moon is saved. Every day. Every night.

It’s a thought that could make you fall in love with the universe all over again.

So here’s to those dreams that we might dabble in during these longest nights and coldest days. Here’s to the bits of beauty that find their way into our lives and maybe lodge themselves in our hearts. Here’s to slowness, to stillness, to the time we take in our suspended animation thinking those longer thoughts.

Here’s to all the deep, quiet thrills that we might find before spring rushes in to wake us up.

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Tips For Writers

14 Sep

Write because you have something to say.

Write because you’ve always wanted to.

Write because you only just realized that you might die next week, or tomorrow, or five minutes from now, and you want to leave something behind for posterity.

Write because you have a secret fire burning inside of you and the only way that you can fan the flames is by sharing your thoughts with someone else.

Write because you’re bored and don’t have anything better to do.

Write for yourself.

Write for other someone else, or maybe everyone else.

Write because you love seeing your stats counter surge every time you post something. Write because nothing satisfies you quite so much as seeing others share what you’ve written. Write because you like the attention; there’s nothing wrong with liking the attention.

Write because it fills the emptiness in your heart or your soul or your pancreas or wherever your particular emptiness happens to be.

Write because nothing will ever fill that emptiness, and you want to find a way to connect with someone, anyone who might understand.

Write because your tenth grade English teacher told you that you had potential.

Write because your ex told you that your characters were dull and your dialogue stilted, as it’s a well-known fact that there’s nothing better in life than proving someone else wrong.

Write because you have a calling for it, you were born for it, because it’s the only thing you’ve ever wanted to do for your entire life.

Write because you only just decided yesterday that it might be neat to try to stringing a few pretty words together.

Write because even though your imagery might be clichéd and your metaphors weak and your reasoning best described as childish and unsound, you still have a noted talent fur cussing and it’s a scientifically-proven fact that a well-placed f bomb can make or break a paragraph.

Write a thousand words every day.

Write ten words every day, even if those words are nothing more than, “I hope you have a good at school, honey.”

Write one word every day. Today’s word is perigee; tomorrow’s will be sesquipedalian.

Write a book so strange and obscure that no major publisher will ever touch it.

Write something because you know that it will be commercially-viable.

Write serious fiction.

Write romance novels.

Write an epic fantasy series that’s actually a thinly-disguised takedown of your toxic workplace, starring your awful cubicle mate as vile R’hakhnae, the Insect Queen.

Write a review of the movie you saw last night.

Write a grocery list.

Write anything and everything, if writing is what you want to do. Don’t listen to people who want to peddle some kind of elite ideal of what it means to write; don’t buy into the idea that you can only refer to yourself as a writer if you’ve been published in the New Yorker or you have a stack of rejection letters a foot deep or you frequently stay up all night weeping softly into a glass of scotch because you can’t arrange exactly the right words in exactly the right order to say exactly whatever it is you want to stay. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you’re only a writer if you’ve spent a decade or more suffering for your art, starving in a garret in London or maybe Paris. Try to steer clear of the folks who will want to tell you that only one particular genre or style is real writing.

Write.

Just write.

In fact, I’ll even go so far as to say please write, because I promise you that there’s someone out there who’s dying to hear what you have to say, someone whose life might be changed by whatever sentiment you’re about to commit to paper or screen or cardboard-back-of-the-cereal-box. Write because you are the only person who has lived your particular life, and this has shaped your thoughts in such a way that you are the only one on this planet capable of expressing a thought in your own particular way.

Write because no other person who came before you or who will come after to you will ever, ever be able to do it in quite the same way that you can.

Write  because if you don’t tell that story, the one that’s been slowly burning inside of you for the past year, the one that sits like a lump in your throat that never goes away or plays incessantly in the back of your head like a bad song with a good hook, will never be told if you don’t tell it.

Write because you’re the only one who can do this and we’re all counting on you.

Write because.

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You Are Worth It

4 Sep

I sometimes feel as if you’ve spent most of your life surrounded by people who told you over and over that you weren’t good enough, or smart enough, or trying hard enough. These people seem to flock to you, maybe because they know that, head bowed and ashamed, you’ll listen to what they say. Some of them might be kind-hearted, trying to push you or fix you with tough love, while others just want someone to hurt and humiliate. Whatever their motivation, I wish I’d been there when they said these things, so that I could have raised a ruckus, shouted them down, told them how very wrong they were.

The real kicker is that you blame yourself for listening to these people; you honestly believe that you should have known better, should have held your own. Having grown up in a world that loves to quote Eleanor Roosevelt on how no one can make anyone feel inferior without their consent, you think that it’s your fault that these spiteful words and ideas crawled under your skin and wove themselves into the fabric of your being. It’s not, though. It’s not your fault. No one could ever endure that much raw malice without starting to doubt their own self worth.

You tell yourself that you’re nothing but wasted potential, when in fact the exact opposite is true. All of your potential is still intact; you still have every possibility of achieving the things that you want to achieve. That’s not to say that it will be easy, or that it will happen right away – I’m not discounting your struggles, both past and present. But still. A sixty-four-year-old woman just swam from Cuba to Florida after trying to do so for thirty five years. There is no statute of limitation on dreams.

You think that no one notices when you get up to leave the room or slip away early from the party, but we do. We all do. We miss you when you’re gone; we miss your laughter, your warmth, your kindness. We miss your bad jokes. Most of all, though, we miss your steadiness, your solid, comforting presence. We miss you.

You want so badly to keep everyone else safe. You’re the quiet fixer, the person in the background making sure the show runs smoothly, but you’re also the first person to stand up and say something when others are threatened or in danger. You think nothing of disregarding your own safety or well-being if someone else needs your help. You are always there to help.

You are astonishingly loving and protective of so many people, without ever feeling as though you deserve any love or protection for yourself. You put yourself in the line of fire over and over again, though you would never let anyone else return the favour. You act as though you have a debt to pay to the universe, although you’re not quite sure why or how. You act as though the only way that you can justify taking up real estate on this planet is by living only for other people. But you don’t have any debt to pay, and you are just as worthy of our love as we are of yours.

You deserve everything good in this life, starting with a person-shaped space that you can occupy without feeling guilty or inadequate. You have so much worth, not just because of the wonderful things that you do, but because of who you are and the particular talents and skills that you possess. You are worthy because you are you – a person who always thinks of others first, who keeps their head down and uncomplainingly does their work, who delights in bringing a smile to someone else’s face. In room full of people, children and animals are drawn to you first because they know that they can trust you. We all trust you.

When we run into you on the street, or catch sight of you across a crowded bar, or watch you quietly, hesitantly slip in through the door, we are always so happy to see you. We are always so happy that you are here.

You deserve this, all of this.

You deserve our delight in you.

You are worth it.

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A Few Truths About Love

22 Aug

The truth about love is that there is a part of you that honestly believes that giving away all of your love will – no, must – result in receiving some kind of equal love back. If you didn’t believe this, your love would be impossible. How else could you justify all of the heartsick tears, the sleepless nights, the work and play that you’ve neglected?

The truth about love is that it’s not a physics equation. There is no law of conservation of love. Love can be created; love can be destroyed. The love that you put out into the world will not last forever, ricocheting between atoms, shifting shape as needed. A thoughtless heart can stop your love cold.

The truth about love is that someone can love you very much and still be careless or hurtful. Love is not a charm that protects you. Love is not magic. Love is not inherently good.

The truth about love is that your faith in it is misplaced; love is not a god or a system of belief or an altar at which you should kneel down and sacrifice. Love is a wild, dangerous force – exhilarating, yes, but also destructive. Loving someone else is like standing at the edge of the water in the middle of a hurricane; the waves that smash against the shore are mesmerizingly beautiful, but the threat of drowning is very real.

The truth about love is that it is a slippery beast. A slippery beast with teeth like razor blades.

The truth about love is that it is so bound up with regret that it seems impossible to separate the two. You regret the words you said, which you didn’t realize would come out so badly. You regret how vulnerable you let yourself be, how you cracked open your chest to reveal your still-beating heart. You regret all the chances you gave, the forgiveness you bled so freely. You regret the time not spent together, the days you sat side by side on the couch both engrossed in your laptops. You regret the time wasted arguing or sulking or spent in a state of deliberate misunderstanding. You regret the beginning, because it could only ever lead to this. You regret the ending, because of everything you’ll never get back. You try so hard not to regret everything in between, but you do. You do.

The truth about love is that so many of us have a hard time differentiating between love and habit.

The truth about love is that it’s not a panacea or a cure-all. You can have all the love in the world and still be just as broken as ever. Being in love will not fix you; after the first flush of romance you will find that you are in exactly the same place, except that now you have to worry about dragging someone else down with you.

The truth about love is that we talk about it as if it’s something we’re somehow owed, but really, it’s not. People deserve to be treated with decency and respect. People deserve basic necessities like food, shelter and clean water. People deserve to feel safe. No one deserves love.

The truth about love is that you would do it all again.

Vintage Photos of Hurricanes and Their Aftermath (4)

What It’s Like To Be A Writer Who Is Also A Woman

12 Aug

You will always be a woman first and a writer second.

When people refer to you, they will call you a “woman writer,” or “feminist writer,” or some other variation on that theme. There will always be some kind of qualifier added.

When your works are published, they will be included in women’s anthologies, or perhaps taught in women’s studies classes, or shelved in the “chick lit” sections of bookstores. This will feel simultaneously empowering and isolating. You know that this fact will guarantee that large segments of the population will choose never to read your work based solely on these classifications.

It will be thought that only other women can relate to your writing. When discussed by literary critics, your books will be described as works that all women should read; no one will ever call them works that everyone should read.

When a man says flattering things about your writing, you will always be left wondering whether it is your work that interests him, or the fact that you are young, conventionally attractive and female. Most frequently it will be the former, but still, you can never shake off the fear that you are not so much talented as you are naïve and pretty. You often feel as if you are only valuable in so much as men desire to fuck you.

Speaking of men desiring to fuck you, you must be very careful when interacting with male readers of your work, especially if those men are also writers. If you are married or in a committed relationship, mention this up front. Watch every word you say and make certain that none of them could ever be misconstrued as flirtatious. Do not ever behave in a way that might lead you to be accused of leading a man on – especially in situations where the man is in a position to promote your work. Remember that all of your motives will always be suspect.

Speaking of men, the first attributes used when describing you will be your relationships or lack thereof.

If you are married and/or have children, these things will become the focal point of any brief biographical sketch made of your life. Any other accomplishments must take a back seat to the fact that you have managed to find someone to put a ring on it and then convinced them to procreate with you. Your name will always be preceded by something like wife-and-mother-of-two, as if those titles are more important than any other that you might earn in this life.

If you are unmarried, you will be pitied. If you don’t have children, you will be pitied. People will wonder aloud what is wrong with you; it will be thought that your devotion to your career has left you lonely and barren. Your appearance will be dissected, your life choices examined as if under a microscope; perhaps the idea of medical infertility might be discussed. Anyone and everyone will have a theory about why and how you failed to produce children.

If you write about yourself, about your life and your feelings, your writing will be called confessional. The word will be said with a sneer; it is not meant as a compliment.

If you write about issues larger than yourself, your work will always be touted as a feminist perspective or a woman’s perspective on the subject; you can never have a thought or opinion without it being viewed by the rest of the world as being coloured by your gender.

If you write about the discrimination and inequality that women face, and don’t immediately follow up with a list of double standards imposed on men, you will be accused of misandry. If you discuss violence against women without adding in that yes, sometimes women can be violent towards men, you will be accused of misrepresenting the facts. If you don’t qualify every discussion about women’s issues with the fact that, yes, men have issues specific to them, then you don’t believe in equality.

You will find yourself inhabiting a scarcity mindset. If another woman achieves fame or success by writing on the same subjects as you, you will assume that all praise and recognition have been used up. Having grown up fed on a media diet of cartoons, books, video games and sitcoms featuring only one or two token female characters, you will truly believe that there is room for only one woman at the top of any given field. This will lead to intense feelings of jealousy any time another woman succeeds; this will lead to the desire to tear other women and their work down, in order to make room for yourself. Should you experience any kind of success, you will find yourself the target of the same type of fear and envy. You will become the subject of take downs by other women who see you as an obstacle standing in their way.

You will quickly learn that being seen as someone who embraces the middle ground, someone who constantly qualifies all of their beliefs with statements like, but I can understand the other side of the argument, will be greatly beneficial to your popularity as a writer. Seeing issues as black and white will earn you the label of “extremist,” and cause others to distance themselves from your work. As a woman, you will constantly need to tone it down, bite your tongue, and above all else present yourself as being sweet and unthreatening. Otherwise you will not be taken seriously.

You will quickly learn that constantly equivocating will lead others, especially women, to dismiss you as wishy washy. You will be accused of backtracking. Men will tell you that they do not enjoy your writing because it is lacking in bombast and ego. You have to come across as firm, uncompromising, certain in your beliefs. You have to approach writing with a take-no-prisoners mentality. Otherwise you will not be taken seriously.

You will quickly learn that when you challenge the glaring inequalities in the old boys’ club of the literary world, you will be branded as angry. People will insinuate, or outright say, that any obstacles that you might face are evidence of your lack of talent and commitment, rather than a systemic and deeply ingrained misogyny. You will be called paranoid and crazy, accused of engaging in victimology; no one will want to acknowledge how very sad and frustrated it makes you that you have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good.

You will quickly learn that you cannot ever, ever win.

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Fiction: Georgiana

17 Jun

*TRIGGER WARNING FOR SUGGESTION OF SEXUAL ASSAULT*

It’s important to find the perfect words.

Not everyone believes this, of course. People will often say that they don’t have the right words to explain or describe something, but in Georgiana’s experience, there is a perfect word for anything if only you’re willing to look hard enough for it.

Most people aren’t willing to make enough of an effort to find the perfect word. They’re happy to stick to the nouns, verbs and adjectives that they know, doing their best to to pinch and pull them into new shapes for new situations. This is, in Georgiana’s opinion, like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole – you might be able to do it, and you might even be able to convince yourself that it fits, but everyone else will still feel awkward and uncomfortable.

Right now, sitting at the kitchen table, she is testing out a new word. She does this by writing it out, letting her hand feel the truth of it as it guides the pen across the paper. First she prints COURTESAN in neat block letters across the top, then, after a moment’s consideration, she writes MY MOTHER IS A COURTESAN in elegant script half-way down the page. Georgiana’s handwriting is the best in her eighth-grade class. In fact, she won an award in a penmanship competition held at her school last year. Georgiana’s mother had snorted at this and said that it was ridiculous to give a prize for something no one cared about anymore, but Georgiana disagrees, and keeps the certificate they gave her in her second-best desk drawer. Penmanship, like baking bread or crocheting lace, is a skill that she has no immediate use for, but could very likely come in handy sometime in the unforeseeable future.

Georgiana slouches in her seat and stares at the paper, narrowing her eyes until her brow begins to furrow. My mother is a courtesan. Does it fit? Is it right? She tilts her head first to one side, then the other, then slowly lets her eyes drift out of focus. She’s feeling as though she’s getting quite close to something when the sound of her mother’s keys in the door interrupts her meditation. She quickly sits up and folds the paper neatly in half, then in half again before sliding it into the pocket of her skirt. A moment later, her mother, Peggy, appears in the kitchen and drops a quick kiss on the top of Georgiana’s head before heading over to refrigerator.

“Jesus Christ have I ever had a long day,” Peggy says to the carton of eggs on the second shelf. “I need about three drinks and then another drink on top of that. Honey, what do I want to drink? Do I want beer or wine?”

“I don’t know,” Georgiana answers, peevishly. “How should I know what you want? I’m not a mind-reader. You’re being stupid. You’re being stupid and you’re wasting energy by leaving the fridge open.”

“My thirteen-year-old daughter thinks I’m stupid. Quelle surprise. Next you’ll be insulting my taste in music.”

Georgiana twists a stray lock of hair around her finger as she watches her mother pour herself a glass of riesling.

“Mom,” she begins, keeping her voice carefully bored and distant. “Mom, what’s a courtesan?”

“Look it up. You know how to work a dictionary, and God knows that there are enough of them around here.”

“I tried, but I can’t find mine, and the door to your office is locked.”

This is patently untrue. Or rather, the lost dictionary is untrue, although Peggy’s office really is locked – it’s always best to add a little bit of truth into your lies, Georgiana has learned. It makes them that much more believable. With the right amount of fact and fiction, Georgiana knows that she can manipulate her mother into giving her some approximation of what the word means.

Not that she really wants a definition. What she wants is to see her mother’s reaction to the word.

Peggy sighs and rolls her eyes heavenward, as if deep in thought.

“Oh, I don’t know. I guess a courtesan is a woman who’s involved with a married man, and lives off the money and gifts he gives her. A sort of sex-worker, but not really in the way that we currently understand that term. She’s not exactly a prostitute, more like a professional mistress. I wouldn’t worry too much about it, though – it’s an old-fashioned word that no one really uses anymore.”

Like penmanship, Georgiana thinks, coolly maintaining her blank gaze as she watches her mother’s face. Is that a ripple of anxiety? Or embarrassment? It’s gone too soon for Georgiana to tell.

“Go change in to something nice,” says Peggy, ignoring her daughter’s stare. “We’re going to Eric’s for dinner,”

“But I’m already wearing a skirt,” Georgiana protests, conscious of the childish whine creeping into her voice.

“Well, I guess you’re going to have to put on a nicer skirt, then, aren’t you?”

And with that, her mother takes her drink into the living room and turns on the news, neatly ending the conversation before Georgiana can voice any other complaints. She sighs and begins to mount the stairs to her bedroom, dragging her feet as loudly and obnoxiously as possible.

Eric is her mother’s boss, and Georgiana is certain that the two of them are an item, as her grandmother would say. Although Eric has been a part of Georgiana’s life for nearly as long as she can remember, she has only recently become aware of his true feelings for her mother. After reviewing all of the evidence, though, Georgiana can’t believe she’s been so blind for so long.

First of all, there’s the fact that Georgiana and her mother should not be able to afford to live the way that they do. Take this house, for example – their neighbours all have high-powered, lucrative careers, and the street is dotted with doctors, lawyers and hedge fund managers. Peggy, meanwhile, is the arts editor for the small, left-wing magazine that Eric owns. Georgiana has heard Eric say more than once that the magazine will never be profitable. How, then, are they able to own this house? How is Peggy able to keep Georgiana adequately clothed and fed? How does the liquor cabinet manage to stay so well stocked?

Next, there are all the evenings that Peggy spends at Eric’s house, supposedly “working”. But why do they need to meet at night? They see each other at the office all day long.

Georgiana’s mother used to leave her with a babysitter on the evenings when she had to “work late”, but lately she’s been bringing her daughter along, forcing her to dress nicely and pick her way through so-called gourmet meals cooked by Eric himself. But where is Eric’s wife? She is always noticeably absent during Georgiana’s visits to his house. The official story is that Eric’s wife is frequently out of town, “on business”, a reply that is both vague and entirely unsatisfying.

And then there are the swanky vacations her mother takes, alone, if you believe what she says. At least once a year Georgiana is dumped at her grandmother’s apartment, left to navigate her way through a sea of porcelain figurines and doilies, while her mother flies off to Barcelona, Rio de Janeiro, Milan. Last year it was Paris. Paris! Who goes to the most romantic city in the world by themselves? It’s clear that, when thoughtfully examined, Georgiana’s mother’s stories are totally lacking in credibility.

There are other, smaller things, as well. There’s the way that her mother behaves during Eric’s late night phone calls, like a giddy schoolgirl who suddenly has the attention of the cutest boy in the class. There’s the mysterious jumble of soft, velvety jewellery boxes in her mother’s underwear drawer, a stash that has grown alarmingly over the past several years. Worst of all, there’s the way that Georgiana’s mother treats Eric’s thoughts and ideas as though they come from God himself. If Georgiana has to hear “Eric thinks…” or “Eric feels…” one more time, she might slit her wrists.

Up until today, Georgiana hadn’t exactly been entirely certain that something was going on between her mother and Eric. The problem was that she’d been missing the right word to describe their relationship. She’d tried out fuck-friend, but that was crass and uncouth and not befitting of two adults involved in an adult situation. She’d also given the term mistress a whirl, but it was too dowdy, too boring. The word courtesan, on the other hand, has a lovely sing-song rhythm that Georgiana can’t get out of her head. It sounds vaguely foreign, and yet is a perfectly respectable English word. It’s elegant, rich, sensual, and bordering on obsolete.

Exactly the term she’s been waiting for.

After pulling on a suitably nice dress, Georgiana stands in front of her mirror and braids her coarse, wavy brown hair. She stares at herself critically, then suddenly leans in towards her reflection and viciously whispers, your mother’s a whore and you’re a stupid, ugly bitch.

She stays suspended in this position, her mouth so close to the glass that her breath appears as a fog. The edge of the bureau digs uncomfortably into her stomach, but she doesn’t mind. It actually feels sort of good, in a strange way. She waits until the funny ache bisecting her abdomen becomes more than she can stand, then pushes herself back and turns to rummage around in her closet, pulling out a pair of well-worn ballet flats.

She steps into her shoes and then sits on the edge of her bed, her face as blank and impassive as a mask.

The drive to Eric’s house is short and silent. Georgiana slides as far down in her seat as possible, fiddling with her braid, clenching the end of it between her mouth and her nose to make a mustache. Her mother, who hates driving, stares grimly at the road, her hands clenched in a death grip around the wheel from the moment they leave the house until they pull into Eric’s driveway. Eric, as always, is waiting for them, ready to open the door before they can even ring the bell.

“Peggy, you look lovely,” Eric says, kissing Georgiana’s mother on the cheek as he takes her coat. “I can’t believe you’re the same person who was having a minor meltdown three hours ago.”

“Oh God,” Peggy laughs, “wasn’t that a nightmare? I need a drink. I mean, another drink.”

“And the young Georgiana, beautiful as always,” Eric continues as Georgiana shrugs her jacket into his waiting hands.

She watches him out of the corner of her eye, saying nothing, listening for the crackle of her secret paper, stealthily transferred from one pocket to another, as he hangs her jacket in the closet. The noise is wonderfully satisfying.

Dinner is paella, and Georgiana spends the first half of the meal picking out the vegetables and moving them to the edge of the plate. Once that’s done, she concentrates on the edible parts of the dish. She has her first forkful of beans, rice and meat halfway to her mouth when Eric says,

“So, Georgiana, what are you studying these days?”

Georgiana is hovering between answering his question and stuffing her mouth full of food when Peggy replies for her.

“Don’t bother asking her, she’ll just tell you she doesn’t remember. Gigi never remembers what she’s learned at school, it’s one of her charming trademarks.”

Georgiana drops her fork with a clatter and turns on her mother.

“Don’t call me that,” she spits out.

“What, Gigi? Don’t be silly, I’ve always called you that.”

Peggy rolls her eyes at Eric, a gesture so entirely dismissive that Georgiana feels her face and chest flush with rage. Part of her knows that she will later feel embarrassed by what she’s about to say, but right now all she can feel is the rush of it, the exhilarating sense of being swept up in her anger.

“It’s a stupid name. It’s the name for a dog. It’s so humiliating. No one calls me that but you.”

“What do your friends call you?” asks Eric.

It’s such an unexpected question that Georgiana is immediately disarmed. She looks between Eric and her mother, their faces both calm and inquiring, and feels herself deflate.

“George,” she says, neglecting to mention the fact that she doesn’t have any friends. “It’s nice and short and gets right to the point.”

“Ah, yes, but what is the point?” Eric wonders aloud.

Georgiana, unable to tell if he’s laughing at her, ducks her head and takes refuge in her dinner. After a few minutes the centre of her dish is clear, leaving only a ring of vegetables.

“May I take my dessert in the library?” she asks, pushing her plate away.

Eric looks at Peggy, who shrugs her assent.

“It’s the chocolate cake on the counter in the kitchen,” he calls out as she beats a hasty retreat.

Or rather, she beats what only appears to be a hasty retreat. After she’s taken several loud steps towards the kitchen, Georgiana does a quick pirouette on the hardwood floor of the hall and then creeps back towards the dining room. She lingers at the edge of the pool of light spilling from the doorway, her mouth hanging half open as she strains to listen.

God, I’m so sorry about that,” she hears her mother say. “She’s been so terrible lately. I’m trying so hard to just ignore her, because I know that at that age any attention is good attention, but Jesus Christ is it ever hard not to smack her sometimes.”

Eric murmurs something in response, but Georgiana can’t hear what it is.

She know that she should be upset over what her mother said, but instead she feels meanly glad. Good, she thinks, I’m glad she wants to smack me. I hope she does someday. I hope she does tomorrow.

Eavesdropping makes her hungry, and Georgiana feels entirely justified in cutting herself two enormous slices of cake. She carries her plate and a glass of milk down the dim hallway, towards the back of the house. The library, as Eric calls it, is really just a small-ish sitting room lined with bookshelves and furnished with two comfortably ancient armchairs, a couple of mismatched lamps and a sturdy but beat up old table. Most of the shelves are tall, reaching almost to the ceiling, but one of them is a squat, handsome case fronted by two neat little glass doors. This houses Eric’s collection of rare, first edition and out-of-print books, and Georgiana makes a beeline for it.

She spends an hour and a half with a 19th century medical encyclopedia, poring over woodcut drawings of syphilis infected genitalia and deformed fetuses. The pictures are fascinating and nauseating at the same time; looking at them makes Georgiana’s skin crawl, but she feels compelled to keep turning the pages. When she finally can’t take any more she closes the book and reverently places it back on the shelf. She feels strange, shivery and sweat-slicked, as though she’s just awoken from a bad dream. A thin, piercing headache is blooming right between her eyes.

She decides to go find her mother. Peggy and Eric will be upstairs, she knows, in the office, which is shinier and newer than the library. The office is probably where they do it. The thought makes Georgiana’s stomach turn over and causes her headache to spread until she can feel it pulsing through every vein, her scalp alive with tiny filaments of pain. The door to the office is closed, and Georgiana can hear her mother and Eric talking and laughing softly behind it. She is about to knock, about to tell her mother that she’s feeling sick and wants to go home, when suddenly she hears something. It’s her mother’s voice, contorted almost beyond recognition, groaning, sighing. Georgiana turns on her heel and runs to the bathroom.

She crouches over the toilet, sweat beading along her hairline. Her arms are shaking and her heart is pounding, sickness welling inside of her as she stares at the water. She wishes that her mother was there to hold her hair. She wishes that she’d never left the library, that she hadn’t been so rude at dinner, that she’d never started this whole stupid thing. Her breath comes in gasps, her stomach clenches hard and she gags, but nothing comes up. Her body, completely beyond her control, relaxes and then stiffens as she gags again and again. Tears begin to drip down her face, splashing into the toilet bowl beneath her.

Then, slowly, the nausea begins to recede, leaving her trembling and empty. When she feels steady enough, she pushes herself to her feet and runs cold water in the sink, splashing it on her face. Her head still aches, so she eases the elastic off the end of her braid and shakes her hair out until it frames her face like a mane. Between the cloud of her hair and her thin, pale face, the effect is distinctly pre-raphaelite, a wan Rosetti goddess, perhaps, or a despairing angel. She takes a step back and turns first one way, then the other. Her dress is made out of soft, stretchy fabric and she pulls it down over her shoulders, exposing both breasts. She lightly runs her hand across her nipples until they stand up like pencil erasers. Something begins to uncoil inside of her, like a vine, like a snake.

In her earlier haste to get into the bathroom she left the door ajar and now it begins to swing inward. Georgiana turns towards it, sort of almost accidentally forgetting to pull her dress back up. Eric is outlined in the doorway, bright against the dimness of the hall behind him. Georgiana gives him a look that she hopes is defiant, daring, her lashes lowered over what she thinks of as smouldering eyes. She expects him to be embarrassed, or even shocked at the sight of her breasts, but the expression on his face is frank, appraising. She shrinks back as he takes a step towards her, pulling her dress up over her chest. She is trembling again.

“I think I had too much cake,” she hears herself say, her voice childish and faltering. To her relief, he turns away.

She watches Eric leave the room, hears him call her mother. Peggy comes, lays a hand on her daughter’s forehead, then guides her out of the bathroom and down the stairs. Georgiana feels dreamily detached, like a spectator seated very far away from the action. She stands calmly as her mother rushes around, gathering her notebooks and folders together. She allows Peggy to help her into her coat and shoes while Eric hovers solicitously in the background.

At home, Peggy leads her daughter up to her bedroom and peels the dress off her feverish body.

“I’m sorry,” Georgiana says she burrows under her sheets, although she’s not sure what she’s apologizing for.

“My poor Gigi,” Peggy says, kissing the tip of her nose, “I forgive you, even if Eric and I were in the middle of something very important.”

Georgiana, her cheeks flushing pink and her mouth suddenly twisting into a snarl, uses the last of her strength to push herself up close to her mother’s face.

“I know what you do,” she spits, “I know what you and Eric do together. I know exactly what you are, and I think you’re revolting. You make me sick.”

A look of deep, frightened hurt spread’s across Peggy’s face, but is quickly replaced by a wintry smile.

“Go to sleep,” Peggy says calmly, “it’s late. Call me if you need anything.”

Georgiana sinks back, exhausted, feeling strangely empty now that’s she’s divulged her secret. Her mind is very still and quiet, the restless anger drained from it like pus from an abcess.

The next day, Peggy lets her daughter stay home from school, although she herself goes to work. Georgiana, for her part, enjoys her fever, the lightness and giddiness of it, and also the weakness. She spends the day in bed, eating grapes and reading comic books. The light outside is grey, soothing. She is safe, cocooned in her illness.

The day darkens into twilight, and her mother comes home. She brings a little tissue paper-wrapped package into her daughter’s room and lays it on her lap. Georgiana peels back the soft, thin layers slowly, revealing a small, lacquered wooden box. On the lid there is a young deer looking nervously over its shoulder, its eyes somehow both frightened and curious.

“It’s from Eric,” her mother says, perhaps a bit too casually, “he says that it reminded him of you. Don’t ask me why.”

Georgiana feels a small surge of triumph as she turns the box over in her hands. Triumph over what? She will have to untangle this later. For now, she contents herself with watching her mother’s face. Is that anxiety, creasing the edges around her mouth? Is that anger flashing somewhere deep in her eyes? Georgiana isn’t sure.

She settles back against her pillow and looks at the box, stroking her fingers along the deer’s back.

“Tell him thank you,” she says, finally. “Tell him that I know exactly what it means.”

Peggy gets up and leaves the room. Georgiana falls asleep, her flushed cheek pressed up against the cool painted wood. Outside her window, the streetlights come on and the world, for once, is very, very quiet.

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