Fiction. By way of scouring the rust off ... to see what's underneath.
Character / bio snippets
• There's a sadness just beneath the surface. Like he's seen too much. Or is deeply closeted. Or a creative who hasn't found his outlet.
• Her thoughts are three steps ahead of yours, which would explain her penchant for finishing your sentences. If could be the HRT talking or she could be manic. In either event, she's an additive at a party. Adds oxygen to the room.
• He's dour, dolorous and drugged, wearing everyone out with his woes. The heavy lift required to share a room with him for ten minutes cannot be overstated. We notice his grandchildren shifting their feet when involuntarily subjected to his diatribes. His consistent conceit: If I'm sad (or more likely mentally ill but we aren't talking about that), it's someone else's fault.
• Somewhere along the way, her children supplanted her Self. This being the case, she made damn sure it would be worth it, pouring every waking moment into curating them with age-inappropriate (because they excel!) challenges, expectations and public performance opportunities.
* Even though he recently turned 50, his parents were still bankrolling his family. This made maintaining appearances easier, especially in "The Harbor," where appearances were everything. They would pull the money, they told him, if he left his wife because remaining intact (even if they were woefully incompatible) was "better for the children." He knew otherwise. But money was, to his mind, far more important than his—or his children's—well being. Thus, he remained in his hypoxic marriage, dabbled in quirky hobbies—remote-control airplanes, astrophysics, Balinese cuisine—and did his best to avoid probing conversations about his (illusory) "consulting" job.
• When the interviewer asked her why she wanted to work in an entry-level position that was well below her pay grade, she couldn't very well say: 1. "because I'm weary of being economically and emotionally abused by my ex" or, "because I desperately need the benefits," or "because I'm modeling for my daughters and their daughters how NOT to be financially dependent on others—how to be in and of the world, contributing, rather than a washed-out, daytime TV-watching burden." Instead she said, "because I want to help women." Which was true, but secondary. Survival was first.
• His first thought each morning invariably gravitated back to the moment they crowned him homecoming king in high school. Sure, it was over three decades ago and he now tipped the scale at 227. He compensated with a scintillating personality and a hearty, infectious laugh. His wife "loves it," he told people, in full-throated defense of his third helping, knowing full well it rang false every time he said it. Yet, he felt happy, so long as he was focused on others and not thinking about the bags of chips in the pantry that he would devour after midnight.
• She had honed the art of social climbing and was better off for it, job-wise and socially. That said, her life was a grand facade.
• Because he was ostensibly loaded and connected to the power triumvirate in Chicago, his Asberger's became the least interesting thing about him. People made excuses for his social unease, his petty crimes. His mother, the Democratic Mayor, for example, made damn sure his ex-girlfriend, whom he stalked ruthlessly, left the country quietly with her children rather than require her son to account for his bad behavior.
• Nothing about her was real, which is why she was a perfect fit in Marin.
• He liked to dress like a woman but presented as cis. As a designer, he was surrounded by non-binary people every day but his
Southern Baptist upbringing prevented him from joining in the fun. Instead he dated big-breasted women and used a lot of porn (having ruined several computers in his first and second marriages). His hair, all the while, was perfect. Nothing was out of place in his home. While his outer world was ordered like a museum, his interior world was a house of mirrors.
• She was a New York Jew and wanted everyone to define her thusly within the first five minutes of meeting her. She lacked filters, sharing tidbits at cocktail parties (where she couldn't drink on account of the meds) about the recent vaginal reconstruction surgery she underwent for aesthetic reasons. She thought nothing of approaching other people's children and telling them what she thought of their "toxic mother" because she'd "been there." Her logorrhea got her into hot water in the hamlet at least once a week, most recently when she pretended to be someone else on social media and got busted.
• His self-righteous, double-standard worldview came back to bite him in the ass. His life face-plant had been a long time coming.
• She was once described in college as a Go Big or Go Home Girl. She could never live it down, despite much preferring the NYU undergrad library to quarter beers at Simon's on 9th. Simon's, she thought, where bad things happened ... .
• His slow but inexorable slide into alcoholism went undetected until the night he drove his car into his nudist neighbors' hot tub during one of their semi-annual ayahuasca retreats.
Dialogue / Scene snippets
• Because she was raised by a passive-agressive mother, she worked hard to be direct. Like the time her son's teacher shared that her son, then age seven, pulled a classmate's hair during PE.
"You are mistaken. My son would never do that."
"He can and he did," the teacher quietly responded, chin down, unwavering gaze over reading glasses.
"I demand proof. Am I clear?"
• Since efforts to get him fired didn't gain traction, she dispatched emissaries with academic and professional credentials (including her therapist), instructing them to email the pariah's new publisher. Defamation, in other words, was not beneath her. Nor was intentional interference with prospective economic advantage. Sure, she was acutely aware of the first amendment, but revenge was paramount. He would be published over her dead body. Of course, the publisher shared the emails with the writer. And it was on.
• He goes through personal assistants, on average, every three months. No wonder. Accounts of his OCD are legion. Two Paleo Bars, one organic Honeyrisp apple and four No. 2 perfectly sharpened pencils must be on his desk every day by 7:15a. Staples must be one-half inch from the corner and the top. No exceptions. Folders must be at right angles when presented. Eye contact is discouraged.
On Mae's first day, she made two "irreversible mistakes" right out of the gate. The first was answering the phone with "Mr. Golden's office," as opposed to "Mr. Golden's personal assistant speaking." The second was wearing a skirt that went below the knee.
"Above the knee only," he admonished, square jawline clinching and releasing unconsciously.
She despised him. And wanted him.
• There were signs. His days were punctuated with increasingly urgent domestic duties; retail and real estate felt more important than vocations and relationships; the workout schedule became the day's controlling idea.
"Red flags," his therapist, a young Richard Dreyfuss doppelgänger, called them. "Have you considered working? Or volunteering?"
"Work would cut into my time to create. So no."
He hadn't mustered the courage to tell the shrink that he had a secret job ... .
• It would have been easier to kill him had he not arrived while she was in the shower. But she managed.
Dislodged from just under the fiction ...
Chapter One: Memory Lane // or She Goes On
• The memories came fast and hard as the effects of the drug designed to mute them wore off. Searching for four-leaf clovers with her mom—the mom who laid dead in a coffin two feet in front of her in the world's most depressing funeral home in southern Illinois. Catching lightning bugs with her cousins in the front yard on Audubon Street. Climbing the willow tree she had named "Bernie" to smoke Virginia Slim 100 menthols. Waiting impatiently for her mom to finish vacuuming the above-ground pool. Getting kissed by Tommy O'Hara in a cardboard refrigerator box tucked behind the bushes in the front yard. Spending hours-turned-years-turned a decade on the ice: axels, compulsories, doubles, triples, camels, laybacks, arabesques. Wanting to make her happy (sometimes succeeding, usually not). Watching her mom smoke from the back seat while lacing up her skates at 5:30a, pre-sunrise. Devouring the Nancy Drews that arrived weekly by mail. Sitting at the maple dining room table doing craft kits together. Making the seven-layer bars together. Falling asleep on the couch together during McMillan & Wife. Picking her mom up from work at the local lumber store, hearing her cry for the first time.
She collapsed on the kneeler on an out breath. She'd blown up her family and now lost her mother. The mother she took for granted. The mother who adopted her, loved her unconditionally through her darkest days and gave selflessly, imperfectly each and every day. Short of fleeing, she wanted to sleep. For a year.