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"Small Lies, Big Secrets"

Ma’am, please, stop for just a second. Hold up. Just stop, stop, stop. Please, just—

Look, I know you’ve got a job to do. But I’m scared and all alone right now and, trust me, I saw that you’ve got a whole lobby full of other women out there, all of ‘em looking as scared as me. And, like, I know you’ve got to get through all of us here today before you can go home so you want to hurry up and take down my story, my history, whatever you call it and get to the next one of us in line but I just really need a second here, okay?

And I get that you probably don’t care about the particulars of how I came to be here, that you only want the bottom line, to get whatever info it is you need from me so I can get moved along through that door to the back part of the office where I’m guessing the real business happens. But right now I really need to talk is all. If you could please quit writing for a minute so we could talk. I promise I’ll fill out whatever’s on this clipboard when we’re through. Just please don’t rush me is all.

Phew. Alright. Okay.

Thank you for the Kleenex. (Laughs) Good thing you had those handy. I guess a lotta the women sitting in this chair wind up needing them at some point while they have this conversation with you, huh?

What’s that? Well, no, when I said I’m alone I meant right now. My parents live here in town, but they don’t know anything about this mess I got myself into. God knows I can’t tell them either. And I for sure can’t ask them to come give me a ride home when I’m all through here with y’all and what goes on behind that door over there.

(Sighs) Okay. My name is Amanda Greeley. That’s G-R-E-E-L-E-Y. Uh-huh. April sixth, two-thousand four. No ma’am, I live on campus. McGrath Hall, room one-thirteen. Uh-huh, Emerson College. Say, nobody can have access to this information without my permission, right? ‘Kay, just making sure.

No ma’am, no psychiatric problems, in fact no medical problems at all, except, except— (rubs her lower belly).

I’m sorry, we’re gonna be here all day if I keep crying at the drop of a hat. Like I said, let me tell the whole story if you would. I just really need that. And I think the best place to start would be that day at the motel. I remember, it started with Ted saying-


“You’re awfully quiet. Everything okay?” He kissed the crown of Amanda’s head, mumbling the question from the corner of his mouth while he nuzzled her sweaty hair and pulled her closer.

She traced figures-of-eight in Ted’s matted chest hair with one short-clipped nail. “I’m fine,” she said in that way that said she’s not.

With her ear to his chest his exasperated sigh roared then trailed off, like a subway leaving the platform. The rough sheets fell away as he sat up against the motel’s cheap headboard, uncovering his deflating penis and with that overly precise diction that she used to think was an affectation asked, “Must we go through this Kabuki theater every time? What’s wrong? Come now, spit it out.”

“Nothing. I’m fine.”

He let it drop, a habit she found both intriguing and maddening. Boys her age would allow themselves to get sucked in by her drama, pursuing her petulant denials. Thirty-seven year old Ted, on the other hand, simply refused to engage. 

They overheard their neighbor turn on his television through the thin wall. A cheerful old man with a bulky hearing aid, they’d briefly encountered him sitting in a folding lawn chair outside his room, drinking canned beer and watching Greyhound buses come and go from the station across the street. When he saw the two of them hurrying toward their room in the late afternoon playing grab-ass with no luggage, he gave them a knowing wink. She got the feeling he’d have watched them through the keyhole if he could.

“Sounds like he took his hearing aid out,” Ted said as the volume on the old man’s set grew louder. She didn’t answer. “Hello?” he said and snapped his fingers in front of her face.

“I heard you,” was all she said. The day’s headlines drifted across the wall, further darkening her mood. A serial killer was terrorizing the LGBT community, strangling young gay men with piano wire and gaudily smearing the corpses’ faces with lipstick afterwards. Runaway inflation caused a record number of Boston’s elderly to sign up for food stamps the previous month. The wife of a judge accused of possessing child pornography on his laptop said it was “probably a blessing” after she found him dead in their garage, a garden hose snaking from his running car’s exhaust pipe into the front seat.

Ted put on his glasses then rapped politely on the wall. “Would you mind turning it down please?” he shouted. A moment later the anchor’s patter dwindled to a mumble. Reaching for a crumpled up soft pack on the nightstand, Ted seemed far away as he shook one loose.

The tawdriness of these encounters had been part of the allure for her, at least at first. It made her feel grown up, the sneaking around in cheap rooms with swamp cooler air conditioners and old clock-radios, the kind with flip numbers. She’d convinced herself having an affair with her Creative Writing Professor, a man almost twice her age and married, would be empowering, a life experience that might help her writing, even. She wasn’t using him. Far from it, she’d had a rush of giddiness when she recognized his flirting for what it was but she’d arrived at Emerson a virgin, and the two boys she’d slept with freshman year had been just that. Boys. But in Ted she saw a man of the world, someone who’d lived, who smoked after sex, who had a framed picture of his younger self shaking hands with Obama on his office wall. What impressed her about that picture was the expression on Ted’s face. It wasn’t the beaming, ear-to-ear grin of a fanboy, unable to believe he was actually breathing the same air as POTUS. It was more a half-smile that didn’t reach his eyes, as though this wasn’t that big a deal. She’d never met anyone with that kind of confidence.

But now, several months on, she was having a difficult time. Looking back, it was predictable as the changing of the seasons, she realized, her being some doe-eyed ingenue who’d left behind any post-feminist ideals of maintaining control when she fell for him hard.

“When are you going to leave her?” she finally asked.

“There it is,” he said as he flicked into an ashtray in his lap.


“I keep telling you. Soon.”

She propped herself on one elbow, clutching the sheets over her bare breasts. “I just don’t see what you’re waiting for.”

“I need her to be in a better place than she is right now. Just because we no longer love each other doesn’t mean I want something bad to happen to her.”

“So when do you think that’ll be?”

He snorted. “I wish I knew. Look, her psychiatrist recently changed the dosage of her antidepressant, upped it by almost half. Maybe in a few weeks? She said it takes about that long to see the effects.”

“I just feel like I need more than this.” She stroked his thigh. “I love you.”

He smiled down at her. “And you know I love you too. Frankly, the thought of our future together has been the only thing keeping me going at times.” He harumphed. “There comes a point when bitter becomes unhinged. Did I tell you this morning her eyes got moist watching some sappy commercial about dog food?”

“Don’t say ‘moist.’ I hate the word ‘moist’.”

“Noted. But the shape she’s in now…” He left the thought unfinished.

“That sounds a lot like emotional blackmail you ask me.”

He looked surprised. “You know, that’s quite insightful.”

She didn’t tell him she’d heard the phrase on Oprah. “You need to, like, speak your truth.”

A warm smile transformed his face. He laced his fingers in hers and bent to kiss her, lightly, like the first time. “Tell you what I’ll do,” he said in an olive-branch tone. “The next time the moment is right, I’ll start easing her into it by bringing up a trial separation.”

Her heart leapt. “You mean it?”

He smiled. “Yes. If I can catch her in the right mood, that is. That may begin getting her used to the idea, like easing into cold water rather than jumping in all at once.”


That made him laugh out loud. “Lord, I just made the decision. I don’t know. Soon.”

She pouted. “There’s that word again.”

“You need to learn to be more patient,” he admonished. “It’s a virtue, you know. I’m going to jump in the shower.”

The water started, but she waited until she heard the zhing of the shower curtain close before getting out of bed. Pawing in the darkness under the mattress, her fingers closed around the fountain pen-shaped box she’d discretely hidden when they entered. Wrapped in shiny blue giftwrap with a pink bow, it contained the positive pregnancy test she’d taken that morning. As her vision blurred with tears, she returned it to her purse.


Spoiler alert, ma’am, but the little weasel never had that conversation with his wife, obviously. Whenever I brought it up he kept recycling the same old lame excuse, that the time had never been right.

What’s that? Actually, yeah, a cup of coffee would be nice. Or a glass of wine would be better (laughs). I mean, I know you’re not supposed to drink alcohol when you’re pregnant, but I guess that’s not going to— Anyway. Thank you, yes. Lots of cream, lots of sugar.

It’s funny. I know I’m only nineteen, but, like, I’ve come to believe we’re all born into this life with a purpose, you know? Some role we’re meant to play. A lot of the time it’s obvious. The kid with an aptitude for science who goes on to become a pediatric heart surgeon, say. But even the homeless guy who sleeps in a dumpster behind Taco Bell has a reason for being here. I mean, sometimes it’s just not ours to know, you know? Call me naive, but I believe that with all my heart.

So knowing that, hopefully you’ll understand what I mean when I say there were days I wondered whether Erin Murray was put on this planet just to torture me.


You probably don’t know this, but when you want to obsessively watch someone in a classroom, your choice of seat selection is key. After lots of trial and error, I think I can say with some authority the best position is one row beside them and one seat behind, but, and this is key, you gotta position yourself so there’s a window on their far side. That way to anyone behind you, it looks like you’re just glancing out the window, bored. You have to be aware that other people can watch you watch her. After all, that’s how I first caught on to Ted’s infatuation with her.

When Erin first walked into our classroom at the start of spring semester, if you’d predicted she would draw Ted’s eye like she did I’d have laughed at you. He and I’d been intimate for a couple of months by that point and I thought I’d gotten a pretty good read on his type, which was what made his attraction to her even harder to understand. Like, everything about her was jet black. Her chin length hair, her lipstick, her clothes, her combat boots. Everything except her skin. It was, I don’t know, this kind of ivory. All’s I know is that with the way she looked like a vampire it made you think she’d shrivel up into dust if you threw open the curtains. She had this whole sullen thing going on, all Goth and brooding. I mean, okay, she was striking, sure. No amount of black eyeliner and frizzy hair could hide that bone structure. If I was basing a character on her in one of my short stories I’d say she had a “severe beauty.”


Okay, I’m not being totally honest, here. It’s just that the truth hits me down deep in my worst insecurities, like when the dentist drills into a raw nerve or something. If it’d been, like, some cocktail waitress with a Dolly Parton wig I really do think I’d have reacted differently. This is gonna sound elitist as all hell, I know, but I think I would’ve been able to forgive a fling with a woman like that. That would’ve been like if I caught him masturbating or something, him just meeting a need, y’know? I mean, I’m no knockout, but I’m— Jesus, I hate to say better than a woman like that, but there it is. And that’s what makes his infatuation with Erin so hard for me to face.

It all began when he said—



“Erin, I think you’re up first today, correct?”

They always read their work from a podium at the front of the classroom while Ted paced between the rows, listening, commenting, facilitating. The first time Erin went up, though, she plopped down on Ted’s desk, the chains jingling on her over-sized leather jacket, and pulled her legs up crisscross applesauce. A few titters nervously floated through the air, and Ted opened his mouth as though to say something. Then he smiled and simply said, “When you’re ready.”

As Erin began to read from her iPad, Amanda expected some dirge about the futility of existence or something. Self-aware enough to realize how cunty that was, she forgave herself by mentally admonishing the girl not to dress so cartoonishly then. It was like showing off your cleavage, Amanda rationalized, then giving a guy the, “My eyes are up here,” jab.

But instead of some bleak navel-gazing, Erin started off with, “Idling under the hospital’s porte cochere, I noticed two kinds of patients get wheeled out a hospital’s sliding electric doors: newborns going home, and adults relieved to return there. Both, it could be said, are starting new lives.”

She spent the next seven minutes telling the story of bringing her father home after he survived a car wreck. Her imagery was superb: the way her father’s eyes sparkled with life; the orderly’s bending at ninety degrees, hands clasped behind his back as he bade them goodbye; the familiar scratch of her dad’s mustache; the wheezing laughter at his own joke about whether to buckle his seat belt. Gradually Amanda began to notice the bored shifting in seats around her stopped. Glances darted between classmates, affirming, Holy shit, girl’s good.  

When she finished, she looked up and the room was silent. Amanda looked over at Ted and saw it then in his eyes.


That’s what it was.



The cliché advice all novice writers hear is, “Write what you know.” After that first essay Amanda consoled herself thinking, “Well, yeah, she tapped into something there, but who wouldn’t? I mean, bringing your dad back home after a wreck he had no business surviving? It practically writes itself. That was a fluke, nothing more.”

But Erin’s next story was set at the immigrant processing station on Ellis Island in 1907. Two thousand words about a pair of twins and their mother who make the journey from Ireland to start a new life with family in North Carolina. Told in an omniscient third-person POV, her technique was tight and her metaphors were memorable— one that stood out was her use of an “old dog with cloudy eyes” as a symbol for the New York blue bloods. Next time up, she wrote a story about two sisters, illiterate old maids in Mexico who lived together in a small village near the border. One of them finds love and decides to elope, but unable to write and with no paper around the house, she dusts their work table with flour and draws with a finger a picture indicating her goodbye. By the end, half the classroom was in tears.

As the calendar turned, Erin proved her gift again and again. Her ability to connect with those characters, to open a window into their lives, was just— well, it was clear she no more belonged in that class than Amanda did at a grade school spelling bee. Like a musician who never wants to follow a better act, the other students all dreaded reading once she’d finished. Her talent made them want to start their own stories with an apology.

And the hunger in Ted’s eyes grew.

A month had gone by since he’d promised to bring up the trial separation with his wife and while her dresses hadn’t started to fit tighter she knew that wasn’t far off. Plus, her worrying about Erin had turned into fixation. Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore. They were at their same motel, and as always he lit up a Gitane afterwards, making her grimace. While she’d once viewed those French cigarettes as a sign of his sophistication, now they only seemed like a smelly pose.

“I see how you look at Erin Murray,” she said without making eye contact.

He turned his head to blow smoke before answering. “Come again?”

“Erin Murray. The way you watch her. It’s, like, totally obvious you’re into her.”

He gave a wry laugh. “Into her writing? Absolutely. But into her? No. Mm-mm.”

She waited for him to elaborate, but when it became clear he had no intention of doing so she said, “If you have feelings for her, you owe it to me to tell me now. I don’t want to get hurt.”

He picked at the sheets as he said, “Okay, look. I’ve been meeting with her outside class, but just about her prose. She’s the most talented young writer I’ve come across in a very long time. Maybe ever. With the proper training and a few introductions, I’m not going to lie. She could be great.”

She felt a flash of anger burble up. “But lying is what you do,” she said coolly, still looking down.

“Ouch.” He feigned a wince as he turned to face her. “Yes, it’s true that as it stands our current circumstances force me to say things to my wife that aren’t true—.”

“To lie, you mean,” she interrupted, fanning the smoke from in front of her face with a scowl.

“Fine. To lie to my wife,” he emphasized. “But that’s in the service of us and our future lives together. But I would never lie to you. First, you know me too well. In point of fact, you probably know me better than anyone I’ve ever known. You’re perceptive enough that you’d see right through my poker face. After all, that ability to read people is what makes you such a great writer in your own right.”

God help her, but even after all he’d put her through he still had the ability to melt her with one compliment. She could feel her resolve crumbling, that warm fuzzy feeling beginning to return to the pit of her stomach. “So why aren’t you meeting with me outside office hours about my writing then if I’m so good?” She sulked, looking pointedly away.

He waved his free hand around the room, “What do you call this, if not meeting outside my office hours?”

“You’re such an asshole,” she said and started to get out of bed.

“Hey, hey, hey, I was just kidding. Come back here,” he cooed as he reached out to her leg. She paused, but didn’t return, not just yet.

“The truth is, I care for you too deeply to serve as an effective mentor. In that role, there are times that one has to be harshly critical and I don’t know that I’m capable of that anymore with you. We’ve connected too intensely.”

She was taken aback. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that I don’t think I can serve as an effective teacher for you any longer.” He paused, then smiled, “Which is why I’ll be recommending you for the Rosenbaum Fellowship.”

Her hand shot out to his shoulder, all anger forgotten. “Are you serious?” she squealed.

“Absolutely, they’ll be able to take you on the next stage of your creative journey, giving you the training and networking that your prodigious talent deserves,” he beamed.

She hugged him hard and kissed him deep, not even minding the taste of those cigarettes for the moment. The Rosenbaum Fellowship. The prestigious match that had lit the fuse on great writers’ careers for a generation.


Well, ma’am, I probably don’t need to tell you how things actually went, do I? What’s that? No, he didn’t change his mind, he’s too conflict-averse for that, but that was a good guess. He just claimed to miss the deadline to submit the paperwork to sponsor me. Passive-aggressive douche. He was apologetic, telling me that he scolded his secretary— that was the actual word he told me he used, “scolded”— and that in the grand scheme it wouldn’t be that big a deal, that I should just keep writing, building my portfolio.

When I listen to myself retell it now, I realize how idiotic I sound, continuing to stay with him. I’m embarrassed, especially because of my reaction to his missing that deadline. Frankly, that made me, well, a little crazy. Or maybe just desperate. And you know what they say, desperate people do desperate things.


“Hello?” Her voice sounded tired.

Haltingly, Amanda asked, “Could I speak to Ted?”

A knowing sigh. “Who’s calling?”

“Amanda Greeley.”

“Hang on a second.” She heard the receiver clunk down and mumbling in the background. Then Ted’s voice crackled through the land line with a forced, nothing-going-on-here cheerfulness. “Yes, Amanda. What can I do for you?”

“Look, I didn’t want to have to call your house like this, but when you didn’t answer my text this afternoon I thought you were ghosting me.”

He laughed nervously. “Why yes, I did read that essay in Ploughshares. I agree, I thought it was provocative, lots there to unpack. But if I may, we were just about to sit down to dinner. Can we discuss it tomorrow?”

“Actually no. We can discuss it tonight.” She paused, summoning her courage. “Call me back within the hour or I’m telling your wife about us.”

He was silent for a moment, then said, “Unfortunately, after class doesn’t work for me as we’ve got a staff meeting. Why don’t we plan on tomorrow during my normal office hours? You know where I’m located, I presume?”

“I’m not bluffing Ted. Either you call me within the hour or I tell her everything.”

Another pause. She could picture him contemplating his situation through pursed lips, mindlessly wrapping the phone cord curly-cue around one finger. Finally, “Very good, I like that plan. Until then.”

When his ID popped up on her phone twenty minutes later, she expected raw fury. And, truthfully, a part of her found the prospect of provoking him the teensiest bit delicious, as though it was a small chocolate treat wrapped in fancy foil. Some might call it petty, others vindictive, but at that moment a part of her wanted to hurt the man the way she’d been hurt, to give him just a taste of what she was going through. So when she picked up and his only response was a bland, “Yes?” she was thrown off balance.

“I’m assuming you can talk?”

“Yes, but we mustn’t dawdle. I told her I’m going out for cigarettes.”

She began, “I know I shouldn’t have—” but caught herself. She was on the verge of starting with an apology, something she most definitely did not want to do— “but I think I’ve been more than patient. It’s been months. Months.”

“Yes. Yes it has. And while my excuses for that delay have been valid and necessary, I can see how they look from your perspective,” he said evenly.

This wasn’t going as planned. “I mean, between worrying that you’ve got something going on with Erin, and then not following through on the Rosenbaum fellowship?” The news of her pregnancy was right there, in the back of her throat, threatening to tumble out. But she didn’t want that, not yet. Whatever decision he made, he had to make for her, not for a baby. “I just feel like I need to see something concrete from you. Actions speak louder than words.”

“I can tell you must be upset to be reverting to the use of cliches,” he said pedantically. She was just about to call him an officious jackass when he surprised her by saying, “But you do have a point. Indeed, it would seem that a demonstration of my commitment to our future is in order, is it not? Very well.”

Tentatively, as if handling an old stick of dynamite, she asked, “Sooo, what are you saying?”

“That I agree with you. While I object to your methods, your motivations are understandable. I will proceed.”

Her heart leapt. She had to control a tremor of excitement in her voice as she said, “Promise?”

“You have my word. I will speak to a lawyer about how I should proceed. I’m assuming there are things one should tend to before broaching the subject of divorce. Financial maneuvers and whatnot.”


“Soon.” There it was, that word again.


Could I get a refill on this coffee? Mmm. Thank you.

Ted may have thought telling me he’d talk to a divorce lawyer was going to placate me for a while, but in reality it had the opposite effect. I don’t know if it was the hormones or jealousy, but I wanted— no, I needed to see that the plans we were always talking about weren’t just so much pillow talk. ‘Cause I’d decided I wasn’t going to have this baby if I was alone. Once a fire like that gets lit inside you it’s awfully hard to put out, know what I mean?

For about a week, Ted texted me more excuses than results. This one’s rates were too high. That one preferred to work with the wives. He’d heard this one couldn’t get two people to agree to get out of a burning building, or that one had a drinking problem that was an open secret. If he was testing me, seeing if I would back off, though, he was sorely mistaken. I kept nagging him and he kept promising he was going to follow through.

Finally, one wonderful Tuesday, I got the news I’d been waiting for. When he texted, he used full sentences, in the way my grandmother does. “I have found someone who seems acceptable. We have an appointment tomorrow at 3pm.” I actually closed my eyes and with the phone’s cool screen pressed to my forehead, wept.


That night Amanda lay awake, thinking about what her life might look like in twenty-four hours. She thought about Ted and the kind of father he’d make. She thought about his wife and worried that her illness could be twisted in a way that made her a sympathetic figure to a judge. She thought about the as-yet faceless lawyer and what he or she would secretly think of her, a homewrecker.

In the wee hours, though, she found her mind turning back to Erin. She laid in the dark, conjuring Ted’s voice telling her not to be ridiculous, that she was the one he’d chosen, the one to whom he’d hitched his future.

What if tomorrow was actually just another effort to placate her, she wondered? Was it possible Erin had been sitting next to him in that same front seat she herself had occupied so many times as he composed that text? She’d always felt pity for Ted’s wife when she’d eavesdrop as he made those calls. Was that how Erin now felt about her? She fought this image as though swimming against the pull of a whirlpool, but the idea sucked her in until finally she resolved to follow Ted to his meeting and see for herself whether it was the lawyer or Erin who walked up to greet him.


She borrowed a car from one of her sorority sisters, an innocuous little hatchback that would blend in, and staked out the faculty parking lot. She and Ted had their first liaison in that very lot, a kiss that degenerated into a grope, the danger adding to the excitement. And now there she was, wearing oversized sunglasses and a Red Sox cap, only a pair of night vision goggles away from the definition of a stalker.

At half past two, Ted trundled out, leather bag dragging the herring bone jacket off his shoulder, his lenses darkening as he crossed the sunny lot. He threw the bag in the back of his used Chevy Volt and piled in, his mind clearly elsewhere as he shook loose his man bun. Inspecting his reflection in the rearview mirror, he licked his palm and smoothed out a cowlick, then craned his neck, scrutinizing his jawline before pulling out of the lot. Amanda nosed in behind as he headed toward I-93.

They headed south, but only for a few miles before exiting toward Old Harbor. As traffic thinned, he paralleled a long line of office buildings that fronted onto massive Moakley Park. The implications of those white collar facades comforted her only until she noticed that sprinkled among them were the romantic little bistros he favored. She prepared herself for disappointment, expecting at any moment to see Erin standing on the sidewalk, searching oncoming traffic with one hand held up to block the glare, giving the world a glimpse of her unshaven armpit, then waving with a smile when she recognized his car.

When he eventually pulled into an empty spot along the curb, she eased past before doing the same further down the block. Watching in her rearview mirror, she was surprised to see him walk not toward the corporate-looking buildings ringing the park but into the park itself.

She trailed him as he moved briskly along the winding pathway, nodding politely to a few nannies and stay at home moms pushing strollers. The park was sparsely populated at that time of the afternoon, and she had to be careful. When Ted eventually stopped and took a seat on a random bench, she ducked behind a tree that offered a good vantage point. Amanda leaned against the rough bark as she watched his head slowly swivel, scrutinizing the few people who milled by and periodically checking his watch.

Amanda saw the man before Ted. At five ‘til three a fellow wearing a smart Brooks Brothers suit marched up the winding path with a briefcase in his hand and purpose in his stride. Thin and clean shaven, he carried himself with a confident air that seemed to say, “Relax, I got this.” He didn’t walk so much as swagger. When he arrived at the bench, the man stopped, then cocked his head and pointed at Ted inquiringly, asking something Amanda was too far away to hear. Apparently pleased by the answer, the man broke into a wide smile and extended his hand. Ted rose and they shook, then with his tailored jacket still buttoned he took a seat of his own on the bench and as the two began talking, Amanda for the first time dared to hope.

She instantly liked him. Her heart swelled, knowing not only that Ted had kept his word but he’d selected a lawyer who had the look and body language of a legal assassin. This man, she trusted, would make sure things worked out okay for them, for her.

Ted appeared tense as they chatted, but the man seemed relaxed, his attention focused. This made sense, Amanda thought. A discrete first interaction that wouldn’t require Ted be seen entering a lawyer’s office. She’d have suggested a coffee shop herself, but on second thought it was such a beautiful day, why not have the sun on one’s skin when discussing the start of a new life? Her tree cast leopard spots of light on the ground as she balanced on its slippery roots, and the bougainvillea were in full bloom around her. She laughed at her own foolishness, and for the first time began to feel joy at the prospect of becoming a mother.

She couldn’t help herself. While she watched them talk, she texted, “LMK how the meetings going. Luv u,” with heart emojis. Ted never stopped talking as he retrieved his phone and glanced at the screen, then dropped it back in his pocket without responding. She didn’t hold it against him, though, she was in too good a mood. She smiled when Ted shifted his legs, knocking over the man’s briefcase, and the two bumped heads when both bent to pick it up.

She was thinking about baby names when she noticed the man’s posture gradually changing, becoming more informal. He unbuttoned his coat and threw one arm over the back of the bench, crossed his legs and dangled one expensive loafer off its heel. He smirked at something Ted said, then as she watched he reached forward and swept Ted’s loose hair back behind his ear with one curled finger in a way that looked— tender? Suddenly the man stood and swinging the briefcase on three fingers meandered toward a nearby public bathroom. He ducked his head inside the men’s room for a moment, then glanced back at Ted and jerked his head toward the interior before disappearing inside himself. Ted scanned the area one final time, then followed.

Dumbstruck, it took her shocked brain a moment to comprehend what was happening. She trotted forward, one outstretched hand on the outer wall’s warm cinder blocks and leaned her head inside. Below the lip of the far stall, two sets of feet were visible, the man’s polished loafers facing Ted’s worn Brogans. She could hear the rustling of clothes and the jingling of belts, their animal grunts and moans of pleasure.

The tempo of their impromptu liaison built, picking up speed as their panting became more forceful. She was frozen in place, rooted there by her inability to believe what she was seeing, hearing, smelling. The loafers slowly spun away from the Brogans, a moment before the Brooks Brothers suit pants slipped down to wad themselves around his ankles. She had the irrational thought, “He’s going to get his suit pants dirty on this disgusting concrete floor.” Her state of shock was so complete it took a moment to realize the grunts had become one-sided. There was a thin, reedy gurgle. A high, keening whimper; a muffled moan of panic. Then only the nasally breathlessness she recognized as the noise Ted made during their exertions as the loafers gradually stopped skittering.

She stumbled back around the corner just as the stall door opened, only avoiding being seen through sheer luck when Ted happened to look right instead of left. A moment later, he emerged from the toilet, close enough that she could have reached out and touched his back. She clamped her hand over her mouth and held her breath, fearing he’d turn at the sound of her pitiful mewling. In his hand was the piano wire garrote he’d used to strangle the man, now curly-cued into a tight enough pigtail that he had trouble stuffing it back into his coat pocket. As Ted hurried away in the direction of his car, he retrieved his phone, typing as he walked.

As though hypnotized, her feet carried her back into the bathroom. She pushed the stall door open with one trembling hand, feeling like she’d had the wind knocked out of her. Slumped backwards on the toilet, the man stared over her shoulder with unseeing eyes. His mouth formed a silent “O”, surrounded by a garish ring of lipstick that made him look like one of the clowns you squirt water at to win a prize at the carnival. The poor bastard’s asthenic neck that until recently had only held a lanyard announcing he was “Timothy Gray, Derivatives Analyst” was now marred by a circular laceration where the piano wire had gouged a furrow in his skin. His phone had been kicked behind the toilet during the struggle, and when she picked it up it hadn’t timed out yet. The cracked screen was open to Grindr.

Her phone’s alert suddenly startled her, making her yip. It was Ted, finally responding to her text.

“Unfortunately, the lawyer couldn’t meet today, she had to reschedule. I’ll keep you posted. I love you too.”


So you know the whole story now ma’am. Or actually, what should I call you? Really? Just “Officer”? Sorry, I should’ve asked back at the beginning. All I know is when the other cops— I mean, officers— sent me over here to you at this desk in the back of the station, they just said “the corporal” would be taking my statement. This is gonna sound shittier than I mean it to but I thought that might be an inside joke or something. No offense, I just didn’t think you guys used military lingo like that for your ranks is all. My bad.

I really appreciate your patience as I told my story this way. I know your job was only to take down what I had to say, all official-like, and you strike me as the kind of lady who’s underpaid and overworked. Thanks. That was really human of you.

So what’s next?

Really? I’m free to go? I thought y’all would be taking me into the back through that door there for more of a grilling. Oh wow, okay, good. ‘Cause I know you’ve still got those benches full of other women you need to do the same thing for.

Is it always mostly women? No kidding. I guess I can see why. Men suck. And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to call an Uber. I’ve got one more stop to make before I finish this day from hell.









In February 2022, I reserved a small, one-room cabin for two weeks outside Fairbanks, Alaska to hunker down and begin working on the novel that became Last I Saw Him. The place had a potbelly stove and no running water, so I wasn’t surprised when my friends and family all rolled their eyes at the notion of my expending energy, time, and money to voluntarily inflict that kind of discomfort on myself. For her part, Amy grimaced like she’d sniffed a jug of spoiled milk when I brought up the plan, but in the end she gave me permission “as long as you don’t ask me to go with you.” Undeterred, I packed my bags and headed out to the frozen wastelands of central Alaska in the depths of winter.

It was wonderful.

Nestled in a winter-wonderland setting, the cabin was beautiful. The morning’s moose tracks in the snow around the cabin, the roof’s icicles that brought to mind a dragon’s teeth, the thigh-deep path through the snow to the privy, the way the smell of cooked bacon would linger in the air for hours after I made breakfast, all of it was phenomenal. I got to know well the experience of using an outhouse when it’s twenty below, and I won’t go into detail other than to say one doesn’t bring a copy of Sports Illustrated along. Meanwhile, the seclusion and lack of internet allowed me to unplug in a way that served as creative fuel.

By about a week in, though, I was getting pretty gamey. Finally, unable to stand myself anymore, I piled into my four-wheel drive and made the trek to a truck stop where you could pay for a shower. While eight dollars got you eight minutes of hot water, I decided to splurge and pay twelve bucks to take as long as I wanted. I paid the man, and as he gave me a towel, a bar of soap, and a token for the water’s coinbox he said, “Stall four.” Happy at the prospect of giving myself a good scrub, I’d just turned away when he stopped me by calling out, “Hey, wait a second!”

I turned back. “S’up?”

He gave me a sideways look. “You ain’t got nobody with you, do you? I mean, it just you?”

“Um, yeah,” I said, not sure where he was going with this.

“’Kay,” he said, satisfied as he placed the bills in his cash drawer and pushed it closed so hard the bell dinged. He leaned one flannel-clothed elbow on the till and fished a pack of cigarettes from his breast pocket. “We been havin’ a problem with some folks tryin’ to get freaky-deaky in ‘ere.”

I chuckled at the thought as well as his half-ass attempt at policing the behavior. But best of all was when I went around the corner to stall four. There, scrawled in grease pencil on the back of an oil change receipt and taped to the stall door was the admonition, “ONLY ONE PERSON INSIDE AT A TIME.”

The stall was bigger than a phone booth, but not by much. To take my mind off whatever else may have previously taken place in that booth, I let my mind wander as I soaped up and scrubbed down. And it occurred to me that if you were going to kill someone in there, you’d need to do it by strangulation to avoid any noise and a mess because the walls were so thin.

I know what some of y’all are thinking. “Where can we mail sympathy cards to Amy?” Before you go penning your letters of support, though, remember she signed up for this, nobody twisted her arm.    

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