Forty-two

New England Review - - Table of Contents - Lisa Tad­deo

Joan had to look beau­ti­ful.

Tonight there was a wed­ding in god­damned Brook­lyn, farm-to-ta­ble an­i­mals talk­ing about steel cut oat­meal as though they in­vented the steel that cut it. In New York the things you hate are the things you do.

She worked out at least two hours a day. On Mon­days and Tues­days, which are the kind­est days for older sin­gle women, she worked out as many as four. At six in the morn­ing she ran to her barre class in leg warm­ers and black Lu­l­ule­mons size four. The class was a bunch of women squat­ting on a pow­der blue rug. You know the type, un­til you be­come one.

forty-two. Some­how it was bet­ter than forty-one, be­cause forty-one felt egg­less. She had sex one time the forty-first year, and it lopped the steamer tail off her heart. Af­ter un­dress­ing her, the guy, a hairless NYU pro­fes­sor, looked at her in a way that she knew meant he had re­cently fucked a stu­dent, some­one breathy and Mac­in­tosh-assed, full of Vir­ginia Woolf and hope, and he was up­set now at this reedy down­grade. Coura­geously he re­grouped, bent her over, and fucked her any­how. He tweaked her bony nip­ples and the most she felt of it was his eyes on the wall in front of her.

The rea­son the first part of the week is bet­ter for older sin­gle women is that the lat­ter part is about an­tic­i­pat­ing Rolling Rocks in loud rooms. An­tic­i­pa­tion, Joan knew, was for younger peo­ple. And on the week­ends start­ing on Thurs­day young girls are out in flo­ral Topshop shirts swing­ing small hand­bags. They wear cheap rid­ing boots be­cause it doesn't mat­ter. They'll be wanted any­way, they'll be drunk­enly nuz­zled while Joan tries or­der­ing a gin & tonic from a fe­male bar­tender who ig­nores her or a male bar­tender who looks at her like she's a ten­dol­lar bill.

But on Mon­days and Tues­days older women rule the city. They driz­zle or­ange wine down their hoarse throats at Bar­b­uto, the dressed-down au­tumn light com­ing through the garage win­dows il­lu­mi­nat­ing their eg­g­plant high­lights. They eat charred oc­to­pus with new pota­toes in lemon and olive oil. They have con­sis­tent boun­ties of seed­less grapes in their low-hum­ming fridges.

Up close the skin on Joan's shoul­ders and cleav­age was freck­led and a lit­tle coarse. For lo­tion she used Santa Maria Novella, and her sub­way-tiled bath­room looked like an ad­ver­tise­ment for some­one who flew to Europe a lot. When her pedi­cure was older than a week in the winter and five days in the sum­mer, she ac­tu­ally hated her­self.

The good thing about Joan was, she wasn't in de­nial. She didn't want to

love charred oc­to­pus or be able to af­ford it. But she did and she could. The only oc­ca­sional prob­lem was that Joan liked younger guys. Not an­i­mal­is­ti­cally young like twenty-two. More like twenty-seven to thirty-four. The word cougar is for id­iots but it was none­the­less branded into the flank steak of her tri­ceps.

Now Joan knew the score. For ex­am­ple, she was never one of those older women who is the last fe­male stand­ing at a young per­son's bar. She didn't eat at places she didn't have a reser­va­tion or know the man­ager. For the last decade she'd been pol­ish­ing her pride like a gun col­lec­tion. She no longer winked.

In the evenings she would at­tend a TRX class or a power yoga class or she would kick­box. Back at home be­fore bed she free-styled a hun­dred walk­ing lunges around her apart­ment with a seven-pound weight in each hand. She per­formed tri­cep dips off the quiet coast of her teak bed. She wore short black ex­er­cise shorts. She looked good in them, es­pe­cially from far away. Her knees were wrin­kled but her thighs were taut. Or, her thighs were taut but her knees were wrin­kled. Daily hap­pi­ness de­pended on how that sen­tence was or­dered in her brain.

In a small wooden box at her night­stand she kept a spe­cial re­serve of six joints metic­u­lously rolled, be­cause the last time she'd slept with some­one on the reg­u­lar he'd been twenty-seven and hav­ing good pot at your house means one ex­tra rea­son for the guy to come over, be­sides a good mat­tress and good cof­fee and great prod­ucts in a clean bath­room. At home your tow­els smell like an­cient noo­dles. But at Joan's the rugs are free of hair and dried-up snot. The sink smells like lemon. The maid folds your box­ers. Sleep­ing with an older woman is like hav­ing a week­end va­ca­tion home.

In ad­di­tion to the young girls, Joan en­vied also the women who wake at 3 a.m. to get stuff done be­cause they can't work when the world knows they're awake. They have, like, six lit­tle legs at their knees. She told her therapist as much, and her therapist said, That's noth­ing to be en­vi­ous of, but Joan thought she could de­tect a note of pride in the voice of her therapist, who was mar­ried, with three small chil­dren.

Tonight there was a wed­ding and she had to look beau­ti­ful. She needed a blowout and a wax and a man­i­cure and a salt scrub and an eye­lash tint, which she should have done yes­ter­day but didn't. She needed five hours but she only had four. She needed cool hairless cheeks. She was hor­ri­fied by how much she needed in a day, to ar­rive not hat­ing her­self into the evening. She knew it wasn't only her. Ev­ery­thing in Man­hat­tan was about feed­ing needs. Sure, it had al­ways been like that, but lately it seemed like they took up so much brain es­tate that a lady hardly had enough time to In­sta­gram a photo of her­self feed­ing each need. Eye­lash tint­ing, for ex­am­ple. Nowa­days if you have a one-night stand you can't run into the bath­room in the morn­ing to ap­ply mas­cara. It's ex­pected that your eye­lashes are al­ready black and thick as cater­pil­lars. Be nice to you, said signs out­side of Sabon on the way to Or­ganic Av­enue. But the prob­lem, Joan knew, was that if you be nice to you, you get fat.

The twenty-seven-year-old caught her pluck­ing a black wiry hair out of her

chin, like a fish dis­lodg­ing a hook from its own face. The bath­room door was ajar and she saw his eye­ball out of the cor­ner of her degra­da­tion. That was the last time he slept over. He had sin­gle-po­si­tion sex with her two weeks later but he didn't sleep over and he never texted af­ter that. She re­mem­bered with bit­ter fond­ness the Dean & Deluca chicken salad she fixed him for lunch one day, the way he took it to go like some­one who fucked more than one woman a week. The more a man didn't want her, the more it made her vagina tin­gle. It was like a fish that tried to pan fry it­self.

twenty-seven. When Joan was twenty-seven she had started wak­ing with the drysocket dread, the bi­o­log­i­cal alarm that brin­nggs off at 4 a.m. in nice apart­ments. The tick tick salty tock of eggs hatch­ing and im­me­di­ately dry­ing upon im­pact, in­side the chok­ing cot­ton of a Tam­pax Su­per Plus. She would wake in an Ir­ishy-weather sweat, feel­ing lonely and re­ceiv­ing wed­ding in­vi­ta­tions from girls less pretty than her. More than she wanted kids, she wanted to be in love.

But Joan had done bet­ter in her ca­reer than al­most ev­ery­one she knew. For ex­am­ple, she had started pulling NFL play­ers out of hats dur­ing Fash­ion Week, when her friends were leav­ing Or­bit wrap­pers in the back rows of Stella Mccart­ney.

She could have had a man and a ca­reer. It wasn't that she chose one over the other. No woman ever chose a ca­reer over hav­ing a man's pre­scrip­tion pills in her medicine cab­i­net. But Joan didn't like any­one who liked her. The guys who liked her were mostly smart and not sexy and she re­ally wanted some­one sexy. She would even have been okay with chubby and sexy but the chubby sexy guys were all taken. They were thirty-four and dat­ing twenty-five-year-olds with un­der­wire bras and smooth fore­heads. The prob­lem was Joan's gen­er­a­tion thought they could wait longer. The prob­lem was, they were wrong.

thirty-four. When she was thirty-four she dated a man who was fortysix, who wore Saks brand shirts and had sunken cheeks and a money clip. They ate at the bars at great restau­rants ev­ery night, but then she had sex with a gritty LES bar­tender and she did it without a con­dom on pur­pose. Mr. Big, her friends called the forty-six-year-old. They said, What's wrong with James? He's ah­maayz­ing. They said amaz­ing in a way that meant they'd never want to ride him. The bar­tender gave her gon­or­rhea, which she didn't even know still ex­isted, and it made her feel older than her mother's chewed Ni­corette gum, frozen in time and lodged like the minia­ture porce­lain an­i­mal fig­urines, seals and bunnies, that had been left in­side the old lady's old Volvo. The same Volvo Joan still kept in the city, be­cause hav­ing a car in the city means you can kill your­self gen­tly if you re­ally must. If some­thing aw­ful hap­pens, you have a car, you can get the fuck out.

Tonight there was a wed­ding and she had to look beau­ti­ful be­cause she was in love with the groom. It was the kind of love that made her feel old and hairy. It also made her feel alive.

He was an ac­tor who was thirty-two. She first no­ticed him across the room

at a party be­cause he was wildly tall. He had a grown-up look but he was also a kid. He was good at drink­ing beer and play­ing base­ball. That was some­thing she re­al­ized now that Mr. Big didn't have, the tufted Bambi plush of youth to make her feel bad. She must like feel­ing bad some­what. Ev­ery­body did but she might like it a lit­tle more than most.

He was at the bar so she saun­tered over. She walked with her butt light be­hind her and her boobs pen­du­lous in front of her. She'd learned the walk from a pole danc­ing workout class she'd been tak­ing be­fore a su­per hot twenty-fouryear-old brunette with sharp dark bangs started tak­ing the class and even the other women looked like they wanted to fuck her. Why, Joan won­dered, were other women her age com­plicit in ap­pre­ci­at­ing youth?

She or­dered a Hen­dricks be­cause that was what she or­dered when she was try­ing to get a younger guy to no­tice her. A grand­fa­ther clock of an older woman drink­ing Hen­dricks was a Gatsby sort of thing. It made men feel like Warren Beatty, to drink be­side one.

Hen­dricks, huh? he said on cue. One thing good about be­ing forty-two was that she had eaten enough golden os­e­tra to be able to pre­dict any party con­ver­sa­tion.

Jack had no­ticed her from across the room also. She was wear­ing one of those thick crepe red dresses that women her age wore to play in the same league as twenty-some­thing girls in Amer­i­can Ap­parel skirts.

Hen­dricks, for the long and short of it, she'd said in a husky voice, hold­ing the cool glass up to her bronzed cheek like a pitch­woman. There was some­thing freak­ishly hot about an older woman who wanted it. He imag­ined her in doggy style. He knew her thighs would be su­per thin and also she would be kind of stretched out so fuck­ing her would be a plan­e­tary ex­er­cise, like he was pok­ing be­tween two long trees into a dark so­lar sys­tem and feel­ing only wet­ness and mor­bid air.

That had been eight months ago. An en­tire sum­mer passed and sum­mers in Man­hat­tan are the worst, if you're sin­gle and in love with some­one who isn't. If you're older and sin­gle and the younger man you are in love with is not on Face­book but his even-younger girl­friend is. Her name was Molly. She had a hun­dred broth­ers. Her youth was bru­tal. Joan learned about Jack and Molly from Face­book. It made her feel creepy and old to click into Molly's friends and go through each of their pages one by one to see if one of them had a dif­fer­ent photo of Jack. Jack wasn't on Face­book, which Joan loved about him.

Thurs­days through Satur­days Joan played with the re­cur­rent hair un­der her chin and moused through Molly's life. She found out in­for­ma­tion, which is all any woman wants. Some of the in­for­ma­tion wag­gled her belly and chopped up her guts into the blunt mince of the sweet­breads she or­ders at Gramercy Tav­ern. Like for ex­am­ple Joan found out that a few months prior, when Jack had in­vited Joan out for an un­usual Fri­day night din­ner, it was be­cause Molly had been in Nan­tucket with some friends. She saw the pic­tures of furry Aber­crom­bie blonds

and one brown-haired girl on a lob­ster boat, fresher than a Tu­lum mist. Joan got su­per pissed about that. Then she tucked an Am­bien down her throat like a child into bed and re­minded her­self that they weren't even hav­ing an af­fair. The most that had ever hap­pened was, they kissed. The kiss hap­pened at the Spot­ted Pig, on the se­cret third floor where Joan was at a fa­mous pro­ducer's party and texted Jack to see if he wanted to come by and he brought his friend Luke who looked at her like he knew what her nip­ples tasted like.

Joan drank Old Speck­led Hen and didn't get drunk and Jack drank whiskey un­til he be­came a lit­tle more self­ish than usual. She was wear­ing a slip dress and Luke left with some twenty-two-year-old and Jack put his large hand on her silk thigh, and then she took his hand and slipped his thumb un­der the liq­uidy lip of the dress and he got a semi and kissed her. His tongue licked the hops off her tongue. She felt like she had eigh­teen cli­torises, and all of them couldn't drive.

One day one month later Jack bit the bul­let and de­cided to pro­pose to Molly. He bought an an­tique ring that was cheap but looked thought­ful. It was the kind of ring you could get in Florence on the bridge for four hun­dred eu­ros and pre­tend it came from Paris. He plans a week­end in Saratoga. He has no idea he is not in­ter­est­ing. He has never wanted for women. Molly's dad has a sail­boat they take out on the Cape. At the very least, he will have a sum­mer place to go to all his life. He re­ceives a text the first morn­ing in Saratoga, from Joan.

Hey buddy: book party/clam­bake out in the Hamp­tons, cou­ple of direc­tors I can in­tro. This is a Must come. Molly was in the shower. They were about to go horse­back rid­ing. He wanted to punch some­thing, or fuck a slutty girl. His anger peed out of him in weird ways. He didn't want to be this greedy about al­ways want­ing to be in the right place at the right time. Molly was singing Vam­pire Week­end in the shower. She had brown hair and make­u­p­less skin. He thought of Joan in a cream satin dress with ver­mil­ion lips beck­on­ing to him from a foam­ing writer's beach.

Joan was stay­ing in a house in Ama­gansett with a straw­berry patch path to the beach. The bed­ding in her room was vine­yard grape–themed. What was aw­ful and what gave the whole house a de­pressed cast was how many times she had changed shd to should then fi­nally to must in that text. And then cap­i­tal­ized Must. She thought of grape must, in her room lo­tion­ing her legs, pray­ing to the per­fect clouds that Jack would come. She wanted his balls in­side of her. She wanted him more than her whole life.

Be happy in ev­ery mo­ment, said a sign on white­washed store-bought drift­wood in the hall­way that con­nected Joan's bed­room to the bed­room of the fifty-some­thing cor­po­rate real­tor who was try­ing to sleep with her all week­end.

An en­tire 40 per­cent of him had ac­ti­vated plan B. Plan B was, he high­tailed it out of the B&B he got on dis­count from Jet­set­ter and texted Molly from the road some­thing pan­icked about some­thing that hap­pened with a sur­prise for her that evening. They had been dat­ing for six years and she had seen him bring the spe­cial bot­tle of Barolo with him and she was ex­pect­ing it, so what would

be the big deal if he just made up a story about his buddy who was sup­posed to bring the newly-pur­chased ring to Saratoga but then the buddy gets tied up at work. It was the best kind of lie, be­cause she would know for sure she only had to wait one more night for a ring. But then a wave of some­thing he imag­ined to be self­less­ness washed over him so he wrote back:

Sorry, kiddo. Out in Saratoga, wrong side of the Man­hat­tan sum­mer tracks. You don't know how bummed I am . . .

In her room sadly smelling the Diptyque can­dle she bought in case he came, Joan went on Face­book which she'd promised her­self she wouldn't do any­more. She clicked on Molly. She hated when men used el­lipses. Why do men use el­lipses. . . . means I don't give that much of a fuck about you . . . When some­one hasn't changed a thing on Face­book in sev­eral weeks then all of a sud­den there is a new cover photo of a ring on a finger on a can­dlelit ta­ble, some­one else might kill her­self. That's some­thing that Face­book can do.

Joan called her therapist on emer­gency, and she was sit­ting on the floor of her grape-themed room drink­ing a glass of red wine in the sum­mer. She told her therapist, I'm on my se­cond glass of wine since I've been talk­ing to you. Her therapist said, We should be wrap­ping up any­way, but Joan looked at the clock, and it was 8:26 and they had four min­utes left, and she wanted to kill ev­ery­body. She wanted to kill her therapist's Wheaten Terrier, who was whin­ing in the back­ground, like he was re­mind­ing Joan that other peo­ple had amassed a fam­ily, while she had eaten at ev­ery restau­rant rated over a twenty-four in Za­gat. Molly was twenty-six. It was the per­fect age to be en­gaged for a girl. Jack, at thirty-two, was the per­fect age to set­tle down. He hadn't rushed like his friends who pulled the trig­ger at twenty-five for girls who they were def­i­nitely go­ing to cheat on with women like Joan, who you could tell from their lip­stick would give wet, plead­ing blow jobs. Ev­ery­thing with Molly was great. She didn't even nag. Ac­tu­ally, Molly'd asked him when they first moved in if he could vac­uum the plank floor but he hadn't done that yet, so he knew Molly vac­u­umed then washed the floors her­self. He knew that if her fa­ther knew she was clean­ing so much he'd be pissed, but he also knew Molly wanted her fa­ther to like him, more than she her­self needed to like him.

The day of a wed­ding is al­ways about three peo­ple. The groom, the bride, and the per­son most un­re­quit­edly in love with the groom or the bride.

Af­ter fif­teen years of not smok­ing, the day of the wed­ding Joan starts smok­ing again. When she was fif­teen she started smok­ing and wear­ing makeup. At twenty-eight she started re­mov­ing the makeup, es­pe­cially from her eyes, with fine linen cloths. At thirty-six she treated each fine linen cloth as a dis­pos­able thing, us­ing one for ev­ery two days. It made her feel greedy and wealthy and safe. It made her feel old.

Jack is ner­vous as hell. He is also ex­cited for the at­ten­tion, even though the wed­ding party will be small. It is go­ing to be at the Vine­gar Hill House, a big group din­ner af­ter he and Molly sign the pa­pers at City Hall. Molly asked him

not to shave be­cause she loves his beard. He thinks of their hand­writ­ten vows. He is ex­cited to per­form his.

Joan ditches the salt scrub in fa­vor of the eye­lash tint. The face is more im­por­tant than the body if no­body is go­ing to make love to you that night. Without makeup, her face is the color of ri­cotta. She smokes five cig­a­rettes be­fore 9 a.m. and the ri­cotta turns gray, like it's been sea-salted. By noon she has had seven­teen. She has cig­a­rette num­ber twenty and she thinks maybe she should take the car. She's wanted to take the car for maybe seven years now. She keeps putting it off. When Joan was twenty, her fa­ther told her she could do any­thing. He told her not to jump into any­thing. He told her the world would wait for her. twenty. When Molly was twenty she took a class called Jane Austen and Old Maids. It frankly stuck with her. Today Molly gets ready alone, in the apart­ment she shares with her hus­band-to-be. She does her own hair, which is long and brown, and she fixes twigs and berries and marigolds she got from the co-op into a fiery halo at the top. She's naked. The sun comes through the un­clean­able win­dows and lights the gar­land and she looks like an an­gel.

She shim­mies the ivory eyelet dress on over her pale body. She catches sight of her full breasts in the or­nate an­tique mir­ror they bought up­state the week­end of the en­gage­ment. Com­ing down her body a tag in­side the dress scratches the meat of her left breast. The tag says, Corn­wall 1968. She bought the dress at a thrift store in Saratoga. Ev­ery­thing that week­end was magic.

sixty-eight. Her grand­mother and her mother's two sis­ters died at six­tyeight of com­pli­ca­tions from breast can­cer. Her mother was di­ag­nosed two years ago, at fifty-eight, so back then Molly thought about a decade a lot. Ten years. Now she thinks that it's okay that the past two haven't been per­fect. That they have eight left. Her mother is the kind of mother who al­ways had brown­ies in an oven. Her mother loves her fa­ther so much she can't imagine the two of them dis­con­nected, she can't imagine her mother in the ground and her fa­ther above it.

She puts on cowboy boots, a sim­ple pair of ruddy Fryes that have been to Mon­tana and Wy­oming and Colorado in­side horse muck and in salmony streams. The dress is tea length and her calves are lovely. The last time she wore the boots was at a horse ranch week­end with her girl­friends, the month be­fore she met Jack. She made love to one of the cow­boys with her boots on in a lightly used hay-smelling barn in the moon­light and he came in­side her and Jack never has. The cowboy stroked her hair for an hour af­ter they fin­ished. He said, If you ever de­cide the big city's not for you, come see me. I'll be here. He had a silly cowboy name and he wore a bolo tie and her friends made end­less fun of her. She never felt safer. Now ev­ery time she smells hay she thinks of kind­ness.

Since Molly was seven, she has mea­sured her care for some­one by whether or not she would leave snot on their floor. When she was seven and sleep­ing at

her cousin Julie's house, Julie had re­fused to let Molly have a cer­tain stuffed bear to sleep with, even af­ter Molly cried and begged, even af­ter Julie's mom who was now dead of breast can­cer had asked Julie to let Molly have the bear, but she didn't tell her daugh­ter to do it, she only asked, which was how you cre­ated mon­sters.

Molly cried so much that night that her nose filled with gray storm. In the morn­ing she was less sad than bit­ter. Tears had dried like snail treads down her cheek and her nose was filled with cal­ci­fied pain. She cleared each nostril with her child finger and dropped the re­sults, like soft hail, one by one on Julie's bed­room car­pet. She left the tis­sues there too, hid­den un­der the night­stand.

You could also re­v­erse the test, you could mea­sure how much some­one cared for you by whether or not you could imagine them leav­ing snot on your floor.

Molly walked the three blocks from her apart­ment to the Vine­gar Hill House. There was no limo for this bride, no ladies in wait­ing hold­ing her train. She was do­ing ev­ery­thing her­self. When her par­ents had of­fered, she'd re­fused their fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance. Her fa­ther's money would make her think less of Jack.

When a mo­ment is upon you, the best you can do for it is to imagine it in the past. Like how a whole week­end with friends will come and go and mostly you'll be glad when ev­ery­one is gone home, and later you'll see a pic­ture of your­selves on a lob­ster boat in red and blue sweat­shirts smil­ing and blink­ing against the Septem­ber sun­tan­less sun and you'll think, I must have been hap­pier that day than I thought I was.

The restau­rant is set for the wed­ding. The mason jars for cock­tails, the burlap run­ners, the long wooden ta­bles, and the bar mop nap­kins. The wedges of thick toast are out al­ready on rough cut­ting boards await­ing their mar­riage to cheese. The vo­tives in Ball jars, the Kom­bucha on tap. The cer­e­mony will hap­pen on the ter­race, the of­fi­ciant will be some large-gut­ted Pak­istani friend of the groom's, and it will be shorter than the life­span of a piece of gum.

Her vows are sim­ple and un­spe­cific. She had al­ways thought her wed­ding vows with the man of her dreams would be spe­cific, about things he did with his cereal, flow­ers he stole from the grates of Park Slope, picayune habits he had that were an­noy­ing, his smelly ob­ses­sion with roll mops. Jack doesn't vac­uum. She was go­ing to work that into her vows and then she felt tired.

For the past two months Molly has been find­ing tis­sues. He doesn't vac­uum so she finds the crum­pled tis­sues, like low­brow snowflakes, in the cor­ners be­hind their bed, on his side, and also on hers. It is not mere lazi­ness. It is the tri­umph of his in­do­lence over his love for her, and it is dis­hon­est. She has her dis­hon­esties, too. She asked Jack not to shave be­cause un­der­neath the beard he is gaunt and sal­low and looks like the un­em­ploy­able ac­tor her fa­ther promised he would be­come.

Twenty-six is Molly's per­fect age. She thinks of the six years she has spent with Jack, the eight years she imag­ines she has left with her mother. She thinks of the im­pend­ing six-minute cer­e­mony, and the forty-three min­utes the cowboy

fucked her in the hay dur­ing which time she came and then came again against the milk-bearded moo­ing of the cows out­side and the whis­tle of the hum­ble Colorado wind. The ec­stasy of grass, the vi­o­lence of milk. Star­ing at the wed­ding bounty be­fore her, feel­ing the weight of the crown of flow­ers in her hair, she knows there are hun­dreds, thou­sands, who will be jeal­ous, but she doesn't know them by name. She whis­pers the name of the cowboy to the un­lit can­dles like a church girl, to the naked bread and the tiny daisies in tiny glass jars. She in­cants the name, and the name it­self, like the mem­ory of a mo­ment be­fore it be­comes a le­gend, frees her enough to think the thing she has been think­ing for ten thou­sand sec­onds, for one hun­dred bil­lion years, the thing we all think when we fi­nally get what we want. The right way to do some­thing might be the wrong way in the end. For­tu­nately or un­for­tu­nately, both ways lead to Rome. Joan is on her way, in the car. On her way she re­ceives a text from Jack. There's a hid­den mes­sage to you in my speech thing today. Shhh . . . Jack is on his way, in a cab. He sends the text to Joan. Not hav­ing been em­ployed for a cou­ple of years, it makes him feel good to rat­tle off a text that he knows will go a long way, for his ca­reer. It feels like an Ex­cel spread­sheet. Also, how he thought to change shout-out to hid­den mes­sage, be­cause it sounded warmer. Fi­nally, on the way to his wed­ding, he marvels at how easy it is, with women. If only they knew how lit­tle time we spend think­ing of them, and if only they knew how much we know about how much they think about us. The freak­ing man hours a woman puts into men! To look­ing good for men. The brow tints and what­ever. And at the end of the day, you can be twenty-six and it doesn't mat­ter. There's some­one out there who's gonna be eigh­teen, with a smaller vagina. Jack is so happy he isn't a woman, even if he is an ac­tor.

The mo­tor is on in the Volvo in Man­hat­tan and there's a wed­ding in Brook­lyn and Joan reads the el­lip­sis, fi­nally, for what it is. She reads it all the way through to the end.

At the restau­rant with a few Mex­i­can waiters watch­ing her with gen­uine care and ad­mi­ra­tion, Molly calls the cowboy's name like he is in the room and like she did in the hay that day and she says it to the wild­flower bou­quet housed in­side the Mccann's Ir­ish Oat­meal tin on the wed­ding cake ta­ble. Like Snow White speak­ing to the for­est crea­tures she leans down and says his name to the ironic bird-and-bee salt-and-pep­per shak­ers and none of them an­swer, or come to life. Which makes her feel bummed but she re­groups, be­cause there is a sil­ver lin­ing, like the one in the oat­meal tin that cuts your finger if you aren't care­ful.

In the dis­tance she sees Jack, though he doesn't see her. She sees him come into the place and check his hair and smooth his beard in his re­flec­tion on a dirty win­dow. It's time to do this. Ev­ery­thing is time. You com­mit your­self to a course in life, to a course of treat­ment, but noth­ing lasts for­ever, not the good or the bad. Molly, feel­ing the most beau­ti­ful she will ever feel, ad­justs the marigolds in her hair, and thinks, forty-two. If she dies at sixty-eight, like all the breastcharred women be­fore her, she'll have just forty-two years left.

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