Susan only half believes she’s visiting the home of her newly married brother. She has a queasy, unreal feeling left over from the plane ride: New York to Los Angeles, nonstop, a feeling of distances covered too quickly. On the plane she’d studied the back of the in-flight magazine—the states mapped out like different regions of the brain, the flight trajectories swooping and swirling electric pulses. She’d been surprised at the number of connections leading in and out of her childhood home in Cedar Rapids. It didn’t help Susan’s sense of reality that the wedding, in her experience, was still just an image on the invite. The card had shown blackand-white photos of her brother and his fiancée pulling faces and kissing. She’d found the display of beauty and quirkiness annoying. And her annoyance made her feel like the bitter older sister, so she’d taken the invite off the refrigerator where she’d placed it as a reminder. She’d then lost the invitation, actually. She’d somehow managed to schedule an important part of her doctoral exams on the same day as the wedding.
Yet Susan now stands at her brother’s front door, in a pocket of shade amid the bright L.A. sunlight, on a porch with a swing and other convincing realistic details like half-dead pansies in terracotta pots. The door is cracked, and her brother, Alex, is rummaging around the car for the house keys he’s dropped between the seats. Susan pushes the door open. She could call out to her brother, say, “Hey, it’s open,” but she’d rather be a spy. She’d rather check things out, make them her own. It happens right away: Inside the front room is a familiar slanted block of sun across a shaggy carpet, and pothos, hanging plants with their tropical twining leaves, like living wigs of long green hair. Here are the nubby cinderblock walls, although one is now painted a yellow ocher and seems to vibrate as if pregnant or alive. Susan is thirty-five, four years older than her brother, and she thinks, “No,” this is not his house, it’s hers, the one she inhabited for that brief time without him, when she was the center of the universe. Bubbles of romantically edited memory form: