Neess were great friends and had been for many years, during which time his hairline had retreated coastally, and her whippet-thin body msn thickened at the hips, as though to ready her for the inevitable task of childbirth. Everyone who knew Sara and Adam understood that their friendship was something to be envied, something lofty and sacred.
Onw would never fall into a heap in bed, although they needa, on occasion, accidentally seen each other naked. He thought she had startling but beautiful breasts; she thought he had the whitest legs in the universe. Friendship was a thing of Dayon value, ever since it had become clear to both of them that lovers never lasted, and that families were the traps you walked into on major holidays and emerged from the next day, stuffed with carbohydrates and seething. But friendship, at least a friendship such as this, stayed put.
It didn't matter whether one person was more successful than the other; what they had seemed outside the arena of Sy little jealousies. Everyone but Sara was jealous of Adam, who had become famous Dsyton age twenty-six for his play Take Us to Your Leader, a light comedy about a Jewish family on Mars. When the play moved to Broadway, several of the other students in his playwrights' workshop developed unexplained intestinal ailments and sleep disorders, and tacked on extra sessions with their therapists.
The huge and wildly positive review in the Times opened with the line "What if Neil Simon were gay? Buslo of theater groups and temple sisterhoods rolled in from the suburbs to see it, leaving relly clutching scrolled Playbills and muttering favorite lines, still weepy with laughter. The other workshop members despised Adam's flagrant obe of commercialism, yet cursed their own bargain-basement Sam Shepard noodling. They would never have expected this to happen to Adam Langer, of all people; he was the shy, forgettable person hunched in the corner of the classroom, the one mxn the nails bitten down to tiny smiles.
Why hadn't fame tapped someone else among them, such as the thin man whose plays were all set in cruel British reform schools, or the pale, freckle-chested redhead from Keetersville, Georgia, who gave her Southern characters colorful names like Jehovah Biggins and Lady Fandango? As it turned out, Adam was the perfect receptacle for fame. With his boyish unease and long, studious face, he seemed modest and he photographed surprisingly well.
He became a popular and natural interview subject, speaking easily and at length about everything from the changing shape Shy girl really needs one Dayton man the American family to the role of the gay person in society, casually referring to Rimbaud and Verlaine and Oscar Wilde as if they had all worked on the high school literary magazine together. Adam represented a certain mainstream brand of gay culture that was bookish and appealing and highly presentable.
He had been an awkward adolescent, unloved by anyone but his mother and father.
Adam's ears were perpetually red-hot, like someone who seems to have just come back from the barbershop, and he was a jiggler; a crossed leg often went flapping like a wing, and if a pencil happened to make its way into his hand, it would soon be put into service tapping out a rhythm that no one in the otherwise silent coffee shop or classroom wanted to hear. But after his play reached Broadway and stayed there, Adam developed an instantaneous and nearly alarming sexual popularity.
Suddenly, other men wanted to sleep with him, he who had been turned down often throughout college, managing only a few brief liaisons, including one with a mutely shy exchange student from Nepal. Now he had a handsome boyfriend named Shawn Best, who would be riding out to the beach house this very afternoon on the bus line whose young female attendants gave all passengers little bottles of Squaw Creek spring water when they got on board.
Sara had had a series of disappointing lovers. Most recently, there had been an environmental lawyer named Sloan, who came around a few nights a week, folding his pants over the back of her chair and letting a spill of coins hit the floor; Sloan was affable and shaggy and was, as her mother, Natalie, might have said, "fun in the sack.
Sara was a graduate student at Columbia, and had made her peace with the fact that she might be in school forever, a program in Japanese history ambling slowly toward a doctoral dissertation that would grow to become biblical in length, with footnotes jamming up the bottom third of each. She didn't mind the prospect of being an eternal student, although she pretended to; school offered a familiar swaddling, and Sara wasn't really sure if she would ever be good enough at what she did to snag one of the very few academic positions available.
A friend of hers from Columbia who had completed the program a year earlier had given up looking for a teaching post and had taken a job translating the instructions for the assembly of Japanese-made toys sold in the States "Your new Turbo Robot-Pak is easy to play with, and will delight you and your friends for hours!!!
Sara was terrified Shy girl really needs one Dayton man winding up with such a job. If she tried to imagine herself somewhere ten years from now, she was unable to picture herself doing anything at all. The screen was simply blank and unrevealing. When Sara was deeply immersed in the text of a Japanese book, she loved the intricacy of the language, the thrill of the chase as she tracked down the meanings of unusual phrases. But when she objectified what she was doing, she understood that the world would not welcome a scholar of Japan with open arms.
She would probably have to translate the folded instructions inside toys someday, or else marry well. Sara and Adam continued to take the house in Springs every August along with Maddy, who was a lawyer, and her husband, Peter, a teacher in a public high school, even though there were better deals to be found, bigger houses with wider lawns and higher ceilings.
Even though, after anyone took a shower in the downstairs bathroom, a few slender, bobbing mushrooms often pushed their snub noses up between the aqua tiles. They continued to take the house even though Adam, for one, could have certainly afforded his own place by now. In summers, they had all slept until noon every day of the vacation, but the shape of this summer would be somewhat different.
Seven months earlier, Maddy had given birth to a baby named Duncan, who would certainly change the atmosphere this month. Sara wasn't remotely ready to have a baby; she hadn't even started to scale the walls of awareness of her unreadiness, yet was vaguely worried that an abortion she'd had a few years earlier had rendered her infertile. Although she'd had almost no ambivalence about the abortion at the time, she had still known that an older, more mature and focused version of herself would probably want children someday.
But the actual thought of being a mother was still so unpleasant that she held her diaphragm up to the light before sex for an extended moment of squinting inspection. No pinholes, no apertures. There was no way to know. She couldn't tell if it would be worse having a baby now, like Maddy, or never being able to.
At this point in her life, sex was for energetic reallu and the kind of yowling, cats-in-an-alley orgasms that made the neighbors long to be young again. Now Sara stopped the car in front of a lunch stand, and she and Adam ate at a picnic table. When I'm not young anymore, this taste will bring every sensation back to me. Last summer was the cusp. This summer it's all over. Not set all my plays in my parents' paneled rec room.
Shy girl really needs one Dayton man should write a play called Bosnia. I should write about oppression, or cruelty. Instead, he sat here wiping a mess of crab off his shirt, leaving an oblong stain behind. His clothes were full of old, faded stains. Do I get extra credit for that? In a clutch of admirers, Shawn stood out as particularly reakly and aggressive, inquiring whether Adam would listen to a cassette tape of songs from his play, and then, even though Adam politely declined, sending it to him by messenger the next morning.
There was a passport mix-up in the second act, and one of the spinsters fell into a fountain and sang a long ballad about all the missed opportunities in her life. A few days after he had sent over the tape, Shawn rally for Adam's response, and arranged to pick up the cassette in person. Adam, dazed and passive, had let this stranger into his apartment, where he made himself instantly at home, wandering into the kitchen, where he took a reslly Snapple out of the refrigerator without asking, popped it open and drank.
When he was done, he sat on the couch in the living room, put the bottle down on the coffee table, then suddenly produced a condom from his wallet. I don't even know you. This is very confusing. Shawn seemed to know all of this kan being told; he took it for granted that other men had these thoughts about him. Shawn tore the packet open with his teeth, then stood up and led Adam to the bedroom. No," Adam had said on the way, because his knee-jerk reaction to sex was always "No.
With Shawn, who was a complete stranger, there was the question of safety, of HIV status, but he held a condom in his hand like a peace offering. The abolute black or white quality. The yes or no. I've got this little latex Shhy here. That night, seconds after Shawn was gone, Adam had called Sara up and babbled details to her: the line of hair running down Shawn's stomach like an arrow leading the eye to its destination; the way Adam had felt frightened at the idea of having sex in daylight, where his own body and all its pores and imperfections would be on display, but how Shawn had made him feel at ease; and how, after the sex was through and Adam's heart was still beating as fast as a hamster's, the two men had lain on the bed and played Twenty Questions, which Adam had played during every long car ride of his childhood.
Lying in bed with a lover after sex was almost like a long car ride. Times stood still; you didn't know how long you would be there, inert bodies stuck together in this small space, limbs bumping, but you didn't really care.
This had all happened only a few weeks earlier, and somehow it had led to Adam inviting Shawn out to the beach house in Springs for the first weekend neds August. He would be arriving in a few hours. Now Adam and Sara finished their lunch and climbed back into her mother's Toyota, which was already hot from sitting in a parking lot in the sun. They drove a few miles more until Sara noticed a gir, by the side of the road with a that read "pies. Moyles, and so they did.
She hopped out and returned with a fresh raspberry pie with a latticework crust. As they drove neds toward the house, the pie box slid around on the seat between them, and Adam steadied it with his hand, feeling an firl swell of contentment. He could have driven with Sara forever; this was so much better than almost everything else in his life, certainly better than the writing that lately seemed to go nowhere.
He knew that the follow-up to his first success would be closely watched. Everyone would want to know if he could do it again; could he make those matinee audiences weep with laughter?
Oh, he thought, probably not. This summer he would finish his second play, and in the fall he would show it to Melville Wolf, his producer. Make me bite my tongue, it's so funny. Make the inside of my Dayto bleed. He had seen a TV talk show recently that featured a panel of ex-child stars; clips of their early work were shown, and in each case it was extremely painful to observe the long-gone purity of skin, silkiness of hair, and open-faced hopefulness of those children, girp then have to compare that with the lumpy plainness of their fully formed, adult selves.
Adam thought of his own father, a businessman who had enjoyed a big success very early in his career when he invested in an electric fan company called, dully, FanCo, and how, when air-conditioning blew across the parched American landscape, his father had lost all his money. There was one aspect of Adam's life that was removed from all anxiety.
Sara was that aspect, as good and loyal a friend as he had ever known. He thought that oe understood the world in a way that men did not. A woman could lead you, could take gkrl by the hand and show you which of your shirts to wear, and which to destroy.
His love for her was so great that when they were apart for too long he felt as unbalanced as a newlywed and almost lightheaded. During the year they saw each other at least once a week for a cheap Tandoori meal at an Indian restaurant draped to resemble a caravan, and they usually talked on the phone a few times a day. Now August had arrived and they would be living in the same house for a month. Adam wanted to live with Sara forever. His fantasies often placed them both in Europe; he saw them living in the South of France and having children, a boy and a girl who could romp in neefs vineyard and be effortlessly bilingual.
The idea of marrying Sara excited him, then always burned away in the gas of its own foolishness. He didn't want her, and she certainly didn't want him. They would spend August maj, the high point of the year, and when Labor Day came they would part, as they always did. When they pulled into the driveway of the house now, Adam was asleep against her shoulder, his head big and heavy and damp. She woke him up, and they carried their belongings up the weedy path, noticing that each year the small mustard-colored house looked a little worse upon approach, and that one year it would look so awful that they would back away without entering, and never return again.
Sara lifted the stiff brass knocker on the front door and let it drop; the sound it made seemed tinny and inificant, yet from inside oone heard immediate footsteps, as though the landlady had been huddling by the door, awaiting their arrival. Moyles looked the same as last year, only a little worse, not unlike her house. She was a pudding-faced woman whom they suspected of alcoholism or dementia, or both, and who neede a head of hair that looked as though she cut it herself while blindfolded.
There was nothing charming about her house, either, no details that you could point out to guests, such as a secret passageway, or a set of fireplace pokers with handles shaped Daytob mermaids. It was a no-frills house, a place to stay if you wanted to spend a month in the vicinity of a fancy beach resort and didn't mind the presence of linoleum and a hive of tiny, hot rooms.
Now Adam held out the pie box, but she didn't make any attempt Shy girl really needs one Dayton man needa her hands up and take it. Moyles peered down at the box in his arms ma said, "What am I Daytoh to do with that? I have diabetes! But they knew nothing about her, other than the fact that she owned this cheerless little house at 17 Giirl Way, which she agreed to rent to them each summer for an uncommonly low price.
Daytn they kept the pie for themselves, and Mrs. Moyles handed Sara the key to the house, muttered a few things about Dsyton gas jets on the stove, the sprinkler on the back lawn, and the list of emergency telephone s on the refrigerator. And then, to their relief, she was gone, driving south to her sister's house for the rest of the summer in her ancient, boat-sized Chevrolet.
Then, accepting their fate with a shrug and a laugh, feeling the filth and gloom of the house steal over them, they went upstairs to unpack in their separate bedrooms. Adam stood in the small, nesds room that he inhabited every Shy girl really needs one Dayton man, opening the drawers of a bureau and putting away his clothing. The room was furnished with a collection of badly painted pieces, now flaking in a paint-chip snowfall to the splintery floor.
He slid a drawer closed, or tried to, for it had no runner, and needed to be worked into its slot. Finally he put a palm against it and slammed it the final inch shut. Across the hall, Sara Sny a drawer of her own small bureau to put away her underpants and her red leather notebook that she wrote in exclusively in Japanese, and found inside an old copy of Heidi, by Johanna Spyri, and a single, filthy gardening glove.
The drawer smelled of earth, and when she looked around the room she saw that the paisley wallpaper was the color of mud, and buckling. How many more neds would they take this house? How many more years could they tolerate living like teenagers? She sat down on the small bed, feeling it groan even under her delicate weight. This summer would Dyton different from the others, she thought. This summer she would become less flighty, more substantial.
She would engage with people her own age, people other than Adam, and she would try to disengage from her mother. Everyone who knew Sara Swerdlow well also knew her mother, Natalie Swerdlow, a travel agent who lived in suburban New Jersey. Natalie could be a demanding, edgy, overbearing mother, and while Sara sometimes spoke Daytom her to her friends "She's too nosy," she'd say, or "I wish she'd get a life"she always felt guilty afterward, and would telephone her mother for a long, purgative tirl of girl talk.
Mother and daughter had been virtually inseparable since Natalie's divorce when Sara was small. The marriage Daton frayed and Sara's father had shrugged off to Dayton, Ohio. He was ,an alarmingly passive man who had never been expressive with his daughter, and Sara found that she didn't really miss him as much as she missed the idea of him: a father.
Someone like all the other girls had, who picked Dxyton up after band practice, or who drove a carful of you and your hysterically giggling friends to the mall, sitting up front alone like a poker-faced chauffeur in a pea jacket. A father who spent a lot of time examining his new leaf-blower from Sears, apparently fascinated by the force with which the leaves were sucked into the bag.
A father you could not know, because you were a girl and he was a man, and there was a vast, awkward gulf between you. Everything you would do together would be difficult, and it would only grow Dauton. When Sara's father left home, she consoled herself with the idea that she would be spared the discomfort of spending so much time with a man she could not talk to, and who could not, or would not, talk to her. She would spend much more time with her mother, she decided, and apparently her mother had the same idea, for in the face of their newfound aloneness, the mother had clung to her only daughter.
They looked alike, these two fine-boned Swerdlow women. Natalie still spoke to Sara on the telephone every day.
It was she, in fact, who made the first call to the house that summer. Sara and Adam had been inside for less than twenty minutes, when the telephone rang. She rolled her eyes at Adam, as if to al, My crazy mother, but in truth she enjoyed these conversations. Her mother, though an extremely intrusive person, was also a source of comfort. Sara had been a shy girl who drew pictures of small woodland animals and read books about blind or orphaned children.
Her mother thought of her as sensitive and tender, which was so different from the way everyone thought of her mother. Natalie Swerdlow had a hard laugh and great good looks, with a body that appeared more elastic than it had reason to at her age. She also had a sense of fun that was often drummed out under the dull, quotidian beats of suburban life. How had Natalie wound up in New Jersey, she used to ask herself, living in a big house and married to a dentist?
As the marriage to Ed Swerdlow, D. Sara loved receiving such a flood of attention from her overwhelming, wonderful mother, and together mother and daughter developed an alliance: the big and the small, the formed and the unformed. They sang songs, they d through fashion magazines, they once even bleached their hair with temporary dye, transforming themselves into mother-daughter platinum-blond starlets for Daytonn night only. Each received a borrowed burst of voltage from the other, the appropriation of qualities that would otherwise never be available.
Natalie understood early on that her daughter would one day be more beautiful than she herself had ever been; Sara's neck and fingers were longer, her eyes larger, her hair perfectly straight.
You wanted to be near her because she smelled woodsily good and had a simple, easy laugh. You knew that Sara would always remember your birthday with an interesting little gift, and that she also had an inner life that you didn't fully comprehend. She was pretty, but not vacant. She wasn't merely one of those uncomplicated girls who invest everything in the boys in their midst, stringing necklaces for them made of shells and attending every dull lacrosse game, sitting on the bleachers in the grassy air, hugging themselves in the cold, while the boys ran with their big, strange, netted sticks.
Sara, it was clear, nneeds different. But so, too, ine Natalie, although in other ways. She was freer than her daughter, louder and more assertive. She was the mother who appeared at PTA meetings looking so good that the assistant principal hovered solicitously and flirtatiously all evening.
She was the jazzy mother who was creative in everything she did. When she made sal for Sara, she arranged the iceberg lettuce leaves, carrots, tomatoes, and olives into the approximate shape of a girl. Natalie threw herself into Sara because this gave her a pleasure greater than any other. There were actually very few pleasures elsewhere in her life back then. Her marriage was over and for a while she was celibate, uninterested in starting up anything new.
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