Mr. Man

Posted in The Word: Stories with tags , , , on 04/06/2014 by Janet Fitch


Edie tried so hard to walk in the light. To look for things to love. The wind tossing in the trees, the shimmering of palm fronds, flowering cherries and plums. Someone being kind to someone in the street, a young person walking with an old person, matching their slow careful steps. A good dog, sitting at a corner, waiting for his owner to give the OK. Orange cars, and green ones, especially screaming orange and green, like cars from the ‘Seventies.

But her mother was in the hospital now, something terrible going on, some cosmic struggle, she was spitting and biting and calling out, talking about “Mr. Man,” who started as her old boss, Mr. Manfred, but had been transmuted through the relentless procession of dementia into a looming, punishing, Godot-like figure. Mr. Man the Boogie Man.

Edie paused at the table before the pile of receipts, her taxes spread out, wondering if she could stand going back to the hospital today and have her tiny, bruised mother bare her teeth at her and tell her, as Mr. Man, to ‘stick it up her ass.’

She needed to finish her expenses before she did anything else. It was actually a relief just do something so mechanical and impersonal. Unreimbursed medical, office supply, parking. It took a full day to recover from these visits with her mother. She’d rather do her taxes every day for a month.

The cat wandered in. Charley. What did he want, food? Edie checked. Food in his bowl. The cat didn’t want his food, he wanted to show her–oh no.There on the floor, a just hatched baby bird. Fuzzy, with a yellow breast, a pointed little beak. Hummingbird? Thrush? Barely moving. Goddamn it, and she was usually so careful not to leave the door open, so the cat had to ask to come in and anything in his mouth would have a chance to get away. But today, this lovely spring day, she’d left the door open.

That damned cat. Her husband Vic was the cat lover. And her kids. She didn’t have anything against the cat per se, Charley was nice enough. But. She’d never wanted a cat. If he was inside he ignored the scratching posts and trained his sights on the furniture. If he was out, he killed things.

Now it was spring, and the birds were nesting, such easy targets for this furry killing machine. Charley didn’t even eat what he caught, just played with his victim—lizard, bird–until exhausted, it died.

Edie disagreed with cat ownership. People owning millions of small tigers, thinking it was nothing. These relentless predators. She hadn’t seen a robin in years, they’d been so plentiful when she was a child. She purposely didn’t spray the yard, even in the flea infestation, not to harm the birds.

She took the bird outside and put it in the bushes, but she knew a baby had little chance without the nest—and now the cat was yowling to go out, walking across her paperwork, clawing at the table legs and then at her leg. She didn’t want to let him out, now he knew where the nest was. She thought of the grief of the mother bird. But the cat dug its claws into her kneecap, into the carved center post of her grandmother’s dining room table. She let him go, gone in the whoosh of an orange tail. She, Edie Holland, was Kali, bringer of death.

“It’s a cat,” Vic said. “It’s what they do.”

Leave it inside! She could already hear her podiatrist friend Marjorie saying, with her four rescued cats and her house full of clawed furniture and cathair. But Edie worked at home, she couldn’t deal with all that sharp-clawed yearning. She was a dog person. A lover of birds.

Even as she wept, she knew that it had something to do with her mother, screaming and spitting and ancient and lost, with only Edie to care for her. The death of the vulnerable. The birds just trying to raise their blameless children, and cats which didn’t need to kill, killing. The harshness of life. The waste.

So how did one walk in the light? How did one find a way to be happy in this kind of world. She didn’t want to go out and get plastered. She hadn’t had a drink in 18 years. She just wanted to know how to live.

The blameless thing to do was keep the cat in. The only one who would suffer would be herself. You could get a second cat to keep the first one company. And then you’d have two cats you didn’t want instead of one.

Or just accept that the world was going to hell, and she was part of it. She was on the roller coaster car about to plunge over the broken rail. She would not be blameless. Her mother was suffering and she wasn’t able to do anything about it but fight with the smarmy doctor, with his patronizing smile and his pink shirts, knowing all the while her hatred of him was just a distraction from the real suffering.

She always felt responsible. Even as a little kid, Edie could never just laugh and have a good time. The cat was just a metaphor. The problem was how to be happy in a terrible world where old ladies suffered horribly and innocent birds were killed in the nest for the amusement of well-fed housecats.

She wanted to be happy, a happy person, not someone always fretting and feeling guilty and surrounded with the horror of everyday life. She would be old soon herself, tiny as a bird and stuck in a bed shrieking at the invisible “Mr. Man” and never would she have even enjoyed her life. Even the birds would forget about their babies in a day or two, while she still remembered that French cabdriver she’d undertipped ten years ago, when she was so ill and only had a huge bill she didn’t want to give him. How could you be happy when you were a person like that? She still remembered a friend making fun of her during a sing-along party when got the lyrics wrong. She thought they were good friends, but it was the end of the friendship. She never got over it.

She couldn’t get over things the way other people did. The way the birds did, or the killer cat. As her mother would if they ever got her meds right. Only Edie wanted to cry, only she remembered things. Was she destined to be a professional mourner, Elektra of Encino? Why are you people happy? Why are you people not rolling in the mud and screaming to the gods? The tragedy of the house of Atreus was that no one forgot a thing.

She left the taxes on the table. They could wait another day. She took a book and an apple and headed to the hospital, after which she would treat herself to a cappuccino and a croissant at an overpriced hipster coffee house, and sit in the filtered sun under bright-leaved trees listening to birds her cat had not yet killed, and see if she could clear out a tiny space for happiness.

Part  of a semi-weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word.  “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

 Next week’s word is: BILL



Spring 2014 News and Events

Posted in Upcoming Events on 03/20/2014 by Janet Fitch

Short Story,  “A Shrine for Unbelievers”, published in Black Clock 18  PLUS  Black Clock Launch Party and Reading, Sunday April 6, 2014, 4 p.m. Mandrake, 2692 S. La Cienega, LA 90034 21+

Black Clock 18, out of Cal Arts, asked for “alternate versions, deleted passages and excised chapters—the resurrection of cherished artistic detours abandoned for the sake of the whole.” So I sent a chapter of the early version of Paint It Black, when it was still called A Shrine for Unbelievers, and was told in all three voices–Michael, (then called ‘Mitch’) Meredith and Josie. What appears in Black Clock is Mitch’s own voice.

The brilliant folks I’ll be reading with Sunday at Mandrake: Aimee Bender, Diana Wagman, David Ulin, Geoff Nicholson and Henry Bean.

LOS ANGELES TIMES FESTIVAL OF BOOKS, Saturday April 12 , USC campus. tickets, free.

Saturday, April 12, 12 p.m.—Panel: “Degrees of Fictionality: Representing Truth Across Genres”. Moderator, Janet Fitch. I’ll be talking with Dana Johnson, Mark Jonathan Harris and Leo Braudy about the ‘truthiness’ issue in memoir, history, autobiography and biography, the so-called ‘non-fiction novel’ and historical fiction.

 3 pm.–Panel: “Fiction, L.A. Stories”. I’ll be sharing stories about my own books, my favorite L.A. books, who gets it right, who gets it wrong, with fabulous fellow authors Alex Espinoza, Matthew Specktor and Antoine Wilson. Moderated by the amazing David Francis.

 WRITERS ROUND TALK SHOW at Beyond Baroque, May 18, 5 p.m. Reading with 3 other L.A. writers,  cool format with unscripted amusing Q and A, should be a very fun time.  Specifics to come!

Two Bags Full

Posted in The Word: Stories with tags , , on 03/15/2014 by Janet Fitch

The Word: Home

Wendy picked her luggage off the carousel in San Jose. Two massive bags, all that remained of fifteen years in New York. It was a good ride, she kept telling herself as she dragged her suitcases out to the curb. It was a good run. That’s what people said about very old people when they finally died.  But to be honest, it had only been a fair ride. One good break, a speaking part in a Broadway musical. The rest just a long lingering death.

She’d stayed on, in her upper East Side apartment, living on fumes. The place was so small she could never invite anyone over, she had to meet them for coffee or an early dinner in local cafes.  She had expected things to pick up eventually—seesawing between hope and despair–and a few times, it had. For a month or so. Some voice-over work, a local commercial for waterbeds, only to drizzle off again into the fog.

There were men–one relationship had lasted three years.  But that too melted away, and finally, the news that her rent had been increased yet another $50–she had to admit it, she couldn’t afford New York any longer.  She’d taught English to non-English speakers, had taught night classes at City College, tried her luck as a vocal coach.

How could she give up? It was New York. Broadway, the Philharmonic, Lincoln Center. All those amazing little shops you could get a great handbag for $25, the Tunisian café with its terrific coffee…

But now she couldn’t even afford that. Forget Broadway, even off-off-off Broadway was more than she could manage. Yet she still went to the galleries and the museums on free nights, concerts in the park, auction showings.  Yes, she might as well be one of those little old women with a wheelie-cart and a knitted hat with a pompom.

If only she were ninety, she would at least be eligible for rent control.

Yet how could she give up New York? When she visited her mother in San Jose for holidays, class reunions, weddings and so on, she never envied anyone, no matter how successful they were. Because they still lived in San Jose.

Now, under blue skies, a slight wind, she waited for her sister Jill outside Terminal A baggage claim.  After fifteen years, she was coming home.  Now she would have to envy her classmates who had gone to law school, who had children already in fifth grade, who were tenured professors at San Jose State and complained (with a touch of pride) about their onerous committee work and interstaff politics. There would be no one alive who would envy her.

There, down at the end of the line, she saw her sister’s Lexus. She would put a good face on this. She would go to the store for her mother. She would do her own laundry. She would find work.  She would try every day not to seal herself in with duct tape and turn on the gas. She could have stayed in New York if she was going to do that.  “Welcome home, babe,” Jill said, kissing her, and together, they struggled to lift what was left of her life into the trunk of her sister’s car.

Part  of a semi-weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word.  “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

 Next week’s word is: PLASTER

Hollywood Sandwich

Posted in The Word: Stories on 11/21/2013 by Janet Fitch

The Word: Shoot

The brunette sat by herself under the craft services tent, drinking coffee from a paper cup. Her nails were painted, Ricky was sure they were red but they just looked dark against her pale skin. Ditto her lips.  It was a long time since he’d seen such a gorgeous broad. Just an extra–but who was he to say ‘just’?  He was just the caterer, craft services, meaning he fed the cast and the crew, but this shoot was strictly from hunger.  Tuna sandwiches, who fed actors tuna sandwiches?  They’d come in for the big kiss and it would be like, hm. Tuna sandwich. And donuts. The crew of course loved the donuts, but the actors just wanted a decent piece of protein with some lettuce or lentil salad. These cheesebags had no idea what they were doing, Ricky thought, rearranging the sandwiches, putting out more bags of chips. The brunette only drank coffee, she took a piece of ham out of a sandwich and ate it plain. That wasn’t much of a lunch, but her lips were mesmerizing.  How old was she? Mid thirties, he guessed, playing 23.

He remembered the old days, when there was a regular feast, you had to keep the old bags from the neighborhood from coming in for a free feed. Not even the old broads wanted a tuna sandwich sitting outside for three hours while this kid, high on coke, rewrote his movie. Ricky used to work the big shoots, when he was starting out, but now they were shooting in places like Alabama and Tennessee. He’d been in those places. Bugs  is what he remembered most. Bugs the size of rye breads flying at your head.  Cockroaches like the invasion of Normandy. He thought about his old place in New York, the east Village. Now that was all gone. Probably not a roach left on the isle of Manahatta. Guiliani probably rounded em all up and dumped ‘em in Queens.

Well, he’d been here twenty…nearly thirty years. Thirty! And it still didn’t seem like home.  Thirty goddamn years.  God, the movie business had certainly gone to shit since those days—though he knew that’s what old-timers always said. You ever met an old guy who said ‘now, these are the good old days!”? Even if it was awful, people still looked back with nostalgia. Like people going back to Vietnam, when they maybe lost five close buddies and half their ass, now they were taking their families, having a nice vacation. Maybe anywhere you were young.  But he’d been young on Spielberg shoots, Altman, Ridley goddamn Scott.  There was no tuna sandwiches on those catering wagons.

The brunette stood up, swiveling both legs around to free them from the picnic table. It was a swell move. She looked good in those heels, better than good, had that special kind of walk, it took practice, balance and confidence, he’d done his share of ice-packing some young girl who’d done a banana-flip in new heels. But this one knew what she was doing– in every sense of the word.  She had a cigarette in her dark-nailed hand. It wasn’t good for them, they got those lines around their lips, and then they weren’t playing 23 anymore, they had to get shots, and the lips blew up like daffy duck.

“Got a match?” she asked, putting the cigarette in her mouth.

Of course he did. There was a nurse around here somewhere, but he  carried everything from bandaids to tampons to a .22 in his tacklebox, you never knew what you might need. He found the matchbook among the other small indispensables, lit her up.  “When’s your scene?” he asked.

“Oh, I’m not an actress,” she said.  “I’m the wife.” She nodded at the kid.  The director.  He was conferring with the AD and the DP, his curly mess of hair bobbing vigorously from the coke he’d been doing. “Ginevra.”

“Ricky,” he said.

This beautiful broad, his wife.  She had curvy lips like a forties actress, she should have some spangly dress made by Adrian or Hadrian or whatever, Edith Head. Married to the kid directing this piece of shit. Ginevra. The woman of his dreams, married to that dipshit.

“They shouldn’t have tuna sandwiches, but he likes them. He could eat one every day.”

“The mercury’s a bitch,” he said.

She dug her heel into the dirt, dragging on her smoke.  She smiled. He could feel her smile hit him like a bus. “You do a lot of thinking over here, don’t you Rick?  I’ve been watching you.”

“Lots of time to think,” he said. “We can get very philosophical. The extras especially. Socrates could have been an extra on a shoot.  Cave wall and all.”

“What do you think of my husband, Rick?” She gazed at him drolly from under a swoosh of dark mascara. Drolly, it means like ironic, but more old fashioned.  He learned it from one of the writers. He liked words.  Droll, it rhymed with troll.  Ding ding a ling went the drolly… He should have been a writer.  Not a screenwriter but a real writer.  He always read a lot, had a paperback book with him wherever. Plenty of time to improve his mind.

Now he wondered  just how to get around the question. Not that he had no opinion about that idiot, just, well, you didn’t tell some woman her husband was a cokehead and a danger to all about him, that he was pissing this movie away, going off getting loaded with his so-called star or banging the little extras from Fairfax High.  It wasn’t his job. “I don’t know,” he said.  “They don’t pay me to have ideas.”

“But you have them, don’t you.  I’ve been watching you, Rick. You’re a smart guy.” Hip out,  steadying her against the table top. She wrapped those lips around her cigarette, then let a slow stream of smoke curl from them, pursing them just enough for the shape. “My husband is losing people a lot of money on this picture. Some say there might not even be a picture, that the studio might pull out. Do you think the studio might pull out?”

He’d heard that rumor, that sonnyboy was way over budget, rewriting scenes on set, letting the star rewrite too, the whole thing was a hot steaming mess, he wouldn’t be surprised..  It wasn’t the seventies and he wasn’t Altman.  This kind of shit didn’t fly anymore. “I get paid no matter what,” he said.

“I don’t,” she said.  “I only get paid if he gets paid. And we’re about to lose our shirts here.”

She opened up another ham sandwich and plucked out the meat, ate it and tossed away the bread.

That’s when he should have stopped listening.

Part  of a semi-weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word.  “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

Next week’s word is: HOME

Tiger Tiger Burning Bright

Posted in Poems on 11/06/2013 by Janet Fitch

The Word: Burn

The burn you burn when the covers are stripped, exposing you just as you are.

The burn you burn when people look everywhere but the burned girl screaming down the middle of the road, her hair on fire.

The burn you burn when the hand the touch the smile comes near.

The burn you burn when the book electrifies through your eyeballs, the painting melts right off the wall, the aria explodes in your chest like a chrysanthemum.

The burn you burn when the book is famous but stinks, the art’s a fraud, the singer’s just a box of cereal, to be sold and sold and sold.

The burn you burn when they tear down your  coffee house, the one where everyone went, with the great food and a bitchin’ patio, that had a no cell phone policy, all to build a few luxury condos.

The burn you burn when they don’t even build the condos, so there it sits, a vacant lot full of ailanthus and shame.

The burn you burn when flamenco guitars begin to play and weathered hands clap out the rhythm and a dignified old lady gets up to dance.

The burn you burn when they don’t let you merge.

The burn you burn when the review is bad.

The burn you burn when the teacher hates your kid.

The burn you burn when the ex writes a memoir.

The burn you burn when your mother doesn’t know you anymore.

The burn you burn when other people are touring the five clifftowns of Italy.

The burn you burn at a party when you stand by the food and nobody talks to you.

The burn you burn when the letter finally says Yes. You read it twice before it bursts into flame.

The burn you burn when the Muse whispers her secrets into your ear.

The burn you burn dancing at a cousin’s wedding, amazed you still remember how to Pony, Slide, Slauson.

The burn you burn for the skyline of Manhattan.

The burn you burn watching Leonard Cohen fall to his knees.

The burn you burn hearing Patti Smith sing Gloria.

The burn you burn for the rice terraces of Bali.

The burn you burn for the boy with the tanned face and laughter in his eyes.

The burn you burn leaving school in the middle of the day. You vow your whole life will be like that, that kind of freedom.

The burn you burn sitting in front of Victoria Station with all your bags and nobody’s there to greet you.

The burn you burn when your husband walks six feet in front of you all through what turns out to be your last vacation together.

The burn you burn when your daughter doesn’t like the sad horse stories you’ve saved up for thirty years to someday show a daughter.

The burns you burn

Since you were born.

For life.

For art.

For love.

For freedom.

For approval and awards and roses and applause.

For your own voice to be heard, no matter what.

For embraces for sex for beauty for transcendence.


Always burning.

There are religions about removing those fires.

They see it as freedom.

All that suffering, that rage, that ecstasy.

Wouldn’t we be better off without?

But human life is combustion.

Here is my prayer:

Let me burn until my fires all go out.

Let me burn until I can burn no more.

Part  of a semi-weekly series of short short stories–and poems!–based on a writing exercise, The Word.  “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

 Next week’s word is: SHOOT


Don’t Look for Me

Posted in Poems on 10/25/2013 by Janet Fitch

Don’t look for me.

Don’t look for me in Idaho.

Don’t look for me in Utah.

Don’t look for me at the candy store.

Don’t look for me at Ross for Less.

Don’t look for me in Texas.

Don’t look for me in Walmart.

Don’t look for me on a Sealy’s Posturepedic.

Don’t look for me in my Maidenform bra.

Don’t look for me in the tool corral at Home Depot.

Don’t look for me at Michael’s by the curling ribbon.

Don’t look for me at the sandbox, yelling at my kid.

Don’t look for me at Little League talking on my cellphone.

Don’t look for me in the RV camp, watching television in the woods.

Don’t look for me.

Don’t look for me in Pep Boys, buying shiny mudflaps.

Don’t look for me at Barney’s Sale, grabbing gabardine.

Don’t look for me in Vegas, wearing sequined jeans.

Don’t look for me at Scientology, taking tests for personality.

Don’t look for me at the Glendale mall eating scented pretzels.

Don’t look for me at Burning Man swilling designer H20.

Don’t look for me in Redondo Beach, bikini and beach cruiser.

Don’t look for me on Rodeo Drive wearing Gucci specs.

Don’t look for me at Jumbo’s Clown Room hitting on the strippers.

Don’t look for me.

Don’t look for me.

Don’t look for me in Indianapolis.





In Jackson, or Jacksonville.

Don’t look for me.

Don’t look for me.

Don’t look for me.

Don’t look for me in Whole Foods, with French tipped nails, sniffing the Persian melons.

Don’t look for me in hot yoga class.

Don’t look for me at the Fosters Freeze

Don’t look for me at Orange Julius.

Don’t look for me in Steak and Shake

Don’t look for me in In-N-Out.

Don’t look for me at the Circle K.

Don’t look for me.

Don’t look for me.

Don’t look for me sharing anonymity with burnt-down coffee in a chipped-rim mug.

Don’t look for me drinking bacon whiskey in a downtown trendy spot.

Don’t look for me having a high colonic, chiropractic, or sugar scrub.

Don’t look for me downing wheatgrass shots.

Don’t look for me burning a backyard porterhouse.

Don’t look for me shooting little songbirds.

Don’t look for me pawning Granny’s pearls.

Don’t look for me in auction rooms, coughing most discreetly.

Don’t look for me keeping my voice down.

Don’t look for me calling home.

Don’t look for me confessing sins.

Don’t look for me spilling my guts.

Don’t look for me telling tales out of school.

Don’t look for me wearing ribbons of incorporated causes.

Don’t look for me if you want some finger pointed somewhere

Don’t look for me.

Don’t look for me in front of Mikron Liquors with a pint of Jim Beam in a tied-off bag.

Don’t look for me yawning through my nose at a ladies’ luncheon at the Grove.

Don’t look for me having my car detailed on Van Nuys Boulevard.

Don’t look for me buying Saran Wrap, I remember who made napalm.

Don’t look for me scenting my laundry spring-fresh.

Don’t look for me stenciling holiday napkins.

Don’t look for me popping oxy and stumbling through my day.

Don’t look for me at the tanning bar, cultivating a look of health.

Don’t look for me in latex shorts and patent boots, fetish ain’t my thing.

Don’t look for me in dirty feet, carrying sky-high heels.

Don’t look for me at the rave, the fest, the after hours club.

Don’t look for me jogging round the reservoir.

Don’t look for me.

Don’t look for me there.

Look for me where waves fall down and gulls drop mussels on the rocks.

Look for me where pines grow fresh and resinous in morning sun.

Look for me where hazy light of autumn reveals pedestrians as haloed angels.

Look for me where old books whisper to one another all the secrets of the world.

Look for me dancing to Anita O’Day where no one can see.

Look for me showing a crazy old woman my handmade Russian toys.

Look for me entertaining a night nurse with comic stereoviews.

Look for me on the hidden stairs, scattered with leaves.

Look for me playing old-style pinball, plying hip English.

Look for me eavesdropping on your conversation at the bar.

Look for me writing a story about you.

Look for me with my father’s fountain pen.

Look for me at the airport, relaxing after check-in.

Look for me in the cabline, I’ve given up the bus.

Look for me in an old hotel, a walk straight uphill from town, I don’t care if there’s no wifi, TV or well-stocked minibar.

Look for me in Amsterdam, in a tiny pancake house.

Look for me in Frankfurt, eating gruene sosse.

Look for me in Paris, my scarf correctly tied, begging for help adding minutes to my French cell phone.

Look for me in St. Petersburg across the street from Brodsky’s flat, with six strangers, all weeping.

Look for me in New York, getting drunk at lunchtime under the Brooklyn Bridge.

Look for me in San Francisco, at a Beat café with a cappuccino and a box of paints.

Look for me in Ubud, my hands involuntarily imitating impossible long fingered moves.

Look at me down by the creek, I can’t get enough of that sound.

Look for me staring at the sky, admiring clouds in their latest fashions.

Look for me playing ‘spot the coyote’ in an ordinary landscape.

Look for me gazing at hawks and answering their cries.

Look for me gaping at butterflies, cabbage whites, buckeyes, and a yellow one no one can identify.

Look for me laughing at hummingbirds, greedy for their next glucose fix.

Look for me singing the coffee song.

Look for me watching the first stars come out, a symphony’s shy beginning.

Look for me in the deep basement stacks.

Look for me.

Look for me out walking when shadows lengthen and the air turns blue, with long uncombed hair

Look for me watching persimmons ripen.

Look for me not wanting to go home yet.

Look for me on the backroads.

At Creams N Dreams.

At Lou La Bontes.

In the bed of General Grant.

Look for me in a forest of streetlamps.

Look for me falling in love with you.

Look for me.

Look for me.

I’ll be there.

The Age of Elegance

Posted in The Word: Stories with tags , , , , on 10/20/2013 by Janet Fitch

The Word: Cape

I was cleaning out my closet. Piles of clothes that didn’t fit anymore, piles that didn’t fit into my quote unquote lifestyle anymore. My old friend Trina sat on the bed, giving clothes thumbs up or thumbs down. I’d been divorced for a year, and my latest so-called boyfriend, a professor in the economics department, had just dumped me after a six week affaire. Now Trina had put her foot down. “You’re not going to get an interesting man looking like Marian the Librarian.”  Anything that a librarian could wear, I was to eject.   Anything my ex-mother-in-law would wear, my mother, or that looked like I was going to a PTA meeting.  “And all that tired vintage. It’s not interesting anymore, it just looks old.”

Out went the sweater sets, so convenient for teaching, faculty meetings and long hours in the library—it was always so cold in the stacks. The wool pants.  The khaki trousers. Even  the old jeans and sweats I used for chores.  “How many pairs of ugly pants do you need?” Trina said.  “When was the last time you painted anything?  One pair, that’s it.”

We’d been friends since junior high, but now Trina was in the movie business. Her jeans were tight and expensive and fit into her $800 boots just so. She wore a chunky gold chain with a clever ring for her glasses.  “Think chic.  Small shoulders, fitted jackets.  Little black dress. No suits. No matchy matchy.”

Out went every one of my button down shirts Trina  said didn’t fit. But how could you fit both the shoulders and the bust if you were small shouldered and busty?  You’d think at 53, I would have solved that mystery. I can compose sestinas, villanelles, ghazals, but I still hadn’t mastered the fit of a cotton shirt.

“You are not a Large, Emmy. Get that out of your head. Shoulders first, then if the bust fits, you buy,” Trina said.

Were they really so terrible?  I gazed into the mirror on the closet door, looking at the blue oxford shirt, the sleeves rolled up.  Too big, and my gray-threaded hair unfashionably long, in a braid over my shoulder, my pale face.

“Fifty is the age of elegance,” Trina said, running a manicured hand through her glossy, well-cut hair. “You used to wear makeup, and cool jewelry. What happened to that?”

Fifty. What a horrible year that had been, divorced and fifty. Yes, I used to try harder.  Now I just tried to be serviceable.

The pile was growing, and empty hangers dangled from the clothing rod.  The savage pruning was heading to the back of my closet, treasured articles I had saved for some thirty years. The black velvet coat that had been my grandmother’s, and oh, the green cape.

“My god, you still have that?”  said Trina. “Out with it.  Out!”

The soft green, with its big hood. I’d worn it all through college, my early years in San Francisco.  It had made me feel  like Anais Nin, Georgia O’Keefe. Louise Nevelson. Soft boots, and a skirt to my calves, and the cape. It made me feel like a poet.  My hair in a twisted chignon. A romantic figure. The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Catherine Earnshaw. Anna Akhmatova.

I wrapped it around my shoulders. Its cashmere, soft as eiderdown. And what I saw in the mirror was a woman I’d forgotten. A poet. A romantic. Not a professor, not a librarian, not someone who dated economics professors who played tennis.  Now I saw where I had gone wrong.   The cape didn’t go with those sweater sets now piled on the bed, and the  button down shirts, the khaki pants from L.L.Bean.  Nor would it have gone with TRina’s little black dresses and leather miniskirts.  This was who I had always been.  Not really a serviceable person at all. What had I been doing with ill-fitting, button-down shirts, trying to make that work? Button-down. The essence of wrongness.

I had forgotten who I was. But the cape remembered.

“No,” Trina said.  “Do you hear me Emma?”

I turned to the left and the right, admiring myself, my silvery hair now beautiful against the soft wool,  my pale face with its gray, slightly crinkly eyes, the softness of my contours.  And the shoulders fit just right.

Part  of a semi-weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word.  “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

 Next week’s word is: BURN



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