Introducing our newest edition to our New Voices catalog: “And Then?” by Sara Brody! The breathless, almost childlike voice of Brody’s narrator asks the reader, what does it take for us to admit to others what we don’t want to admit to ourselves? What are we willing to sacrifice for happiness?
Cutting my hair hadn’t worked at school, no one believed I was a boy, they already knew I was a girl, there was no escaping it, so they called me a dyke. And though I hadn’t heard it before, though certainly it was spoken with meanness, I had an immediate sense that it was true, I figured it meant I was a girl who wanted to do the things boys did, and I was glad to have a word for that, a word that captured me, I even liked it.
Because I cannot stand to hear about Paige’s problems, I tell her about Vesna Vulović, who fell 33,000 feet and survived. “Imagine!” I say. I feel a real swooping in my chest, but Paige doesn’t like the story, I can tell. What part is bad? Does the thought of all that tumbling through clouds give her nausea? Or maybe it’s the loneliness that makes her look so dreary, how Vesna was a sole survivor, wedged against the plane’s fuselage by a food cart while gravity tore everyone else into the sky. Paige! I want to say. Stop being an idiot, stop talking about your boyfriend, I know life’s hard and some women are luckier than others.
We come here sometimes, to this bar on Courtland Avenue, to be anonymous, because people know us at Jolene’s. We’re here now, drinking too much in the garden. Paige lights one of my cigarettes and says, “Shut up, don’t tell me this, I’m flying to Mexico in three days.”
“Well, sit in the back,” I say. “In a middle seat. It’s your best chance.”
“That sounds uncomfortable,” she says. “I’ll just die.”
She looks like she wants to die. I feel like dying, sort of. I think I should tell her a joke, try to make her smile, but maybe I’m not really interested in that, maybe it’s too late for that, maybe I’ve known her too long, over a year now, that’s way too long. So I just say, “Vesna didn’t remember falling. She woke up, days later, from a coma, an amnesiac, and the last thing she remembered was greeting passengers as they boarded the flight.”
“Can you please stop?” Paige says, and for the first time in a while, I look at her. Sometimes I forget to look at people when they talk, or at least I think so, because I don’t remember easily what anyone looks like. I don’t know how often Paige ever looks at me. Either we’re trading off, looking only when the other looks away, or else her eyes are always doing this, fixing on her drink, fixing on some point in the distance, never on my face. “I love to travel,” she says. “So I don’t want to hear about planes that get blown up.”
“Croatian nationalists. A briefcase bomb.” I take a slug of my vodka tonic, ice clinking against the glass. “Anyway, it’s fine,” I say. “We can talk about something else.”
But in truth, it’s not fine. In truth, I sometimes hate her. Last time she stayed over, she shook me awake late at night and said, “Lily, you’re talking in your sleep, you’re flopping around, you woke me up, who are you talking to, what are you dreaming about?” And at first my heart soared, she was asking about my dreams! I wondered if we were finally in love. I wondered if now she would leave Jonah, which is a stupid name for a boyfriend, a stupid name for a boy, whale food, runaway prophet, why did his parents name him after someone so unreliable, why did Paige give herself to someone like that? And as these thoughts flooded me, my hope drained, so I said, “Who do you think I’m talking to, dreaming about? Your boyfriend! He asked where you are, and I said, She’s at a sleepover with me, Lily, you know, her friend you haven’t met, we fucked half the night so she’s too tired to talk, but she’s doing great, don’t worry.”