The Writing Disorder


New Fiction


by Pamela Lindsey Dreizen

       Microscopic tailors, a factory full, live in Tanya’s upper back. They sew between her shoulder blades, pleating the thin layer of muscle that saddles her backbone. Sometimes their thread turns to razor wire, stabbing and burning. Other times it’s icy fishing line, causing a dull, ceaseless throb. They knot their work in large, careless lumps that Tanya has, more than once, mistaken for lymphoma.
       They’re a persistent bunch, stitching away even as the receptionist installs Tanya in the Dancing Buddha treatment room. He’s breaching protocol; this is Ruthie’s job. Ruthie had phoned, he explains. Stuck in traffic. Running late. Tanya gathers from his eye rolling and head shaking he’s covered for Ruthie before. He flits around the room, lighting tea candles under oil burners. The air fills with a foresty scent. “Don’t worry, you’ll get the full two hours,” he says, and departs.
      Tanya sheds her clothes. She climbs onto the table. The crisp sheet beneath her is boxed at the corners with military precision. If she had time and a clue how, she’d try bouncing a quarter. But Ruthie could arrive any minute.
      Tanya drapes the top sheet over herself like a drop cloth. She rests her face on a padded loop that projects from the table’s end. The weight of her head flattens her sinus cavities against the face rest; she shifts twice, but each time sinks back into the same position. It’s a minor discomfort compared to the sweatshop under her scapulas where the maniacal tailors work day and night, twisting her muscle fibers. Gentle heat rises from the table and catches under the top sheet. Piped-in music, recorders and drums, mingles with burbling from a small electric waterfall. Tanya shifts again. Her eyelids slit open, then fall closed in the womblike light. She permits herself a pleasant vision: her spine, ripped from her back and dangling by its end, uncoiling like an over-wound electrical cord, flinging the entire garment workers’ local to its doom.
       There’s a tap at the door. Tanya grunt-mumbles to come in, her caved sinuses making her sound adenoidal. The door opens. A smoke-scarred, breathy, high-pitched voice says, “Hiya.” This must be Ruthie.
      Tanya’s had a woman, whose name she has forgotten, and Greg before. But not Ruthie. Tanya didn’t care for the woman, who wasn’t strong enough and sniffed back the mucus in her nose the whole time. Greg was wonderful, though, powerful and quietly attentive. He complimented her ability to withstand pressure but didn’t bore her with chitchat. He took deep, sensuous breaths as he worked, and at certain points asked her to do the same, exhaling with her as he forced his way deep into her tissues. His jeans heated her side while he screwed his elbows into her lubricated back. It wasn’t thrilling so much as comforting. Tanya and her last boyfriend, David, broke up over a year ago, much to her mother’s chagrin (“What’s not to like? Has a good job, comes from a nice Jewish family. And he loves you. Believe me, it won’t get any easier for you after forty, Lady Jane”). Since then she hasn’t been cozy with anyone possessing male genitalia. It’s been so long, even Greg was starting to look pretty good; perhaps the happy memory of their deep tissue sessions would cancel out the double chin and comb-over. She asked for him this time, but he’s booked solid for the next six weeks.
       “Anything I should know before we start? Injuries? Problems?” Tanya’s eyes crack open. She sees a single bare foot that resembles a cypress knee. Then a matching one, gnarled, brown, and veiny, attached to a twiggy leg.
      “I hold tension in my upper back, between my shoulders.” Her anxiety crackles over her vocal cords. She knows she sounds snippy. Serves Ruthie right. Tanya’s got her pegged: a passive-aggressive type who asserts herself through chronic lateness.
      “Don’t worry, I’ll pry those shoulders out of your ears.” There’s a happy, oblivious chirp to Ruthie’s voice.
      Tanya continues her standard spiel. “My legs are sensitive. So go light on the shins.”
      “No problem. Relax. Enjoy.” Ruthie’s California-girl-cadence swings “enjoy” into “enjoy-ee,” and she relevés on her knobby toes. She presses down the length of Tanya’s still-covered back, Tanya’s body rocking with each touch.
      “One more thing,” Tanya says. As if she’ll hear better, Ruthie stops mid-push, her hands still on Tanya. Scolding Ruthie for tardiness crosses Tanya’s mind, but since it’s useless with her sort, she just says, “I’m a noisemaker. I purr.”
      “Oh, I love that,” Ruthie says, and chuckles. “It makes me feel rewarded. Like my own private cheerleading section.”
      This is, in essence, what David said about Tanya’s coital noises. Even Ruthie’s tone seems disconcertingly similar. Tanya weighs this impression while Ruthie loosens her up through the sheet. She writes it off as tension-induced sensitivity.
      There’s a momentary chill when Ruthie draws the sheet back, releasing the pocket of heat that has gathered underneath. Tanya hears several faint, rhythmic frrrrts pump from a bottle, then Ruthie rubbing her hands together. The oil makes a sloppy, licking sound.
      Ruthie slicks Tanya’s back. “How do you get your back like this?” Ruthie asks. “Sit at a computer all day?”
      Tanya considers. “Yes,” she says.
      She hopes this will be all that Ruthie needs. Ruthie will imagine her a data entry clerk or a technical support phone operator and conclude further conversation would be a snooze. Or she will imagine her an accountant or a corporate lawyer, like David, more boring and more intimidating. Ruthie’s thumbs probe like the tips of steam irons, planing wrinkled wads into straight, smooth surfaces. They stumble on a knot that cracks audibly when moved. Tanya purrs.
      When people on airplanes or in line at the post office, people she’ll never see again, ask Tanya what she does, she says she is a sculptor. A little role-playing about her occupation spices Tanya’s life. And although sculpting is not how she makes her living or why her back is a mess, it’s all she’s ever wanted to do. She works in bronze, marble, and sometimes clay and wood. Since her fortieth birthday two months ago, a hefty slab of virgin Carrara marble has been sitting in the living room of her Eichler in Mountain View, California (for people on planes or in line at post offices, the Eichler is an artist’s loft in the SOMA district of San Francisco). The marble poses something of a problem: a deadline. It tugs at her with the stultifying urgency of a hungry child.
      “What do you do?” Ruthie asks again.
      Tanya considers asking Ruthie to stop talking. But Ruthie is leaning her full weight into the knot. Tanya feels it melt in stages as her blood circulates under the pressure. She is afraid to disrupt Ruthie’s momentum. Answering seems the best strategy. “I do design and 3-D rendering for a software company.” While it isn’t all she does, it’s enough to stop conversation with most non-techies. Even if Ruthie responds, this exchange is over.
      But the unthinkable happens. “No kidding,” Ruthie says. “Do you do games?” The knot is smaller than a raisin now, jolting slowly toward sand-grain size, and Ruthie scores a bull’s-eye on her first shot. The truth is, Tanya does do games. She’s on an award-winning design team that will, in six weeks, release the next generation of 3-D action game built on a game engine the entire industry is calling Tanya in tribute to her. Their Banford Hollander shoot-‘em-up series is wildly successful, but old news. The new game, the first in what they hope will be an even more successful series, features a female player-character, Sabina Dublin. One critic wrote of a preview copy: “Sabina is everything Lara Croft was but more: more brains, more substance, and — yes, believe it — more sex appeal! So grow up, boys — you’ll need to!” With the ship date for Sabina approaching, Tanya has been working eighty-hour weeks. Hosts of tailors have hatched like locust larvae in her back. David phones her at work every few days, concerned about her stress level. She suspects he may want to get back together, which isn’t lessening the stress.
      The knot’s remnants sweep away under Ruthie’s broad strokes. She begins kneading Tanya’s neck. Tanya vocalizes a string of Ms as electric prickles dance down her vertebrae. “Fabulous,” Tanya drawls. She is in Ruthie’s power. She would bark like a dog or walk across the street blindfolded if Ruthie asked. Though she’s successfully killed the conversation, Tanya finds herself saying, “Yes. I do games.”
       “Get out,” Ruthie says, and Tanya detects a distant hint of New Jersey in Ruthie’s speech. “My son is so addicted to computer games. He just loves Banford Hollander. Can’t wait for the new one with the girl. What’s her name? The one with the huge bazongas?”
       Tanya’s sigh is easy to mistake for a long, contented exhale. “Sabina Dublin,” she says, weakly. She no longer has the energy or willpower to exit the conversation, and the huge bazongas are a nagging sore point.
      It started with the email from Todd, the eighteen-year-old head of in-house game testing, after he’d spent two whole minutes futzing with the first version of Sabina. “She’s too flat-chested,” he wrote. “If I have to play as a girl, GIMME A HOT BODY.” Tanya thought Sabina’s proportions stunningly normal. She had erred on the generous side of a B cup, which gave Sabina nice curves but kept her from seeming to tip forward under the weight of her own chest. “And another thing,” Todd’s message continued. “Make her blond.”
      Tanya hit reply and composed a flame mail so livid it could qualify as a weapon. When she’d finished, she thought better of sending it. Todd was a great tester with a serious work ethic, a smart kid, and her window onto millennial culture. He was also the only one of the four in-house testers who actually had a real girlfriend, whom he treated so sweetly Tanya felt envious. She sent back: “Point one, noted. Point two, no.” She did not, however, change Sabina’s bust line. Her all-male Board of Directors did, on the recommendation of senior management, unanimous except for Tanya.
      Having lost this battle, Tanya felt compelled to equip Sabina with a self-protective device. She hid an undocumented feature, an Easter egg (file name: afikomen.bop) in the code. In multiplayer mode, any challenger who tried to undress, feel up, or otherwise get familiar with Sabina activated a special weapon option, the Vagina Dentata. With the option selected, a set of snapping dentures emerged from Sabina’s low-slung utility belt, munched the masculinity from the offending player’s character, and resulted in an automatic game over. Just this morning, Todd found it. She could tell by the “Holy fucking shit!” so loud that concerned heads popped over cubicle walls across the entire floor. When she trotted over to gloat, Todd was still staring at his computer screen, pale-faced and clutching his crotch.
      “Sabina Dublin. Yeah, that’s her,” Ruthie says. “Don’t tell me your company does Sabina Dublin. My son will be so impressed. I’ll have to call him right after this.”
      She seems so excited, Tanya considers telling the truth. On the other hand, Tanya’s not here to make friends, and by the time she can work another appointment into her schedule, Greg will be available. She’ll probably never see Ruthie again. Ruthie holds Tanya’s left arm by the fingers and gives it a few shakes, like she’s fluffing a towel. Then she bends the arm at the elbow and lays the wrist against Tanya’s back so that her shoulder blade pokes up. She digs into the flesh under it and hits a nerve. A delicious spasm flutters the skin. “Whoa, Nellie,” Ruthie says, causing Tanya to think of the way a horse’s buttocks twitches to shake off flies. Tanya emits satisfied hums and a series of diminutive Os. The tailors flee in panic before an undulating tsunami. What the heck, Tanya decides. She’ll come clean.
      “Yeah, Sabina’s ours,” Tanya says.
      Ruthie lets out an enraptured sigh as she fluffs and folds Tanya’s other arm. “Such a beautiful body,” she says.
      Something in Ruthie’s voice makes Tanya wonder, with renewed unease, whether this comment is meant for her or Sabina. She thinks it unlikely it’s for her. She’s not a spring chicken anymore and carries some extra poundage. In her job, Ruthie must see a multitude of far more pleasing shapes. Besides, it’s not exactly professional of Ruthie to be commenting on her clients’ physiques. She must be talking about the marketing shots of Sabina, the double D version.
      “I think all women’s bodies are beautiful,” Ruthie continues. “There’s something majestic about them. Even old ones, fat ones. They remind me of paintings.” She chuckles again, a dry, gravelly sound. “God really played a joke on men. They look so funny naked.”
      This statement strikes Tanya as arguable. She admires the male body’s aesthetic. Or at least, that of certain male bodies. She enjoys poring over The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. She admits to being a stickler for proper lifting form when she’s in the gym, but would never admit the real attraction, those pictures — hard, oil-glistened, ripped men. The black-and-white photographs work magic, something about the play of light and shadow on the muscles’ cuts. One sentence impresses her every time she reads it: “Bodybuilding is a sport of form, but instead of movement the form involved is that of the body itself – the size, shape, proportion, detail and aesthetic quality of the physique as developed in the gym, prepared by dieting, and displayed by performing bodybuilding poses.” It’s sculpture.
      The unsullied marble slab strides forward from memory to silence the rest of Tanya’s busy mental chatter. From time to time it does this, to toy with her, plague her. She’s moved her couch and coffee table against the wall so it can recline comfortably. So she’ll pass it tens of times a day. Her tools are in the garage and eventually she will have to get the marble from here to there. But first, she must learn what it wants to be. Lately, Tanya’s sculpting has focused on abstract forms suggestive of male nudes. They’re technically sound, pleasing to look at, and the process of making them transports Tanya to the place where she likes herself best. But objectively, like all her work, they lack some essential spark that evokes in the viewer cardiac arrhythmias and intestinal taut-line hitches, beatitude and despair. They’re good, not great. She supposes her day job doesn’t help; making consensual art like Sabina deadens her instinct.
      And then there’s this marble. Its voluptuousness doesn’t seem male, but it’s giving up no other hints. Even though she’s sat on the floor across the room and gazed at it. Laid next to and run her hand along it, like a lover. Slept on the rug beside it and awakened to a sheer face, blank and mocking. At those times she’s wanted to wound the thing. Hack random chunks away with a pickaxe. Splash acid over the surface and watch the scars smoke. It’s frustrating because her materials usually don’t play hard to get, and all the more so because she senses she’s on the verge. She feels the possibility of an evolutionary jump to something uniquely hers, something no one else can vote down. She’s been on the edge for weeks, tense and exhausted. Still nothing comes.
      David is expecting the marble to be a sculpture in six months. He’s doing her a big favor; he’s talked one of his clients, who owns a San Francisco gallery, into a spot for Tanya in a show called “Bay Area Marble.” Tanya has exhibited pieces before, but never with this degree of exposure. She’d never have landed this show without his help. The chance may not come again. She can’t fuck it up. But the truth is, she’s never sculpted a stone this size in less than five months, and she’ll lose most of the next to Sabina Dublin. And a part of her is just plain procrastinating: the part that isn’t convinced sculpting would mean as much if it became her job, the part that wants to keep it reserved for escape and rejuvenation, like a mountain cabin or a seaside villa. When David asks how it’s going, she lies and says she’s on schedule. She almost mentioned the show to her mother the last time she called, just to talk to someone else about it. But Tanya was afraid she’d say to focus on Sabina; art by consensus pays the bills. Tanya’s mother never understood how she feels about sculpting, and she wouldn’t understand now. Now that time is closing in, and can eat her dreams.
      David, on the other hand, had been after her for years before they broke up to quit her job and sculpt full time. “You don’t need that job,” he’d said, more times than she could count. “I’ll take care of you.” When that didn’t work, he’d started to add, “Until you get established. And if you don’t like how it’s going with sculpting, you can start working again. But you owe it to yourself to try. You’re good, Tanya. You’re really good.” It got to the point where he seemed more interested in her success as a sculptor than in her.
      Ruthie covers Tanya’s back with the sheet. Then she lifts the bottom corner, revealing Tanya’s left leg. She chuckles and repeats, “Yep, God really did play a joke on men.” She gathers and tucks the sheet between Tanya’s thighs. Tanya can’t imagine it’s going anywhere fast wedged between her legs like that, but after a pause, Ruthie gives it a bit more tuck way up between the inner thighs. The muscles there fire and flex. There’s a twinge in Tanya’s groin. She is anesthetized, flustered, lost.
      She hears herself say to Ruthie, “What about Arnold Schwarzenegger?”
      “Bodybuilders,” Ruthie says. “Nothing worse. Tiny little heads on huge bodies, way out of proportion. So vain, always looking in the mirror. Nothing worse, even male ballet dancers.” Ruthie glides her hands up to Tanya’s gluteus medias and down to her Achilles tendon in great, sweeping strokes. Things are moving along with them; blood, lymph, lactic acid, sensations of heat and pressure. The tailors are jumping into lifeboats. Ruthie finishes the leg and starts the foot.
      “I thought he looked great in the Pumping Iron movies,” Tanya says. “He had gorgeous proportions.” The truth is, Tanya has become a rabid fan of the young Arnold Schwarzenegger. One day, his beauty slammed into her and mowed her down. She never saw it coming. She’s collected all of his bodybuilding films on video. They’re amusing to watch on rainy nights; amusing and disturbing. Those skimpy black trunks, those vibrant red ones. The pernicious cuteness. There’s Arnie’s voice-over, the innocent, Austrian-accented confession that he admires dictators’ strength. There he is again, squeezing out the most-muscle pose to the theme from Exodus. She wants to take him home to her mother and feed him potato kugel. Dress him in cashmere turtlenecks. Sit at the opposite end of the bathtub, while he squirts water at her through his gapped front teeth.
      Ruthie presses on Tanya’s arch. This same foot cramped a week ago. Tanya had forgotten, but her foot hasn’t and it kicks from Ruthie’s hand.
      “Oh, sorry,” Ruthie says.
      “I should have remembered,” Tanya says. “I had a cramp there last week. I’ve never had soreness go for that long.”
      The joints crack when Ruthie pulls Tanya’s toes. “Mind if I ask how old you are?” Ruthie asks. She bends Tanya’s leg at the knee, back so far that heel almost touches buttock. When she’s straightened and lowered the leg, Ruthie covers it and begins the right.
      She’s answered before she considers whether to lie: “Forty.”
      “Hey, me too,” Ruthie says. “Forty-one, actually. It sucks, but after forty your arches start to go. Do you wear high heels?”
      “Sometimes. Not often.”
      “Try arch supports. You can get them at Walgreens.”
      Ruthie then describes the trouble she has with her own feet. Basically, they’re ruined. That’s what comes from starting on pointe too young. They put her in toe shoes almost from the time she started dancing, she was that good. Now no shoes fit her, so she never wears them, ever. Goes everywhere barefoot. Her son, who is twenty-one, finds this embarrassing. Whenever he’s home from college, he’s always yelling at her to put on some shoes before she goes out for groceries.
      Tanya is skeptical. “What about in winter? Don’t your feet get cold?”
      “They’re always cold, even in summer. I don’t notice much difference.” There’s a short silence, then Ruthie adds, “I guess that’s not completely true. Sometimes in winter I wear those Eskimo sock bootie things.”
      “Yeah, mukluks.” Ruthie giggles. She chants as she does Tanya’s right calf and hamstring, giving an extra glottal kick to each K. “Mukluks mukluks mukluks. Mukluks. Hey, you know something? That’s really fun to say.” She covers Tanya’s leg and leans near her ear. “Okay, now. Turn over for me, please.” She lifts the sheet from Tanya’s body and holds it over her, like a dressing screen.
      Tanya rolls to her back under the sheet, her eyes closed. When she opens them, she knows, she’ll see Ruthie. Ruthie has seen more of Tanya than most people ever will, but Tanya has seen nothing of Ruthie except her root-like feet. The imbalance makes Tanya feel exposed, as if she’s in a behavioral experiment being watched through one-way glass. She doesn’t know why, but she’s nervous. There’d be tightness in her abdomen if she hadn’t spent the last hour being wrung like a washrag. The tailors have been relocated; banished to the gulag for crimes against her state.
      Ruthie places her hands on Tanya’s belly. They’re warm through the sheet. No longer under pressure, Tanya’s sinuses drain quickly. She smells a warm whiff of cinnamon from Ruthie’s mouth, a trace of breath-freshening gum. Tanya gathers her courage and opens her eyes.
      She understands now why Ruthie sides with Todd on Sabina’s bra size. She is shaped a bit like a kidney bean, large breasts, rounded middle and sway back on thin legs, but she’s so graceful and deliberate she seems to move without displacing the air. Her complexion is olive; her hair black, in long layers, framing her face like parentheses. Her eyes are dark and heavy-lidded. She is of indeterminate ethnicity, one of those people mistaken for Greek in Greece, Mexican in Mexico, Egyptian in Egypt. She could be Jewish, Native American or French. She looks down at Tanya and smiles. There’s a moist sound as her lips pull back from her teeth. Even and straight, they light her face. Something about her excites Tanya.
      Ruthie gives Tanya’s belly a gentle pat, then walks to a counter and spritzes more oil into her hands. She sits behind Tanya on a stool and shoves her hands, palms up, under Tanya’s back, almost to her waist. She pushes up against the back with her fingertips and rests there for a moment, then draws her hands, still pressing upward, slowly toward her and out from under Tanya. “That’s wunnerful,” Tanya mumbles. “Do that again. And again.”
      Ruthie repeats the movements four times, five times. “Mukluks,” she says. She bends Tanya’s head down to her shoulder and rubs the side of her neck, from shoulder to ear. The muscles give like clay under her hands; with every stroke, Tanya is shaped, undone, and shaped again. Ruthie pulls Tanya’s head. The neck lengthens. Tanya envisions her head popping off like a Barbie doll’s, the twisted tendons and muscles that attach it to her neck whipping like live electric wires. “You should have been a sculptor,” Tanya coos.
      Ruthie pulls Tanya’s arms by the wrists, stretching them in a straight line above her head. Tanya has always thought being stretched on a rack sounded more like pleasure than pain. If she was threatened with torture, she would plead, “No, no, anything but the rack” to assure that’s exactly what she’d get. She pictures Ruthie tying coarse, yellow ropes around her wrists and cranking a giant wooden wheel. Confess, imaginary Ruthie commands before each crank. Confess and live.
      “I’m awful at art,” Ruthie says. “Except dance. I loved it so much.” Her voice has a bittersweet quality, as though she’s remembering a lost friend.
      “Do you still dance?”
      “No,” Ruthie says. “I stopped when I got pregnant. That and smoking.”
      Tanya thinks about the joy that comes from sanding wood, when grain, shape and texture coalesce. From removing the ceramic shell on cast bronze, the moment when the vision becomes instantiation. The moment she feels most alive. Nothing compares. This is what her mother couldn’t understand; she saw only the practical side, that every dime Tanya made went into her workshop and what came out was given away, or sold for far less than the time and materials she invested. This being the case, she argued, Tanya should be realistic, not waste her energy on fantasy. This is what David couldn’t understand, either. Why wasn’t she sure sculpting full time would fulfill her every dream? She couldn’t explain her need for refuge in a mound of clay, and her fear that taking up permanent residence in this refuge would poison its delicate ecology.
      Her forehead unclenches under the pressure of Ruthie’s hands. “My son’s father got to keep dancing,” Ruthie says.
      The phrasing strikes Tanya as impersonal, yet to inquire further seems rude. But Ruthie goes on. “It’s funny. I mean, I’m glad, because I have my son. But I don’t know what possessed me. He was just so beautiful when he danced. So chiseled and fine.”
      Hearing this, Tanya knows why Ruthie excites her. She knows, as she feels the luxurious heat of Ruthie’s body penetrate her scalp, what the marble wants to be.
      Ruthie apologizes. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to go on like that.” She rubs Tanya’s temples in circles. Tanya remembers childhood slumber parties where one girl would rub another’s temples like this, while the others watched. Supposedly, this would cause the one rubbed to go into a “trance,” a hypnotic state as juicy as truth serum. Ask her who she liked better, Brian Laramie or Aaron Baumgarten. If she answered, she was in a trance. If she cracked up giggling, she was faking.
      “That’s okay,” Tanya says. “Really.” Her mouth spreads as Ruthie’s thumbs pull down from the sides of her nose, and her lips flap when Ruthie releases them. Tanya imagines touching Ruthie’s face, seeing the features through her fingers like a blind person. Touching Ruthie, then touching the marble, transferring Ruthie’s form to the living stone. Goddess of carnal pleasure. An epic, heroic figure. The anti-tailor, vanquishing the sewing hoards. Ruthie’s hands smooth the tops of Tanya’s pectorals outward from her sternum. Her fingertips are within inches of Tanya’s nipples. Touching Ruthie’s body, then touching the marble. Feeling it vibrate with her lush earthiness, watching her form imbue and heat the cold, soften the hardness, turn a slab of rock into something worthy of love.
      Ruthie says, “I would have had to stop anyway. I was thin then, but when I was eighteen I grew boobs, if you can believe it. They just popped up out of nowhere, and suddenly good parts in ballets were hard to get. Balanchine didn’t believe in breasts, and he pretty much set the standard when I was dancing. They wanted me to have breast reduction surgery.” She makes a sound laden with disgust. “Can you imagine?”
      “No,” Tanya says. The thought has never crossed her mind. It is the last surgery she’d ever need to have. But it’s true, she can’t imagine a post-surgery Ruthie.
      Should she be blunt? Ask something like, “How do you feel about taking off your clothes for art?” Try to befriend Ruthie first? As she is considering, Ruthie lifts the sheet from her leg and tucks it between her thighs again, preparing to work on the front of the leg. Her hand grazes Tanya’s bikini line and as she’s pulling away, Tanya feels a pricking sensation. Ruthie’s little finger has caught in the curl of a pubic hair and yanked it out by the root.
       “I’m so sorry,” Ruthie says. “Did it hurt?”
      “Nothing you’ve done has hurt,” Tanya says.
      “You know, I like you. You’re a lovely person,” Ruthie says. “I don’t mean that in a — well, you know. I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”
      “I’m very comfortable. Really, don’t worry about it.” The way she sees forms in lumps of clay and stone as though they emanate from the things themselves, Tanya sees a path, the one she knows would work were she in Ruthie’s place. “I expect you miss dancing.”
      “Something terrible. It’s like a part of me was left behind with it. Most people think I’m crazy when I talk about it. That’s the hardest part.”
      “I understand. I sculpt.”
      Ruthie looks up from the ankle she’s rotating and meets Tanya’s eyes. “I’m flattered you said I should have been a sculptor, then.” She smiles, and asks Tanya what media, how long it takes, how it’s done, all as though every word captivates her. It’s not just what she asks, it’s the way she does it, and how she listens. Tanya thinks this must be why men like women, this powerful feeling, this sense the words matter.
      She draws the sheet over Tanya’s legs and again lays her hands on Tanya’s tummy. “We’re done,” she says. “I’ll see you outside.”
      “Thank you, that was wonderful.”
      “Thank you,” she says, and leaves the room.
      Tanya lies still for a few moments. Then she dresses, and walks into the hall. Ruthie is not there. Perhaps she ran to the phone to tell her son she’d just met Sabina Dublin’s designer. Tanya walks out to the lobby. She pretends to look at the soaps and candles for sale. Then she gets a glass of cold water with lemon, and sits sipping it, waiting. After twenty minutes, she decides that Ruthie must have started another customer. She takes a tip envelope and a pen from the front desk. She tears a piece of paper from her Filofax and writes, “Thank you again. I’d like to talk to you more about dance. I also have a proposal for you.” She writes her phone number, folds the paper with some bills, and stuffs them into the envelope. She puts “To Ruthie from Tanya,” on the envelope and drops it through the slot in the tip box.
       She will give Ruthie a few days. Then, she will call. If she can’t reach Ruthie, she’ll come back and wait for her here. She’ll bring a beta version of Sabina for Ruthie’s son, with the entire design team’s autographs on the DVD. She’ll take Ruthie to dinner somewhere shoes are optional. Whatever it takes, until she can touch Ruthie. Touch Ruthie, and then the marble.

Pamela Lindsey Dreizen‘s fiction has appeared in Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion, Flashquake (where it was an Editor’s Pick), The Binnacle, Lynx Eye, The Powhatan Review and other journals. Her story, “A More Forgiving Light,” received Honorable Mention in the August 2011 Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers competition. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her boyfriend and two young sons, and practices law at a large technology company.

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by Karoline Barrett

by G.L. Williams

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