Read an Excerpt
June 27, 1992
As the taxi cuts through the rain, Ann struggles out of her black skirt, keeping her eyes on the driver as she hurries to free the heel of her black satin pump. She kicks the crumpled garment under the front seat as he lunges out his window to yell at a street vendor. He mutters obscenities, weaves in and out of the heavy traffic; sweat runs down the back of his hairy neck and rings his collar. She hopes he isn’t going to be a problem.
Sitting in her blouse and slip, Ann examines the spot where she inadvertently nicked the dark green suede of the new skirt when she pried off the alarm device. She rubs the nap with her finger, and satisfied that the offending mark is nothing a stiff brush won’t remove, struggles into the narrow skirt, lurching back and forth awkwardly in the seat as she pulls it up over her hips. It’s snug—a perfect fit that leaves no room for lingerie—and Ann discards first her short slip and then her underpants, arranging them flirtatiously, like dropped handkerchiefs, over the hump in the middle of the car’s floor. She’ll remember to keep her legs crossed. Besides, everyone will be looking at the bride, not at her. Even now, she thinks, the world is still mesmerized by a woman in a white dress.
The steaming summer storm obscures the facades of buildings, rendering them blank and flat and erased, like the expressions on the faces of the people they pass. Caught unprepared for a downpour, they twist newspapers or shopping bags into makeshift rain gear. Watching them, Ann buttons the skirt’s tight waistband and settles back against the vinyl seat. The driver makes a sudden illegal turn, and Ann is thrown against the door, interrupting her fantasy about the next passenger: she envisions a stolid banker in pinstripes, his surprise as he notices the crumpled slip washing up over the toes of his wingtipped shoes. Will he retrieve her underpants from the car’s floor and press them to his mouth? Will he keep them, snapping them into his attaché?
Ann has turned her clothes loose over the city in the past month. Blouses, dresses, trousers, lingerie. Silk camisoles and brassieres, leggings still musky and moist-crotched, smelling of sex. She leaves her slacks like firemen’s dungarees, legs neatly accordioned as if to receive a new occupant, their posture conveying a sense of urgency. Once she left a pair of beige linen walking shorts with a surprising flower of blood between the legs, red and rank—a woman’s little emergency.
Traffic jam; Ann is alerted by the car’s sudden deceleration. She looks up to see the eyes of the driver in the rearview mirror. Perhaps he saw her, perhaps he was watching as she removed cuticle clippers from her camera bag and cut the tags from the skirt’s satin lining. Did he see that the garment didn’t come from a shopping bag?
He turns around and peers with frank curiosity through a ragged orifice in the dull Plexiglas separating the front and rear seats. “Whatdja do, steal it?” he asks.
Ann returns his gaze levelly. “Yes,” she says.
The driver nods, says nothing.
Ann adjusts the skirt over her legs, smooths it down and looks away, out the wet window. When she looks back the driver’s dark eyes are trained on her reflection in his mirror. He nods again, and when there’s an opening, guns the cab into the left lane.
She picks up the crumpled price tags from the seat and tears them into little pieces, drops them, along with the little envelope that contains spare buttons for the skirt, out the window. She’s late, as usual. The wedding is scheduled to start in less than half an hour; she’s paid to record the occasion and still has to stop at her loft and grab the backup videocamera and battery pack.
Maybe her assistant is already there, maybe the rain will have slowed everyone else down. Maybe someday her life will be in order.
Forget it. It isn’t right.” The muscle in her father’s jaw clenched and unclenched in anger, frustration.
“What isn’t right?” Ann sat up and pulled a shirt around her. One of his work shirts, it was too big, and the cuffs dropped to her knees as she stood. “What?”
“It. It. God damn it. Nothing. Nothing is working.”
Ann followed him out of the studio, ten paces behind him, not daring to draw closer, her bare feet cold on the cement floor. She walked into the glow of the red safelights over the darkroom sink, where he sat on the black metal stool, elbow on the counter, cheek on hand, eyes closed, wearing a familiar exasperated expression.
“Papi. Papi? Come back. I’ll do it better. I wasn’t concentrating.”
He opened his eyes, looked at her as if without recognition, eyes betraying nothing. “No,” he said slowly. “It won’t work, Ann. You’re too old. I can’t use someone with, with—” He stopped, put out his hands in a gesture of helpless dismay, palms up and empty. Dropped them into his lap. “Breasts,” he said.
“Papi!” Her laugh was too loud in the cool, quiet room, falsely lighthearted. “They’re not new! I’m sixteen! Besides, I’m so skinny they hardly show. You said before it didn’t matter.”
“Yes. Well, now I’m saying it does. And other things show.”
Ann put her arms into the shirt’s sleeves, looked down. There were only two buttons left, and she held it closed over her chest.
“There’s the razor for other things,” she said finally.
“Put your clothes on, Ann,” her father said, and he stood and held out his arm almost formally, showing her the door.