FictionWinter2018

Between Strangers – Gina Troisi

Sophie is crammed into a middle seat in a row near the back of the plane. She hunches forward to see past the round woman next to her. The sky is black, the window splattered with raindrops. The plane jerks sideways and she throws her head back, gulps vodka from a tiny bottle. Her drinking is more out of habit than fear; she is less fazed by the bumps and dips than she has been in years. She leans back and closes her eyes.

When she hears the flight attendants rolling the beverage cart down the aisle, Sophie sits upright and assesses her funeral outfit: pointed high-heeled boots, her black pencil skirt and matching cashmere sweater. She’s wearing it a day early to avoid checking a bag. She did manage to swipe gloss across her lips before climbing into the airport shuttle van and curl her usually straight hair. She put effort into beauty rituals she almost always considers a waste of time. Maybe she doesn’t look like her Midwestern self any longer; perhaps her face has already changed, the way it will after a trauma, her mouth morphed into a permanent, closed position, lips pressed too tightly together, the worry lines in between her brows deeper. No, she decides. She still feels entirely too much like herself.

She thinks about the weight of the plane, amazed by how it can possibly hold so many people, this giant piece of metal in the sky. Her first time flying was with her father. When they encountered unexpected turbulence, Pop said, “You have to think about who dwells here, about who you love most.” At five years old, Sophie had been afraid of the shuddering engine, the rows of people next to and behind her and her father.

In the window seat, she’d stared at the clouds stretched out like cotton, half glistening and luminescent, like snow. “The Care Bears,” she’d said, remembering her favorite cartoon on television, the family of bears adorned with different badges—the four-leaf clover, the shining sun, the heart—their high pitched voices as they communed underneath the rainbow swirls of sky in Care-a-Lot, where they lived.

Pop’s giant arm drew her closer; he rubbed her elbow, held her small body against his. “That’s it, Sophie. Think about how happy they are up here, hiding from all the planes passing by.” They were on their way to visit her mother in California, so Sophie could meet her for the first time. She’d been drawing pictures of her, all of them with different shades of hair and eye color, a plump woman, then a thin one, wavy hair, then straight. She kept asking Pop to see photos, but he always shook his head. “I don’t think I held onto any. It’s been a long time.”

“Does she have red hair, like me?”

“Reddish,” he said. “More of an auburn.” And she envisioned a velvet dress at Christmas time, a dark chocolate wrapped in aluminum foil, blended shades of a fox spotted in their neighborhood in Wichita.

She hasn’t thought of Pop for a while, not until Catalina called with the news of his death last week. On the phone, she uttered one word responses to Cat’s explanations, her questions. Sophie’s voice, deeper than usual, became like a stranger’s; its higher pitch, her tendency to laugh at others’ words in a polite manner, often unintentionally or at inappropriate times, became obliterated. She listened, gritted her teeth to release words like air, her body heavy with remembering him.

The flight crew fills the plane’s aisle in search of empty cups and ripped pretzel bags, and she shakes the last drop of vodka into her mouth. Her throat stings as she thanks the attendant, tosses the bottle into the trash, and folds up her tray table to prepare for landing.

 

It’s pouring in Manhattan; a late spring rain, enough to chill the bones, but with a subtle hope of sunshine lurking somewhere nearby. Sophie cracks the taxi’s window, and drops spray her lap, her face. Outside, the dark sky is lit up, sidewalks packed with serious-faced New Yorkers wearing rain hoods and holding umbrellas. At a red light, she watches a young

blonde girl stand over an elderly woman plopped on top of a suitcase on the pavement, wrapped in blankets. The girl spoons ice cream from a cup as her mother nudges her along. Sirens blare down Broadway; drivers press on their horns and slam on their brakes. She is struck by the glowing bank awnings and sparkling golden arches.

Catalina—“Call me Cat, please”—had insisted on booking the hotel in Times Square after introducing herself on the phone.  “It’s the closest to the church.” This was the first Sophie had heard of Pop having a girlfriend. Or a church. When she was growing up, he’d had a drawing room—he stayed tucked away in that room for hours, sketching his plans for environmentally-sound neighborhoods with solar panels and cookie cutter houses in new developments in Kansas City. Despite all these hours Pop spent in his office while Sophie sat on the couch eating Tator Tots dipped in ketchup, watching reruns of The Cosby Show and The Brady Bunch, he’d somehow lost interest in building on the prairies, the plains, the rolling hills. “I’m done with Kansas,” he’d said. “I’ve been here my whole life. I need to create something I can be proud of.  Something you can show people when I’m gone.” And when she was twenty-two, on a Wednesday, she woke up to the bathroom mirror absent of steam from his shower; she went downstairs to find the table untouched, the kitchen unusually tidy, Pop’s morning paper placed neatly in the recycling bin, his mug rinsed out and already draining in the dish rack. A note on the counter: It’s time. Take good care of yourself. Talk to you soon. Love, Pop.

He’ll be back, she thought. But he never was. And now, here she is, a thirty-five year old woman.   

The cab driver pulls up to the curb. Sophie stands outside the hotel with her suitcase, dizzied by neon lights, the swarms of people pounding cement so hard it seems like it might crack open.

The rain drenches her head as she attempts to regain her bearings. She wonders how he was able to breathe in this city: the crowded street corners, the ruthless residents holding their umbrellas like weapons; she imagines the smell of urine in the subway stations, the way folks sit on the trains looking past one another angrily. She already misses the wide-open spaces of home, the Kansas soil, the strong Midwestern hands and friendly hellos. But when Cat offered to fly her here, she looked around her art studio at her unfinished paintings, peeled herself up from the sleeping bag on the floor, and dug through plastic tubs of jeans and flannels and work aprons for her only black outfit. She searched without feeling the material, her hands lost in a sea of cotton and denim, rummaging the way one is able to eat without tasting, and dialed her boss to tell him she needed the weekend off.

 

She sits at the hotel bar and shivers, her long hair stiff from the rain. Sipping a paper cup of hot water from the lobby, she peruses the menu. Flounder $35.00. Filet Mignon $43.00. “Order anything you like,” Cat had said. “I’ll have them add it to my account.” Who is this woman? Sophie asks for a Glenlivet on ice, and with the first sip warmth slips down and slides through her body, heats her legs, arms, breasts. She stares at the bottles of liquor lined up on glass shelves behind the bar, sees shreds of her reflection in the mirrors behind them; snippets of her face, her not quite Cindy Crawford mole, her wet bangs and beaded necklace, the seriousness of her eyes, the sternness of her cheekbones. She glosses over the basketball game on TV and wonders if Pop had been in pain. She keeps seeing horrid flashes of him: convulsing on the bathroom floor, his thick brown hair in need of a comb, blood dripping from his mouth,

unable to will his own body to move or stand. She sees the handkerchief he carried, his initials embroidered on it, the cotton worn and smooth like silk as it falls from his pocket. She hears him attempt to yell for help, his voice slivers of sound, a round of echoes that become lost inside the walls of his apartment.

She focuses on the flickering of candles lining the horseshoe bar,  as guests shuffle in for cocktails, head out to dinner, and the theater, to the traffic lining the streets. A gray-haired man walks into the lounge and slides onto the barstool next to her. “Hi, Chip,” the bartender says, placing a black napkin down in front of him.

“Wet out there, Ry,” Chip says. The bartender nods as he pulls an Italian red from the wine rack and slices the foil across the top. Sophie considers Chip’s pinstriped suit, his solid black tie, his overgrown and under shaped eyebrows.

He turns to her. “How are you this evening, young lady?”

“Just fine, thanks.” She isn’t in the mood for small talk. She reaches into her purse for her phone, scrolls through snapshots of the paintings she’s working on. A hummingbird perched on a branch. Her favorite version of the Wuthering Heights cover: a leaning willow, acres and acres of land, hills upon hills in the distance. Orange calla lilies, the kind her grandmother used to keep in a vase on the table in the breakfast nook, in between two identical white candles.

Chip shifts his eyes away and takes a sip of wine. She orders a fruit and cheese plate, since it’s free, though she really just wants the booze. She likes the dim lighting of the bar, the bamboo lampshades overhead, the sparseness of the high-top tables scattered across the room. She feels far away, like a woman shrinking into a landscape of the universe, surrounded by messes of people but untouched by their troubles, by their lives she knows nothing about.

“Chip,” he introduces himself, holding out his hand.

“I’m Sophie. Nice to meet you.” He has a firm handshake.

“What brings you to New York, Sophie?” He wears the gray hair well. Like Clooney, she thinks. She considers telling Chip that her father’s brain has hemorrhaged, that since her husband left her almost a year ago she’s been living in her art studio and showering at the Y, that she really has nowhere else to be, but it all sounds so morbid.

“My family,” she says. “My father lives here.” She asks the bartender for another scotch. “We’re from Kansas. Wichita.”

“Witchita’s a great city,” Chip says. “I’ve traveled through there a lot. Nothing like those blues bars.” His green eyes are kind, his face handsome for an older man. She likes the curve of his lip, his unshaven face, but all she wants to do is sit and let the scotch coat her throat. She wants to stare into the glass behind the bar until she can no longer see herself, until it’s like looking into a prism, a blur of green and blue bottles.  

But she keeps talking, because it is her only hope of escaping her own mind. “My father—he’s an architect. He builds things.” She realizes she sounds like a child, but she can’t help herself. Pop has stayed frozen in time: her father, the builder. He said he wanted to design tall, grandiose buildings. “He wanted to make things real for himself.  ”  

“You should too,” he’d told her. She remembers thinking she was real, that they were both real, and for years after he left she reflected on what he meant by that statement, a statement that made her question the way she viewed the world. She sees the details of her years with Pop: eating Lucky Charms for breakfast while he turned the pages of the New York Times and drank Inka instead of coffee—“Too acidic”—and him handing her the funny pages while she let each candied marshmallow melt in between her tongue and the roof of her mouth; later, during her teenage years, him finding a bag of pot in her room and raising his voice one of only a handful of times. “You want to be like your mother?” he asked angrily while Sophie shook her head. She considers their history bound in that house in Wichita, a time that was sealed and buried the day he moved away, their moments locked up in a capsule that no one will ever care to dig up or open.

“Any buildings I might know?” Chip asks.

“Probably. I can’t think of any names off the top of my head. But he’s very successful, very good at what he does.”

“I’m sure he is. What do you do?” Chip’s lobster tail arrives, and he picks up his knife and fork. His hair looks like it used to be a mustard color before it started turning gray. But those eyebrows; she can tell he doesn’t have a wife. No wedding band either. “I couldn’t help but see your phone. You’re an artist?”

“Something like that,” she says. “For money, I work at a diner.” She assumes she’ll receive the usual reaction: the look that says, but you are in your mid-thirties and you seem smart enough to get a real job; why would you carry a notepad around, stick a pen behind your ear, and schlep up other people’s messes for a living? She thinks of Andy, the cook whose hands

travel up her skirt when she’s standing behind the bread warmer, the room he rents in a house in the city where they go each night after punching out.

But instead Chip nods and smiles. Sophie says, “I’ve tried lots of other things, but none of them really panned out.” Her various jobs and half degrees flash before her: freelance writer for travel magazines, afterschool environmental educator for junior high kids, two years toward her Bachelor’s in engineering. She knows her own hopelessness develops from her choices to start and stop, from her inability to follow through with what she was always so passionate about in the beginning. Even her art has been on again off again, the studio filled with pieces she will never finish, dried up brushes and half-outlined canvasses, hues of pinks and twinges of red, pastels and oils strewn about.

“Sometimes it’s just trial and error, Sophie. It took me a while to find my path, to decide what I wanted. I’d say that’s normal.”

The way he uses her name irritates her. She feels his eyes fixed on her and imagines he’s building her up in his mind the way her male customers do—fantasizing about the lace of her bra, the protrusion of her ribs as he slips it off, the fierce way she’ll unzip his pants. She orders a third scotch. Chip’s tone is airy, a contrast to the condescension of his words. Despite her buzz, her hands begin to tremble. “My daughter, I haven’t seen her in a long time, but she’s…creative, too. Was always making stuff. Ceramics, sculptures, you name it.” His daughter. She wants to care about Chip’s story—on an ordinary day she would—but she can’t listen to him any longer. His words about finding his “path” play over and over in her mind, like the lyrics of a song skipping on a CD that will not turn off.  

“What do you mean normal, Chip?” There is no time to decipher where her anger is coming from—this foreign temper has been visiting more and more lately; it simmers in her center, swims in her stomach like tentacles reaching upward, fighting to find their way out. For a moment, she tells herself she’s only thought up her response to Chip, that there’s no way it could have come out of her mouth, but she’s blurted the sentence in the exact way she always fears she’ll say something tasteless, especially after a few drinks, when words seem both elusive and palpable at once. She has worried about forgetting her filter before speaking, teased and tested herself by imagining a person’s reaction to her ugliest thoughts, but it has never actually happened, until now.

Chip looks perplexed by her question.  He stops chewing. “Sophie, I didn’t mean…I was just trying to relate with what you were saying.” But despite his delicate mouth, his dimpled chin and tender lips, all that matters are the various ways her life as Pop’s daughter have been derailed, and they collide, come rushing at her: the way he wanted her to join student council in high school, but she dismissed his idea, skated by with Cs and kept her head down in the hallways; the way he told her she should follow him to New York and become a lawyer when she was twenty-four and failing at selling any of her travel articles to magazines, but she’d had no interest in moving away from Kansas to write briefs instead of writing about chiggers and locusts, the synchronicity and destruction of ecosystems; the way he must have known she’d disappoint him when he decided to leave home before her. The first few years after Pop left, he called regularly, but his attempts dwindled, the way they will with great distance, and when Sophie phoned him, she always seemed to get his voicemail. Months began to pass without the two of them talking. Soon, he called on her birthday and Christmas, then not at all.

“I know what you meant, Chip.” She hears herself slur.

“I didn’t mean to upset you. We all have problems,” Chip says.

She doesn’t know why she has insulted him. She feels removed from their conversation, as if sitting a few stools away, watching this exchange between strangers. The lights seem brighter. Couples and singles glance their way, men and women in tweed scarfs and silk blouses. Chip puts down his silverware, takes a sip of ice water. He loosens his linen napkin from the neck of his sweater, pulls it onto his lap. He looks stricken, and a twinge of sadness shoots through her.

The bartender, mixing a martini at the corner of the bar, eyes their near empty glasses. She tosses back the last bit of scotch and pushes her plate away. She blots her forehead with the linen napkin, hoping for a cool, wet spot, attempting to steady herself as if approaching a sobriety checkpoint while driving.

“Can I have my check?” she asks.

“No, Ryan, I got it,” Chip says.

“That’s not necessary. Really.”

“I insist. Keep working on your art.” He hands her his business card, and to avoid making more of a scene than she already has, she stuffs it into her purse.

She steps off the barstool, lifts her coat, stumbles onto her feet. “Thank you,” she says, and walks away, feeling Chip’s eyes follow her through the lobby door to the elevator.

In the morning, the sky is clouded with deep wintery gray, its dreariness fitting for the day of Pop’s funeral. Stepping out of the taxi in front of the church, Sophie sees the woman and nearly loses her balance. Cat’s wearing a polka dotted dress, black spiked heels, and a sun hat, even though it is forty degrees and shade is unnecessary. Dark, shining, thick hair, and brown skin; Cat crosses the street. “Sophie,” she says. “So glad you made it. I recognize you from your photograph.” Thirteen years since Pop left. The photo must have been one from her high school graduation.

“Hi. Thanks for the hotel and everything.”

“No problem, honey. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Come here—I want you to meet my boys.” Cat leads her to the steps of the church, to three tall men in their early twenties. They all have brown hair—one long and curly, another shaved, one already receding. “Boys, this is Sophie, Johnny’s daughter.” It’s odd to hear Pop called by his first name after all this time. To hear both of their names in the same sentence. “Would you like to stand in the receiving line with us? Greet everyone?”

“That’s okay. I’d rather just hang back. Thank you though.” Sophie clears her throat, watches as people file in. Many of them are years younger than her. “Is anyone speaking? Any of his architect friends?”

“Oh, honey, your father hasn’t done architecture for years. At least ten. When was the last time you two talked? Poor thing couldn’t make it here in the city. No, he became a restaurant connoisseur, a professional diner I called him. I never let your father want for anything, dear,

don’t you worry. I really loved him, Sophie. I hope you know that. You poor thing—I’m sorry to have had to call you like that.”

A professional diner? Sophie searches for the right type of expression, but nothing is retrievable; her face is concrete. She feels as if she’s floating outside of herself, her flesh disconnected from her insides, as if she’s the one who’s died, who’s summoned all these mourners from their homes and lives. As she looks upon sunglasses and scarves, heels and boots, her legs pull her away and forward without having willed them to move, her arms numb—she wants to walk in the other direction, to disappear into the crosswalks, the clusters of cars, the height of the buildings, but her limbs carry her up the steps and into the church toward the man who made her, the professional diner with the trust fund girlfriend.

Sophie is grateful to discover there is no casket. A framed photograph is up on the podium, surrounded by sunflowers. She has never seen her father without a beard. The skin around his mouth looks whiter than the rest, as if covered with sheer plastic. Her legs continue to move below her, securing a place among visitors, taking a sharp right turn near the middle of the church, forcing her to sink into a pew, where she kneels almost by accident. Cat drifts toward the front of the church, light streaming in through the stained glass, her hair gleaming hints of auburn. From where Sophie kneels, Cat looks as if she’s suspended in air, perched upon a parade float that rolls down the aisle, hugging and shaking hands along the way. “Poor Johnny,” Sophie hears someone behind her say, and she strains to listen, turns her head as the woman dabs the edges of her nostrils with tissues. “Just when he was about to buy that space.”

“What space?” she asks, forcing her voice to emerge from  somewhere inside her esophagus.

“Oh, you didn’t hear? Cat was about to buy him a restaurant in the East Village. Used to be a Thai place but they were going to turn it into some sort of Asian fusion.” Who are these people? Sophie’s heart pounds inside her head, her illusions carved by truth, disintegrating into shimmers of something familiar. There is a projector set up, a slideshow of pictures. Bartenders and servers. Pop raising his glass to busty blondes and men in bow ties, a fork in his hand, trout and mashed potatoes and duck pâté in front of him. His beard, his curly hair, his glasses. His eyes are sadder than she remembers—not at all the way she’s pictured them, proud and focused: the eyes of a father who imagined greatness and fulfilled it, a conqueror of buildings, of this city, of his own life.

The slide show repeats while people gather around Cat and her sons; they are lined up to speak about Pop, who has shown no sign of ever having a daughter, or ever having been an architect. The voice of the man at the podium blends into Sophie’s thoughts—she hears something about Pop’s generosity, his passion, his willingness to help others, to take young people under his wing. She hears mention of the Midwest, how New York City had become his home. The clatter of voices pricks her ears and opens them up like sirens wailing, the pressure like speakers whose base is turned up too high, the trembling of the ground buckling beneath her. She attempts to breathe in, but is overwhelmed by the inhalation of Chanel perfume and incense, the scent of chocolate baking in one of the back rooms.

Sophie still can’t feel her legs—not as they step in between knees and around ankles of people in her row, passing bodies and glares and murmurs, not as they deliver her to the middle aisle of the church, where she moves in the opposite direction of a bride, not as they

transport toward the entrance she came in a half hour earlier, staring straight ahead as eyes follow her outside and away, the brisk city air cloaking her from all the things she has never known about Pop, the things she can’t begin to unlearn. She walks up the street, past the hot dog vendors and homeless people, past Quick Silver and Radio City Music Hall, underneath awnings and rainbows of lights; she turns into the subway station, inhaling the waft of piss, the stench of bodies, and without looking climbs onto the train and grabs hold of the cold, filthy metal.

She welcomes the shove of the train from the station, the gray outside the windows, the graffiti, the tunnels of black space underground. In the darkness, another train shoots by, and she sees her reflection in the glass, her expressionless face in the midst of suits and jackets and earphones, and wonders what she’d ever been thinking when she flew to this side of the country, where she doesn’t belong. An anger that has been long buried, living in splinters, in shards dispersed throughout her body, causes her breath to speed up. She plops herself onto the empty seat behind her, the perpetual feeling of being unsettled, of wavering, catching up to where she is, refusing to be shoved underneath her failures or excuses, as she leans her head hard against the window and rides.

 

In the hotel bathroom, naked, Sophie runs tap water into a mug and gulps it down. She fills the enormous Jacuzzi tub, messily opening packets of bath salts and scented soaps, mini jars of liquid bubbles. The water is hot enough to scald her skin and she plunges into it, her thighs and bottom stinging. The bright room whirls and she closes her eyes, sinking until the water is

up to her neck. She reaches over the tub’s partition for her cell phone and dials, holding it snug against her ear, not expecting anyone to pick up.

“Sophie.” Chip’s voice is steady and familiar.

She hasn’t rehearsed what she’ll say; she remembers the way she spoke to him, her irrational tantrum in the hotel bar. “I want to apologize for my behavior last night. I’m afraid I made a horrible first impression. I’ve been a bit out of sorts.” She takes a swig from the champagne split she found in the mini bar. Her hair cascades onto her shoulders and upper arms, her breasts poking through the water’s surface.

She thinks he might hang up on her, and she wouldn’t blame him if he did, but he says, “I’m glad you called. I felt bad about our misunderstanding. About the way we met.”

“Really, there’s no need. It was me who was out of line.”

“What I was trying to tell you about my daughter—she and I don’t talk anymore. You see, something terrible happened to her when she was a kid. For some reason, she always blamed me—for not protecting her. She had a lot of problems…starved herself, the way some women do. Anyway, when I saw you looking through those paintings on your phone, I couldn’t stop thinking of her, of how I missed her. Of how I hope she’s found her way. I lost my wife because of this trouble with my daughter, lost everything. All because I was too busy to notice. This might not make sense. I’m sorry, I’m rambling.”

She floats sideways, stares at the pile of black clothes crumpled on the floor next to the tub. “No, it does. It makes sense. There’s a lot of pressure…to protect the people you

love.” She remembers the way, when she and Pop arrived in California at her mother’s seaside cottage, he knocked again and again, then pressed his fists and forehead against the door. Sophie stared out at the vast expanse of ocean, inhaled the pungent smell of seaweed, marveled at where all the land had gone. She looked through the windows of her mother’s house and saw a painting of a colorful Mexican village, glittered Christmas ornaments cluttered on top of the table, a fishing pole leaning up in the corner next to a pair of men’s rubber boots. They waited for what seemed like hours until finally giving up. “In the end, it’s really an impossible idea, don’t you think? To protect them?”

“Yes,” Chip says. “I suppose you’re right.” He speaks slowly, as if he hadn’t considered this before. The silence, the stillness of the water begins to warm Sophie, to empty her.

“What do you do for the holidays, Chip? What about Christmas?”

“I sometimes spend it working. Or I go to a friend’s for dinner. Always something different I guess. What about you?”

She used to love Christmas—going to Gram’s with Pop and eating red and green colored deviled eggs for breakfast; bundling in hats and mittens for their neighborhood “light walks” that they’d map out beforehand, snaking down side streets to check out blinking trees in windows and lit up reindeer on lawns; later, roasting turkey with groups of friends from work; picking out a tree at the local tree farm with her husband, back before he left. “When it’s just me, I drink eggnog, usually spiked with vodka.” She laughs. “And I listen to old jazz records while I decorate my tiny fake tree. I use tinsel, and colored lights. And if I can, I make myself a good meal—either beef stew or turkey pot pie.”

“That sounds nice, Sophie.”

“It is, in its own way. Although I enjoyed it more as a child. The holidays.” She presses her toes against the wall of the tub. The water is clearer. “Do you think you still know who she is? Your daughter?”

“I sure hope so. We always know the people we love, I think. At least their best parts. I call sometimes, but she doesn’t want to talk—won’t even answer.” The water rises around her, and as it sloshes over the side of the tub onto the bathroom floor, soaking her black outfit, she reaches for the drain near her feet.

“Well, it sounds like you’ve tried. You’ve really tried. Maybe she’s afraid of letting you down. Or maybe she doesn’t know what to say.” She is running out of words, but she likes knowing Chip is there on the other end of the line. She stares at the wall of bathroom mirror, black makeup smeared underneath her eyes, her hair like wet, crinkled straw.

“I’m alone, too.”

“You have your father.”

She can’t bring herself to say it. The stability, the beat of Chip’s voice has become like a drum inside her body—a thrumming that takes hold, that both weakens and strengthens her at the same time until she is only still, experiencing an inarguable tiredness, a tiredness far beyond  her need to sleep. The scent of bath salts lulls her. You have your father. Her eyes sting, her lids weighted, as if being closed by the fingertips of a small child.

“I have to go now, Chip. I’m sorry again.”  

“I understand. Take care, Sophie.”

She forces herself to stand and turns on the showerhead. As she contemplates the fragments of her father she is left with, the best and most baffling parts, she  attempts to piece them together to make some sort of coherent image in her mind, the colors like segments of a painting. She holds onto Chip’s voice, its distant sweetness, its cadence closing in on her now, reminding her of the motionlessness inside of her, the even, uninterrupted silence she is only able to experience while responding to something larger than herself, the splashes of paint on canvas, the blues and greens and yellows and reds encompassing everything for what it is and nothing more, but becoming something all her own, at once. And somehow she has landed here in this steamy hotel shower after a train ride meandering above water and underneath sky, where she was pummeled with air when the doors opened, the smell of pre-summer rain, of water drizzling down, and it doesn’t matter anymore what she’s ever thought of this city, of its noisy debris, as she stands naked among the composition, a heartbeat pulsing through, settling into and around her, fusing with the life of her father, the stranger, and the distinct memory of an unrestrained voice.  

 


 

Author Bio: Gina Troisi holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from The University of Maine’s Stonecoast MFA Program. Her work has appeared in several literary journals and anthologies, including Flyway (Winter 2014), The Gettysburg Review, Fourth Genre, Fugue, and others. Her pieces have been recognized as finalists in multiple contests, including the 2012 Iowa Review Award in Creative Nonfiction, the 2012 Bellevue Literary Review Nonfiction Prize, and Bellingham Review’s 2012 Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction.

The author: zlis@iastate.edu