Ann Bogle

Members of the Story

1

The doc­tor doesn’t fly.  She flies with­out him, alone.  She is alone but not alone when the plane lands at LaGuardia.  The dri­ver from London Town Car is at bag­gage, hold­ing a sign for “Memerlou” on a stick.  The dri­ver lets her slow to light her cig­a­rette, while he walks hasti­ly, pulling her suit­case.

2

The dri­ver is silent.  He is Polish.  She is silent.  Then she extracts the cell phone from its pock­et and dials the doc­tor by press­ing the green but­ton under his pho­to.

Have you land­ed?” he asks her.

Yes, I’m in the car.”

How is the dri­ver?”

Fine,” she says, not offer­ing to describe him.

3

Ms. Memerlou must deliv­er the mes­sage from the back seat that the doc­tor will report the dri­ver in case of mis­con­duct.  She likes the doctor’s solic­i­tous pro­tec­tion but dis­likes the pro­ce­dure.  What if the dri­ver were nice?  She’d rather sit qui­et­ly and assume he will be cour­te­ous and take her direct­ly to the hotel.

4

She has worn tall wedge san­dals.  They are not dif­fi­cult to walk in, but social­ly, she feels con­scious of her height.  The shoes are made of beige “linen” leather with “eggshell” accents aigus.  The doc­tor rarely notices shoes unless it is to note their cost in dol­lars, as if all dol­lars issue from him.

5

The dri­ver pulls up to the hotel and releas­es the trunk.  She lets her­self out of the car and doesn’t offer to tip.  She once read the Amex bill.  The com­pa­ny bills $155 for the one-way trip. She is only one of the doctor’s scare­crow pas­sen­gers.  The doc­tor trans­ports two oth­er women from Connecticut.

6

They will dri­ve in the morn­ing to see the leaves change col­or in Vermont.  Ms. Cerumbyk has already checked in to the hotel.  That is what the doc­tor tells Memerlou on the tele­phone next.  Memerlou con­sid­ers vis­it­ing her, call­ing the front desk, or stay­ing alone with­out call­ing her.  She decides to wait until morn­ing.

7

Sometimes peo­ple for­get that the doc­tor is not a med­ical doc­tor.  He is a doc­tor of phi­los­o­phy in phar­ma­col­o­gy.  He holds the patent for a bone den­si­fy­ing drug.  He has some­thing against cos­met­ic surgery.  He can­not for­give his ex-wife for chang­ing her nose and breasts or allow­ing their sons to dig­i­tize pho­tos of women.

8

In the morn­ing Ms. Logoteal sends a mes­sage to Memerlou that they are to meet the doc­tor in the lob­by at eight, to bring sweaters.  Memerlou has not seen the doc­tor since 2005.  It’s been five years.  Before that, it had been twen­ty years, but she has tak­en the trip in the town car.

9

The doc­tor tells Logoteal and Cerumbyk that he had noticed Memerlou before he noticed his wife.  That was in the days at Valhalla when all the men played at being young.  Logoteal and Cerumbyk act more inter­est­ed in sto­ries about the men than about his meet­ing Memerlou.  The doc­tor is alone in admir­ing Memerlou.

10

Memerlou has learned in read­ing the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous that the pur­pose of women meet­ing in their aux­il­iary is to express their love for one anoth­er.  While the trip to see the foliage in Vermont is not relat­ed to her Alanon atten­dance, she is to apply these prin­ci­ples in all her affairs.

11

On the way to Vermont, they stop in Northampton and cir­cle Smith, so the women can see where they did not go to col­lege.  “Pine nuts”—as Logoteal calls the doc­tor when he isn’t there—went to Princeton, Logoteal to Pittsburgh, Cerumbyk to Paterson, and Memerlou to Eau Claire before she fled to Texas.

12

Pine nuts (his name is Pinesatz) swerves to park out­side a Subway sand­wich shop.  He tells the women, girls, as they pre­fer to be called, to go in and order.  He ducks next door, to a shop called Calendar Liquor, and buys three pints of Smirnoff.  He puts the brown sack in the trunk.

13

Pinesatz says he needs a break.  “Wendy, will you dri­ve?  You have the pret­ti­est arms.”  Logoteal gig­gles because he’s com­pli­ment­ed her.  Cerumbyk says, “I have pret­ty hips, so I’ll sit in the back with you, Doctor.”  Memerlou keeps her seat on the pas­sen­ger side.  She tucks her feet around her own and Logoteal’s purs­es.

14

Memerlou eats her sand­wich dain­ti­ly while Cerumbyk picks at hers.  Pinesatz keeps his back straight.  He’s sit­ting behind Logoteal where he can watch Memerlou’s ear.  The sun slants Logoteal’s eyes.  As a mat­ter of safe­ty, Memerlou offers to look for sun­glass­es in Logoteal’s purse.  Logoteal says she left hers at home.  Memerlou’s are pre­scrip­tion.

15

Wendy L., Marie C., Louane M., Raymond P., Ph.D.  Wendy dri­ves.  Marie flirts, shim­mies her lit­tle rack.  Raymond watch­es Louane’s ear.  Louane feels him watch­ing her and glances at him sly­ly.  Wendy asks for a bite of beef sand­wich.  Louane puts a piece of it on a yel­low nap­kin she sets on Wendy’s thigh.

16

Leave noth­ing out.  Put noth­ing in.  Leave the leaves dry­ing on news­pa­pers in the Vermont sink, dry­ing out of the sun.  Her faith is in sun where sun is slip­ping.  She puts faith in ani­mals that die not for her but for a gro­cer.  She gives up meat then lunges at it when hun­gry.

17

Wendy Logoteal, Marie Cerumbyk, Louane Memerlou, Raymond Pinesatz, Ph.D. go walk­ing.  Each woman has brought her flip flops in the car.  Each has brought run­ning shoes.  Pinesatz is wear­ing brown wingtips and plaid walk­ing shorts.  He’s wear­ing a green pullover.  His black socks don’t match.  One is ribbed; the oth­er is nub­by with­out ribs.

18

We have too many names,” Pinesatz announces.  “Our names are ridicu­lous.”  The hill is steep.  Pinesatz’s stride has rig­or.  The women are labor­ing, Marie least so because she’s a marathon run­ner.  Wendy is con­di­tioned, but she says she wouldn’t make it on her bicy­cle.  Louane falls back in her step and in her breath­ing.

19

Of course he will not pick me, Louane thinks.  He tells them he has picked me; then he picks them, first his wife, then Marie.  Or true, he has not picked Marie.  Perhaps Marie has picked him.  Asking Wendy to dri­ve because she has the pret­ti­est arms is a foil.  He needs a chauf­feur.

20

What we have is a set-up,” Pinesatz says when they reach the top of the hill.  Louane feels remorse that they have left the car at the base.  Let Marie fetch it, Louane thinks.  Instead, he asks Wendy to go.  “Uphill is eas­i­er for the best of us,” Pinesatz says.  “Downhill is a dream.”

21

The scene from the hill is gold­en.  If it were hair, it would be auburn, a dou­ble malt.  It’s orange.  It’s red.  It’s pink.  It’s green.  It’s brown.  Louane lies down near a tree and waits.  She waits for Pinesatz to ana­lyze her.  She waits for him to sat­is­fy her, acquire her, mar­ry her.

22

The sun leans on her face like a wal­rus.  Her immu­ni­ty to it is sun­screen.  When her eyes open again, she sees the doc­tor pat­ting Marie’s foot.  He has bowed to do it.  The next car that comes over the hill is not their rental car.  It is a camper dri­ven by a teenag­er.

23

Pinesatz is stand­ing again.  He and Marie seem unaware of time, unaware that Louane is watch­ing them, unaware of wait­ing for Wendy with the car.  Every glance is a hook.  Every gleam is a glance.  Every stan­za is a room.  She vies for it.  Pinesatz is pick­ing, reorder­ing his prin­ci­ples.  “Demand love,” Louane mur­murs.

24

Then the car comes.  If she were Wendy, she would feel like a cad­dy, but Wendy looks joy­ful and giv­en to dri­ve.  Pinesatz takes the front seat.  Louane has lit­tle choice but to sit beside Marie in back, devout­ly express­ing love for women in all her affairs, even as it says in the book.

25

Wendy starts talk­ing.  Pinesatz sits awk­ward­ly, a man on the pas­sen­ger side, as if teach­ing Wendy to dri­ve, as if he has lost his own license.  He is so tall his hair skims the velour pan­eled ceil­ing.  His knees butt the dash.  He pulls the lever under the seat and slides back toward Marie.

26

The pur­pose of a sto­ry is to enter­tain.  The pur­pose of a sto­ry is to set in motion between characters—I would call them “mem­bers of the story”—a theme expressed by way of lan­guage (one might say “style” or “style” might seem inad­e­quate to describe the part of lan­guage) through events as plot.

27

Louane apprais­es Marie’s knees.  Marie’s knees—her legs entire—are swept togeth­er, slight­ly to one side, toward the cen­ter hump in the floor.  They are tiny com­pared to Louane’s knees.  Louane has an athlete’s legs.  Marie, the run­ner, is silk, no sinew any­where.  Louane imag­ines the tiny shells of insects, their run­ning lit­tle arms.

28

Louane ends up star­ing at the lit­tle legs through slit­ted eyes.  Lesbians nev­er stare, she decides.  Green-with-envy women stare, women with­out prop­er train­ings in eti­quette, whose fathers didn’t swat them.  She thinks her face is mobile because of not being hit.  If she were a real woman, she would angle her nose toward Pinesatz.

29

When she imag­ines hav­ing sex with a woman, for life, she sneers.  It is a sneer, not a smirk.  She begins to imag­ine “doing it” with Raymond if she had knees like Marie’s.  (She can­not stop gaz­ing.)  The dif­fer­ence between Louane and Marie is the dif­fer­ence between “Barbie” and “Dawn” in the doll world.

30

Openly gay women do not stare, but per­haps repressed les­bians do.  Perhaps she is a failed writer and a repressed les­bian, just as her class­mate wrote of some­one like her in The New Yorker.  She remem­bers hav­ing said with hubris after read­ing his sto­ry that he should have writ­ten, “repressed writer and failed les­bian.”

31

Louane pre­tends to speak: I stare because your knees are small.  There is a space between them and the seat ahead of yours.  My knees, by con­trast, touch the seat ahead of mine.  The doc­tor and I need room for our knees.  It might be bet­ter if he and I were togeth­er.

32

I acknowl­edge with ven­er­a­tion the fire that must play between you— you because you’re small and he because he’s famous for invent­ing Aulair®.  You because you’re diminu­tive and he because he’s wealthy.  You because you’re devo­tion­al and he because he’s a fig­ure.  I imag­ine him rav­ish­ing you with his hand or back­ing you to a wall.

33

Instead, she says to Cerumbyk, “You stay so small.  I eager­ly await bone loss.”  Pinesatz snick­ers.  Wendy taps the steer­ing wheel.  Marie gives Louane a gen­tle smile, as hum­ble as it is gen­tle, and Louane imag­ines that Marie has been through Steps Six and Seven and that God has answered by remov­ing her defects.

34

This bark­ing at God, Louane sur­ren­ders.  She real­izes her mood has turned foul, though her face may remain plain, drawn back in a refusal of dis­cord.  It is not that Louane loves God.  It is not that Louane loves Raymond.  It is that she loves dol­lars and dolls and fugues.  Didn’t she name it?

35

Thirty is old enough,” Pinesatz prof­fers, “to get mar­ried, begin a fam­i­ly, pub­lish a book, write a dis­ser­ta­tion.”  Pinesatz was thir­ty when he hit pay dirt.  “In the case of you ladies, thir­ty was the year to find a man.  Have a child.  Not that I’d object if one of you wrote a book.”

36

Doctor, that’s so pre­scrip­tive,” Wendy says.  “We’re all on our own unique timeta­bles.  You act like you think you were sup­posed to have mar­ried Louane back then, but you didn’t know about Louane.  You don’t know what might hap­pen.  Hell, we don’t even know what might hap­pen before we get back to New York.”

37

Louane flut­ters momen­tar­i­ly in the breeze of fem­i­nine kind­ness.  “Everything you say seems rea­son­able,” Pinesatz says.  “It’s just not very use­ful because not very orig­i­nal.  Let’s change our top­ic to some­thing orig­i­nal. What—shall we say?  I’ll begin by telling you ‘this is orig­i­nal’.”  He chugs on the bot­tle he brought in the car.

38

It’s rude not to pass that around, Raymond,” Louane says, tak­ing on momen­tar­i­ly the life of a shrew.  “Pass it to me, at least, since Wendy is dri­ving and Marie doesn’t care for it.”  Louane rolls down her win­dow and lights a cig­a­rette.  “Wendy said she can hard­ly believe it when edu­cat­ed peo­ple smoke.”

39

And you dis­agree with her?” Pinesatz says, turn­ing ful­ly around in his seat to face her.  “No won­der you’ve had bone loss.”

Don’t chide her,” Marie places her hand on Raymond’s shoul­der.

Who should inher­it?” Raymond asks Wendy.

Your chil­dren,” Wendy tells him, as if she will nev­er have an indi­rect or devi­ous thought.

40

That evening they cozy into the cab­in Raymond rent­ed for the week­end.  In fact, it’s a house with four bed­rooms and a sweep­ing yard that over­looks a val­ley turn­ing orange with end-of-sum­mer chill.   There hasn’t been a thought of rain when Louane feels a wet dot on her fore­head.  She reach­es for her cheek.

41

Raymond goes to a shed at the side of the house where fire­wood is stacked and loads his arms with logs.  Marie tags along, a but­ter­fly on a wire—the wire might be a long hair that extends from his bril­liant head, the head that invent­ed Aulair®.  The road to the cab­in is unpaved.

42

Louane finds her bed­room and totes her suit­case from the trunk up the stairs.  She props it open and sorts through her things, as if things could bring her a life shared with a group of peo­ple.  She tears out a piece of paper and writes a Step 10.  She was too jeal­ous today.

43

Wendy is right.  We don’t know what is sup­posed to hap­pen. At the end she writes, “dzwill,” an expres­sion she learned in Alanon that means God’s will.  She puts on a loungewear set: gray fleece with a white V-neck and goes in her flip flops down­stairs to where Raymond is kneel­ing, pok­ing a fire.

44

You say but you don’t ask,” Louane says.  “I saw you lat­er.  I noticed you after you noticed your wife.  I noticed you after you mar­ried your wife.  I guess it went quick­ly.  You ought to be grate­ful that she gave you four sons.  Isn’t ‘gave you’ the expres­sion peo­ple use—people with chil­dren?”

45

We’re in the woods, Louane,” Raymond answers.  “We’re not here to talk about thir­ty years ago.”

It isn’t thir­ty,” Louane says.

You two like to fight,” Wendy remarks.  Wendy has reap­peared with her hair in a red­dish bun.  She, too, has unpacked clothes, put on clogs and a zip­pered sweat­shirt.

Marie has gone run­ning.

46

The fire cack­les like a woman in its cave.  It sends smoke like a sig­nal to res­cuers. Wendy uncorks a bot­tle of white wine and pours it over ice into tall glass­es.  She fills each glass halfway.  She pours aloe-pear juice into the wine.  “This is a night for warm seafood sal­ad,” she says.

47

Raymond pokes the fire, direct­ing smoke up the chim­ney, shak­ing the logs with tongs.  Louane lies curled.  She says she wish­es they had brought hashish.  She envi­sions a boy bring­ing it to her through the woods on a motor­cy­cle.  She envi­sions a res­cue team of three old­er men and her­self in a cock­tail dress.

48

You’re going to die, Raymond,” Louane says, smil­ing behind her wine.  “You’re going to die not know­ing of our deaths.  It is as if we are not going to die since yours is the cen­tral con­scious­ness and with it goes con­scious­ness itself.  I’m abbre­vi­at­ing.  The idea occurs to me as I lie here wait­ing.”

49

You’re free,” Raymond tells her.  He looks dis­tract­ed­ly at Wendy who brings him his wine.

What good is free­dom?” Louane says.  It’s true she wants to avoid decep­tion.

Raymond moves to the couch.  Football is on TV.  He changes the chan­nel.  He seems annoyed by the remote and only plays with it for chal­lenge.

50

When Marie comes in, she’s bare­ly sweat­ing.  Her brown eyes look star­tled.  Raymond watch­es as she walks across the room and upstairs to show­er.  They lis­ten to the play of chan­nels.  A long brown hair trails off Raymond’s col­lar.  Louane holds it up for inspec­tion.  No one there even has brown hair.