Frances Lefkowitz

Two Stories

Don’t

Throw your ego off the bus and let it get tram­pled in mud. At all costs, do not give in to maybes of grandeur. I give you this peb­ble whether you want it or not, because I’m try­ing to spare you the delu­sions that drained my youth. Back then all was flood and I was fish. I danced, I sang, got paid in pen­nies, spent them on yogurt, let some­one else buy the booze. My sis­ter, your moth­er, she took the oth­er path, buy­ing yel­low slick­ers for the rain, kiss­ing the one man only, no mat­ter what. Now, well, you see, her candle’s almost out, and she’s call­ing me to run her bath because she does not want her hus­band or chil­dren to see her body this way. She’s in there, the water get­ting cool all around her skin, her knees float­ing. I have scrubbed her as gen­tly as pos­si­ble with a wash cloth from the match­ing set. I have kissed her on the fore­head like we used to do to each oth­er when we were girls, mak­ing up for our mother’s lack of kiss­es. In a moment I will go back in and lift her up, pat her dry. But right now I need to tell you this: you will be tempt­ed to skip it all and fly my way; don’t. When my time comes I will have no one attend­ing but the black­birds, and then only if there is bread near­by. I will have no piece of me stand­ing by or car­ry­ing on, and these are more impor­tant than you can imag­ine when rage and glit­ter are so close and so easy.

A Famous Bridge

She did not intend to blaze her own chan­nel, nor did she ever choose the marathon over the sprint. Yet here she is, after wind­ing all over the coun­try doing what­ev­er next appeared in front of her, on a famous bridge at night, the great Pacific squeez­ing itself into a pud­dle under her. Loose strings all tidied, no one at home to wor­ry or impress. Past her prime, she’s full of ire at her doughy mus­cles, brit­tle hair, scat­tered mind, and full of shame for her ire. The ones she admires do, in fact go gen­tly into the night as the sky turns from blueish to black­ish; if they once skied or sailed, they find oth­er things to do. But she had been vora­cious with the oppo­site of chasti­ty, and the con­trast is too much to bear; she sim­ply lacks the humil­i­ty and cre­ativ­i­ty nec­es­sary for grow­ing old. She hasn’t done the research, does not know exact­ly what hap­pens to the heart, the lungs, the skele­ton on the way down and then at impact, and she is not the kind of per­son to do any­thing on a whim, with­out know­ing the facts. The water hits you like con­crete, that’s what she’s heard, but she’d have to look up the physics of it, of how liq­uid morphs into rock. To get to the bridge you hike up a loop of roads and trails scent­ed with cedar and salt. On the way back she hears rustling, assumes rac­coons, then deliv­ers her­self to the grid of streets full of parked cars wait­ing for morn­ing and dri­vers. A man approach­es, old­er. No stains, no stink, but he looks like a grump. “What are you doing out on the street at this hour?” he asks, gruff and curi­ous. “Same as you,” she says, defi­ant and weary. “Not afraid?” he says. “Nope,” and in this, she real­ized, she was not act­ing coy. When exact­ly had she lost her fear? Did it drain out slow­ly, a marsh at low tide, or dis­ap­pear all at once, leav­ing not even a ring behind? Now the man came close, a look of pity on his face. “You must be dying,” he said. “No more than usu­al,” she said, not step­ping back. Another scur­ry, a cat, prob­a­bly, releas­ing a hint of rose­mary from a bush. “Are you sure?” the man asked. “I’d get checked out,” he told her, wag­ging a fin­ger. She walked on, look­ing for­ward to a trip to the clin­ic, some­thing to do dur­ing nor­mal work­ing hours. Maybe they’d dis­cov­er an ill­ness and her tri­al would be over of its own accord, either soon­er or lat­er. Her body would shut down before it ful­ly decayed. She took this as a bless­ing not a curse, and imme­di­ate­ly knew she should be ashamed of her relief, but she’d had enough of shame.

 ~

Frances Lefkowitz is the author of To Have Not, named one of five “Best Memoirs of 2010” by SheKnows.com, as well as hun­dreds of arti­cles, essays and sto­ries in nation­al lit­er­ary and con­sumer mag­a­zines, from Tin House, Blip, GlimmerTrain Stories, and The Sun, to Good Housekeeping, Whole Living , and National Geographic’s Green Guide. Honors include the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts Literary Fellowship and spe­cial men­tions for the Pushcart Prize (twice) and Best American Essays