Frances Lefkowitz

Two Stories


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, 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