Alli was in the attic of her house. She came up there to study, to read the articles in the green leather-bound encyclopedias, with gold letters on their binding. She was a freshman in high school. Her dream was to go to Cambridge and stroll across the fiery, green lawns, which only graduates could walk across.

The sky groaned under the weight of the rain, morose and the color of graphite. The attic had a wide semi-circle window that gave her a panoramic view of the town, its squat little apartments lining streets, that went downhill. The attic had no carpeting. The wooden boards were soft from years of damp weather. Other than the light from the window, the attic was quite dim, almost foreboding, but Alli was used to that. What she wasn’t used to, was the red-haired girl now curled up in her perch.

“Hey,” Alli said, “What are you doing up here?” She tried to hide that she was startled. Hardly anyone ever came up here. Alli’s voice seemed to have awoken the girl. She jumped and then struggled to get up. “How did you get in here?” Alli asked again. How had she gotten in? Perhaps, she was homeless or a petty thief. The back of Alli’s neck tensed; she was ready to run back down the stairs if the intruder lunged at her.

The girl looked frightened too. She was dressed in ancient jeans and a jacket frayed at the shoulders. “Hey, don’t rat me out,” she whispered, “It was just so cold out there last night. I was going to catch pneumonia out there.”  Her voice was more delicate than Alli thought it would be, soft and immaterial, like satin curtains, trimmed with lace.

Alli lowered her shoulders a little and came in, off the landing. “Alright, come down with me later and no one will suspect anything.” The girl nodded and sat back down, her face a little calmer. She couldn’t have been more than a year older than Alli. The girl went over to Alli’s pile of books. “Are these your books?” the girl ventured, with a light smile.

“Yes, they were my cousins’ and now they’re mine,” Alli plopped down cross-legged and picked up the ‘R’ volume.

The girl nodded. She turned back to the window, glazed with rainwater.

Curious, Alli looked up from the book and asked, “What’s your name?”

“Nealy,” the girl said. Alli later found out her real name was Elizabeth, but she didn’t ask then.

“I’m Alli,” she said. “Hey, if you want something to eat, I have some odds and ends that I can throw together.” Alli didn’t feel too bad about offering, since they both looked about the same age.

Alli took Nealy downstairs and made her a sandwich. The linoleum was a shade of pea green, the table old, its wooden legs pockmarked. Nealy tried not to wolf down the rye and salami.

“Where are you headed?” Alli asked.

“My aunt’s place in Rochester,” Nealy replied

Alli wanted to fix Nealy some lemonade, but she didn’t have any lemons, so she just gave Nealy a soda. Nealy turned the can around, on the faded tablecloth, with her long, thin fingers, before opening it.


Modern Century


The leaves were falling from the trees. The wind carried them past Ran, down the street, past the end of the block. She was carrying a white box, tied with a wide pink bow – a cake for Karen.

The wind had a sharp edge to it, but Ran was dressed for the cold, in a brown leather bomber jacket and the gusts were at her back. She walked by the lawns, wooden fences, poplars swaying, wind vanes twisting and turning.

At the end of the lane, on East 14th Street, stood Karen’s two-story house. The mowed grass was strewn with the scarlet leaves, from the beginning of fall. Ran opened the gate and let herself in. On the stone flagstone path lay a plastic bag, containing a rolled-up newspaper, protected from the rain.

She knocked on the beige door, with the three glass panes at eye-height. Karen came to the door, coming down the mahogany steps.

“So good to see you!” Karen exclaimed, “Come right in!”

Karen’s arm was in a blue sling. “I’m sorry you couldn’t make the office party,” Ran said.

“Oh no, it’s fine. I hurt my wrist lifting that TV for the break room,” Karen said, “I was very grateful to get some time off.”

“It must be hard for you,” Ran said, setting the white box down on the kitchen table.

“My friend from spin class comes by once or twice a week,” Karen gave a dismissive wave, “It’s been helpful really. You figure out what your priorities are.”

“Only you would call a sprained wrist ‘helpful.'” Ran chuckled.

“What did you get me?” With her free hand, Karen undid the pink bow, and lifted the lid of the box. A bright yellow, and baby blue cake greeted her, exhorting her to ‘Get Well Soon.’

“Everyone at the office pitched in,” Ran explained, “It was nice, actually,”

“You shouldn’t have!” Karen said, “Oh, only you would ever be so considerate.” She came over and gave Ran a hug, with her good arm.

“I’m heading back to Cali soon,” Ran said, “It was the least I could do,”

Karen busied herself, finding a knife in the sink drawer. She cut the cake, “Don’t you have some publishing house business to tie up first?”

“Yes, I finished drawing up the new contract with Jerry,” Ran said, “The heads and the tails of it.”

Karen handed a slice to Ran on a paper plate, “Oh, please tell me you don’t have to go?”

Ran took her slice and leaned against the sink, “I’ve been in this town long enough Karen. I feel like I’m stagnating. Paddling so hard and standing still. I have to strike out on my own.”

Karen sighed, “Such vision. I wish I still had it. I gave up writing long ago.”

“That’s the point,” said Ran, “If I stay here, I’ll give up writing too. Plus, I haven’t used my surfboard in a while.”

“Well, we had a good run, didn’t we?” Karen smiled, holding her cake, with the fork stuck in it. They moved to the living room. Soaps were playing on TV.

“We sure did,” Ran said, sinking into the armchair, “And then I ran off with that Aron woman and got my heart broken.”

“You should have stayed with me all along,” Karen said, setting down her cake and switching the channel, “Then you wouldn’t be leaving the East Coast!”

“It wasn’t because of her,” Ran protested.

“Oh, come on,” Karen laughed, “It’s totally because of her. You want to get away from where this heartbreak happened. I get it.”

They ate the chocolate cake in silence, watching a rerun of “Days of Our Lives.”

Karen brought two bottles of Sam Adams out of the fridge, “One for you.”

“I just want to write one more novel,” Ran said, sipping her beer.

“But can you ever get back to that time, in college?” Karen asked, “That time has passed, hasn’t it?”

“I’ll just have to write the experience, in a unique way,” Ran said, “In a different light, like an Impressionistic painting.”

“You’re full of surprises,” Karen said.

“I’m just trying to recapture a feeling,” Ran continued.

Karen put her beer down on the coffee table, “Why don’t we recapture our feelings – for each other?”

“Oh, Karen,” Ran mused, “We never lost our feelings.”

Karen got up and kissed her on the lips, warm from the hoppy foam. “I want to remember you forever,” she whispered.

“You do have me forever,” Ran answered.

“And soon, you’ll be gone,” she retreated to the couch.

Ran got up and followed her, kissing her harder. They gripped each other in that house, as the rain began to fall.

When they broke away, Karen patted Ran’s shoulder with her free hand, “You should go. I’ve kept you long enough.”

Outside the beige door, Ran watched the leaves chase each other down the road. Her lips still tingled, her cheeks still stung. She walked down the path and willed herself not to look back.



Mahler – Adagietto, 4th movement, Symphony No. 5