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      Love May Fail

      Matthew Quick 9780062285560

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1 Burnside Anthologies- General

This Is Not Chick Lit: Original Stories by America's Best Women Writers


This Is Not Chick Lit: Original Stories by America's Best Women Writers Cover




EMBRACE by Roxana Robinson


Theyre married, but not to each other.

Nat unlocks the door and then steps back, to let Ella go in first.

The hotel room is high-ceilinged and square, and a double bed takes

up most of it. On the bed is a cream-colored quilted spread. Pale

heavy curtains frame the window; thinner, translucent ones obscure

the view. The carpet is thick and cocoa-colored. There is an ornate

bureau, imitation French, and a gilt-framed mirror. The room is

close and airless. They have no luggage.

Ella moves ahead of him, stopping near the bed. Shes in her late

twenties, and thin, with long chestnut-colored hair. She turns, so that

she wont see herself in the mirror. She stands facing away from him,

looking down. She has never done this before. She hardly knows this

man, and this is a terrible mistake. She has made a terrible mistake,

coming to this airless room with someone who, it turns out, is a

stranger. She stands motionless, awaiting perdition.

Nat follows her into the room.

He has never done exactly this before, either, never done anything

quite so bold and crude as to rent a hotel room at lunchtime.

What he did was always out of town, with women he never intended

to see again. It was mostly in Los Angeles, a place full of beautiful,

willing girls, happy to be taken out for dinner and then back to his

hotel. Those encounters had been brief and distant. But this, now, is

in his own city, only blocks from his own apartment, with a woman

he does want to see again, and hes afraid hes starting something

large and irreversible. What it means is the end of his marriage. He

wont be able to go on like this; hes going too far. This is reckless, indefensible,

and hes doing it in the name of lust, which is, right now,

notably absent. He understands that coming here was a mistake,

though he believes he loves this woman.

He wonders if today can be salvaged. Perhaps its the room—

should he have gotten a bigger one? But no: its the silence, the

immobility of the room thats the problem, the implacably fixed furniture,

the hushing carpet, the heavy curtains, the whole place awaiting

human animation.

He likes looking at her. Shes small and slight, with a polished

curtain of hair spilling down her back. Her head is bent.

Ella is looking down at the bedspread, waiting for the worst. It is

shameful, it is excruciating, that shes become part of this. What if

shes seen by someone she knows, in this corridor of bedrooms, with

this man who is not her husband? What is she doing here at

lunchtime, with a man she hardly knows? She cant look at him. She

can feel his presence—large, solid, hes much taller and stronger

than she is—as he stands behind her. Shes now obligated to go

through with this, since she agreed to come. It feels like an execution.

She dreads his touch.

She thinks of her husband. Hes downtown right now, in his office,

in his shirtsleeves and suspenders. Hes on the phone, or making

a point to someone—he loves making points—or having another cup

of coffee. Hes doing something completely ordinary. Hes not betraying

her utterly, betraying her to the bone, though he has. But hes not

doing it right now, and she is. She could call him, theres an ivory

phone on the table by the bed. Hed answer at his desk, his voice familiar.


It was a mistake, but she has to go through with it. She is obligated:

of course she knew what it meant, meeting at the Plaza for

lunch. Now she will have to have sex with him in this strange airless

room. She will have to offer him her naked body. She would

rather die.

Nat steps closer to her.

It was a mistake, thats all.

He turns her body to him and glimpses her grieving face. He puts

his arms around her and stands still, holding her close without moving.

He can feel her, rigid and fearful. He says nothing, embracing

her quietly. Its a mistake, thats all. What he wants is for her not to be

miserable. He holds her until he feels her quiet, until she understands

that she is safe; that all he wants from her is this close holding,

this understanding.


Theyre married, and now to each other.

The divorces were tumultuous and unhappy, but Nat and Ella

persevered. They weathered the storms, they made their way determinedly

through the torment toward each other.

Now they have been married for nine years, and they love each

other. Theyre knitted deeply into each other, and they warm themselves

at each others hearts. They long for each other, and their

bodies teach each other pleasure, but they fight terribly. They say unforgivable

things to each other. Once, Nat took Ella violently by her

shoulders. “You make me so angry,” he said. “Someday Im going to

kill you.”

Ella, beside herself with rage, was pleased. “Fine,” she told him,

satisfaction in her voice. It seemed a vindication, proof of something.

When they are not fighting they are happy, drunk on each other,

but when they fight, Ella fears they will split apart, and if they split

apart, she fears it will be the end of her. She cant imagine herself, if

this marriage fails. She cant imagine her life if Nat were to leave her.

She cant imagine her existence without him; it would be black and

meaningless, the void. It is terrifying to her, this prospect, like falling

into deep space.

She knows, in one part of her mind, when she is calm, that this is

absurd. She has her own life, with friends and a career—she is a literary

publicist, and has founded her own agency. Her life wont really

be over if she and Nat split up. Still, there are times, when they

are fighting, when rationality is not available. She has trouble breathing,

and she thinks of the blackness of deep space, which seems to be

waiting for her.

Now they are driving from Florence to Siena, along a narrow,

crowded motorway. The cars around them are lunatic: on the left,

Maseratis and Mercedeses pass at a hundred miles an hour; on the

right, huge trucks sway dangerously, taking up one and a half lanes.

Behind them headlights flare constantly, signaling them to move

over. For half an hour they have been driving in hostile silence.

Nat breaks it. “I just dont know why you couldnt have gone on

to the market yourself.”

“I just dont know why you couldnt have waited for me, with the

car. Or given me the car,” Ella says. “I dont know why you have to

decide what we do and when we do it.”

Nat makes an exasperated sound. “I see,” he says, “ I decide everything.

Is that what you think?”

“Do you think I decide anything?”

“Do you think you dont decide anything?”

They get into these maddening, circular series of questions, each

challenging the other, losing the point, going off on tangents, becoming

increasingly angry.

Nat is exasperated by Ellas self-centeredness. How can she not

know that everything he does is with her in mind? What he wants is

for her to be happy. This entire trip—Florence and Siena, the

churches, the old hotels, the views—was for her. The impassive faces

of the holy martyrs, the mysterious half-smiles of Madonnas. Its early

spring, and wildflowers star the long pale grasses in the fields. This

was all meant to make her happy, and why does it not?

“I decide nothing!” Ella says, furious. “Nothing at all! You decide

where we go, where well have dinner, what time well leave in the

morning, what were going to see, everything. You even keep my passport!

I dont even carry my own passport!”

“I keep your passport with mine, and with our tickets,” says Nat,

reprovingly. His face has darkened, his mouth tightened. She has

broadened her attack, flailing wildly about, as always. “Its just so Ill

know where everything is. If you want your passport, Ella, of course

Ill give it to you.”

“I dont care if I have my passport or not,” Ella says wildly. She

feels trapped by him, helpless; he seems both reasonable and unjust.

She knows its practical for him to keep the passports. Yet why should

he have hers?

“Did you not want to come to Italy?” Nat turns his head and

looks at her, dangerously, in the midst of the manic speed of the motorway.

The car swerves slightly, then swerves back, in and out of the

terrifying stream of cars.

Ella hopes they will crash.

Of course I wanted to come to Italy!” She is distraught. “But you

dont ask me what I want! You decide everything yourself, and then

you tell me what were going to do, and then youre furious if I have

a tiny, remote, minutely differing suggestion! I have to do everything

you say, always! Its as though I dont exist!”

What shed wanted was for him to come with her to the flea market

in Florence, wander through the stalls with him. It was a junky

market, only odds and ends, but it was Florence. The people offering

the broken clocks and plastic dolls were Florentine. Their faces—

surprisingly fair, ruddy, blue-eyed, with red-brown hair—echoed

those in the old frescoes. Ella loved all of it; she always thought the

living scene was as interesting as the museum.

Nat thought it was dreary and trashy. “Why should I want to look

at a flea market, full of junk?” he had asked. “I have to move the car.

Ill take it back to the hotel, and you come back whenever you want.”

But Ella feels crushed by the weight of his disapproval, by the

thought that she was someone who wanted to look at junk, someone

he disdained. All of it makes her feel panicky and abandoned: she

speaks no Italian and has no sense of direction. She knows shed get

lost, trying to find her way back up to the hotel. She is afraid of being

lost, and afraid of asking questions of strangers. She loves him. She

hates being at odds with him. The flea market was a bad idea; she

should never have suggested it. He disapproved of it, and of her. And

now she has made him angry again; he may leave her. At any time he

may leave her. He is easily angered at her. She starts to weep from despair.

She is always doing things wrong. They have been married

nine years; she has not managed to give him a child; he may leave

her. They are always fighting. She will die if he leaves her. She knows

this is irrational; knowing it does not help.

Nat keeps on driving, the corners of his mouth turned down in

disapproval. She is so extreme, Ella, so wildly intemperate, and so utterly

unfair. Her complaints are wounding: he feels that his life is

given over to making her happy, that all their decisions are made on

her behalf. Hed thought shed like the trip to Italy, and she had

seemed to. This is the way she acts: at first she says nothing, later she

complains bitterly. Its completely unfair. He loves her. He is easily

wounded by her, he is outraged by her when they fight. She is irrational,

messy, late. She maddens him. He is completely absorbed by

her. He cannot wait each night to see her, to see her turn her head,

to listen. He waits to hear what she will say; he is endlessly interested

by what she will say. His body needs hers. They are joined, which

makes all this so excruciating: she levels these wild charges at him, as

though she were dismissing their connection. How can she? How

can she take such extreme positions over something as trivial as the

flea market? These trips seem to be more pain than pleasure. How

can she act so brutal and miserable to him? He never thinks of leaving

her; shes at the center of his life.

At the end of their fights everything is somehow righted. A great

calm happiness floods through them both, like a neap tide rising and

moving through the fields, smoothing out the rutted landscape like

liquid silk. This is hard for them to remember when theyre fighting;

its hard to believe its a possibility.

Nat swerves more now, across the traffic, into the slower lane,

then he swerves again, cutting out of that lane too. He pulls off the

highway altogether, onto a tiny semicircular pullout, edged haphazardly

by whitewashed stones. A rocky hillside rises steeply above it;

just ahead, on the road, is one of the low stone tunnels that perforate

Italian mountains. The tunnels are pitch-black inside, narrow and

claustrophobic, and the cars race through them at supersonic speeds.

Their car was just about to enter this one, and the traffic beside them

continues to slide smoothly and hypnotically into the small black

mouth, which is like that of a monster. But just before they are

sucked into the dark maw, Nat pulls completely off the road and jerks

the car to a stop in the turnout, the corners of his own mouth turned


Ella sees his disapproving mouth, his lowered brows, his fierce

eyes, and she turns away, to the window. A sob swells her chest: whatever

he is about to do will be terrible. She is afraid he will hit her,

though he has never done this, or threatened to. She is afraid he will

reach across her and open the door, and tell her to get out, to clamber

onto the steep rocky hillside rising above them. Then he will pull

the door shut and drive on, vanishing into the black tunnel and leaving

her there forever.

Nat puts the car into neutral, jerks on the hand brake, and turns

off the engine. He turns to Ella, his brows still dark. He leans awkwardly

across the tiny car, across the gear shift, and puts his arms

around her. He pulls her as close as he can, the upright gear shift between

them. He holds her against him and strokes her head, her silky


Theyve gotten themselves into this terrible trough of unhappiness,

and this is all he can think of to get them back to the other

place, where they remember each other. He holds her tightly inside

the circle of himself, pressing his cheek against her head. He feels

her collarbones against his chest, her shoulder blades beneath his

hands. Her hair is shorter now, but still silky.

Ella feels his arms close around her, she breathes in the familiar

smell of his skin, and she closes her eyes in relief. She feels her whole

body yield, give way. This is more than she had hoped for. It is everything.


They have been married for nearly a quarter of a century, and they

have stopped fighting. Something between them has steadied, and

they no longer frighten each other. Instead, they trust each other.

She is less intemperate, and when he gets annoyed she finds his exasperation

amusing. She waits it out, smiling, and smooths his hair.

He finds her exaggerations funny; she no longer infuriates him.

They look different now, of course. She is still small, nearly childlike,

but her waist has thickened, and her face bears a mask of fine

lines. She is no longer beautiful, but pleasant-looking. Her hair is

now short and iron gray, thin and straight, with bangs, like a felt helmet.

One knee gives her trouble, and sometimes she limps slightly.

This morning, standing in line at the airport, waiting at the ticket

counter, Nat saw her lean over to rub it. The sight made him feel tender,

and he thought of her moving, with him, toward age, and toward

the dark curtain beyond. He takes comfort in knowing that they will

approach this, whatever it is, together.

His own body has thickened as well, and his hair has receded. His

forehead is rising slowly, like a cliff from the sea. This disappoints

him: his father had all his hair until he died, at eighty-one. Nats hair

had once been thick and springy—it was his secret vanity.

Ella doesnt mind his baldness, no longer notices it. She is so

used to his face—the deep lines from nose to mouth, the dense eyebrows,

the neat pouches beneath his thoughtful eyes—that it might

as well be her own. She barely sees herself in the mirror now, her

eyes fading, her lips blurring. They have been living together for

decades now, and they belong to each other. They have forgiven

each other the dreadful acts, and they appreciate the generous ones.

They admire and enjoy each other. They have grown together into

this marriage, adding year after year to the trunk of it, each line encompassing

the one before. The years in which they fought are now

enclosed, entirely and forever, by these later ones, in which they do

not. These are years in which they simply love each other, years in

which trust is dominant.

Today theyre on a flight from Boston, where Nat had a business

meeting and Ella saw her sister, to San Francisco, where he has another

meeting. After that theyll go on to Los Angeles, to see his

daughter Beth, who is a screenwriter. As far as they can tell, she is not

a really successful one, but who can read the cryptic signs of Hollywood?

Beth is funny and bright, always full of optimistic talk about

meetings and development. She was angry about the divorce when

she was younger, but seems to be over it. All three of them have lived

it down, settling into enjoyment of one anothers company. Her

boyfriend—though is boyfriend the right word? Its hard to keep track

of the correct word now—anyway, the person who is around more

than anyone else, is a psychotherapist/mystic/studio musician named

Ralph. He, too, is bright and funny, and if they lived in the East they

would have regular salaries and health benefits, instead of this handto-

mouth existence. Or maybe not. Maybe they are both simply outside

the world of regular salaries and health benefits, and so its a

good thing theyve found each other in West Hollywood.

Ralph and Beth have promised to take them to their favorite sushi

restaurant. Ella doesnt like sushi—why do people still eat raw flesh,

five hundred thousand years after the discovery of fire?—but she eats

it with Beth. She loves Beth, and in some ways gets along better with

her than Nat does. Nat gets frustrated by Beth; he wants her and

Ralph to get married and get jobs with health benefits. Ella finds this

funny and touching. She thinks of it now and she reaches out and

smooths his shoulder. He is the beloved. She feels grateful for his solicitude,

the way he wants to take care of them all, herding them

toward shelter like an anxious sheepdog. At her touch, Nat looks up

from his book and smiles at her.

Theyre sitting in business class. Nat works for a large management

consulting firm, and hes flown hundreds of thousands of

miles. They both benefit from all the times hes been weathered in at

OHare, fogged out of Portland, delayed at Dallas/Fort Worth. Now,

when they fly together, they enjoy these wide comfortable seats, the

kindly attentions of the flight attendant, the little compote of warm

nuts after takeoff.

They havent taken off yet; theyve taxied out onto the runway

and are waiting in line. Not for long, though: the skies are clear, and

its after Labor Day, the summer traveling peak over. Their stewardess

has taken away their jackets. Shes in her fifties, slightly stocky,

with a wide, pleasant, animated face, slightly pockmarked. Her short

hair is dense black, maybe dyed.

During the safety video it was she who put on a life jacket and

stood in front of the cabin. She made smooth, ritualized gestures, setting

the oxygen mask neatly over her nose, pointing out the emergency

exits. No one watched her, and Ella wondered if this was

because everyone had already heard these instructions, or if it was a

subliminal superstition, the fear of naming dangers. The idea that its

bad luck to allow the idea of peril into your mind. By doing so youre

calling danger into being, so the less you think about safety measures,

the less likely you are to need them.

Maybe to counteract that superstition, Ella pulls out the plastic

safety-instruction card from the pocket in front of her. She studies the

people, tidily life-jacketed, who are sliding down the chute in an orderly

line. Their faces seem lively and intent, not frightened or unhappy.

Its broad daylight, and the chute rests on flat ground. If this

really happened, Ella thinks, there would be clouds of black smoke

and bursts of orange flame. Or maybe they would be sliding into the

ocean, at night, in blinding rain and huge swells. Disasters take place

in perilous conditions, storms and darkness, not on clear days under

blue skies. In any case, it wouldnt be like this—orderly and pleasant.

Ella, feeling she has somehow triumphed over the card, slides it back

into the pocket.

All the stewardesses have disappeared now, up front, perched

on their tiny provisional foldout seats. The sky is blindingly bright,

cloudless. They are in a line of planes, all huge and motionless. Heat

waves shimmer up from the tarmac, and the planes seem to tremble

slightly. The pilots voice comes over the intercom.

Theyre number four, he tells them, and it wont be long now. He

speaks with a slight southern accent, and his voice is reassuring. The

reason that so many pilots are southern is that so many southerners

go into the military, and so many pilots are ex-Vietnam War veterans.

This comforts Ella—these men are seasoned by dangerous exploits,

which they have come through unscathed. Their experience

is like a bright shield over their passengers. They have always made

the right decisions.

The plane taxies slowly to the end of the runway, turns ponderously,

revs its engines, and then begins to rumble down the long concrete

strip. As the plane gains speed, the engine noise mounts and

mounts, and when the cabin falls silent with the universal respect

given to takeoff, Ella is gripped briefly by nerves. She reaches for

Nats hand, and he clasps hers firmly and reassuringly, without looking

at her. He is not a nervous flier; he flies too often.

The rumbling, hurtling plane nears the end of the runway, racing

toward the moment of breathless suspension, the moment in

which the arcs of speed and lift and burden all intersect, precisely

and miraculously, and the wheels leave the ground, and they suddenly

rise up, without pause, smoothly and astonishingly into the

clear blue air. The landing gear folds noisily into the belly and the

plane banks hard, tipping over the rows of dark buildings of Newark,

now so tidy and precise. They have done it; they have made the transition

from earthbound to airborne, and there is something great and

self-congratulatory about this moment. They have all succeeeded in

this death-defying venture.

When the stewardess reappears with the lunch menu, Ella is no

longer holding Nats hand. She used to be a very anxious flier, but

that has changed, too. She feels remoter, now, from the danger of flying.

Once, without Nat, she flew through a thunderstorm, lightning

bolts sizzling off the wings, the fuselage jolting horridly with each

shock. Her heart had thudded in her throat, but she had suddenly

thought to herself, though she is not religious, “You are in the hand

of God.” At that her panic ceased.

Since then she no longer becomes so frightened during flight.

Fatalism, or some sort of calm, has entered her. She is in her fifties,

and she has certainly lived over half her life. She feels less responsible

now for the care of the world. If she vanishes, the world will rumble

along without her.

Right now she is absorbed in her book, and they are climbing

smoothly toward thirty thousand feet, heading slightly northwest,

toward San Francisco. The stewardess smiles professionally and offers

her a menu. Ella takes it, smiling back. She wonders how long

the stewardess will go on working. Its a brutal life, they say, especially

if you have a family. Youre away so much, and you get bloat, and

your cycle is disturbed. Plus youre on your feet all the time: Ella

thinks of her knee, which will at some point, her doctor says, need re-

placement, though shes putting it off. She wouldnt be able do this

job, but these women must like it well enough.

Ellas reading Anthony Trollope, Nat a book about Alexander

Hamilton. She likes the symmetry they create, likes feeling that, together,

they are responsibly covering the field of letters: she, fiction,

nineteenth-century, English; he, politics, eighteenth-century, American.

What more can you expect of a marriage? She sinks peacefully

into her book.

At first she hardly notices the disturbance, since the noise level on

airplanes is already so high—the loud drone of the engines, the staccato

voices of video earphones, the conversations around them. But finally

it becomes intrusive, and she looks up to see a dark-skinned young

man in a pale T-shirt, with a red bandanna tied around his head, coming

down the aisle from first class. He has something in his raised

hand, and he is shouting at them angrily. Its the anger that is most apparent,

and confusing. Its directed at them, the passengers, for some

reason. What is he shouting? Behind him there seems to be a cloud

of black smoke: is something on fire? Is the plane on fire? He is shouting

at all of them, though the words are too big, right now, to understand,

its hard to sort through the information—the smoke, the rage,

the T-shirt and bandanna, who is he?—but his anger is very clear, and

his insistence. He is motioning at them urgently, gesturing at the back

of the plane. Hes angry at them all, hes beside himself with rage. His

rage, the chaotic energy of it, is confusing and frightening. The front of

the plane is where the pilots are, and where the stewardesses busy

themselves. The front of the plane is the seat of authority, but no one

in uniform appears—where is the captain, with his reassuring southern

voice, his heroic war record? It seems that this dark-skinned man

now represents authority. Thats where hes coming from, the cockpit,

and the black smoke is billowing behind him. Hes shouting.

“Get in the back!”

Some people stand, bewildered. “Whats going on?” People are

asking him questions, but the man is not answering; instead, the

questions turn his face darker, thunderous. He has large liquid black

eyes, brilliant.

“Get in the back,” he says ferociously. “Theres been an accident.”

“What kind of accident?” More people stand, alarmed, wanting

to know, wanting to help.

Behind the man their stewardess suddenly appears, the stocky

black-haired one. Her pockmarked face is contorted with purpose.

“Help!” she shouts. Her voice is high-pitched, frantic. “Hijackers!”

The man swivels instantly; his arm shoots out and he seizes her

by the throat, his arm snaking around her neck. They are directly in

front of Ella, and Ella can see the womans hand shaking, held helplessly

across her chest. The hijackers elbow is raised high in the air,

and he holds her chin up. “Dont move,” he hisses. The stewardess

wears a navy cardigan over a white long-sleeved shirt. There is a gold

bangle on her wrist, and her hand is shaking. Ella can hear her

breathing: slow and strained.

The hijacker looks around. He looks to be in his thirties, with

high cheekbones and a broad, slightly crooked nose. His teeth are

very white, and his shiny black hair falls over his forehead. No one

moves. Behind him, the first-class cabin is full of smoke. The stewardess

swallows convulsively. Her chin is still pulled high by the hijackers

arm. Ella can see the shifting of her throat muscles beneath

the skin. The hijacker tightens his grip, and her eyes roll upward,

then close. She swallows again, with difficulty, and her hand goes up,

reflexively, to his arm. Ella remembers the smooth ritual gestures she

made during the safety video. The hijacker hisses at her again, then

pulls her chin up, further exposing her throat.

What he has in his other hand is a small straight blade, Ella sees

its brightness, and he sweeps the blade across her throat. The pale

skin parts easily. The smell of blood is very strong, and the rush of it

overwhelming, disorienting. It floods out, dark, and in pulses, down

her white blouse, which is now crimson, each wave of fresh blood

darkening the blouse, the sweater. The stewardess is trying to scream,

though her voice no longer works; she makes shuddering noises,

sounds of breath and moist tissue. Her arms are all right, and her

legs. She grabs at him, and kicks, but her movements are perfunctory,

jerky and spasmodic, and she is not really, now, kicking at the hijacker.

She is kicking the way the body prepares itself for death, the

way it jerks itself loose of its earthly connections. She kicks and struggles

fitfully, and the hijacker, with each jerk, holds her more closely,

clasping her to himself like a demon lover, the blood pumping out of

the terrible dark place on her neck. He holds her closer and closer to

his own breast, which is now covered with streams of her dark blood.

The blood is on their arms, it is on the carpet, it is everywhere, and

the air reeks. The hijackers eyes are black and brilliant, and he stares

at the passengers without blinking. The stewardess is still plucking

with her hands and struggling, and her throat makes terrible attempts

at speech. Shudders of air move through places where air was not

meant to go. There are moist sounds of tissue smacking and flapping,

heaves and gasps, a kind of sob.

“Get in the back,” the hijacker says. His eyes are hypnotic with


It seems that they have no will, now. It seems there is nothing for

their weakened bodies to do, now, but stand and move heavily, without

a will, down the aisle and back into the tourist section. There

they can see rows of faces looking up at them, confused, alarmed.

Alarm is spreading, deepening, across the faces. There are cries and

questions, some screams. The hijacker is behind them, still holding

his dreadful burden, the heavy body of the stewardess. The smell of

the blood—thick and ferrous—makes Ella feel faint. Its a smell

she did not know she knew, but she does. She knows it. The body

knows it.

Nat is ahead of her, and she reaches down low, for his hand.

There is nothing now but fear. Just behind them, in first class, there

is smoke and chaos. Beyond that, up in the cockpit, is beyond contemplation.

The mind dares not go there. It is too dangerous to call

it into being.

“Nobody move,” the hijacker shouts at them. He is beside himself.

“Nobody to move.”

The rows of faces stare up, stunned.

The plane is doing something, it seems to be descending. They

are nearing another city, rows of buildings are reappearing. The engines

seem louder now—are they going faster?

Ella and Nat are standing helplessly in the aisle—there is

nowhere for them to go. Behind them is the hijacker, with his mad

eyes. Ella is right ahead of him, facing the rear of the plane, and she

presses forward, against Nat. She doesnt want to touch the hijacker,

or the body of the stewardess, whom he holds in front of himself like

a shield. The stewardess seems to have stopped moving. The smell of

the blood is rich and sickening. Ella moves her feet to one side; she

doesnt want the blood on her shoes.

They can all feel the plane shifting now. The smoke in first class

is drifting into this cabin, acrid, dense, alarming. Ellas eyes sting,

and she closes them. She leans against Nats back, pressing herself

against his spine. She knows his back intimately, and now she pictures

its beautiful slope. She knows where the scar is, on the left side,

where he fell in a baseball game as a teenager, long before she knew

him. The bluish mark, where a BB went in. She knows exactly the

texture of the skin, beneath his gray suit, his blue shirt. She puts her

nose against his suit and breathes in: she knows exactly the smell of

his skin, rich and comforting. She sets her cheek against his shoulder

blade, leaning on her good knee.

The plane is definitely descending now, and theyre over another

urban landscape, streets and buildings in a bewildering pattern.

Dont hijackers want to go somewhere else? Dont they want to be

taken to Cuba? Palestine? Its New York, she can see the Triborough

Bridge. Why are they headed here? Ella feels her body tighten, she is

panting, and her stomach is clenched. The roar of the engines seems

deafening—is it really louder, or is it fear that makes it seem so? She

thinks of the plastic card, the orderly evacuation down the spotless

chute. Behind her, the hijacker is still holding the slack body of the

stewardess, and when he moves, Ella can feel something—his elbow,

or her lifeless wrist—against her back, and she cringes, trying to move


Now the hijacker is shouting again, but not in English. Its in another

language, guttural, unknown, and theres another hijacker, she

now sees, across the aisle, with a red bandanna around his head,

shouting too. What they say is incomprehensible, but its the force of

it, the loudness and intensity of what they say, that cows the passengers,

defeats them. They are wild-eyed, they are in some kind of insane,

triumphal trance, the hijackers, and one of them holds the

dead bleeding body of the stewardess, the woman who was supposed

to care for them, to minister to their needs. She has been murdered,

and the hijackers are screaming at all of them, and the tourist cabin,

too, is now filling up with smoke.

The plane is going insanely fast—they can feel it, dizzying,

hurtling low, just above the city buildings. Ella cannot see where

they are but it is somewhere in New York, no longer a tidy cityscape

seen dreamily from above but a nightmare landscape seen too close

and too fast, and her whole body is going too fast, her heart, her

lungs, her pulse, are going as fast as the plane. Nat, in front of her, begins

to turn.

Its over, Nat can see that. Everything is over. Its strange how, as

the plane speeds up, his mind slows down. Its oddly calming. Everything

is over, everything falls away, now, all the intentions and crises

of life, the small things, his report for the meeting, the conversation

with Beth, getting the car inspected, all of these dont matter, and

the large things—what were the large things? None of them matter,

now. Its all moving faster and faster, and here they are, all of them,

trapped together, their doomed faces staring ahead, stunned, caught

in this thundering, rumbling, accelerating plane, and he thinks, his

mind slow and calm, that this is, really, what they all faced every day,

hurtling through space together on the spinning planet, rushing, unaware,

toward their final moments. And the spinning planet has been

spinning like this, as it is now, for all time, sweeping through the endless

black of space on its long elegant loop. It will go on, though for

him, for them, its all over, whatever happens. There is time now to

do only one thing, the last thing; hes grateful that theres time and

hes conscious. Gratitude floods him for this.

Nat shifts carefully, keeping his head low, avoiding the wrathful

gaze of the hijacker, who is shouting something over and over at the

top of his lungs, some sort of fanatical chant, and now the other hijacker

is shouting it too. They seem, mystifyingly, to be flying through

the buildings of Manhattan, and the engines are whining unbearably,

their pitch is rising higher and higher toward some unthinkable

climax, but before this, and just before the plane opens the black

maw of its own tunnel, Nat turns and takes Ella in his arms.

Product Details

Merrick, Elizabeth
Random House Trade
Edited by Elizabeth Merrick
Edited by Elizabeth Merrick
Short Stories (Anthologies)
American fiction
American fiction -- Women authors.
Short stories, American
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
August 2006
Grade Level:
7.98x5.32x.71 in. .54 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Anthologies » General
Fiction and Poetry » Anthologies » Womens Literature

This Is Not Chick Lit: Original Stories by America's Best Women Writers Used Trade Paper
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$2.95 In Stock
Product details 336 pages Random House Trade - English 9780812975673 Reviews:
"Review" by , "These voices, diverse and almost eerily resonant, offer us a refreshing breath of womanhood — untamed, ungroomed, and unglossed."
"Review" by , "This Is Not Chick Lit is important not only for its content, but for its title. I'll know we're getting somewhere when equally talented male writers feel they have to separate themselves from the endless stream of fiction glorifying war, hunting and sports by naming an anthology This Is Not a Guy Thing."
"Review" by , "These stories are some of the collection's highlights, but every story is fresh and intriguing, and reading the stories as a whole will lead readers to discover new favorite authors."
"Synopsis" by , A celebration of some of America's finest contemporaary, provocative writers, featuring new short stories by Francince Prose, Curtis Sittenfeld, and Jennifer Egan. This is not Chick Lit is a much needed reminder that, for even stock protagonist with a Hermes Birkin bad and three boyfriends, there lies a woman writer pushing the envelope of literay fiction with imagination, humor and depth.
"Synopsis" by , New short stories from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie • Aimee Bender • Judy Budnitz • Jennifer S. Davis • Jennifer Egan • Carolyn Ferrell • Mary Gordon • Cristina Henríquez • Samantha Hunt •Binnie Kirshenbaum • Dika Lam • Caitlin Macy • Francine Prose • Holiday Reinhorn • Roxana Robinson • Curtis Sittenfeld • Lynne Tillman • Martha Witt

Chick lit: A genre of fiction that often recycles the following plot: Girl in big city desperately searches for Mr. Right in between dieting and shopping for shoes. Girl gets dumped (sometimes repeatedly). Girl finds Prince Charming.

This Is Not Chick Lit is a celebration of Americas most dynamic literary voices, as well as a much needed reminder that, for every stock protagonist with a designer handbag and three boyfriends, there is a woman writer pushing the envelope of literary fiction with imagination, humor, and depth.

The original short stories in this collection touch on some of the same themes as chick lit-the search for love and identity-but they do so with extraordinary power, creativity, and range; they are also political, provocative, and, at turns, utterly surprising. Featuring marquee names as well as burgeoning talents, This Is Not Chick Lit will nourish your heart, and your mind.

This Is Not Chick Lit is important not only for its content, but for its title. Ill know were getting somewhere when equally talented male writers feel they have to separate themselves from the endless stream of fiction glorifying war, hunting and sports by naming an anthology This Is Not a Guy Thing.”

-Gloria Steinem

“These voices, diverse and almost eerily resonant, offer us a refreshing breath of womanhood-untamed, ungroomed, and unglossed.”-ELLE

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