The island where the stripper lived was a green tongue where rolling farms met the great navy sea. It had one supermarket, one filling station, one pharmacy, one bookstore, one hospital, one post office, one newspaper, one artisanal coffee shop, one fisherman’s diner with brown-pocked fried eggs and waitresses named Marie, several small seafood restaurants with good-looking oyster shuckers and one yoga studio set very prettily down a long gravel driveway beside a farm with great farmaceous rafters through which you saluted the sun.

Anything else you needed that you couldn’t Amazon, you had to take a ferry off the island.

Of course, there was also the bar. The only place you could sit and have a drink with a friend. It was called The Captain Moby. The owner-operator was a man named Al, who had lost his wife like no man before had ever lost his wife.

It was a regular old bar, except there was a stripper pole in an unremarkable corner of the room. The reason for its existence had a lot to do with how Al lost his wife. The other thirty percent of the reason was that the stripper who lived in the town, Varga, had suggested it to Al. She said it would be good for the economy of the island, that it would be interesting and fun for regulars and, during the high season, it would bring in a load of business. But most of the time, Varga said, it would be super chill. Most of the time nobody would even know it existed. The regulars would drink Pabst and casually glance over from time to time.

This is not, she said, about selling sex. I’m just going to season the room with it.

It was only topless. Varga kept thong panties on. She wore a regular rotation of panties in primary colors with girlish and white eyelet scalloping, which the regulars joked was a good way of knowing what day it was if they hadn’t read the paper that morning. She did about four stripteases a night. Each dance lasted two songs, one of which was almost always a Springsteen. In the winter she wore leg warmers. Most of the time she just danced around the pole with her big boobs swinging.

The small town, including its women, didn’t mind about the stripper and the stripper pole in the only bar in town. There was a reason for this. It made things sort of tricky, but also it kept things running smoothly. About half the town knew the reason and the other half did not. For years life was good. Hardly anyone got divorced or flipped secret birds under the dinner table.

Until, that is, a newly-married couple moved onto the island. Their names were Jeff and Lois. They’d come from the nearest big city, after Jeff’s strange old grandmother passed away and left her grandson – instead of her son – her special cottage on a heavenly parcel of oceanfront property on the most desirable part of the island.

The cottage itself was very well appointed, small but cozy, with a wood-burning fireplace and lots of nooks and tons of shelves for books and places you could leave teacups. But the land was the truly glorious thing, far enough from the ocean that it would never be consumed by it but close enough that a Doug Flutie Hail Mary could nip the landing tooth of a wave.

Jeff didn’t want to move there full time, but Lois did. Lois was a painter who wanted to have a baby and Jeff was an architect who thought it would be nice to have a son. His company didn’t mind if he worked from home, but the truth was Jeff tremendously enjoyed his friends in the city and, though he loved Lois a good amount, the idea of living just the two of them in this very isolated place was unnerving. Lois was a manic-depressive agoraphobic. She enjoyed confined places and didn’t like Jeff to leave her alone for long stretches. When he’d brought her to meet his grandmother after they’d gotten engaged she said, Wouldn’t it be amazing to live here? How safe I’d feel! Lois and his grandmother had gotten along swimmingly. Nobody else could tolerate the old bat and all her rules, but Lois seemed to understand her completely.

The grandmother’s name was Virginia. She had a small white dog named Maldon, after the salt brand. She’d named the cottage Winter Sea. She loved white, in all its forms, its purity and canvas. She had a million rules for Winter Sea that, during her life, visitors had to respect or they risked ejection. Eventually, people stopped coming to see her, no matter how much they wanted to take advantage of the beauty. For most normal people over forty, freedom to walk around in one’s boxers trumps a free vacation.

Virginia had been found expired, as the island paper put it, two days after her actual expiration date. Even more disturbingly, her housekeeper slash nurse, a young, virile woman, had found Virginia beside the dog’s bowl. Maldon was sitting there, the requisite five feet away, glancing, one might imagine, for those two days, from his full bowl of kibble to her dead body and back.

Shortly after finding the pair, the housekeeper said the magic words, Okay, now slow-ly, but the dog did not listen. Only his master, it seemed, could tell him to eat. Eventually, he had to be carried off the property. Nobody had seen him since.

 

*

 

Jeff and Lois move into Winter Sea during the off-season. From the very start Lois can tell that Jeff is moody, not willing to settle in. She worries. She makes fabulous dinners, poutines and crackling roast chickens and vertiginous grilled snappers with curling vines of thyme. Jeff spends his mornings at his architect’s easel. In the afternoons he bitches about the slowness of the internet. He group-texts with friends, and the only enjoyment Lois observes in him is the occasional raucous laugh afforded by some YouTube video a friend has sent, when these manage to load.

Lois continues to cook and to tidy Winter Sea, to make it the sort of home no new husband would take for granted. One night when Lois suggests a night-time walk on the beach, Jeff tells her she should make some friends, or find someplace to paint out of the house. She feels his words as a cold, wet slap. Like the winter ocean, availing itself of the simpering sand.

All her life Lois has been a non-invasive person, and so she never felt left out. But her father died when she was six years old, the day she’d begged him to bring home a My Little Pony. He died half a mile from the toy store, with the perfect rubber-smelling pony in a box in the car. Tell me how did the My Pony survive! she screamed at the funeral, at the top of her lungs. Why the My Pony and not my Daddy! All the mourners were appropriately aggrieved.

So while Lois fears being invasive, she is obsessed with the idea of Prevention, of taking care with each request or act that no one dies or leaves her. And this adherence to Prevention has caused her to be an oppressor. The more her husband brushes her off, the more she leans in, like a Venus flytrap. She would like to explain this to him, but they are too deep in the thrush of this shitty symbiosis for him to truly hear.

As a result Lois takes more drives, and one day she passes the yoga studio. Power Flow with Varga, 7:AM Tuesday. The sign infuses her with a bright rainbow of power. She will go home and announce to Jeff that she is taking a power flow yoga class early the next morning. Perhaps she will even bring her easel and her oils and set up in some cold woods nearby to paint the landscape.

She tells him triumphantly of her plans over a plate of paglia fieno with gorgonzola sauce and crisp shiitake mushrooms curled like chipmunk hearts, and Jeff smiles and says, Great, babe. That sounds awesome.

Lois feels a surge self-respect. But men are never quite ready to let you be happy on your terms.

Jeff says: Oh! Tomorrow night, one of the guys from the gas station told me a group is getting together for some drinks, and I should come. So maybe I’ll do that.

At The Captain Moby? asks Lois.

No, Jeff says, smiling, at the other bar in town. Yes, at The Captain Moby.

With, the . . . stripper? says Lois.

Oh come on, says Jeff, you know it’s not like that. She’s like a window decoration supposedly. Nobody even notices her.

Lois’s stomach fills with acid. Every fiber of her Preventative soul bristles in apprehension. She realizes now. He’d been waiting on her to make the tiniest gesture towards independence so he could take off blazingly in the direction of stripper poles and low-priced cans of beer. The main difference between happy people and sad people is that sad people know that everything they do and feel is controlled by others and happy people are under the opposite illusion. She begins to noticeably shiver and then he says the thing that sets her heart on fire.

Lois, come on. Don’t be like my grandmother.

He is smiling. A man smiles like that after he has said something cruel. The smile is meant to rub the tang off the insult, but all it accomplishes is setting the deed, crystallizing the cruelty in sweating amber.

 

*

 

Lois showers early the next morning with a lemon verbena bar left over from Virginia’s stash of French-milled soaps, all wrapped in yellowed wax paper and stacked in a deep drawer off the bathroom. Jeff only uses Zest. So now they each have their own bar of soap in the shower. Independence feels to Lois like mutiny.

Varga showers, seven miles down the road. Her long, dirty-blond hair is clipped up in a fish tail, so that only the greasy hairs around the ears get moist. The nozzle sprays brown for the first thirty seconds; she doesn’t necessarily always wait for it to go clear.

She is the kind of woman that only men like. Her pubic bush is a mass of squid-ink tendrils, each of them concupiscent, each of them twirling like the ends of a magician’s mustache. Her legs are longer than they should be. Her butt is terrifically high, her breasts perfect mounds with gum-pink nipples. She is mean-eyed and fierce-nosed but her face is perfect for contorting into all manner of sexual expressions, from orgasmic rage to the most bored mien of sensual dissatisfaction. Which men love.

She makes chili too spicy and the beef in the middle is undercooked, but after dinner, after zero clean-up, she mesmerizingly fucks eyeballs out of husbands. Plates stack in the sink, orange grease dries into the morning. Men sleep through their alarms.

Varga lost a baby in a way no woman has ever lost a baby before and since then, since even before then, she has not been scared of anything. You look death in the snow-driven face early enough, you go one of two ways: into fear or into indifference. It didn’t take a genius to guess which one the stripper chose.

Lois and nine other women drive to the yoga class. They go for a certain reason, besides the yoga. They go because Varga is the teacher on early Tuesday mornings. She wears cocoa leg warmers over her black leggings. Her slightly damaged toenails are never painted. Sometimes she’s early but most mornings she’s late. The mornings she’s early she flows by herself to warm up, curving her body into scorpion pose and hanging out there, her legs thrown up and over her head, her eyes staring as you enter, mascara like bug legs left over from the evening before.

Lois arrives, sets down her mat. The other women are like her, maybe a few years older. Their faces are clean as minerals. They wear platinum wedding bands. A lot of the year-rounders are poor, but the women who can afford the $27-per-class yoga are not. Some of them have shiny black Audis. Most of them have husbands who work across the water all week.

The class begins and it is challenging. Varga doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself, nor does she activate the opposite emotion. Mostly it’s about her body and your desire to mimic it.

Lois has no idea that the Tuesday morning yoga instructor and the stripper are one and the same.

After the class a woman introduces herself to Lois. The woman has dyed red hair and a husky voice. You’re new, she tells Lois, and Lois nods. They are on their way to their respective Audis. The woman says her name is Amandine, she’s lived on the island for ten years. She asks if Lois is married, and they speak briefly about Winter Sea. The wrinkles on Amandine’s neck are deep but her eyes are vampire-young.

You’ll want to know how this works, she says.

How what works? Lois asks. She is anxious to get home, to get back to Jeff, even though he is likely not awake yet.

Amandine swirls her index finger like she’s rustling up a tiny tornado in the cold air. All of it, she says. Let’s have a coffee.

Lois follows Amandine to the artisanal coffee shop. It’s out of her way and she thinks to text Jeff she’ll be home later than she imagined, but then she thinks, No. Let him worry. It will be good if he worries.

At the coffee shop they each order the daily special, Eggnog Lattes.

Varga is the stripper at The Captain Moby, Amandine says.

Lois’s jaw drops. Her heart burns. She imagines Jeff, later that night, taking her all in. The dirty hair and narrow eyes, the dripping, tantric legs.

Jesus, she says. God.

Amandine reaches across the table and places her hand over Lois’s. It is an almost sensual gesture and Lois recoils a bit. Lois is haunted in general. Listen, says Amandine, it’s fine. It’s good.

Amandine explains that first off, all their husbands go to the bar, it’s the only bar in town and the only way to keep your husband sane in this island town is to let him loose every now and then. Lois begins to shake her head, fear blinding her. Amandine claps her two hands together.

Child, listen! The stripper, Varga, is our teacher. Our liege.

Amandine says that before Varga, it was utter madness! The divorce rate was sky high. Ditto for suicide, alcoholism, opioid addiction. Everyone was going crazy. The island was being held together by a very thin, seasonal thread. Until the summer this mysterious and pretty yoga teacher washed ashore. She had a wealth of information about men and love and how to open up chakras and how to sit squarely on your sitz bones.

At first all the ladies were predictably threatened. The island is so small you could feel the vibrations when someone with a nice ass stood up to throw out her basket of clam shells at the fish market. But soon, with Varga helping them understand their men instead of fearing them, they realized that this was the only way it could work.

The only way WHAT could work? Lois nearly yells. She has never felt so unhinged.

When a wife gets suspicious, Amandine explains, she will tell Varga and Varga will zero in on her husband with a lap dance or an eye flirt. She’ll tempt him into making the mistake that the wife expects him to make. And the next day she reports back. For example, with Kyle, Elena Spooning’s husband, just a month ago, Varga came into the studio and whispered to Elena, You’ve got yourself a good man there, Laney . . . no taker.

The thing is, Amandine continues, it’s not that our men are saints. Far from it. But not one of them has strayed since she got here. And you want to know why?

She pauses and takes a twinkling, conspiratorial sip of her latte.

It’s the YOGA, she says finally. Our men know that Varga teaches us yoga, and they are afraid. Varga teaches us to intimate that she’s on our team. You see? So they go to this bar thinking they are getting away with something, but underneath it all, they have the fear of God in them. Varga teaches us that men need to have that fear in order to be good men.

Men need to have that fear, Lois repeats, like she’s seen a ghost.

And there you have it, Amandine says. The men drink and avert their eyes from naked boobies and the women perfect their chaturangas and nobody fucks around. Nobody fucks waitresses, even, because the stripper keeps them in line. Just make sure your hubby knows.

Knows what?

That Varga is your teacher.

Lois is practically trembling. None of it makes sense to her. She wishes she were trapped in the same box as Jeff’s grandmother. She wishes they were passing a cat’s cradle to each other wearing long nightgowns and being dead and quiet in the ground.

 

*

 

After they part, Lois heads to the market. She is trembling because she doesn’t even know if Jeff will be eating dinner with her. Preparing for the worst, for utter aloneness plus fear, Lois buys two bottles of Bordeaux. Beyond that, she consults her running list and becomes aware that she needs very French things. A baguette. Sea salt. Whole peppercorns. Butter.

Dead Virginia was a Francophile, like almost all old, wealthy, educated, crazy women. They love the idea of something that is in fact completely anathema to their brittle hearts and careful reservoirs.

In the parking lot, carrying her brown bag with the baguette periscoping out the top, Lois passes a dirty white Chevy Silverado with a load of bumper stickers.

 

A woman and her rig. It’s a beautiful thing.

We came, we showed FIRST, we kicked butt.

Greenpeace . . . for peace of time.

 

Overhead the clouds are grey and white and tinged at the edges with pink sunset, like half-cooked veal. Lois wishes she were the proud driver of that truck who seemed to have it all figured out, who rode horses or had a child who rode horses and who loved the earth and could plant flowers without glancing at her cell phone to make sure a man had not called. But mostly, Lois wishes she were Varga. This stripper slash yoga teacher, this wild horse with no love in her life beyond love of her own body. How free and tantalizing must that be.

As Lois stands in the cold lot processing this fresh bucket of misery, who was coming out of the market but the mother of sin herself. Varga, the stripper yogi.

She sees Lois standing there like a crazy woman and says, Hey, you’re new. Hope you enjoyed my class.

Lois nods then she stammers. Varga smiles. Lois imagines the stripper’s body writhing around a pole and Jeff feasting his eyes and she partly vomits inside her own mouth.

Varga says, Are you okay?

Lois has never in her life told the truth to another woman. She is afraid of them, and rightly so. Women will drop you for a man, even the ones you couldn’t imagine doing so. They will steal yours out from under you. But there’s something about Varga. It’s not that Lois trusts her, because she doesn’t, but there’s an empty-seeming core to this woman. The emptiness makes Lois feel safe. She can’t explain it.

My husband is going to – to the bar tonight.

Oh, says Varga. First time?

Yes.

I see.

Yeah.

So.

Varga stands looking at Lois with a crooked smile on her face. Lois’s brain convulses for a moment until it swims to a new zone and finds a spot of clarity.

Can you wait here for one minute? she says.

Sure, says Varga, I’ll be in my car.

Lois walks to the ATM inside the entrance of the market and withdraws two hundred bucks. She walks back out and meets the stripper at her car, a red Ford pickup. Varga is smoking a clove cigarette through the open window. ‘My Darling Clementine’ is playing inside through scratchy speakers. Lois passes the wad of cash through the window.

It’s two hundred dollars, is that enough?

Varga shrugs and takes it wordlessly with her sort of dirty hand.

Listen, says Lois, this is really important to me. I have this thing about Prevention.

Varga nods. Look, she says, this – waving the money in the air – is all about Prevention. I’ll lean in harder, towards Prevention. Okay?

Lois nods. He’s all I have, she says.

Varga says, You got it kiddo, and backs out of the lot. Her license plate is personalized. It says, mist-op.

 

*

 

That night Jeff showers while Lois cooks. Lois has a glass of wine and Jeff asks for one, too, which peeves her, like he is pre-gaming with her, like she is a part of his getting ready process to go meet another woman. It’s the cruelest sort of threesome. While Jeff drinks the wine, smiling, Lois forgets the farro and it burns. She wants to ring Varga and call it all off, but she doesn’t have the stripper’s number. Her anxiety bubbles inside her belly like oatmeal cooked too fast.

After dinner Jeff busses the plates but doesn’t wash them. He changes his shirt. He kisses the top of her head and she absolutely hates him.

She looks at him, her eyes tear.

Baby, he says, what’s wrong?

There is no way he doesn’t know. There is no way a man who can build buildings in his mind doesn’t understand the foundations of heartache in a woman he spends every moment with.

I’ll be back, he says, in a couple of hours.

 

*

 

While Jeff is gone, Lois paces Winter Sea, imaging the worst. She rinses plates and pictures the lap dance happening, and not even in the main room with all the other men watching, but in a back room, with mauve settees and boxes of cheap champagne piled high in the corners. She imagines Varga’s eyes and Jeff’s eyes. She imagines Varga’s pubic bone brushing a hard corner of Jeff’s jeans, both of them getting off the requisite twenty-seven percent that causes irreparable damage.

Jeff walks through the door at 11:38. It is not too late but somehow it is terrible.

How was it, says Lois.

Oh, the guys are great. It was great to chill out and have some beers. It felt nice.

And the stripper?

Oh, God, he says, laughing. It’s the tamest thing, hon. It’s almost sad. She’s this woman in her late thirties, maybe even older, over in a corner of the room, doing this sad little routine. You’ll see.

What do you mean, I’ll see?

I don’t know, I mean maybe one day you’ll go.

We’ll go together?

Well, it’s not really like that. I mean, it’s more of a men’s bar. You know? And not because of the – the lady. It’s just like, this is how the town works, you know? You can’t just move into a new town and change the rules.

The stripper teaches the yoga class I took this morning, says Lois, dropping this information like a cool bomb. Jeff appears unperturbed.

Oh, so you’ve met her then. Why didn’t you say so earlier?

I forgot, says Lois.

I think I knew that, I think one of the guys mentioned. Well I didn’t really get a good look, to be honest, but it seems like, from afar anyway, like she eats more Pirate’s Booty than, you know, kale and berries.

No lap dances?

Ha! Jeff says. Then his face grows serious and impenetrable, it hardens with something Lois recognizes as the power of a man who feels secure. No, he says. Don’t be ridiculous.

 

*

 

At her next yoga class the stripper tells Lois, Not only did he not take the bait, but he looked at me like I was a piece of shit. Varga laughs. It almost hurt my feelings. Then I realized, not only was he not interested, but he was acting like you were right there, like anything could hurt you. He knows you’re fragile, honey. And he cares.

That’s funny, Lois says aloud.

Why is that funny?

Because it was you he was supposed to fear but I forgot to tell him you were my teacher.

Even better then, right hon?

 

*

 

As summer approaches, everything begins to bloom. Perimeters of ranunculus in pale butter trim the beach path of Winter Sea. Jeff is happy and they begin trying to get pregnant. Lois makes a number of friends. Mainly it’s the women from the yoga class who are in the same socio-economic box as Lois. It’s funny, Lois thinks, how people congregate to other people in their same boxes, but how the real things that should unite us, the bloody ones, almost never do.

Lois and Varga become friendly. Varga tells Lois the story of her very terrible loss, and Lois proves to be the sort of listener Varga has never known in her life. Still, Varga is not one to reward behavior outside of pure transactions. And at the same time Lois thinks of what Virginia once said to her: Other women will never be okay with you having something they want.

Winter Sea sloughs off the shiver and hatches into its emerald summer self and Lois feels like all is finally right in her life. Like she can breathe in the ocean air and feel peace for a change. Lois luxuriates in the house, it’s her house now, and she enjoys it the way a house is meant to be enjoyed. When she drops a container of salt behind the stove, she laughs out loud and says, Fuck it! She doesn’t even make a big deal about cleaning it up.

By June, Lois is pregnant, and she feels the new life inside her, not just growing itself, but stretching out its gleaming tentacles within her meager bones, raising Lois to her full potential.

Jeff goes every Monday to The Captain Moby to meet his male friends. Mondays become Lois’s special night. She paints beautiful images four inches ahead of her growing belly. She paints a portrait of Jeff, the sort of portrait a woman paints of her husband, who she sees as the future father of her child, with no fear or pain attached.

Jeff’s parents come to visit in August. They marvel at how Winter Sea has become something light and sunny. Maureen kisses Lois’s belly. All week Lois cooks beautifully, and Maureen and Roland say, Well son, you did the right thing, being kind to the old bat. This place could have gone to some nobody.

Roland and his son go to the bar one night. When they return, Roland says, That Varga. I swear I know her from somewhere.

Amandine and her husband Paul come over for dinner the last night that Roland and Maureen are visiting and Lois has a moment when her soul stops moving inside her and steps outside. She leaves her fetus alone in her body by itself, and walks around the table of her husband and his parents and these two new friends and she looks inside all their bowls of spaghetti pomodoro with fresh, ripped ribbons of basil from their garden and she looks at the stucco wall over the fireplace, at Jeff’s smiling face on the canvas she painted, and she exults. She exults roundly, emphatically. She leaves herself for long enough to know she will be there when she gets back. There is nothing to Prevent. There is only life to live. As the table dines on the food she has created, and the shell of her dines with them, with the new baby inside it, Lois the Soul walks outside into the hot summer breath. She walks to the hill with the rock on which you can stand and see all the ocean. She stands there and feels love and light in the night-time air.

Until.

A shiver runs down her spine. She looks down and there on the rock beside her is Maldon, Dead Virginia’s little white dog.

Oh, my God! Lois says. What are you doing here?

The dog sits and stares out at the ocean, and not at Soul of Lois at all. She could bring it in, but she knows everybody in there distrusts the dog. Bringing the dog in would be like dragging the old Lois back through the doors. Lois would rather die than resurrect that person. She’s learned in these past few months that living like a happy person is better than anything. You get to believe you can control your own life. It has taken her a whole lifetime to learn this.

Shoo! she says to the dog. Shoo!

And finally the dog looks up at her, neither accusingly or peaceably. For years Lois has not written on the computer calendar any event in the future that regards Jeff, not even the due date of the birth of their first child. She has been too afraid that the simple, slutty act of writing a date down would turn God against her, would make him think that she has not learned her lesson, that everything in life you are given can be snatched away at any moment. The second you take it for granted. The very moment, the God of Prevention will know you have sinned against him. But Jesus. It has been so long of living this way. Lois looks down at the dog, meaningfully. The dog returns the gaze. If it is Virginia herself, then Lois sees that the old dead woman understands. She understands the path that Lois had to take to avoid the same snowy end.

Maldon nods once, a slow perceptible bowing of its head, and then takes off, down the beach path flanked by the ranunculus onto the heart-warm beach. Lois goes inside, where the group has opened another bottle of wine. Lois settles back into her chair and into her body. Her eyes twinkle back to life.

Lois, Roland says, did you hear me?

Lois looks at her father-in-law. We just figured it out, says Roland. Lois notices everyone else at the table is engaged, except Jeff, who is looking down at his bowl.

Varga! says Roland. She was Grandma’s visiting nurse. In the days before Jeff started to come. She was the old bat’s only friend.

We were just laughing, says Maureen, about how nuts it would have been. If it weren’t for Jeff, Grandma would probably have left this place to. To that woman.

Maureen lowers her voice. That stripper . . .

Can you imagine! Roland exclaims. All the old bat’s rules for this place, and it might have turned into a goddamn brothel!

Amandine and Paul laugh loud. Paul laughs louder than Amandine, and he shares a look with Jeff. Lois feels her bones melt down to marrow and dribble brownly to the floor.

 

*

 

In early September Lois miscarries. Even though her off-island obstetrician says it just happened recently, Lois knows the actual expiration date was the night of the spaghetti pomodoro. She hesitates before telling Jeff. She waits a whole week to tell him. She hides the blood and matter (which she was afraid would not have flushed all the way down the fussy toilet) in plastic bags and drives them to the town dump herself. When finally she lets him know he looks at her blankly. She is relieved he isn’t happy, and then she isn’t relieved at all.

The next Tuesday Lois wakes in the yoga studio, the room utterly empty. Lois had been left there in corpse pose. She gets up slowly – her body is still getting used to being without child – and she sees through the window Amandine speaking to a woman named Genevieve. They are gesturing and smiling, the way that some women do. The way that some people like to be kept in the dark, thinks Lois. That’s the way they look when they are luxuriating in denial. They are having a conversation about nothing and feeling good. Through the other window of the beautiful studio, what does Lois see but Varga, also the mother of nobody, crossing the field to a dirt road. She sees Varga getting into the driver’s side of a brand-new BMW 5-series, the color of old blood and manure.

It hits her like a cymbal. She rolls up her borrowed mat, she doesn’t even disinfect it first. What’s the point. On her way out, Amandine comes up and says, Lois! We thought you died in there.

Tears in her eyes, Lois says, I died some time ago. Amandine and Genevieve stare at her like she is a moron.

Lois, says Amandine, waving a peach-manicured hand in her face, Hello in there?

Lois snaps back into place. Monotonely, she says, Would you look? She points across the field, but the women don’t look at the stripper getting into her brand new expensive car. They don’t look at all. They look at Lois. Once everyone agrees you are delusional, everyone is happy. Shells, like the kind on the sand of the beach, that’s all they are. That’s all any of us are. All these colored shells, each one trying to be picked up before the rest.

Genevieve cocks her whole body at her.

You don’t get it, do you? Lois says.

Get what?

Our men, Lois says, smiling cynically, our boys are paying her more than we are.

Lois’s thumb is jerked crazily in the direction of the BMW thrumming in the distance. And now she begins to laugh hideously. She palms her empty womb and throws back her neck. After a long time she stops, and brings her head back to her clavicle. She stares at these two silly women. Who have tried for centuries to pretend there is no need for Prevention.

The women begin to shake their heads, like Lois is crazy, and Lois shakes her head to match, but then shakes it even more, like a teenager in an eighties film. The ocean roars up in the distance, announcing weather, and the cows head for the barn to take cover. They move quickly, but like they don’t want anyone to know they are in a rush. Soon Lois will hear the sirens coming for her, the sirens that belonged to the ambulance that ferried her father to the hospital. The My Little Pony, the survivor, she keeps in a box, high up in the moist attic of Winter Sea. She was going to give it to her baby. The child would have been pink, with a clever, yawning mouth. The pony was the unicorn kind, and its hair was a remarkable shade of purple. The child would have been too young for a toy pony at the time Lois would have given it to her, but Lois had waited long enough that she wouldn’t have been able to wait any longer, to open that box.

 

Image © Si B

The Bees
Little nothings: Nabokov’s road notes