Creative Nonfiction: Strangers

by Abby Frucht

At Ping-Pong night at the YMCA, where I played no Ping-Pong after all because the players were generally men in their forties, a nice enough looking man, Wally, introduced himself to me and asked would I be his mistress. I was exactly what he was looking for. His wife and I would be friends, he said, or at least, like cousins. He told me they had lots of money, that they would take great care of me, that she was a fabric artist, and that their home, from which I would come and go as I pleased, had a dock amid willow trees on Lake Butte des Morts. I considered this offer carefully. I’d had a rough few months. A novel had gone unpublished, a promised inheritance went to the youngest male Frucht, whom I had never met, and I was having no sex. Soon I drove to the house to meet the wife. We drank tea and looked at fabric art. She was lovely, smart, and wore all white clothing. “Why don’t YOU have sex with him?” I asked. She told me she had reasons that did not include him being anything but perfectly fine in bed. Plus he was friendly, kind, and as honest as he made himself out to be. She didn’t like jogging, so maybe he and I would make a habit of jogging before showering, she said. She showed me their newly tiled shower stall. Then she led me to the dock to sit with him. The lawn lay thick and moist behind us, but a day or two later I told them no. I really didn’t know my reason for saying no. Sometimes I still don’t know it. The arrangement really didn’t sound implausible to me or even inadvisable, and certain comforts along with actual property might someday have come of it. There are days I wax regretful at not having done it, like the instances of self-interrogation I get into about the day, canoeing, I came upon a starved dog stranded on a mangy island. Its ribs were showing. Scabs grew along its spine. I fed it bread, but it vomited the bread, and soon I paddled away without it so as not to have to ferry a dying animal, and sometimes I regret my cowardice. Chuck and I were together nine years already when I told him of Wally. We were driving to a fancy Christmas party, the sort of party where you park at the bottom of a lane and soon a limousine takes you to a flagstone path looping to a giant house festooned with colored lights. Because Chuck was a smoker, I walked the flagstones without him while he chatted and smoked with the limo driver. Chuck had responded not unkindly and with no evident anger or consternation to hearing of Wally’s offer. In a way I believed he was tickled by it, liking especially that I still had qualms about not having done it. The flagstone path was longer than it looked. Stepping along it filled more seconds than expected, seconds that, because of the size of the door when you were close enough to open it, seemed like time stolen out of a fairy tale. Inside, nine madrigal singers wore breeches and tights with gold tassels. By the time the singing started, Chuck had joined me on a couch where we sat perfectly near to each other for the rest of the evening amid the crowd of revelers, our wineglasses touching.

Abby Frucht’s new collection of stories, The Bell at the End of a Rope, is due out soon with Narrative Library. She and her Vermont College of Fine Arts colleague, Laurie Alberts, are in what can only be called the throes of collaborating on a novel.

What changes for you when you take on the challenge of compressed pieces such as this one?

    To tell the truth, absolutely nothing changes. Even when I am writing a novel I am in the compression chamber, weighing and measuring every syllable as if it were the only object on the page in front of me. It sounds here as if I am complaining, but such weighing and measuring are what I most enjoy about writing. My dad was a gastroenterologist, but at night he whittled animals, and I remember the translucent curlings of wood littering the fancy card table, which was never used for cards. It’s like that, a litter of shedded words and among them one day a small animal. I only wish words smelled as good.

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