Thursday, November 22, 2012


Another morning in another unfamiliar kitchen. I open all the cupboards three times to find bowl, cup, tea, memory of the last place shifts over in my head to make room for this.

I like staying in someone's house, I feel bits of their identity cling to my skin, a daughter's painting, a framed poem, mismatched spoons from someone's mother, grandmother.

I like a kitchen stocked with sugar and flour and not a single meal in a can or a box. I bring those in from outside. I remember a time when I cooked from scratch, when I ground the wheat to make bread, when I boiled the carcass to make stock before making soup, and I loved every quiet step. I might have inhabited a house like this, had I taken another turn on the road.

This is where I am now. I sleep in other people's houses, in hotels, on futons or air mattresses or king-size beds. I bring in little ready-to-eat meals or simple cooking and try to erase my tracks when it's time to move on. I have time with only myself and I listen to silence or the people in the next room or the dog barking outside.

I am shedding the things I thought I couldn't live without, every day something new I find I can live without, I can thrive, I am becoming light and feel as if the next step I take could launch me into crackling air.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

This is what matters

The shoe on the roof of the house, a red Keds sneaker, girl-size, laces rotted.

The crawlspace, where you descended like a deep-sea diver when your boyfriend wouldn't, one of you had to rescue the phone, knocked under the house, you buttoned your sleeves and pulled your hoodie over your head and wrapped a bandana around your nose and mouth and bulled through the webs and creatures into that other world that always lives just under your feet.

The piece of paper with someone's name and phone number, someone you don't remember, can't place, a person you met the last time you wore that jacket, but there was a reason you wrote it down, folded it carefully into your pocket.

The coffee cup with milk scum making waves around the inside, imprinted foam bubbles.

Your favorite sweater, empty sleeves hanging bodiless from the back of a chair. The credit card bill. The dried flowers hung against your wall that send up a fluff of dust when you move them.

If you died today, slipped quietly out the back door of this world, this is what will be left.

Your mother's shoes in a paper bag, your ten-year-old lipstick, the Ramones t-shirt streaked with paint, the ninety-nine cent prayer candle, the drawing magneted to your fridge, your toothbrush, bristles blown out in surprise.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The city remembers everything

Back in San Francisco. Three new restaurants on Valencia Street, and the city is rubbing up against all my raw places. Just like home.

It's sunny and perfect and I walk through Dolores Park, everyone seems younger and hipper than I remember, there's a new fantasy of a play structure in the middle of the park, if I was a kid I'd know I'd found paradise. I walk all around the park and see again my other selves, I see the night when I stood at the upper corner and looked out at the city and every bright light was in me, I see the residue of past sins, the park remembers all of it. Just like home.

Like home, this place knows me and all my vulnerable spots, it knows me but still brushes off a seat for me at the bar.

I have my nails done, and the women petting my hands and feet ask where I've been. Tho shakes a finger, says I need to come see them more often. The place belongs entirely to women, even the kid running barefoot on the tile is a girl, it's getting dark outside but in here the lights are on and we compare nail colors or don't talk at all, it's safe here in our single-sex ark.

It's almost a year since I set off on my travels, and I still don't know where home is, unless it's here at the keyboard, there in the darkest corner of my suitcase. My Oxford English Dictionary and my father's artwork and the couch I bought not so long ago wait patiently in storage and I don't yet feel roots sprouting from my feet, but maybe that's because I haven't kept them still.

This place will do for a while. As much home as Barcelona, as Brooklyn, as Middletown, as Tangier, as Peterborough. As much home as Utah, with a memory almost as long.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

From the top

The day begins at the top of a mountain in Andalucia. No, it's already too much. I'm defeated, have been defeated, months now I'm defeated. But I have to begin. Why not on a mountaintop? The village where I've stayed for just over a week, and I know half the village, have finished the draft of a strange piece that's been my companion for many months. Time for something else.

Jose picks me up, then, and we wind down the mountain roads, goodbye to the white village and its Moorish arches, goodbye to the herd of sheep that block the road, the lovely people I've met. Jose soon learns the limits of my Spanish, so we're quiet as we go, quiet for an hour, more, until we pass through Mar Bella, and Jose points at the blackened mountainside. "Fuego," he says. Wildfires devoured these mountains last month, a vast field of black with a single tree, the leaves bright autumnal orange. But as we drive, I see the leaves aren't turning with the season, they've been burned that color. One tree is brilliant rust on one half, a swollen, tender green on the other. Other trunks are black halfway up, then white and leafless.

There's a spill of green down a slim valley between two black hillsides. The green is lush and violent and nearly obscene. 

"Fuego," says Jose, again. "Fuego."

And then and then I'm in Tarifa on the street. I ask someone in Spanish for directions, but he shrugs. No habla Espanol. But I hear an accent. Vous parlez Francais? I ask. He is thrilled to meet someone who speaks French, and he tells me where I can catch the ferry - he's driving onto the same one. I get to limber up my French with Johnny the truck driver on the ferry, and I go outside in the wind and get my first glimpse of Tangiers, my first glimpse of Africa, I feel like I'm fourteen years old.

The B&B is tiny, a dollhouse, exquisite stained glass and inlaid wood doors and rich fabrics. A slot door and a big step down to my dollhouse bathroom. The proprietors are Americans, former New Yorkers and Key Westers, generous and in love with Tangier. They take me on a small walking tour of the city and they know everyone on the street, It's a small town, they say. You almost stop believing that New York exists, they say, and I see what they mean, this city and New York belong in different stories.

I cover my shoulders and walk the city and speak French and Spanish and English and try my two words of Arabic and I follow my host's eccentric directions - turn left at the blue Telebanco, pass the golden door, don't go up the stairs, don't go into the lion's mouth - to wind through the Medina and find my way home in the soft night.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Biscuit, wrestlers, see the whale

Yesterday on the train, the conductors had a secret language. They came through the compartment speaking words, but I only knew I was to show my ticket by looking at the people around me. I passed them in the dining car, and they spoke this language with each other, exchanging occult information on halves of tickets, slips of paper printed from handheld devices, spread out on the table like gambling chips.

As we approached a stop, the conductor announced, "Biscuit, Seminole. Biscuit. Biscuit. See the whale. Donchalove a Biscuit." The sign at the station said, "Mystic."

Today, I'm in the foreign land called Brooklyn. A street is taped off, forbidding cars, and, oh, for real, the fire hydrant arcs a spray into the street. A baby sits in the stream, gummy grin. There is a horse, and a pony, each led by a smart young woman in a pudding-bowl helmet. The horse trailer says, Brooklyn Horses, and there's the proof, horses in Brooklyn. Kids wait their turn to put on their own pudding-bowl and ride a circuit up the street and down, clutch the horse's mane, bounce in the saddle with baby kicks.

A boy carefully sets up his own sidewalk sale. A cadre of muscle-bound action figures stands on one step. "Wrestlers. $3 each."

Tomorrow I'll be back in San Francisco, for two hectic weeks, and then I leave the whole continent behind. I don't know where I'll be after mid-July, or how long I'll be unknowing. I know every corner of my suitcase and today I love its generosity, its patience in carrying all the things I need. I'm learning to carry less, although in the subway I was helped, again, to lift my bag up the stairs.

Last night I drank good champagne on the roof of my friends' brownstone. We looked out at Manhattan, saw the in-progress memorial at Ground Zero. I felt I could see the curve of the earth from there, if I lifted just a bit onto my toes.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Girls of Peterborough

They are carefully brushed and polished and earringed, tender cleavage and legs. It’s spring today, finally, an ease and kindness on the breeze. Their hair shines, I believe it would feel like heavy water in my hands.

Ugh, my hair, says one, as it blows across her face, I’m gonna shave it off, I swear.

Her friends know she doesn’t mean it. They make lazy laughs and she adjusts her Jackie O sunglasses, lifts phone to ear.

They glance my way when they think I’m not looking, here across the terrace. We’re outside the chocolate shop with coffee (me) and ice cream (them), the waffle cone passes around the table for a lick from each pink tongue.

I am easily identifiable as an outsider. MacDowell sweatshirt over skirt over leggings, tennis shoes. I rode a bicycle here, provided by the Colony. It has my name on a tag on the handle, and no lock. No locks needed here, not even In Town, we’re told.

I worry about my brakes on the steep hill down from here, worry about the steep hill back up to the Colony. I’ll doubtless have to face the humiliation of hopping off the bike and pushing, at least part of the way. I say hopping off, but I mean a cumbersome hitch of the leg. I’m awkward on a bike, haven’t ridden one that fit me since I was eight years old, and my red, banana seat bike, my beautiful Christmas-present bike, was stolen in the first week I rode it to school. After that I rode my dad’s too-big bike, was hit, twice, by two different cars. One didn’t stop and left me to ride home in shock and bleeding down one half of my body. The driver of the second invited me in to tea. She apologized while I shook on her couch.

This bike fits, almost, almost perfectly. I’m learning how to ride again. It fits like this Colony, this place where all I have to do every day is put words on a page. I have a little house in the woods with a little bed, and a wood stove, and a big window onto trees and trees. Lunch appears in a Red Riding Hood picnic basket on my doorstep, every day at 12:30.

My first week here, I sat at my big wooden desk, and cried, every day, in front of the picture window, squirrels and chipmunks quarreling in the trees. I did nothing at all to deserve this.

I did nothing to deserve this, but every day I write. When it is cold, I build a fire. I love my neat little cabin in the woods. But I’m happy today to be at the chocolate shop, with the shining girls and their high heels, the father and daughters with their dogs, the soft cheeks of springtime against my skin.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Mittlemans of Middletown

The day wasn't promising. A morning run with my good friends, the Middletown dead, in the Wesleyan cemetery. I like them. I like Rebecca, wife of Thomas Cooke. After life's fitful sleep, her headstone reads, she sleeps well. I like the thin, toothlike tombstones, made with a bare minimum of stone. The trees are starting to bloom.

I feel comfortable in the Jewish section, by the tennis courts. The Mittlemans have the most recent plots I've seen. Stones placed on Judith's headstone, the grass still in square sections from her burial.

Another Mittleman headstone in another neighborhood of the cemetery, similar design, minus the star of David. Sadie died within a few years of Judith. I wonder about the Mittlemans, their sway in this town.

I believe this will be the best the day has to offer, but my stepdaughter, A, calls. She's in Rhode Island, she has the day free. I can get in a car and see her, as simple as that. Less than two hours to drive.

I stop at the diner for lunch before I set out. B makes me knee-weakening food, sends me off with bread and muffins for A. Across the table are a young Polish-American couple, eating here for the first time. The girl's forehead creases with pure pleasure in the taste.

I drive. I've forgotten that I used to love driving, before I lived in a place where it wasn't necessary, the kind of place I'd always wanted to live. When I first got my license, driving meant freedom, and that feeling comes back as the miles roll out under my wheels. Music and NPR on the radio.

A is so beautiful I want to hold up my hands to shield her from the world, but it's too late. The last time I saw her, she was a girl, but she's all her own person now. We have dinner at a Thai/Japanese/Vietnamese place near the airport, and talk ourselves out, almost.

Back on the road and back to my home for the month. New friends invite me out. The girl from the diner, the Polish-American girl, works behind the bar. She seems taller and blonder and more authoritative here. She smiles to see me. My cohorts run out of steam early, school starts on Monday, they're all professors, they all have classes to prep.

I walk home alone and alert, listening to the sound of my feet. I feel rich and new and awake in the night. My neighbor asks if I have a cigarette. No, I say. I gave 'em up. Smart, he says, pulling back into the shadows, The cost these days.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A lot of nonsense

Last weekend, in New York City, I heard a female voice to my left say, Tell me, quick. Quick, before running past me on the sidewalk, then stopping. When I passed her, I saw she was crying. Twenty-something and crying big tears on the street, in New York City, in the East Village.

I'm not in my twenties anymore. Public crying isn't done, unless someone's died. Even so, yesterday I sat in this coffee shop in this small town, in this coffee shop where I come to write every day, where the same people sit in the same chairs every day, every day. I sat here and tears leaked out of my eyes, however much I tried to hold it together.

I've exiled myself here. It was my choice, and also - it hurts. I swiped at my face with my gloves and the people in the coffee shop tried not to look.

Today, I'm back in the coffee shop. I don't know if anyone looks at me funny, or differently from the way they looked at me before I cried here. It doesn't matter. A friend told me I'd have to write a lot of nonsense, so this is what I'm doing. I'm writing nonsense.

Today, I had lunch in an aluminum-sided diner with curved glass block corners. A man in an apron with a long white beard came to my table with a plate - not my order, not yet. He looked like he'd been at sea for many years. He turned a small loaf of bread out of its pan, used a butter knife to cut off a hunk. A generous portion of butter, a smear of jam. He offered it to me, quoting James Joyce:

The butter, he said, weeps into the bread.

The bread was sweet and salt, as warm and intimate as a kiss.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The thread winds into the woods and out of sight

Every town, if I get away from the strip malls and tourist spots, if I step off the main road and follow my feet, if I find where the locals hang out, every town is exotic.

Every piece I set out to write leads me in a new direction, and it scares me to sit down without a clear plan, with only moments and people: only the redhead in the white skirt, the two baristas with tribal plugs in their earlobes, the young woman with an infant, the baby passed from girl to cooing girl. A couple approaches the coffee shop - she with dyed pink hair and matching pink shoes and skinny jeans, he with wild hair and skinny jeans - and a guy with patchy facial hair and pierced septum whispers "hipsters" before they open the door. An older man talks to the hipster guy about his job hunt.

Middletown is quiet, but the people are loud. They are spaced wide, so I hear every word. I wonder if my face is doing the right thing, if my California manners show. My swallowed words, my quiet voice reflects as rude here, forcing people to lean in, say...What?

I don't really know what to write about, only that I have to write, and hope the practice sets itself in my hands, my brain. I need to describe the man with gray whiskers and watch cap and long army green coat. His eyes look confused, jumping. My quick-judge brain says: homeless, but he buys a coffee and leaves again.

Judging! says barista #1. Stop judging! as though he hears my thoughts, but he isn't talking to me.

Every town, every town in the world, is full of people I know. Every face is familiar.

I am reading fairy tales by A.S. Byatt. At the end of one story, the youngest princess is given a choice: a magic mirror that would show her true love, a magic loom that would weave tapestries of living forests, or:
'Or I could give you a thread,' said the Old Woman, as the Princess hesitated, for she did not want to see her true love, not yet, not just yet...and she did not want to make magic Forests, she wanted to see real ones. So she watched the old lady pick up from the grass the end of what appeared to be one of those long, trailing gossamer threads...
 'You gather it in,' said the Old Woman, 'and see where it takes you.'

Sunday, March 04, 2012

"I am always happy where I am, and always nostalgic for somewhere else"

I'm halfway through my run when I notice: the inside of my head is still. A quiet that admits the bare-branched trees, the grave markers ("Fannie, Wife"), the nok nok of tennis on a pool blue court.

I'm wearing a stocking cap from Chaminade University in Honolulu. I used to work there. It's ridiculous to wear a stocking cap in Hawaii. Unnecessary in San Francisco. But here, in Middletown, nothing makes more sense. I've owned this stocking cap for ten years and moved it from Hawaii, from the flat I shared with my husband, from my tiny studio on the raging edge of the Tenderloin, and I've never worn it until now.

I can see my breath and the sky is clear and I hear a man bellowing, bellowing, growling and shouting as he walks down the sidewalk on the far side of the street. He is with a woman, and a man on a bicycle, and they proceed slowly. I can't tell if he's angry or just loud, him and his cacophonous procession, but I outpace them and the silence is wide enough for me and my feet, my breath, my wandering thoughts.

I don't doubt that boredom and loneliness are ahead. But at the moment I'm afraid of the opposite: what if, at the end of my time here, I don't want anything else? What if I get addicted to solitude, to my routine, to great swaths of time for writing? What if I don't want to travel, after all? So much effort, and noise, and the thousand details and inconveniences of stepping foot outside the country.

And what if I never want to return to San Francisco, and all the people I love, all that life I've built?

Out here, I could be anybody. I am empty and open as a bowl.

Friday, March 02, 2012

I wouldn't be anywhere without the kindness of strangers, the generosity of friends

I am in New York City for only an hour or so. Long enough to take the bus from JFK to Grand Central Station, to talk with a nurse who has long white hair, to be misdirected by the bus driver, to be helped by no fewer than four kind New Yorkers.

I have packed ridiculous amounts of stuff, and it's clear immediately how little I actually need, but in the last of the late night packing and heartrending goodbyes, I was cramming everything I could into my bags, like I can carry a home on my back, like I can insulate myself from the unknown with dresses and hair product and (am I insane?) hard-cover books. So I'm standing at the top of three long flights of stairs at Grand Central Station with two overstuffed bags plus backpack, slowly churning through my options for getting all of me down those stairs.

It isn't ten seconds before a man offers to help, grabs the larger bag and hoists it down the stairs for me. He offers to carry both, but that would shame me too much. I hump it on my own, lagging behind. At the bottom, he asks if I'm okay before disappearing. This is when I realize I'm in the wrong place. This is the subway, and there's no way through to where the trains are.

Once again, I pause to think at the bottom of the stairs, and instantly another Good Samaritan appears, as though I've conjured him. Again, I insist on carrying one of the bags, and at the top of the stairs I'm winded and burning. "Better than the gym," says my rescuer, before vaporizing like the first. I almost expect a puff of smoke.

Two good souls lift my bags into place on the train, and now I'm feeling oppressed by all this stuff, plotting ways to literally lighten my load before the next piece of my journey. The men on the train joke about the dead bodies I must be carrying, the gold bullion. Maybe they know more than I do, maybe there is a corpse or two in there.

I have presumed too much on others, beginning back in San Francisco, and now my debt spans the country. I lived for nearly a year out of a single duffel bag when I was in my twenties. So I'm not in my twenties anymore. So my carapace is larger. But I am young enough and healthy and my ideas of what is necessary are in flux.

This is where the adventure begins: lumbering, ungraceful, indebted. But it has begun.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Turlock is a land of wonders

Sometimes, the volume of experience defeats me. Each moment deserves a book, and the moments pile up, one on top of the other.

A ninety-five year old man is propped up at his birthday party in the next room of the restaurant where we eat America-size mounds of food. His daughter? granddaughter? comes around to tell us that he had to go to the hospital last night, he has surgery today, they got him out on a three-hour pass. YEAH! She pumps her fist. He smiles vaguely in the direction of a cake.

A girl with dyed black hair and big black cowboy hat struts the horse auction, rhinestones on her jeans, heavy eyeliner dragging out from the corners of her eyes. There's a herd of starving yearlings in a single pen, hipbones visible, matted pelts. They stand in a huddle, heads down.

It's comforting to be here with A., her red hair jewel-bright. I'm able to find my invisibility beside her, slip into it like a soft robe. I'm nothing but eyes, seeing all of it, taking everything in. 

A miniature horse breaks into a clopping dance and a young girl asks, Please, can we get him?

Outside the bathrooms, a man says, Here come the horse photos. Phones blink on in the falling light. Sixteen hands high, says a woman. And shoulders like Schwarzenegger.

The auctioneer's assistant takes a stance in the middle of the ring, hands hovering over his round belly. Yip! he calls when a bid is made. Yip! Yip! It's a ballet, he gestures to the crowd, hands lifting air at the bidders, waggling his fingers to tempt a bid.

Porky's Bar down the road in Delhi sells only beer. Bud and Bud Light. No wonder the bikers inside look surly.

Later in the night, another birthday party, this one for twin twenty-three year old boys. They pound the table while a dishplain-faced blond girl knocks back two tequila shots, one in honor of each birthday boy.

Breakfast at the orange vinyl seat diner, our counter stools proclaim that President George H.W. Bush Sat Here, First Lady Barbara Bush Sat Here. Waitresses all over sixty, the homeliest with a flower in her hair. I ask the energetic one for her picture. No, she says. I'm too ugly for photos.

I can't touch it, all these words, and I haven't begun, can't touch the place. I can't say why my chest feels tight as we drive away, why I look out the window and will myself not to cry.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Krewe du Vieux

In the coffee shop, a white, middle-aged couple sit at the next table. He's in a t-shirt and shorts. She wears a purple wig and a two-piece outfit that shows off her sagging midriff. Both wear beads, hopefully. They squint together at the ATM, she points a purple-nailed finger at the screen.

Behind me, at the bar, is a moss man. He is head to toe in a beautiful, elaborate moss costume. No clue what he looks like underneath it all. I only know it's a man from his voice as he orders a beer.

The crowds are denser as I step into the street. I'm in the French Quarter, and tonight is the first parade of Mardi Gras. I get turned around, walking up and then back down the street when I realize I'm going the wrong way. Two young men and a young woman, barely twenty-one, sit in a doorway. There is a tall margarita glass in front of each of them, tall as them. The young woman wears a bustier. She sits cross-legged, her neck long and vulnerable.

I look up from the street to see someone step out onto the balcony. I call out and wave, am pointed to a side door. I've met nobody here more than once; they all greet me with hugs. We're in the apartment of someone else I barely know, but he isn't here, he has to work. He's opened his place to all of us. It's a nice place, high ceilings, peeling wooden doors with painted windows to separate living room from bed. An aged armoire with a full-length mirror.

I've worn my usual camouflage, gray and brown, but it makes me the oddball here. One tall, cleanheaded man in a suit of broad white and black stripes and striped top hat has stepped directly out of The Addams Family. There are dark circles beneath his eyes. A batch of people appear in sparkling bodysuits and bulbous sunglasses. One man leaps into the splits. A woman in sequins and crinoline takes pictures of a transvestite who has lifted his skirt to show lighters, flashlights, keys hanging from chains against his bare hip. The disco ball that hangs from his penis matches the ones dangling from his ears.

The two of them are reflected in the mirror, the silvering worn away at the edges. She lifts one arm gracefully overhead, the black, waved hair under her arm looks as decorative as her gold sequins.

I could tell more, about the parade that passed below the balcony, about outrageous floats, brass bands, the mild night and the moon like a tilted teacup. But right now it feels like autumn outside, and I'm going to take a walk by the river, past low houses that survive hurricanes, the black billy goat lounging on a porch, the naked mannequin among the pilings, her arms lifted above her head in defense, or supplication, or sheer joy.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Remember that place with those people that one time?

I'm not sure which way the ballet studio was. I danced there almost every day for ten years, you'd think I'd know, but so much has changed. Buildings torn down, new ones in their place, there are some things Americans aren't sentimental about.

Across the street is a gap where a building was recently demolished. My mind skims over the space. Maybe it was in the next block? I cross the street to look more closely as I pass. The one with the boarded-over windows?

It's only when I'm almost on top of it, when I see the red star with the arrow pointing up, that my brain admits it. That's where the stairs were. I trudged up them a thousand thousand times, my flight bag with rolled pink tights and black leotard. I don't remember, then remember the red star.

Memory slips out of my hands like a fish. I lean toward people over a certain age. Do I know you? I want to ask.

In my last post I wrote about my dad speaking his name and birthdate to enter the gallery, but this is a borrowed memory. My sister remembered it when we went to the gallery together. When she described it, it came to life in my head, but could it have come alive even if it wasn't true? A family story told and retold and shaped and rounded until it becomes the story of the story, the moment itself long lost.

I walk through my old neighborhood, down the steep slope of Apple Avenue, winding through the tree streets: Locust Lane, Ash Avenue, Cherry Lane. There the J's house, they had a zipline in the back garden and a parlor where you couldn't bring food. There R's house, who I broke up with because of his body odor, which maybe wasn't bad but set off bad chemical alarms in my head. There the house that stood empty, where B and I made out before he crashed his motorcycle and died. Was it the house? Or was it the one a block over, with the new siding and the melting snowman?

My brothers used to make fun of me for saying, I remember! to stories that took place before I was born. But I remembered the story, the Super 8 movie clip, they way we told each other the story so often that I could see it as though I'd been there, the ghost of me, dragging the memory forward through time.

I have tea with a childhood friend, and this isn't something I can forget, the ease we have with each other, the connection, still strong, somehow still strong, though we grew apart in elementary school. We grew apart, is what I always said. We grew apart, even though he lived across the street. I say it to him now: We grew apart, when I went to France, and he looks at me. No, he says. That wasn't what happened at all. He tells me my parents thought I was spending too much time with boys, I didn't have enough friends that were girls.

And my world shifts. The story I'd told myself was different, it changes now, edges toward tragic, answering the ache in my heart whenever I remembered my friend.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Stiff little oranges

G sits beside me in the gallery. There's something about her presence that quiets my mind. My dad used to be the director of this gallery, thirty-five years ago. He would speak his name and birthdate into a microphone to gain access. I'd sit on a chair in the inner office, kicking my heels against the chair legs. Dad's colleague, Mr. Burnside, would slip his hand into mine, take me downstairs to the ice cream machine, buy me an ice cream sandwich. Mr. Burnside was impossibly old. He knew how to listen to a little girl. I'd eat the ice cream sandwich and chat with Mr. Burnside, kick at the chair legs while Dad worked, the gallery dark and empty on the other side of the wall.

G sits beside me now, while her husband R climbs a ladder to tweak the sound levels. It's a sound installation, a dozen little speakers suspended from the ceiling like faces. My voice comes from one of the speakers. R interviewed me over the phone a few months back about my decision to change my name. I don't remember what I said - I was just talking - but it's been captured and preserved. G has spent hours and hours listening to my voice, choosing which bits to save. I like the distortion from the telephone, except when I laugh. It sounds like a cackle.

It's a strange, intimate feeling. I am aware of G's silent recognition of a cadence in my voice. Like she has been brushing and braiding my hair while I sleep.

Later, at dinner, I say "ooh." G and R laugh. "You said it just that way in the interview!" A response that didn't make the final cut. We're eating homemade soup and salad. Dessert is a canvas bag of citrus from friends in Southern California. G puts her head in the bag to breathe it in, passes the bag to me. I gulp down a greedy breath. It smells like Santa Barbara, like the house of a long-gone friend who lived in the middle of a citrus orchard. R rolls a juice-heavy orange in his hand, "Such stiff little oranges," he says. I peel a grapefruit, clumsily, the oil from the skin running down my arm. "Sweaty grapefruit," says G. R peels his in a long spiral. He squeezes a piece of skin into the candle, and it sparks, a dinnertable firecracker.

G did, once, brush and braid my hair. She made a hundred tiny braids. I was in a play and the braids made it easy to tuck my hair under the wig every night. We spent hours with her hands in my hair. I sat at her feet while she braided and we talked.

We sit around the little table in their white-walled kitchen, eating sweet sections of grapefruit, the candles burning down. There is, I think, nothing better than this.