Press 1

Elizabeth Thorpe

for the love of god, put down that shade! by Didi Wood
for the love of god, put down that shade! by Didi Wood


In the mornings, the light came in through the green leaves pressing into the open window. The room belonged to his friend, a dancer on tour, it was down the street from the conference hotel.

At night they would go out drinking. At the bar he would get her water when he thought she'd had too much wine. They would sit at outdoor tables and smell the trees cooling down and she would look at the string of lanterns and she could blur them a little with her eyes, and what she wanted was that blurry beauty.

She didn’t think much about going home, to the city of sharp edges, the city where she already knew who she was. The city where she knew she didn’t fit. She fit in this city, his city, with his friends, who talked quietly at outdoor tables, not loudly like the brash, hard girls in her city. Here they talked slow, their thoughts strung together one after another, bright beads in the candlelight, the lanternlight, the winelight.

They went back to the dancer’s room, arm in arm, and he read poetry, and she was too drunk to differentiate the words but not too drunk to know that he was reading to her. Not too drunk to know that she would one day tell her friends about this, this man who was beyond belief, a composite of all the romantic heroes he had read and she had read in books, blended together in Neruda and wine.

In the mornings the sun came through the leaves, the room was leaflit, and she didn’t feel fuzzy from the night before, and that was because of the water he made her drink, because he loved her, because he wanted to take care of her, because he wanted to own her, because he wanted her to be his child, because he had once taken care of his mother, because he missed his mother, because he missed being a child. Because he wanted a child. Because he wanted her to be the mother of his children.

She woke up feeling fine, feeling more awake than she did in her city, the city of sharp angles. They went to coffeeshops, they went to bookstores. One bookstore had wooden furniture that looked like it was carved straight out of trees and then smoothed by a thousand hands.

Just outside his city was a waterfall. The waterfall was loud like the fountain in her city. It sounded like the fountain, water slapping hard on hot rocks, hissing into mist. The fountain was the best thing in her city, but it wasn’t this. They sat on the bank and watched it, clothes getting damp from mist, and then they walked back over tree roots.

They looked at each other in the gloom of forests, saw the way the shadows fell across each other’s faces. The forests reminded her of her real home, they made him seem like home.

She cried at the airport when they parted. It seemed necessary to cry, it seemed natural. On the plane she fell asleep, and when she woke up she was halfway back. When she got to her city, her airport, her husband, you look good he said. You look happy. She was happy. She was happy to see him. She wasn't happy to see the city, though, the hard-edged city.

It took walks at night, slipping through the heavy air, the heavy humid air, the smell of trash and sewers, it took walks by the river, walks by the fountain that sounded the same as the waterfall. It took the cool bookstores, the high-branched city trees, the wind through their branches. It took TV and train rides and her husband there beside her in the dark, his breath even, his sleep easy. It took August, September. It took trips to their first home, their real home, where she could smell the trees cooling at night. It took trips home and trips back to the city. It took late afternoons on the balcony, watching the light slip like butter down the buildings. It took dark movie theaters. It took the smell of warm popcorn, it took baseball games, it took music twisting and weaving through the long days.

By November, when he came to her city to see her, it meant nothing. He meant nothing outside of his city, outside of that leaflit room. He was a character from a book. She had cut him out, paper doll. Cut from her life, thrown away. And with him went the dancer's room, the winelight, his lips around Neruda’s lines. With him went the feeling in her fingers. With him went layers of herself, her past, all cut out like paper dolls, blown, with him, to the winds.

In 2005, I moved from rural Maine to Center City, Philadelphia. The transition was very difficult—while I found the city exciting in many ways, being a Mainer meant a lot to me, and I had to figure out who I was in this new place. Travel provided some breaks from my identity struggle—as a traveler, I knew who I was, knew my place, so to speak, and I didn’t put as much pressure on myself to fit in. So I often felt more at home in these “strange” places than in the city that was supposed to be my new home.

This story is a fictional exploration of that difficult time—setting is very important to me as a writer, and I often try to explore how place can shape character. “Cities” always worked well as a read-aloud piece, but it felt unfinished until recently, when I realized that the female character is in love with the city she visits because of its similarity to her “real” home, and I needed to make that a stronger part of the story.

It’s funny that you have to get past or through a certain life situation to really fictionalize it effectively. That’s the way it works for me, anyway. My fiction is often many years behind my real life. So I can tell I’ve made my peace with Philly, because now I’m beginning to be able to write about it.