"Jennifer Grey's New Nose"


Listening to a new voicemail, Graham forgot he was sitting across from Corrie Pfrang on her bathroom floor, her old medicine cabinet propped against the wall, its items displaced on various surfaces until he installed the new vanity. “What gives?” Corrie asked, nudging him in the shins with her bare feet, forcing him to stop staring at his screen. For someone so polished, her feet were anything but—dry skin and calluses covering her heels and toes, battle scars from the pumps and pointy-toed flats she wore. They reminded him of his own feet, a dancer’s feet, though Corrie had two left ones. “C’mon, Graham. Pass the fucking joint.”

“It was Sylvie,” he said, more for himself as he handed it to her. It sounded odd saying her name out loud, like pronouncing the name of a street where he’d once lived. Sylvie Lenkiewicz. She hadn’t kept in touch in their fifteen years since high school. Although outsiders often considered Delaware small— the rest of the world had the metric system, but people here measured other places by how many Delawares could fit inside them—Graham understood that at any given moment there were whole worlds just underneath a person’s nose that would never be discovered, especially if the people involved with those worlds wanted to remain unseen.

Corrie inhaled, shrugging. Because Graham didn’t have any firsthand or secondhand knowledge of what Sylvie’s life had become, he’d always imagined she was the one to make it, a picture book artist living alongside the Seine, a gallery owner in Soho who no longer knew anyone who mispronounced Houston Street, an architect who was busy re-envisioning the skylines of American cities like Altoona and Lancaster, while he was just an amateur handyman and dancer who also sold pot. Still, he kept reminding himself that despite her many options, Sylvie had decided she now needed Graham Shipska to remove her unwanted trees.

He asked Corrie if she knew Sylvie since it seemed she lived in her neighborhood from the address she’d provided, but she interrupted, talking instead about how hungry she was before taking another pronounced drag. She dug through a tin of cough drops. “Sure these aren’t candy, but did you know each Halls contains just fifteen calories?” Graham popped one in his mouth while his mind raced to all of the things he might say if he returned Sylvie’s call. Hi, it’s Graham. You know, the guy who got you your first fake ID. He wanted to remind her he had once been resourceful. Hi, it’s Graham. Taking down unwanted trees is my specialty. He recognized this made him sound like a destroyer of the Earth, and a boring destroyer at that. Hi, it’s Graham. Why the hell did you run out of the Justice of the Peace when we were seconds away from being Mr. and Mrs. Shipska? He both wanted and didn’t want to know that answer. Maybe she thought she was sparing him, that he shouldn’t have to care for a woman whose mental health was so fragile, but she hadn’t spared him. She’d destroyed him.

“I’ll be back tomorrow to install the cabinet,” Graham said, using the toilet as leverage to steady himself as he jumped to his feet. She tried to pass back the joint, but he waved it away.

“I was hoping we’d at least fuck before you left.” Corrie laughed. “It’s okay. It’s just that Jim’s bringing the kids back tomorrow, so I have to be good for the rest of the week. Until our trip.”

“I’ll get here early,” Graham said. “Before the kids.”

After kissing her on the cheek, he made his way to the front door. Cowboy—he loved that goofy dog, especially its name—trailed beside him until he let himself out. Though Graham’s progress on Corrie’s master bathroom had been slow, he discounted his prices so much he imagined she wouldn’t think of contracting anyone else, no matter how long he took. All of his clients liked his discounts and he liked the company of all of his clients. He often stretched out projects that should have taken days to weeks or even months, meticulously taping off trim one afternoon, priming an accent wall another. He routinely brought Corrie gossip from other clients who were members of the same club she and her soon-to-be ex-husband belonged, solidifying her ability to stay in touch remotely with that world while she decided if she wanted to stay in touch physically once the dust settled. When Chloe West had been depressed during her pregnancy, he’d fetched her favorite truffles from Gavots on Market Street before showing up to work on the nursery. He taught Everly Trickett to dance, first in her kitchen he was remodeling and later when she enrolled in private dance lessons at The Blue Ballroom where he taught. Through all of his partying and adventures, he’d missed the long-term relationship boat, the marriage boat, the having children boat, so instead he ferried himself between the homes of those who hadn’t. They got so used to him being there that they often invited him to stay for dinner or swim in the family pool. All of these relationships had stayed platonic until Corrie.

She’d first kissed him the same day he’d won Marlboro’s Rock the Ranch Sweepstakes. Tile samples had been spread across her kitchen table and, when he leaned in to brush a piece of lint from her shoulder, she misinterpreted his movement and went for it. He’d wanted to be excited about the trip, an invitation to enjoy an all-inclusive getaway to the Marlboro Ranch in Montana, bur the loneliness that he’d kept at bay for most of his life finally announced itself. It wasn’t easy to win. Marlboro’s employees scoured the internet, combing through the online personas of each applicant to hand-select those who looked the most magical, the most mysterious, the most like their lives embodied that of the Marlboro man. And yet Graham on paper looked less magical than InstaGraham: single, roommate to a dog named Will Feral, teacher of the Merengue and Pachanga to married women who mostly wanted to fuck him. People don’t ask other people if they’ve won any contests lately when they run into them at the grocery store.

Graham texted Sylvie as soon as he got to his car: “I’m leaving for the Marlboro Ranch in a few days, but I can get started on those trees as early as tomorrow.”

“It’s so good to hear you’re still smoking,” Sylvie typed almost immediately. He wondered if she wanted him dead, holed up in a hospital with emphysema or something. But then she wrote, “It’s good to hear some things haven’t changed. It’s grounding.”

“When can I look at the trees?” Graham wrote, not knowing what else to say.

“I’m having a birthday party for my twins tomorrow, but you can come after.” His stomach somersaulted. If she had twins, those twins had a father. Of course she was married. “They’re turning 12,” she added.

“The trees?” Graham typed.

“Victoria and Richard.”

“You named your trees?” Graham typed.

“No. I named my children.” When he didn’t respond, embarrassed, she typed, “Come around 4.”</