Elsewhere: a Faith story, for Grace Paley

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October 4, 2011

Bara Sapir

She woke up to a clinking sound like a stuck thought, as if there were some pestering obstacle in a story she wasn’t writing that would work itself out in her sleep if she could pay attention enough. Foolish thought, that it would happen like that, but it wasn’t a thought, thought Faith, it was a dream, and a dream is not foolish. Not a bone in her body that was moving, but the eyes wake up in a hurry if they need to. It was her ring of house keys dangling over her face, and attached to the keys an unwashed hand coming out of the sleeve of an unwashed shirt, and attached to both of those in the half dark a young man standing at the side of her bed she had never laid eyes on in her life. Why wasn’t she more afraid? She knew what had happened; she had done it again; Richard was always warning her, or Tonto: Ma, you can’t leave your keys in the door like that, what are you thinking of, bringing the shopping in or distracted at the mail as the door shuts behind. You’re on West 10th St. in New York, this is not some anarchist Russia of your dreams, your mind is elsewhere. She often liked her mind being elsewhere but at the moment it was locked onto the peculiar here and now and what it might want from her, so she sat up, the keys almost brushing her face and then tugged out of reach. He had mostly a look of reproach at her foolishness on his face, too nervous to manage sarcasm or menace or any of the more criminal expressions. Then he held up a not very serious knife. He wanted her money, but it came out like the kind of pleading she used to get out of either of the boys when they came up short on a Saturday night. The hand with the keys was shaking more than dangling. It wasn’t so much the loss of her sleep that made her weary, it was the sadness of that hand. He didn’t smell so good. He looked 18 or so. But I don’t have money, Faith told him, I’m a schoolteacher. What’s the matter with you? Do you live around here? Yeah, he answered. Just over on…hey. I bet you got money someplace. Coming into her house at an hour like this with an inadequate weapon like the idiot in a folktale. It made her wonder about the kid’s mother, if he had one of those. In the end she found six dollars or so in change by looking into all of the desk drawers, in among the scraps of paper she had written things down on for untold years, to think about some more someday when she had a little time. Quite a few scraps that ought to be poems by now, or maybe were already, and here was another half-written story standing upright in her bedroom uninvited, the schmendrik. Now she would have to run into him at odd times around the neighborhood forever like an unfinished argument. She would have to choose to wonder or not how he was making his way. Heading out her door he turned around, remembering his manners, and handed back the ring of keys. This probably can’t go on, you know, Faith said. You could put your mind to something else if you wanted to. Have you thought about the community college? Then she sat up for the rest of the end of that night, putting her mind to one of the vagrant scraps of old writing she had found.

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