Three People

 
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Laurie Stone

Art by Sarah Tortora

 
 

Fan would try to catch Paul and Jill as they returned to Jill’s apartment at night or she would try to spot them on walks for the Sunday paper and bagels. Jill’s place was four blocks from Fan’s place. Fan would take friends with her on these outings, even other men, and they would stand outside Jill’s window, staring up and making up stories about what was going on inside. This filled Fan with a kind of pain she couldn’t resist and that strangely steadied her. Maybe it was being close to Paul.

Each time Fan saw Paul with Jill, it was as shocking as the first time, and she couldn’t understand why. She couldn’t understand why she kept doing it. She decided she would stop following them when the shock wore off.

Paul thought his new girlfriend was smart and pretty. He liked that Jill was tall. It was pleasant walking beside a person more his own size, instead of looking down at a puppet, moving along with him. He’d had to remind Fan all the time to stand up straight. She’d laugh and say, “I’m looking for change on the street.”

In his relationship with Jill, Paul closed the bathroom door and changed his underwear and socks every day. Still, when Jill came home with new shoes, scarves, and sweaters he thought Fan might have worn, it made him think Jill had good taste.

Jill had a straight nose and high cheekbones which made her mouth protrude a little. Her upper lip slid open when she was relaxed, and her front teeth stuck out in a sensual way that turned him on. Her chin was rounded and substantial. Her hair was dark and thick, and Paul loved to hold it. He’d lift her above him and let her hair tumble into his face. Sometimes, Jill crept over to his side when he was asleep and woke him with the tickle of her hair.

After Paul left Fan, Fan felt surer of her love for him than when they’d been together, and she liked loving him from a distance. It might have been her best quality, this thing she called her “loyalty.” Being married to Paul had made her feel insensitive and cold. When he left her, Fan was relieved to discover she could be as hurt and jealous as anyone else.

 

Paul would tell Jill she had the softest skin he’d ever felt, and Jill would wonder if he’d said the same thing to Fan. Paul once praised Jill at Fan’s expense, and it had felt to Jill like an insult. Paul would tell Jill how glad he was to be with someone who earned money. He could finally imagine a future and even children, if she wanted them. She thought she did. Before meeting Paul, Jill had been proud of working in a liberal law firm. Now, she wondered if Paul found her work unglamorous. She didn’t think glamor had anything to do with keeping people out of jail, but these thoughts crept in whether she wanted them to or not. She wondered if Paul’s marriage to Fan had really been as rare and oddball as she’d been led to believe. It probably hadn’t been all that different from her relationship with Paul, she thought. It was that Fan had been there first, and first love was first love.

“If you could call what we had love,” Paul would snort to Jill, when Jill wanted to know more about Fan. When he’d first left Fan, he’d thought he was only taking a vacation from her. Then he found he was happier living apart from her. The relief of making an escape filled him. It was as if something larger than himself had entered him, and for a while there wasn’t much room for anything else. Once he found his freedom, it took Paul years to forgive Fan for whatever there was to forgive her for. At a certain point, he couldn’t exactly say what it was.

Fan wrote music and played the piano. Paul had worried all the time if she was excited by her work or frustrated by it. It was like living a second life inside his own life, a shadow life that made him wonder about the chance ways any life could go on the garden of forking paths. Was it the garden of forking paths that gave people a biography or a voice inside them they listened to because it was louder and more insistent than the voices they heard outside themselves? Statistically, there was little chance of Fan succeeding creatively or financially, and she wouldn’t settle for just performing. He believed in her talent and appreciated her music, but that hadn’t reassured her. Nothing he said or did had reassured Fan, and he didn’t care. He’d liked the job.

One of the times Jill saw Fan on the street, Fan was suntanned, and Jill had thought, with a little laugh, Fan’s skin was almost as dark as hers was. Paul had waved to Fan awkwardly, and he and Jill had walked on. Jill had said to Paul, “She’s let her hair grow wild and shaggy. It makes her look like some sort of animal.” Jill had wondered if they were coming to look alike, the way people and their animals began to look alike. Did that happen with an ex and her replacement?

Fan had an open, eager face. She was easy to get to know. That’s what Paul had liked about her at first. People were harder for him than they were for Fan. When anyone else would have been silent, Fan would say something, and the stillness around her words made people listen to her.

Paul couldn’t define what Fan had meant to him or the way she made him feel now. She was small and rather odd-looking. It had been less than sensational for them in bed, they both agreed. He wasn’t aware of feelings of guilt toward her. He was offering her what she’d always said she wanted, freedom, and she had really been the first one to leave the relationship. She’d taken a trip to Switzerland and met a man there. Paul had followed her to Europe, as was their plan. He’d picked her up in a rental car and when she told him about the affair he’d wrestled with her while she was driving on a steep road in the Alps. On this trip, they’d laughed and cried, and while they were laughing and crying Paul had made a promise to himself, a promise right there in Switzerland, to pay her back for her infidelity by taking a little trip of his own some time. That’s what he’d done, and now he was wondering when it would feel like he was living a separate life and if in that separate life he would be lonely.

 

Spring / Summer 2024



Laurie Stone

Laurie Stone’s most recent book, Streaming Now, Postcards from the Thing That Is Happening, was long-listed for the The PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. She writes the Substack “Everything is Personal”, and is a regular contributor to the Paris Review and Oldster Magazine. Her website is lauriestone.substack.com.



Sarah Tortora

Sarah Tortora's work in sculpture, writing, and photography addresses classical archetypes and museological displays while playing with the premise that every equestrian monument is a Trojan horse. Her work has been exhibited at Ulterior (NY), Essex Flowers (NY), Tiger Strikes Asteroid (NY and LA), Wellesley College (MA), and Fjord (Philadelphia). Sarah has been an artist-in-residence at ISCP in Brooklyn and a Windgate Artist in Residence at Purchase College, which culminates in a solo show at the Richard & Dolly Maas Gallery in Fall 2024. Sarah is represented by Ulterior Gallery, New York.



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