Center
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16 Susan only half believes she’s visiting the home of her newly married brother. She has a queasy, unreal feeling left over from the plane ride: New York to Los Angeles—nonstop, a feeling of distances covered too quickly. On the plane she’d studied the back of the inflight magazine —the states mapped out like different regions of the brain, the flight trajectories swooping and swirling electric pulses. She’d been surprised at the number of connections leading to and away from her childhood home in Cedar Rapids. It didn’t help Susan’s sense of reality that the wedding, in her experience, was still just an image on the invite. The card had shown black-and-white photos of her brother and his fiancée making faces and kissing. She’d found the display of beauty and quirkiness annoying . And her annoyance made her feel like the “bitter older sister,” so she’d taken the invite off of the refrigerator where she’d placed it as a reminder. She’d then lost the invitation, actually. She’d somehow managed to schedule an important part of her doctoral exams on the same day as the wedding. Yet Susan now stands at her brother’s front door, in a pocket of shade amid the bright LA sunlight, on a porch with a swing and other convincing realistic details like half-dead pansies in terra cotta pots. The door is cracked, and her brother Alex is rummaging around the car for the house keys he’s dropped between the seats. Susan pushes the door open. She could call out to her brother, say, “Hey, Center 17 Center it’s open,” but she’d rather be a spy. She’d rather check things out, make them her own. It happens right away: Inside the front room is a familiar slanted block of sun across a shaggycarpet,andpothos,hangingplantswiththeirtropicaltwining leaves, like living wigs of long green hair. Here are the nubby cinder block walls. Although one is now painted a yellow ocher and seems to vibrate as if pregnant or alive. Susan is thirty-five, four years older than her brother, and she thinks, no, this is not his house, it’s hers, the one she inhabited for that brief time without him, when she was the center of the universe. Bubbles of romantically edited memory form: She sits on the carpet inside the patch of sunlight and is spotlit underwater . Dust motes float like sea monkeys in the beam and the carpet is a jumble of aqueous worms. But Alex, who has graciously picked her up at the airport, who is disconcertinglyexcitedtoseeher,comesboundingthroughthedoor. “Oops,” he says. He’s a monstrously large child with orange leather bowling shoes and one sparkly earring. He shakes his keys in front of Susan’s face. He skips to the kitchen, and destroys, as usual, Susan’s romantic visions of herself—they rise, tremble, and pop. The kitchen is very clearly not their old home. It’s too California —the cabinets are white and sleek, not that old butterscotch brown with the faux-rustic hardware. There is a chrome dishwasher, refrigerator , and range. And Susan remembers that her brother’s new wife Melinda is a “fancy cook person,” as her mother called her. A gastronomist , with a blog and a personal consulting business. She is a yoga-doing, take-care-of-yourself-in-order-to-spread-good-vibesacross -the-universe person, Susan thinks. Enlightened bourgeoisie. 18 Elegies for Uncanny Girls Little jars of herbs line the countertop. As if for more evidence her brother opens the refrigerator, which blooms into an exotic jungle of leafy greens, fruit as large as heads, blocks of cheese, and expensive blue and green glass bottles. Susan thinks of her small Brooklyn apartment, meals of one precooked sausage, coffee, and gummy bears. She thinks about her brother’s old refrigerator, full of beer and half-eaten bags of French fries—oh, how they bonded over their bad health habits. Alex now sticks his hand into the green mass and pulls on something beige and full of twisted appendages, something that grows larger as it emerges from the leaves. “It’s a root baby,” he cries and drops it suddenly on the counter. He takes a few steps back and laughs, at first forced, then real. Susan has her choices—she can laugh along with her brother and bond over the sudden weirdness. An ironically random message from the universe? Instead she...


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