Stara Zagora

He slapped her too hard on her ass and they stopped for an awkward moment. Andrew felt uncontrollably angry.

Andrew had splurged on a room in the quaint medieval city of Sighisora. After he and Hilary fumbled out of their clothes and onto the paper-thin sheets of the bed in their room, she hardly responded to him. Her sense of humor, which was what had drawn him to her from the first, evaporated as soon as they touched. He slapped her too hard on her ass and they stopped for an awkward moment. Andrew felt uncontrollably angry. Hilary closed her eyes. She turned her head against her pillow. He put his hand around her mouth and made her look at him, then kissed her and put her nipple between his teeth, thinking that would please her. He came. She gasped a little gasp.

They retreated to their sides of the bed and went to sleep early. When Andrew turned and touched her bare back, wanting to go again, she put her free arm back across her body without turning, patted his hand lightly and said:


They woke the next morning to await a train to Stara Zagora, Bulgaria. Outside the streets were dusty. Old trains pulled through the station at times unspecified by the schedule posted on a wall by the tracks. The information office smelled of dog urine. There was no one behind the desk. A man from town walked by with two furry dogs, who herded along a wooly sheep.

It was more than an hour before their train was to come. Andrew watched their bags while Hilary wandered off to browse through the Russian Bazaar near the station.

“How’d it go?” Andrew said when she returned.

“An old woman just tried to sell me her great-grandmother’s socks,” Hilary said.
Her voice was very dry and serious, communicating a crisp sarcasm that lifted Andrew’s mood.

“Off her feet?” he said.

“I found a pair of those good, wool, embroidered socks. There were holes in the toes and heels. ‘These?’ I said. ‘Were my great-grandmother’s,’ she said. ‘She make them herself. Best socks in whole bazaar.’”

“So… you bought them, right?”

They started laughing. They talked to each other like they were on-screen in a decent movie, directed by a famous writer/director whose characters’ lines all sounded like they should be coming out of his mouth rather than theirs.

“Think these are part of the continental breakfast in the hotels here?” Hilary said.

She was holding in the air a two-inch long fried brown fish called tsa tsa that the Romanians ate head, tail and all. She’d brought a paper plate filled with the briny fish from a stand at the Bazaar.

Andrew let her joke. If he couldn’t induce in her some intimacy with which he might toy, at least he would be entertained. There was a rapport between them, but it was as dry as the sex they’d had in that bed in Romania.


By the time she and Andrew had crossed the border and almost reached Stara Zagora, Hilary was on the verge of leaving this snide jackanapes of a traveling companion she was stuck with on their supposedly great trip to Bulgaria. Little had changed on their forty-hour train ride, and in Sofia they had to change over to a bus for the last two hours of the trip.

Hilary thought maybe getting on the road once more would quiet him. But the inside of the bus was infernal, and they had so little leg room that when they got off for a cigarette break halfway to their destination, Andrew lifted the leg of his jeans to show Hilary the deep purple impression the bar in the seat in front of him left on his shin.

So he wanted to keep up this charade that they were both tickled, that things were oh so comical, that they were each so funny? What was with his pathetic effusions of ill-charm? She said, “Oh yeah—well look at this” and came back at him by turning her head, where the rubber of the window on which she’d lain her head had rubbed off and left a long, black smudge on her cheek.

Andrew laughed mirthlessly.

Did he think she was really so funny? People didn’t usually think she was funny. As a teenager she’d been what even she herself would have classified as a humorless busy-body, a straight-A student who’d applied her soccer coach’s draconian lectures on hustle to the classroom, slide-tackling even the simplest trigonometry problem to the turf by sheer force of will.

It wasn’t meant to make people like her better or think she was humorous; Hilary understood that. It was meant to get her into Princeton—as it had—and then into a top-three law school—as it had.

Now that she was in her mid-twenties and had the confidence of achievement behind her, she had begun to become attuned to a layer of sarcasm that she formerly assumed was straightforward bitterness in the way people spoke to her.

Now that she was in her mid-twenties and had the confidence of achievement behind her, she had begun to become attuned to a layer of sarcasm that she formerly assumed was straightforward bitterness in the way people spoke to her. Andrew was the first person she’d known to seize on what was in her mainly blunt egotism—Hilary wasn’t afraid to admit it, it had served her just fine—and assign it the permanent and daft quality of dry wit. She and Andrew were both law students at NYU. The April night they met Hilary’d had six Grey Goose martinis. She watched him drink easily twice that. Her hazy memory of the night was like a half-remembered penal statute from her first semester. She and Andrew didn’t see each other for weeks. She emailed and called him every couple of days.

They met up for dinner a month later. When they found out that they would both be spending their first summer in Eastern Europe, they had an enthusiastic conversation about the possibility of long walks along the Charles Bridge and blistering days by the Black Sea.

Now Hilary was sweaty and tired—of the trip, and of Andrew.

When they reached the bus station in Stara, Hilary’s friend was there to meet them. Gary was short and hunched, with thick brown sideburns and a dull brown goatee. He winced constantly, as if forever afraid of being punched. He had been a Peace Corps Volunteer there and had stayed on after his term ended.

“We’re just up here a ways,” Gary said. “Now Hilary, do tell of your travels. And then let’s get the dish on all the old friends.”

He paused.

“And the new ones. How are you two acquainted?”

Hilary had written to tell Gary about Andrew weeks before.

“NYU,” she said.

Hilary and Gary had also dated. At Princeton. She’d only told Andrew that she wanted to go to Stara Zagora to visit an old friend. The two had lost touch years ago, but when friends in common found out she would be traveling through Bulgaria, where Gary now lived, it seemed compulsory that they meet up. It had been years since Hilary had thought of him, about their awkward encounters in public and awkward silences in private.

She was so much taller than him.

But back when they were undergraduates Gary was, even for his pretension, so smart and dour and spoke humorlessly in class. When he turned his attention to Hilary, she had capitulated, allowing him to buy her dinners, and, eventually, to take off her clothes and kiss her body while she quietly waited for him to finish. More even than his touch, which repulsed her only vaguely, Hilary hated listening to his earnest professions of love and lust. Every “oh, God,” or “I love you,” or even, “don’t stop”—she couldn’t quite remember having started, how was she going to stop?—sounded so trite, the quotidian clichés of movies she’d always refused to watch and books she’d long ago ceased to read.

“My pied-á-terre is just around the corner,” Gary said.

Hilary could see that Andrew felt immediate enmity for him. She watched it burgeon when they found that “just around the corner” was a twenty-block walk uphill. Hilary and Gary walked in front. They said the names of people they knew in common and what careers those people had now. It seemed to give neither any pleasure.

When she fell back and walked next to Andrew for a spell he said, “You were friends with this guy why, exactly?”

“We dated.”

“Yeah, I’m sure you did,” Andrew said.

Hilary was unsure whether to take this as more sarcasm or honest disbelief on Andrew’s part. His tone was too dry to tell.

Hilary walked the rest of the way alongside Gary. Her backpack was heavy and she was covered in sweat from two days’ travel. By the time they got to Gary’s building, Hilary saw that Andrew was done with her diminutive friend.

At his apartment, Gary directed the two of them to the tiny back room where they would be sleeping on a hard mat on his floor.

“You looking forward to this festival about which Hilary is so excited?” Gary said.

“Yeah. We’re here for the gypsies, right?” Andrew answered.

“We call them Roma here, as they wish to be called,” Gary said.

He dragged heavily on a dark brown cigarette, which he held between his middle and ring fingers like a Nazi in a ‘50’s war film.

Andrew dropped his pack. He headed for the shower without asking Hilary if she wanted to get in first.

“The Roma festival has already begun,” Gary said.

Andrew was dressed and Hilary had showered. Then Gary said:

“I’m not sure you guys can find it on your own.”

Hilary worried a moment he was suggesting he would come, but Gary was incapable of even the most innocuous mendacity. He told them the name of the park they would have to traverse to get to the festival. They stepped back from the door—Hilary was smiling so hard it made her face hurt, trying to hide her anger at his vagueness—and Gary gave them a difficult set of directions, punctuated by landmarks and a series of street names written in Cyrillic cursive which neither of them could possibly have understood.

They left without telling Gary goodbye.


The street outside was dark, and the pavement was marred by cracks and potholes. Large cakes of asphalt were dislodged and left precariously on the street. They walked past only one streetlight. They made a left at a grocery where two fat Bulgarian men smoked and talked, and they walked a couple of blocks and turned twice before they hit a large, dark park called Borova Gora.

There was not a single streetlamp in the park—there was no light of any kind. Every fifty yards or so they came to a short set of stairs. In the darkness it was almost impossible to see where they ended.

“You think this is the most direct way to get there?” Hilary said.

She was genuinely scared by the blue-black park. She thought she sensed fear in Andrew, too.

But now he laughed. He thought she was making a crude joke—the kind he clearly loved most—though she was serious. She found him to be just an utter fool for laughing. She would have corrected him had it not been for the long lie it would reveal, and the surreptitious pleasure she kept taking at being mistaken for a wit.

“Yeah, but if it’s unsafe, I’ll be here to protect you,” Andrew said.

He stopped laughing and was, for once, serious. Her fear made her thankful that Andrew was there with her. She put her arm inside the crook of his and they walked that way for another hundred yards. Finally they heard music coming through a dense stand of trees.


Their bellies moved as if they’d all ingested the same salacious, rounded-headed animal.

They walked up a steep path to the entrance to the amphitheater. A group of twenty gypsy teenagers stood at the gate looking at their feet like they had all abetted some unspeakable crime. A pair of feckless older men stood at the gate and yelled to Andrew in Bulgarian. He tried to hand one of them money but the gypsy had turned away. Andrew and Hilary entered without having paid.

They waded through the increasing mass of gypsies and only gypsies. The viscous smell of body odor filled the air, and the crowd writhed with dancing bodies. There was a wild chaos below. In front, near the stage, teenagers shook their hips. Skinny boys with their shirts off, sweaty to the waist, swayed next to women who grabbed and lifted their shirts to the middle of their ribs. Their bellies moved as if they’d all ingested the same salacious, rounded-headed animal.

Andrew walked with Hilary’s hand protectively in his. He spotted three or four empty seats on the far side of the theater, halfway from the stage, right as they came to where the theater was most congested. They pushed through the crowd, Andrew in front to guide them. Then there was a flash of movement next to Andrew. He saw it first out of the corner of his eye. He was jerked back by Hilary’s hand.

Then he wasn’t holding her hand at all.

When Andrew turned, an older man with a nappy beard leaned in toward her. All of a sudden he grabbed her behind her head. He pulled her face to his and put his tongue into her mouth. It was another second before Andrew realized what was happening. He reached over and pushed the old man off. There followed a general commotion— Andrew grabbed and then pushed the man, who, once free of Andrew’s grasp, danced around in ecstasy.

Was it over the kiss? Or had the music been the cause of the kiss and the dance?

Two younger men beside him smiled invidious smiles. Andrew stood still. He was unsure what to do next—surely he couldn’t get into a fight. Could he? Before he had a chance to think more of it the new realization that Hilary was no longer beside him took hold.

She was already twenty feet deeper into the theater. She walked fluidly, dodging and nudging her way between the thicket of dancers.

By the time Andrew caught up to her Hilary was already sitting in the seats they’d spotted from the entrance. She was holding her body loosely, her hair mussed and her eyes searching the crowd, the ground, his face.

“You okay?” Andrew said.

Hilary did not respond. She looked ahead. Directly in front of them a four-year-old girl wearing a tight t-shirt and tied-dyed skirt grinded her hips: lascivious, licentious, prurient, all the words Andrew knew for that behavior passed through his head. He looked at Hilary, who was looking at the girl too. Still she said nothing.

“Fuck was he thinking,” Andrew said.

Hilary’s attention was now fixed on the stage.

The toddler’s parents smiled and moved her around a bit with their hands, teaching her to move that way. A knot formed in Andrew’s throat. He wished he could give himself over to the chaos, but reluctantly he found himself feeling protective of this girl, of Hilary. It wasn’t a feeling he was used to, nor one that suited him.

Now bright spotlights passed over wide sections of the crowd, picking out random groups moving to the music. The hip-shaking toddler in front of them was again moving her ass around in little circles under the supervision of her mother’s hand. Her father smoked a cigarette.

On stage, two dark men played synthesizers while a man in an all-white suit sang. Each song he finished brought a line of young people bearing roses wrapped in clear plastic. They passed the roses to the singers and gave them kisses on each cheek. Then on came a 60-something-year-old man in a sheer black shirt and horrible, shiny, printed blue pants and a mop of white nap on his head.

Hilary leaned over and said:

“Good thing you decided not to wear those pants tonight.”

She pointed at the gaudily dressed emcee.

“You would have been embarrassed.”

She put her lips very close to Andrew’s ear. A chill went down his spine.

Andrew shuddered. While he sat there angry, tight within himself from the need to protect her, and embarrassed at having failed to do so, Hilary had returned to herself. She was again cracking jokes. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he needed to protect her, and it only increased as he saw her grow more at ease with the chaos. He tried to appear at ease too.

“We forgot our smokes,” Andrew said.

“See that one there?” Hilary yelled back, pointing at a dancer onstage.

“Cigarettes—we forgot them.”

Hilary poked the teenager in front of them. She put her two fingers to her lips. He gave her a smoke and then turned and offered one to Andrew. Andrew nodded his head in agreement. He needed a smoke and began to calm down, interacting in such a familiar way with one of the gypsies. But the gypsy kid turned his back to them.

We call them Roma here, as they wish to be called,” Andrew thought.

He became angry before he remembered that in Bulgaria, a nod signified a “no,” and a head-shake meant “yes.” He’d communicated the opposite of what he’d meant.

Hilary shared her cigarette, whose smoke proved to be grainy. It coated Andrew’s teeth with a grimy film. It was so poorly packed that by the mid-way point it was nearly falling apart.

At the end of the Macedonian’s last song people crumpled papers and lit them on fire. Soon the place was thick with the smell of burning paper and burning plastic. It was well into the following song before the smoldering papers and plastics finally died down into black ash all about their feet.

Then out came a dance troupe, and the two fattest men kept raising their shirts and swinging their prodigious bellies.

“They love to be fat,” Hilary said. “It means they’re wealthy.”

She said it so loudly Andrew blushed and looked around. The men and women on stage danced from either side to each other, holding a hand limp at the wrist and bowed at the elbow in the familiar gypsy style, fluidly and violently shaking their hips to the music.

Then Hilary stood and began to dance. She shook her hips, though she wasn’t following the beat precisely. A teenager next to her stood and put his hands on her hips, helping her to move to the rhythm, smiling into her eyes like a hungry flea. Andrew went to stand, to step in between them, but Hilary shrugged him off with a wild smile.


Through the park on the way home it was again so dark they could hardly see in front of their feet.

Hilary was unhinged. There was a feeling at the top of her head like she was rising up toward the black sky. As they walked into the park, twice they stumbled down stairs they hadn’t seen—Hilary did, anyway, and in her mind Andrew must have as well. Then she grabbed Andrew by his shoulder and kissed him so hard their teeth clacked together. She took his hand and brought it to her breast.

“I want you to fuck me right here,” she said.

Maybe she was being sarcastic now. It didn’t matter. She’d made a joke and meant it, finally, in the amphitheater, and it was like a hole had opened in her head. Or before that, when there was Hilary Metz being kissed, hard, by a sweaty, ecstatic gypsy, at a music festival in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria. When he had grabbed her she had let out a little grunt, one that was likely meant to precede a hopeless shriek, but in the cacophony of the theater, no one had heard it, the least of all Andrew.

“In this park?” Andrew said.

She’d almost forgotten what he was responding to, and then remembered what she’d said, and thought of her meaning.

“No, right here,” Hilary said.

She took his hand. She put it under her skirt, all the way under her crotch to her ass. She put her first finger on his and pushed it against her. If they were going to enter into the clichéd language of love, they were going to enter into it! It was almost something out of a Mel Brooks movie, her response, but she found instead of embarrassment the satisfaction of a little lie she’d told, a little secret between them—she didn’t care how they sounded, if it led to this. She let out a little grunt, the same little grunt she’d made when the gypsy had kissed her.


Suddenly Andrew’s jeans were coming undone. Now she was pushing with the heels of her palms down on his underwear.

Suddenly Andrew’s jeans were coming undone. Now she was pushing with the heels of her palms down on his underwear. They shuffled together over to a bench. Hilary put her hands down on the bench. Andrew was behind her. They went on like this for what must have been fifteen minutes, a half an hour, what did Andrew know?

Really, Andrew thought. The fuck do I know? Maybe Hilary really had been with Gary, too. Andrew didn’t know why he would think of it now—surely he wouldn’t have believed it before—but maybe Hilary really had dated Gary like she’d joked. It was more disturbing to imagine her with him than it had been to watch her be kissed by some strange gypsy. At least the gypsy belonged here in Stara Zagora.

Gary was still waiting for them at home.

Hilary laid Andrew down under her on the bench. He was exhausted. He had not expected it, certainly not expected her to be so loud. She’d taken a strange kind of control. When she grunted, any crazy gypsy from there to Italy could probably hear her. It was different from her groans from the night in Romania—the way a dog barked differently when it wanted to take a walk and when it was warning off an intruder. Andrew’s calf muscles ached from standing and trying to keep inside of her.

“I’ll just go here for a second,” Andrew said, walking away to fix his jeans. Hilary said nothing. He was no further than three steps before he was overcome by guilt for being even this far from her. He stalked back over to the bench.

They buttoned their clothes up and suddenly it was horrible. Hilary was trying to think of something funny to say, he could sense it, but nothing would come. They were in a foreign country, not two hundred yards from a group of a thousand gypsies, and not one of them would think twice before stealing your wallet from your back pocket, or casting a curse on you. What evil would they have done if they had come upon two tourists who spoke no language, engaged in this act?

Andrew had heard all kinds of stories about the Roma. They were purported to have organized begging syndicates. Small, filthy-faced children who asked for change and brought it back at the end of the day to some Dickensian kingpin who meted out just enough money for them to be able to eat, keeping the bulk of the earnings for himself. Roma women would throw their baby at you and when you let go of your luggage to catch the baby, they would grab your things and the baby and run off.

Now Andrew didn’t even know if they were walking in the right direction. He plodded ahead with her in tow, wanting only to get back.


When they were a couple hundred feet from the other side of the park, Hilary felt rueful at seeing the lights of the avenue where they had first entered into their long walk. Her underwear was warm and wet against the skin of her inner thighs. For the first time in her life, she elated at the feeling. She could just make out his features in the darkness, but what she saw on Andrew’s face was just what she was hoping—seriousness, and concern. He was quiet because he was trying to listen to his thoughts. She had questioned, until right now, if this Andrew Linard had such thoughts at all.

They walked faster down the stairs. Hilary enjoyed more and more the fact of their silence, her hand in his, as they sped toward the lighted avenue. She wished they didn’t have to get back to Gary’s. She wished they could just trek through this park all night. But it wasn’t safe out here. Hilary hardly remembered coming down this path herself—she was a rational woman, but she had never been one to lead when lost.

Once they were back out onto the lighted street, Hilary’s heart stopped thudding in her ears. Andrew knew where they were going.

Then she heard footsteps behind her.

She stopped. Behind them was an old gypsy. His face was brown and leathery. Black hairs poked out of his chin like a collection of wizened Monterey pines. Was this the man who had kissed her in the amphitheater? She wasn’t a racist, but these men all looked the same.

He said something in Bulgarian. She couldn’t understand. He cupped his hands in front of him for money, and Hilary shook her head at him, no. The man laughed. Andrew was looking at them now. He glared and then he shook his head no at her, then nodded sharply at the gypsy.


With each step Andrew became more aware that this gypsy was not going to leave them alone.

With each step Andrew became more aware that this gypsy was not going to leave them alone. Hilary would want to get back to the safety. Maybe she would want to get back to Gary.

But was this the same avenue where they had first come up on that dark park? The old gypsy man was begging, and goddamn it, Andrew thought after telling her, she was only encouraging him by shaking her head, telling him yes, yes, yes.

Now he felt a bit more certain that this was the avenue they’d come up. There was a street sign overhead up the street. They picked up their pace.

The old gypsy was still following them. It occurred to Andrew that this might even have been the same old gypsy who had kissed Hilary at the festival.

The gypsy kept catching up to them and then stopping as they pulled ahead. Andrew had heard stories of Roma children in Sofia who grabbed onto tourists’ legs and didn’t let go for miles, literally for miles.

He turned to Hilary and said, “He’ll leave us alone. You just need to make it clear you’re done—not shaking your head, nodding. Remember?”

The gypsy was a bit further behind them now.

She nodded. She didn’t remember.

“Okay. Guess we ought to get home to Gary’s,” Hilary said, though she wasn’t sure she even meant it.

Ought to get home to Gary’s, Andrew thought.

It was dark. It seemed to Andrew that maybe the gypsy had finally left them alone. No more old gypsy men needed try anything with Hilary tonight. Overhead the street sign was big and rectangular and Andrew stared up at it, but the Cyrillic and the dark conspired against them. It looked like the same name, but all he remembered was that the street name was long and started with the letter that looked like an “E” on its back, and which made the “sh” sound. So was this the street? He didn’t know where they were going, and just when it seemed things would reach their worst, Hilary said:

“There it is!”

Off in the opposite direction was the grocery they had passed on their way. He would get Hilary back to Gary’s after all. Andrew had a dry feeling in the middle of his chest that he couldn’t identify. He ignored it, and swore that he would never feel this way again.


They were almost to the streetlight in front of the grocery, the only light they would pass on their whole walk back, when Hilary heard the shuffling behind them again. The gypsy was still following them. He didn’t look at her. He slowed when they stopped. She nudged Andrew’s arm.

“I think we’ve got company,” she said with a laugh.

She was newly comfortable with their flippant sarcasm. Not much would disturb the open top of her head now.

“Think you ought to take care of him?”

Andrew turned around. The old Roma man walked up, still not looking at him directly, but to the side, at the street, like a shy child. But he stood very close to Hilary, the gypsy. He said something in Bulgarian.

“I might just have to take care of him,” Andrew said.

His tone was so dry.

With the light so close and home so close, the night seemed darker now. Two large Bulgarians who had been standing outside the grocery stepped out their cigarettes and returned inside. Trees at the edge of the park, just a couple of hundred feet behind them now, swayed against the night sky, navy blue though only hours before they had been so green.

“Just go away,” Andrew said to the gypsy.

But clearly the man didn’t understand. He put his hands out once more, before him as if to cup water after brushing his teeth. This time he pushed his hands forward from himself, begging. His eyes were still averted from Andrew’s, only now it looked as if they were averted not at the sidewalk, but at Hilary. At Hilary’s body.

“Walk the fuck away,” Andrew said again.

His voice was loud, in a near-shout the way a drunk man might yell at another drunk who was standing too close to his bleached-haired girlfriend. There was little question what Andrew was feeling.

Hilary watched Andrew’s eyes continue to track the gypsy’s. The gypsy did not understand him, only kept moving his hands and looking away from Andrew, his eyes trained low.

“We should just get back,” Hilary said.

She’d been jarred now too. She wanted to get out of there. Something in Andrew’s tone reminded her of times her brother drank too much whiskey when he came to visit her at college.

The first punch that Andrew threw was an uppercut. He threw it expertly, taking the man square on the chin. The Roma man’s head hit the ground with a hollow plunk. Andrew kicked him twice. He had hit him three times in his head again before Hilary grabbed Andrew by his shoulder. He stopped. He did not wheel around, or look at her with wild eyes, or try to hit her arm away.

He stood up. His fists were still clenched. He walked a ways. Then he slowed and stopped before he was completely out from the light. She caught up.

“It could have been him, I know,” Hilary said. “I know what you thought.”

The two Bulgarians came back out from inside the grocery. They walked over and looked down at the gypsy. He was not moving, though his chest rose and fell, barely perceptibly. They did not look concerned. The bigger of the two—he was Humpty-Dumpty round at the waist and was wearing a heavy flannel shirt—dropped to a knee and put his face very close to the gypsy’s. He was again smoking a cigarette. From the twenty paces distance they were now standing, Hilary could see that a thin column of ash fell from the Bulgarian’s cigarette and onto the gypsy’s face. Neither the gypsy nor the man moved.

Then the Bulgarian looked over at Andrew and Hilary and said something.

“What?” Hilary said.

She did not say it loudly enough for the man to hear, but he knew they were Americans.

“A beggar,” the man said.

It almost seemed he was laughing at the punch-line to a joke someone would tell years from now.

“Was a beggar!”

Andrew stared back at the Bulgarian man. He did not respond. Hilary tried to get his attention by putting a hand to his arm, but now he jerked it violently away.

“Whoa,” Hilary said. “It’s just me, Andrew. Come on. We ought to get back to Gary’s. He’ll know what we should do.”

“Right,” Andrew said.

His tone was still so dry.

“You want to get back to fucking Gary’s now?”

Hilary took a step away. She could hear his sarcasm perfectly now; there was nothing humorous and nothing ambiguous about it. It was just mean.

Andrew looked at her. It seemed as if his pursed lips were collapsing in on each other. His hands balled into fists again at his sides.

“Maybe I ought to just go back to Gary’s,” she said.

“Maybe you’re right,” Andrew said. “Maybe you ought to get back to Gary’s. Right.”

He turned just slightly away from her, though he was still looking at her.

“Is that what you mean? Or do you want to get back to Gary? Just say it. Say what you mean.”

Hilary did not say anything. She did not know what she did and didn’t mean anymore.

Daniel Torday is the Director of Creative Writing at Bryn Mawr College and the Book Review Editor of The Kenyon Review. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Esquire, HarperCollins’ Fifty-Two Stories, The New York Times and Glimmer Train, among many other publications. He received his MFA from Syracuse University, where he was the winner of the Peter Neagoe Prize.