Playing House

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2003-01-01
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications
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A fresh new voice in fiction crafts lovable characters in this young, funny tale of husband-hunting, job-hunting, and--toughest of all--apartment-hunting in New York.


Playing House

Chapter One

New life announces itself as a mystery that a mother cannot solve. Something happens, a certain gear-shifting inthe body that she notes, but makes no sense of. Especiallyif she isn't planning to be pregnant. I shall offer myself asan example. I did not have a basal thermometer handyon my bureau, or any recall as to when I last had my period.I was not expecting to read What to Expect WhenYou're Expecting. I was barely even in a relationship, witha man about whom I knew little. I was simply goingabout my business, enjoying early spring in New YorkCity, when all of a sudden I woke up in the clean morningsunshine to find that my breasts had inflated likedinghies and were heavier than my head.

Late for work, I fiddled with my bra straps irritably, tono avail. They had all the supportive power of Scotchtape. I searched through the clothes on the floor of my one-room apartment and dragged on a shirt taut withLycra, then I cupped my breasts in my hands as I steppedgingerly down the four flights of stairs of my walk-up,arranging my arms just so -- as I entered the brisk-steppingcrowds on Sixth Avenue -- so that I could look like I wasclutching myself in vexed contemplation over the GreatIssues of the Day, as opposed to holding my tits up.

My first assumption was that I had a bad bout of PMS,so I dosed myself with evening primrose oil. We werewrapping up our April issue at The Pithy Review, headinginto the inevitable panic of magazine production. Therewere last-minute changes, troubles with ad placement,authors to placate after pompous sentences were slashedfrom their essays, an editor-in-chief who rendered himselfinaccessible behind closed doors in a pointed sulk. Ithappened every month, as if none of us possessed ashort-term memory.

I had, myself, a rant to scribble for the back page,which I'd put off until the last minute, and a half-finishedplay to complete by the first of April. There was a letterto be sent to the editor of The New York Times about thetreatment of carriage horses in Central Park, and postcardshome to be mailed, lists of ideas, Post-it notesabout people to meet, cocktails and beet chips to consumeat the Temple Bar.

Life in a city as opportunistic and exuberant as NewYork always felt busy, even if nothing got done. It wasthe whirl of the place, the sense of movement that matteredto me, and I grounded myself with small certitudes:I am here. I pay my rent. I like my friends. I have a membership to MOMA. God, when I think about it now, whata slender ledge of a life I was comfortably sitting on then.

On Good Friday, I was in Rizzoli's bookstore contemplatingthe new Sylvia Plath biography, when I realizedthat my nipples were so sensitive that I couldn't turnaround quickly without crying out. For a few days, Idonned the softest fabrics I could find in my closet -- anold cashmere sweater my mother had given me to coddlemyself through a documentary on Kurds, a silk blouse,and double-wired bra to ineffectually brace me for dancelessons -- and still I walked around going, "Ow, ow, ow,"as if I'd fallen into a patch of nettles.

Perplexed, I peered at myself in my small bathroommirror, which entailed leaning over sideways whilestanding on the worn enamel sides of my tub, effectivelylooming into the circular looking-glass fromstage left. My breasts looked more or less the same asalways. My nipples seemed darker, and even bigger,somehow, but I hardly ever looked at my breasts. Iliked my waist and my rear end, but in truth my breastsgrew in a bit droopy from the outset, with the nipplestoo low on the orbs, as if Mother Nature stuck them onduring a game of pin the tail on the donkey. I had a tendencyto fling my arms above my head like the Venusde Milo whenever lovers were afoot, in order to lift thenipples to a more acceptable position. It took a bit ofwork, this maneuver, especially when I had to walkacross the room to answer the phone. But worth it, youknow, for not revealing everything your nakedness actuallyoffers to say.

I'd been arm lifting quite a bit of late, because of a fellownamed Calvin Puddie. No. Pudhee. Or no, thatdoesn't look right -- I think it could be Puhdey. In anyevent, it's some sort of French Canadian name, or morespecifically Acadian, as in the French who emigrated toeastern Canada, and otherwise to Louisiana.

"That strikes me as a rather stark pair of choices," I toldCalvin on our second date. "Either they opted for thefrozen, craggy coast of Cape Breton and slogged away incoal mines, or they got to do Mardi Gras? A or B?"

"Well, it's a bit more complicated than that," he saidlightly. But being a rather laconic man, he chose not toelaborate.

I knew that Calvin's father was a coal miner, and thathe himself had been aiming no higher than a job as ajanitor at the local veterans' hall when someonepointed out that he was musically gifted and ought topursue it. This inspired him to head to Halifax to studymusic, after which he moved to Toronto, and fromthere, at some point, to New York. He worked as a jazzmusician, living off the avails of his art, which was theannual salary equivalent of two Smarties and a piece ofstring ...

Playing House. Copyright © by Patricia Pearson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Playing House by Patricia Pearson
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