by Lynda Myles
Ann could remember the exact moment she fell in love with Jack. He’d taken her to an off-Broadway play, and they were standing outside the theater during intermission when a drunk came staggering down the street, weaving all over the sidewalk. Jack quietly stepped between her and the man, not making an issue of it in any way, but clearly ready to protect her in case there was trouble. That small chivalrous gesture, a month after they’d met, thrilled her. It made her feel precious and protected, an unfamiliar feeling for Ann. Jack was a man it could be safe to love.
Other men in her life had been anything but, starting with her father who’d taken off from their small-town Michigan home when she was eight, never to be heard from again, except by way of a check when authorities had tracked him down at a job in another state and garnished his wages. That stopped after a few years when he must’ve gone underground. She blamed her mother for his disappearance, for being mean to him. After he left, her mother began treating Ann like a grown-up, expecting her to look after her spoiled kid sister all the time, and to do more of the housework and cooking. Ann started taking part time jobs when she was twelve, to get out of the house and earn her own money. She was smart and got A’s in school, but she was desperate for something she couldn’t name and spent hours in cars, finished basements, and hidden woodsy spots with dangerously desirable boys. She fell wildly in love with every one of them and was always devastated when they squirmed away. By the time Ann graduated college, a state school, which she’d swung on scholarships and loans, she’d figured out she had to stop what she was doing or she’d die of not being loved by the wrong people.
She decided to move to New York City and concentrate on her career. She found a tiny apartment in Washington Heights and a job as an editor’s assistant at a textbook publishing company. She enjoyed the work and she was good at it. After two years she was promoted to assistant editor and moved to a small three-room walkup on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Since Ann had arrived in New York, she’d made one close friend at work, Kathy, a sharp-witted good old girl from North Carolina, and she had some casual women friends she occasionally hung out with in trendy bars. She’d dated several men, some of them attractive and interesting. None of them made her feel she could let down her guard, and she was glad she hadn’t slept with any of them. Still, she was lonely.
She met Jack at a party held in a downtown bar to celebrate the engagement of an editor from Ann’s company to a junior partner from the law firm where Jack worked. Even in the dim light with the driving music, loud voices, and alcohol-generated laughter, they were drawn to each other. Ann felt an instant attraction to him, to his thick dark hair and expressive brown eyes that lit up as if he’d just heard an amusing story, and to his open, generous smile. It wasn’t easy for her to play it cool, but she did. They found a corner and talked. Jack told her he was the kind of lawyer who specialized in helping developers get “green” certification for their building projects. She was genuinely captivated when he spoke about energy efficiency and sustainable building practices, and he listened attentively when she told him about editing and publishing textbooks. He took her home after the party. She didn’t invite him in, but she said yes when he asked her to have dinner with him the next night.
He took her to a small Italian restaurant in her neighborhood. She wore a pale blue sheath dress that she knew looked good with her fair coloring. He was in a tan sports jacket, and was just as handsome in his own off-beat way as she remembered. She noticed an older couple at another table watching them admiringly and basked in the attention. She felt happy and excited. They ate, drank wine, and chatted easily. She learned he’d been raised in Portland, Maine, where his family still lived. He’d come to New York for law school and stayed.
When the waiter took away their dishes, Jack told her that he almost hadn’t gone to the party the night before. “I had a lot of work piled up and I don’t usually enjoy noisy bars. I’m glad I didn’t give in to my antisocial tendencies or I wouldn’t have met you.”
“We would’ve had another chance at the wedding.”
“Never put off till tomorrow…” He smiled that smile she already loved and raised his glass to her. After they ordered cappuccinos to finish off the meal, Jack became silent and thoughtful. Ann caught the shift in mood and waited for him to speak. “I need to be up front with you about something.”
“You’re married.” She was only half joking. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d gone out with a man who waited until they were actually on the date to break the news.
“No, I’m not married.”
She was relieved. “You grow fangs after midnight.”
“Close,” he returned the joke, then hesitated. “There’s a woman staying in my apartment.”
“Someone you know?” Ann said without missing a beat.
He broke into a wonderful laugh. “Yes, someone I know. We lived together for a few months. It didn’t work out, so I helped her find a place in Queens about a year ago.”
“But you said she was at your – ”
“She called me late one night, hysterical – the apartment building was burning down. Everyone got out, but she was standing on the street in a bathrobe, everything she owned burned to a crisp. I took her back in.”
“She doesn’t have any family?”
“They’re all in Romania. She’s been in this country about five years.”
“When was the fire?”
“Three months ago.”
“I know. It’s crazy. She asked me for a little time to save up money.”
“You lived together, so you must’ve, you know, had feelings for her…” Ann wasn’t sure what the right questions were.
“Living together was more of a convenience than a commitment. She needed to get out of where she was currently staying. We were seeing a lot of each other at the time; and I thought, hell, why not try it? Turned out not to be a good idea. I like her, she’s an interesting person, but I don’t love her. That’s why I ended it.”
“Did she love you?”
He took a deep breath. “It’s hard to say. When she sensed I was pulling away, she began to talk about her independence, and never wanting to get married, and how she wanted to be on her own.”
“But now she’s back.”
“I’m gone all day and I work late a lot of nights, so letting her camp out on my sofa bed didn’t seem that big a deal. I wasn’t seeing anybody at the time.” Ann noticed his use of the past tense – he wasn’t seeing anybody, meaning now he’d be seeing her?
“What does she do? What’s her name, anyway?”
“Rodica. She taught comparative literature in Bucharest. Now she works in a flower shop.”
Ann considered telling Jack to call her again when his friend moved out. But the thought depressed her. She wasn’t planning to hop into bed with him anyway, not until she knew him better. The way he spoke about the woman didn’t arouse her jealousy, so she decided Rodica was a temporary inconvenience, not a threat, and she would give Jack time to resolve the situation.
After that they saw each other often. Ann waited all of a month, until the night of the off-Broadway play, before she slept with Jack. They stayed at her place and that was fine. She didn’t want to go to his apartment while an old girlfriend was still there. Rodica might not mean anything to him romantically, but they’d once lived together as lovers. It’d be weird for the three of them to be in the same space. It’d be even weirder if Rodica walked in on them.
During the next few months, spring and summer coming, Jack took her to see one of his green buildings, they rode bikes down the West Side Drive, took walks along the East River up past Gracie Mansion, drove upstate for dinner at a country inn, fell more in love. Ann was finally getting what she’d always wanted out of life and it was every bit as perfect as she’d imagined. She hardly gave a thought to Jack’s houseguest. Rodica had found a room in the apartment of a woman friend whose husband had just moved out. She was only waiting for the friend’s apartment to be painted. Jack said he planned to help transfer her and her stuff to her new place, and he could hardly wait. To Ann, news about Rodica was like background noise; it didn’t penetrate the fog of love.
Then on the eve of the big move, the friend called to say she was terribly sorry but Rodica couldn’t come after all because she and her husband had decided to get back together. That got Ann’s attention. Jack sounded exasperated. They were sitting at a table outside a restaurant on First Avenue, having a drink. The sun had just set and the small candles on the table were lit and flickering in a breeze.
“I feel like going out and renting an apartment for her myself,” he said, “except I’d have to put my name on the lease.”
“Maybe she could go to a hotel temporarily,” Ann suggested.
“She can’t afford it, and I don’t want to get stuck paying for a hotel indefinitely.”
“You could tell her it’s only for a month, or whatever.”
“Yeah.” He didn’t seem convinced. Ann knew he made a good living, but he’d told her he sent money regularly to his parents. His father had been laid off his job the year before and his mother couldn’t work because of her arthritis. Jack never sounded resentful about helping them; he genuinely seemed to like his parents, and told Ann she would too.
“I could chip in. I have some savings.” Her spontaneous offer made her aware of how much she wanted this woman out of their lives.
Jack rubbed her cheek gently with the back of his hand. “I’d rather jump off the George Washington Bridge than let you spend a dime on Rodica. I’d never let you do that. I’m sorry about this, Annie.”
“I am too.” Ann loved his touch and loved it when he called her Annie, but she wasn’t inclined to melt for him just yet. Rodica’s background noise was getting louder. “So what’s next?” She wanted to hear a plan.
“She knows I’m not happy with the arrangement. She’ll have to get on the stick and find another room somewhere she can afford.”
“You said you told her about me — ”
“Of course. I didn’t tell her a whole lot, but she knows we’re together.”
Ann suddenly felt very tired. It was Friday night, she’d had an intense week at work on a deadline, and she didn’t want to spend another minute talking about Jack’s ex-girlfriend. She gave him the brightest smile she could muster. “Okay. So I won’t be able to sleep at your place for another couple of weeks. I guess I can handle that.” He returned her smile, looking relieved, and took her hand.
The next morning Jack left her apartment early to run a few errands before he went home to change his clothes and finish up some paperwork. They’d meet up later for a picnic dinner and jazz concert in the park. Ann stood behind the door as she let him out, still in her sleep T-shirt and bare feet, her short blond hair tousled and no makeup on. He stopped to kiss her, and the kiss went on for minutes, both of them lost in it, until he managed to pull himself away.
“It’s getting harder and harder to leave you,” he murmured, smoothing her hair away from her flushed face.
She played dumb. “We’re seeing each other tonight.”
“It’s not soon enough.” Jack had a way of looking at her that made her feel like the most desirable woman in the world. No one else in her life had ever looked at her that way. Ann saw herself though his eyes and loved what she saw. He kissed her lightly on the forehead and left. She felt the touch of his lips for a long time afterwards.
A few hours later, she was almost out the door of her apartment heading to the basement with a full laundry bag and a plastic bottle of detergent when her cell phone rang. The display said it was Jack’s landline number.
“Hi, did you get all your errands done?
“Is this Ahn?” The woman’s voice was accented and throaty.
“Who is this, please?”
“This is Rodica.” She rolled the “R” just a little. “Jack has told you of me, I know.”
Ann put down the bag, disoriented. “Is he all right?”
“Oh, yes, he’s fine. He’s taking shower now.”
“Why are you calling?”
“I call to tell you, Ahn, I know about your affair.”
Ann still didn’t get it. “Is this a joke?”
“No, is not joke. We are together, Jack and me.”
“He gave you a couch to sleep on until you get your own place.”
“We are lovers. I don’t sleep on couch. We sleep in same bed.”
“Put Jack on the phone, please.”
“I tell you these things because I am feeling sorry for you.”
“You feel sorry for me.”
“Ahn, Jack is very weak man; he cannot stay faithful, but I am loving him all the same. And he is loving me. He only plays with you.”
Ann was angry now. Why hadn’t Jack told her this woman was certifiable? “I’m going to hang up now. Don’t call me again.”
“Wait, please – you don’t believe me, but Jack tells me about you, to make joke. He says you are a heek from the middle of the West.”
“A heek, someone who has not sophistication. He laughs that you keep dolls in your bedroom and have disgust for escargot.”
Ann hung up, trying to get her bearings. Could any of it be true? That Jack was sleeping with Rodica and had been all along? That the reason she hadn’t moved out was that he didn’t want her to? That he was using Ann? No, she thought, no one could fake the kind of tenderness and love he’d shown her. Even if he could, why would he bother? He was good-looking, successful. He could go to bed with a hundred women without pretending to be in love with any of them. But why hadn’t he told her what Rodica was really like? Did he think Ann would walk out on him? She wouldn’t, not if she believed in him. And she had believed in him. She still did.
Then she remembered what the woman had said about Jack making fun of her. She couldn’t imagine him ever doing that, yet how did Rodica know those things? Ann wasn’t ashamed of the few antique dolls she’d brought with her from Michigan, or of her revulsion for slimy snails, but the thought of Jack, her Jack, laughing at her with the likes of Rodica, hit her so hard that she began to tremble. What else didn’t she know about? In the space of a couple of minutes, her perfect romance had turned into a ludicrous triangle – and she was the other woman.
She switched off her cell, left the nylon bag of dirty laundry abandoned by the door and sat huddled in an armchair, hurting with an old pain, defiantly holding her oldest doll, a battered ballerina. Finally, around six, she turned on the phone and saw all the missed calls from Jack. She didn’t listen to the messages but didn’t turn the phone off. A couple of minutes later it rang.
“I was beginning to get worried,” Jack said when she answered. “Are you okay?”
The concern in his voice made her hate him. “Your friend Rodica called me today to let me know the two of you are still lovers.”
“Oh, God. You know that’s not true, Ann.”
“Why is she calling me, Jack? What’s going on?”
“We can’t talk about this on the phone. I’ll be right over.” He hung up. Ann moved the doll and the laundry back into the bedroom, poured herself a glass of Chablis out of the opened bottle in the refrigerator and sat down to wait. Jack arrived in less than ten minutes, dressed for sitting on a blanket on the grass, in jeans and a sweat shirt. Ann was still in the morning’s shorts and tank top. He stood uncertainly, knowing enough not to try to embrace her. He poured himself a glass of wine and sat down facing her.
“I’m really sorry about this, sweetheart.”
“You don’t sound surprised, though.”
He shook his head. “I told Rodica she had to get out. She looked me straight in the eye and swore that after the last place fell through I’d promised her she could stay as long as she needed to, which is a total fabrication.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t want to upset you. I thought I could take care of it.”
“But you can’t?”
“I will, I promise.”
Ann rolled the stem of her glass between her thumb and finger and watched the pool of pale liquid at the bottom swirl around. She didn’t want to pull her eyes away from the spinning wine to look at him. “I believed you, Jack, when you said there was no problem about her leaving.”
“I didn’t know there was a problem. I didn’t see this coming.”
“Well, maybe you should have.” Her voice had an edge in it she’d never used with him before. “She can’t just stay in your apartment if you want her out, can she?” He leaned forward, an elbow on one knee, rubbing his forehead. His dark, straight hair fell over his hand. Ann had a sudden visceral jolt, remembering his hands on her body and the feel of him inside her only that morning when they’d made love. She wanted to reach over now and touch his hair, his face, to be close to him, but she couldn’t get herself to move. “Can’t you put all her belongings in bags and leave them with the doorman? Change the locks? People do that.”
“It may come to that. But I’d rather not be cruel, if I don’t have to.”
“She’s the one who’s being cruel, Jack.”
“I know. But she’s a mess right now, Ann. I’m worried about her mental state.”
“Is she your responsibility?”
“She’s in my apartment, and she doesn’t have anyone else in New York.”
“Meaning she has you?”
“No, but I don’t hate her.”
“I do. She said you made fun of me, of my dolls and how I won’t eat snails. She said you called me a Midwestern hick.” Her voice quavered just for a second, and he made a move to come to her, but she shook her head vehemently. She realized she was slightly drunk from drinking wine on an empty stomach. Drunk and angry.
“She’s been threatening to kill herself.”
“Why don’t you call her bluff?” He looked at her, not answering. “Can’t you contact her family in Romania?
“She’s not on good terms with them. Look, I promise you I’m going to resolve this. But I really believe she’s capable of doing something crazy right now, running out in traffic or something.”
Ann felt hurt and helpless. “I just don’t understand why she’s your responsibility.”
He looked at her in that sweet way of his: “I love you, Ann. I want you in my life.”
“The three of us will have to find a larger place.” It popped out before she could measure her words. He flinched.
“You have a right to be angry. I regret ever getting involved with Rodica, but I did, and now I have to get out of it in a way I can live with. I’m asking you to trust me a little while longer to make things right. Can you do that for me?”
“Why did you make fun of me to her? How could you do that?” Hot tears streamed down her face.
“I didn’t! She must’ve overheard me on the phone talking to you. I know she’s been in my files and read my e-mail too.”
“Does she sleep with you in your bed, Jack?”
“She’s been using the sofa bed in the living room since before you and I met.”
Ann searched his eyes, unsure of what she’d been so sure of only that morning. In the end she agreed to give him more time. She let him hold her and wipe away her tears and make love to her. But it wasn’t the same as it had been before the phone call.
What bothered her most was his lack of outrage. He should have been furious at that woman for calling Ann, for saying the things she did. He didn’t even sound surprised. This was the man who was supposed to protect her. She’d let herself love him because at the theater he’d shielded her from someone who wasn’t even menacing her. Here was this terrible woman barging into her life — into their life — deliberately trying to hurt Ann, and Jack’s response was to worry about the woman.
Rodica’s behavior got worse. A couple of days later Jack had to call the police. They came and took her to a hospital, where she was admitted to the psychiatric ward. Ann hoped that would be the turning point. But when Rodica was released two weeks later, he brought her back to his apartment, and gave Ann the same lame excuse that the Mad Romanian — Ann had taken to calling her that to herself, to her friend Kathy, and, after a while, to Jack too — had no place else to go. On top of that, she’d lost her job and had no money at all. Incredibly, Jack told this to Ann as if he thought she’d be sympathetic. The woman had become their main topic of conversation, her fragile emotional state, her financial situation, her prospects. She was driving their lives and now Ann believed Jack was enabling her.
To Ann, Rodica was a healthy neurotic who’d been acting crazy and helpless to get her own way. And, amazingly, Jack had bought into her act. Ann felt envious — nobody had ever coddled her the way he felt obliged to coddle this parasite. Ann had always fended for herself — why shouldn’t Rodica? Maybe Ann should go berserk, stop working, lose her apartment, and then he’d have to rescue her! At times Jack agreed he was being manipulated, but then in the next breath he’d tell her about the rough time the Mad Romanian had as an immigrant who’d overstayed her visa. Ann told him she didn’t want to know about it.
One Saturday afternoon, needing to hear his voice, she called him. Almost immediately, she heard Rodica in the background calling out: “Jack? Jack!”
“Hold on a minute,” he told Ann. He must’ve covered the speaker with his palm, but she could hear him say, “I’m on the phone. What do you want?”
Ann heard Rodica call back, “We need to go now, or we be late.”
“I’ll be there in a minute.” He sounded annoyed. Then he’d uncovered the phone.
She’d begun to cry. “What’s going on, Jack?”
“Nothing. I’m taking Rodica to a therapy appointment, that’s all.”
“Why do you need to take her? I don’t understand any of this.”
“I’ll explain when I see you later. It’s not a big deal, I promise.”
But it was a big deal to Ann. To her, the man and woman at the other end of the phone spoke to each other with the same sour intimacy of some of the married couples she’d known. The woman clearly expected him to accompany her to this appointment. Ann felt humiliated and wondered if he really was sleeping with the Mad Romanian. When she asked him, he denied it and explained that he’d agreed to attend a session with Rodica and her therapist. It had gone well, he thought, and he took that as a sign of progress. Ann took it as a sign that he was pathetically weak, just the way the Mad Romanian had said he was. It was the first time she’d let herself think that way.
But it wasn’t the last. It made her frantic and desperate that she couldn’t get him to unload Rodica, no matter what she said or did. Nothing was the way it was supposed to be anymore, and none of it made sense. If a man loved a woman the way Jack said he loved her, she should come first. He should always choose her over anyone else.
Ann went out for a drink after work one day with Kathy. She was a few years older than Ann, married to a nice-enough man, an insurance salesman she’d met on her fourth day in the city. They seemed very happy. Ann loved Kathy, everyone did. She gave off an irresistible aura of being totally comfortable with herself.
“I must’ve made up all those wonderful things I saw in him, Kath. I think I hate him now.”
Kathy shook her head. “No, you don’t.” She took a handful of nuts from the dish on the table and began to pop them into her mouth.
“Well, if I don’t, I should.”
“There’s another way to look at this, you know, sweetie pie. He could be a decent guy who’s trying to do the right thing in a truly dreadful situation.”
“It’s sure not the right thing for me.” Ann signaled the waitress for a second glass of wine. Kathy was still nursing a beer.
“Honey, I know this is tough for you. All I’m saying is it’s tough for him too. He was involved with a woman, even if he didn’t love her, who’s cracking up into a hundred little pieces right in front of him. He can’t get himself to turn his back and walk away, much as he might like to.”
“The woman’s a manipulative bitch, Kathy,” Ann insisted.
“A manipulative bitch who happens to be really sick. You know how many of these preening metrosexuals around here would bother to give a damn? One in a thousand, that’s how many. And you got him.”
“You make him sound noble.”
Kathy shrugged. “I call it like I see it. Look, things can’t go on like this much longer. When it’s resolved you’ll have the rest of your lives to be together. Or till you get divorced, whichever comes first. Is it going to kill you to be patient a little while longer?”
Ann felt relief at first, after talking to Kathy. She might not have to fight with Jack and be disappointed in him. Maybe she could be on his side again – but she wasn’t able to hold onto her good intentions when she was with him. All she knew then was that there was something she wanted from him, something she deserved that he wouldn’t give her. And she couldn’t forgive him for withholding it.
They were spending less time together. Jack’s work was demanding and though he didn’t talk about it, she knew he was shepherding the Mad Romanian to her appointments. When Ann didn’t hear from him for a week, she thought he must be finished with her and didn’t have the guts to tell her face to face. She finally called him on a Saturday morning on his cell. It rang five times before he answered. His voice sounded strange, hollow.
“Are you all right?” He didn’t answer. She was suddenly fearful. “What’s wrong?” More silence. “Jack?”
“What do you mean?
“What I said.”
“But how? When did — ?” Ann’s heart was beating so rapidly she felt it pounding in her ears.
“Four days ago. She jumped off the balcony and landed on the street in front of the apartment house.”
“Oh, my God, oh, Jack. Why? You said she was doing well.”
“I thought she was. I was wrong.”
“Why didn’t you call me?”
He hesitated. “I don’t know.”
“I’ll come over now.”
“No, don’t, please.”
“Do you want to come to me?”
“Not yet. I’ll be in touch in a few days.”
“Please let me come over and be with you, Jack.”
“No, I’ll call you.”
The pain she felt at his not wanting to see her was worse than anything that had come before. She went online and pulled up newspaper articles about a woman named Rodica Vero who had jumped to her death from the fifteenth floor of an East Side apartment building. She was thirty-one years old.
When Jack finally did call a few days later, he sounded more like himself. Ann had reached a stage of feeling numb, and she was grateful for it. He asked to see her, and they went to the same Italian restaurant where they’d had their first date, where he’d told her about the woman in his apartment. After a while, he started talking. He told her about getting a call at his office from the manager of his apartment building telling him he’d better come right home. When he got there, he saw two attendants pushing a gurney with a tarp-covered mound on it into the back of an ambulance. Orange tape was strung up all around to keep away the gawkers. On the sidewalk Jack saw the outline of a sprawled human figure drawn in white chalk. There was blood of course, staining the cement. He had to turn away and throw up between two parked cars. He’d called her parents in Bucharest and made arrangements to have a coffin with her remains and her few belongings flown over to them at his expense.
“I’m so sorry, Jack.”
“I’m sorry you had to be part of this.”
They were quiet for a while. Finally Ann spoke, looking down at the tablecloth, rolling bread crumbs between her fingers.
“There’s something I never understood. Why you weren’t upset when I told you about that phone call from Rodica.”
“I was upset.”
“You weren’t angry or even surprised that she called me. Can’t you admit that now?”
He was quiet for a few moments, staring off. He met her eyes. “I suppose I wasn’t surprised because Rodica had already told me she’d spoken to you.”
“She told you she’d called me?”
“No. She said you’d called her.”
Ann was incredulous. “I called her? Why would I do that?”
“Ann, maybe we should let it go –”
“No, tell me, Jack, please.”
He sounded weary. “She said you told her to get out of my life or you’d make trouble for her.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“You’d call immigration and report her.”
Ann felt like she was sinking in mud. “Did you believe her?” Jack hesitated a second too long. “You did. My God.”
“No, I didn’t believe her.”
“But you wondered.”
He shrugged. “You were angry and hurt. You had a right to be.” They were silent again for a while.
“Did she leave a note?” Ann asked.
“No. But she’d lost her job in the flower shop because someone called immigration and reported her. The boss had to get rid of her.”
Ann could only stare at him. She felt lightheaded. A crazy thought came to her — Rodica had won. What good would it do Ann to protest her innocence? Beg him to believe her?
“I’m not blaming you, Ann. None of it’s your fault.”
“But you’ll never know for sure, will you?” And she’d never be sure either about what he had or hadn’t done.
Jack didn’t respond. They sat in silence, until he excused himself to use the restroom downstairs. Ann looked around at the other customers, thinking how different it was from that first time she was here with him, when their attraction to each other had been like a magnet that pulled all the light and attention in the room to them. She remembered the older couple who couldn’t take their eyes off these beautiful young people who belonged together if ever any two people did. Ann stood up, collected her purse and the large colorful wool scarf she’d draped over the back of her chair. She threw it around her shoulders – it was fall now and getting colder — and walked quickly out of the restaurant.
Lynda Myles started her career as an actress on Broadway, off Broadway, on tour, and in regional theater. She wrote two plays that were performed in New York City and Seattle, and wrote scripts for numerous TV soap operas, winning two Emmys for “Santa Barbara.” One of her short stories won the John Gardner Memorial Prize for Fiction.