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The yoga retreat was awful. This was what Naomi divined from her mother’s emails. Though, of course, her mother was not the most reliable source of information. With Chandra, so many things were awful, so much of the time. Anyway, her mother was terrible at technology, had not, by the year 2023, mastered the basics of internet communication, and thus Naomi found herself spending more time than she would have liked opening several emails in one sitting, trying to stitch together the disjointed fragments of her mother’s thoughts.
       On Monday, her mother wrote:

       NOOMI, I am wrTing FROM THE ashram ;;;; libraRY. There is A MAn


       VERY TALL man


       Waiting for HE CPMTER I have to GET off HE NEEDS IT the food here sckucks. I miss LOVE you.

Who was the very tall man who needed the computer? Why did the food suck? How could Naomi’s own mother spell her name incorrectly?
       In fact, she wasn’t surprised. Chandra always had her own way of living, of understanding the world. Years ago, when Naomi was visiting home, a loud beeping had echoed through the house. The beeping screech went on all night and through the morning until Naomi, at last, went into the bathroom to remove the plastic casing of the smoke detector.
       “You didn’t hear that?” Naomi asked her mother. “The smoke detector needs a new battery.”
       “Oh.” Chandra shuffled in an aimless circle, seeming to have an errand in mind she’d nw forgotten.
       “What did you think that sound was?”
       “A bird,” her mother answered.
       “A bird?
       “I thought it got stuck in the window.”
       Naomi was speechless. Her mother thought the broken smoke detector was a bird? A bird that chirped loudly and at regular intervals? A bird stuck inside the window? Which Chandra would presumably let die?
       Now the emails came several times a day, updates more on Chandra’s state of mind than the retreat itself, which Naomi still couldn’t picture, other than the sucky food and the very tall man. Naomi replied, but only once, not wanting to confuse her mother with multiple emails to open, read and, god forbid, reply to all over again.
       Her messages were the way she was generally with her mother: warm, peppy, spirit-lifting, signing off with “I miss love you too!” She told her mother about the thick summer heat of Boston, and about her commute, just under forty minutes on the T. She mentioned her job, where she was busy setting up a new installation, and the demands that had her often working nights and weekends.
       There was, though, one thing she did not tell her mother. A few times she started to, then stopped. Her fingers hovered before quickly typing something else, how business was picking up at the gallery, how she still couldn’t believe she’d gotten this job.
       Naomi considered, in fact, that she was grateful her mother was away, practicing her warrior pose with limited cell reception and tall yogis vying for the one computer. Over the phone Naomi’s voice might catch or grow distant. Her mother might ask if something was wrong. Naomi wasn’t sure how to explain.
       In this way, Naomi sensed that while Chandra was inept at email, she was at least being honest, revealing both her feelings as well as her bald technological incompetence. It was she, Naomi, who was the real miscommunicator, the one who typed easily and adroitly, yet withheld actual information, the stuff that truly mattered.
It had to do with work. The new exhibit would open in a few months. It was a performance. An installation with a performance component. A performance with Naomi in a starring role.
       “While it’s flushing?” she asked Dolors again on Monday.
       They were in the gallery’s bathroom, looking at the toilet. The bowl was white, clean. Aroma sticks sat in an oily jar atop the toilet tank, releasing a musty lavender scent.
       “Preferably,” said Dolors, “so long as you’re comfortable.”
       Dolors was Dolors Del Vista, a Catalan artist here specifically to mount her show. She was close to Naomi’s mother’s age, but wore brazen red lipstick and, unlike Chandra, moved with quick, purposeful efficiency, gold bangles clattering along her muscled forearm. Dolors Del Vista was not interested in yoga nor fearful of technology. She was here, she stated on her first day in the gallery, to stab a knife through the hallucinatory miasma of modern life.
       Dolors spoke these words in a clipped Catalan accent, r’s rolling like wooden wheels, consonants landing like a mallet, and all of it—the accent, the red lipstick, the knife through the miasma —Naomi found rapturously enthralling.
       There was just this one thing.
       “The water will be moving.” Naomi tried to deepen her voice, to sound more like a thoughtfully detached critic, less like a squeamish twenty-something assistant who would do basically anything to keep her job. 
       “Flushing, yes.”
       “And your hand will be where, again?”
       Dolors placed her hand at the back of Naomi’s head. “Like so.”
       “And my face will be in…?”
       There had been other women who had come to the gallery and auditioned for this role. Weeks ago, when Dolors and Marcus, the gallery owner, thought the best thing to do would be to hire someone, an outside actress, a professional.
       Naomi had sat at her desk and listened to them discussing each of the young women openly. The black one was good, “but almost too into it.” The blond was fine, “But didn’t she seem a bit too willing? The way she was tying her hair back and all that?”
       There had been a lull in their conversation. Naomi’s neck hair prickled. She heard them pause, then felt them looking at her, silently coming to the same conclusion. Naomi, the Gallery Assistant Marcus had hired ten months ago, brought on because of her college specialization in theories of the avant-garde and her particular interest in contemporary cultural theory as it related to transgressing The Real, as well as her immediate availability and proficiency with WordPress and Instagram marketing. Naomi, with her wavy red hair parted sharply down the middle, her freckled and quick-to-sunburn skin, her gangly limbs, her diligent work ethic.
       “After all,” she’d heard Dolors conclude. “If the show is about the commodification of labor power…”
       “The female body as commodity…” Marcus agreed.
       “It really won’t last long, love,” Dolors said now.
       Naomi watched the bulb of the bathroom’s overhead light tremble in the toilet water’s reflective surface.
       “It will obviously be clean,” Dolors added. She cradled Naomi’s elbow, her hand like a firm glove. “You’ll only stop breathing for a few seconds.”

                    A not terrible day here. Long bbb

       Thy say I have INS<OMNIA becus of toxitox
                           Toxic thoughts.

      Also, we had kombuch at lunch. Have you have had komBUcha? Does it get rid of

              toxi c

       P.S. How is
       Worl ? work? You havent’ said much lately.
       You know: I’m so Very, very veryvery proud Of YOU.


Naomi was staring at her mother’s email when Marcus returned from his morning rollerblading. Marcus was Marcus King, owner of King Kong Gallery, a man with curious but regular habits. He worked long hours which meant Naomi, too, worked long hours. He rarely praised her but that was fine. She found clues about his mood and opinions in his routines —the speed with which he rollerbladed out of the gallery each day at eleven no matter the weather, the force with which he banged the parts of his office espresso machine upon his return.
       Today, Marcus arrived with red cheeks, light sweat wetting the gray-black roots of his long loose curls. Hearing him exhale and collapse on his sheep wool sofa with contented gratification, Naomi slid back her chair and stood up.
       There was no door, only an opening in the pane of glass that divided his office from the gallery. He was hunched over, replacing his rollerblades with lizard-skin cowboy boots that winnowed at the tips to fierce metal points.
       “How is the press release coming along?” he asked. “You know, I was thinking, we need more on Duchamp. Most visitors...well, no one, really, knows history anymore. If it didn’t happen on Twitter this morning, it didn’t happen at all.”
      Marcus was fond of pronouncements—the state of the art market, the decay
of civilization, the stupidity of everybody.
        “A deeper introduction to Duchamp’s work,” he continued, “to put Dolors’s exhibition into context.”
       He met her eyes at last, yet his gaze was turned inward, flitting through files of his own thoughts.
       “No,” he said. “Never mind. Too much history and we’re pandering. Practically encouraging people to be braindead. We should mention Duchamp, in fact, without actually mentioning Duchamp.”
       Naomi nodded in a diagonal way. Marcus stepped into his boots, clacked the heels on the floor, then raised his bushy black-gray eyebrows as if to say, Well? What are you waiting for? Press releases don’t write themselves!
       “Marcus,” she began, and they both started a bit at her addressing him so directly.
        “Naomi,” he replied, but as a friendly joke or a slight reprimand she wasn’t sure. 
       She glanced toward Dolors on the other side of the gallery, bending over, the blade of a
       measuring tape wobbling in mid-air before she released it, sending it whooshing down the wall and re-entering its case with a loud and violent snap.
       “I just had a question.” She spoke quietly, quickly. “I guess, I’m not sure what’s being asked of me, exactly?”
       “Asked of you?” Marcus made it sound depraved, as if she’d said, vomited on me.
       “For the show.”
       “Ah.” He looked troubled. “Dolors didn’t explain?”
       “No, she did. She definitely did. Several times. She explained it really well.” Her skin prickled, the lavender smell of the bathroom mysteriously filling her nose. “But I was thinking. Maybe I could get very close. But then not…” She trailed off, stopping before saying put my face into the flushing toilet. As if saying that out loud would somehow insult Marcus’s propriety.
       “A kind of simulacrum,” Marcus said. “Of the act.”
       “Yes!” Naomi nodded forcefully. “It could even be more powerful. A reference to, but not the actual, act.”
       “A spectacle,” Naomi continued. “Deferral to the deferred.”
       Still sitting, Marcus placed his hands on his hips, tapped his boot tips on the floor. “You know, we had a young woman who worked here once. Many years ago.”
       Naomi pulled the sleeves of her cardigan over the heels of her hands. She felt a chill suddenly, the air-conditioner’s icy breath goose-pimpling her skin.
       “She lives in Vienna now. Runs her own gallery.”
       An idea seemed to strike him. Marcus rose, pulled out a magazine from his shelf, opened it and held it for Naomi to see. A fierce-looking woman with ivory skin and wild dark wind-blown hair stood in a cobble-stone plaza, a gushing fountain behind her. She wore a black pea coat with a sharp, elongated collar.
       “Sylvia.” Marcus did not say her last name. As if she was a celebrity on par with Madonna or Rihanna. The woman was wearing a necklace that seemed to be made of small sharp teeth.
       “She’s one of Vienna’s biggest gallerists. You go to Vienna, you go to a party, you say you’re with Sylvia, you wouldn’t believe the doors that open. Literally. Like secret trap walls.”
       Naomi rubbed her fingertips against the edges of her sweater. She felt the bits of fraying loose strings at the edges.
       “She started here,” Marcus said. “In this gallery. Probably wasn’t more than twenty-two.” He paused. “How old are you?”
       Naomi swallowed. “Twenty-three.”
       Marcus grunted. Naomi felt she might as well have said she was eighty.
       “She did excellent work,” he went on. “Hustled. Never ever backed down. I’ve never seen someone so driven. Like a racecar.” He flipped his hand toward the window. “Naturally, she went places.”
       Naomi’s eyes followed his hand, as if she might catch a glimpse of Sylvia, speeding past.
       “But really, Naomi.” He stopped and studied her. “Where did you say you grew up again?”
       “Not far from New York City.” She lowered her eyes. “Cheektowaga.”
       “Chicky what?” He turned before she could reply, sliding the magazine back onto his
       shelf, tapping his steel toes against the floor. “Well, look, if you’re not comfortable…”
       If she was not comfortable, then she would never know, would she? What she missed out
       on. The approving gaze of her famous boss and the visiting artist from Barcelona, notes of acknowledgement and thanks in the catalog. Recommendation letters. Introductions. Jobs, bigger jobs, better jobs. A gallery of her own one day. Studio visits with artists she had only ever dreamed of meeting. A fabulous pea coat. A necklace made of teeth.
       The kinds of things that swirled in her mind, vague and cloudy, because she didn’t even know how to imagine them. There were paths and doorways she did not know even existed, invisible to the average Cheektowagan’s eye.
       “I will do,” she said, “whatever you and Dolors think is best for the show.”
       Marcus cocked his head, a look on his face of actual, genuine fondness.
       “Thatta girl,” he said.

       Mom, Naomi wrote. I’m going to be in a show!
       My face will go into a flushing toilet!

       Mom, she wrote. Have you ever heard of Sylvia of Vienna?

       Mom, she wrote. When are you coming home?

       Mom, she wrote.
       And this was the email she actually sent: I’m glad you tried kombucha.

“Have you heard of Fuck and Flush?”
       Naomi looked up at Dolors, seated across the room on a step ladder. Outside it was
       pouring, rain sliding down the gallery’s glass wall, shadows of tiny droplets speckling the floor. They had been working steadily all week, the opening now just ten days away.
       Naomi had been trying to complete the newest press release. She had only made notes so far, idea clouds, recollections of all the things Dolors had said about toilets.
       Every toilet was vagina.
       Reclaiming the sacred feminine of toilets.
       Every toilet tells a story. Not of who its owner is but who its owner does not aspire to be.
       Toilets reveal, in a Lacanian sense, the unattainability of pleasure through our displaced mirrored selves.
       Dolors had spoken of other artists. Jim Dine with his toilet attached to the canvas. Maurizio Cattelan’s 18-carat gold toilet at The Guggenheim. Warhol with his Oxidations series, everything covered in urine. Piero Marzoni, who put his own excrement into tin cans. Paul McCarthy’s giant inflatable turd.
       Where were the women artists exploring toilets and piss and shit? Did Feminism really bring us nowhere?
       Was that last part something Dolors had said? Naomi wasn’t sure. The more she fretted over her own performance, the more she lost track of the show’s main ideas, its central vision. Yet it was far too late to ask for clarification. Haven’t you been paying attention? she imagined
       Marcus saying. What’s wrong, is your head stuck in the toilet?
       She was relieved when Dolors sat down to talk to her.
       “Fuck and flush.” Naomi tried to look like she was thinking. “I don’t think I’ve ever
       heard of it.”
       “Right,” Dolors said. “I figured.”
       Dolors looked at her hands, studied her nails. Behind her, the rain was pecking the window, water snaking down the glass.
       “It’s a porn thing.”
       Another thing Naomi struggled with in the art world was having to be both simultaneously extremely curious and also extremely knowledgeable. A porn thing, Dolors said, and Naomi knew she was meant to keep a neutral face, to appear engaged but aloof, as if she was intimately familiar with all forms of pornography, had, in fact, cultivated endless theories about pornography, while, at the very same time, she had a near child-like curiosity and openness about whatever it was Dolors was about to say. Like a very jaded baby.
       “Oh,” Naomi said. “Totally.”
       There was a pause where Dolors seemed to be looking for words. “I used to work in the industry.”
       “The porn industry?” Naomi bit her lip. She waited for Dolors to say, No, the automobile industry.
       But Dolors just lifted her wrist, shook her bangles down her arm.
       “When I was about your age,” she went on. “God, I was really in trouble. So lost.” She leaned her head back against the window behind her. “One thing led to another. I started shooting videos. For money. It’s crazy how these things happen. You go from agreeing to one thing to…” She stopped and shook her head. “I’m not making any sense.”
       “It’s fine,” Naomi said. Her head was floating. Was Dolors Del Vista actually confiding something? To her? Perhaps even seeing echoes of her own life in Naomi’s or Naomi’s life in hers?
       Marcus was not in the gallery. They were alone. Naomi felt saliva pool on the back of her tongue, a hunger she hadn’t even known she felt.
       Dolors stared out at the gallery’s floor. A car drove along the street, tires splashing in puddles. Naomi wouldn’t believe, Dolors said at last, how quickly a person can lose everything. How desperate a person can become.
       “What I’m trying to say, is that this show is personal for me.” She gestured toward the computer, the press release. “We can say whatever. Lacan. Duchamp. The reconfigured formulation of objectified femininity. It’s true.” She met Naomi’s eyes. “But none of that shit is what gets artists out of bed in the morning. The truth is, this is all personal for me.”
       “Oh,” Naomi said.
       “And the fact that you’re willing…” Dolors broke off, voice catching as if she were going to cry.
       Naomi reached for a tissue from the box on her desk, then hesitated. Was that what Dolors wanted? To be comforted? She didn’t think so.
       Indeed, a moment later, Dolors sniffed, shook her head and stood. She righted her shoulders and walked toward Naomi’s desk. With her knuckles, she rapped twice.
       She mouthed the words, “Thank you.” Then she walked away.
       Naomi sat very still. But she was vibrating. Thank you. The words were like gold coins sliding into the machine of her body, electrifying her.
       Once Dolors was settled on the other side of the room, Naomi swiveled back to face her computer. She stared at the blinking cursor.
       FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, she typed.
       Renowned Barcelona-based artist, Dolors Del Vista, will be introducing a new performance series at King Kong Gallery in Fort Point, Boston.
       Dolors Del Vista works in a variety of media, taking influences from readymade, situationist and pop artists, while infusing her subject matter with her own socially conscious, feminist, and deeply personal interests.
       The performance will take place at the opening on August 10th, and subsequent Fridays as the show is running.
       When she finished, she printed the press release out and laid it on Marcus’s desk, so that he would see it when he returned from rollerblading in the rain.

Opening night, Naomi came to the space early, as they agreed. She wore an off-the-shoulder cheetah skin blouse, black skirt, black heels. The shirt had been her own idea. In a show about commodification and dehumanization, she had thought it a clever touch, this animal print. Indeed, when Dolors had first seen her come in, there had been a flash of approval in her eyes. Things were coming together, Dolors’s look seemed to say. And Naomi was surprised to find that the fist that had been clenching inside her all week was slowly opening, like a flower.
       Soon the space began to fill. There were hugs and air kisses. Marcus’s loud cackle ripped through the gathering din. People huddled in groups, phones in their hands, heads turning curiously back and forth between their conversation partners and the toilet, which had been installed in the center of the room.
       Two men arrived, both in cornflower blue suits, bald, wearing designer glasses. Naomi wondered if they were collectors or critics. She could tell by the way they paused at the threshold and how the room hushed at their arrival, eyes darting toward the men and turning away, that they were Very Important People. They each took one cup of wine from Naomi’s tray, said “Thank you, sweetheart,” then dissolved into the crowd.
       She continued circulating the room, tray held aloft, face turned decisively away from the gleaming white object at its center, as though it emitted poisonous ultraviolet light. She heard people talk about another of Dolors’s shows, one that was “pure Dolors Del Vista, like mainlining her right into my veins,” and she heard someone say, “Good god, we’re well past postmodernism. This is liquid modernity, baby!” And she heard someone ask, “Is that a real motherfucking toilet?”
       She heard, then, a voice near the door, “Is this it? Is this Marcus Kong?”
       Naomi spun as quickly as if someone had thrown a rock at her head.
       “Oh my god.”
       No one heard her. Everyone was busy talking, sipping, laughing, snapping photos. But all Naomi could see was her. An older woman exactly her own height, long hair red like her own yet lightened and thinned from age. A woman clearly lost, dressed as she was in baggy crimson drawstring yoga pants that bunched just below the knee, Birkenstock sandals, thick gray wool socks. Birkenstocks and gray wool socks! With luggage. Luggage! That red wheely suitcase Naomi had known her entire life, with the thick nest-like knot of rainbow yarn looped around its handle for easy identification on a baggage carousel.
       For a long moment, Naomi could not breathe. She could barely move. She seemed to be having some kind of out-of-body experience. This could not be. No.
       “Naomi!” Her mother began to wave, excitedly, with her whole arm. As if they were on a train platform and Naomi had just returned from a long journey. As if Naomi could not see Chandra from mere feet away.
       In an instant her mother was coming toward her, clip-clopping her way forward in her sandals, dragging her suitcase along the gallery floor.
       Naomi caught the eye of one of the two very important men with the designer glasses. He had not turned his head for anything or anybody. But he turned for Chandra, the woman who had just brushed the back of his cornflower blue suit with the corner of her suitcase. He eyed Chandra with a look of—what? Bafflement. Concern. Irritation.
       Who? his face seemed to ask. To whom did this woman belong?
       Me, Naomi thought, and gripped both edges of her tray as tight as iron, for fear of dropping the whole thing on the floor. This woman belongs to me.
       Her mother reached for her head, grabbed it, kissed her on her forehead. “You look great.”
       “Mom,” was all Naomi managed to say.
       “But are you wearing heels? Doesn’t that hurt your back?”
       Naomi swallowed, licked her dry lips. “Why,” she finally got out, “are you here?”
       Chandra looked around. “They were driving me home, these men. We were all leaving and I was going to take the bus. This one man though. He was sooooooo nice.”
       “The very tall man?”
       “Nothing. Mom—”
       “They were going through Massachusetts. And I said, Stop. Just like that. I said, YOU HAVE TO STOP! I want to visit my daughter. She’s working on a performance.”
       Naomi winced. “How did you know,” she said quietly, “about that?”
       Chandra smiled a goofy smile, like she had a trick up her sleeve. Back home, when Naomi was a teenager and they went to see a movie, Chandra would instruct Naomi to pretend she was twelve years old to get the discount ticket. It was partly about the money, Naomi thought, and partly about trying to get away with something. Like by tricking the acne-riddled teenager at the ticket booth her mother had just nearly evaded the cold hand of the law.
        “I read it. In the paper. You’re not supposed to read the news at the ashram.” The guile in her eyes washed away and she took a step toward Naomi, nearly stepping on her toe with the flat tip of her Birkenstock. “But I did.”
       Hot salted water gathered at the edges of Naomi’s eyes. Yet they were not sentimental tears. They were anguish tears.
       “Mom,” she said. “That’s sweet. But could you..?” Leave, she so desperately wanted to say. Please. Leave. “I don’t know if you’re going to like this particular performance.”
       “Me?” Chandra said. “I like everything!”
       It was such a lie that Naomi might have laughed. Chandra was always complaining, about weather that was too cold, politicians who were too deceiving, bright lights inside a building that might be toxic and harmful for a person’s cells.
       Only one thing she didn’t complain about, in fact, had been Naomi’s interest in art. This was something Chandra always supported. All of Naomi’s life, her mother had been very very very proud of her.
       A low rumble of sound rolled from the gallery’s corners. Naomi had heard this dozens of times as they had prepared the show and tested the speakers, the deep car-engine-like purr that indicated the show was about to begin.
       The visitors fell quiet. The rumble grew louder. A steady steel drum thump began, like a heartbeat.
       “Oh god,” Naomi said.
       Dolors, red lips glistening in a grin, was walking toward them. She paused briefly, mouthing a thank you at this person for coming, grinning toward another who had tugged on the golden tassel of her shawl.
       “Is that the artist?” Chandra whispered.
       Naomi was too breathless to reply. The whirl of the room seemed to be rushing past her, like water.
       “Darling.” Dolors’s breath was hot and wine-sour in Naomi’s face. “It’s time.”
       Naomi turned to look at her mother.
       Improbably, Chandra had begun flapping her arms up and down against her body. Naomi looked back at Dolors. She watched her observe this strange red-headed woman, in her black tank top and yoga pants, this... flapping person...lifting her arms up and down as if preparing to take flight.
       Circulation, Naomi might have explained. She does it because it’s good for circulation. But she couldn’t say the words. She was silent, watching Dolors take in her mother’s flailing limbs, her suitcase, the gray wool socks, the Birkenstocks.
       The look on Dolors’s face was so familiar to Naomi she might have molded it from clay herself. A look of cringing affrontedness. Push and pull, as if Dolors both wanted to reach out and grab Chandra to stop her from doing whatever she was doing, stop her from being whatever she was being, and also to run away, to protect herself from contamination.
       “I can’t,” Naomi said. Quickly, like a blast, before the words were lost forever.
       “I’m sorry?” Dolors took a moment peeling her eyes away. Chandra had stretched her arms out wide, was rolling them in slow circles. It seemed any moment she would remove a yoga mat from her suitcase, begin a series of sun salutations.
       “I’m sorry,” Naomi said. “I just. I can’t do the performance.”
       A woman’s voice pierced through the sound in the room. It was Dolors’s voice, reading poetry in German with long pauses between each word, the silencetimed with lights that began to flash across the ceiling—now red, now black, now scattered and silver like the dust of a vengeful fairy.
       “The thing is.” Naomi cocked her head. “My mother is here.”
       “I don’t care if this woman is the Queen of England,” Dolors said and cast another, more withering glance toward Chandra. “You made a commitment.”
       “Right,” Naomi said, and nodded almost manically, as though her head was completely disconnected from her body.
       Which, she supposed, was the very point. She looked at her mother. She looked at Dolors. She looked at the toilet under the flashing reds and pinks, light that throbbed and broke into pieces, slicing the room and the people inside it into scattered splinters.
       Yes, disconnection was the very point.
       Everything Naomi felt, in this moment, was the essence of it all. She was the show and the show was her and now, in her exact state of discomfort and alienation, it was time for her to  do what she had agreed she would.
       And yet, “I can’t do this in front of my mother,” Naomi said. “I just can’t.”
       Photographs appeared on the walls around them in a slide show. Fragments of Dolors Del Vista’s body. A single humongous breast, broken in half where the wall met the ceiling. A dark mass of smooth, flat armpit hair.
       “Then tell her to leave,” Dolors said.
       “Is this the show? What’s happening?” Chandra asked. Her face was as unguarded and nakedly stunned as a child’s. “What is this?”
       “It’s nothing,” Naomi blurted.
        “Nothing?” Dolors said.
       Naomi gripped the serving tray tighter, trying to steady her hands.
        “Naomi,” Dolors said. “Do you understand what you’re doing right now?”
       Naomi swallowed. She wanted to go with Dolors. Or, she thought she did.
       She supposed what she really wanted was to be the kind of person who wanted to go with Dolors. Who went without hesitation. A person who was, well, in fact, more like Chandra, someone who didn’t care what others thought, someone who, just by virtue of being who she was, opened up one trap door after another, habitually slicing the hallucinatory miasma of modern life like a machete through a shower curtain.
       But she was not like Dolors. Nor was she her mother.
       “I’m really sorry. So so sorry. I just can’t.”
       “Because of her?”
       Yes, Naomi thought. It was because of her mother. But also, no, it wasn’t. It had never been about Chandra at all. Naomi’s doubt was entirely her own.
       “Do you get what you’re doing right now?” Dolors demanded.
       Naomi nodded. What she got was that there would be no recommendation letters from Marcus King. There would be no toothy necklace, no pea coat. No Vienna.No performance. Tomorrow, she would not even have a job.
       “Is there a bathroom here?” Chandra abruptly shouted.
       Her question appeared to be the final stake through Dolors’s provocation-seeking heart. Her face clenched, she exhaled violently, spun around and walked off.
       “I really need to pee. Don’t they have a bathroom here? A real one?”
       Naomi pointed toward the stairway that led to the visitors’ bathroom. Across the room, she saw Dolors hissing something to Marcus, Marcus turning to stare at her. Then his attention was distracted as Chandra clopped her way forward, wheeling her suitcase along the gallery floor.
       Slowly, Naomi began to back up. Along the gallery’s wall was a patch of empty space. The air was cool. Naomi set the tray of wine cups down on a wooden chair. It was possible Marcus and Dolors were watching her. Just as likely was that they were not. A new plan was being formed. Someone would replace Naomi. A different girl, into it, but not overly so.
       Gaze steady, she made her way to the door. She had not told Chandra she was leaving. But that was all right. Her mother would find her. She seemed to have a way of doing that. With her back to the crowd, Naomi pushed the door open, and let herself out.

© Becky Tuch 2023

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