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Author Bio



Ray never paid taxes. He pirated cable, and stole paint from the store where Rothko and Schnabel had bought theirs. He’d dropped out of art school after six months, to wash dishes in a diner in Alabama, and before heading to New York City on his motorcycle in 1988 destroyed all the paintings he’d ever made, except those his mother refused to give up.
       These were some of the details Ray and I used to say that future generations would   learn about him in their art history books. Facts that would inspire them to throw a girl in the car and drive all night to Niagara Falls just to see the expression on her face the first time she saw it, the way Ray did to me. Give them permission to commit whatever acts of thievery necessary to make their art. “The artist exists in a class outside the rules and laws that govern common man,” Ray said. “Society owes the artist who fires men’s souls, shows him what he himself cannot or refuses to see, a debt—yet it’s a debt society never pays back. Thus, the artist must take what he needs, whatever he needs, if he is to make art. And no artist,” Ray said indignantly, “worth a damn can afford to pay fifty dollars for a tube of Cadmium Red.”
       The truth was Ray could afford paint, and cable too. It was principle not poverty that drove Ray to steal. I was one of the few people who knew the truth. That Ray had grown up with two parents and a little sister, in this upper-middle-class suburb of Detroit, in a neat ranch house with a crew-cut green lawn, lace curtains and dark pine paneling. His mother called herself a homemaker, and his dad the man of the house. He’d played football in high school—although, he was quick to add, Kerouac had too.
       I was also cursed with a happy childhood. No food stamps, or beatings or even interesting childhood diseases to draw on for writing plays, outside of a lingering low-grade sense of uneasiness that I wasn’t normal. However it would never have occurred to me, nor would I have dared, to take off like Ray had or drop out of school. It wasn’t like me. I was responsible. My parents would have worried, worse, been disappointed. Even now, they were helping me pay my rent.
        “Face it,” I said. “We’re damned.”
        “Yeah.” Ray grinned. “That works. Man, when we walk down the street and people ask who the hell we are we’ll say, “We’re The Damned.”
        “Hello,” I chirped, extending my hand in introduction, “We’re Beth and Ray but you can call us The Damned.”
       Nobody would care about our childhoods, Ray insisted. “It’s your death that matters.”
       The first time he told me this we were in his studio with a futon on the floor, this crappy sofa he’d pulled off the street, and his art, charcoal sketches of industrial landscapes slashed with rain, on the walls. We were sitting on a Navajo blanket listening to The Velvet Underground “White Light/White Heat” with a jug of red wine and a block of government cheese that had been in his mini fridge for weeks. He’d picked up this Swiss Army Knife we’d been using, and flipped the knife away from him in a perfect arc so it landed tip down in the floor.
        “I’ve always known that I’m going to die young,” Ray said, pulling the knife out of the floor. He said this with such conviction that to question him would have been akin to calling him a liar. “I’ve made peace with the knowledge that my genius won’t be recognized until after I am dead. Look at Van Gogh; he only sold two paintings before he died. He never got what he deserved.”
        “Rarely,” I said, “do people get what they deserve.”
       Ray nodded, rubbing his hands over his cheeks, shadowed with stubble. “I’m living proof, right? Look at you. You put up with me. When they write about me, they’ll have to write about you too, you know. You’re my muse.
        “We’ll be famous together. What do you think? Ray and Beth,” he stopped dead.  “No. Not Beth. Beth, it just lays there—no offense sweetheart, but you know what I mean? Dead on the door step. You’ve been Beth long enough. You’re too good for Beth.”
        “I agree, I’ve never liked that name.” The idea of renaming myself thrilled me.
       I hadn’t minded my name, really, until freshman year of high school in 1976, the year that lame Kiss song was number one everywhere. If it wasn’t on the radio or coming out of somebody’s 8-track, then some joker was serenading me, Beth I hear you calling, but I can’t come home right now. I was Beth. Beth of Ohio. In a Snoopy T-shirt and a jean skirt, aviator-rimmed glasses and a retainer. I was Beth waiting by the phone, waiting for my life to show up.
       I didn’t want to be Beth anymore.
        “You could be—Elizabeth, Lee, Lou—that’s cool—Liz, Lizzie….”
        “Lizzie. That’s catchy—a little subversive. I like it. Lizzie Borden took an ax, gave her mother forty whacks…
        “What’s your middle name?”
        “Diane?” He made a face, like how in the world could two such disasters have befallen one girl. “Elizabeth Diane?”  The shackles of normalcy, oh how they bind.
        “Wait, wait, I’m thinking,” he muttered, running his hands through his thick black hair, which appeared more like fur to me than hair, as if it would help. “Ah!  I got it. What about B?”
        “Buzz, buzz. I like that. It’s edgy, lethal to some. I dig stripes.”
        “Nah, B. Just the initial B. Miss B. Like Madame X.”
        “Or Lizzie? Ray and Lizzie sounds prettier than Ray and Miss B.”
        “You’re right, it should just be, initial B. Christ, I’ll call you whatever you want. Lizzie, or Lee, or Loulou—”
       I liked Loulou.
        “—but trust me, B is perfect. B is Ray Lovett’s muse.  B. It’s fucking brilliant. Mysterious. An enigma. Let them wonder about you.”
        “B is only B on the page. It sounds like Bee. I’d get to be both.”
       He answered, “There is no Ray without B,” with unsuspected tenderness. “No me without you.”
        “No me without you,” I said, trembling with the knowledge. “What can I make you for dinner?”
       I count the moment Ray walked into the Soho art bookstore where I was working, (flipping through the postcards—Cocteau, Genet, Mayakovski—like flashcards) to-go cup of coffee in hand, his jeans splattered with paint, a tooth-pick lazing out of the corner of his mouth, as the moment my life, my real life began. It was Ray who first told me I was meant to be a writer, on the basis of reading a one-act play I’d written during a summer writing course I’d taken at NYU, a course taken just for the credits I needed to graduate from my podunk university back in Cincinnati.
       When Ray declared, with enough conviction for both of us, “You’re a writer. You know it,” I did. “All you need is for the truth to wake up in you so you can see it. For Christ’s sake B” —his eyes were burning— “you don’t need anybody’s goddamn permission to be a writer,” he said like I’d be getting away with something. “So write.”
       He gave me that.
       Ray had this uncanny gift for giving me things I never knew I needed or wanted. I’d spent my life following the trends, borrowing clothes from friends, searching for my look, and Ray found it—or maybe he’d always had it. He made me, me. Every week there was some new treasure he’d found for me at a flea market, a resale shop, a sidewalk sale. Things so perfectly me I might have owned them in another life. I had no idea 60s era vintage dresses, faux fur coats, and rhinestone-encrusted cat’s-eye sunglasses were me. I was suddenly crazy about collecting the hands of old mannequins, and vintage etiquette books, like the 1963 edition of Blueprints for Building Better Girls! Ray and I’d take turns reading it aloud to each other.  It was hilarious how clueless these women, teetering in heels, on the cusp of the sexual revolution, were.
       In these trying times, it is more important than ever that we take a firm hand in shaping the lives and characters of our young women, not only through instruction but by exhibiting, in our own manner and dress, all the qualities of womanhood, on which future generations should model their behavior.
       When I added, “Uh-oh, the burning bra is about to hit the fan,” Ray gave me the look. This was the sort of thing I should write down. I should be writing everything down.
        “Don’t you get it? Ideas are like moths, drawn to the artist’s light. You gotta capture them before they fly away or die.”
       The first real thing that Ray ever gave me was this black leather-bound journal with a band around it. “What kind of writer doesn’t keep a journal?” he said. “You want to be real? You gotta write shit down. Write it all down like you expect people to one day read it.”
       Up until then I’d been using spiral-bound stenographers notebooks, which had suited me just fine. Ray often spoke as though he were dictating. He’d say something like, “The power of art,” then pause so I could grab my journal.  “The power of art, B,” he’d begin again with gusto, “is that it transcends the boundaries of space and time. Art spits in the eye of death.”
       When Ray discovered I wasn’t using the notebook he’d given me, he was pissed. I tried to explain that I hadn’t written in it because I loved it so much and I didn’t want to ruin it. The pages were so nice, and sewn in, you couldn’t just rip them out. Whatever stupid thing I wrote down would be in there permanently.
        “I can’t tell you what to do,” he said, “but don’t be an idiot. I don’t care if you use it or not, but you want the truth? Here it is: Nobody gives a shit if you write, or not. Nobody is ever going to say, Oh B. share your thoughts with us, until you become somebody. Then—” he laughed— “then, they’ll buy the paper you wipe your ass with.”
       The art history book might say that while Ray’s unsentimental representations of classic American themes such as the road and the American West were nothing new, his energy, his bold muscular brushwork and the enormous scale of his paintings, were distinctive. They would quote his reaction to the criticism that he refused to create gallery-friendly works. “Here’s how it is—I don’t bow to anybody. What can I say? My work is in proportion to my vision. I piss on minimalism.”
       They’d write that he’d welded his hulking frames out of metal salvaged from junk cars.  The first being a Silver 1962 Ford Galaxy he’d totaled himself. Totaled and walked away from without a scratch.
       It had taken less than two weeks for me to see I had to move out of this sublet I was sharing with two other girls on the Upper East Side. Girls I hadn’t realized until I met Ray were tedious, bourgeois poseurs, who knew nothing about art or music—Madonna, really? I could have dealt having to initial all my food—from cantaloupes to quarts of milk and white wine—the chore rotation chart, the smoking, even though my own clothes had begun to smell like Salem Menthols, even their opinion that anyone who didn’t attend an Ivy deserved to be pushing a broom (and here they were always quick to add, “present company excepted”), I could have stuck it out, but they didn’t get Ray. That wouldn’t fly. They said he was weird and rude, and laughed at the wrong times. He looked at them funny. He drank beer that didn’t belong to him. They didn’t get me anymore either.  I’d changed. What had Ray done to me? They appreciated the whole arty writer thing, it was why they loved me, but really, I was just going to blow off the Cantor Fitzgerald booze cruise? And what was up with the leopard coat, and why on earth would you dye your hair black? Was I now some kind of Bohemian? What was next, poetry readings?
       I’d reported all this to Ray, laying my broken friendships at his feet as a sign of my mounting fidelity and devotion, and he’d praised me. They didn’t get it. They were no different from his old friends, who’d all sold out, gotten married, or just burned out.
        “Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant,” he’d tell me. “Except for us, right? We are The Damned. Nobody leaves.”
        “In order to create, the artist must be on the outside,” he told me the night we stumbled upon this crappy little tiki bar in Chinatown with Christmas lights in the window, Dean Martin and Don Ho on the jukebox. There was nobody in the joint, and no sign, so we called it Lucky’s.
       It had a purity and naïveté that spoke to us. It hadn’t been fucked with yet. The murals on the walls—childish representations of a family of tiki gods posed in front of a smoking volcano, and a raging sunset, tangerine, violet and pink, so vivid as to be radioactive—they were real. The drinks were real cheap—half a week’s paycheck easily covered a bender—and special.
       The house specialty was this orange and mango rum cocktail served in half a pineapple. We’d sit at the bar and drink, watching the bartender, a slim, serious man, carve pineapples into boats and, using only cocktail straws, napkins, and a few toothpicks, construct intricate sails and riggings.
        “You know,” Ray would say, “The longer I sit here, the clearer it all becomes.”


Before signing the lease, I’d called Ray to come and look at this studio apartment I’d found on Tenth Street and First Avenue, right above an Italian bakery. It was only the second floor, and I was afraid of being burglarized, and worried it would be too noisy with the all the cars. Ray disagreed.
        “Ah, B, no one is going to rob you.”  He grinned.  After all, what did I have that anyone wanted?
        “And fuck the traffic, you’ll get used to it.  After a while, B, it’ll sound like crashing waves.” He inhaled. “Smell. Fresh bread. Christ. We could live off that air, right? You could grow fat on that air.”
       He said we. As it was, Ray would spend as much time in my place as his own, even though it was just blocks away. I’d cook for him. Cheap stuff. Eggs with potatoes and green peppers. Rice and beans. I’d make him pie. He loved cherry pie. Because of this the biographer might suggest we’d been lovers. We had been twice. Both times Ray was drunk and it was dark. It felt more accidental than anything else.  A momentary loss of control. Like hitting a patch of black ice—he slid into me, and then it was over. Ray told me, “Jackson Pollack was a bad lay.” I didn’t care if Ray was a bad lay, that wasn’t what we were about anyway. It was deeper than that.
       There would be no photograph to accompany Ray’s textbook entry. He refused to have his picture taken. “They never look like me,” he said, which was true. I’d made the mistake of trying to sneak a few candid shots. But he’d hear the shutter the way a deer hears the trigger. He told me the Navajo believed the camera stole your soul.
       The editors could reproduce one of his self-portraits, though. Ray insisted all artists had to make self-portraits. Van Gogh’s were among his most famous works. In the paintings, with the dark squint of his gaze, and pugilistic set of his jaw, the fact he’d chosen to depict his nose as more prominently broken than it was in real life, his dark hair defiantly untamed, he looked like the quintessential tortured romantic.
       There is this one pencil drawing, where his nose is straighter, his lips fuller, almost feminine, his expression unfocused and uncertain; it was like he’d drawn himself without him knowing it. If you look closely, you can see all the eraser marks.
       All of the self-portraits he gave to me as soon as they were done.
       He told me, “If you don’t take them, I’m just going to destroy them.” We couldn’t
risk that.
       If I got to choose the image that’d accompanied Ray’s entry, it would be a painting of the two of us at a gas station in North Dakota he made after our first road trip. It’s called Number 28 because the trip took place over his twenty-eighth birthday. He’d wanted to see the Badlands because those surreal rock formations looked like the lunar surface, he said, because he’d never live to see thirty—or the day when people traveled to the moon the same way they did Miami. “That high desert,” he said, “is the closest I’ll ever get to walking on the moon.”
       The entry would note that the painting was from the private collection of Elizabeth Stark, a.k.a. Beth, Lizzie, Bee, or, B, Ray Lovett’s muse, great American playwright, and majority owner of Ray Lovett’s work.
       The paintings and drawings were gifts, repayment of loans, apologies—for punching out my kitchen window, for forgetting my birthday. Not that I minded any. We weren’t like normal people. We were special. Artists. No one had ever looked at the world the way we did. No one had ever compared the stars in the night sky to burrs stuck on the sleeve of God’s coat, or felt like we felt—moved to tears by the haunting intensity of Goya’s black paintings. He painted them on the walls of his house! He’d never intended to show them to anyone! No one had ever driven a hundred miles an hour on a Kansas straightway screaming out the windows, “We are The Damned!”
       I’d never felt more alive than when I was dead tired in the front seat of Ray’s car. Never. In the beginning I’d offer to drive but Ray said he couldn’t relax if someone else was driving. Even me.
      I was his co-pilot. It was my job to keep us in sandwiches and black coffee, navigate, switch out mixed tapes—Sonic Youth, X, the Pixies, according to Ray’s mood—and man the radio. Ray would cry out,  “Oh baby, I need to be saved! Deliver me from Top 40; I need me some Christian rock,” and I’d find it. Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life.
       Sometimes we just talked. There are conversations that you’ll have in a car you’d otherwise never have. If no one else could hear you, if you weren’t sitting so close, if the driver didn’t have to look at you, if there wasn’t always the possibility you could crash and die. Ray told me stuff I’d never tell anybody.
       Every time we got out of the car for food or gas, or to sleep, Ray would slap a kiss on the side of his car and I’d get out the postcards I’d lifted from the bookstore and we’d leave a message on the gas pumps—I Drive Therefore I Am—or in the bathroom—For a good time call Jean Paul Sartre. For the freckled and slightly cross-eyed teenage waitress at IHop in Goodland, Kansas, who’d brought Ray four refills he wrote, You won’t always feel this way.           
       In the painting Number 28, we’re at a gas station. I’m sitting in the passenger seat of his pristine ’62 Galaxy, one bare foot stuck out the window. Behind me a figure in dark work pants and a white T-shirt, desert boots and aviators, stands by the road with his back to me, staring at the horizon. You can see half of my face in the passenger’s side mirror. Part of the painting’s appeal, the book might say, is the question of whether the woman is gazing at her reflection or the man behind her.


I’d quit the bookstore in Soho before they could fire me. I told them I was leaving so I could devote more time to my writing, which was true, but it was also true that for six months Ray had been shoplifting fifty-dollar coffee table books and selling them at the Strand, to supplement his income as a bike messenger. The money was lousy, but they paid cash, so no taxes, no “paper trail,” and he only worked when he wanted. It had to be that way so he could paint whenever inspiration hit him. I knew that. He said he hated me paying for everything—cooking him dinner, buying the beer—but I didn’t mind.
        “We’re The Damned,” I said. “This is what you do. You’d do it for me.”
       That same week I’d scored a job at another bookstore—big like a city—I started taking this playwriting class.  It was my instructor, a Kate Millet devotee, who encouraged me to write “Food Fight,” which featured three young women—one fat, one thin, one average—in a diner, each struggling with their relationship to food and each other. The drama builds as the girls become more and more anxious over what to eat, and who will eat what, or not eat.  There’s all this shame, and anger, and regret.  I didn’t see it at first. At the end the waitress brings out a brownie sundae with three spoons and violence erupts. I’d never written anything like that, nothing expressly female. Nothing that felt true like that. I mean, nobody cared about that stuff.
       Ray wanted me to read it to him. He insisted. I’d always read my stuff to him, you know, but this time was different. I was nervous, you know it wasn’t serious—give me a break, right—Beckett didn’t write about women and food, but I did. Afterward he said, “It’s satire right? You might want to draw that out more.”
       That stung, but I knew he was right.
        “I have trouble telling when something is done. How do you know?”
        “You just know,” he said. “Or I know. When it’s done, it’s done. I never go back.”

When I got the call that there was a theater downtown that wanted to do a reading of Food Fight, I’d asked the guy to repeat himself three times. Still, it wouldn’t feel real, it wouldn’t matter, until I told Ray.
       I couldn’t help myself. He wasn’t halfway in the room before I ambushed him. 
        He didn’t react at first. What did I expect? He just shook his head like maybe he was hearing voices.
       I know, I know,” I said, “it’s crazy. It is.  I made the guy repeat himself so I could write it down,” I showed him the notes I’d made on the back of the envelope containing my second turn-off notice from the phone company. “I I knew if I didn’t write it down I might think I’d made it up.”
        “Wow,” Ray said, the word dropping, with his bike-messenger bag onto the floor. He leaned back hard against the counter like I’d just poked him in the chest. “Wow. I’m sorry. I meant congratulations. This is great, B.”
       I told him, “I could never have done it without you.”
        “Don’t be stupid,” he said. “You did it.”
       I’d explained to him how the theater was a kind of a joke—they made their name with erotic puppet shows featuring political figures, like Margaret Thatcher fucking Ronald Reagan in the ass, Jesse Helms in black face singing “Old Man River.”
       I told him the guy curating the reading series was a friend of a friend of mine from my writing workshop.
        “This is exactly what’s wrong with the art world. It’s all about who you know,”  he waited a second. “But you deserve it, B. You deserve it. All of it.”
        “You know it doesn’t pay anything, of course,” I said. “I can still write ‘starving artist’ on my tax return.”
        “You don’t have to say yes, either. You can decline. Politely decline.”
        “No. I want it.”
        “Then the money shouldn’t matter to you,” Ray said, jerking open the refrigerator door to get a beer. There was none. “Your name is on it. You know what they say. All that matters is they spell it right.”
       It never occurred to me that Ray would be jealous. I wanted nothing more than for him to get a show. That was why I’d pushed him to submit his slides to a bunch of galleries downtown putting up group shows. I convinced him. He hadn’t wanted to. It wasn’t his bag. “The art world is nothing but a corrupt clusterfuck of imbeciles,” he declared. Finally, though, he’d given in, consented to sending his work to three places. The only places he had any respect for. Places where he really wanted to show.
       Even though it just proved his point, Ray didn’t tell me they rejected him. He left the slit-open envelopes propped up on the kitchen table for me to find.
       When he showed up at my place later smelling like whiskey, I was sitting at the table reading.  The evidence of my crime still right there in front of me. I tried to apologize
        He was furious. “I don’t want to talk about it. You know I don’t give a shit about those assholes. What I am, what I am is disgusted with myself. Disappointed and disgusted that I let you talk me into doing something I never wanted to do. I should have stuck to my guns.”
       “You’re right. I was wrong, but hey, think of this, my friend—you sold a painting not a month ago. How many of those wannabe Keith Harings can say that?”
       As soon as I said it, I knew how wrong it was.
       The painting he’d sold was to my parents. He needed the money. My parents had met Ray. They’d been impressed. When he wanted, he could be very charming. Very formal, he opened doors, pulled out my mom’s chair, called my father sir. He’d brought dessert, a pie from downstairs I bet he’d lifted. He made coffee.  When my parents left, he shook my father’s hand, and kissed my mother on the cheek.
       I’d told them he was going to be big, how these days art was as sound an investment as real estate. I’d picked out a good one—not the best—Ray had to save the best. Even with the “family discount,” he’d cleared two hundred bucks.
        He said nothing.  I may as well have punched him in the stomach. “So…” He rubbed his palms together like he was itching to grab the wheel. “Where should this celebration happen, girlie? Atlantic City? San Fran? Name it. I don’t care. Let’s blow this pop stand. Let’s go. Let’s get outta here.”
        I didn’t want to say it. “Oh Ray...”
         “Ah, right.”
         “You know I want to. I’m sorry. I’m out of sick days. Last time—remember—when we broke down, and I had to call the store—”
         “Forget it.”
         “Next weekend?”
         “Nah. Whatever. I get it, doll. It’s nothing. It’s ladies’ choice tonight. My treat.”
         “Are you sure?”  This was a surprise.
         “Why the hell not. Where you wanna go?”

Over the last year, Lucky’s had begun to get popular.  It was still off the beaten path, tucked down a side street away from the tourists and those novelty shops peddling paper dragons, the fish stores selling eels and frogs on ice and live turtles in plastic bags (“Pets or Meat?” Ray’d say)—but they’d raised their prices and redecorated.  They’d also touched up the mural of the tiki gods, now in front of an erupting volcano and, it appeared, covered in third-degree lava burns, and painted over the sunset.
        As long as we could sit at the bar, I figured Ray would be okay.
        Even at nine o’clock, the sidewalks of Chinatown were mobbed. Ray hated crowds. He became very protective of me. He’d hold onto my hand, or tight to my arm so as not to lose me, messenger bag slung over his shoulder, cursing the tourist hordes and mindless slow-pokes who’d stop right in front of you and look up to ooh and aah over how tall the buildings were. You know what’s wrong with you people? he’d say, You have no consideration for other people at all. No manners. You’re uncivilized. You don’t give a damn about anybody but yourself, allowing his bag to smack into anyone fool enough not to get out of his way.


I knew before we even reached the bar it would be crowded. I couldn't have imagined how crowded it would be, or that they'd installed a faux thatched roof over the bar.
     Ray stopped at the door. "What did I tell you? I knew it. Didn't I predict this?"
       "It's crowded."
       "Nah." He spit on the sidewalk. "It's over."
       "No it's not." I thought once we got inside, he'd be cool.
       They'd washed the windows. Inside I saw a guy with muttonchop sideburns and a goatee just like Ray's holding court by the bar, a guy with a flattop, wearing a bowling shirt with LUCILLE embroidered on the pocket and prescription Wayfarers. I was pretty sure I recognized him from one of those twenty-dollar art magazines Ray flipped through at Gem Spa when he thought I wasn't looking.
       "We're out of here," he said, turning around.
       "No, come on, Ray," I pleaded.
       I knew he couldn't say no. "Okay, but this is for you."
       By some divine providence the minute we closed in on the bar two seats opened up. Ray dropped his shoulder like a tackle, muscling past two girls who could have been my old roommates to claim them for us.
       "My apologies, ladies," Ray said, waving me into one of the seats, "but don't you know who this is?"
       Ray paid for the first round. "Worth, every, penny," he said, making a point of counting out the bills. When our pineapple boats arrived, Ray lifted his up and studied it from all sides. "You're a true artist, my man," Ray announced, his voice carrying throughout the bar. "You, my friend, you ought to be in the fucking Whitney Biennial." The barman, uncomfortable with the attention, bobbed his head.
       I took a sip. It was sweeter than usual.
       Then Ray raised his drink. Before he even said a word, I’d started to blush. I didn't want to gloat, but I was happy.
       "To you, B. I mean it. This is big," Ray said, touching the stern of his boat to mine. He then turned to the lovely Asian waitress standing at the end of the bar folding napkins into the shape of water lilies.
       "B's about to have her first play produced."
       I corrected him. "It's just a reading."
       "This girl, right here. Remember the face." He pinched my cheek.
       "Dee?" she said.
       "No, B," Ray repeated. "Just B."
       "Or Beth, Elizabeth," I added.
       I knew it was coming. "Beth? Or Elizabeth. I get it. I see how it is. The truth comes out. What good is success if all those assholes from your past don't know it? Right?"            
       “Very funny," I said. He was right, though. All those jerks growing up who thought I was just Beth, plain old, goofy Beth, future substitute teacher, soccer mom, bank teller, I wanted them to know. "What, I can't be B and Elizabeth?"
       "Suit yourself," he said.
       When I finished my drink, Ray set both our boats on the bar and with a good shove sent them back down to the barman for a refill, calling out, "My man, did you hear the news? What do you say to a couple drinks on the house? For the lady. It's a big night for her, don'tcha think?"
       The bartender, pretending not to hear, busied himself with the cherries. The waitress averted her eyes.
       I elbowed Ray in the side. I was so embarrassed. "Stop it," I hissed. "I don't want any free drinks. Don't be silly. We'll pay."
       "No, no. You'd think, since we've only been coming here since the fucking birth of this place—back when we were the only customers," Ray said, his voice getting louder, "they'd have the decency to spring for one free drink. Not for me, I don't fucking care. I don't need it, but for you, B. For you."
       "I don't care," I said. I just wanted to change the subject. "Tell me about the new painting—the pier. I want to hear all about it."
       His face brightened. Ray hadn't worked for weeks after his slides came back. He said he was working, but he didn't smell of turpentine, and there was no tape on his fingertips the way there was when he was working. When he'd surprised me by picking me up after work in the car, he was buzzing, happier than I'd seen him in months. He'd driven me to see the source of his inspiration. Right off the West Side Highway, sunk in the Hudson River at Fifty-ninth Street, was a dilapidated pier, a hulk of rotting wood, its twisted iron beams sticking out like bones.
       "It's going to be epic. Man, I mean huge. Fucking beautiful—a poem—a tragic fucking poem. People are going to sit up and take notice. Think about it, it was nothing before, but now, man, it's gorgeous. You see it, right?"
       What I saw was a pier, collapsed on its pilings, rusting, half submerged, and sliding into the river like a creature that had been brought to its knees. "Amazing," I said.
       After the third round, our boats began to leak. "Somewhere around Cap d' Antibes," I said, "we started to take on rum ... "
       "We're surrounded by water, you know that?" Ray was getting drunk. "You forget. Everybody gets so damn caught up in their meaningless little lives they forget they live on a fucking island."
       I started to say something.
       "A toast to B," Ray bellowed. "Or whatever the hell name she decides to call herself. Pick one! Let the record show I always knew she was going to be the darling of the New
York theater world, that it was just a matter of time before the mainstream"—he pushed his boat back down the bar—"get it, wink, wink, mainstream claimed her. Promise me, darlin', you won't forget the little people."
        “Aw, cut it out.”
        "What?" His tone had turned to mocking. "All you've ever wanted was to be famous. Right? That's always been your dream."
       "I don't care about being famous," I said defensively, watching as Ray tore apart a handful of sugar packets and emptied them out over the top of his boat. "There is only past suffering," he said, staring at the flame, "present suffering, and future suffering."
       I was thinking, You're wrong, I'm happy, when Ray flipped open his Zippo and set the boat on fire. There was a gasp as the liquor and sugar ignited into a burst of blue, spitting flame. The bartender looked up. What if the thatched roof caught on fire?
       "The boats are burning! The boats are burning on the shore!" Ray sang out in a stentorian voice. "And I set sail in a ship of flames ... "
       "Ray .... We should go," I said, pulling on his arm. "Come on. Before they throw us out."
       "What's the matter? Afraid of a little fire, scarecrow." He cackled. "Aw, man, it'll burn out," he said. "Look . . ." The flames were out. There was the smell of burnt sugar. He looked disappointed. "You didn't like that? I'd think you'd appreciate it."
       "We should go."
       "We'll go when I'm ready to go," Ray growled, then lunged for my purse, fisting around the bottom for money, snatching up the few loose bills.
       "Here you go," he shouted, waving the dollars at the barman like pom-poms. "To a true artist!" he cried, stuffing the wad into the man's tip jar.
       It seemed a good idea, once we were outside, to cross the street immediately.
       "I'm so tired I can barely stand," I said, adding a yawn for good measure. "Let's get home. I'll make us some grilled cheese. You know there's got to be a Godzilla or kung fu
movie on." I didn't want the night to end like this.
       "You gotta be kidding me," Ray said. "The night is young—look." He pointed at the sky washed gray by the city lights, the stars drained away. "You can't even see the stars yet."
       "C'mon. It'll be fun, for Christ's sake. A nightcap. You deserve it," he said, taking my hand.
       I was always a sucker for that.
       The man in the windbreaker appeared out of nowhere, out of the dark, cutting across the street toward us, fast, pulling something out of his pocket. We both knew what was happening. Then Ray let go of my hand.
       I stopped. He kept walking.
       I saw the knife. I saw it glint, although Ray would say it was just the zipper of his coat. I saw Ray too. I watched him walk away, as did the man, his mouth falling open in disbelief.
       "You! You! You left your woman?" the man yelled at him. Ray ducked his head, fists punched down in his pockets. He wasn't running away, but he hadn't stopped.
       "You just going to run away and leave your woman here?"  the man hooted and leered at me, but Ray wasn't watching. and he wasn't coming back. I just stood there, unsure of what to do, whether I was allowed to move or not.
       "Hey, you, I see you!" the man yelled. "You a pussy!" Then louder, "Pussy, pussy, pussy!" the force of the blast, Pussy, pussy, pussy, echoing and echoing in the street. Ray didn't stop. The man looked back at me and spit on the ground. Shaking his head like he felt sorry for me. And then he was gone.

I did all the things you do when someone disappears. I called. I wrote. I staked out his place. Nothing.
       The week after Ray left me in the street, he'd come to the apartment while I was at the bookstore, and taken everything that was his. I'd known something was off as soon as I opened the door, but there was the TV, the stereo. It was like somebody had rearranged the room just slightly. Were the Fiestaware plates in the dishwasher? No. I glanced at the sofa. Where was the dark blue Navajo blanket he'd brought over when they cut off the heat? Gone. In the bedroom, the fifties mohair sweater on my dresser, the beat-up wristwatch he'd been letting me borrow since mine broke. How was I supposed to know what time it was? What the fuck?
       What else had he taken? What had he taken of mine?
       For days, I'd searched the apartment and found nothing missing. Nothing. He hadn't taken the small china mannequin hand where he left his keys, or what he'd claim was his greatest vintage score—a leopard muff. If he were a woman, he said, he'd carry it everywhere. I'd been on the verge of sleep when I realized I hadn't seen that Niagara Falls souvenir spoon in the drawer. Only to discover later, sadly, it had fallen behind  the sink. Ray hadn't taken a comb, or a record or a tube of toothpaste. This was why I couldn't believe he was gone. If he'd really left, he'd have taken something of mine, wouldn't he?
       The only thing of his he had overlooked was this dirty white T-shirt stained with tomato sauce I'd pitched in my hamper. I'd almost washed it. I'd kept it in there with my dirty stuff, like he'd just taken it off. The day I'd found it in with the rest of my laundry in the dryer, I'd cried. Now he was really gone.
       On the one-year anniversary of Ray leaving, I'd gotten drunk on cheap white wine and taken down all his paintings, crying so hard the junkies next door turned down their stereo to listen. The walls, despite my cleaning efforts, would bear the ghostly outlines where the paintings had hung until I was forced to repaint them. It would have made Ray laugh.
       In the morning, when the light hit them right, they reminded me of footprints. I hated Ray but I hadn't thrown the paintings out. I resisted cutting them up. Resisted burning them like a woman from work who'd gone through a bitter divorce suggested. I'd pried out the staples cleaving the canvas from the stretchers. I'd slit the drawings out of their frames. Then I'd rolled them up like maps and stashed them in a box in the back of my closet. Maybe Ray was right—maybe one day he would be famous and I could sell them. Maybe one day he'd come back for them, and I'd be waiting here for him with a big empty box.
       Or not. The reality was that the traffic below my window didn't sound like the pounding surf. Car horns weren't the calls of seagulls.

A friend sublet me her apartment on the Upper West Side. It was bright with windows, quiet, and a good place to write. Emboldened by the fact that an actress seeking indie cred wanted to star in Food Fight, I quit my job at the bookstore. I started going out with theater people, and home with men, and a few boys who, when I was drunk, looked older.
       For a few years, I saw Ray in train stations and at art museums. I chased him through an airport, where the Last Supper was being played out in a T.G.I. Friday's. All the disciples hunkered over plates of nachos and atomic chicken wings, and Jesus bathed in the golden neon of a Bud Light sign waved me over to join them. I gave up sharing an onion flower with the Son of God in the hope of grabbing the hem of Ray's coat. I'd wake up in tears but grateful for even a glimpse of him.
       I was pissed off when, after five years, Ray began invading my dreams while I was in bed with the man starring in my new play, a reimagining of The Odyssey set in the Mall of America. Standing just out of reach, Ray laughed derisively. Ripping off the Greeks? Really? He had nothing to say about the man.
       I didn't understand why, after I'd been recognized by The New York Times as one of the top ten most promising young playwrights in New York City (I was now Lizzie
Stark) and had two serious boyfriends, one who'd proposed, Ray was still there, inexplicably there, to trouble my confidence.
       I'd tried to exorcise him. For seven years, I attempted to write about Ray, and anything but Ray. Either way I failed. I couldn't bring him back to life, couldn't make him move, or hear his voice. I couldn't keep him out. It was impossible to control him. He'd bust in, put his feet up on the table, and run everybody else out of the room.
        Desperate, I pressed drafts on my old workshop teacher. She'd been so helpful with my first play.
       "It's just not on par with your other work," she said. "Something is missing."
       The problem wasn't the idea. The flaw was in the execution. Yet, what was I if not an executioner? A serial killer of ideas? Any story dumb enough to climb into my car was a goner. I gave up. I stuck the play under my bed like a corpse in an iron drum.
       Something was missing.
       Then I forgot about it. I rarely ever dreamed about Ray. When I did, the dreams felt like gifts. I wasn't sad or angry anymore; what I felt was tenderness for the girl I'd been in the dream, the first self I'd ever really liked.

The fifth of November was the sort of fall day that makes New Yorkers feel superior to everyone else on the planet. I was standing on the sidewalk outside my corner market when Ray passed me. I didn't see him so much as feel him. The air changed. Molecules rearranged. There he was stooped in a yellow rain slicker, khakis, and white sneakers, his dark hair long to his shoulders, detailed with gray, his chin shaved clean. After all these years, it was like he was taunting me. Look at how close I can pass by you without stopping. I reached for his arm—the way I had hundreds of times before, because I could—and touched him.
       "Ray," I said. "It's you, right?"
       He turned. "B," he said, a calm statement of fact.
       B. I hadn't been B for so long.
       "Is it you?" I asked, thinking, What has happened to you? I knew. Like Burroughs and Basquiat, Ray was living the life of the doomed artist, and he'd become a junkie.
       "What can I say?" Ray said, his voice hoarse like his throat was full of sand. "Nice, huh? Sounds pretty scary, don't it?"
       "No, not scary, but telemarketing is probably out of the question."
       "Nah. I look like shit." He grinned. "It's my heart," he whispered. "It's enlarged and pressing on my windpipe."
       "Your heart?"
       He nodded. "It makes it a little hard to communicate."
       Of course, I thought, your heart is making it hard to communicate. I said, "You're going to be okay, though, right?"
       Then he said it. He said it plain as anything. He said, "I'm dying. I'm on the donor list, but you never know." Not a trace of emotion.
       He cleared his throat; it was obviously painful to talk. "So how is the writing going? I've seen your name in the paper. Lizzie Stark," he said, half smiling. "I'm sorry I haven't seen anything, but, you know ... " I'm dying.
       "Of course," I said, "and you"—there was no tape on his fingers, no paint or charcoal smudges on his jeans, no coffee stains on the cuffs of his shirt—"are you—?"
       "Yeah, I am. I do get tired real easy these days, though," he said, gathering his raincoat around him. I knew I'd offended him.
       "I'm sure," I said, then, "I just know it's going to work out," like Pollyanna on the Hindenburg.
       Ray shrugged. Like hope was this thing he'd grown tired of. Something he could take or leave. We stood there awkwardly, looking at each other—neither of us, it seemed, wanting to move. As if everyone on the street, in the stores, the people on the buses, everyone was watching us—it felt illicit. We shouldn't have been talking, but we were.
       Exchanging addresses was like swapping fortunes. Ray was in Brooklyn, in Greenpoint. His handwriting was the same—all capitals, strong, block letters. I was living in the neighborhood we always used to call the Yuppie Ghetto. My script was jagged, the way my pulse would look if it were being graphed.
       There was this moment when we might have hugged, but we didn't. We waved.
       The list. People in hospital dramas on television were always on the list, and always got a heart/a brain/some courage right at the last moment. That didn't happen, though, not in real life.
       I couldn't sleep. I got up, wrapped myself in a blanket, and went into the bathroom. I locked the door, lit a candle, and got into the tub, the way people do when they're bracing for a tornado. I wrote Ray. The kind of letter you can only write once, maybe twice in your life.
       I wrote: You broke my heart. You left me. I left out how I'd hated him, how I'd wished him dead, how I'd cursed him.
       The day he received my letter, this letter from him appeared in my mailbox.
       He wrote: I'd been restless a long time. Much to do, and miles to go. I fucked up. I lost it. I know that. I'm sorry. I should have said it to your face, but there it is. I'm sorry.
       I'm sorry. I read his apology over, and over. The old Ray wouldn't have done that. Dying had sweetened him. After that we wrote, in a fever—Do you remember when, do you remember how, and which, and that time ...
       Nostalgia is a narcotic.
       Enjoy these last few months, I told myself. Ray is dying.


I bought myself this new journal. Like the one Ray had given me but bigger. Inside on the flyleaf I wrote the year, 2000. How strange, I thought, to know Ray will die within this year, and yet have no idea when exactly, or how.
       Everything was different now that I knew Ray was dying. It was like it was in the beginning. Everything took on new meaning. Every cup of coffee seemed like the best coffee I'd ever had, the salsa music blaring from a car being washed below my bedroom window at eight on Saturday morning was lively, I was grateful for living in such a colorful neighborhood. Instead of pissing me off, it had sounded like a call to
life. So what if you haven't had breakfast, come out into the street and dance! After work, when I was walking home past the addicts lined up outside the methadone clinic, the pink in the evening sky was so gorgeous, so celestially girlie—Mother Nature lifting her skirt—it stopped me in my tracks.
       I vowed that when Ray started to fail I'd see him through to the end. That's what you do, right? You hang in there until the person is run through with so many tubes connected to so many parts he's more marionette than man. A solid tug on an oxygen tube and he raises his head, one yank on the IV and he waves. Wiggle that tube in his gut all you want, but you can't get him to hula.
       In a month's time, I'd filled three journals with notes for the draft of a new play. I was more excited than I had ever been about anything I'd written. I wondered though about the heart. Could I really use a heart in a story like this? It seem trite. I'd have to give Ray a rare blood disease, some disorder whose lesions take the form of shooting stars.
       I pinned the postcards he sent me—Kerouac reciting poetry, a galaxy in a coffee cup, a dolphin jumping through flaming hoop—on the wa1l over my desk like specimens. I live
in the moment now, he wrote. You gotta live every day like it's stolen.
       A month into our correspondence, a picture of Apollo 2 taking off appeared in my mailbox. Ray wrote me: Snail mail is bullshit. I ain't got the time. Here's my e-mail address.
       I'd miss the letters written in his own hand. The cards I'd collect from my mailbox and hang on my wall. I'd miss the rhythm and space between letters. Every time I turned on my computer, there he was, waiting, wanting. Ding, you have a new message, ding, ding, like an impatient customer hitting the front-desk bell. When I turned the sound off, I couldn't concentrate. What if I missed something? I turned it down as low as I could, so the sound was a distant chime.
       He'd written: Did I already send this? Did you get it? I have trouble remembering shit sometimes. It's too damn hot. My air conditioner is fucked. A friend brought—
       Why did this put my teeth on edge?
       —a fan, but it sucks. I can't breathe. You know what I realized the other day. Even with a new heart, I'll always be an old man.
       Ray's hope made me anxious. I didn't want Ray to die; it was the opposite. You know how it is when people are sick: All that exists is past suffering, present suffering, and future suffering. Imagining the person dead isn't wishing him dead; it's an act of self-preservation, preparation. You can't help it if those empty words of comfort—he's in a better place now, he's no longer suffering—begin to run through your head, unbidden,
taking the shape of a song you hum to the tune of "Yankee Doodle Dandy."
       On August 20, the hottest day of the year, kids at a summer camp in the Bronx fried eggs on the sidewalk to feed the homeless, and Ray left a message on my answering machine. He never did that. He hated leaving messages.
       "Hey, B." His voice was wispy, barely audible above the hum of my air conditioner. "Guess where I am? They took me to the ER last night. Not good." He paused. "I thought my time was up."
       I sat at my kitchen table and tried to breathe. Ray was at the Sisters of Mercy hospital. He was alive. However, if he had died, I told myself, at least it was sunny out, and he hadn't suffered, for long, and we'd come back together. That was what mattered most. The end.
       With shaking hands I dialed the phone, and with each transfer—to front desk, to intensive care, to hold, to his room—my pulse picked up, raced.
       He answered: "Ray here."
       "Ray?" I said gently. "Is this Ray of The Damned?"
       He chuckled. "B," he whispered in my ear. He might have been beside me, two heads on one pillow. Then he began to sing, "Welcome to the Hotel Intensive Care, such a lovely place." He stopped to catch his breath. "No pink champagne on ice, buts I've got air-conditioning and they've got to feed me, and here's the kicker: I'm on Medicaid, so it's a free ride."
       "Must be nice," I said, walking over to my desk. I sat down. Switched on my computer.
       "Can't complain—we've got your twenty channels, your pretty nurses, although Sisters of Mercy they ain't ... "
       I began to type: He's singing the Eagles, a free ride—slow ride. No more sticking it to the man. Happy for the handout. He never paid his taxes, but now happy to sponge off govt.
       "I keep calling and calling for Sister Morphine—" I typed: Sisters of Mercy they ain't ... Sister Morphine. That was good.
        "—to come and ease my pain, and they keep . . ." He stopped.
       "Wait. You aren't typing, are you?"
       No—I typed, pressing the keys more gently—I was writing.
       "I'm sorry, Ray."
       "I've come to the conclusion that I don't want to die."
       "Of  course you don 't."
       He said, 'The end of my story has yet to be written."
       "I know," I said.

After I hung up, I turned off the ringer. I pictured Ray reclining on his bed by a sunny window like he was on the deck of a yacht, a refreshing drink in his hand, cool wind in
his hair.
       I'd written from dusk to dark to dawn. Until I could no longer sit, or hold my head up, until the joints in my arms and legs hummed with pain and the tips of my fingers went numb. Then I put my head down on my desk and slept.
       It took me a few seconds to get my bearings when I woke. I had a message. The red light on my answering machine was staring at me like a Cyclops. I pressed Play.
       "Was that the beep? Is this thing on? Where are you, B, out slugging margaritas? Tripping the light fandango with the beautiful people? Okay, call me when you get back. Ciao for now."
       Slowly I started to reach for the phone.
       "Hola," Ray said, his voice filling the room. "Yeah, it's me."
       I didn't dare move. It was like he was right there in the room. He could see me. He could hear me if I moved.
       "You still out? It's late. Bad girl. Okay. Later."
        Then: "Hey, it's Ray. Again. This is, what—the third message I've left? I don't know. Call me. Doesn't matter what time it is, B. I'll be up, you know, just killing time."
       Then: "I don't know if this is on, or if you got the, what, four messages I left earlier, or hell, maybe you're just busy. Is that it? You're busy?" Silence. "Are you there? Shit, if you're there, B, I need you to pick up the goddamn phone." Long silence. "Fuck," he said, as though it had just dawned on him, "is someone there?"
       I was holding my breath. What if there was someone here?
       He hung up.
       I had to get out of there. I walked up to Central Park and around it. It was early. Just me and the dog people and the people with babies, and those people without a hangover to sleep off, or anyone to make love to, or a friend to meet for breakfast, or a book to read, or schoolwork to get a jump on. There were hundreds of people, but no one saw me, no one touched me.
       When I came back two hours later, the light was blinking again. Red alert, red alert, danger, danger, red alert. I'd been a coward. I'd said I'd stay and I'd run.
       "This is my final message," Ray said. "I'm supposed to be conserving my strength. Not that it's of any interest to you, or you care, but I thought you should know I got a heart."
       Hit Rewind, and Play again.
       "I got a heart," Ray repeated. Hit Rewind, and Play again. Over and over.
       I told myself, There is still the risk of infection.

The ending wouldn't come. I'd written death scenes. Me at Ray's bedside, stroking his hair, him apologizing, saying, I was so stupid, you know I never loved anyone but you, mumbling about the next road trip while the heart monitor became a horizon line, and me, stricken with grief, pulling out the IVs and climbing into his bed. Me lying beside his dead body, waiting for someone to come discover me. I'd written endings that became beginnings—I am married with two children you can hear playing offstage, and a letter arrives from his mother telling me Ray has died—and ended with Ray at twenty-three slipping offstage, a shoplifted tube of cadmium red in his pocket.
       I hadn't written this ending.
       The day after Ray's surgery I went to see him. I had to see him. Whacked out on pain meds, in and out of consciousness. I sat by his bed. I took his hand. How many times had I held his hand? I didn't stay long. Long enough. I stared at Ray, and around the room, memorizing details until I was full. Before I left, because I could, because I wanted to, I kissed him on the mouth. I don't know why I'd expected him to be cold. I don't remember the feel of the kiss as much as the warmth of his breath. I'd breathed him in.
       Later, when he'd say he hadn't been sure if I had really come, or if he'd dreamed it, I wished I'd told him I'd spent the night at his bedside.

A few weeks after Ray came home from the hospital, he invited me to visit.
       He e-mailed: Every day I'm getting stronger. I'm not my old self yet. No coffee, booze is strictly verboten. I can however offer you an array of teas, lemonade, soda. I mainly want to show you my most recent work. You were very important to me at the time I was coming into being as an artist.
I'd reread that last line until it no longer made me flinch.
       I'm sorry, I wrote. Wish I could come by, but I can't right now. I'm just at the end of something.
       Come whenever, he said.
       Soon, I said.
       The second time he called me, I couldn't say no.
       "No pressure," he said, sounding like the old Ray. "Come when you want. It's not like I am doing anything. I've made a hundred paintings in my head. My best work, but most of the time it's friends stopping by, and visits from a Caribbean home-duty nurse who comes to take my blood. Other than that, I play way too many computer games. Eat lots of steak. Sleep. Cash my disability check."
       "Sounds rough," I said.
       "It has its moments."
       We sat in his living room drinking organic lemonade out of striped highball glasses that in the old days we'd used for wine. I recognized parts—the blue Navajo blanket, the giant flying horse from an old gas station sign—but it was all different. Outside the kitchen, covering one wall, was this painting of a life-size deer frozen in the road, an eighteen-wheeler bearing down on it. It was so large it felt like I could walk right into
that world.
       "Yeah. That's a good one," Ray said when he noticed me looking at it. "People fall into two camps here, those who think the deer gets creamed, and those who think it escapes."
       I waited for him to ask, What do you think happens? I'd say, Depends on who is driving.
       ''I'm still looking for the perfect title," he said. "I don't usually have any problem with titles, but this one ... "
       "I-Ninety-five." How many times had we driven that corridor?
       "Maybe," he said.
       "So," I asked, "is this driving you crazy, or what?"
       Ray shrugged. "What can I do? I am taking hundreds of dollars' worth of pills every day just to keep my body from rejecting the heart."
       I repeated in my head, rejecting the heart.
       "Do you know whose heart it is?"
       "It's not like I want to think about it," he said, moving away a little and crossing his legs.
       "Right. Sorry."
       "All I know is it was from an eighteen-year-old kid, from the Midwest."
       I didn't like the way Ray spoke of his new heart as being from a kid, the heart had belonged to that kid.
       "A boy. "
        "It had to be."
       Eighteen years old. How untested that boy's heart must have been. Had he even gotten to fall in love?
       "It was a motorcycle accident," Ray said. "You know, that could easily have been me."
       But it hadn't been.
       "Are you going to have a great scar, or what?"
       "Best on the beach."
       "Can I see it?"
       Suddenly shy, Ray answered, "Don't worry. You'll see it sometime."
       I don't remember what else we talked about. Trips he had taken with his friends. Great people. Friends I never knew and would never know. His work. Paintings I never saw or would ever see.
       I told him I was finishing a new play. It was, I felt—and I used his word—"the most important work I've made to date."  I told him it was set in the late eighties and early nineties. It was a coming-of-age story. He didn't ask.
       I told him I was going to this artists' colony, for six weeks maybe two months, in the hope of finishing it.
       "You know, they give you your own cabin with a fireplace, and every day, at lunchtime, they leave a picnic basket on your doorstep.
       "Hot soup, homemade muffins, tea. They really take care of you. It's the only way to go."
       "Sounds nice," he said.
       "It's like having a wife," I said. "What's not to like?"
       Then I told him I had to leave. I didn't want to, but I should. He looked tired anyway. At the door, he fumbled self-consciously over a series of locks—there was a bolt and a
chain. Who needed so many locks? What was there to steal?
       "You know you can always stop by," he said. "Drop in."
       "Soon," I promised. Knowing he would call me and he would write me, and each time I would take longer and longer to get back to him, until I didn't at all. I knew that I'd finish my play, and regardless of how it was received, it would be done. Maybe I wouldn't understand what happened with Rav any better, but R and B were finished.
       The last time Ray wrote me he said, I know you'll understand this, B. For the first time in my life, I'm experiencing total lack of inspiration. I've got nothing. Nada. All I've been able to come up with is a blue rectangle. Just blue. I need something. I need to drive all night to nowhere. I need a punch in the face. I need the sound of waves on a beach. I need to lie on a pier and stare at the moon. I need to get stinking drunk. I need a kiss. I need something. Something is missing.

© Elissa Schappell

This electronic version of “Aren’t You Dead Yet?” appears in The Barcelona Review with kind permission of the author. It appears in the short-story collection Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell, published by Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2011.   Book ordering available through and

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Author Bio

Elissa Schappell - photoElissa Schappell is the author of two books of fiction, most recently Blueprints for Building Better Girls, which was chosen as one of the “Best Books of the Year” by The San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek/Daily Beast and O Magazine; and Use Me, a Los Angeles Times “Best Book of the Year,” a New York Times “Notable Book,” and runner up for the PEN/Hemingway award. She is co-editor with Jenny Offill of two anthologies, The Friend Who Got Away and Money Changes Everything.  Her fiction, non-fiction and criticism has appeared in many publications including The Paris Review, The New York Times Book Review, SPIN, BOMB, One Story, and anthologies such as The Mrs. Dalloway Reader, Lit Riffs, The Future Dictionary of America and The KGB Reader. Currently, she is a Contributing Editor and the “Hot Type” columnist at Vanity Fair, a former Senior Editor at The Paris Review and a Founding-editor, now Editor-at-Large of Tin House magazine. She teaches in the MFA program at Columbia and in the low-residency MFA program at Queens in NC. She lives in Brooklyn.