Give the Lady What She Wants

Leslie Pietrzyk

        Chicago, 1982

In an ideal world, Jess’s mom said she would see Jess at least once a week. In an ideal world, Jess said she would see her mom at most once a month. They didn’t say these things to each other, but to me, separately. I didn’t ask; they volunteered, each using the words “in an ideal world.” This happened on the same day, when Jess’s mom met us at the big Marshall Field’s department store downtown for shopping and lunch. It was early February, the lull before midterms, and Jess hadn’t told her parents about her new boyfriend, Tommy, so she warned me to keep quiet. But she wanted a new dress for Valentine’s Day that would knock his socks off, “or better yet, his pants,” she said.
    I, the college roommate from Iowa, was invited last minute, because Jess’s sister, Linda, dropped out, claiming shopping was bourgeois, an opiate for the masses like TV and sports. “She stopped washing her hair,” Jess’s mom reported, “and now it’s baking soda instead of Crest like someone normal. She says she’s not going to college, she’s moving to Vermont to make yogurt out of goat milk or maybe it was spin yarn out of goat hair. Who can keep up?”
    We were at lunch in the Walnut Room on the seventh floor, where we’d gone straight off before shopping because Jess’s mother said she needed coffee, but she ordered a glass of white wine. Jess and I had Tab. Jess ordered a chef’s salad with oil-and-vinegar dressing, and her mother started out talking about salad but switched to chicken pot pie. They told me I had to have the Marshall Field’s special sandwich, so I did. I was hoping toothpicks with those frilly cellophane tips came jabbed into it, which wasn’t very sophisticated, but I guess they reminded me of my little sister, because she loved them and also the plastic swords spearing the fruit in our father’s old-fashioned at birthday restaurant dinners, and maybe I was thinking about her back in Iowa, her face twisting into sadness when I got on the Greyhound after Christmas break. I’d pressed my hand on the cold window because I’d promised her, but by the first traffic light, I was fiddling with my Walkman.
    “Who cares?” Jess said now, about her sister. “Let her hang out with stinky goat-lovers. Probably be good for her to move away.”
    “No one’s moving to Vermont,” Jess’s mother said. “That’s way too far from Oak Lawn.”
    We were seated at a round table for four, smack in the middle of the room, which reminded me of a historic mansion, with stately ribbed pillars and a dizzyingly high ceiling. Jess said there was a forty-five-foot Christmas tree every year where the marble fountain was, which I hadn’t believed until now that I was scrunched here, feeling tiny. The walls were heavy oak paneling, and the tablecloths were crisply white, with cloth napkins, and soaking up any clatter was a thick red carpet with twining flowery shapes. We sat in plush-bottomed chairs with wooden arms where the varnish was still shiny and unchipped. Everything felt like it cost a lot of money. I sat opposite the empty chair, imagining Linda there instead of the pile of coats, our eyes latching, both of us thinking “bourgeois” at the same time; or imagining Linda here instead of me, Linda glaring quietly as Jess picked at her salad and Jess’s mom peeled off and ate the top crust of her chicken pot pie, leaving the rest, Linda hissing that there were starving kids in some African country no one ever heard of. Linda watching her mom order a second glass of white wine, explaining the first one tasted off (though she drank it anyway), Linda not nodding yes when the waitress asked if she liked the special sandwich and its ladles of thousand island dressing—way too much—not shaking her head no to dessert only because Jess did. And then lunch was over, and it was time to shop, and a knot twisted my stomach.
    Jess’s mother spent a lot of her time shopping, which I didn’t understand could be a thing that people spent much time doing in real life. I thought it was something women did in TV shows and movies because showing what women did in real life would be boring. I had been shopping with her once in the fall when I was just getting to know Jess. She liked getting a couple of salesgals (that’s what she called them) to roam the racks, scooping up dresses in different sizes and colors, parading them to the dressing room, where she tried on everything in a bustling rush, swishing behind curtains, then marching out to pose on the platform in front of the three-way mirror. That was what she loved most about shopping, it seemed, stepping onto that platform and staring into the mirror, examining every angle, every side, twisting her torso to admire and castigate. As much as she loved that, she loved even more when Jess was up there. “Turn around, lovey,” she’d say. “Those pants look loose; how many fingers can you squeeze in the waistband?” She was always jumping up to tug some part of the garment lower or higher or over to the side, demanding that Jess bend forward to see if the V-neck “gave the world a free show,” and telling Jess to raise her arms or hunch her shoulders forward. “Your butt looks too big,” she would say, or, “Your boobs are too small for that sweater,” or, “Your neck isn’t long enough.” She knew the Marshall Field’s tailors by name and snuck them an envelope of tip money. “Every gal’s best friend is her tailor,” she announced to anyone listening. “You want that perfect fit.” She didn’t rummage the sale racks like I did and wouldn’t buy anything just because it was marked down eighty percent; “It’s no bargain at any price if it doesn’t fit.” She said that about a hundred times, tacking on, “Good fit is everything.” And her favorite was “To feel good, you’ve got to look good.” The shopping trip ended at the makeup counter, where she finagled free makeovers that weren’t free because she ended up buying a bagful of creams and eyeshadows and powders.
    The thing was, this was all annoying. Annoying to watch. Annoying to think about. All this fussiness and bossiness and so much money spent. Good fit wasn’t everything. My guess was that Linda didn’t like it either, not if in her ideal world, she was making goat-milk yogurt. But Jess didn’t seem to mind. It was the only time she wanted to see her mother, when shopping was involved. Sometimes she’d get off the phone and groan, “My mother wants to go to a movie with me on Sunday afternoon . . . can you imagine? The horror, the horror.”
    “It’s so horrible to sit next to her in a dark theater?” I asked once. “Or is eating popcorn the horrible part?”
    “Haha. The movie part’s fine, but it’s the ‘let’s talk about the movie,’ the ‘let’s grab a bite.’” Jess made fluttering, chatty mouths with both hands. “Blah, blah, blah. At least with shopping, I end up with new clothes.”
    Today we were shopping for a dress for Jess’s mom to wear to someone’s daughter’s wedding at the country club, someone Jess’s mom called “new” in a pinched voice, which I interpreted as meaning the dress had to be show-offy. At lunch she announced that Jess and Linda were invited to the wedding, and Jess said, “No way; that’s during finals,” and her mom rolled her eyes and said, “Fine. But help me pick out something for Linda then,” and she eyed me and said, “You’re her size, aren’t you?” and I said, “I guess so,” because she had already decided I was.
    So we followed a trail of escalators to the floor with the fancy dresses, and Jess’s mom got us one of the dressing areas in its own alcove and corralled a herd of salesgals, sending them on their mission of finding a tasteful cocktail dress for her—“maybe Calvin Klein or Calvin Klein-like or Halston or Halston-like; think simple, clean lines with a little pizzazz,” and a thousand more adjectives—and something for me playing the role of Linda, maybe in lavender or light blue. “She won’t wear pink,” Jess warned, so her mom added, “No pink. Nothing little girly, but not too grown-up either . . . she’s still my darling little baby!” Bobbie—the primary saleswoman working with us, a bouncy blond lady with lots of mascara who jerked her head in one hard nod to punctuate everyone else’s sentences— said, “Periwinkle is a great color for you,” and I said, “It doesn’t matter because the dress is actually for her daughter who can’t be here today. I’m just filling in since we’re about the same size,” and Bobbie gave her series of nods as if this all made sense, and Jess’s mom said to me, “Maybe you need a nice dress for yourself? For a fraternity formal?” and Jess said, “Stop it, Mom. She can buy a dress or not,” and Bobbie flashed an exaggerated wink and said, “We’ll bring some things you can try, just to see. Who doesn’t want to admire herself in a pretty dress?” and Jess explained that what she needed was the slinkiest floor-length black dress they had, “one that shows off boob and leg, so high slits and a low, super-plungey neck,” and her mom sighed, and she and Bobbie exchanged looks under waggling eyebrows, with Jess’s mom signaling an embarrassed apology, and Bobbie sending back sympathy about girls today and the complexities of daughters. “We have some great new looks for spring, so let’s get started with those,” Bobbie said, her voice as bright as a flashlight beam, and she hustled off, waving one hand at a couple of younger girls, roping them in.
    “What’s Dad doing today?” Jess asked.
    “Something about taking in his car,” Jess’s mom said. “I don’t know. That car’s in the shop more than it isn’t. He’s getting to be quite the regular down there. He sends his love.”
    “No he doesn’t,” Jess said.
    “He most certainly does!” her mom said.
    “I just mean that yeah, he loves me,” Jess said. “But he didn’t specifically say to you, ‘Send Jess my love.’ He‘s not like that, and he never says things like that, so I don’t know why you have to pretend he does.”
    “He says things like that all the time,” Jess’s mom insisted.
    “Okay, sure,” Jess said. “Then you tell him I send my love right back.” She flashed me a mocking imitation of Bobbie’s exaggerated wink right as Bobbie walked back with three black dresses. Her face flushed, but otherwise she pretended not to notice, of course, and smiled hugely as she passed the hangers over to Jess. “You can hop right in that dressing room over there, dear,” she said, and Jess ducked into a little room cordoned off with heavy, Walnut Room-ish drapery. Jess’s mom and I sat side by side on a tufted bench near the big three-panel mirror. I felt like a member of an audience. “I want to see those dresses on you,” Jess’s mom called. “I don’t want you looking trashy.”
    “Oh, my God,” Jess said.
    I smiled at Jess’s mom because I didn’t know what to say. Jess never looked trashy, but she wouldn’t ever want to look like anyone’s darling little baby, either. Jess’s mom checked her watch, which was slim and gold with tiny diamonds for some of the numbers: twelve, three, six, and nine. The other numbers were painted-on gold lines. It occurred to me that if this watch were a metaphor for today, Jess and her family would be the four diamonds, and I’d be one of the painted lines, or maybe only the blank space between the lines. Linda was right; shopping was bourgeois, though I had never heard anyone say that who had enough money to get clerks running around. I wondered what Linda was doing instead. That seemed safe to ask, but when I did, Jess’s mom said, “Probably rolling out of bed. I swear, she’d sleep all day if we let her. Maybe she should, since she’s a growing girl, but her father is always at her to set an alarm clock and show some responsibility. Early bird gets the worm and all that.”
    “Who wants a worm anyway?” Jess called out. There was the sound of rustling, a zipper.
    “Birds do,” Jess’s mom said.
    “Is she still flunking English class?” Jess called.
    “Shhh!” Her mom looked around; we were in our own alcove, sure, but around us were other dressing rooms and mirrors and mothers and daughters sitting on tufted velvety benches. “Keep your voice down, Jessica, if you don’t mind. We’re not in a barnyard.”
    “Well, is she?” Jess stage-whispered.
    “The teacher says she needs at least a B-plus on next week’s test on Hamlet, though I don’t think she’s even read it,” Jess’s mom said, slightly leaning away from me. “It’s going to be summer school, what with the math and all those absences in biology. And gym class. She just doesn’t go. All she has to do to pass is show up, and she won’t.”
    “‘If I only had a brain,’” Jess sang out.
    “‘I only had a heart,’” popped into my head, but I didn’t dare say it in front of Jess’s mom, though I was sure Jess would laugh.
    “Your sister is plenty smart,” Jess’s mom said.
    “Let’s see if any colleges think so next year.” Jess sighed dramatically. “It’s so very, very hard being the good daughter, loved by all, including English teachers. ‘To be, or not to be, that is the question.’”
    Jess’s mom’s face turned bright red. “Let me see that dress,” she said. “I’m not paying for anything I don’t see.” She glanced over at me and mouthed a word that looked like “sorry,” though I wasn’t sure what she was apologizing for when Jess was the obnoxious one. Bobbie had busied herself sorting a rack of dresses waiting to be returned to the sales floor. I suppose good salespeople knew how to pretend they weren’t listening.
    “Didn’t like it,” Jess said. “Neckline for a nun.”
    Her mother sighed as two of Bobbie’s girls returned, loaded with armloads of dresses for the three of us, and there was all that to sort out, Bobbie nodding after every word Jess’s mom said, after every opinion she offered, and I was sent to a dressing room with a Linda-might-like-this stack and a you-might-like-this stack. I didn’t have to lift a price tag to know that I wasn’t wasting time with that second stack. Jess’s mom slipped into her own curtained room, and a certain relaxed silence settled as we shed garments, flung clothes we didn’t have to hang up properly, tugged carelessly at zippers and buttons, wanting only to see how good we looked, that we looked better, and that the fit was perfect.
    Bobbie chattered away squirrelishly—did we need other sizes; did we need heels; her friend at the costume jewelry counter could set us up, and on and on. It was like Jess’s mom had wound her up and she’d keep running until we bought dresses and left, and I felt that pressure building, the question of who would outlast the other, Jess’s mom, who had to try on everything in the store, or Bobbie, who had to compliment something every two seconds.
    The plan was that if we liked something, we’d all gather at the big mirror to consult. But I had no idea what Linda might want to wear: Puffy sleeves? Who liked puffy sleeves except five-year-olds? A high waistline? Too much like the girl on my Pride and Prejudice paperback. I liked asymmetrical hems . . . would Linda? Jess’s mom complained at lunch that all Linda ate anymore was peanut butter sandwiches that had to be cut diagonally, so I decided to assume yes on the asymmetrical hem and said, “This might work,” and left my curtained room to step onto the platform. Naturally Bobbie over-gushed that I looked stunning, and she handed me a pair of sample black pumps, simultaneously frowning at my brown knee socks and keeping up the nervous-tic nodding. The dress was simple, so maybe a leftist high schooler flunking English and skipping gym wouldn’t mind it: crooked hem, severely straight neckline, dropped waist, royal blue. Not a boob dress or a leg dress, but if I saw someone wearing this dress, I wouldn’t mind meeting her. Maybe that’s how Linda would feel wearing it, interesting. Maybe Linda wouldn’t totally hate the country club wedding if she were wearing this dress.
    Jess’s mother emerged from the cocoon of her dressing room, modeling a raw silk suit with a simple, straight cut. Without knowing anything more than those lines, I guessed it was Calvin Klein, versus Calvin Klein-like. “That looks great,” I said, as Bobbie nodded, hands clasped rhapsodically against her chest.
    “It’s all wrong,” she said. “But let’s look at you.”
    I stood on the platform, wobbly in the wrong-size dress shoes, and she prodded and poked and pulled as if I were a Barbie doll. She and Bobbie debated the cut of the hemline, which Bobbie called “fresh.&rddquo; She told me to lean forward to make sure the neck didn’t gape, which it didn’t, and she rubbed the fabric between her finger and thumb and scrunched it in her fist to see how badly it would wrinkle. Then she hiked up the skirt, digging for the care tag, which made her brow furrow. She never once flipped over the price tag. Then Jess came out in her regular clothes. “I hated them all,” she said, and Bobbie shooed the minions back out to the floor for another round (the third? the fourth?) of black dresses. “Actually,” Jess said. “I don’t know about Linda, but this dress looks good on you. Minus the knee socks.”
    “Huh,” Jess’s mother said, stepping back to assess. Her eyes narrowed, making it hard to know what she was thinking. I stood very still as I pretended to look at myself in the mirror. “I just want Linda to be happy.” She tugged and pulled almost randomly with one shaky hand. “It’s so sad . . . she’s such a pretty girl.”
    “It’s a great dress,” I said. “I’d love if my mom came home with this for me.” Fat chance of that ever happening, which I didn’t mention.
    “Linda doesn’t love much of anything these days,” Jess’s mother murmured.
    Jess said, “Good luck even getting her to that wedding.” Her lips screwed into a tiny grimace in the mirror.
    Bobbie stood by silently, her eyes roving to other dressing rooms, to other women, to the less problematic places.
    “Probably I should just take you to the wedding,” Jess’s mom said to my reflection, with a gloomy little laugh.
    I looked at the three mes in the mirror, front, side, other side. I lifted my arms above my head then lowered them as Jess’s mom directed, imagining myself at the country club wedding, sipping champagne from a crystal flute, gossiping as we stood side by side in the ladies room slicking on lipstick, complaining how banquet fillet was always overcooked, which was something Jess’s mom had said at lunch, that she “just knew” the menu would be surf and turf because it was the most expensive though “everyone” agreed the club did a much better job with the prime rib. “Hahahaha,” I would go in my new bubbly laugh when something was supposed to be funny, and I’d exclaim, “No, really?” in a pert voice at the end of the story. I would know which fork to use when. Everyone would think I was the one supposed to be there all along. Someone would call my smile “dazzling.”
    “It’s a nice dress,” Jess said, sidling in close to her mother. “Anyone would like it, even dopey Linda. And also, what you’ve got on, Mom, is fantastic. You look totally thin. Get up there and look at your own gorgeous self in the mirror.”
    I stepped down, and Jess’s mom stepped up in her own heels and hose; she wasn’t dumb enough to wear knee socks. The gold watch with diamonds glinted along her wrist—“Never leave your good jewelry in the dressing room,” she reminded us at lunch, as if I had good jewelry to worry about—and her hair wasn’t at all mussed from dresses going on and off. She rubbed her lips together and examined her reflections. I didn’t know what she was seeing, because she quickly frowned and stepped away, saying, “This ivory washes me out. No. Absolutely not.”
    Several more black dresses arrived for Jess, and she returned to her dressing room with them, and Jess’s mom told me to set aside the dress I was wearing, that I was being extraordinarily helpful. “That fit is perfect,” she said. Then the three of us tried on a hundred more dresses, or what felt like a hundred more dresses, always with something wrong: too young, too old, too short, too long, too chalky, too blah, pouf in the wrong place, not enough of a waist, cuffs on the sleeves when there shouldn’t be or no cuffs when there should be, too bright, too drab, gold buttons not silver, buttons not a zipper, a zipper that looked cheap, too scratchy along the neck, too tight, too loose, too wrinkly, too poochy, no one can carry off pleats, and every other reason why this wasn’t the dress—but that maybe the next one would be. It felt like every single dress Marshall Field’s sold passed through Jess’s or her mom’s hands. Bobbie smiled and nodded and tossed out compliments like handfuls of confetti. The man who had started the store was famous for saying, “Give the lady what she wants,” and Bobbie was following those directions to a T.
    “It’s so hard to find the perfect fit,” Jess’s mom said, and Bobbie agreed, telling Jess’s mom that she had a very sophisticated eye.
    Finally, there was a black dress Jess liked that her mom agreed wasn’t trashy, and there was a long conversation about control-top hose, and Bobbie had suggestions about which brands she preferred and so did Jess’s mom and so did Jess. I pretended to be sad when I told Bobbie that none of the dresses in the pile for me had worked, unfortunately, and when I handed them to her, she had to know I hadn’t even tried them on; they weren’t rumpled like Jess’s discards. (There was a separate girl in charge of rezipping, rebelting, rebuttoning, and generally fluffing everything before it went back on the hanger and out on the floor.) Bobbie smiled brightly and perked out, “That’s such a darn shame,” and Jess’s mom called, “Better to go home with nothing than get something that’s not perfect,” and I expected Bobbie to nod her usual staccato of agreement, but she let out a tiny, accidental sigh instead, because, of course, me going home empty-handed wasn’t at all better for Bobbie, who probably worked on commission, whose time was ticking away with us.
    Jess plopped next to me on the tufted bench. “Sorry she’s so crazy,” she said. “Thanks for coming. I’d be dying if you weren’t here. And Linda totally would freak, and then there’d be that to deal with.” She slumped back hard against the wall and did a very dramatic fake-dead person face with her tongue lolling out. “Literally. I would die.”
    I shrugged. “It’s fine. She sure likes shopping, doesn’t she?”
    “I thought I was pretty into shopping, but my mom really likes shopping lately, like really likes it. This is getting totally bad.” Her voice dropped into a whisper. “I bet she doesn’t even buy anything today.”
    “After all this?” I said. “Doesn’t she have to?” I shot a nervous glance Bobbie’s way, as if we were gossiping about her fat ankles.
    Jess shook her head. “That wedding is weeks away. She’ll do this same dance at Lord & Taylor and Carson Pirie Scott. Then she’ll go to some boutiques and drive everyone there crazy. Then back here to finally buy that first thing, that really nice suit that looked great. Or she’ll drag something out of her closet. Whatever it is, she’ll feel like it isn’t perfect, and she’ll be miserable the whole time and make everyone else miserable.”
    “Does your dad know she does this?”
    “He doesn’t care.”
    There was a short silence. I understood suddenly that Jess’s mom was a very unhappy person. The realization startled me, and I looked at Jess guiltily. This seemed like something she should know. When her eyes slid away from meeting mine, I understood that she did know already, of course, but that we were pretending she didn’t.
    Another armload of dresses came for Jess’s mom, but none of them worked. Then she told me to try on the dress set aside for Linda one last time, for the final decision. I returned to my little dressing room, and as I was changing, I heard Jess’s mom tell Bobbie to see if there was one more in the same size. “It fits her perfectly,” Jess’s mom said. “Like it’s made for her. Should I offer to buy it? One for Linda, one for her?”
    Yes, I thought, but in the abrupt silence that followed, I flipped to no, imagining Jess rolling her eyes, shaking her head, her face tightening as she begrudged me this single dress, this nice thing that could be mine, that her mother could buy as easily as breathing. I didn’t even need it. I didn’t need it, I reminded myself.
    “She can pay me back,” her mom said.
    “She won’t,” Jess said.
    I stood exactly still so they wouldn’t remember how close I was. Jess’s mom said, “Your father can certainly afford a dress for your friend. And he owes me. He owes me whatever I want to buy.”
    “No,” Jess said sharply. “Stop it.”
    “Stop what?” Her mother’s voice shook. “Stop trying to be nice?”
    Jess mumbled something I couldn’t quite hear. Actually, I didn’t want to hear. It sounded like, “Mom, she’s not your kid.” Said nicely, not meanly, as if it mattered. Another mumble, then: “Anyway, buying more stuff won’t”—something—“you don’t”—something. My heart thudded in my ears.
    “But this I can fix,” her mother said, too loud. “Giving something nice to a girl who dresses like she’s been through someone’s attic.” Rustling, maybe rooting through a purse.
    “It’s not that simple,” Jess said. Or was it her mom? I almost couldn’t tell them apart anymore.
    “This one thing is. Just this one thing.” And that was Jess’s mom. “She has such small, simple problems that I can fix if you let me.”
    Tearful sniffling—probably Jess’s mom because Jess hated crying. The rustling had been for Kleenex. No way could I go out there; plus, did they really think I couldn’t hear them? Of course no way could I stay in the dressing room either. I imagined the store lights dimming at closing time, Bobbie’s manicured fingers stabbing through the curtain. “Dear?” she would prod in an understanding, patient voice. I stared at myself in the narrow mirror centered on the wall. The dress washed me out, or it was the lighting, or it was that I felt pale or that I’d caught Jess’s mom’s infectious unhappiness. Seemed like a hundred years ago I was thinking about frilly toothpicks. I’d never thought of myself as simple, but of course I was.
    There was no answer to this problem, letting Jess’s mother buy me the dress or not letting her buy me the dress. No one could be happy now, and anger sparked up: Jess couldn’t keep her stupid mouth shut for once. I hadn’t even wanted the dress, had I, until I thought it might be mine, until it fit? It was for Linda, Linda’s dress, though it felt doomed now, and I lost confidence that Linda would like it or even wear it. Instead the dress would droop limply at the back of a closet, eventually getting jammed into a box for the church rummage sale or the Goodwill and end up finally mine for five dollars at a thrift store two or three years from now, out of style and smelling of damp cedar, something old and unwanted trickling down to me.
    Bobbie’s brisk footsteps came at the same time as her announcement: “That’s the only one here in size six. But I’ve got a girl calling the Field’s in Water Tower and Old Orchard, so don’t you worry. We’ll track down another.”
    “How kind of you,” Jess’s mom said. I imagined the fake smile, the sparkle of tears framing her eyelashes; Jess’s face averted, fumbling in her purse for more tissues, attention lasered on extending that task as long as possible; Bobbie talking down into the carpet, desperate not to embarrass her customer and lose the sale. I stared into the mirror, at the blurred edges of my figure sharpening into hard, taut focus.
    I watched myself slowly reach for the zipper, snaking one arm along my side at my hip, but instead of edging the tab up with a tidy ratchet, I clenched two hands at the bottom of the zipper and pulled the two sides wide, hard, harder, yanking, stretching and wrenching apart the fabric, splitting the dress along the seam. The relief of it, the simple relief. The dress was ruined. I had ruined the dress. And I had solved the problem, not that I expected to be thanked. “Uh-oh,” I called out to the waiting women, making sure to sound appropriately sorrowful.

What happened in the end was that Jess got her slinky black dress.
    We all had makeovers at the Estée Lauder counter.
    Jess’s mom bought a tiny, oval, crystal picture frame because it was “darling,” though she laughed that she didn’t need it.
    And two months later, Linda hung herself.
    At the funeral, I tried not to think about this afternoon and how Linda’s absence that day now yawned into a greater, longer, vaster absence. I tried not to think of Jess’s mom raising a faded T-shirt to her nose to inhale her missing daughter’s inimitable scent. I tried not to think about Linda at all, though of course I did, and the clothes left hanging in the closet, the sweaters in the drawer, all of them my size, all of them with the potential to fit me perfectly.

Leslie Pietrzyk is the author of two novels, Pears on a Willow Tree and A Year and a Day. This Angel on My Chest, her collection of linked short stories, won the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize and was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in October 2015. Kirkus Reviews named it one of the 16 best story collections of the year. A new novel, Silver Girl, is forthcoming from Unnamed Press in February 2018. Her short fiction and essays have appeared/are forthcoming in many publications, including the Gettysburg Review, Arts & Letters, Hudson Review, Iowa Review, New England Review, Shenandoah, Southern Review, The Sun, TriQuarterly, and the Washington Post Magazine. She has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Pietrzyk is a member of the core fiction faculty at the Converse low-residency MFA program and often teaches in the MA Program in Writing at Johns Hopkins University. Raised in Iowa, she now lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

Give the Lady What She Wants appears in our Summer 2016 issue.