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Nucleus

Laurence Klavan

She arrived that Friday night. Yolanda was attractive and engaging, but it was hard to tell, because she cried so much during dinner, which made her face puffy and red. She was about forty-five with a trim build and shoulder-length blonde hair tied—appealingly, as if she were a teenager—in a ponytail.

In between mouthfuls of food (Sheila had made her special chicken with sweet potatoes—delicious) and helpless glugs of tears, Amos was able to piece together her tale. During the summer, she rented condos in the last seaside town in Maine. In winter, she produced stage revues of punk-rock-era songs that toured senior citizen centers in Florida. Her partner in these businesses, who was also her longtime lover, had recently abandoned her, and when Yolanda examined their finances, she discovered there had been secret pilferage the entire time, which had now left her with nearly nothing.

“I feel so lost, that’s why I came,” she said, “I couldn’t tell you over the phone.” This sentence was completely in the clear for she was only drinking wine now, having finished eating and at least for a second stopped crying, the way a storm subsides but you can’t relax and leave your umbrella at home, because it’s been on and off all day. Once dessert was served (another superb Sheila concoction: a Middle Eastern-style nut cake), Yolanda became much calmer and ate it like someone even younger, intently and charmingly, like a child. Soon she grew loose and amusing, making profane remarks that were actually as funny as they were rude. A rarity these days, Amos thought. She listened politely as Amos and Sheila described their jobs (he was a lawyer for a company that made flood gates; she did PR for a group designing underground malls), though stifled a yawn here and there, again in an amusingly kid-like way.

As Amos watched her, he didn’t believe she had come there for money—it was just a hunch, a snap judgment—that she seemed to be genuinely seeking solace un-self-consciously from vaguely, yet crucially, connected strangers. Still, when he caught Sheila’s eye as he rose to clear the plates, he knew that their exchange of glances had nothing to do with that (Sheila had probably never considered that Yolanda could be some kind of—what was the old word—grifter). It was about the fact that Yolanda’s partner had been named Becky and was a woman.

*  *  *
As he washed the dishes, Amos listened through the swinging kitchen doors as the women continued to talk. He picked up Randa’s name many times now (the girl had hardly been mentioned during dinner, as if Yolanda had needed to finish her explosion of distress and need before anyone was allowed to even broach the subject, as if—and this was a completely corny way to put it, Amos knew, but whatever—their daughter was a rainbow that required a storm to introduce it). Amos was slightly hurt that they had only started to talk about her once he’d left the room, as if his diffidence, the way he always buried things that bothered him or let them take a back seat to those unsettling Sheila, might have made them think he didn’t care (surely Sheila knew that wasn’t true, he would be miserable if, after all these years, that were so. No, it wasn’t that. Maybe she just thought that women could talk in ways they couldn’t if a man were around, especially since, well, Yolanda was the way she was and Randa was, you know, that the little amount of DNA had been definitive). Should the government have allowed them to know her name? Amos discounted the question, wasn’t thinking straight, had drunk so much his hand without the sponge slipped, and he only saved a plate by chance.


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