by Laurie Stone

I was walking in woods with a friend. She said, “I hope you can get us back.” I didn’t know if I could get us back. We were looking for something to burn. We were going to take magic mushrooms and offer ourselves up to the irrational. We came to a stream and crossed it. On the other side was a house with a man and a dog. The man was exceedingly handsome and wearing a cowboy hat. I asked my friend if he was the type she would fall for. She said, “I think men like that won’t be attracted to me.” I thought everyone was attracted to her. We passed a clump of dried pods on sticks. They were ugly and beautiful and looked like the thing we should burn. On the way back, she spoke about her ex-boyfriend and said, “I was very turned on by him, but when I saw his films, I thought, ‘You are a man I want to strangle’.” After sex, they would look at each other and say, “Attraction is all we have.” I thought it sounded romantic.

I gave a man I loved a mug, a silk scarf, and a leather-bound copy of Baudelaire. He became better at sex. After we broke up, I saw him at the memorial of a writer and wondered if he still had the scarf. He was wearing a suit the color of a peach that was creeping up his arms and legs. I could not look away. At camp I would ride a roundabout near the carpark. I would run beside it and jump on, and as it spun the sky and trees blurred. I would sit on the roundabout, with its chipped paint, and watch the tail lights of my parents’ car disappear. Everyone has one mistake they keep making.

I was a waiter at a party. I was about to leave the dining room to eat out of sight of the guests when I caught sight of a man I knew and with whom I had had mean, secret sex. I turned in the dim smoky light to check if he was really there. He was wearing a maroon jacket wrong for the season, talking over his shoulder to a man in a navy blazer. What was my former friend, the former Marxist, doing at the party of a woman who searched our bags for stolen things? What was I doing there? His hair was thinning. He had a small paunch. I remembered him slender and naked. I didn’t want him to see me in a tux, although for this to happen I would have had to thrust my face directly into his. Guests do not look at waiters. If they had to pick you out of a lineup, you would beat the rap. The next time I swept the room, he was talking to a different man. I bumped my nose on the corner of a table. I ate a chocolate mouse. The band stopped playing yet he remained. I once bought him a shirt he wore until it became a rag.

Years ago I went on several dates with a doctor who was wealthy and self-assured. In the future he would marry a model who raised show poodles. He had a car, and we drove to expensive restaurants I did not pretend to understand. One night we met up with friends of his, and I watched him slip his arm around the waist of another woman. For a while I was friends with ex-junkies. I listened to their stories of altered states and looked in their sad eyes. I was in my twenties and believed I could still enjoy time with my mother. Women write about men not loving them not because men are important but because it is a drama they can get their hands on. Every cooled romance fuels the furnace of ambition.