I put on a robe and grab the phone. If I don’t do it this second, I won’t do it, so let’s do it.

I dial their home phone. My father answers.

“It’s elsie,” I say.

“Oh, hi, eleanor,” my father replies. I feel like he’s spitting in my face by saying my full name, reminding me that I am not who they intended. on my first day of school in kindergarten, I told everyone to call me elsie. I told my teacher it was short for eleanor, but in reality, I had liked the name ever since I saw elsie the Cow on ice cream cartons. It was a couple of months before my mother figured out what exactly was going on, but by that time, try as she might, she could not get my friends to call me eleanor. It was my first true rebellion.

“Do you and Mom have a minute to talk?” I ask.

“Oh, I’m sorry. We’re on our way out. I’ll call you some other time. Is that okay?” he says.

“No, actually, I’m sorry. I need to speak with you now. It’s rather important.”

My father tells me to hold on.

“What is it, eleanor?” My mother is now on the phone.

“Is dad on the line too?”

“I’m here. What did you want to say?”

“Well, I believe I told you about a man I was seeing. Ben.”

“uh-huh,” my mother says. she sounds like she’s distracted. like she’s putting on lipstick or watching the maid fold the laundry.

“Well,” I start. I don’t want to do this. What good comes of this? What good comes of me saying it out loud? of hearing it through their ears? “Ben was hit by a car and passed away.”

My mother gasps. “oh my God, eleanor. I’m sorry to hear that,” she says.

“Jesus,” my dad says.

“I don’t know what to say,” my mother adds. But she can’t stand not saying something so she pulls something out of her ass. “I trust you’ve informed his family.” My parents see death every day, and I think it has made them numb to it in a lot of ways. I think it’s made them numb to life too, but I’m sure they’d just say I’m too sensitive.

“Yeah, yeah. that’s all taken care of. I just wanted you to know.”

“Well,” my mother says, still pulling words out of thin air. “I imagine this is a hard time for you, but I hope you know that we feel for you. I just . . . My word. Have you had time to process? are you doing okay?”

“I’m not okay, exactly. the other thing I wanted to tell you is that Ben and I were married in a private ceremony two weeks ago. He died as my husband.”

It’s out of my mouth. I have done my job. now all I have to do is get off the phone.

“Why did you marry someone you barely knew?” my father asks, and there it is, off and running.

“Your father’s right, eleanor. I don’t even know . . .” My mother is livid. I can hear it in her voice.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” I say.

“Forget telling us!” she says. “What were you thinking? How long had you known this man?”

“long enough to know that he was the love of my life,” I say, defensively.

They are silent. I can tell my mom wants to say something.

“Just go ahead,” I say.

“I knew your father for four years before I agreed to even go on a date with him, eleanor. We dated for another five before we got married.you can’t possibly know enough about a person after a few months.”

“It was six months. I met him six months ago,” I say. God, even I know this sounds paltry and embarrassing. It makes me feel so stupid.

“Precisely!” my dad pipes in. “eleanor, this is terrible. Just terrible. We are so sorry you have been hurt like this, but you will move on. I promise.”

“No, but, Charles,” my mom interjects. “It’s also important that she understands that she needs to take more time with her decisions. this is exactly—”

“Guys, I don’t want to talk about this right now. I just thought you should know I’m a widow.”

“A widow?” my mother says. “no, I don’t think you should consider yourself a widow. don’t label yourself like that. that’s only going to make it more difficult to rebound from this. How long were you two married?” I can hear the judgment in her voice.

“A week and a half,” I say. I’m rounding up. How sad is that? I’m f**king rounding up.

“Eleanor, you are going to be okay,” my father tells me.

“Yes,” my mother says. “you will be fine. you will get back up on your feet. I hope you haven’t taken too much time off work at the library. you know with state budget cuts, it really isn’t the time to be compromising your job. although, I was talking to one of my friends on the board of the hospital, and she mentioned that her daughter is a law librarian. she works directly with some very high-powered attorneys on some really impressive cases. I could call her, or give you her number if you’d like. they are a bicoastal firm.”

I’ve always known that my mother will take any opportunity to remind me that I can be better than I am now. I can be more impressive than I am now. I have the potential to do more with my life than I am doing now. and I didn’t necessarily think she’d waste this opportunity out of fear of being insensitive and gauche, but I don’t think I realized how seamlessly she’d be able to do it. I can hear, as she speaks, how far I have strayed from their plan for me. this is what happens when you are your parents’ only child, when they wanted more but couldn’t have any, when they procreated for the purpose of building miniversions of themselves. this is what happens when they realize you aren’t going to be like them and they aren’t sure what to do about it.

It always bothered me until I moved out here, away from them, out of sight of their disapproving stares, their condescending voices. It didn’t bother me again until right now. I have to assume it’s because I didn’t need them again until right now. and as much as I may say that nothing will make this better, I’m inclined to think that feeling supported by my parents would have made this just a little bit easier to bear.

“No, thanks, Mom,” I say and hope that the conversation will end there. that she will give up and just resolve to sell harder next time.

“Well,” my dad says. “Is there anything you need from us?”

“Nothing, dad. I just wanted you guys to know. I hope you have a good rest of your night,” I say.

“Okay, I’m sorry for your loss, eleanor.” My mother hangs up her end of the line.

“We really wish you the best, elsie,” my dad says. It catches me off guard, hearing the name out of his mouth. He is trying. It means that he is trying. “We just . . . we don’t know how to . . .” He breathes audibly and restarts. “you know how your mother is,” he says, and he leaves it at that.

“I know.”

“We love you,” he says, and I say, “I love you too,” out of social convention rather than feeling.

I hang up the phone.

“It’s done now,” ana says to me. she grabs my hand. she holds it to her heart. “I’m so proud of you for that one.you handled yourself really, really well.” she hugs me, and I throw my face into her body. ana’s shoulder is a soft place to cry, but I’ve heard urban legends about the safety of a mother’s arms and that sounds pretty good right now.

“Okay,” I say. “I think I’m going to go lie down.”

“Okay,” she says. she cleans the plates from the table. Hers is an empty plate covered in maple syrup. Mine is clean but full of pancake. “If you’re hungry, let me know.”

“Okay,” I say, but I am already in my room, already lying down, and I already know I won’t be hungry. I look up at the ceiling and I don’t know how much time passes. I remember that his cell phone still exists somewhere. that the number didn’t die when he did. and I call it. I listen to him over and over, hanging up and dialing again.


It was a rainy and cold saturday night. Well, cold for los angeles. It was fifty degrees and windy. the wind had started to sway the trees and make the rain fall sideways. It was only five o’clock but the sun had already set. Ben and I decided to go to a wine bar not too far from my house. neither one of us cared that much about wine, but it had covered valet parking, so it seemed the most dry of the nearby options.