The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2020

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JUNE 2020 Issue


Alexandra wanted to be wry and knowing, like the women in New York who somehow had it all, calm and casual in their thin cashmere sweaters, buttering bread for their children at brunch on the weekend and stepping crisply to hail a cab from work at five, and all of it, their happiness, ignored like a given. There was an unfeathered romance to these women, how normalized the abundant life was to them. But it was abashing a little, the big weather of feeling for him. At night Jeremy Jordan astonished her body, his much stronger than the drawn face and lean legs would suggest, a thin man but sprawling, with all that warmth rising off him. He was capable of reminding her how wide his shoulders were as they blotted out the cool cast of the moon in the window. The rage of his rising and falling matched her own; they knew each other then as they couldn’t in words.

In his apartment in Islington, they lay looking at each other side by side with the tips of their fingers just touching on one side of a breath, pulling apart on the other, a sort of stretching come from their lungs. The voice of someone famous reached from another room. A newsperson.

“But you love your job,” Alexandra said. “You obsess over it.”

“I am preoccupied by it,” he said.

“I think the word for it is occupied,” she said. “You are occupied. That’s what an occupation does.”

“I want to do something valuable,” he said, “instead of lucrative.”

“You could do both,” she teased, “be a regular George Soros.”

“And break the Bank of England?”

“A humble man would allow that perhaps in his hypothetical second career he would only cause the market to tank occasionally, but you, you must be the architect of national economic crisis.”

“In my hypothetical second career, I will not settle for less than disaster,” he said. “I will know my worth.”

She could see he did not want to think for a while. He moved his hands into her hair, and then her shirt, pants. She spread out on the bed. When he collected the bone of her pelvis in his hands, she closed her eyes and there was depth in the darkness.

“Look at me,” he said, and she watched his eyes grow closer to something like alarm. What it is: tiny tilts, shifts, but the objects, views, fell off, and then she heard something her own, plaintive and undemanding, an unresigned sigh, and there were no qualifications between them.

Or else, there was only one irking detail, one marring absence.

But that could change. She believed that. Change, after all, was what she had done with herself.


Tracy O’Neill

is the author of The Hopeful, one of Electric Literature's Best Novels of 2015. She was named a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree, long-listed for the Flaherty-Dunnan Prize, and was a Narrative Under 30 finalist. She attended the MFA program at the City College of New York and the PhD program in communications at Columbia University. The above excerpt is from her latest novel, Quotients, published this month by Soho Press.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2020

All Issues