My lil sister/niece/granddaughter/baby cousin doesn’t know she’s pretty, so she asks everybody, one post at a time. Her mom showed up at her high school graduation, no one had seen her in eight years. Mothers like that never know how to dress, too much fake jewelry, fake hair, and a big-ass fake leather purse still too small for all her shame and addictions to everything else. My lil sister/niece/granddaughter/baby cousin went to a costume party dressed as Selena or Madonna or Paula Abdul, just a thin layer of 1985 draped over her tits. She works out, a lot. A pic for the shoulder press: 78 likes. A pic for the dead lifts: 134 likes. Don’t get me started on the squats. She doesn’t like photos of her when she isn’t ready, when her face is the one we see in the mornings, when she can’t find her keys, or when her phone is silent and black and asleep and dead and she has to wait fidgeting in that space so close to oblivion. They put titanium rods in her back when she was eleven to correct the scoliosis. She used to walk around like a black Quasimodo: loved and gorgeous. The metal worked to undo the snaked spine, only a little pain and constipation from the meds to whip her back straight. Afterward, there came new clothes, new friends, new hobbies, one after another on a conveyor belt, along with the chance to document it all. Her happiness was electric, blinking—a ding, ding, ding, ding. Disappointment is oily; it has hair and musk and cracked lipstick. Her mother never spoke at the graduation, just faded away into the crowd per the court order.
Aisha Sabatini Sloan
Episode 22: “Form and Formlessness”
In an essay specially commissioned for the podcast, Aisha Sabatini Sloan describes rambling around Paris with her father, Lester Sloan, a longtime staff photographer for Newsweek, and a glamorous woman who befriends them. In an excerpt from The Art of Fiction no. 246, Rachel Cusk and Sheila Heti discuss how writing her first novel helped Cusk discover her “shape or identity or essence.” Next, Allan Gurganus’s reading of his story “It Had Wings,” about an arthritic woman who finds a fallen angel in her backyard, is interspersed with a version of the story rendered as a one-woman opera by the composer Bruce Saylor. The episode closes with “Dear Someone,” a poem by Deborah Landau.
Rachel Cusk photo courtesy the author.
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