"Do you have directions?" I asked.
"Yeah," said Stacey. "It's like you go down this road and then there's some sort of intersection or something?"
We let this sink in.
"Why don't we call?" I said, and pulled in to a Mobil station. Stacey looked at me, embarrassed. "Here," I said, pulling a quarter out of the cup holder. "My treat."
As Stacey went off to the pay phone, I sat in the car with Ashley. I suddenly had this unbearable urge to turn around and say, Ashley, it's me, Professor Boylan. Remember? I'm like, a woman now? I had this sense that, for the first time, there wasn't some kind of invisible wall between us, that for the first time I could actually be known by her. But that wasn't true. There were all sorts of walls between us, even now.
I turned on the radio. A chorus of voices singing in a cathedral. Thomas Tallis' 40-Part Motet.
Stacey came back to the car. "Okay, I got it," she said.
I headed out into traffic. "What do we do?" I said.
"You go like, along some way, and then there's some kind of like, turn or something, and then there's some other road?"
I had a hunch where Middle Street was, and we drove through Augusta, Maine's hard-bitten capital, towards Belgrade.
Two little girls were playing in the front yard of a row house.
"Go on, play little girls," said Ashley. "Enjoy it while you can."
"Yeah," said Stacey. "They don't even know the shit they're in."
"You got kids, Jenny?" Ashley said.
"Yes, two boys. They're seven and five."
"You have 'em by Caesarian?" she asked. This wasn't the question I was expecting.
"Don't ask her that," said Stacey. "Jesus, like it's any of your business."
"I just think it's interesting," said Ashley. "All my friends are Caesarians, all of them. Don't you think that means something? It's like, all Caesarians have this thing about them?"
"I wasn't Caesarian," said Stacey.
"Actually, the thing, Caesarians have? You don't have it."
"My boys were C-sections, actually," I said, although I didn't want to mention that I wasn't the one who'd actually gone through labor. "And I was one too."
"I knew it!" said Ashley. "I'm psychic!"
"Psycho, you mean," said Stacey.
"Lucky you, having boys," said Ashley. "You don't have to worry about all the shit."
"Yeah, well, boys have other things they have to worry about," I said.
"As if," said Ashley.
I drove down Middle Street, and hoped, in a way, that I wouldn't be able to find the trailer. It was already clear that a pit bull was the very last thing these girls needed in their lives, that it was the only thing I could think of that might make their lives any worse than they were already.
I had to get up to Colby by early afternoon, to meet the Russos for dinner, then introduce Richard at the reading he was giving at the college that night. His new book, Empire Falls, had come out the previous summer, and the Colby reading was ostensibly the last stop on the year's long reading tour.
I was looking forward to introducing Russo that evening. It would be my first official re-introduction to the college community since I'd switched from Regular to Diet Coke. I knew the reading would be packed, too, the room likely to be filled with a couple hundred people. It would definitely be an occasion. To make it stranger, everyone knew that Rick had been my best friend back when I was a man. As a writer--and as a man--Russo was something of a tough guy. Having his best friend turn into a woman hadn't struck him as a great idea at the time.
I pulled up in front of a brown trailer. A pit bull was chained to a tree.
Excerpted from She's Not There by Jennifer Finney Boylan Copyright© 2003 by Jennifer Finney Boylan . Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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