Judiciary Square

Part One

A novel about personal and legal evolution.

This work is copyrighted. Please do not reproduce this work, in whole or in part, without obtaining my written permission.

Paul Kafka-Gibbons


Paul Kafka-Gibbons

“The right to marry the person we love, the person with whom we want to share our lives, is one of the most fundamental of all our human and civil rights. When two adults make the very intimate and personal decision to commit themselves to one another by marrying, that decision should not be subject to legislative hearings and debate…. Stan Baker and Peter Harrigan, Nina Beck and Stacy Jolles, and Lois Farnham and Holly Puterbaugh want to marry. They want to publicly and legally commit themselves to one another, and to secure for their respective families the protections and obligations of civil marriage. Their marriages will take nothing away from anybody else, and can only strengthen the communities in which they live. The only things standing in their way are prejudice and intolerance. Appellants respectfully urge this Court to vindicate their constitutional rights by reversing the trial court’s judgment for Appellees, entering Judgment for Appellants, and granting such other relief as is just and proper.”

Susan M. Murray and Annee L. Bonauto, attorneys, brief to the Supreme Court of Vermont, March, 1998.

After the Civil War, Washington's population grew dramatically. Land speculators and western miners Curtis Hillyer, Thomas Sutherland, and William Stewart began buying land in the Dupont Circle area, then a hilly marshland known as "The Slashes". The intersection of P Street, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire Avenues was originally named "Pacific Circle" for its westerly location.

Philip J. Reiss


If I am not for myself, who then shall be for me? Hillel

The Still Center of the Turning World

Jonathan Henry Aldrich walks toward the at this season still dry fountain at the heart of Dupont Circle and, Jon has always thought, of the capitol itself. Dupont Circle, where poor Washingtonian meets rich, old meets young, gay meets straight, native meets new arrival, and the races, styles, and languages all squoosh together to form that great hybrid perfection America is pledged always more perfectly to become. Jon’s theory that Dupont is the heart of the city goes this way: Love begins here during morning rush hour with a bumping of shoulders, a meeting of eyes. Old flames, long smoldering, reignite in the last rays of sunlight after a quiet talk on the circle of benches. Midday finds evangelism, religious and political, quiet face-to-face persuasions, as well as orators urging crowds with megaphones, pamphlets and petitions. Investment, real estate deals are instigated by solo figures with tiny phones, after lunch. Evening witnesses drug purchases, casual or clandestine, festive or desperate, depending on the clientele and the police. All hours see stand-offs and jump-ons of and by dogs of diverse size, coiffure, and temperament. At supper time, bipeds find good food nearby, Chinese, Korean, Mexican, Greek, Italian, Afghan, Caribbean. Designer and regular ice cream, coffee simple or embellished, newsstands, art movie theaters with smallish screens. All of this, in Jon’s eyes, is persuasive.

But what conclusively distinguishes Dupont Circle from its Parisian ancestors and Washington cousins are the fourteen bookstores within a few minutes walk, enough to gladden or madden any newly published author’s heart, bookstores both chain and independent, inventoried via satellite and corporate projection or via individual whim and color choice. Bookstores filled with thrillers and cookbooks that sell like hot cakes, and bookstores obstinately maintaining law, philosophy, literature and history collections, whose volumes are likely to enjoy a longer stay. Stores where books are as surprised to find themselves rubbing up against each other as the people who crisscross great Dupont Circle itself, queer theory abruptly bagged with biography of military strategist, genetics text and true love tale squeezed into the same backpack. Dupont Circle, Jon maintains, is paradise even in bad weather.

On this April day, Jon stands by the wide cat-saucer-elevated-by-two-scantily-clad-Grecian-women-and-one-conch-blowing-dude fountain. He takes in the blue heavens trimmed with painterly clouds, lacy puffs and tangles, which pass westward more swiftly than his eye expects. The chestnuts and sycamores beyond the boxwood wait for their precise solar and meteorological cue, perhaps a week away, to unfurl. Dupont, balanced between down and uptown, business and leisure, offers Jon, who thirsts for it, that scarcest of commodities in postindustrial society, a break. At the end of the work week, suspended for moment between university and family, between public and private life, Jon makes his way into the CVS that for the first third of his thirty-nine years was Peoples Drug, buys his monthly pack of unfiltered Parliaments. He returns to the circle and settles upon one of the inner row of comfortable benches, which support the lumbar as well as thoracic spine, and lights up. He scans the crosswalks to the north and east for his husband Peter, their daughter, Nita, and their mostly cocker spaniel, Ella Cornelia the Magnificent. He has five to ten minutes, Peter punctual with a self-righteousness Jon finds, after nine years, overly emphatic. Peter always wears that, Yes, I’m exactly on time once again, expression, as if Jon were monitoring him. Jon himself is often fifteen minutes or even half an hour late for lunch appointments, bike rides with former competitors, dinner parties he and Peter are hosting, even, once or twice a semester, the seminar or lecture classes he teaches, but it’s not as if he isn’t sorry and doesn’t promise each time never to let it happen again.

Peter, Nita and Ella will appear at any moment, but where? Northwest lies Jon’s sister Valerie’s house on Decatur Street, where she lives with her eight-week-old second baby, young Samuel Walker Aldrich, her first, Anita Louisa Aldrich, a big six-year-old now. Peter may have taken Nita by to see her mom and baby brother. Nita needs to get to know Sam, and Peter, too, since it is probably only a matter of weeks or months at most before the baby comes to live in Peter and Jon’s Church Street brownstone. If from Valerie’s, Peter, Nita and Ella will appear on Connecticut, among the crowd emerging from the metro on the west sidewalk, or perhaps on the east sidewalk crossing from coffee corner toward the hot dog and ice cream vendors on the circle’s northern arc.

On the other hand, Peter may have skipped Valerie’s—who can blame the man for shying away, without Jon along?—and ended up at Gramma Caroline and Grampa Bailey’s, Jon’s parents’, house, just about the last of the lovely patrician townhouses on P Street not yet converted to condos or office space. On Friday afternoons Caroline and Nita often bake and play Gin Rummy, while Peter slips upstairs to the library to daydream, nap, read, perhaps even write a word or two in his current, tattered spiral notebook. If from Gramma and Grampa’s, Peter, Nita, and Ella will appear at the eastern spoke between SuperCrown books and the white-brick apartment building. Jon smokes, scans both lines of approach, and waits for the red tulips to open.

After Anita’s first year and consistently until her fourth, Jon and Peter faithfully took Friday nights off. Peter, in his full-time daddy homemaker incarnation, had taken to day-time tv and magazines, and had read a piece in Esquire about the art of romance. Soon Friday was consecrated date night, as once upon a time in Jon’s Catholic boyhood it had been fish night. Jon and especially Peter had fatherhood thrust upon them and Friday was their chance to thrust it back for a few hours, to talk out the week’s problems over martinis, to lay aside discord and make love. Otherwise, as Peter pointed out in those wonderful exhausting first days of fatherhood, they would never really talk, never really see each other awake from one week to the next, unless one counted passing sleepily in the middle of the night with a bottle or a diaper, or reporting by phone in the afternoon on the pediatrician’s advice, or rushing around in the mornings, the carry-all holding Nita’s diapers, Mew (stuffed) and that week’s favorite toys, over whomever’s shoulder. This was after Nita’s complicated first eight months (reflux) until her esophagus lengthened and she started attending Little Friends on Sixteenth Street in the mornings. At fourteen months she began staying the night with Gramma and Grampa, and on Fridays Jon and Peter were able to go home, change, head out to a party, a movie, even a play or concert if they had been especially organized or had tickets thrown at them. The only problem was that they missed Nita so keenly, wondered what she, Gramma and Grampa were doing, eating, watching on tv, Nita being a stayer-upper, a partier, a child of the media age, treating all consoles casually, working remotes, multitasking her toys and screens, like some kind of particularly sweet-tempered droid—often the men were so taken up with the question of just what Nita was up to they had trouble concentrating on the nouvelle delicacies, flick, or crossover folk-rock-country-blues singer they were treating themselves to.

Jon spots Nita and Peter. After one more hard pull he drops and crushes the Parliament and moves with studied calm to an oak on the eastern ray, on the other side of which three teens cluster with their own smokes around a boom box. Whereas a moment before Jon was quite fine on his own, puffing, reflecting, his legs stretched in front of him, now he is lonesome, incomplete. Only for a moment. Nita finds him and her smile builds him back into the world. He whistles and Ella accelerates forward, Nita almost keeping pace, Peter, his chin up, his smile, as if to counter-balance the downward tilt of his long body, heading toward him. Ella Cornelia comes on like a miniature fluffy cinnamon greyhound. Jon thumps her round ribs and rubs her silky floppy ears when she arrives, then sweeps Nita up, spins her around. Peter reaches the clutch and gives Jon a kiss, Nita still clinging to Jon’s neck from the side.

“How,” Jon asks them, as if it’s been weeks, not hours, “have you been?”

“We’re had a nice afternoon,” Peter reports. “Sale fumeur.”

“We made oatmeal cookies. I beat Gramma twice.”

“Enough for our house?” Jon asks as Nita’s legs clasp him and Ella’s tail slaps him insistently. He rubs Ella’s neck with his free hand.

“Dad’s got em,” Nita sighs, pillowing her head on Jon’s shoulder. Peter rattles a brown shopping bag.

“I’ll just try one of those now,” Jon says, reaching for the bag, “to make sure they’re edible.” He munches theatrically and carries Nita off toward home, Peter beside him, Ella trail blazing, swiveling every few yards to check their progress. “What’d you do in school today, Monkey?”

“We made books. We practiced minuses with checkers. Ms. Sutherland read us Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Bad Table-Manners Cure. We had Lunch. We played Bombardment. We did Quiet Drawing. We got New Words.” And on and on, through the afternoon, omitting no part of the program. Ms. Amy Sutherland is the sort of elementary school teacher everyone falls in love with, student, parents, even administration. She never raises her voice. She is not large of stature, and has bangs. The worse troublemakers, those who reduced the first grade teacher, Ms. Tovar, to tears, reform instantly when they reach the second grade, so potent is Ms. Sutherland’s soft magic. “We did Checker Pluses. Mine was the neatest. I got two stickers. We’re going to do Minuses soon. We made pipe-cleaner sculptures. I made Ella.”

Nita takes after Peter, Jon thinks for perhaps the three hundredth time. She loves nothing more than telling her whole story.

The Writers

“Where should we eat?” Max asks, down at the courthouse.

“Not my house,” Eve says. “It’s on the superfund list.”

“I saw her again today,” Andrea tells Max, her fellow clerk for Judge Patricia Gibbons, along with Eve and Keith. The four of them are still at it this evening as most evenings, in the chambers of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, on the sixth floor of the courthouse at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Second Street, catty-corner to the New East Wing of the National Gallery.

“Saw her where?” Eve asks. “Twenty more minutes,” she adds to Max. Eve often addresses several matters at a go and she always wants to work twenty more minutes. Since she hasn’t had even one extension yet, Andrea and Max know that this means she’ll need forty minutes, which is why Max asked the question about dinner at this point.

“Weaving through K Street traffic,” Andrea reports. “Guess what her jersey says?” Eve shakes her head, eyes on the notebook screen, painted fingers tapping a brisk allegro. The she in question is a bike messenger who has been haunting Andrea’s thoughts and conversation since Andrea first spotted her, on the first warm day of spring, riding against traffic in violet, below-knee racing shorts, her helmet decorated with wings, her body low over her handle bars. “Lois Express,” Andrea tells them. “I Deliver Anywhere In Fifteen Minutes.”

“Yowsah,” Max says, scrolling or strolling his mouse along the tabletop. Max sits beside Andrea across from Eve in Gibbons’s chambers, the table surrounded by the high bookcases of F 2, F Supp. and S.C. Reporter. These books are now largely ceremonial since each clerk’s notebook accesses Westlaw, in which the pages of all the appeals court, district court, and Supreme Court records on all the shelves can be electronically yanked without one’s standing and hefting a volume, much less actually walking to another room to search for one. The Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, under the space age gavel of Chief Judge Harry T. Edwards (rumor is he is tinkering with a virtual gavel in his basement) is futuristically outfitted, Edwards being a technophile and one who does not shy from telling others the best new way to do things. Yet the rows of books, the shadowed quiet of the library itself, contribute to the cloistered atmosphere, the sense of tradition, that remain a staple pleasure of clerkship. The four clerks (seven judges have three and two secretaries, six judges have four clerks and one secretary) are acolytes in an ancient faith, their liturgy composed of terms-of-art, fact pattern and precedent, judgement and prophesy. Andrea and Keith still have legal pads of good old lined yellow paper beside their computer notebooks, the pads ornamented with arrows of implication, abbreviated citation. Evening sneaks through the Constitution Avenue windows, late spring sunset sparkling on the Tidal Basin. The cherry trees surround the Reflecting Pool as fluffy and pink as cotton candy, the last tour buses a metal herd huddled to the glittering water.

“Phone number?” Max adds.

“Beeper,” Andrea replies.

“Page her,” Max says and taps a staccato burst on his keyboard. They all work while they talk, or talk while they work, except Keith, who rocks while he writes, habitually sequestered himself in the corner with his earphones on.

“Have I told you about her awesome calves?” Andrea asks.

“No, I don’t believe you have,” Keith suddenly says, pulling off his headphones and rolling backwards toward them across the room while swiveling. He’s tricky that way.

“My mother,” Andrea says, “always told me a woman’s calves should not distract from her ankles. But Lois’ calves distract. They’re like, big.”

“In Fiji babes gonzo calves make men and no doubt at least ten percent of women tremble with desire,” Keith informs her. This is the sort of information Keith often produces from the World Wide Web of his consciousness upon which, whatever else he is doing, he forever surfs. The clerks have a bench memo due in two weeks and two days. Patty Gibbons is to preside over the case, meaning the case that will be the most important of their clerkship year, and which is hopefully going to make same-sex marriage legal all over America, instead of just in New Mexico, sometime soon. Jonathan Aldrich and Peter Day, a couple who managed, along with about twenty-nine thousand others, to acquire a marriage license during this spell between the New Mexico’s Supreme Court’s pro-same-sex marriage decision and the upcoming referendum, which will authorize the state legislature to pass a bill to make marriage the union of one man and one woman, period exclamation point, a law which will probably be struck down by that same state high court—during this spell of possibility, Jonathan Aldrich and Peter Day have not only married but come home and tried to stay married. This involves filing suit against the IRS, who denied them the privilege of filing a joint return in the District of Columbia, and against the District of Columbia itself, which under the yoke of Congressional governance and despite the will of the City Council denied recognition of the New Mexico license. The closer one looks, the better the appellants look. Dr. Jonathan Aldrich is a American social history professor at George Washington University and legal guardian to his disturbed sister’s child. Mr. Peter Day is a novelist whose first and second books were well enough received that people who read books or at least book reviews nod knowingly when his name comes up. Both men give good interview and perhaps more importantly, good photo, the lanky blond Aldrich and the earnest brunette Day posing side-by-side, most recently in the Sunday Washington Post’sParade magazine. Aldrich and Day were hand-picked by a local activist and then reluctantly embraced by the ACLU and GLAD, neither of which organizations were sure the moment for a federal challenge had come, but both of whom clambered on board once Aldrich and Day started to gather momentum and media. The men had married in Day’s home state in a Unitarian Church a year-and-eleven months ago, since which time their tax return has been filed and rejected, their complaint filed the US District Court for the District of Columbia, heard, decided in favor and then appealed by the IRS/DC to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

“Alpha page that woman,” Keith tells Andrea now. “Deliver yourself to me at 2nd and Pennsylvania.”

“I could,” Andrea says.

“When she shows,” Max says, “hand her a sonnet on flower petal paper tied with satin ribbon. Tell her to go home and open it. At midnight. In the tub.”

“You boys… Will you help me write this sonnet? Aren’t they ababcdcdee?”

“Tell us what’s in your heart,” Keith says. “We’ll pentameterize you.”

“Pentameterize?” Eve groans. She hasn’t even reconciled herself to impact as a verb.

“Lois,” Andrea murmurs, rising and walking a slow circle around the table. “Upon your wheels you fly across the city’s streets. Was that five?”

“Six,” Keith says. “You want to do alexandrines?” The case will go into the history books. Plus it will probably send one of them on to a Supreme Courtship as they refer to the big clerkship, though it is unlikely to do for more than one of them. There seems to be an unwritten rule that two clerks from the same appeals court never get Supreme Courtships the same year. Each clerk wants to find precedent and argument that will be so essential to the opinion Gibbons will hand down that their words will be included in the final opinion. (Victor Semmes and Daniel Whitney, the second and third judges who will sit, have their own clerks hard at work up a floor.) After oral arguments are heard, Gibbons’s clerks will draft her opinion, and Gibbons will probably block in entire passages. She likes to do that. The possibility of being extensively quoted sends the clerks into a researching frenzy, especially since Gibbons’s opinions are read intently by The Supremes. Gibbons is a bit like William O. Douglas, except that instead of chasing after women and finally girls whose ages inversely reflect her own, Patty as she tells them to call her remains happily married to her first husband, Henry Thomas, a law professor. Like Douglas, Gibbons renders lengthy or occasionally stunningly brief opinions which constitute auguries of the legal age to come, encyclicals of cutting edge thought. Unlike William O., Patricia A. rarely find herself at odds with her colleagues on the bench. On the contrary, Patty is a great balancer and synthesizer. Bailey’s clerks, like hundreds of students across the country, became inveterate Gibbonsites in college, startled awake one day in the library by one of her opinions on free speech, privacy, civil rights. Her colloquial language, her leaps beyond legal history into plain old history, her informal style that maintains a rigor of logic, an orderliness and depth of research from paragraph to paragraph, decade to decade, are what these four novices aspire to.

“Maybe I’ll page her tomorrow. Hey, straight people,” Andrea says, “can we go home?” Keith, a old New Conservative who for eight months now has been getting his hitherto unexamined assumptions about law and social policy kicked all over the place by his colleagues’ not quiet liberal convictions, has an edge on them just by being who he is, or was. Gibbons’ decision is going to be evenly weighted, with the anti-same-sex-marriage arguments well explicated, if only to be refuted in the end. This means Keith may get more page time than anyone else. He is more pleased than he admits to be accepted and coached by these surprisingly open-minded progressives. He relishes hanging out on the fringes of their single-people, somewhat tortured, urban twenty-something lives, he himself married to Anne, and occupied with Lannie, their ten-month-old. He has everything an older man might, except the mortgage he doesn’t qualify for. Family values in action, Keith at twenty-five is a year younger than Eve and Andrea, five years younger than Max. He has noticed that the main difference between fine thinkers and narrow ideologues of all stripes is that smart folks are able to take in a whole range of attitudes, arguments and what-you-call-em, Weltanschauungs. Same-sex marriage is a treasure trove of legal ambiguities, with both due process and equal protections questions calling out for clarification, full faith and credit questions looming, suspect classification nudging in from several directions, heightened scrutiny banging at the door. Keith has a good time pointing out inconsistencies in the pro- arguments—definitional problems, historical distortions, false congruencies with interracial marriage and privacy precedents. On the other hand the Defense of Marriage Act is an embarrassment, a legal document so ill-conceived that its only lasting effect may be to make it exceedingly difficult for gay divorcees not to be inadvertently remarried again when they move to states other than the one in which they originally got hitched. Between Keith and Andrea, Gibbons is going to get one tight bench memo, and whatever she rules, whether to require DC to recognize same-sex marriages for only so long as they are accepted in New Mexico or decides, as is more likely, to remand the case back to the lower court for rehearing on grounds of discrimination, which would of course lead directly to a couple years of sociological and constitutional experts mouthing off, while journalists simplify, the public informs itself, and social attitudes mellow and evolve—whatever Gibbons decides, Keith is determined that the judge’s opinion will set the standard for rigorous argument in other federal courts. Meanwhile, Keith finds himself drawn into the lives of his three pink and green friends, whose passions, directed entirely toward procuring mates, makes him reminisce about his own courtship of wife Anne, seven years, two degrees, one baby, and a whole self in the past. “We can do my house,” Andrea adds. “I have pizza supplies.”

“Twenty minutes,” Eve says. Eve and Max clearly carry pocket torches, as opposed to full size flames, for each other, and Keith and Andrea pretend not to notice or resent that the two have a different order of interest in each other than in them. Andrea also pretends not to feel impatient with the absence of anyone in the clutch she can be have a crush on, Keith being good-looking in a slightly crew-cut, semper fi way, but is male, married, and residually reactionary. Max is straight and stuck on Eve, and Eve herself is actually more of a rival for alpha status among the clerks and for the Supreme Courtship than a potential love object. Plus Eve’s such a girly girl, with her glossy, hundred-dollar do, her manicured ever so delicately colored nails, her extensive wardrobe of designer suits, her magnificent and impeccably rubbed shoes. Andrea likes her women a little more on the trashy side.

“So you’re not going to contact Ms. Mercury?” Keith inquires.

“No,” Andrea says. “I might actually meet her.” Andrea, Eve, Keith and Max trickled into Patricia Gibbons’s chambers from early July (Max) until the week before Labor Day (Eve), Max only having to travel across town, Andrea having to cross the entire country mid-July in a Ryder truck, and Keith and Eve having to undertake mid-length journeys from New Haven and Charolottesville, respectively, after their bar exams and vacations. By the first clerkwide bi-weekly luncheon in October, in the judge’s dining room on the sixth floor with its stained-glass windows depicting boats, the Gibbons Four were best of friends. The speaker was Scalia, and clerks from the Federal Court for the District of Columbia, from DC Superior Court and the DC Court of Appeals across the street, turned out. In the throng Andrea, Max, Eve and Keith appeared to the rest to have known each other from law school at least. Keith and Andrea, whispering, their shoulders touching, started a rumor, he with his officer-and-a-gentleman look, his Yeah, I work out twenty-two inch neck and bulging flexors, she with her shy elegance and sudden smile. No one figured out for a couple weeks that Keith was hitched and that Andrea shopped at a different store. Max and Eve, too, gave the impression of long established familiarity, their conversation after two months already synoptic, their glances comprehensive. It was said, by those who had known either Max or Eve in school and had perhaps exaggerated ideas about the intellectual unusualness of each, that for the first time each of them had found someone on their own level to talk to, and that the result was they hardly needed to talk at all. Too bad, these friends were quick to add, that both Eve and Max were engaged, since if they had met a few years before, they might have hooked up. But in fact neither Max nor Eve was engaged, just engaged to be engaged, which is a very different matter.

“I can see why you wouldn’t want to just meet her,” Max said. “What if Lois turns out to be a real sweetheart?”

“She sports a lambda on her mud guard.”

“Talk dirty to me,” Keith says. Eve works on. The day Eve arrived, having taken the grand tour of Europe following the New York bar, Max and Keith having had almost a month together, and Andrea having arrived, exhausted and homesick for Berkeley, two weeks before—the day Eve arrived at chambers was the last Monday before Labor Day. The three others took in her loveliness, her rose-of-Sharon coloring, her pricey clothing and can’t-hide-it curves. They were already familiar with her Yale review managing editor status and were prepared, collectively, to be standoffish if she proved to a snoot. Instead Eve came over and sat down on the edge of Max’s huge leather chair, gave him a playful shove, and said, “Hiya.” Then she leaned across to where Andrea was worked at her desk and asked if she had missed anything vital, as if, Would men know? As if she had just stepped out of the room for a doctor’s appointment, instead of having blown-off the first eight weeks, and wanted an up-date. That shove altered Max irremediably, but he managed to hide it from Andrea and Keith for hours.

Andrea had come out from Berkeley and the closet in the same long dirty week, three weeks before. She’d been queer for years but not in her parents’ house, so she drove her fifteen-foot truck to Palo Alto ? , had the talk, cried and dried her own tears and her mother’s, shouted back at and endured her father’s shouts, then silences, for two epic days before getting back in her truck and hauling her sleep deprived ass and all her books cross-country through a heat wave that made the grime, the sweat, and a few more tears run down her face like war paint. Unloading in Adam’s Morgan proved an even filthier job, the Biltmore Street studio she had sublet from a friend of a friend full of dust and hundreds of pounds of yellowed newspaper. Washington, the one to which she had imagined she was traveling, was to be what college should have been, had she only had the courage, and what law school might have been, had she only had the time. Dupont’s action, Andrea fervently believed, would not be as intimidating as the Haight’s, would instead be provincial in the best sense, manageable in scale, pitched at a lower key in terms of sexual politics and style scrimmages. D.C. was supposed to be the setting in which Andrea would not merely love women transiently, or in the abstract, but seriously and enduringly. After a day and a half of cleaning, hefting and unpacking, she bathed in her sparkling lion’s foot tub and emerged from her basement home, with it’s half windows looking out at peoples’ knees, like a butterfly. She sparkled in the sunlight of Adam’s Morgan multiculturalism, cute and ready, with a new teasingly but not boorishly unisex cut, a discrete ear cuff, and a willingness to put herself on the line, to go on bad dates and good, to try all kinds of food and women, not excluding anyone on the basis of profession or lack thereof. She would even date white girls with trust funds if she met a good one, though she secretly hoped for a Latina labor organizer with a tiny waist, an easy laugh, an apartment in a cozy, crowded barrio, somewhere in the wilds of Southeast. In short Andrea would experiment, make the scene, even if this took legwork and faith. She was fluent in assimilation, the product of Korean immigrants, excessive reading, an affluent Santa Barbara suburb, a tiny prep school, then U.C. Davis followed by Berkeley law. A first-generation American and as far as she could discover the only lesbian in her extended family on two continents, she was a stranger not in one strange land but two. Meeting Max, Eve, and most surprisingly Keith, her only conservative military school friend in life so far, that initial courthouse August strengthened Andrea’s conviction that Washington would be her Rive Gauche, her Bloomsbury. Seven months later, she’s not so sure. She still waits for the woman who will reveal herself in some classical and unmistakable way, by say approaching her on crowded floor of Zei Club or Velvetnation, singling her out with a burning glance, sinuously approaching, and whispering in her ear, Dance with me. Since that warm day at the end of March, Andrea has twice spotted Lois Express flashing past in stretch neon, a rough rider weaving an lightning path through modern life. But so far Andrea hasn’t gone on the dates that she considers her Dupont Circle privilege. She just doesn’t meet anyone, instead hangs out with Max, Eve, and Keith, which is getting old and uncomfortably comfortable. Her role here is reminiscent of the best and worst of law school, where she was third wheel to another straight couple, Jessica Fleishman and Mike Levin, her best shopping buddy and best-read friend, respectively, a couple so civilized and passionate that just to be in their innermost orbit felt almost like being in a relationship of her own. She assiduously does the bar scene, the bookstore scene, the museum scene, but somehow doesn’t get seen. Max and Eve aren’t a couple but Max is lost on Eve and Eve definitely sends some heavy-duty come hither vibes at Max. That, too, has put Andrea in the useful role of double confidant, confirming Max in his hopes, reporting his reactions back to Eve. Andrea needs to wean herself of this Max-Eve-Keith business and get her own squeeze, but what, for example, is she supposed to do now, at seven-ten on a Friday? Leave the courthouse to go to Mr. Henry’s to cruise executive secretaries and eat buffalo wings? She’s too tired and vegetarian, the women are too white, and besides, she likes Max and Eve. She likes Keith, but he’s going home.

“Stop staring at me,” Eve tells Max. “I know you’re hungry.”

“No rush,” Max says.

“You two cut that shit out now,” Andrea says.

“You have artichoke hearts?” Max asks, still staring at Eve with idle speculation about whether he really means what he thinks he means when he stares at Eve. She really is intoxicating. Max has no business falling in love with a woman who enjoys his attentions as matter-of-factly as if men she works near always fall in love with her, which he knows from Andrea they do. That Eve has brain power that stops Max in his tracks, that she’s built like a Jewish Sophia Loren (born Sophia Scicoloni), are beside the point, as is the fact that Max has since adolescence been an equal opportunity crush getter, having had it bad for girls and women of all creeds and tones, depending usually on whom he was sitting next to in class, on the It’s Academic team, on the long bus rides to debating regionals in Baltimore and Philadelphia or later, at Duke, on whom he met in the library or at the offices of The Reporter, where he spent all his time. He always meets women through work, that’s the common denominator, and yet he always assumed that, when it came time for marrying, he would just conveniently end up with an African-American woman, not more than five-eight or nine. This would make the social judgment game so much simpler, and is quite possibly a prerequisite to whatever political aspirations he might have or aspire to having. But at nearly thirty, having taken four years off after college to run a mentoring program for inner city children (he loves elementary school kids as much as he fears junior high and is bored by high school kids) and instead of doing what he ought to be doing, namely dating Felisha O’Neil consistently, and offering her encouragement just as she offers it to him, he is instead calling Felisha only in fits and starts, sometimes skipping up to three days, while finding reasons to talk to Eve every day, even weekends, especially weekends. Marck Harper, his best friend since fourth grade at Washington Carver, gives Max hell for thinking seriously about making a play for Eve, Marck having become rather rigid on the race question, despite himself being in a permanent thing with Canada Jensen, white feminist historian from Minnesota, who pushes Marck into more extreme views with each passing semester the two spend in their eternal African-American studies doctoral program at Hopkins. Why do white people study African-American studies anyway? Why is Max hot for Eve, who’s got a boyfriend, a childhood sweetheart, even if she does signal that Gordon is more like a brother than a lover to her? Max can’t tell if having Marck and Canada so determined to see him walk the aisle with Felisha, with whom Max co-founded the mentoring program, and who is as thoughtful, kind, and lovely a companion as Max deserves and then some—whether this determination on the part of his right-thinking friends is making him shy away from Felisha, if he just doesn’t feel ready to settle down, if because of this Eve is the perfect object of desire, out of his league, taboo (white, attached), or if he just carries a jet engine for Eve because she’s, well, superfly. This last is probably the best explanation, which is why Max spends so much time looking at her and trying to think. Eve notices and they engage in banter of the sort that so irritates Andrea. Keith watches with a certain married-real-young sociological interest, as if observing a mating ritual in a curious New Guinea tribe, where grown men and women pair off at thirty, a full fifteen years after sexual maturity.

For her part, Eve is fairly certain that her increasing interest in Max is an effect of getting nearer to getting engaged to Gordon Lowenthal, her high school, synagogue, Lakeside Country Club sweetheart, whose family happens also to live three blocks away from hers in Bannockburn Heights, forty-five minutes from the courthouse in Bethesda, now that rush hour is over. Her ambivalence about marriage, which has been a major theme of her thoughts and therapy hours since she moved back to her hometown from New Haven and started in with Alice Flaherty, MD, PPP (psychoanalytic psychodynamic psychotherapist)—Eve’s theory is that her ambivalence about commitment has attached itself to this perfectly charming, unathletic, handsome-in-a-boyish-way-that-makes-women-smile colleague. Eve loves Gordon. Eve knows Gordon. And Eve knows Gordon is getting ready to propose to her because he asked for her ring size on the fourth of July, right after the fireworks which they saw from the deck of Eve’s parents’ condo in Hilton Head. Eve thinks she’s ready to be almost ready to marry Gordon, and so she assumes that the dreams, as she refers to them in twice-weeklies with Alice, meaning those wonderful dreams starring herself and Max in which he is sometimes naked, always talkative, and usually offering her a snack, are not counter-indications that she should marry familiar, sporty, steadfast, handsome-in-a-way-that-makes-women-straighten-up-and-pretend-they’re-not-looking-way Gordon. She and Gordon were already steadies when they went off to Harvard. In fact, their first kiss was at Katie Toppel’s batmitzvah dance behind the tent built over the Toppel’s backyard when they were in eight grade at Pyle Junior High. They didn’t really go out until eleventh grade at Whitman, but that still means they’ve been together for seven-and-a-half years. It would be nine-and-a-half except for the two years when Eve broke up with Gordon in the middle of law school, a symbolic gesture since he was in med school in Chicago and, had they been together, they wouldn’t have seen more or, for that matter, substantially less of each other than they did during their official hiatus. Gordon had said I’ll wait two years, a considerable interval for a twenty-three-year-old, and very like Gordon to know in advance how long he was willing to hold on. The real reason for Eve’s sudden attachment to Max is not that he is so witty, offbeat, good-natured and sensuous, though he does make Eve feel kind of giddy just walking into the room where she is, or saying anything to her, or looking into her eyes. Nor is it that Max has read as much law and history as she has. No, the real reason Eve has feelings for her fellow clerk is that she is ambivalent about moving on to the next, fully adult, marital, pre-maternal phase. She’s twenty-six, four years older than her mother when she married Dad, two years older than when Eve herself was born. Yet Eve still can’t get ready, in her mind, to get married. She feels like seeing the world first, and Max, she would like to date some other people, including Max, to gain some experience, sexual and just, well, culinary, some with Max. No, the dreams are actually proof that Eve is ready to settle down with Gordon, who knows everything about her, who accepts her sudden sadness and equally unaccountable euphoria, her desire to work, clothes shop, talk on the phone, go to the gym and really not do anything else, especially cook or clean. Not have children yet. Why Dr. Flaherty, often so talkative as to be suspiciously unFreudian, falls silent when Eve pursues this line in her free associations, which are not always so much free associations as targeted monologes due, no doubt, to Eve’s legal background—why Alice refuses to pick up this Max-as-fantasy apple, this Max-as-a-defense-and-not-real-love-object apple and run with it, is not clear. The dreams are either sexual or not, depending on the night. Eve has noticed that on weeknights she and Max are often talking, he naked in a natural way, and they eat ice cream, cookies, strudel, corn on the cob, just one of these on a given night, often with a hot beverage on the side. Max tilts his head the way he does, listening with that still-waters-run-deep look. Whereas on weekends when she sleeps in Eve’s morning dreams often involve lingering kisses. Max will stroke her neck and chest, things get NC, rarely R and never, as far as Eve remembers in the morning when she writes her dream notebook, X. Max offers her main courses, hearty soups, pasta, never fish, he leaning toward her, spoon outstretched with that No, I want you to have it, expression of a born feeder. Add that to the necking and nipple stuff, Max always nude to begin with and Eve shedding her tops but stopping there, and the dreams are substantial. Eve wakes up not hot and bothered but calm and satisfied, not wanting to masturbate, which seems like a chore before noon, but with a feeling of having had a romantic night out, a night she can mull over, smiling to herself, looking up at the frosted glass light fixture. In waking life, Eve tries not to tease Max, she doesn’t think it’s fair to him. He seems invulnerable, whether shielded by his own contentment and his Felisha, whom he might or might not be serious about, but who was with him at the appeals court Winter (formerly Christmas) Party, or by Eve’s Gordoned status, which makes her safe for him, whether shielded by Felisha or Gordon, Eve doesn’t know. She only knows she can’t help leading Max onward and upward with looks, comments, and even the occasional butt pat, anymore than she can prevent herself from falling in love with him. Max talks about Felisha easily and he’s never jealous of Gordon, indeed likes Gordon and chats with Gordon on the phone whenever Gordon is over and picks up. Frankly Eve wouldn’t mind a little territorial huffiness on either Max’s or Gordon’s side, a little male ridiculousness, but the two are relentlessly contemporary. And Eve’s more than a little tired of hearing about Felisha’s new mentors-for-girls project in the schools (her program based on the one Max started), Felisha’s work on education reform for the D.C. school board, Felisha’s community festival for her oh-so-ethnically-and-financially-diverse Capitol Hill neighborhood. The woman is an activist saint, never spends more than thirty dollars on an item of clothing and still comes out looking mouth-watering, with her not-an-extra-ounce legs, her missing rib waistline, and and pertly upturned b-cups, breasts Eve had for about a month, in seventh grade.

“I have olives,” Andrea tells Max. “Will that do? Pepperoni, mozzarella, romano. Everything but the red-checked cloth.”

“Chianti classico?”

“Right,” Andrea says. “In my cellar. You in, Keith? Call Anne. Ask her to bring Lannie.”

“Let’s plan something for next week,” Keith says. Anne would be about as excited about hauling herself and Lannie downtown for oven pizza as she would be about jumping up and down on broken glass.

“Just ten more minutes,” Eve says. For a short interval there is a four-way flurry of key-clacking as the clerkhood back up their documents and power down their puters, stand, and switch off the lamps on the oak writing table, one by one, as if blowing out candles. The sun has set, leaving the capitol dome etched in black and gray against a breathtaking mother-of-pearl sky. The writers are a little too hungry and tired to give a toot. They pack the notebooks into the carrying cases and elevator down, pass the security gates, the metal detector, the night guard, his chair leaned against the granite wall, the seventeenth Grisham (“a radical departure for the author, this one from the criminal’s point of view”) in his hand. The four walk to Judiciary Square, escalator into the Soviet style expanse of the Metro, their voices gradually increasing in volume, and head for, or in Keith’s case past, Woodley Park.


A baby is crying. Valerie stays in bed. The sun through her curtains hurts her. The far wall is shadowed and that’s better but not as good as having her eyes closed. She turns on her side and puts the pillow on top of her head. She snuck out last summer when Nina, her night spy, dozed off front of the television. She walked to Hilton, picked up a very tall man and fucked him all night. In the morning she came home in a cab just as the police were setting out to look for her. Jon, Papa and Mama, and Lucy were there too. She told them all where she had been and they didn’t know whether to believe her. They all left except Jon, who stayed with her for the day, and Lucy. Then she was pregnant and they wanted to vacuum it out, all of them except Papa. She said, If you let them hurt me I swear I’ll kill myself. She didn’t know if she wanted to have the baby anymore but it sounded like something she should say and it made everyone pay attention to her. Papa looked at her the way he did when he she was a girl and lived in Turkey and he came home from the embassy and sat on her bed in the middle of the night and told her stories about the country where she was a princess and rode a pony. Mama cried and Jon left the room. Papa always listens to her. She told Papa she knew if she could just make another baby it would be a good one this time. It would love her and wouldn’t run away like Nita the crybaby, who went to live with Peter and Jon. When the new baby was grown they took Valerie to the hospital and put the knife in her back so that she didn’t feel anything. But when she got home her cunt was torn on the bottom and she hated the new one for that even before they let her see it. Now its crying in her house.

“How are you today, Miss Valerie?” Lucy asks, coming into the room with her fast, bouncy walk. Roberta, Lucy the day spy’s sister, is in the kitchen with the baby. “Will you give us a little milk for Sam?” Lucy asks. Valerie glares but Lucy lifts the sheets away. She checks Valerie’s arms to make sure she hasn’t scratched herself again. Valerie’s tits are swollen, with blue veins. Lucy fits the pump into place and turns it on. It growls and bites.

“Fuck,” Valerie says to the pump, and then laughs at the expression on Lucy’s small dark face.

“Don’t say words to me, Miss Valerie. I’m sorry the machine pinches. It is hard for you not to have your pills, yes?”

Lucy runs a bath. Lucy thinks Valerie needs a bath even if she had one during the night. She says Valerie is not fresh because she is lying too much in the bed. Valerie has to stay in bed because they won’t give her her pills because of the baby. The pills are for her head but what they really do is make her feel like she can get up and walk around. Lucy pumps Valerie’s milk out and gives it to Roberta. The extra goes in the freezer. Valerie called the baby Sammy after Eric’s sister who Mabel took care of on Days Of Our Lives. Sammy on the show was short for Samantha but that was okay because Sammy is really a boy’s name. The sunlight hurts and walking around the house makes Valerie feel like she wants to throw up, so she stays in bed.

Lucy switches the pump to Valerie’s right breast. “Sam is waiting. You will have your bath and then you will come and give him his bottle.” There’s never much milk in her right tit. Valerie takes her bath with the door open so Lucy can see her. Lucy dries Valerie and puts on her robe, then holds her arm as they cross the living room. Sunlight burns the curtains. The sofa and the armchair in front of the big tv float like colored balloons. There’s Spanish on, a man next to a lake wearing a business suit. Valerie stops, finds the remote, changes to Jenny Jones. She wants to sit down but Lucy pulls her. Sammy is in the kitchen in Roberta’s lap. Roberta was a nurse in her own country and wears a nurse’s dress. She’s fat. Roberta says she has her own two babies at home. She shows Valerie pictures and says she does everything herself, changes her babies’ diapers, nurses, clean house, and then comes and take care of Sammy. She lies.

Valerie sits down at the kitchen table. Sammy makes twisty motions with his lips, pokes out his tongue. Lucy bends to him speaking Spanish. She smiles and Sammy reaches sticky fingers for her. Lucy picks him up and holds him out to Valerie. Valerie looks past the women to the steps to the basement. The washing machine is on. The light is dim. She doesn’t want to take Sammy from Lucy. Lucy the spy watches her. She tells everything to Dr. Lloyd Jones and Jon and Papa.

“Sam is hungry,” Lucy says. “Give Sam his bottle.” Valerie tells them that she needs to lie down, but she knows it’s too late. Lucy will tell them all she’s not being nice to the baby. Then Peter will come and take Sammy away, just as he took Nita away. Peter is a gay who lives with Jon. They suck each other’s cocks. Valerie likes to suck cocks when they’re clean. She saw Jon’s cock once when they all lived in the same house. Most of the time her thoughts stay in her head but sometimes she just says what she’s thinking and so Peter always stands far away from her. Jon says he and Peter both love her and wants her to be well, so she can take care of Nita, but Valerie knows Peter wants her to have babies so he can steal them and tell them bad things about her. Papa wants her to have more babies. He loves her when she has babies.

“Wipe his face,” Valerie says.

When Lucy gets Sammy clean, Valerie takes him and snuggles him down against her. Roberta has hair the color of mud. She lifts her fat hips out of her chair and goes to the stove and takes the bottle out of the warm water and dries the bottle and then hands it to Valerie. Valerie aims the bottle at Sammy. Sammy finds the nipple and pulls the bottle with both hands. Valerie feels his fingers on her fingers on the bottle. Lucy and Roberta move their chairs close. They think Valerie will drop Sammy the way she did the first week when Lucy went down on the floor and caught him, but Valerie holds him and watches him.

“Turn off the light.”


“Turn off the light,” Valerie repeats. Lucy turns off the light and the counters, the refrigerator, the walls all turn blue. Valerie’s head feels better. She settles in the kitchen chair. Sammy makes a little sucking noise. He’s my good baby, Valerie thinks. She holds him tight, but not too tight, the way Mabel would.

The Plaintiffs

“I don’t want a new room,” Nita says, looking first at Jon, then at Peter.

“Sure you do,” Peter says. “You’ve been bothering me to make these leopard curtains since you saw them at Lorraine’s house. You said as soon as the room was ready, you’d move in. Well, it’s ready.”

“I said I’d think about it.”

“Monkey, think about it soon. Because Sam’s going to be spending more time here, and we need to be able to hear him when he cries at night before he wakes you up.” Jon, as usual, says nothing and looks back and forth between his husband and Nita, as does Ella. Jon’s definitely a diplomat’s son, Peter thinks. Jon prefers to wait until all the arguments have been presented, then go off for a long think, and only a day or two later conduct a tidy mediation. The worst of it is Peter finds himself waiting for these policy positions to be handed down instead of simply saying to Nita, You’re six, I’m your father surrogate, and what I say goes. Not to mention the fact that the curtains took forever to hem.

“Sam’s going to stay with Valerie,” Nita says, and again looks from Peter to Jon. She loves placing them in this position, in which Jon would prefer to tow the party line and Peter insists on speaking truth.

“Valerie might get sick again,” Jon says. “Then Sam would come stay with us.” Peter looks out the window and rattles his spoon as he stirs his coffee. He finds this idea that his sister-in-law, who has been under twenty-four hour supervision since he and Jon met eleven years ago, will suddenly throw off the shadow of illness, like some kind of Oliver Sachs cover girl, and become a capable mother, a bit irritating. For the first few years he thought the hope-that-will-never-die thing was kind of sweet. But then Nita was born, Valerie went into the hospital, and Peter became a father overnight. He and Jon had moved in together all of five months previous to Nita’s arrival, and were just figuring out, without the benefit of a wedding or a joint bank account to focus them on the task, what their relationship was. Here was this three-week old, Jon had exactly no experience with children, and were Peter not the second of six kids, had he not more or less raised the twins Cathy and Carol when they were born and he himself was eight, things might have been pretty difficult on Church Street. As it was, Peter became a primary caretaker overnight, without ever having decided if he wanted children of his own (fortunately it turned out he did), without the usual ring on his finger, deed to a house held in common, or other reassurances for which one traditionally gives up all of one’s independence and time. Fine. No problem. Peter accepted the ambiguities. He adores Nita, his Monkey who never really looked like a monkey except for her bright lemur eyes, much too big for her thin, thoughtful face all through her infancy, eyes dark brown and curious, following every motion, reading adult expression with uncanny accuracy. She understood her complicated situation in the world before she could do more than crow, knowing somehow that the woman who came and went, who held her, talked to her, sometimes sang lullabies and other songs, not necessary so soothing, by her bassinet, had to be handled delicately, even though she herself was the one being handled, always under supervision. Nita didn’t ask Valerie for anything. She would turn, in her mother’s arms, to Jon or Peter and let them know if she needed a change of scene or to be changed. She never needed a name for Valerie, who in turn didn’t always have a name for her daughter. The first time Peter heard Valerie refer to Nita as it, he understood the degree of her illness. For years he had seen Valerie weeping, shouting, or sitting in silence, when exactly the opposite behavior would have been right. But it wasn’t until the morning she was driven over by Bailey, who kept insisting that if Valerie only spent enough time with Nita, she would become well enough to mother her daughter in her own house, and Valerie asked, very politely actually, Where is it? that Peter understood he was a father, not for a few months or a year, but forever.

“Why does Sam have to live in my room?” Nita addressed this question to Jon, so that when Peter turned to him, he felt as if Jon owed both of them an explanation. Nita understands where babies came from in general, but has an understandable uncertainty about her own parentage. She knows that Valerie is her mother, but feels this is more of a formal than a biological bond. It’s as if for obscure legal reasons Valerie has the title mother, whereas Nita knows her natural parents are Daddy and Dad, as she calls Jon and Peter. She assumes that both Jon and Peter are authentically fathers, and doesn’t worry about the details. Obviously neither man has any connection to the birth of Sam, whom Nita considers a nuisance though not yet a major one, something on the order of the pair of corrective shoes she had refused to wear for three months in her fourth year until the pediatric orthopedist decided she hadn’t needed them after all.

“We don’t know who his father is,” Jon says, which is certainly true. We know he’s tall, Peter has to restrain himself from adding, Sam already twenty-two inches in his tenth week. Peter wants to know everything about Sam’s father, since Sam is sure to be his own second child, but it is nearly futile to quiz Valerie on this topic. What was the man wearing? Did he have a creative job? Was he bald? Peter did get a few minutes alone with Valerie one afternoon toward the end of the second trimester and he did what he has always done, talked to her as if she wasn’t crazy. This produces mixed results. What did the guy you slept with at the Hilton look like? he asked, and Valerie looked at him as if she too had been waiting for this chance, Bailey and Jon out of the room. He had a limo, Valerie said which, while candid and possibly an avenue for further exploration, was not terribly revealing. Was he the driver of the limo, or was he in back? That’s the difficulty with Valerie—well, one of them. She never answers on the right level of abstraction. If you ask her what she wants for dinner, she might well say food, but if you then ask her what kind of food she wants, she might say salty, without trying to be difficult. On the other hand, if you raise her infant daughter for three months while she’s at Washington Psychiatric, she might well come screaming into your house with her father behind her, saying that you’ve stolen her baby and that she’s going to kill you. It’s never dull being Valerie’s brother-in-all-but-law, and occasionally takes on a Tennessee Williams pathos because Valerie is as beautiful as her brother, in much the same fragile way, the thin bones, the delicate skin, the lank brown hair, and she can be completely lovely for hours at a time, smiling gently, speaking softly, occasionally entering the conversation with a eerie remark or two. That’s how she gets laid so quickly whenever she slips her keepers. Men think she’s introspective and very fuckable, when they met her. Peter can only imagine how their perceptions change when, in the afterglow, Valerie starts speaking her mind.

“I think Sam should live at Gramma and Grampa’s,” Nita says.

“Finish your waffle,” Jon tells her. “We’ll talk about it in the car. Amy, I mean Ms. Sutherland, is going to lock us out again.” Nita attends a private school so progressive it believes in old-fashioned discipline, not canings but strict Kantian ethics reinforced by shame and discussion. If children are late in the morning, they have to go to the principal’s office until the next activity begins. Jon finds himself in the surprising position of beseeching a second-grade teacher through a locked door, while fourteen of his daughter’s peers listen unsympathetically to excuses about car batteries and traffic. It is an effective behavioral modification tool. Nita hasn’t been late in almost two weeks.

“She’s got a point,” Peter says, when Nita is upstairs with Ella getting her extensive library of schoolbooks together.

“You don’t want Sammy?”

“Honey,” Peter says, standing beside Jon’s chair and smiling down at him. “Are you asking me if I want to have another baby?” It’s been so many years the men have almost forgotten the difficulty of their position, fresh once again. They had never intended to become urban parents of two.

“I should. Come here,” Jon says, sitting Peter on his lap beside the little formica table. “Peter, do you want to have another baby?” Then comes the persuasive kiss, not coercive, just lightly loving, as if to say, Who can refuse me anything? But Peter holds back.

“I don’t know. I really don’t. It’s been a long time.”

“It will be good for Nita to have a bro—“

“Shh,” Peter says, kissing back this time to forestall the reasonableness, the good son, good brother, good citizen, good showcase-trial-couple reasonableness. Nita comes banging down the stairs, Ella a step behind. “We’ll see.”

The Reader

Andrea stretches out on the blanket on the southwest elbow of Rock Creek Park, the 16th Street Bridge on one side, the blacktop of Arkansas Road winding into the tangled woods on the other, finishing Amber and Silk and trying not to feel so alone in the world. The day is relentlessly pleasant, not hot, delicious breezes playing across her bare legs. She takes a pull on her mochachino and squints through the sunshine that bleaches the page. Reading Winterson makes Andrea feel that adventure is just around the corner, or in this case behind one of the trees that surround her stretch of tough grass. Across the field and parking lot, men play basketball, the distant thunk of the ball reaching her like a heartbeat. Two couples separate Andrea from the empty picnic tables. Andrea has to resist the impulse to walk over to where the women are entwined on their blanket and say, Hi, I’m Andrea. I’ve been in town almost a year now, but I’m still on my own a lot. I’m looking, by the way, in case you know anyone. I’ll just be over here on my blanket, but she doesn’t think that interrupting the couples’ progress, which has moved from kissing to ass grabbing to something more rhythmic, concealed by a colorful towel, would be taken in the right spirit. The younger straight couple are going at it, too, but not nearly so movingly as the older women, in the shadow of the trees.

Andrea feels frozen in time. There’s so much West Coast love in her, so much hot California sex waiting to get tested out here in the verdant East. Throughout her adolescence she was like a thoroughbred being walked around and around the paddock, the Kentucky Derby forever about to start but never actually beginning, her long legs, her powerful body on display, her smallish male escorts convenient, even necessary, but in the end just jockeys in funny little beanies. Love, she knew even then, was for the horses with each other, yet she had no idea that horses could run without jockeys clinging to them and indicating where they ought to be at a particular hour of the day. She grew up doubly distanced from this truth by the saddles, the blinders, of both straight and Korean culture. Her mother’s identity seemed to be all about things—money, cars, shopping, babies, the United Church of Christ. Her mother’s sex life, or the intensity that Andrea thought of as properly sexual, was everywhere but in sex itself. Korean couples of her parents’ and even her own generation never kiss in public, never hold each other. Walking arm in arm is reserved for sisters or women friends. Men boisterously embrace, their affection often mixed with combative ritual. Until their late teens, her brothers Bradley and Davie and their friends were forever punching each other’s arms, spinning and kicking their feet inches from each other’s faces. But couples, her older sister and her husband, for instance, are ceremonial, careful to pass around each other, as if their love is a secret from the world.

Andrea turns her head to see what the women are up to. They have subsided into such motionlessness that it is plain as day they’ve both come. God, Andrea thinks, looking at the beach towel’s colorful curve over their parted hips, one naked calf emerging from the bottom like a beacon. She is scorched by desire, milky, rhythmic, seeping through her panties like summer rain. Andrea she has always had a facile erotic imagination. She had her first orgasm when she was nine and staying up late, her parents at a party, she, her sister Candace, Bradley and Davie in the charge of a lazy baby sitter. Andrea was hanging from the chin-up bar in Davie’s doorway—it was after eleven, which seemed at her age like the very middle of a vast, unparented night. She was suspended, working her legs back and forth, her belly taut, the most intriguing sensation starting up between her legs and into her belly. She squeezed her legs together and kicked and kicked, and when she came she nearly fell, the television tinny and far away, the whole house enclosing her like a pea in a pod. For weeks she tried to talk to Candace about the event, but Candace either didn’t yet know what Andrea was talking about, or knew and pretended she didn’t, Andrea has not until this day determined for sure.

She arches her back, pulls her shorts out from the crack of her ass, and uses Winterson to block the spring sun. She reads straight up as if her life depends on it, as if the book were a breathing device that must be held ing the air and light in order to synthesize the energy that powers her thoughts. Which that is exactly the role books play in her life, a source of life, of independence, and sustenance. Teenage Korean girl existence was a tightly orchestrated business. First, there was Anderson School for Girls with its endless homework and, from tenth grade, advanced placement classes. In sixth grade her class was ranked, each of the forty-eight combatants placed like international tennis champions on a ladder that was scrutinized monthly, at the end of each term, and most especially at the end of each year, by four teachers and forty-eight mothers. Then there were the myriad duties the American girls didn’t have—piano, which for whites was a dalliance, but which in the Yun household was an against-all-odds effort to be another Sarah Chang and play with a major symphony before one’s twelfth birthday. Candace nearly made it, playing Rachmaninoff’s second concerto with the Interlocken Youth Orchestra in the summer after seventh grade. There was the Korean School, three afternoons a week, with hangul, the Korean syllabary alphabet with its tricky up-and-down and side-to-sideness, like a crossword puzzle in search of clues, and the eighteen hundred “basic” Chinese characters to be considered, and a few hundred learned, if only to astonish one’s parents and grandparents. There was an entire other national chauvinist history to learn on top of the American tree-chopping, raccoon-hat-wearing, British mocking stuff, the Korean founding myths full of animism, the women giving birth to a lot of really big eggs (Haemosu’s wife, Chôngyô’s daughter) after being struck by lightning or potent sunbeams), Yôno and Seo taking separate trips to Japan, him on a fish, her on a rock, until King Adalla sent for them to return because the sun and moon weren’t working anymore, and Yôno sending a roll of top quality silk home instead, which appeased the sun and moon and king. Learning too about the Silla, Koguryo, Paekche, and Kaya silliness, all those bloody medieval kings, Murong-huang, Kwanggaet’o, Pap-heung, Ulchi-mandok, Yonkae-sonum, fighting the Han Chinese and their own foolish wives, betrayed by their double-crossing first lieutenants and sheep-like people, trying desperately to build fortresses between the arrivals of the dreaded Han every couple decades on rampages that had to be countered by suicidal bravery. And after official Korean School, the at-home curriculum, the tea ceremony with that troubling subservient shuffling and modest eye business. The duties of the house, chores that the boys had no part in, the cooking and cleaning, the arranging of the rugs and the cushions and the countless smaller obligations of bringing [honorary dad name] his paper, helping him off with his shoes and on with his slippers, running his bath, putting on his favorite music, the Mamas and the Papas, Herb Alpert and the Tiajuana Brass Band, when he came home exhausted and hungry from the his office (insurance, home, car, business, and life), often a little crabby before his first Walker Red on the rocks, ritually poured by Candace, stirred and carried by Andrea. Plus Bible study at the United Church on Sundays, another complicated mythology to be mastered, this time Old Testament and Gospel stories in which Jews who were really just Christians who didn’t know it yet enacted strange dramas in which Jehovah punished everybody but especially their enemies, until Christ the Son came along in the sequel, separated but in the same book and with His words in red, and taught everyone to play nice, at the cost or privilege of martyrdom. None of this Korean in any way but somehow transmogrified, at the 90% Korean-American Church of Christ on Garry Street in downtown Santa Rosa, where 90% of his father’s clients worshipped, into an eminently Korean tale of immigration, hard work, suffering, virtue, and redemption.

Social life was equally prescribed, the Anderson School dances on Friday nights with Hart-Fields School, Anderson’s brother school (formerly the Hart School and the Fields School), the young Hart-Fields men in their blue blazers with the gold insignia on the left breast pocket and loafers with pennies in the tops, in a phalanx by the folded bleachers across the gym floor, laughing and looking, picking and choosing, the cute elect confidently fording the polished wooden divide to claim their counterparts, popular girls, always blond one-hundred percent Americans, and the rest of the boys following along in a strict caste ordering, Andrea paired off midway through with Paul Rhee, a boy she knew so well already from Korean School and United Church that it was, even in late junior high when she was starting to want romance, like dancing with Davie or Bradley, a light chore with little or no adventure. Perhaps it was this isolation that made her fall so deeply for Mindy Rosen, who sat beside her in all her classes and depended on her so completely for academic sustenance. Mindy was a sweet round J.A.P. with ballooning brown locks and a doll’s face. She could no more reduce an equation, conjugate a French verb, or end a sentence in an English composition before it ran on, than she could perform a back flip dismount off of the parallel bars (Andrea could do this, too, having been marshalled through gymnastics school, ballet school and soccer camp, in all of her abundant spare time, since she was a four.) Mindy broke Andrea’s heart at this innocent stage when Andrea didn’t even know there was such a thing as girls liking girls, really liking them as much as boys, wanting to kiss them not just to practice, wanting to hold them not in order to learn how to be held by a boy. At the end of eighth grade Mindy went off with a not smart fellow, Jeremy, and let Jeremy feel her new breasts, breasts Andrea had touched all year with her wrists and the sides of her arms when she leaned over to correct a passé imparfait, a polynomial factoring, a comma randomly placed. Andrea became the bearer-of-notes, the patcher-of-misunderstandings, the one they called on the phone when they were too shy or angry to call each other. Not just Mindy and Jeremy, but Valerie and Adam, Debra and Mark. At the end of ninth grade, Andrea was voted Nicest Girl by her forty-seven (one girl had died of a stroke) classmates, a horrible kind of consolation prize when Most Popular, School Lovely, and Best Comportment had already been carried off by blond native-speakers.

But Andrea always had her books. It all started really with The Secret Garden, page after relentless page with no pictures, which Andrea had trained up to reading at seven-and-three-quarters when she realized that Candace wouldn’t, despite Andrea’s desperate pleading and her mother’s stern commands, read to her out loud. The Secret Garden was not the first book Andrea read alone, The Little Princess, Anne of Avonlea and a few dozen others preceding it. Still, The Secret Garden remains to this day the most satisfying book Andrea ever read because of all the praise it occasioned when she got through it, though truth be told she couldn’t always understand what exactly was going on. She just kept reading, understanding enough to cry dramatically when Mary is orphaned in India and carted off to England, to squeal with attention-grabbing happiness when the robin brings Mary the key to the secret garden, to feel empowered when Dicken befriends Mary and lends her his tools, and to understand that the strong feminine must shore up the neurotic masculine when troubled Collin learns to walk. Then came Heidi and the infinitely disappointing Heidi Grows Up, not by Johanna Spyri but by Charles Tritten, which made Andrea forever mistrustful of male authors, sequels and, in a more general sense, of trying to reproduce peak experiences. Also Black Beauty, Herds of Thunder, Manes of Gold and a thousand horse stories, and then the Laura Ingalls Wilder and Pooh books, which Andrea understood at once to be about a white Anglo country she might visit on a student visa would never permanently inhabit. Still pre-pubescent, there were stacks of books about brainy girls, detectives and adventurers, outsiders, and then about the hard history of blacks and Jews, culminating in The Diary of Anne Frank, to the reading of which Andrea dates the birth of her political consciousness. By seventh grade, Andrea was reading Literature with a capital L, sometimes just to impress everyone, like when she read four more Dickens novels after her class read Great Expectations, sometimes because she simply had to have more, as with Austen and the Brontës. Andrea read whenever she wasn’t doing homework, practicing, or serving her father. She slept short nights, read on the bus, lost her status as Nicest Girl.

Her class had dwindled to forty-three, then climbed to forty-five, Lisa Lambert and Missy Knight having moved away, Julia Guttman having been kicked out for smoking, drinking, cussing, and having sex, Lydia Campbell dying in a fireball when her brother crashed the family convertible into a telephone pole, while Tracy Philpot and Donna Penoyer having joined the Anderson Academy family when their parents entered the neighborhood. Donna was a serious reader herself, Tracy a jock. Andrea lost Nicest Girl and instead gained a reputation as shy and bookworm, neither of which warranted official recognition at year’s end, and both of which she could live with. Her sex life relied in large part on the fairly hard core but difficult to dredge out porn from her mother’s gigantic paperback collection. She read about women who had sex with women, but always in the context of male titillation, and that was culturally familiar. Bradley and Davie were turned on by women, naked or near-naked, near other women, in the Korean baths at Edgewater, at the Bayweather Club pool, or on the sand at Half Moon beach. Andrea’s feelings toward other girls (Mindy had been replaced by Tracy, a softball star and soon one of Andrea’s lunch room companions, who accepted as her due half portions of naengyon and pibimpap) didn’t require much explanation or interpretation at Anderson, an environment in which girls gave each other rings, best friends burst into tears when they suspected betrayal, and rivals for popular girls’ affections fought shin-kicking, face-scratching, hair-pulling battles in the lunchroom, in the back of the bus, or on the lawn behind the gym. If anything Andrea considered herself cold and unemotional, in addition to being shy and a book worm, because she just peacefully loved one girl at a time without delivering notes doused in tommyboy, insisting on displays of affection at school and frequent sleep-overs on weekends, or indulging in crying jags over real or imagined slights. Still, Andrea did fantasize about having sex with this or that usually slightly older girl, a field hockey star, a dressage rider (she still preferred brawn to brains, or looks to brains, or personality to brains, really anything to brains), fantasies of lovemaking in which she would mostly touch herself, even in the fantasy, while the other girl, Adele Viguera, Kristen Iverson, Kathleen McKibbin, would allow her breasts, hips, thighs to be seen and stroked, as one would pet a large cat.

College was a shock in many ways. Perhaps the greatest displacement was to be outside of Korean America. Andrea had never realized how dependent she was on the manners and standards of her parents. She didn’t know what to make of dorm life with its constant parties, its lack of privacy, its anti-intellectualism and forced cheer. No less but no more strange was college gay life. They were all these outspokenly gay people for whom the concept of uncertainty about whom one was or what one wanted was entirely alien. The gay community consisted mostly of boys or young men with extremely outgoing personalities, running around UCLA in tiny shorts, wearing buttons, fighting AIDS, and looking like ads for some new kind of human. It took Andrea longer to find the lesbians. First year, just to be in classes with males was problematic. Except for the calculus class she had taken at Stanford as part of an accelerated state-wide program for exceptional nerds, Andrea had never tried to concentrate near boys, and the Stanford Accelerated boys didn’t really count because they didn’t talk, either to the professor or to each other, and ignored the girls completely. So when Andrea signed up for The Idea of the Good, Fundamentals of Drawing, Group Theory, and Evolutionary and Organismic Biology (she thought she was pre-med, Candace having been pre-med and having gone east to Columbia med the same year Andrea started college) and there were all these boys around, Andrea was so pleased with them she decided for almost two years that she was straight, after all. The boys asked her on dates and not just Korean-American boys now, but Japanese-American boys, Filipino-American boys, even one American-American boy. She lost her virginity several times, though of course technically it was with Big Wang, no pun intended, a Taiwanese-American volleyballer. The reason she felt like she kept losing it over and over again for almost two years was that, every time a freshman or sophomore she was dating wanted to put his penis in her, it turned out he was a virgin, and so each of these experiences had the quality of a not very difficult, but exacting and drawn out, topology problem. (She took topology sophomore year, unable, for some reason, to give up math. It was as if she refused to yield her valedictorian edge, having bested Leonore Epler, who at Anderson Academy had been Andrea’s equal in the humanities and the undisputed science queen, but not quite Andrea’s equal in math and abstract logic. Leonore Epler managed to squeeze out a higher combined SAT than Andrea by a statistically meaningless, but emotionally charged, ten points. Nonetheless, Andrea seized the valedictory garland on the basis of topping the curve in calculus.) The second time Andrea lost her virginity she managed to teach her Vietnamese-American boyfriend Ngu to make her come before she had to break-up with him, which was quickly because, in the Asian-American college culture, boys typically set about courting and marrying the lucky girl they gave their virginity to right away, thus honoring and protecting the innocent creature they had deflowered, and at the same time avoiding the awkwardness of having to woo and bed a second girl. Then Andrea decided she was lesbian and always had been. The epiphany came when she attended a reading by Adrienne Rich during which Rich read the poem “Motion,” and Andrea found herself crying uncontrollably in the middle of the huge Ruggles Auditorium, tears pouring down her face. She was suspicious of her own evolution, partly because she thought she might just be lesbian on paper, that is in and through the pornography and poetry which was somehow still the center of her life. Then, too, Andrea had no interest in campus politics, either lesbian, leftist, or rainbow, all of which required sitting in coffee houses listening to speakers talk about Serbia, AIDS, and gay junior faculty who were too busy teaching to publish and therefore were getting booted, putting up posters which were ripped down within hours by the conscientious UCLA physical plant staff, and going to dances in drafty dining halls, where the loudly dressed gay boys took over and the lesbians clutched on the sidelines wearing long peasant skirts. It was as if lesbianism were in a kind of fashion latency, gay manhood having already emerged as a gaudy seventeenth-century court butterfly. The gay dances recalled junior high in their rigid rituals and hierarchies, Andrea again a wallflower, her status equally circumscribed, though this time it was the middling popular lesbians she got, instead of Paul Rhee. She was suspicious of herself because the lesbianism she hankered for was Gertrude Stein meets Vogue, intellectual elitism, haute couture, all wrapped up in a hazy Greek isles perfection.

Still, she began to lose her virginity again junior year, this time with girls. Her first woman was another big person, Martha Rockwell, a playful multiorgasmic brunette who was cherry herself, took Andrea to heights both figuratively and literally, being six-two, that dispelled any doubts Andrea had about her bisexual range, then transferred to U.C. Sacramento (basketball, forward, better scholarship ) where Martha found a new, big girlfriend, Celia, almost immediately. Andrea wasn’t so much heartbroken as deeply inconvenienced. She determined to find a new Martha as soon as possible, but it turned out there weren’t any. Instead Andrea performed a useful, almost clinical role, in a series of post-Martha girlfriends’ lives. She became as much of an expert on female frigidity as she had been on male impotence, learning the hard way that, just because a sophomore thinks she’s lesbian doesn’t mean that sex has been a part of her life, happy or otherwise, before. At least Andrea was no longer dating exclusively in the Asian theater. Now she seemed to attract white girls with money, and her prejudice against them dates from this period. She spent long, dull nights with the kind of girls she wouldn’t have wasted a lunch period on at Anderson Academy, long-legged, light-haired beauties from Sonoma County and the Valley, business and communications majors who drove pastel Mercedes coupes or Lexus LSs, got bad grades without a pang, and couldn’t name the cabinet members. They didn’t read, not the newspaper, not anything. More problematic, they didn’t study, which made it hard for Andrea to know what to do with them when not in bed. They talked knowledgeably about television, dieting, and clothes, of which topics only the latter provided common fodder. Even there it was hard going, since the white girls either wore the worst of the first or of the third world. Their hair was feathered and bound into light sculpture. Large and pale, they bought dresses for each occasion, or no occasion, terrible patterns on rayon and lycra, that hung in their own or Andrea’s closet with the tags still on. They exhibited necklaces with new age objets worked into a thousand dollars of indigenous folk art. Their look, meant to signal power and allure, or rebellion and openness, often made Andrea smile, while her classic linen blouses, her timeless light wool skirts and pedal pushers in black and navy, made these women smile right back at her, as if Andrea had raided their mother’s, even their grandmother’s free-standing wardrobe. Was Andrea a dyke or a suffragette? In bed life was not noticeably simpler. The white girls didn’t come, or if they did it was only after hours of licking and stoking, too hard, too soft, never just right, their orgasms little things, peeps not quakes in the land of the seismic shift, jouissances that made the issue of faking assume phenomenological dimensions. On the other hand, Andrea became adept at teaching these tall sweet milksops, a surprising number of whom were gynophobic, giving head so sparingly, so tentatively, it was nearer to the tickle torture inflicted on Andrea’s belly by Davie while Bradley held her legs and Candace her arms, than to foreplay—Andrea became adept at teaching ambivalent white girls, half of whom would turn hasbian, straight again before commencement, how to make get her off, which wasn’t actually very difficult but did require a modicum of earnest application.

Consuela Mariana Ramirez lived in the apartment overhead (Andrea had moved off campus in the middle of sophomore year, deciding she could no longer tolerate dorm life the same week she definitively gave up pre-med) and had an extremely kind boyfriend Brook Millard, a BMW mechanic who earned a hundred-twenty thousand dollars one year. Consuela fell in love with Andrea, probably because of the parade of rich, long-legged white girls passing in and out of Andrea’s house. But when Andrea really fell in love with Consuela Mariana, so in love she managed to get the first B of her life in Principles of American Democracy, an important pre-law course and arguably the reason she didn’t get into Harvard, the only setback of her career which she pretended didn’t matter, claiming she wanted Berkeley, but which in fact deeply galled her—when Andrea fell in love with Consuela, who loves pussy more than any woman or man Andrea has ever met or, more remarkably, read about, and who was studying economics and social history and working summers as a labor organizer (hence Andrea’s Latina radical fixation)—when Andrea fell hard for Consuela Mariana, Consuela Mariana decided that it wasn’t fair for her to sleep with Andrea, even if Brook didn’t mind. Consuela Mariana was right, naturally. It was torture for Andrea, who tossed and turned for nights after each of the dozen or so afternoon encounters with her neighbor over the course of the summer before senior year, encounters separated by as much as ten days of solitude, unless one counted glimpses of Consuela Mariana getting into and out of Brook’s car-of-the-day, or domestic and sexual sounds heard through one’s ceiling, or two-minute phone calls from the union rooms, office buildings, and restaurants kitchens where Consuela Mariana plied her trade.

Consuela Mariana continued to trouble Andrea senior year and on into law school, though Andrea was at Berkeley then. The problem was Consuela Mariana occasionally worked in San Francisco and so dropped by to fuck Andrea every few months, before and after her marriage, not to Brook, but to a fellow labor organizer, Bruce Barton. So that Andrea never quite gets over the feeling that, a hundred percent lesbyterian, she might be even more than a hundred percent observer, literary type, confidant to Jess and Mike, her law school buddies, to Consuela Mariana, and now to Max and Eve. Only when Andrea came East for clerkship did she manage to dissuade Consuela Mariana from visiting anymore, Consuela Mariana a mother now, working part-time but still happy to trouble Andrea, to make her come gloriously for a night and then mourn helplessly for a month, whenever she can get to DC on a business trip. Andrea wonders how long she can hold out, whom she will find to love, before Consuela Mariana arrives in DC for a conference, calls from Dulles and whispers in that hoarse voice, Querida, soy aqui.

Andrea finishes Winterson’s new one with a sigh and sits up, blinking into the day. She reads too damn fast. The book was so exactly what she was looking for that she is disappointed. What she loves best is to stumble on a book she’s never heard of by an author no one has ever heard of, a book which breaks all the rules she didn’t even know other books were following until she met this last one. Andrea often thinks she should be a writer herself, if only so she’ll always have something to read.

The thunk of the basketball echoes in the medium distance. The couple under the trees is at it again, the one women’s knee bent up to the sky, the other woman’s thigh notched into just the right place, a slow dance taking them from one kiss to the next. Excuse me, I don’t mean to interrupt. But I couldn’t help noticing that you were women in love, and I was wondering if you know anyone for me? So much day left in front of her, the damn book finished, not even one o’clock yet. There’s so much in her, so much sap, time, interest. Too much just to share with herself.

The Tree of Knowledge

Keith carries Lannie in from the garage and upstairs. The baby has been asleep all the way back from the Giant on Arlington Road, and he wears an expression of outrage as Keith lifts him from the car pod and sets him on the changing table. He’s a good solid fat little dude and Keith spends a while getting all the thigh, butt, and scrotal folds clean and dry, then freshly rash creamed. “You’re good to go, Cowboy,” he tells his son, kissing nose and forehead. Keith squeals, only just now forgiving his dad for not driving for a few more hours, during which he, the Lannie Man, could have napped in peace. Keith hauls him up onto his shoulder and back downstairs, where Anne is steadily putting away groceries in the kitchen.

“Look what I found,” Keith says, swiveling to present Anne her son’s face.

“It’s a sweet potato pancake,” Anne says. “All washed and buttered.” Lannie screeches delight when Anne picks him off of Keith and holds him high in the air in front of her, just listening to him squeal with wonder and triumph in her eyes, as if he is an angel annunciating. Keith sighs with that father feeling that comes from watching his son evoke in his wife the kind of instant joy and complete attention that he himself used to elicit when, for example, he came home from work. He brings the last load of groceries in from the Honda, unpacks, sorts, restocks fridge, cupboards. He’s always been a speedy unpacker. I’m home with groceries, his mother would call throughout Keith’s boyhood. That was the signal for Keith, only son, hero, to emerge from his room and perform what was considered as much a male contribution as mowing the lawn, namely the retrieval and shelving of the week’s supplies. Helping cook was his sister Pam’s job, and happily his mother felt that washing dishes was Pam’s job as well. Now Keith and Anne, who everyone says looks a lot like Pam, both having red hair, easy smiles and freckles, share all the jobs, shopping, putting away, cooking, every aspect of Lannie care that doesn’t require lactation. Noreen, Keith’s mother, shakes her head at this, as if Keith were running around the house in a French maid’s uniform. On the other hand, some things are squarely Keith’s domain, household accounts, holding down a job with benefits. Keith misses having control over grocery stocking because he can never quite figure out Anne’s system or lack thereof, under which half the cans of tuna suddenly appear in with the dry pasta, while the other cans remain two cabinets over, beside the soup. Keith washes dishes, too.

Lannie, in his jumperciser, moonwalks to and fro in the doorway, pronouncing wide wandering monosyllables. Anne answers in plain Leesburg English, squatting down to take Lannie’s hands and look into his wide blue eyes. Anne has a bet with Noreen that Lannie’s eyes will stay blue, and so far so good. There is no overt mother-in-law daughter-in-law antagonism, only skirmishes, almost hidden, such as this business about whether Lannie’s eyes are baby or true blue. Keith’s mother says Keith’s eyes were blue, too, and it broke her heart when they turned hazel in his sixth month. Yet she was disappointed when Lannie stayed blue-eyed at six, then eight, now ten months, as if there is something wrong with Lannie diverging in any way from Keith’s own ontogeny. Noreen says that Lannie looks exactly like Keith and that she feels like she has her own baby again. Anne tells Keith his mother is bats, but that’s news like the fact that world markets are unstable. In fact Keith’s mother is just lonely and likes to stir up trouble, Keith’s dad not really listening to her when she talks, and only paying attention to her when she creates a minor crisis, usually health.

Anne chops onions and warms a jar of carrot puree. Lannie looks appraisingly at his father for a minute, then arches his back and makes threatening sounds until Keith lifts him out of the jumperciser and sets him on the floor, holding his hands . Lannie’s off, not walking so much as lunging into short runs followed by drunken teeters. He rarely falls but always looks like he’s about to take a header into something with a sharp corner. Meanwhile he’s talking, play-by-play commentary in whatever high, airy language he speaks, bursts of sports analysis accompanying his lunging runs, aiyafafayacallisahsah! which translates something like the fourteen-month-old sprinter has just retaken the world record for the four meters. Keith brakes Lannie just before he reaches the brick hearth and wonders what he’s always wondering in the back of his mind these days, why it is that Jonathan Aldrich and Peter Day shouldn’t stay legally married in DC, since they went to all trouble of getting married in Albuquerque, where Peter grew up. Keith’s been increasingly troubled by this question, surrounded by extremely intelligent liberals all day long and thrust into fatherhood, all in the same year.

Through high school and college he had never really questioned the views of homosexuality his parents, teachers, ministers and coaches held in common. Family, hard work, straight sex (fooling around before marriage, intercourse on the wedding night), kindness, loyalty to country church and school, and physical fitness, all mysteriously fit together for Keith right through his teens. The Governor’s School in Alexandria selected the hardest working boys and taught them to think out the toughest problems in math and science, to write the best essays, play hardest and smartest in sports, and seek out the sweetest young women, who in turn would be drawn to the noble young men. His father’s Southern Convention Methodist churches had clear guidance to offer on any question, theological or behavioral. One was saved when one accepted Christ’s love, but not before the third grade because otherwise one was just following along without conscious will and it wouldn’t take. One didn’t smoke, masturbation was a weakness not a sin, the tithe was ten percent whether of a paper route or a company president’s salary, church was every Sunday and prayer every day. Homosexuality was worse than sin, it was abomination like child abuse, bestiality, or flag burning. The world was complex in that it was very big, but it was not morally tricky. There was right and wrong, there were those who knew the difference and upheld truth, and there were those who didn’t know the obvious things, people who had been raised wrong, without the advantage of strong families, and that was why there were authorities, ministers, judges, to enforce the good on those who didn’t know it or who perversely acted against it.

At Georgetown, Keith started running with a better read, more subtle but still soundly conservative crowd. Young Republicans, friends from the Interdenominational Christian Community whose services he attended. It turned out that, although there were certain self-evident truths that the world ran by, there were other questions that had to be puzzled over and interpreted. There were for instance fine young women, Christians and sharp dressers, who felt that abortion could be a woman’s right, and not only in cases of rape or incest. There were men who didn’t believe in capital punishment, even for heinous criminals, and who supported their arguments with gospel. There were whites who passionately defended busing and affirmative action, and blacks who spoke every bit as fiercely against same. Yet, at Georgetown in the crowd Keith kept, the role of gay people in society was not one of the gray areas—gay people were to be tolerated, of course, but not approached too closely. On this there was general agreement. One was to be kind to gays, especially the fellows in one’s own dorm and dining hall, in the same way that one was kind to depressed people, or people who didn’t speak English. Marriage was clearly not for gays, though they might talk about trying to get it. They were just playing with words. Marriage was the knitting together in holy matrimony of one man and one woman. Gays were like children asking to drive the car. Marriage was not their domain and deep down they know that. That’s why they get so worked up when they talk about marriage, as if they are dreaming up a whole new utopia, a place where the sexes are indistinguishable and biology is a matter of life-style. Then two events occurred, several years apart, which shook Keith’s last remaining high school certainties right down to the ground. He married Anne and had sex. Then a couple years later he finished law school and started the clerkship with Max, Eve, and especially Andrea.

Lannie makes his way to the stairwell and starts methodically crawling from one runnered step to the next, advancing the left knee each time in a splayed, mounting-up kind of move. Keith backs him up but doesn’t interfere. He takes the Star Trek approach to his son’s development, that under no conditions should he influence the progress of this primitive alien life-form, unless the little dude threatens his own survival. He and Anne met through tennis team spring of her freshman, his sophomore year at Georgetown. Keith had yet another scholarship as he had all his life, this one for tennis. He came from nearby Fairfax, Virginia, but he felt that he was leaving his insular community, his father’s church, far behind. Anne came from Leesburg and played tennis for fun, not tuition. She was a country club natural with an idiosyncratic two-fisted backhand, a splay-armed forehand, and fancy ballerina feet that always took her exactly where the ball was. Tennis, like everything else for Keith, was a matter of dos-and-don’ts, a discipline from the weight room to the track to his planned-out court time, ground strokes, serve-and-volley drills, serve practice, always more serve practice. He was a solid, dull player, a flat-footed boxer, whose chief virtue was his unwillingness to give ground. He hit the ball very hard and he often got his hundred-ninety pounds up to net before anyone expected him to be there. Keith could beat Anne in straight sets but she was far more fun to watch, a patient baseline beauty, while Keith just hammered and volleyed or returned serve and volleyed. He had kept up his intercollegiate wins with the same constant vigilance with which he had maintained his grade-point average, carefully choosing his courses, coldly budgeting his study time, methodically visiting professors in office hours.

He and Anne married in the late fall after graduation and slept together for the first time on the first night of their honeymoon after a terrifying flight in a small aircraft that took them to the Caymans. They were so happy to be alive after tossing about in the hurricane-season turbulence that, as they passed beyond the familiar boundaries, Keith felt like he was being doubly rewarded—he had been allowed to survive until this hour, and now he was finally going to grow up into a man. He was a virgin and, more uncommonly still, had really never had any experience at all, except what he had allowed himself with Anne. He had kissed girls in junior high, touched Kelly McDonnell’s breasts once through her t-shirt, but just when they might have started going further, he was shipped off to boarding school and had little time for anything except sports, studying, and community leadership positions. Finally, in the summer after eleventh grade, he had caught up with Kelly again, explored her new and improved breasts through the silky blouses which had supplanted the t-shirts, even placed his palms on the damp, moist mound just the other side of her panties. She had wanted more and when he demurred, had left him for Steve McIlroy, a fellow of no conscience and limited athletic prowess. When Keith got to Georgetown and was really ready to broaden his horizons, to go to bed with the right girl, the one he was destined to marry, he met Anne and realized, unfortunately just before he had time to sleep with her, that since he was going to marry her, he couldn’t sleep with her. He was risk-averse by nature and in all things a planner, and before he was even conscious of it he had decided that he and Anne should just say no to full-contact until they were hitched, that sex would be a sacred bond between them, a blessing and a prayer for children. Anne had had two serious boyfriends before she arrived “north” for college, one an older man, Bain Kennedy, who had broken her heart, the other, Gus Rose, her own age, Keith’s age, a guy who hadn’t measured up in the sack. Keith had heard Anne speak disparagingly of the younger beau’s bed skills and he did not want to find out whether he was more like the formidable oldster Bain, the business associate of her father’s who blew Anne’s mind, or the well-meaning but somehow, Keith could never get the particulars, inadequate Gus, with whom Anne had gone to the prom but returned home at midnight, only to sneak off at one the same night to a hotel tryst with Bain. Keith had had enough trouble losing Kelly after he refused to let her fully undress herself in his father’s LeSabre, and figured that if he turned out to be a wonder in bed after he and Anne were safely married, that would be an added bonus, and if he was so-so it would be too late for that to be a deal-breaker. He would improve under his bride’s tutelage, and she and he both would just have to tough it out. Either way, the better plan was obviously to respect the vessel of Anne’s body rather than to try to wow her and put his marriage on the line. She was so clearly too rich and slightly too pretty for him and he didn’t want to lose her and wonder, twenty years later, whether his life would have been different with the fabulous Anne Lystad instead of whomever he ended up with. Anne, for her part, was surprisingly amenable to waiting. She was about as Catholic as a modern psych major could be and was happy for the chance to atone for previous permissiveness by becoming pure, in a relative sense, during the year-one-month-eleven-day engagement.

Keith and Anne studied ballroom dancing for three months before the wedding, a grand affair at the Navy Club on Florida Avenue. Anne’s mother is First Family of Virginia and her father an army lieutenant-colonel turned heavy-duty contractor, concrete masonry. Until November Saturday when Anne and Keith were wed at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Leesburg, their closest contact had been doing the tango Thurday evenings in the ballroom dance class on Wisconsin Avenue in Tenley Circle, Keith pressing his hardon reassuringly to Anne’s thigh as if to say, It’s not that I don’t want you or have the gear, Anne snuggling her breasts against his chest like an extra pair of lungs to sustain him through the months of hair-raising wedding planning. The night after the wedding night came and they decided to wait just one more night, to go to sleep in each other’s arms at the Sheraton in Leesburg, because they were overwrought and didn’t want to waste their first time on a night when all they could think about was how many people they had talked to and how inappropriate the Lieutenant-Colonel’s toast, about Anne being the love of his life, had been. Well, Keith wanted to wait, and Anne had had a lot to drink. But the night after the night they married, they went all the way, and Anne was nothing like Keith had imagined, her body stronger and more peculiar than his fantasies. He had always thought women were delicate and lightly fragrant, their bodies smooth expanses, cool to the touch, with a natural floral odor. It turned out that they were, well, a lot like himself—muscular, strong-smelling, hungry for sex, not once, but a couple times in a row. Which raised a question in his mind, one he had never before asked himself. What was the difference between gay and straight, between making love to a woman or a man, whether one was a woman or a man oneself? Didn’t it all come down to pretty much the same thing, the necking, the peeling off of clothes, the licking and sucking places that one usually didn’t see up close, the clutch of sweaty limbs, the yielding to the other’s directions until a little puddle of love, pretty much the same sticky white stuff, like something from the ocean, appeared between whomever’s legs? The last distinction disappeared when Anne told him, not shyly, on their third day of post-beach-and-wind-surfing lovemaking, to put it in her behind. Suddenly all Keith’s school boy categories, all his neat preconceived notions of Godly sex and otherwise, of natural and unnatural acts, went the way of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. It felt good that way, more than good, it immediately went on the Julie Andrews list of a few of my favorite things. Sometimes it was messy but mostly it was just tight and fine, and it took both him and Anne to a plateau of tender devotion they returned to regularly, with what he would have described as holy gratitude, were this not so incompatible with the beliefs that had fallen overnight, like toy soldiers under siege, in his mind.

Anne’s mother, Theresa, took over the wedding planning with no regard for her daughter’s, much less Keith’s, ideas about the ceremony, and certainly without a thought to what they might envisage as a reception. What made the planning most nerve-wracking for Keith was the way Mother Theresa kept upping the financial ante, choosing all the bells and whistles from the fanciest floral arrangements at the alter of the big modern church, to the boat on the Potomac for cocktails, the thirty-five tables for ten, the twenty-eight piece band, the six course feast. What would have been merely an expensive show wedding, which would have left the son-in-law in a position of politely yielding, became a public drama, costing somewhere upwards, he was never quite sure, of two-hundred thou, a wedding in which the groom’s role, and even the bride’s, became incidental to the glory, to the story, of Mother Theresa and Lieutenant-Colonel Craig. While the family of the groom, Keith’s father, Ed, his mom Noreen and sister, Pam, a minister, a nurse, and a junior college nursing student, looked like hired extras playing good country people on the edge of the designer-clad, Leesburg horse-farmer crowd.

Now Keith and Anne rent a small goofy house tucked off in the trees of Edgemore Road in Bethesda, all and slightly more than they can afford. The location allows Keith to commute downtown by red line and Anne to enjoy the benefits of suburban living and a modest tennis club. Not knowing what will follow the two-year appeals court clerkship, Keith wonders whether the traditional life-style he and Anne talked so blithely about in college, three children, Anne at home full time, is going to work out. There is no guarantee that Keith will land a high paying job straight from clerkship, and Anne, hardworking mom that she is, doesn’t quite understand about a budget. She has the curious habit of driving all the way to Rockville to buy diapers by the case at the SuperGiant, only to stop at White Flint on the way home and drop three-hundred dollars on a dress that could only be worn in a elegant debutante life by a non-postpartum version of herself. Then, too, there’s the question of why Keith feels not exactly good but all right about the slow arrival of the second pregnancy. For six months he and Anne have been trying, with the ovulation kits and pillow tilting they never got to the first time, to make Lannie a sister or brother. Each month, when Anne emerges from the bathroom shaking her head, the pregnancy pee-wand having decreed no second child once again, Keith has to hide his relief, showing instead an appropriate supportive disappointment. Another child would push his and Anne’s monthly expenses firmly into the red, so that instead of merely breaking even after the rent, his school loans and Anne’s Visa installment, they would fall short.

“Let’s eat, Little Potato and Big Potato,” Anne calls.

“That’s us,” Keith says, hoisting Lannie straight up. In the kitchen there is carrot pudding for the lad, spaghetti and salad with lite Italian dressing, garlic bread and lemonade for Keith and Anne. Wine is only allowed the two weeks a month when Anne is definitely not pregnant, Keith joining her abstinence in the same spirit of solidarity with which she once joined him in his.

“Shit. I’ve got reading group tomorrow,” Anne says. “I’ll have to read all night.”

“What’s the book?”

“Some love story set in France. The guy who wrote it grew up around here. It’s got like email in it.”

“Any good?”

“Supposed to be.”

Keith wonders about his suddenly not wanting more kids yet. Is it just money? No. After all, his wife is going to inherit a bundle and no doubt the Lieutenant-Colonel has already set up trust funds for Lannie. Besides, what’s wrong with state colleges and scholarships anyway? No, Keith isn’t in a hurry to have another child because suddenly, belatedly, he’s becoming aware that life-style choices are just that, choices about styles of life. He wonders why he was in such a hurry to get married, why he didn’t play the field a little, like Max and Andrea, like everybody. He wonders, sometimes, what it would have been like to sleep with another woman. And he wonders why he and Anne didn’t take a few more years just to enjoy being with each other. Lannie is the most excellent boy in the world, but life isn’t the same since he’s been born. Anne gives Keith his share but no extra, no free love. Keith fell into middle age before he had to, and he imagines that another child will fix him there.

Outside the window, rhododendrons with ivory blossoms bob in the evening breeze. The shrubs need trimming, everything does. There’s a holly bush the size of the Christmas tree in the Congressional Office Building barring all access to the left side yard. The flower garden in front is a mess, full of grass, but Keith doesn’t want to put too much work into a rental. Lannie paints his own face orange by closing his mouth and swiveling at the exact moment Keith lifts a spoonful of carrots up to his lips. It’s a game they both enjoy more than Anne does. She fears that Lannie will grow up with the idea that having food on his face is fine, that he’ll sit in restaurants with mashed turnips all down his chin, smiling at the waiter. Keith takes a time-interval approach, swabbing the boy down regularly every five minutes. He is confident Lannie will not be seen in his maturity wearing entrees. Marriage, Keith knows in that part of his brain that is, even now, working on the case, is reassuring, everything Keith knew it would be. He loves being married to Anne. It makes him feel like a man and a grownup, and did since the first days, when he was first-year law at Georgetown and the other, single students looked so lonely and tired. Every night he’d go home to Anne and it was a holiday, a weekend. He felt relaxed and sure of himself, who he was, what he was doing. When Lannie came and Keith started carrying him around in the front-pack, an ingenious Norwegian contraption as comfortable as a sweater, people started to look at him with his son in that admiring way, as if Keith were personally insuring the continuity of humanity and the productivity of the American economy. That only deepened the feeling of satisfaction with marriage that buoyed Keith up. He had never understood the whole bachelor party mentality, the notion that one was giving so much up to marry, that life was ending. The advocates of same-sex marriage claimed that public, legal recognition of a couple’s status reinforces that couples’ relationship, makes it easier for them to stay together when they have troubles, and so helps ensure a stable home for a child. All that is so obviously true that Keith is wondering, more often and with less patience, why the family-values people, the Christian coalition, are so intent on denying the validity of the New Mexico marriages and the tens of thousands of same-sex couples who still want to marry. Gays and lesbians have been married for decades in numerous churches, not all of them wacky cults, but solid ministries across most of the spectrum. Keeping these couples outside the white picket fence makes no sense, especially when some of these same couples already have been given adoption rights in their home states. Keith knows how much easier it got for him and Anne once they were married, how their fights shrank and their peace grew. He doesn’t know how he can justify the anti-same-sex marriage position he used to be sure he held. Yeah, law works precisely because the two sides of issues are argued as effectively as possible, but it would be nice to write with the pride and passion of Max, Eve, and especially Andrea.

“What do you want for dessert?” Anne asks.

“Burnt sugar,” Keith says. Burnt sugar is Gifford’s best ice cream. He and Anne love having non-chain ice-cream nearby. Lannie is ready for his bath so Keith finishes fast and heads upstairs.

“Bath time for Lannie,/ Bath time for Lannie,” Keith sings to a simple melody that he often finds himself humming downtown, as if it were a top-forty hit. Everything that is good in Keith’s life, the routine, the security, the correctness of fatherhood and of being a husband, is a privilege he can no longer take for granted, arguing, as he is every day, to keep it from others. This work is wearing his ass slowly out.