Tryst (Editor’s Choice, Marguerite McGlinn Prize for Fiction)

NYC, Winter 1985

I thrashed against the pillows, fist twisted into the linen, leg braced on a column of my canopy bed when my telephone rang. I kicked the satin coverlet over the phone to muffle it and plunged back into the fantasy of the hunk on a deserted island. On the cruise, I’d rebuffed him as beneath me, but now we were stranded together. I brought him a lobster; he dropped it. Night after night, I stupidly handed him rope with which he tied me to a palm tree. His betrayal flinted my anger. I scratched his neck and licked the blood, then savored the metallic aftertaste. His bronze chest gleamed, clean-shaven despite the fact that we were shipwrecked.

Giancarlo Giannini was about to fuck me when my answering machine clicked on.

“Stop masturbating and pick up,” Max said.

How did he know that? I stayed in bed. Let him talk to the tape.

“Are you still fantasizing about getting hammered by that hunchback blacksmith?”

I wanted to wring Max’s neck. I should have never told him that twisted fantasy; he mocked it, so he’d ruined it.

“Cause I realized he’s the ancient—” Max coughed. “Hold on. I’ll call back.”

“Vulcan,” I finished his sentence. Never thought of that. I buried my head in Mother’s satin pillow and tried to recapture the torrid scene, but the rope on my wrists slackened—did I have to instruct the shipwrecked lunk in proper nautical knots? He’d lost interest—even my imaginary lovers didn’t like me. In a coup de grace, the lobster I wanted more than the man crawled toward the surf, dragging its large claw. My Swept Away daydream swept away.

The phone rang again, and Max spoke to the machine. “EZ, I need you. Please, I have nobody else.”

“Whose fault is that?” I asked the answering machine.

“I only get one call.”

I talked though he couldn’t hear me. “Are you in prison?”

“I’m in Saint Vincent’s Hospital, and the nurses are killing me, which is completely unnecessary. I’m dying as fast as I can.”

I laughed. Max was a complete hypochondriac; he worked himself into hysterics, prognosticating the direst illness whenever he was constipated, calling me at seven in the morning to discuss the problem. But when he really fell ill, he refused to get help. I’d told him to get that cough checked out; it had sounded bad last time we met, the night he dumped me, two months back. It was freezing this February. He needed to stop cruising on the windy piers off Christopher Street at night. Let the doctors treat him. If I visit, he’ll only demand that I spring him.

The answering machine tape ran out. Max rang a third time. I struggled to my elbow and brushed the hair stuck to my lips.

“Dear Elizabeth, please pick up. I don’t have a phone, and if they catch me using this one, I won’t be able to call again.”

I reached down and answered. “You win.”

“Thank you. You are my true friend. I can’t say what I want on the phone; I need to see you. I wheeled my bed into someone’s room to use their line, but there will be hell if the nurses catch me contaminating the receiver.”

“Can I call someone for you?”

“No. It’s like Moscow in the Thirties. People vanish in the night.”

“Let’s not get dramatic.” I looked out my window across the park and the tumbledown conservancy gardens.

“Listen, you have to help me check out. I can’t afford this.”

“You don’t have insurance?”

“Of course not. Who can get insurance? Anyway, it’s no use. Chekhov said doctors are like lawyers, except lawyers just take your money, while doctors take the money and kill you.”

“You have to submit to their regime—”

“I did. They keep adding medicines to counter the side effects of the last dose. Chekhov said if many remedies are suggested, you can be sure there is no cure.”

“Enough Chekhov.”

“He was my pediatrician. Mom gave me his stories when I fell sick.”

“Chekhov died young.”

“Could you come soon?”

The phone rang again as soon as I dropped the receiver. The real estate agent left a message that she wanted to show Mom’s apartment to people who were “dying for it.”

I dressed and counted the money I’d saved from working. Three thousand. Not enough for rent and two months’ deposit, broker’s fee, and utilities, but I could split Max’s rent. This was a good moment to spring the proposal, with him incapacitated. I’d have his flat to myself. I grinned at my conniving as I left Mother’s house, crossed Fifth Avenue, and entered Central Park.

In the late afternoon light, I walked into my own shadow as I crossed to the West Side. Above the tree line, the wilderness of Manhattan raised its prickly head. I rushed through the woods I’d gazed out at from my childhood room, nights, sure that wolves lurked on the great hill and watered at Harlem Meer by moonlight.


Last Valentine’s Day, Max had taken me into this deserted corner of the park and given me a red velvet cloak “to warn the wolves.” Lined in satin and edged in brocade, an extravagance he could ill afford on his Radio Shack salary. As he draped it over my shoulders, he shivered. “Virgins scare the wolf more than anything.” As dusk fell, he built a fire by the lake. He roasted pomegranate-marinated shashlik, which he fed me; I nipped his fingers.

To that evening rendezvous I’d carried my grandmother’s pistol—winter nights, police didn’t patrol the park except in cars, their windows rolled up. Grandma had brought the gold-filigreed Remington by train from Denver; she’d tucked it under the pillow in her Plaza suite, and her new husband had said, “Darling, I don’t think you need this in Manhattan.” Times had changed. A mugger had shot Max’s KGB friend on the meadow; the doctors at Bellevue had sewn him up.

Standing close to the fire for warmth, I held the revolver’s pearl handle engraved with Oma’s maiden initials. I grilled Max on irregular verbs. “Burn, burned burnt.”

“Shoot, shotted, shut,” he tried.


Max baited me. “I slept with a Brazilian.”

“You slut! How many is a Brazilian?” I hefted the empty gun at Max, who stood in the snow in his grey army coat. I drew a bead on his drop-dead face, but the gun could not touch the Siberian distance of his eyes. He had smuggled his beauty out of the Soviet Union into my world. The moment hovered, eerie, romantic as a duel in deep snow—except I alone had the pistol.

He flinched in my gun sight.

“Don’t you trust me?”

“As far as I can throw Lenin’s tomb.”

I squinted down the barrel. Any minute now, he’d slip into the woods of the Ramble to squander his handsome looks on a stranger in the dark while I stomped the coals of our dwindling fire.

His eyes flashed. “I can see the tabloid cover. Little Red Riding Hood Kills Wolf.”

I didn’t want to kill him, I wanted to seduce him, but you can’t tame a wolf with a gun.


This week, a cold snap had hit the city; I crossed the park swiftly. Over me, the branches encased in ice rubbed against each other with a grim sound like an animal chewing a limb caught in a trap.

I vowed to give up my grudge against Max as I crossed the path where, one afternoon, he’d noticed my limp. “Just a splinter,” I’d said. I had kicked my empty bed, and a sliver had lodged in my big toe. I’d offered him a pocketknife. “Could you cut it out?” He had me sit on a park bench while he knelt. He’d worked at it, ignoring the knife I held, and then he’d sucked the wood from my foot. Passing that bench, I turned and walked backward. If only I could go back in time and unwind what went wrong. I tripped and turned forward. One can’t unhurt someone. Can’t unlove them, either.

Ice sheaths from the trees lay shattered on the sidewalk outside the park, glinting like broken bottlenecks in the streetlights. I rushed down the subway steps at Columbus Avenue. On the downtown subway platform, I watched the rats on the tracks. As the rats fled and the rails clattered, I thought of a joke to amuse Max: A casket walked into a bar, and the waiter said, “We don’t serve dead people here.” The casket pulled itself upright and said, “I’m not dead, just coffin.”

The train downtown screeched to a halt. I studied the sign, blackened by graffiti, and guessed it said B. The R didn’t stop here, except on occasions when the N/R line was diverted because of a body under the B or something. The car I boarded was empty except for a man whose swollen feet were bound with stained bandages. I scooped all the change in my pocket and poured it into his hands. The coins slipped between his fingers to the floor while I stared at his black palms. I glanced at my reflection in the subway pane above him: pallid, feral.

He looked up, mouth agape as if asking me to place a coin on his tongue so he could cough it up to pay Charon.

The train doors opened at my stop, and I stepped off. On a station bench, two figures intertwined under dark, heavy coats. Grotesque, insectish. I hurried past.

At a deli on Fourteenth Street, I brought white lilies, wrapped them in a tabloid, and headed for the hospital’s jutting white edifice and jagged black gap, a steel grimace. I went to St. Vincent’s old portico and, as I entered, wondered which room Dylan Thomas had died in.

The receptionist gave me Max’s room number, and I went to the isolation ward, ignoring the signs on the doors. The acrid scent of disinfectant stung my nostrils. Gurneys lined the walls like railroad cars shunted to a sidetrack. On each cot lay a thin figure, asleep beneath blankets.

I asked an orderly as he passed, “Where are the H rooms?”

“Here. H is for hall.”


He gestured toward a torn bit of masking tape with 6 written on it, stuck to the wall over a bed. Yellow tape marked a small rectangle on the floor, a pretend room.

The thin form in the gurney curled toward the wall. A dinner tray lay untouched on his bed. The man rocked to whatever played on his headphones. The man with shorn hair couldn’t be Max, I thought, but he was a master of masks, dyed his paper-white hair red, then black, as if trying to fit in with a deck of playing cards. I opened the Walkman; the cassette was Bowie’s Changes. The head wearing the earphones still rocked, though the cassette had stopped. I lifted it, and the tape unspooled, a crinkled strip of confetti.

He turned, and I flinched at the sight of Max’s face. His skin seemed to have shrunk, a mask torn at the mouth, a botched clown grin. Red sores ringed his neck—had someone ripped his spiked collar inside out? His beard shocked me; he’d always shaved, even his torso.

I tried to smile, and Max’s face contorted in disgust—he had not molded me into the sunshine lady who cheered people up.

I looked askance at Max in a hospital gown, who had technical questions on the fine points of preppy style not covered at Bronx Science. He’d asked me, sunning on Columbia’s steps, “Is there anything Lilly Pulitzer that a man can wear?” I’d lied, “No.”

From the narrow bed, he studied my face.

“You could do more with your looks.”

“Like what?”

“Kill.” He waved his hand to the side. “You’re already famous, but only I realize it.”

Max had been the one sure to earn fame, barreling head-on for it. Fame had become a strange homelessness, gleaming cold.

No table or windowsill, no vase. I held the flowers.

Max tapped the newspaper wrapped around them. “What’s happening out there?”

“Donald Trump offered to negotiate with the Soviets on nuclear arms. Says he knows most everything about them and can learn the rest in an hour and a half.”

“Send him to the Kremlin.” Max placed a splayed hand over the photo of Trump’s face. “Blond Stalin.” He collapsed back into the mattress, and his thin arms flopped beside him, hitting the metal railings. “Ow. No pillows allowed because I might suffocate.”

He’d always had a huge bed. Every few months, when he moved from one fourth-floor walk-up to another, he called me to help him carry his California king. Why didn’t he ask the men who had slept in it with him? I dragged the stained mattress along the street; the fabric ripped, peeling back to expose the plastic. He’d yell at me, “Don’t drag the tip,” and I’d snap back, “I’m circumcising it.”

A nurse came and I asked her for a pillow and a glass for the flowers.

She swabbed the soft crotch of his elbow, then plunged a needle and worked a tube down under his skin.

Max squeezed my wrist. “I might as well have mainlined heroin.” He looked away while she hooked the saline drip.

He coughed, and the nurse jerked away. I held his hand. She grimaced at the glittering spit on my wrist.

When she left, I lowered the lilies to his nose; the pistils’ gold dust slippers trembled as he exhaled.

He breathed in their scent. “Lilies smell like cunts of angels.”

“You’ve never had an angel.”

An orderly dumped Max’s untouched dinner tray into the biohazard bin. I stared at his thick plastic gloves.

Max said, “The lilies and I have something in common.”


“We’ll soon be dead.” Max nodded toward the man in the bed behind his. “Last night he said, ‘Who are all these people with wings?’”

I rested the bouquet on my friend’s chest.

He stroked the back of my hand. “You are my last love.”

“Shut up.” I shuddered. “What happened to your boyfriend?”

“Richard dumped me, so I went to the piers, where a man smacked me and threw me into the river. My head hit the pier post on the way down.”

“Was this a hate crime?”

“Love crime, hate crime, hard to tell.” Max shook his head. “The water glittered in the city light, a sea of stars at two in the morning. The river gripped me—no one held me like that. I let myself drift. Then I rammed against the sanitation dock. The workers heard me yell.”

“Well, that cured your urge to prowl the piers.”

“I went the next weekend to look for him.”

“To have him arrested?”

“To thank him.”

I started to swear and then fell silent when a nun approached, rosary beads on her wrist.

She leaned over Max. “Would you like me to pray with you?”

“God doesn’t care about me.”

The nun looked my way.

I shook my head. “God hates me, too.”

“Here’s a prayer,” Max said. “Dear God, you suck.”

The Sister veiled hurt with humility.

I pointed to the hard mattress under Max’s head. “We could use a pillow.”

When the nun left, I bit my lip, and it bled. I understood her bewilderment at this new illness that had quickly filled her halls with men whose secret rites excluded us.

Max took up his story again. “I felt fine after my swim, but EMS took me to the hospital, and here I got the flu and staph and every other germ on the ward.”

A janitor rolled Max’s gurney to the opposite wall and passed a mop, then rinsed it in a bucket. People were dying, and someone still had to sweep the floor. The wheels creaked as he moved down the hall.

“Alternate side of the street parking day,” Max said. “Move me back before someone else takes my place.

Over the cot hung an old print of Christ, arms open as he walked through a field of lilies. Above their white trumpets, pale butterflies fluttered. The flower fashioned the creature a home of wings, opening; the butterfly closed its wings to enter the lily’s throat, and it seemed to me, standing below, that the creature entered into the reflection of itself. Were heaven and earth that intimate?

Max touched the flowers I’d brought him; their petals darkened under his thumb. He held them up to the picture. “I bet Christ never walked through a garden in his life.”

From one room came a low moan.

Max saw my head turn toward that door. “He lost all his skin. Experimental medicine.”

“Do they give him morphine?

“Nuns? Illegal drugs?”

The man in the room cried out. A nurse went in. She gave me a pillow and a half-full water glass as she passed us.

Max cast a glance back at the religious print. “Don’t say anything treacly about me when I’m dead.”

The nurse left the room, shaking down the mercury in a thermometer, then returned to the station behind the double doors.

Max watched her leave. “Could you do one favor for me? I left shoes at the cobbler. I don’t want him stiffed for the labor. All those old shoes stuffed onto shelves at the shop, tongues crisscrossed with black lines, I wondered who had forgotten them. Now I suspect they’re dead.”

I looked at Max’s bare feet. Undertakers put shoes on corpses—not that they needed them, but to let them go barefoot would disturb those left behind as if the floor of the afterworld were strewn with shattered glass.

Max clutched his shoulders and rocked. “It comes in waves.”

I watched, helpless, as someone falling through air looked down at a man drowning.

“Save me.” He raised a hand toward my face. “The pain.”

I lowered my forehead to the rail.

Max traced the curve of my widow’s peak. “I want your face to be the last thing I see on this earth. You were the most beautiful woman I ever knew.”

I raised my head.

“Except for your mother. She’s more beautiful.”

I pressed the pillow over his face.


I tossed the pillow aside. “I want to hurt you, not kill you. That’s game over.”

“You sucked at Atari.” He stroked my cheek. Max leaned to my ear, and though he whispered, he spoke with force. “I need you to kill me.”

The hair on my arms rose.

“Please. You have to mix pills and alcohol, and they won’t let me have liquor.”

I hid my hands below the bed; one hand clawed the other. I could not kill the man I cared for most. He’d hurt me, but that had tightened the knot that bound us.

From the bedrail hung a plastic bag. He untied it, fumbled inside, and gave me an envelope addressed in shattered script to The Hemlock Society.

“Call them. They’ll tell you which pills to collect.”

I shook my head.

“All right, just choke me to death. I heard one man tied a plastic bag around his head, but I don’t want to go with a sack on my face that says, ‘Have a nice day.’”

“What about me? What if they find I did it?”

“You are the most selfish girl ever.” Max waved his fingers. “Nobody is interested in you or me. Seven men have died in this hallway. Nobody investigates anything. They shove you in a bag so fast your last breath fogs the plastic.”

I reached through the bars of his bed. “I could have loved you.”

“But you never did. I invested a lot to make you the bitch who could do this.”

I shoved the bed, and it swerved away, jerking the IV line in his elbow crease. Blood pooled beneath the skin.

He closed the crook of his arm. “Listen, I have Hepatitis, TB, and cancer. I’m an entire hospital wing sausaged into one skin. To top it all, I have shingles, which are excruciatingly painful.”

What the hell was that—I thought they were things nailed to roofs.

He pointed to the boils on his throat, stained garish red from mercurochrome. “Once, I brushed past a leper; terrified of catching it, I researched leprosy. You think it’s a flesh-eating virus, but it just makes you numb, and when you can’t feel pain in your eyes, you scratch yourself blind. Lepers have no feeling in their fingers, so they carelessly cut them until they’re stubs. I wish I had leprosy. There’s a cyst on the tip of my penis. Do you want to see?”

“No, never!”

“It stings when I piss. When I get too weak to lift myself to the pan, the nurse will insert a Fosse—”

“Bob Fosse? Dream on.”

He threw back his head, but the laugh was silent. I saw black lumps on his white gums.

“I mean Foley. My tonsils are swollen and gag me. The doctors plan to cut my throat open and put in a tube, and then I won’t be able to talk.”

Every shining thing that was ever going to happen to him, the pictures in Time and Life, the wild nights, the whispers and sexual exploits, crumpled in my clenched fist. I crushed the lilies against the wall, then dropped them on the floor.

“I need you to be brave, not just reckless.”

He tapped my wrist. “What time is it?”

I checked my watch. “Seven twenty.”

“Night or morning? Prisoners are always executed at dawn to keep people’s spirits up.”


“Good. Less chance our tryst interrupted.” He arched his neck for me to throttle.

“I can’t do it in the hallway.”

He glanced at the empty corridor, then took my hand and laid it on his chest. “Look, the meter’s running, and this is one expensive ride. I’m sixth in line for a room—that many men have to die. Visiting hour ends in ten minutes.”

I arranged the sheet over him. “Sleep tight.”

He cast the sheet off and took deep breaths before he could speak. “At night, the illnesses scream at each other, and I can’t sleep; the light never dies in this hallway. I dreamed that a surgeon vowed to save me. He took a knife to my chest and sliced down the middle, then stripped my skin to the sides. He lifted my head to show me the thin bones winged out like a fish skeleton and said, ‘See, you had wings.’ I had to learn to fly from the inside, and no one could teach me. I thought maybe if I breathe—why are you crying? There’s no crying in dreams.”

My hands crossed on my chest.

“Don’t make me beg for my own death.”

I bowed my head.

“Do not write on my tombstone what you wished I had been”

I turned away and zipped my coat.

“Do not go.”


Either the girl in my medicine cabinet mirror had to go, or I would. I tried to smile, and the silent girl bared her teeth in a snarl. I raised my hand to my forehead and dug my thumb into the purple bruise stippled with orange, the impossible shade of sad anger. The queasy ache of flesh pressed against skull comforted.

My face in the glass withdrew into darkness as if the man who’d pistol-whipped me had stripped half a mask, but there were masks of loss beneath that. Let us pass over the incident. It happened all the time in New York. So I got out at the wrong subway exit after visiting Max, and I’d surrendered the wad of bills in my pocket. My black eye was nothing compared to what others suffered. Nothing next to Max’s pain.

Max had said he’d be happy if he could switch into my skin. Three days had passed since I’d seen him at St. Vincent’s. The meds would have kicked in, and he’d laugh at the bruise, who said my face was a silver prize I didn’t deserve, who called me doll in French, Poupée, with a Russian accent that made it sound like “Poopy.”

I read the clock over my shoulder in the mirror. The hands stretched straight away from each other, plumb up and down: 6 A.M. The train at this hour would be empty except for the men who slept on the benches; they’d leave me alone. I pulled a down jacket over my sweats, scrounged two tokens, and set off for the hospital.


The guard inside the front door glanced up at me and said, “Emergency entrance down the block.”

I walked past him. The isolation ward smelled of shit masked by ammonia scented with faux pine, each smell trying to suffocate the one below. Gurneys lined the hall, the figures lying in each covered in white sheets. Max had said that six men would have to die for him to get off the hallway, and now he had a private room. These must be new patients, but they seemed the same old men. One called out. No help came. Sunday before dawn, a skeleton crew manned the nurse station behind closed doors.

At the end of the hall was the room the receptionist had written on a slip.

“Is this Max,” I asked on the lintel step.

“Nyet.” The form in the narrow metal bed turned away as it held the IV cord to a thin neck. “If I could knot it in a garrote.”

I recognized his gravelly voice and came to the bed. Max turned, and I tried to stifle my shock. He seemed hollowed, a soul of skin stretched over a skeleton.

He saw me and winced. “Who raped your face?”

My nostrils burned, and I went to the window. Three days alone in this room must have felt several forevers—he who shunned hospitals as the cells where the sick put the ill. Outside, a garbage truck compacted trash, and through the windowpane came the machinery’s muffled hum and the high-pitched crackle of glass.

Max coughed. What had happened to his tongue? I reached toward him, and he pulled away, flattening his back to the wall. He clenched his jaw and shot me a scathing glance that enforced the distance he kept between us. He gazed away, toward the bedside table with an empty vase.


He jerked his head in response.

“What do you want?”

His eyes flashed stark blue in the fluorescent light. “You.” He watched hope open my lips, then ended the sentence, “to kill me.”

He rocked in pain, and his hospital gown fell open. I saw for the first time that cock I wanted to own. It flopped down, scab-black, along his pale thigh. I saw that the clock had run out of blood. Why would time heal me and kill Max? Time was irrational, two-faced—something watches failed to show us.

“Don’t cry.” He lifted his arm and tucked a fallen lock behind my ear. “I know I’ve hurt you, but we need to get over that.”

“So I can hurt you more.” I sucked in a breath that seared the skin inside my lungs. Neither words nor silence would embalm the scars from words we’d hurled at each other.

“Do it.”

I stiffened.


That sharp word in the sunk in, a needle to the chest. I went to close the door and returned to Max. Air narrowed around my right arm, a constricting sleeve; all I’d never said sheathed my hand as it hovered over him.

“Let’s go quickly.” He swept his hand away from his body, reached up as if to brush away the bruise on my brow. His hands slid down to my wrists and clasped my hand, then pressed my palm to his throat. I yanked free. He held my hand again, tighter, and stared with pure adoration that struck a last slap, after all, I’d failed at.

“Now, now.” I echoed his last words, softening them, then leaned with both hands on his neck and chest. His torso writhed. Ten seconds, then twenty. At thirty seconds, his hand released me; a man cannot hold your hand while you kill him. My wrist entangled in the drip line, a crimson bracelet. One minute in, I lost my hold.

His gasp dissected itself into spit.

I hooked a foot on a metal crossbar, hiked my other leg onto the bed to get myself over him, then slid my knee across the mattress to rest in the hollow below his ribs. I bore down with all my weight on his chest, my left hand on his windpipe. His arms flailed, and his nail scratched my lip. I swallowed the iron-bitter reminder and tightened my grip on Max. Ninety seconds. He knocked the empty vase to the floor where it smashed.

One hundred seconds. He looked up at me as I held him in passing between worlds. I forced my face to remain calm, to be the last thing he wanted to see in this world. His eyes widened; the white threads of his irises furled back from the night behind them.

One hundred twenty seconds. My hands ached for release. I willed them to hold on and tightened the tendons like puppet strings. The blood in my head deafened; if anyone knocked on the door, I couldn’t hear. A hard chill fell over me as dark sparks scattered around us. The watch face on my hand blackened. I had to count the seconds to myself. One hundred sixty. The air scraped my lungs as if it were shaved with steel. One hundred eighty seconds.

His head fell to the side, away from me. Max lay still. It took all my strength to let go. My arm hung, adrenaline numb as if my skin had been a glove shucked inside out and cast off.

I unwound my foot from the wheel and stepped back. My boot ground broken glass with its heel as I left.


Down the subway steps, I slipped my token in the slot and stepped through the metal cage into the station. Men lay curled on the soiled cement. The loss kept rushing past me, dragging cigarette butts, papers, and cups onto the tracks. Strands of hair whipped my face. On the wind drifted the front page of an old Post. In the yellowed photo, Reagan waved as he boarded a helicopter for another vacation.

I boarded the train and stood holding a metal strap.

Desperate, illegible scribbles covered the window, written by shadowy figures that slipped out at night to prove they existed to those who would never see them.

Skittish after the attack, I scanned the car for threats. That’s when I caught sight of a pallid face opposite, over the man’s head. The quicksilver girl in her silent world. A black wall passed through my flesh—or I passed through it. Dirt starkened her bloodless skin. On either side rose black lace wings of writing. With them, the gray window face floated overhead. Ragged graffiti writ on the pane crossed her chest like black surgical thread had roughly sewn it up. Something had been taken from her breast and something else sewn in.

The last time I’d ridden the subway with Max, I’d told him how Gorky had followed the elderly Tolstoy on a walk through his estate. Tolstoy saw a lizard bask in the sun on a rock and asked the animal, “Are you happy?”

Max cut in with the line Tolstoy told the lizard: “I’m not.”

Holly Woodward is a Russian poet who became one of the famed women snipers in World War II, and a Moscow actress who become part of the Red Orchestra network of spies fighting the Nazis. 

Oh, snap, those are the heroines of the novel she is writing. Holly leads a less interesting life as a writer and artist.

She served as writer in residence at St. Albans, Washington National Cathedral, and was a fellow for four years at CUNY Graduate Center’s Writers’ Institute. Woodward enjoyed a year as a doctoral fellow at Moscow University. She also studied at Leningrad University and has an MFA from Columbia.

Her poetry and fiction have won prizes from Story Magazine, the 92nd Street Y, and New Letters, among other honors.