“A to B” =
Back Yard, Summer 2007
Where: In a black folding chair in our stamp-sized backyard, interrupted by frequent fussing over the fruit and vegetable plants my kids and I grow from seeds: cucumbers, pumpkins, tomatoes, beans, carrots, watermelons, cantaloupe, and peppers.
Music: Pink Floyd, Animals
Why: As I was writing “The Gold Cure,” I got curious about Bennie’s failed life in the suburbs, and about his wife, Stephanie. Before I began “A to B,” I’d figured out that Stephanie’s brother was the celebrity assailant from “40-Minute Lunch,” which I’d written some years earlier. I’d assumed that the drama of “A to B” would surround Jules’ return to life outside of prison — only as I was working on the piece did I realize that it was the story of the end of Bennie and Stephanie’s marriage.
History: I’ve never lived in the suburbs, but I do have a sense of country clubs — first from Rockford, Illinois, my mother’s hometown. My grandparents belonged to a golf and tennis club where my grandfather golfed assiduously in bright pants, where my grandmother played bridge, and where my mother declined to marry when she learned that two of her close friends, who were black, would not be welcome on the premises. In Chicago, my father and his family belonged to a tennis club with beautiful clay courts, where I played and swam during my visits to them each summer. I think the deep inspiration for “A to B” was really the sensory atmosphere of country clubs: the sound of tennis balls, the smell of the snack bar, the mothers tanning their pregnancy-stretched bellies, the fathers subtly eyeing the teenage girls around the pool.
Stephanie and Bennie had lived in Crandale a year before they were invited to a party. It wasn’t a place that warmed easily to strangers. They’d known that going in and hadn’t cared — they had their own friends. But it wore on Stephanie more than she’d expected, dropping off Chris for kindergarten, waving or smiling at some blond mother releasing blond progeny from her SUV or Hummer, and getting back a pinched, quizzical smile whose translation seemed to be: Who are you again? How could they not know, after months of daily mutual sightings? They were snobs or idiots or both, Stephanie told herself, yet she was inexplicably crushed by their coldness.
During that first winter in town, the sister of one of Bennie’s artists sponsored them for membership to the Crandale Country Club. After a process only slightly more arduous than applying for citizenship, they were admitted in late June. They’d arrived at the club on their first day carrying bathing suits and towels, not realizing that the CCC (as it was known) provided its own monochromatic towels to reduce the cacophony of poolside color. In the ladies’ locker room, Stephanie passed one of the blondes whose children went to Chris’s school, and for the first time she got an actual “Hello,” her own appearance in two separate locations have apparently fulfilled some triangulation Kathy required as proof of personhood. That was her name: Kathy. Stephanie had known it from the beginning.