Dear Wigleaf,

Remember Stella? That night in the apartment with the sexy family, the freighted ferret, New York smeared across the windows like a jam made of stars. After that, Stella lived in Los Angeles, and it was exactly like her favorite Thorne Room in the basement of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1940s California Interior, city lights, green velvet drapes. But time marches on, and now Stella is in her mid-thirties, divorced, and lives in Connecticut. Her mother has cancer.

One chemotherapy treatment has taken Stella's mother's voluble and abundant hair, the mane that at her mother's request Stella colored iridescent pink gold with drugstore dye the day before the mastectomy, that indomitable mass excised, leaving only curls of wispy gray fuzz. Now Stella's mother looks like Stella's grandfather. In her sharp red beret, she looks like a cardinal. She looks like Stella's mother in a wig.

She has a good sense of humor about it. Both of them do, really. On the phone, Stella apologetically complains about the women in her Connecticut Pilates class, how normal they are, their talk of television cooks and Florida winters, and her mother says, "I hear you. Just imagine how denigrated the discourse in your average cancer center is." It keeps Stella up nights: her powerful mother making nice through an endless parade of pleasantries as helpful poisons are dripped into the port in her chest. They put it on the other side, the side they didn't cut.

At home, home is now two places: the house in which she grew up, which her parents are very slowly emptying, and a slick new condo in a tower the next town over, where Stella's mother lives alone. This arrangement has been grueling, but they are also fine. When she visits Stella stays there with her mother, wrestling with piles of books and blankets and the Tivo and sleeping in a kind of pup tent on the living room floor. Every night her father comes over to take them to dinner.

One afternoon at the condo Stella is at her mother's computer, in the close dark of the tiny study replicated from its more spacious home iteration. She is trying to fix some problems, buy some plane tickets, and also some clothes, because that is what she does when life weighs too much, even though she has a PhD.

There is a knock at the apartment door. Her mother, who was supposed to be napping, calls, "Who is it?"

"Management," responds a high voice.

No Management has been requested, but the voice insists the door be opened. Stella's mother goes to it bareheaded.

"Hi Tammy, I know you're going through some things," the voice says, apologetically. "But we can't have you—"

Stella is out of her seat, out of the study. Who is this person addressing her mother, Tamara D'Oro, as "Tammy"? No one save for her father is allowed to call her mother Tammy.

In the threshold stands an over-groomed embarrassed-looking young woman. The ridiculous person in charge of the desk downstairs. Her name, Stella remembers, is Nono.

"What's the problem?" Stella asks, putting her body between her mother and Nono's thickly lined eyes.

"I was just telling Tammy that we can't leave cardboard in the trash chute area."

Stella is an artist and a scholar. She reminds herself that the impulse to tell Nono to address her mother as Mrs. D'Oro is but a flimsy and useless vestige of the patriarchal capitalist hegemony that entraps them both. But she really, really wants to.

Stella herself reported the problem of the cardboard on her last visit, in fact, after some new people—all the people on her mother's floor seem to be doctors younger than Stella—left their stack of unflattened Hermes boxes clogging the trash area. Nothing was done. Nothing has ever been done, and now Nono has the nerve to show up calling her mother Tammy?

"That's not our cardboard," Stella says.

"Yes, it is," Nono says. "Tammy," she adds hopefully. Stella's mother has gone back into the room where the television is.

"Show me," Stella says, and follows Nono down the hall, hating her, her dumb highlights, her too-high voice, her total lack of qualification for anything. Ever. She wants to write a letter. But to whom?

In the chute area is a giant box addressed to her mother.

"I'll take it down," Stella says.

Nono fixes her with a goldfish's dumb task-driven gaze. "Will you be doing that in the next five to ten minutes?"

Stella stares. She is accustomed to being heard. Who is this woman? There was a creepy intimacy in the way she said Tammy, as if she paid Stella's mother rather than the other way around. How she wishes to yell.

When, five minutes later, she hustles the cardboard down through the lobby, she doesn't make eye contact with Nono in her box. She knows her rage is a hateful symptom of late capitalism. And that she loves her mother, Tamara D'Oro, never Tammy, and Tamara D'Oro's hair and hands and the collection of fine art books now crammed haphazardly into the apartment and packed in boxes that will be ruined by the flood that hits the house the next morning, before her flight out.

The night before she came Stella got tipsy and voluble at a work thing, holding forth on tact, elder abuse, and her recent colonoscopy, her very first. Someone ordered appetizers. A hunk of pork under a hunk of something else. A bulb of cheese. Onion confetti. Everyone looked aghast. She smiled into her lap. What can she say, what can she say, Stella still likes to flash her flinty little charm, even though people can see her now. Even though she's not a ghost, not anymore. 


Lisa Locascio

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Read her micros.

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