Chapter 11


In Ward’s office, he and Tracey sit across from one another. She looks surprised by something he has just said, though he seems none too excited. “Really?” Tracey stammers. “Was this your idea?” // “Not entirely. The publisher wants this book, and I think everyone owes it to Alina to get it printed. Wouldn’t you agree?” His tone is pointed, but Tracey is too preoccupied to notice or care. “So are you my agent then? Oh my God, do I have an agent?! // “We’ll draft a contract for something short term, for the project.” // “This is great news!” // “You’ll forgive me for not agreeing entirely, or perhaps for seeing the full picture.” // “Let me have this moment, will you? How many times will I get to write my first book?” // “You mean ghost write. And it’s practically finished. Now…” He starts to list some logistics of the project, and we can see the anxiety flooding his face as he looks into her eyes, as we pan in on her terrifying, sociopathic smile.


A real estate agent shows Ward’s house to a young couple and their 5-year-old daughter. They like the place, and seem interested in buying it. Everything is quiet as the agent guides them into each room, but whenever we cut to Ward’s POV (as he follows them around), we hear shrill screams from Amanda. While he answers a question about the master bathroom, she’s behind the group, shouting “THIS IS OUR HOME. THIS WAS OUR LIFE. OURS. YOU CAN’T JUST HAND IT OVER TO THEM. WE BUILT THIS.” She’s sobbing, she’s unhinged. Then, as he explains some design features in the kitchen: “WE WOULD HAVE ALL OF THIS IF IT WASN’T FOR YOU. IF YOU HADN’T KILLED ME, POISONED ME. HOW DARE YOU GIVE EVERYTHING WE BUILT TO THESE STRANGERS.” We see him look over to her once, just for a split second, and the couple’s daughter turns back to see what he’s looking at. Amanda is there, in the doorframe of the bedroom, but only Ward can see her. He’s poised nevertheless. He’s really selling it with a smile.


Ward enters Helene’s apartment, and is greeted by both Helene and Tracey, cozied up on opposite sides of the couch. They’re laughing and chatting with full mugs in hand. Alina sits in the chair before them, and as Helene says “Hi dear!”, Alina turns to Ward, grinning widely, and says “Don’t mind us, we’re just catching up. Couple o’ young gals gossiping over hot cocoa. No tears here.” Ward ignores her, even sitting himself in her chair, which forces Alina to move as she mutters “Ass hole! I was sitting there. Jerk…” Ward is suspicious of this scene, but he tries to play friendly: “What a nice surprise. So good to see you smiling, Helene. “Tracey just stopped by with flowers, and thanked me for entrusting her with finishing the book,” Helene says. “If everything is alright, she’ll start this week.” Then Tracey: “Everything’s alright, isn’t it?” Then Alina: “IS everything alright, Ward?” We don’t see him respond, but we do see him mull it over for a few seconds, trying to stay poised.


Ward and Tracey leave the building together. They’re heading opposite directions. “I have an appointment this way,” Ward starts. “But quickly, before I forget to say so…” Tracey smiles innocently, intently. He continues: “You are to follow my instructions throughout this entire process. I know what happened with you and Alina. Everything that happened. The affair. Your being fired. Everything. Your track record—even before you signed on with her—is a red flag. But I’m willing to see past that. For this book, and for Alina.” Tracey isn’t smiling so innocently now, but she’s just as intent. Ward finishes: “My patience will be as short as the leash you’re on.” // “Are you going to give me a fair shot at this?” // “At what, finishing Alina’s book, per the contract?” // “You’re afraid to let me shine.” // “For my own health, maybe.” // “You’ll see what I’m capable of.” With that, she’s off.


A broker shows Ward around an apartment. It’s a large 1BR, newly refurbished. “I’ll take it. Absolutely.” They shake hands. He exits onto Underhill in Prospect Heights, and we track him from the front as he walks away, toward Eastern Parkway. He steps onto the boulevard there, then points to the Soldiers and Sailors Arch. He’s having a conversation with himself, just mumbling words—not in the same way he might converse with Amanda or Alina. He looks even more worn-down than ever, but upbeat, like he knows he will go no lower. He arrives to his parked car, gets inside, and breaks into a fit of laughter and tears.


Chapter 10


“My therapy bill is big enough,” Ward says to Alina. “And Lord knows this will kill Helene.” Alina, still smiling: “So don’t tell her, then. I’m here to see you.” A pause, then Alina asks, sincerely: “Are you doing ok?” // “Why are you asking about me? Why aren’t you asking about your wife?” // “How are YOU doing, Ward?” He’s stunned. He doesn’t know how he’s feeling, especially given this. “I’m… lost. This all happened just as I was sure I was over everything. I must be going crazy; I don’t believe you’re here, too.” // “I’m sorry that you’re confused about everything. How’s Tracey?” // “Really? You care how she’s doing?” // “Yes. She’s half the reason I’m here, right? Or rather, half the reason I’m not here.” // “She came to the funeral. The cabbie said you two really went at it.” // “What else did he say?” // “He didn’t remember much, just that you two were fighting about something, and you had fired her maybe. I had to act surprised. But Tracey was really shook up. Helene has been very gracious to her. I hope that’s OK. She doesn’t want any bad blood, plus Tracey seems devastated.” // “That’s all fine. Good, actually. But back to you…” // “What about me?” // “You introduced me to her.” // “You were behind on your deadlines!” // “Well how’s this for deadline?” She waves both hands over her spectred self. // “So this is my fault?” // “I’m not saying that, Ward.” // “You can’t just appear here to blame me for this…” His voice raises for a second before he hushes the tone, careful not to wake Helene. Then Alina: “I’m not here to blame you. I’m here to ask your help.”

“I need you to look after her,” Alina continues. “She’s going to let herself go, I know it. She might even do something brash, because she doesn’t see much use in carrying on. Especially now.” // “Of course, Alina. You didn’t even need to ask me that. Of course I’m going to look after her.” // “I’m sorry to burden you with this.” // “It’s not a burden. She’s family to me.” // “I’d probably be writing some stupid mommy blog, married to an idiot banker if she hadn’t come along. I’d rather be dead.” She chuckles to herself. Ward is still too shocked to find any humor in this. “Alina, it’s really nice to see you, albeit unexpected and a bit startling. But, is this… is this going to be a recurring thing?” // “You mean, since you’re trying to escape it at home and this was supposed to be your safe space?” // “Exactly that, actually.” // “Well, sorry. Yes. It’s going to be a recurring thing.” // “Then I’m going to take a Valium, turn out the lights, and put in my ear plugs.” // “I wasn’t finished…!” // Then, sarcastically to himself, as he turns out the lights: “What’s MY point in carrying on?”


It’s late morning by the time Ward wakes up. He slowly opens his eyes, afraid to turn over and see if Alina is still there. He closes them again, takes a deep breath, and quickly turns toward the rest of the room. “Still here,” Alina says at that very instant, crosslegged in the chair. “Jesus Christ,” Ward screams; he half expected this but it startles him nevertheless. From the kitchen, Helene’s voice: “Ward? Everything OK?” // “Yes Helene,” he calls back to her. “Just having a pesky dream.” Alina rolls her eyes and gives him the finger. Helene walks into the room with coffee and a fruit bowl. She can’t see Alina. “You were practically knocked out. I didn’t want to wake you. Here, darling; it’s just what you like.” // “Thank you, love. Sweet of you. I won’t be a bump like this, I promise. Just the one night. It’s me who should be helping you.” He’s trying his best to ignore Alina, to focus entirely on Helene so that she doesn’t suspect anything strange is happening. She takes a couple steps backwards to sit exactly where Alina is. Alina jumps out and moves aside, just in time for her wife to sink into the chair. Then, Helene speaks: “So. Some big news. I’m going to shut down the business. I’m done. I’m done. I’m…,” She fights for the words, closing her eyes as a tear falls. “I’m giving up.” Now Ward turns to Alina, who is leaning against the opposite wall. She’s fighting tears, too.


Ward and Helene walk through the farmer’s market at Prospect Park, stopping between booths to sample and buy food. As she examines some ears of corn, Helene asks a question: “So how are YOU, Ward?” // “Me? People keep asking me that.” // “Well. You lost your best friend, your best client, and if you don’t mind my saying, you don’t have much else going for you without her, do you?” // “I’ve been trying to ignore that fact.” // “So. How ARE you?” // “Are you trying to recruit me to harakiri, or…?” She manages a laugh; he’s happy to see her smile. “I’m just worried about you,” Helene says. “Just as I was done worrying about you. Now, I can’t stop thinking about what you should do.” // “Well? What do you think should I do?” // “I haven’t any conclusions, or else I’d stop thinking about it.” He purses his lips, like “Yeah, hmm,” and we cut back to Helene’s apartment, as she and Ward eat dinner. We hear Alina’s voice, shouting from the couch nearby: “Ask her about my book.” Ward gives her a glare as Helene is distracted by the meal. Alina again: “Ask her!” Ward fumbles for words: “Helene?” She looks up, smiling. He continues: “What would you like to do with Alina’s manuscript? I reckon the publisher will still want to print it.” // “So print it, for God’s sake. That’s a no brainer.” // “Well, it needs rewrites. Lots of them. It’s great but there’s a lot of change in direction.” // “So have Tracey do it. She can work from here. I’d love the company.” Alina, screaming again: “Plot twist!”


Alina, barking loudly as the table gets cleared: “It makes sense! Tracey has the knack. She’s a psycho bitch who better not mess up my final book, but you’ll keep close watch! I’m just glad it’ll get published. And that’ll keep you afloat for a while too, Ward. It’s great, right? Why don’t you look more excited? Everyone wins! And if she works from here, I’ll be able to keep track of her, too…Oooh, maybe I can haunt her?” Alina won’t shut up, even after Ward leaves the living room for the kitchen. Helene is in there, loading the dishwasher. “Are you alright with me going home tonight?” he asks her. “I think I’ll sleep better there.” // “Wow, the tides have shifted, have they? Are you making progress with…everything?” // “Heaps. I’ll be back first thing in the morning, and we can discuss the Tracey thing. If that’s what you want.” // “We both owe it to Alina to help get this book published.” Cut to: Ward pulls up to his Westchester home. Instead of hesitating to go inside, he marches in, but the momentum dies just before the bedroom. After stopping to collect himself, he turns on the light and sees Amanda, who is sitting at the end of the bed, as always. Before she can say anything, he starts: “I’m selling the house.” A long pause, then Amanda: “Where will I go?” // “I’m selling the house.” // “Where will I go, Ward?” // “I’m selling the house, Amanda.” // “Where. Will. I. Go?” // “I’m. Selling. The. House.” // “WHERE WILL I GO?” // “I’M SELLING THE DAMN HOUSE.” He’s boiling now, and seals it: “I don’t care where you go. As long as I never have to see you again.”

Chapter 9


Ward is in standstill traffic; numerous cars blare their horns in frustration. He’s dressed in a black suit. He’s sullen. He stares at a memorial leaflet on the seat beside him, at a photo of Alina. The driver behind him beeps her horn, bringing him out of his trance. He creeps forward a few car lengths. He’s feeling overheated, so he rolls down his windows to let in some fresh air. The sound of a honking grows louder and louder. He takes a few deep breaths, but it isn’t enough to calm him down. He pushes his car horn and lets out a loud, agitated wail. Cut to: Ward exiting his car at home, walking up to his front porch, and stopping. He takes three more deep breaths before entering.


In his bedroom, Ward takes off the suit and tucks it away in his closet. Our POV is from inside the closet, and we see the bed behind him as he fusses with the garment bag. He leans in to hang it up, filling the frame, and when he retreats, there’s a woman sitting on the edge of his bed. It’s alarming to us, but not to him. He doesn’t see her yet but he knows she’s there; without turning around, he looks out the corner of his eye, and hesitates. She’s caucasian, dressed very modern, hair pulled back. “Not now, Amanda,” he says as his eyes fill with tears. “Please, just not now. Not tonight.” “If today isn’t indication that life is short, I don’t know what is,” she says without remorse. Ward leaves the bedroom without acknowledging her. She screams after him, but doesn’t leave the room. “Ward! Honey! Ward! Come back here. Where are you going?!” He leaves the house, and sits on the front porch while he makes a call. It rings a couple times, then we hear Helene’s voice: “Ward. Hi.” // “Hi darling. Can I come keep you company?”


“I keep seeing her everywhere,” Helene says, staring into a glass of wine, tucked beneath a blanket in the corner of the couch. “I pray she’ll just reappear. I don’t know…so that I could say sorry, for giving up. Now what? She was the strong one. The brave one. The selfless one. I used to be the rock. When did that change? When did our balance shift? Why did I just throw her away like that? I thought it was good for her, to stop wasting away on me. Now it just feels like I got what I deserve, like I shoved her in front of that truck.” She sniffles: “Sorry, I don’t mean to play the victim here…” The rambling halts, and she offers a long enough pause for Ward to interject: “It’s OK to feel shame, but it’s important to make peace. The sooner, the better.” // “What, with my six or seven months? If I even live that long, I hope it’s because I suffer.”


Helene has fallen asleep on the couch. She’s so much smaller than Ward, which we realize as he lifts and carries her into the bedroom. He tucks her in and dims the light, then goes to the bathroom to fill a glass of water, which he sets beside her. He stares forlorn at Helene, asleep without her other half. There’s a photo on the bedside table; it’s of the four of them—Alina and Helene, plus Ward and Amanda, the woman from his bedroom—they’re all smiling near the beach; it must be Hawaii since they have leis around their necks. Ward turns again to the frail, old woman in bed, leans down and takes her hand. She squeezes, unconscious still, and takes a deep, clear breath—as if she is finally relaxing, for the first time in days. Ward gives her forehead a kiss, and at last leaves her to rest.

Ward goes to the hall closet and pulls out some spare bedsheets; he’s very automatic about converting the couch into a makeshift bed. He turns out the light and wraps himself in the sheets, then rolls over and shuts his eyes. He takes a few deep breaths, then opens his eyes again. Something is weird. There’s someone else breathing in the room. “Helene?” He sits up in bed and looks into the dark living room. There’s a silhouette there—a woman—but Helene’s bedroom door is still shut. He turns on the light next to the couch, and we see her: Alina. Sitting in the loveseat across from him, just like she sat across from his desk. She’s dressed up—a blazer and slacks—her legs are crossed, her eyebrow cocked. She stares at Ward, and he stares at her. Her smile grows, and he mutters “No fucking way.” She mouths back: “Yes. Fucking. Way.”

Chapter 8


Tracey emerges from her bed sheets and comes up for air; Alina catches her own breath as Tracey snuggles beside her. “Looks like we can both teach each other something,” Alina laughs. Tracey goes to her dresser and returns with a joint, which she lights up and shares. “I love being close to you,” Tracey says, somewhat vulnerably. “I want to climb inside your head and see what you see, do what you do, think how you think, and write the same way.” Alina holds her tongue, unsure how to respond to something so intimate. Then, as she exhales smoke: “I think the way you see things, the way you write, the way you think…those should be things you’re proud of. The world doesn’t need another me. That won’t do anyone any good. Maybe the world needs its first Tracey Gorman.” // “Sure, but in the meantime, I can learn a lot by watching you, studying you, copying you. I mean, I’m writing a book in your voice, in your style.” // “Well. Technically I’m writing the book in my voice, in my style. And you’re following cues.” Tracey pushed the wrong button, and she knows it. “But you’re doing a terrific job,” Alina says, trying to remedy the tone. Tracey takes a puff and smiles, but not sincerely.


Alina sulks in Ward’s office, her face in her palms. Ward is flabbergasted: “Wooooooooow. Wow. Wowowowowow.” // From Alina’s corner, a muffled “I knowwwwwww. What the hell do I do?” // “This is totally my fault, Alina.” // “No it’s not. I allowed it to happen.” // “Well, she’s doing the same thing with you as she did with Quinn Healy. He’s got a restraining order on her now.” // “WHAT?!” Alina springs up, shocked and upset at this news. // “After she came to work for you, she still kept showing up at his place. Started following his wife. Crazy shit.” // “You never mentioned that she was a psychopath.” // “Well, we didn’t know that yet. Plus, she was helping you! I figured it would slow you back down if I pulled Tracey out. I thought maybe she was just crazy for Quinn or something. Not crazy all around.” // “And now I’m paying her, and fucking her…” // “And cheating on Helene…” // “Thank you, for that. It didn’t start that way, ass hole. I need to shake her, don’t I?” // “The sooner, the better.” // “Do you have another author you can pawn her off to?” // “I know better than to do that now.” // “So I get to clean up your mess?” // “I’m not the one cheating on my sick wife with my assistant. This is your mess now.” Alina collapses back into her own lap. “Ughhhhhhhhhhhhh!”


Alina and Tracey work quietly at a coffee shop in the West Village. Alina keeps looking up from her computer, trying to find the right moment to say… something. Finally, Tracey looks up and their eyes meet. Alina freezes, and Tracey smiles warmly. Alina forces one in return, then Tracey resumes working. Finally, Alina finds her words: “Tracey, um. Can I talk to you about something?” // “Mhmm, what’s up?” // “Um, I just wanted to say how good it’s been working with you.” // “Likewise. That’s so sweet.” Tracey grabs Alina’s forearm. She draws her finger along the veins, before Alina pulls away. “Well, also, I wanted to say that now that we’re done with this draft, I’m in the phase where I’m all set, you know? Like, the publisher and I work together, so they’re kind of my second eyes, and second opinion.” // “I’m contracted through the end, Alina.” // “Yes! I know. An oversight on Ward’s part. I was shocked yesterday when he told me that. He should know better; we’ve been working together for years…” Tracey starts to smell the BS. Alina continues: “And don’t worry, you’ll still be compensated for the whole contract. We’re good for that.” Tracey’s trigger goes off: “This is about Helene.” // “Why would you say that?” // “This isn’t professional, it’s personal.” // “No, it’s not personal. I’ll even be your reference for other jobs. You’ll be writing your own books in no time, I’m certain. This will help you get there faster.” // “I know what I’m capable of, Alina. And I don’t need to kiss your ass to get there.” “So you’re genuinely attracted to me?” Alina asks. A pause, followed by a staredown. “Yes.” // “Then I’m breaking things off. And you’re fired. Effective immediately.” The stare continues, as Tracey’s upper lip quivers furiously.


“I’ll call you a car,” Alina says to a teary-eyed Tracey. They’re outside the coffee shop. “I’ll just have it drop you on Eastern Parkway.” The car arrives, and Tracey climbs in the driver-side door. She leaves it open and goes to the far seat, then peers out: “Are you coming?” // “No, I’ll get my own, thanks.” // “We live a few blocks apart. I’ll hold it together; I’m capable of that.” Alina rolls her eyes: “Fine. Keep your hands to yourself.” // “Jesus, seriously?” Tracey responds as the car moves. “You must think I’m desperate. You’re the washed-up dyke in this outfit, FYI.” Alina politely ignores her and turns to face the passing scenery. The car arrives outside Alina’s apartment on Eastern Parkway. “This is good, thank you,” Alina says to the driver. She turns to Tracey, whose makeup is smudged halfway down her face. Alina unremorsefully puts her hand on Tracey’s shoulder: “We’ll send you a check for outstanding dues. Good lu–” // “Fuck you.” // “I’m sorry? You should be thanking me…” // “Helene threw you away. She didn’t want you; she’d rather die alone. And now you’re groveling. She’s going to fucking croak and you’re going to waste away waiting on her, when she doesn’t even need you.” // “Wow, and being with you would have been a more rational decision?” // “FUCK you.” It’s pure vitriol, rage, jealousy. Alina slaps Tracey, turning her brown cheek a deep red. Tracey instantly pounces, pulling off Alina’s glasses and ripping out a lock of hair. The driver yells over them, reaching back to break up the quarrel. Alina kicks Tracey away, and even cuts her cheek with her sharp heel. “I’ll see you in court,” Tracey threatens. “Not after you get your second restraining order,” Alina says. “I’m gonna blacklist you, bitch.” “GET OUT OF MY CAR, BOTH OF YOU!” the driver screams. Tracey exits in a huff, still clasping a bunch of Alina’s hair. Alina gathers everything and steps out her door, which is facing the street. Just then, a truck passes, too close to swerve away, and strikes. Alina hardly manages a scream before it rips her into a million goddamn pieces.


Tracey screams, then scopes the scene, her mind racing. She sprints away as the taxi driver yells after her, as the truck driver weeps, as traffic stops and the ambulance and police approach. We hear their sirens still from inside Helene and Alina’s apartment, where Helene washes produce and readies for dinner. She’s rehearsing a speech of some sort, nervously juggling phrases into order: “I’m ready to fight. With you. Thank you. … I’m going to fight. We’re going to fight. … Thank you for reminding me what is important. You are important. Let’s fight together. I need your help. … Oof. I’m not the writer here, that’s you. But thank you, for reminding me what’s important. I want to fight. I am so grateful for you, I love you so much. I want to get better. I want us to get better…” She fills a glass of water, chokes back a handful of painkillers, then peeks out the window to survey the scene on the street. “A shame,” she says as the respondents cover a corpse with a white sheet, as their lights blanket the boulevard in a sobering strobe. Helene instinctively does the sign of the cross, then returns to her dinner preparations. She checks the time, then locates two wine glasses, filling both as she smiles reflectively, graciously.

Chapter 7


Alina stands outside her old apartment. She pushes the buzzer as she mutters to herself: “This is fucking humiliating.” She covers the camera with her hand, just in time for Helene’s voice: “Who is it?” // “It’s Alina.” // “Why?” // “What do you mean ‘Why?'” // “WHY are you here?” // “Like I need a reason. Come on, I still have my keys. I was just being polite. I’m coming up.” // “Your keys won’t work…” Cut to: Alina unlocking the apartment door and walking in. “Keys work,” she says. “It was worth a try,” her wife responds, annoyed. Helene sits, very guarded, surrounded by packed moving boxes and holding a glass of wine in each hand; she offers one to her wife, who declines. “Alina, I’ve explained myself plenty by now. What do you need?” // “Well, first I need to pee, then you can tell me why everything is in boxes. I also came for some of my furniture. Just in time, it seems…you know half of this is mine.” She lets herself into the bathroom, as Helene’s eyes widen: “No, wait, honey…it’s a mess in there!” Too late: Alina is locked inside, shocked at the dozen-something painkiller bottles that decorate the sink perimeter.


Now they’re both in the living room. Alina is panicking, as Helene fumbles for words: “I’m…sorry. I’m just…drained. I’m empty, I’m tired.” Alina, furious: “And in pain. Still sick.” // “Yes…” Helene pauses. “Still sick.” A beat. “It’s back. But it’s in my spine now.” Alina has to process two emotions: Sorrow for Helene, and disappointment toward her: “No… no no no nononono. … Helene, honey. But…what? You thought you were doing me a favor? Is that your thought process?” // “Baby, I’m this miserable human. A shell of myself. I’m ready to give the brand to Kyle. I’ll get rid of everything here. You’re young enough to have another chapter, another love. You don’t owe me your best years. I got mine from you, and I shouldn’t steal yours in exchange.” // “Jesus Christ, Helene. All of that is SO far from what matters right now. There’s only one right answer for me. Stop packing. Stop…giving in. I want us to spend all of our life together. Maybe you’ll outlive me, even! Let’s make that possible, at least. And don’t give your entire label away yet. Kyle can wait. You’re going to be fine, I promise… I’m… I’m moving back in. Right now.” // “Alina, really, I think I’ll lose faster if I feel like I’m burdening you. The guilt of it all…” Alina sees a pack of cigarettes on the end table: “But smoking those won’t kill you faster? Seriously, Helene? Did you forget how we got here?” She pauses, her eyes begging for Helene to reply. Alina again: “Well?” Another pause. Finally: “I don’t know, Alina.” She turns away. “Let’s try it, then. I suppose it will be nice for you to find my body when I fall over dead in the spring.” Very quickly, Alina loses herself to sobs, and Helene chokes back her wine before starting on Alina’s glass.


Tracey works from Alina and Helene’s living room. She oozes discomfort as Alina unpacks boxes around her. Then, Tracey asks about the scene she’s working on: “I’m stuck on this line, where Chantal tries leaving Erica. I don’t think she actually wants to leave. I think she’s doing it out of guilt.” Alina, only half focused: “It’s like a therapist dating her patient, right? She wants to keep things professional. … It’s the right thing to do, don’t you think?” A pregnant pause… “Is it?” Tracey replies. “Listen, this is really weird for me, Alina. And I want to keep working for you, obviously…” // “It’s no less weird for me. What happened was fun, but circumstances have changed. Don’t wait for someone who’s unavailable, especially when you’re as young and hot as you are.” // “That’s not something most bosses say to their assistants.” // “Then I had better learn to watch my tongue.” // “I’m going to take my clothes off, and I’m going to lay on your bed. Do with that what you will.” // “That’s not something an assistant should say to her boss.” Too late: Tracey is already walking into the bedroom. Alina lingers for a minute, her conscience going back and forth. She goes into the bedroom.


A nurse draws Helene’s blood as Alina squeezes the opposite hand. Helene turns and musters a warm smile to Alina, then mouths “Thank you.” The nurse checks Helene’s vitals before the doctor enters. “Hi Helene, Alina.” She looks grim. “PET scans are showing that the metastasis is just in the spine. Not the best news, of course, but the best possible news given what we already know. So, now we can concentrate our efforts…” // Helene cuts in: “How much longer then?” A pause. “Maybe seven or nine months. That’s just the average. Some people recover entirely.” // “What percentage?” Helene’s tone is direct, aggressive. // “Less than five percent will get past two years. But you already beat this once! And we’ve got you in good hands again.” Helene squeezes Alina’s hand, and nods as she processes all of this. Another warm smile to her wife, who struggles to return the gesture.


Alina and Helene walk, hand in hand. They go south down Park Avenue, and through Madison Square Park, and Union Square, and Washington Square, and SoHo’s cobbled side streets, and Chinatown, and the Brooklyn Bridge, and Downtown Brooklyn, and Borough Hall, and Cobble Hill, and Gowanus, and Park Slope, and past Prospect Park and the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch and the Brooklyn Library and Botanic Gardens and Brooklyn Museum… and home. Cut to Helene in the bath, and Alina sitting outside the tub, fully clothed. A charcuterie plate rests atop a foot stool between them, and, of course, they have glasses of wine: “Two years is nothing,” Alina says as they clink the glasses. “You’re gonna make it another 40, easy.” // “As long as you’re here.” // “What could possibly take me away from you?”

Chapter 6


Tracey drops her tote in Ward’s living room. Alina, a nervous wreck already, now has the added guilt of making Tracey travel further for work. “Sorry,” she says. “I’m going to pay you $500 more every month, to cover the commute, and the inconvenience. And Ward says you can crash here if we ever work too late. The couch is a nice day bed, too.” “It’s fine,” Tracey replies. “I mean, walking a few blocks was kind of perfect, but I always heard nice things about Westchester. Besides, this is temporary, right?” // “Yes. It has to be. I need to be back in the city, in Brooklyn. In Prospect Heights. It’s my home.” She takes a deep breath, and collects her thoughts: “Sorry. Sorry. Or…thank you. Thank you for coming all this way, without any notice. I think with your help I can make this more temporary than it otherwise would be.” Tracey comes in for a hug: “It’s my pleasure,” she says, smiling warmly as she consoles her mentor. “I’ll help you, in whatever way I can.”


Tracey readies the couch for sleep; she’s spending the night. Alina and Ward stand behind her. “Day one, and it’s already turning into an overnight,” Alina remarks. “I’m sorry. And thank you. Again.” “I don’t care one bit, I assure you,” Tracey says. Then, Ward: “Do you have everything you need? Toothbrush? More blankets? There are bath towels on the shelf in the restroom.” // “I think I’m set, thank you.” Alina chimes in: “What about proper pajamas? I have an extra set in my luggage. Come with me.” Together, the two of them go to the guest room, but Ward stays back. “Do you want red or blue?” Alina asks. “They’re both from Helene, which is a lovely reality I’m going to have every day that I get dressed…” Behind her, Tracey is already stripped down to her underwear, sans anything up top. “I’ll take red.” Alina turns to see Tracey, and freezes. They lock eyes for maybe five seconds, maybe ten. Then Alina extends the pajamas to her mentee, who slowly dresses herself. The entire time, they keep eyes locked—it’s intense and charged and terrifying and exhilarating. “Thank you,” Tracey says after she finishes. “I feel very comfortable.” She leaves, and a few seconds later, Ward enters: “Did she change in here? Someone sure gets comfortable fast…”


Alina can’t sleep, again. She tiptoes to the kitchen, careful not to wake Tracey. However, Tracey is already up: She’s standing outside Ward’s bedroom, listening through the door as he talks to himself, or to someone unknown. She gives the “Shhhh!” sign to Alina, but Alina grabs Tracey’s hand and pulls her into the guest bedroom: “It’s his wife,” she immediately explains. “He says he can still see her. She sits at the edge of his bed, whenever he’s home. And they argue. He’s gotten lots of help but, maybe she’s really there?” // “Holy shit, that’s heavy.” // “I don’t want you thinking any differently about him. He’s carrying this on his back, going on two years now.” Finally, Tracey cuts in: “He was talking about selling the house?” // “Well, yes. In the hope that she dissolves with it. This was supposed to be their daughter’s room.” // “Their daughter? Was she…?” // “…A few months along, yes.” // “Please don’t judge him.” // “I won’t. I totally believe in that stuff. It’s real—they have unfinished business, and they want to make sure the people the left behind are taken care of. She probably wants him to start a family here, even if she can’t be part of it.” // “Well, that’s not really on the menu, I don’t think. Which is why he’s having a hard time; he wants to sell, you know, to move on. … Let’s go to bed?” Tracey nods, pauses for a few seconds—was that an invitation?—then exits politely.


After the door shuts behind Tracey, Alina stays upright on the edge of the bed. She’s thinking to herself, torn between trying to sleep and opening the door again… She opens the door again. Tracey is there, as if she knew it would happen. Alina pulls her slowly into the room. She lays back on the bed. Tracey crawls atop her. They kiss playfully, and then passionately. Tracey’s hand roams, and Alina relaxes, finally. Finally. She sits up, and helps Tracey remove her pajamas. As she unbuttons the silk top and pulls it back from both arms, she see the brand tag sewn into the neckline: “Helene.” After a moment’s pause, Alina stifles her restraint and pins Tracey to the bed as their shared fantasy is realized.


A taxi carries Alina, Tracey, and Ward through midtown. Ward, in the passenger seat, is briefing the women on their upcoming meeting with Alina’s publisher. Alina stares out the window through her sunglasses, only half paying attention. Tracey keeps looking over to her, annoyed that she isn’t getting any attention or affection. So, she tickles her fingers around Alina’s waistline—only playfully—until her boss turns and smiles coyly behind her sunglasses. With this cue, Tracey slips her hand down Alina’s waistline while Ward chatters away, oblivious to any of it. He starts quizzing Alina, and she can only respond with a short “Right, noted” and “OK, got it”. She seems indifferent to Tracey’s aggression, or like she’s trying to enjoy it but can’t. They arrive at the office; Tracey’s hand retreats, and she exits the car. Ward leaves his front seat, and opens Alina’s door to help let her out. She’s exhausted. He has a concerned stare: “How are you holding up, my dear?” // “Who, me? Oh, just fine, thank you. Today will be a good distraction. Work will be a good distraction.” // “One day at a time, yeah?” // “Precisely.” Ward kisses her on the cheek and follows Tracey into the building. Alina finds a kerchief, removes her sunglasses, and discreetly wipes away the mascara-stained tears before joining her colleagues.

Chapter 5


Alina hustles into the waiting room of a doctor’s office. The secretary recognizes her: “Hi Ms. Elgin. She’s in with Doctor Hanson now. Should be done any minute; why don’t you take a seat?” // “Can I go in?” // “Not now, sorry. She’ll be done any minute.” Alina finds a chair. Thirty minutes go by before Helene emerges. She looks upset; Alina rises to receive her: “Honey, is everything…” Helene cuts her off: “How could you be late to this one? What could possibly be more important?” // “The publisher lunch, you know, Helene. You didn’t have to change the appointment at the last minute… I tried to be here. Is everything OK?” // “Everything is fine. I’m fine.” // “Wait, like… fine with your lungs? Or with us?” // “With my lungs. It’s done. It’s over.” // “Honey. WOW…” Alina starts to cry, and then Helene breaks ever so subtly. “I can’t believe it,” Helene manages to say. “Me either,” Alina adds. “Thank God.”


In the taxi home, Alina takes Helene’s hand as they both stare out the windows. “Let’s go somewhere,” Alina says. “To celebrate. To clear our minds for a while. You’re between seasons, I’ve got the draft in, we could escape for a few weeks. You’ve earned it.” Helene doesn’t miss a beat: “I’ve already booked something.” // “Oh…? Where are we going then?” // “Just me. I’m going alone.” // “Sorry, what?” Alina pulls her hand away from Helene’s. “That’s not like you. Why would you go someplace without me, without even telling me, or asking me how I would feel? Because suddenly I feel like shit.” // “I need some time alone, Alina. Badly.” // “At the doctor’s office, when I asked if things were fine with your lungs, or with us… you just said that your lungs were OK.” A pause. “Are things not fine with us?” // “They haven’t been, and you know it.” // “Yeah, well I’ve been under the belief that we could rebound from it, once you got your energy back. Once we got you back. I’ve been waiting for you this whole time, patiently.” // “I suddenly feel very free, Alina dear. And I want to be free. I want us to be divorced.” Alina asks the cab driver to pull over. “Get out,” she says to Helene. “Be free, if that’s what you want. You’re healthy now, you can walk fucking home. Don’t inhale any smog, you ungrateful louse.” Without a word, Helene does as she is told.


Alina sobs in the bathroom as we hear the front door open and shut. She covers her mouth with a towel to mask the deep breaths, and she listens intently as Helene crosses the living room and enters the bedroom, which is attached to the bathroom. The footsteps stop just outside the door. Then, Helene speaks: “The apartment is mine, as you know. I spoke with Ward just now, and he’ll let you stay with him, as long as you need. You cannot stay here tonight; I don’t want a drawn-out goodbye, so I’ll arrange someone to send you your things as soon as you decide where to receive them.” Alina changes direction: “What if you had stayed sick? Was I just here as your caretaker? My career took a very significant hit; I risked professional relationships, and helped you sew buttons on your goddamn blazers. The number of nights I couldn’t fall asleep…wondering why our marriage seemed to be falling apart, despite my loyalty and selflessness toward you. And I even gave you the benefit of the doubt, like ‘Oh, she thinks she’s going to die soon, this is excusable behavior. I’ll just be a good wife, and wait it out, knowing she’ll survive, knowing we’ll survive.’ You’re so old now, Helene. Who’s going to take you? Take care of you if you get sick again? How can you do any better? You own half my life, all my focus, and…all of that is disposable to you. Are you fucking proud of yourself?” She’s done yelling, and she opens the door to face Helene. Her wife stands there, poised. No tears. She looks like a portrait, a painting. After a few beats, she speaks: “I am very proud of myself.” Alina slams the door.


Ward opens his front door. “Hi my babe,” he says to a sullen Alina. “I’ve got dinner on the way, and wine. Lots of wine. And a chocolate ice cream cake in the freezer, since it’s your favorite.” “All that sounds like we’re celebrating something,” Alina says as she sets her bags down inside. “Maybe take them to Helene, celebrate her freedom, her new lease on life.” // “Maybe, uh, maybe this is YOUR new lease on life too, Alina. Er, um, I won’t go down that road yet. You need time. I should know that better than anyone.” // “Do you suppose it’s easier to lose a spouse to death or to selfishness?” // “Sorry?” // “Not to be a prat. But I hate knowing she can go out there and make herself happy while she juxtaposes it all against me, like I’m the thing that brought her down. At least your wife can’t make you miserable by searching for your replacement…by quote unquote LIVING.” // “I can call a hotel if you like…” // “Sorry. Jesus, sorry. I’m processing, Ward. I’m sorry. Let’s get the wine? And the cake….”


Alina can’t sleep, for obvious reasons. She sniffles, then gets up and teeters toward the kitchen. She fills a glass of water. As she drinks, she hears Ward’s voice coming from his bedroom. Alina tiptoes over to the door, and listens carefully. It’s like he’s carrying on a conversation with someone else, except he’s very clearly alone: “I have to sell it. It’s too big…. Well, yes, Alina’s here for a little while, but I can still put it on the market. Then find a one-bedroom in the city, try the bachelor thing again…. Oh, stop being so sensitive. What good is this place to me? This is the first time the kid’s room as been used. Do you want me sulking here? I need to get on with things, try to be happy. For me. … Yes I still want you around but… No, Amanda, listen… Listen! That’s what I would have wanted for you…. Oh, don’t give me that. Bull shit. Bulllll shit….” Alina’s eyes are wide, but she feels bad for eavesdropping, and for Ward. So, she slinks back to her bedroom, none the happier.