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?”

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