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An Excerpt from ‘Men’

by Louise Wareham Leonard

Jonathan is the world’s most famous North American novelist. He isn’t when I meet him. He is an unknown: modest and almost shy, fundamentally but not impossibly handsome. He has come to the arts colony to read from his new book. It is a novel, coming out in a month. In the kitchen, I cut him hunks of bread and cheese. We have both just been through breakups. We are miserable and barely able to go on. We smile as we say this, but they are rueful smiles full of understanding.

After he leaves, he sends me a postcard. On it is a black and white photograph of a white sheeted bed. I don’t know what this photograph suggests, or if it suggests anything. It seems, however, to suggest something.

Two months later, his new book comes out. It wins 434 awards. It sells 800 million copies. It appears in 269 languages. It seems he and his girlfriend are working something out.

He comes to my city to give a reading. We plan to go to dinner. The reading is in the Town Hall. There are 800 people there. I wait two hours by the signing table. Finally, I lead him from Town Hall through the city past the Bucket Fountain. He has been away, by the ocean. He doesn’t like the ocean, though. He likes cities. “Do you like this city?” I ask. He looks around. “The best thing about this city is you.”

At dinner, he has the local fish: paua. Then I take him driving. I have just bought a car—two days ago. It was $3,000 at auction, champagne colored and American. I take him on a joyride, up and down and around the roily hills, up a 650-foot-high mountain where I accidentally back into a hillside, smashing into rocks. The night is dark. The wind is fierce and vigorous. We climb up to look at the harbor lights. “Do you believe in God?” I ask. “That’s a bit personal.” “So, are you back with your girlfriend?” He hesitates. He is, he says. At the same time, she isn’t so strict about things. Which is a relief. I bet, I think, taking him to see a bust of a royal.

Eventually, that night, we pull up outside his hotel. He presses his long fingers together. “It doesn’t feel right,” he says, “to leave you alone.” Is he suggesting something? He seems to be, but I am not sure. I refuse always, at this point in my life, to sleep with a man who has another girlfriend. Still, for a moment, I think about it. I remember his novel in which a character masturbates on a couch. I hated that scene so much it is hard to imagine having sex with its author. Then again, he is somewhat handsome. “You should get out of the car,” I tell him, “or I might have to kiss you.”

The next day, I find out that my car is riddled with rust. It is “highly dangerous” and could “split apart” and “shatter” at any time. It must be immediately destroyed. Imagine, I think, if the car had “split apart” and “shattered” while I was driving the world’s most famous North American novelist. Now I would be famous also.

Born in New Zealand, Louise Wareham Leonard moved to Manhattan at age twelve and attended Columbia College. Her first novel, Since You Ask (Akashic Books, 2004), was awarded the James Jones Literary Society Award. Her second, Miss Me a Lot Of, was published in 2007 by Victoria University Press. In addition to Manhattan, Louise has lived and worked in Europe, the Deep South, and the remote outback of western Australia. She currently lives with her husband in Irondequoit, New York, on Lake Ontario.