Sunday Pages: "Don't You Know I Love You"

An excerpt from the new novel by Laura Bogart

Dear Reader:

As the world has become even more terrifying in the last two weeks, and as many if not most of my readers are in some form of quarantine, I thought it would be nice to share some content that had nothing at all to do with Trump, Putin, Bernie, or global pandemics that will kill off millions of people. In “Sunday Pages,” which I hope will be a recurring feature, I will run excerpts from novels, short story collections, poetry collections, and so forth—whatever crosses my desk (have something I should share? Let me know, please!). Because art, my friends, will also prevail!

First up, this excerpt from the novel by my friend Laura Bogart, which drops on Tuesday via Dzanc Books:

Angelina Fights the Neighbor

Flakes of dry white wood came loose in Angelina’s palm as she pushed herself along the banister up to Janet’s third-floor apartment. There were only two apartments on the narrow floor, E and F. A curlicue of craft-store ivy coiled around F’s domino-sized doorbell, and Angelina knew it was Janet’s before Janet even turned the key.

“The walls are thin, then?”

The hardwood floor had been scarred by furniture legs and broken glass, punctured and gouged by boot heels and bottle caps. Though her flimsy work flats couldn’t have furthered that damage, Angelina followed Janet’s lead and slipped her shoes beside a hall mat that must’ve come from the November first clearance sale at Party City: a rhinestoned skull on black rubber.

“My décor is essentially an eighties prom on Halloween,” Janet said. “I’m compensating for my tortured girlhood of L.L. Bean turtlenecks and yellow wallpaper—and I mean that in both the literal and literary incarnations.”

Angelina padded into a kitchen with a pink Formica countertop and doorless cabinets that had been lined with blue fleur-de-lis wallpaper. Janet pulled two stemless wine glasses from a bottom shelf before rooting through her freezer for an ice tray and a bottle of ginger ale. The dining room table was some cheap Ikea number that Janet had spray-painted white before hot-gluing fake ivy around the legs and up the corners.

“If I had my own place, I’d like it to be like this,” Angelina said. “It has character.”

Janet led her out of the kitchen and into the living room. The furniture had either been carefully curated from Saturday yard sales in the more manicured parts of town or snatched up from a Craig’s List curb dump. The crown of the living room was a Victorian sofa set with cushions the color of devil’s food cake. A black steamer trunk served as a coffee table, and the side table was an ionic pillar made from heavy plastic.

“You mean it is a character. A faded starlet of the silent film era, grown fat and addled on champagne and pills.”

“No. I mean, I don’t know. If your apartment were a person, I’d want to get to know them. They seem cool.”

“I guess you sort of are getting to know my ‘apartment-as-a-person’ right now,” Janet said. She flashed an L-is-for-loser sign on her forehead. “I mean, fuck it. I like my things, even if Ali didn’t. Oh God, she hated my place. Well, I guess still actively hates my place. I just don’t have to be around her active hatred of my place anymore. Thank God.

Janet slid her socks off and tossed them toward the back of the apartment, near an open doorway. Angelina could only imagine what that bedroom looked like.

“We always had to go back to her place, which is, like, okay, it’s much technically nicer. It is a condo in the Harbor, but it was so sanitary and dickless.”

Though she’d drawn her legs up on the sofa yogi style (a gesture that Angelina’s knees, as rigid as a Ken doll’s, couldn’t emulate), Janet’s back arched with a feline assertiveness. She was clearly reliving one of her and her ex’s oldest, most constant fights. In this retelling, she landed those long fists between the ribs that Ali dodged the first go ’round. And yet, in the subtle dampening of her voice, in the quick downcurl of her mouth, there was the lingering love that rued the punch.

“Sanitary and dickless,” Angelina said. “I can imagine that apartment. Black granite countertops and inlaid lighting. One of those ridiculous showerheads—no, I’m sorry, shower panels—with the massage settings—”

“Oh honey, you don’t need to be coy. They’re totally masturbation settings,” Janet said.

Janet raised her left hand for a high five and Angelina, unconsciously, returned it with her cast.

“I love that we’re both so awkward,” Janet said. “I knew we’d get along just from how your mom describes you. ‘Angelina is my odd duck,’ that’s what she says.”

“Does my mom know that you’re—”

 “Gay? Sure.”

“Does my mom know that I’m—”

“She sure was keen to get us together.”

“Does that, like, strike you as weird at all?”

“If by weird, you mean sweet.”

A sudden thump shook the wall. Three more thumps followed in succession, each one blunter, nastier than the one before. Unexpected noise turned Angelina’s heart into a fat rabbit pinched under a wire fence.

“Oh Christ, it’s him,” Janet groaned.

 “It’s a terrible thing, to dread coming home,” said Angelina.

Another bang forced the framed pictures on Janet’s wall askew, and Angelina to her feet. She stared at the pictures—photos of Janet and her friends (unless one of them was Ali?) all done up as old Hollywood stars for Halloween. Janet was Marilyn Monroe in full Seven Year Itch mode. The Hepburns flanking her, Audrey and Kate, wore their fall jackets, but Janet went unarmored against the chill in her white dress and sequined sandals. Her bra was padded, but not cartoonishly so: just enough.

Before she was even aware why—something to do with Janet’s eyes in that photograph, a little soused, a little sad even under all that glitter—Angelina’s cast swung against the wall with a velocity that quaked the whole apartment. Must’ve sent aftershocks through Mr. Paulson’s unit, too, because the bang that volleyed back was sharper, more concentrated—a broom handle bang.

“Shit,” Janet said. Her voice was a pair of soft hands thrown up against a haymaker. 

Angelina’s father had taken her to the basement and taught her to hit. He’d offer his open hands to her tiny fists. His palms were nests of bone. Then he’d pinion her wrists between his fingers, tilt and twist her arms to show her how to rotate her arm for a proper punch.

Angelina’s wrist twitched and sang through the plaster. But she banged back until Mr. Paulson started knocking on Janet’s door.

Angelina swung the door open and stood face to face with Mr. Paulson, an emaciated man with beetle-shell eyes and witch’s broom hair. His face had been carved out of rotted wood, all mottled edges and hard lines etched around his cheeks and mouth.

“People are sleeping,” he hissed.

He jabbed the broom handle toward Angelina, but Angelina swatted it away with her cast. The crack of wood on plaster must’ve shocked Mr. Paulson, because he swayed backward. Angelina could only imagine that Mr. Paulson—a ragdoll stuffed with burned fuses—had felt that sound in the flesh, on his flesh, at least once.

“No, people are talking at reasonable volume. Psychotic assholes are banging on walls.”

Angelina’s feet spread along the hard floor; her right shoulder dropped low (but not too low), hips pivoted to generate force; chin down and eyes ahead. She raised the cast in front of her belly, held it a few inches away so she could strike out easily or maneuver it for a block.

“You don’t live here. Who are you?”

“I’m the bitch who makes you leave her alone.”

Angelina kept her eyes trained on Mr. Paulson; she’d learned, early on, to never be seduced by anything peripheral. Yet she was aware of Janet standing up, moving behind her.

“I pay rent. I don’t have to deal with this shit from some fat dyke who doesn’t even live here.”

“She’s not fat.”

Janet’s indignant cry was enough to distract Mr. Paulson. Angelina knocked the broomstick out of his hands. It fell away with the lightness of a matchstick.

Angelina felt Janet’s breath against her collarbone before she felt the gentle tug at her elbow. Janet released her torrent of threats—that the next time there was banging on the walls and yelling in the hallways, shed call the cops, which she should have done months ago.

Janet closed the door and danced a victory lap around Angelina; she pumped her fists and whistled, every so often stopping to cry out, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” Angelina stared at the blank space where her opponent’s eyes had been. Then Janet touched the small of her back, led her back to the kitchen.

To celebrate Angelina’s “unequivocal victory,” Janet tried to mix up some Jack and cokes. Her hands shook and flailed. She knocked one glass into the sink.

I know this, Angelina thought. I know the moments after. I can be useful.

“You know what’s weird? I haven’t even drawn on my own cast yet,” Angelina said. “I mean, I’m an artist, right? Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do?”

“No, I think your friends are supposed to do that for you,” Janet said. “When my friend Maxine broke her ankle, we drew flowers and pasties all over her cast. She’s a burlesque dancer, so we figured we’d draw all the stuff she was missing while she was cooped up.”

“I would like that,” Angelina said. “I mean, I would like for you to draw on me. My cast, that is.”

Janet pulled a Sharpie out of a kitchen drawer and told Angelina to sit on the couch.

As Angelina offered her left arm to Janet, it sizzled with the kind of pain she would’ve clenched her fist against, if she could. Janet told her to focus on her breath: deeply in, slowly out. The rhythm of pressure and release in the center of her chest lulled her. She wasn’t aware of any pain, only Janet moving the cast into her lap.

“What are you going to draw?”

Janet didn’t answer. She glided the marker over plaster, rendered a crude broom. Angelina laughed. The broom would be a little in-joke. Nobody else would get it. Then Janet gave a theatrical “Ha!” and drew a stick figure witch with a triangle hat sitting on the broom, shaking her tiny fists. 

Laura Bogart is a featured writer at The Week and a contributing editor to DAME magazine. She was a featured writer at Salon, where her essays about body image, dating, politics, and violence went viral - her pieces were regularly recognized as Editor's Choice. She has written about pop culture, often through the perspective of gender, for The Atlantic, The Guardian, SPIN, The Rumpus, Vulture, Roger Ebert, The AV Club, and Refinery 29. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and received the Grace Paley Fellowship from the Juniper Institute at UMass Amherst. Laura has been interviewed about body size and pop culture for NPR outlets.