Cecily brought Tyler home the second semester of her freshman year in college. She had found someone to follow.

For ninety-seven seconds, it jolted me in a good way. Cecily found a personal style - some black frame glasses, a short wispy haircut, a smart-but-bland wardrobe. And she had passion for things now, even if she'd had borrowed Tyler's passions.

Tyler was an experimental artist, he explained, of no particular paradigm. He brought a book on their first visit and showed us the dissected cow. I said I'd seen it. Tyler was wounded.

And he showed exhibits I hadn't seen, exhibits I doubted were really art, even after he explained their theory. One piece was simply a room so hot that oil stuck to the walls.

"She's pretty stuck on him," Sadie said later.

"He's gay, you know."

Sadie broke into a conspiratorial hiss. "And leave it to Cecily to be so rummy as to take after that kid and get smitten."

In time Cecily had journeyed beyond taking after Tyler to sheer mimicry. Walk. Talk. Eat.

On a Saturday at the mall, I had separated from Sadie and wandered to a taco joint when I saw them, carrying coffees to the pastels-and-khakis department store, trotting on the balls of their feet, slightly pitched forward, both elbows hooked to their sides, so that their chests bore all the weight and bounced. They leaned into space made just for them, silently, in unison. Cecily had fallen in love with, and cloned herself to, a short, wiry, Gumby-like homosexual with bug eyes and a taste for chocolate mocha.


From behind me. I turned to see her. Adriana was still taking in the long view of Cecily and Tyler forging into khaki shop. She crunched a taco.

She wore jeans, a ponytail, a shirt that showed them off.

We shared that moment of disgust at the same thing in our separate spaces. My stomach wobbled at her presence.

"Strange," she said, meeting my eyes.

Strange. Not weird, or dumb, or a whispered insult. Nor did she punctuate the word with that's so or that is so.

But, just, strange. My own thought.

Affairs fall into place like this. She fit the mood of my moment, and her image, and that word, stuck, and I could conjure it again and again with a glance inside myself.

We shared nothing there. She smiled, gave a half-nod, pivoted, crunched, strode away. I got my own taco, crunched and fantasized, found the mall's perimeter bathroom, and masturbated.

Two weeks later, a Norman Rockwell show arrived at the art museum. Cecily, having declared herself immersed in the subject of art, and a budding expert upon it, deemed the show a series of tired, emotionless paintings, refusing to see it. Tyler, a step deeper and further from Cecily in all degrees, dipped and jabbed his fork as he deconstructed the work, needling at Rockwell's obvious choices in false Americana pop culture.

Tyler's first exhibit had shown to mild raves at the college gallery.

It was his bug collection, fastened to the wall with bobby pins instead of the long, slender dissecting pins.

"That variation," Cecily gushed a day after it opened. "That is art."

She was hotwired into my crotch. No better way to put it.

Adriana. Busty. Leggy. Touchy. Painted fingernails. Low-cut shirt. Light smoker. Bulges her lips out when she lights the cigarette. Bitchy, maybe, but not gabby. Community college, but smarter than that. Been knocked around a little.

Waitress around the corner from the Rockwell show. I saw it out of spite, and liked it out of the same, though I noted Tyler was right; digesting Rockwell was like kite-flying, or lawn darting. I had my mind set to Refigure, in favor of my daughter and her now live-in gay artist, when Adriana bounced out the kitchen door, caught my gaze, registered and returned it, broke the boundaries of her area to service me, to sit across from me in a corner booth, repeating the order to draw it out, tapping the pencil, timing it out, visibly, before noting she had once seen me. The mall. The clones. Strange.

I mean it; things fall into place. Adriana just worked for my Midlife.

In a corner booth with sunny-side eggs and yams touching, it's as if booze filled me in the moment. She noted my ring, I noted her raised centers. We noted silently the vulgarity of it.

Maybe other affairs play out differently. Among high brows, maybe it's more string than percussion.

But there, in that reclined pose, her legs barely straddling a purposely protruded knee, I saw red.