She stops breathing every morning before sunrise, and wakes up choking on the scent of lavender. It's been that way since she was nine. In psychology they would call it buried subconcious asphyxiation, and while she knows this, she prefers to imagine that it is a noose made of everything iniquitous she's done the day before, tightening like the will of God before she can strike again.
Her mother calls at six, from the Hilton in Paris or the New York Ritz, and tells her in crackling Cantonese that God's angels will punish her if she doesn't go to school.
Then she says, in English,Where's Brock? Did he make you dinner last night?
He left money.
After thanking the Starbucks or boulangerie employee, she will manage between bites of croissant, He needs to take care of you, Svetlana. I will talk to him.
He's not a very paternal figure.
I promised when we got married that he would not have to babysit you, but it would be kind if.. Then there is always the six fifteen meeting that must be rushed to before she can finish, and Svetlana hangs up without a goodbye before drifting out of bed and donning Earth Day t-shirts or Torrid skirts. She reads from poetry titles that she learned from her writer friends downtown, before she decided that marijuana and lattes were affecting her studies and skinny-girl pallor. Her favorite is Emily Dickinson, but she likes the micro-press Portland freaks who write about robots and rape in strange places.
On this day, May 1st, she is rushing fingers through her chunky black emo kid hair a little later than usual, and she is moving out the door with larger steps and a more select bouquet of flowers. She has a mission, today. Today she's going to get Beauford.
Past the rought iron gates outside of the Victorian apartment building, there are new cars and a moving truck lined up against the street, gripping the steep curb with the firm delicacy that musicians use with harps. The cobblestones are warped beneath her Doc Martens-the ones with pictures of Bowie glued to their glitter-dusted tops-as she tries to walk like flowing script to the Cathedral down the street, brandishing her flora at the sky in an effort to swing her arms in time with her feet.
Come to me, lambs of the earth, and blessed as I shalt thou be,' the bells announce, or at least, that is what she hopes that they are saying. In Croatia, when she asked, the priests said that the ringers intended to drive away devils from the sacred house, and ensure that only the holy entered. The church was bombed a few months later, just before Svetlana and her mother went to live in Berkeley on a grant while the latter polished off her dissertation on psychological trauma in the victims of large, unpleasant surprises.

She pauses in the center of the pointed neo-Gothic doorway, gazing lustily into the belly of the Cathedral's apse. This, she thinks, is everything that matters; not just the entrance to a building, but to God's building. His house. She pretends that the carvings are so old that Peter made them; he and Gabriel, together, in love with God and each other. She dips silver-encrusted fingers into the metallic water, touches her forehead, shoulders, and chest, and strides down the aisle to the sweet rythm of consecrated silence, inhaling beeswax and relishing the weight of her presence and His. She places the bouquet-lavender and sunflower-on the high altar, before escaping to her step-father's firm, an excuse for being there already clanging and fusing weakly in her head like a readymade robotic heart.
Brock Abercrombie is not in his office, and the receptionist is drunk; Svetlana whispers past, pretending that she is a twenty-five year old law intern who belongs. Everyone in the office knows who she is; no one says hello. She continues streaming down the hall, careful not to subtly knock anyone's coffee cup onto their papers, until she reaches Beauford. He is sitting at his desk, legs crossed in some bizarre, anti-yoga pose, and looks especially nervous. She trickles up behind him and begins to rub his shoulders.
He gasps, twisting his unexercised body to find her, wide eyes groping for an explanation.
It's just me, she spouts, kissing the top of his salt and pepper hair and running a finger down a line of CDs in the niche of desk before her. How's life?
It's absolutely, positively glorious, he spits into his keyboard, and please go away.
Svetlana extends her back as far backward as it will go, fluidly attempting to grab her ankles before the mirror on his door. How's Lady Guenever?
Jennifer, who is not cheating on me, is an absolute queen. Our children have a hockey game this afternoon, which I am leaving now to carpool for. Go to school. Beauford gathers the papers in front of him before she can wave her hand too exasperatedly and knock over his mug of chai.
I'm eighteen, she says, straightening and glaring at him.
You're sixteen; your mother told me at the last company soiree.
Let me seduce you.
No. My oldest daughter is your age. Go shopping or something.
Her eyes are rocket ships of angst, alight with purple acrimony.
Beauford sighs. Look, Svetlana, I know that you spend too much time alone, and that it's not your fault, but having an affair is not going to heal your self-esteem. It wouldn't be sexy or mysterious. It would be sinful, inconvienient, and much more uncomfortable than you possibly realize. You're too smart to become a premature man-hater. Expend your gifts on calculus or an AIDS cure; not boring sex with married men.
He pushes her out the office door, gives her a dollar for the bus, and exits with a nod at toward the intoxicated receptionist, who laughs.
Svetlana climbs the building's the fire escape and crouches in the entrance to avoid walking behind him on the street, tears mixed with ash and eyeliner coursing down the half moon of her face.

She comes home at three thirty with a bag of French novels and pomegranate juice, precariously balancing them with her Venti White Chocolate Mocha Caramel Double-Shot Macchiato as she pushes the buzzer marked Abercrombie and gropes for the handle of the door. Stumbling up the curved stone steps, she trips on the ends of her butterfly shoelaces, and is barely saved at the top by the most beautiful woman she's ever seen.
Are you fine? says the apparition, dressed in a white sari and Vera Wang perfume , an ochroid hand extended.
Afraid to tarnish anything, Svetlana mouths, Yes,' without a guesture, and walks backward toward her door, gazing with feigned interest at the floor's mosaic pattern.
For two breaths, nothing moves.
Are you quite clear?' The woman takes a few steps closer, filling the hall way with the deep, soft notes of a Syrian accent.
Svatlana finds it difficult to whisper, but is afraid of infringing upon the remnants of this vocal symphony that linger on the yellow walls, Yes, yes, I am fine.'
Would you care to join me for tea? I do not know San Francisco, you know; bridges and fault lines and sculpture, but I know tea.

She smiles, showing the age in her teeth and the corners of her eyes. Come at four, to number six. Wear dresses, please, and les chaussures de talons hauts. I like classy girls.
Svetlana nods, and shuts the door. She walks slowly into the bathroom and stares complacently at the pallid round of her sweet, complex face. Eyeliner to trace the Chinese eyes, inherited from her father, the lost dancer from Bejing. Bouganvillia-colored stain for the Slavic cheekbones and lips; lavender oil for the hollow of her throat. She supposes that it's true, sometimes, when the geeky boys imply that she is stunning. She raids her mother's closet for one-use cocktail dresses from Anne Taylor, and laces up the spidery Coach heels.
She doesn't knock on the door of number six, but stands for a moment until it opens. The woman is fabulous in peach silk and a citrus musk, her mouth the color of sacrifice. she says to no one, a Chinese dancer in expensive clothes.
Svetlana grins through strawberry lipgloss. I don't know. I'm just a mismatched immigrant, trying to be taller.
So are we all. A breath. Come in.
After they are situated with blackberry tea on saffron couches from Spain- I do not like moving, so I made them arrange things today-, she says, I am Adrienne Jamal from Paris and Damascus, and I am here to write a novel about love.
Svetlana burns her tongue on purpose, admires the songs of blueberry canaries that are strewn about the room in hanging cages, and remembers the warmth of Emily Dickinson's descriptions. There is only love of God, she replies.
Love of good people and the ocean can be the same thing, says Adrienne.
Svetlana aren't good people.
Adrienne reclines, considering her sandals before sliding them neatly under the coffee table, away from her pedicured feet. You do not believe this, of course. You are young, and the only hurt you've had is minor rejections from worthless people who do not understand you.
The Croatians in my grandmother's village and my brother were bombed when I was small. The olive oil exploded in its barrels, and the heirloom grapes were incinerated. She fidgets. We were visiting Prague, so we came here instead of back. There aren't good people; most of them are lying.
Twenty breaths and two avian melodies. I know war.
Only God knows war.
Oh, Chinese dancer, she says, bringing her fingertips to her hair line and pulling it away to reveal shorter hair beneath, God is an imposter, and I was born a boy in Syria.
Svetlana breathes deeply, steadying her hands on the cup.

I know war, and I know lies.
They finish their tea, laughing about culture and French television shows, and smoke clove cigarettes until the room is fragrant with familiarity. Adrienne takes the poet's hand and leads her to a mirror above the fire place, where she points out the strengths and weaknesses of her face, and what they imply about her. She retrieves a bit of scarlet eyeliner, and traces the tilting corners of Svetlana's eyes and lips.
Pretty girls make graves, they whisper, almost at the same time.
Merci a Dieu.