Stories: How To Be an Other Woman
Stories is an irregular feature about short stories. Some are classics, some are merely meaningful.
Lorrie Moore was one of those impossibly gifted fiction writers the eighties were lousy with, all of whom seemed to glide over the page, never touching the ground, like the Blair Witch. Her first collection, Self-Help, is what Penny Red’s Ryan Gosling-inspired note to self would sound like if you took out every time she hits the brakes. The characters in Self-Help will also swoon over a cheese sandwich if it gives them a saucy look.
If I got briefly/mildly obsessed with Penny Red and her dumb letter and her dumb story, it was only because she seemed like a Lorrie Moore character.
How To Be An Other Woman’s grammatical separation of powers/usage of the lower case indicates she’s not fucking around with complacency. It’s almost as though “another woman” is too pedestrian. Although adultery isn’t glamorized, it’s given a slick of cold sweat by use of the second person, which was the latest thing then, like professional athletes in brightly-paneled sweats. Much like you are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning, you are the other woman.
"When you were six you thought mistress meant to put your shoes on the wrong feet. Now you are older and know it can mean many things, but essentially it means to put your shoes on the wrong feet." At this point I’m tempted to wish you good luck at your next meeting.
The man is a systems analyst. My dad is a systems analyst. He also became one “the same way anyone becomes anything”; he “took courses and sent out resumes”. My dad would never cheat. Whose dad ever would?
The woman makes lists: Clients To See, what’s in the medicine chest at his apartment, all the lovers she’s ever had (Warren Lasher; Ed “Rubberhead” Catapano, who sounds like a Sopranos/Damon Runyan character; Charles Deats or Keats; Alfonse). She thinks she sees his wife everywhere; “smooth-lotioned hands” and “flared nostrils” signify everything. She compares wives to cockroaches: “they will survive you after a nuclear attack—they are tough and hardy and travel in packs—and when you look in the bathroom mirror, you spot them scurrying, up out of reach behind you.” So clearly she likes her bread bitter side down. Paranoia, like a shiver of strings.
Briefly Moore bets the other way on the construct: examples of Another Woman are “your maiden aunt Phyllis; some vaporish cocktail waitress; a glittery transvestite who has wondered, lost, up from the Village.” But you decide it’s still you. The miserable mistress ends up on the wrong end of an apology and hides in a bathroom stall, where she stares “into the throat of the toilet.” Other items that could be said to have throats: saxophones, bongs, the occasional vase.
On the day she meets her lover, she also sees a blonde woman in barrettes, carrying her shoes. As the affair breaks apart, she sees her twice more, still carrying her shoes. Who is this person supposed to be? Another woman, or an other woman? You don’t say, nor do you step into oncoming traffic.