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All Margarine had ever wanted to do was leave. In the city, she was gone. For work she chose a translation office. She worked nine hours a day four days a week parsing documents, checking copy, reviewing transcripts. Afterward she was flooded by time with which she could want something new. 

She first embarked on building a small chair. Its construction took great care. She sliced plywood into thin, sturdy strips. She attached its parts by winding chicken wire around its joints, since she did not believe the strips thick enough to withstand drilling, nails, or hammers. She sanded it, finished it, and wove petals into the wire. She was proud of her chair. The dexterity required of a miniature design was impressive, and she had produced an enviable product. She put it atop her dresser where it gleamed.

She then built a slightly larger chair. This, she drilled. After each chair she graduated to the next level of scale. With each graduation the task became less interesting. Her largest chair, one that reached the ceiling and occupied half her apartment, looked clumsy rather than grand. No decoration could render its design fine. No sanding or amount of finishing could discover any delicacy within the chair. It was an oaf. 

She took it apart and threw the bent nails out her window.

Margarine abandoned building. Instead she spent a couple hours a day learning German, the most popular language at her office. It soon bored her, so she chose another: Polish, though she found the language neither here nor there. This led her to Russian. She took to it because each sentence sounded to her like either a song or a barrage. It was decided, and this she admired. She especially liked the phrase for whipped cream, vzbitye slivki. For such a soft, sweet thing, its name was as firm as cement. 

She sought to become Russian, in language and look alone, and from only what she could tell. She became skinny the way young Russian women are. She lined her eyes thick. And she went to the store in search of furs. She purchased a pair of white gloves lined with acrylic hair under a pile of other used gloves, a sheepskin hat that folded over to create a thick fur trim, and a coat made of rabbit from a garment store that was closing. She wore these items every day until summer, when she’d forgo the coat made of rabbit for a few items of clothing that allowed the hat and gloves to remain: a cotton tank top and shorts. 

She met a man with small eyes who took an interest in her costume. He never threatened her body, but treated her as if she were a doll. He looked at her sharply, and she noticed that his pupils were only minor points on his irises. She could hardly see herself in them. His gaze would only soften when he ran his fingers through the acrylic fur on her wrist. He routinely met her at the end of every work day, and once his eyes moistened at the sight of her tufted gloves. His pupils even seemed to widen, and she hated the thought of her precious, feigned Russianhood lubricating such a slight pair of corneas. She began to hold his small eyes in contempt. 

He would not accept her dismissal, so she wished to make herself uninteresting to him. He would leave her alone only then. She stopped wearing the Onitsuka Tiger snow boots he gave her, stopped letting him braid her hair, and stopped lining her eyes thickly. He still showed up outside her work every day, though his eyes remained small and dry upon seeing her.

“Where are your boots?”

“It’s hot out.”

“It’s February.”


He was silent. This pleased her.

“You look different.”

“I am slightly.”

“As long as you don’t slip too far.”

“What will happen then?”

“That wouldn’t be my fault.”


When she returned home, she suddenly and strongly had to be rid of him. She had to destroy all that he liked in her. She abandoned everything. She peeled off the sheepskin hat and acrylic gloves and threw them in the bathtub. She teased her hair mercilessly so that it fell outward. In the morning she applied only blush, but on her cheeks, below her eyes, and on her eyelids, until the powder destroyed the harmony of her features. She dawned a linen tunic that fell to her mid-calf and baby blue tights. For warmth she chose a yellow sweater and trench coat, each made of synthetic fibers. On her feet she wore derby shoes. 

When she closed the door behind her at the end of the workday, he was there. The man stood there with his eyebrows drawn straight across his face. He leaned against a street sign. After looking at her, his lids lazy, he said:

“Your hair looks like it could contain rats.”

“It wouldn’t contain you.”

“And you… you are nowhere to be found.”


She walked home. The breeze whistled through her mass of hair. Her exaltation waned into exhaustion. 


No longer able to stomach the Russian language and hungry after months of being skinny, she ate two pastries each day after work. She’d lay out both pastries before her on the cafe’s tables and eat one after the other, bit by bit. With her fingers covered in butter and a mess of crumbs in her lap, she watched a tall man with silk skin and long, glossy nails eat a bagel with lox. He ate entire mouthfuls with each breath, as if oxygen was not enough without bagel and fish and capers to pair with it. Though despite the desperation with which he ate, his nails remained pristine. She was taken with him. Possessed by what possessed him, she approached him.

“Why do you keep your nails so long? And how are they so beautiful?”

He finished eating and looked up at her. Her eyes were sincere.

“Because I love them, the way they look and the sound they make when I tap them on a table. So I am gentle.” He picked up a napkin and ran it down his fingers, one by one.

“Care, yes. My mother was so gentle with me.”


“I am hopeless, then. I ruined my little chair by making big ones.”

“Did you drop one on the other?”

“I embarrassed it by making something bigger.”

“For what?”

“I wanted to see it.”

“Was it beautiful?”

“Not at all.”

“Wants must live long in your head before they are meaningful. A pastry doesn’t drive you mad.”

“I really wanted once. I was so full of it.”

“If wanting keeps you alive, so be it. Want terribly. You saw me eating terribly before. But take care with everything else.”

“Take care,” she said, and left.

When Margarine returned home she heard water dripping. She went to the bathroom and turned off the sink. Careless! She turned to find the sheepskin hat and gloves laying limp in the tub. She took them in her arms and brought them to her dresser. She pressed the sheepskin hat against her cheek. It was the softest thing she ever felt. She ran her fingers through the acrylic fur of the gloves’ trim. This was the coarsest. 

Her miniature chair sat atop everything else. Its kingdom included two little rubber bands. Margarine took one and gingerly stretched it over and around a thin bunch of acrylic hair. She cut it off at the root and slowly wove a long, emaciated braid together. She tied it at the other end with the second rubber band. She considered the thing. It was the color of salt and pepper. Hair spilled out from every section. She wove it around the chair, slipped it in between slots, wrapped it around arms and legs, and wound it into spirals. She finally bent the chicken wire around the braid and cemented the hair into place. Once done, she returned the chair to its spot atop her dresser. 

She slept three nights without looking at the chair again. On the fourth morning, it stared at her. She was startled. She saw that it judged her for being careless, and that it loved her nevertheless. After all, it was she who had cradled it so tenderly after it was made. Time flooded her, and she would go months without looking at it. But when she did catch it glimpse—ah, it reminded her. How she loved its frankness.