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We Talked to Scientists About Desire photo

It was an old building; we had to kick the door each time we entered.  One of our sisters had recently been committed to a rehab facility in Arizona. One of our boyfriends had dumped us weeks before to form a noise band. One of us, in college, had fallen off a balcony; shit-faced. Two of us had choked as infants.  Two were children of divorce. All four of our mothers had looked at us and said, “I hope you never learn what suffering is.”

On the first day of summer, we cracked the windows and posed for a photo with our arms around each other, sweaty and appeasing in t-shirts.  We slapped magnets on the fridge, dragged tomato plants onto the fire escape. We hung mirrors over dents in the plaster. We remembered our mothers and scrubbed the kitchen moldings with a toothbrush. We mopped the floors, lugged a thrifted sofa up the stairs. Somebody’s aunt schlepped in a cow-hide rug.  On our knees, we weeded the yard; set out bowls for the orange cats who ducked under the fence. On the coffee table, we placed a ceramic dish of gold-sealed caramels.

At night, we lay on unmoored mattresses, pressing hands over our eyes to block out spears of light from the street. We cursed our naked windows.  Through the walls, other lives fluttered— cars loudening then softening by, flotsam from party-goers’ conversations.  Each morning, we leaned over the flames until our eggs grew edges, surrendered to color, to becoming one thing instead of another. When our yokes clung to the cast iron, we let them go to foam. We reached into the drain and scooped up fistfuls of coffee grounds and hair. At dinner, over bowls of arugula, over 2-minute mac n cheese, we explained ourselves to each other. We snagged barista gigs blocks away, bedazzled sweaters for an heiress’s clothing line, prepared rich teenagers to take the SAT. We went from door to door collecting the census; stacked blocks with toddlers.  Two of us grew obsessed with yoga.  One of us smoked pot and watched antique furniture restoration videos before bed to quell recurring thoughts of her late father. One of us ate little during the day, then sleep-walked at night into the kitchen to fashion strange meals from the cabinets: maple syrup on rice cakes. An avocado whole. We said goodnight before we went to bed.    

In the fall, we threw a party. Zipped inside each other’s leather pants and dresses, we chugged pink wine from plastic cups. The guests praised our tastes: the cow-hide rug! We talked to scientists about desire. We regaled our coworkers about some recent celebrity tweet-storm. The floor rattled as we danced. When the downstairs neighbors rapped, we peeled off our socks and stood on the couch doing trust falls into one another’s arms. A few of us kissed strangers in the kitchen.  They bit our lips; they tasted of cheese. A few of us returned to our bedrooms to cry, or fumble with a guest’s belt buckle. Makeup stained our TJ Maxx pillows. Someone baked a meringue cake. We scooped whipped cream from the bowl with greasy fingers. We threw up in the sink. A few of us slept in the bathtub, hugging couch cushions. They claimed it felt like lying in a moving boat, and the cracks in the ceiling were clouds.

Maybe we would be sculptors, or move to LA and pitch movie scripts. Maybe we’d be sommeliers, or run a store that sold candles in animal shapes. Maybe we’d work the land – a sheep farm in Toronto, a yurt in Groton. Certainly, we’d remain each other’s emergency contacts, officiate each other’s weddings, split a four-family home and raise our children as one brood.

In the winter, we found six mannequins face-down on the sidewalk. We dragged them into the yard and positioned them in a circle. Two of us took mushrooms and cried because we thought we were trapped inside each other’s minds. Three of us fought about a cracked pie plate. One of us got a job designing TV sets and moved upstate. A rumor formed that she’d never cared about the rest of us. Two of us staged an intervention for a third, who subsequently moved back in with her parents.  One of us migrated box-by-box into her boyfriend’s place uptown. The ones who remained stopped speaking to the others. New subletters showed up: strangers off Facebook lugging suitcases and amps. The mannequins stayed in the yard collecting light. No storm or vandal came. Weeds climbed their legs and bellies as they kept the time.

Some summers from now, from the offices of our nine-to-fives, when our feet pad finished wood, when we bend in the night toward screeching infants, will we wonder if there’s no one else to bear the life we’ve added to the world besides our sleeping partners, our lumpy, fragile bodies? Will we remember each other? When we finally call, on a walk with the dogs after dinner, upon hearing each other’s worn and rattled voices, their familiar leaps of pitch, will we find ourselves unable to explain?