We walked home with our empty bags. Our shiny bags floated on the freshly swept floors like the crumpled trash of giants. Painful things, happy things, complicated nests of story. “Decluttering here,” and she pointed to her head. There was a whole business with a pack of monsters dressed as bears, hiding behind an armoire. Nothing save a mattress, two hats hanging from hooks, a table and chairs pushed against the far windowed wall. After all, she no longer even knew our names. Next, she passed along a recipe for corn fritters. ¤
Eleanor invited us over to help her go minimalist. She had an encyclopedic knowledge of hair products. ¤
Hilary Leichter’s work has been published in The New Yorker, n+1, American Short Fiction, The Southern Re- view, BOMB Magazine, The Rumpus, Tin House, and elsewhere. “I don’t understand,” Brandon sighed. There was Eleanor’s very first thought, an idea about the light that bathed the knotty fibers of her furry, soft pillow. JUNE 2, 2018
This piece appears in the LARB Print Quarterly Journal: No. She gave away her ability to sew and her ability to lift weights safely and effectively. Eleanor liked to try new things. This was a ritual we called a “swap,” or a “giveaway,” or a “gutting,” or a “Here, you take this, this looks so nice on you, this looks so much better on you than it does on me.” The complicated provenance of our stuff. Eleanor had a lot of great ideas, and a lot of lousy ones, too. “Just empty. But Eleanor’s apartment was practically empty, as vacant as a model home. Eleanor didn’t give Brandon her virginity, but she gave him her memory of losing it. It went through one hat and straight over to the other. “We thought you were decluttering?” “Yes,” Eleanor said. Eleanor put on the second hat herself, and motioned for us to follow her into the apartment. We wanted to know what it was, this shiny final thing, but she wouldn’t have told us, even if we had dared to ask. I’m making room.”
And then, Eleanor put on the fedora, and gave away her idea for going minimalist in the first place. We pictured her sitting on that bench, in that room, in the passenger seat, one car over. The day was slinking off toward evening, and Brandon had missed brunch. She was more racist than we had imagined, and less neurotic. 18, Genius
To receive the LARB Quarterly Journal, become a member or donate here. The plan was to fill our bags to the brim with Eleanor’s things, and then haul the bags back to our bedrooms and kitchens and possess the unassuming objects until they transitioned into objects of our own, until they bored us, until we also decided to go minimalist and force the possessions on someone else. “I didn’t know you studied semiotics,” Yuki said, and Eleanor looked at her blankly. To start, Eleanor gave away a favorite anecdote about bug repellant. We kept ourselves cozy with the clutter of well- stocked pantries. “I’m cleaning house!” she said. “I did?” Then Eleanor had to give this knowledge back to Yuki, again, to prevent her brain from refilling itself. We arrived at her apartment with large, shiny bags from the home goods store, and smaller, shiny bags from the grocery store. She chased us down the hallway, screaming like someone we had never met. She lifted the hats from their hooks, and gave one of the hats to us. She had watched more television than she cared to admit, and lied about the same things we lied about, like her availability the weekend of Brandon’s wedding. She was the first of us to take a trapeze class, and so this was just another acrobatic development. “I never cook these days,” Eleanor laughed. Her head was like any closet, its contents both worthless and priceless in equal measure. We passed it back and forth among ourselves, familiar with the idea of hats, but not in this context. She actually read the articles Katja forwarded every week, even the long ones, and not just the headlines. When we left her apartment, we left her with one thought in her head, and nothing else. We tried on hats in fashion stores and waited for the thoughts to trickle from our ears, out and out forever. Look at how she points her chin forward into the coming day, we thought. Our own heads grew cluttered and heavy. Every now and then we knew more about a hair product than we felt we should. The years were tangled with other years. We traded turns wearing the hat, receiving Eleanor’s refuse in shifts. On the long walk up the stairs, on the long drive to the country, on the marathon for retired Olympians, on the trips home from the doctor, on the stroll down the beach, we remembered Eleanor. “I’ve sold my pots and pans!”
She uploaded the story of her education into the brim of the fedora, and it made its way through the straw cap sitting on Yuki’s head. Every now and then we prepared a corn fritter. “Why would you want to make yourself stupid?”
“Not stupid,” Eleanor said. So self-possessed, so single minded.