Grace and Johanna on Pleasant Avenue

Grace and Johanna moved into the apartment on Pleasant Avenue in 1981.  They liked it because no one they knew knew of Pleasantville.  It was their escape.

Grace drank, and hated the local liquor stores.  Johanna drank, and loved the local bars.

They bought alcohol downtown.  They shopped downtown too, sometimes.  Sometimes they went to bodegas.(“Ludicrously expensive!” – Johanna – “How can the poor live?”)  Sometimes they went to local fish stores and butchers (“Huh.  Interesting cut of meat.”  – Grace.  No, they didn’t care if was kosher).  Once Johanna went to a live chicken place.  (“Just nope.  I’m not talking about it.”)

Clothing?  Well, stores on third avenue, or their usual: levis and shirts, available in the department stores.  (“Why don’t you ever go to the consignment stores Grace?”  “Because: 1 ” holding up her pointer finger – “I don’t wear dresses. 2 ” her middle finger now “I’m the wrong size, and finally I hate shopping.  You know that.”  “Nonsense,  you love shopping but only with me, because then you can pretend you’re doing it for me even though we both know / hate shopping except for food, but you love it.”  “Fine, we’ll go to consignment stores.”  Grace smiled.  Jo was right, she loved shopping.)

Shoes?  Well Shoes had always been an issue.  Neither Grace nor Jo wore heels.  Both claimed it was impossible to find the shoes that would fit.  Jo had big solid broad(ish) feet that went with her solid broad(ish) hands. Shoes weren’t hard to find, but some sales people were snarky.  Most weren’t.   Grace’s feet were impossibly narrow. (“How can you walk?”  “One foot in front of the other my dear, just like everyone else.”  “You know what I meant.”  “No, really?”  “Damn.”)

Stockings and pantyhose.  (“I’m only wearing tights.  If I have to wear dresses.”  “You don’t Grace, look at me.”  “Your ass looks better in pants than mine does.”  “Nonsense, you just like looking at my ass in pants.”  “True.  True.”)

They festooned the apartment with flowers.  They grew roses on the fire escape.  Bonsai pines and cherry trees peeped out beside the roses trailing over everything.

They planted marigolds, some years they had enough sunlight.  Other years even the petunias didn’t come up.

Basil always worked.  Tomatoes rarely.  That’s one reason they were part of the community garden.  Another was to be friendly with the neighbors.

The neighbors – well there had been a little trouble at the beginning.  Not because they were lesbians, actually it took a while for that to sink in.  Simply, because they were young women living away from their families.  This didn’t sit so well.  Some people thought they were whores.  Again, the garden helped.  So did finding out that Grace was a teacher.  

(“A math teacher.”  “Why don’t you get married?”  “I like living with Johanna and teaching.”  “You could teach if you got married.  Lots of teachers are married.”  “But I couldn’t live with Johanna”)

(What is Johanna?  Not a lawyer.  Maybe a seamstress?  Maybe a secretary?  Not a doctor.  An architect! )

(“Architect.  You make houses right?”  “I wish!  I design how pipes will work in skyscrapers.”  “Why don’t you marry?”  “I like my work, and I like living with Grace.”  “Wouldn’t your husband let you work?”  “I don’t know, but I don’t think he’d like me living with Grace.”)

After a few years, it was clear they wouldn’t marry.  The youngest Reynosa girl had gone to Grace’s school.  She raved about her as a teacher.

The youngest Reynosa girl also didn’t marry.  But she moved to Brooklyn, and lived with a friend there.



Johanna or Louisa?

What about the miscarriage? Nah, can’t figure out what to say. I can see a hospital room and a view over the east river. Maybe it was Doctor’s? Maybe it was Cornell? I don’t think it was NYU or Bellevue.

Johanna was there for four days. It would have been longer but she walked out. As miscarriages go it wasn’t so bad physically. The horror to Jo and Grace was that she was seven months pregnant and it was a still birth and the embryo fetus thing (as Jo called it) had died almost a month earlier. It had been a boy. And Jo couldn’t conceive again and Grace couldn’t conceive at all. And really when Jo was raped a month later they were glad she didn’t and couldn’t.

And both of them decided that they hadn’t been made for kids, and then heart attacks.

And then no more Jo. And then a kitten who died. And then an old dog: a brindle bully bitch Grace found. She had a tag that said “lulu” but there was no phone number. And then she died.

And that’s when Grace decided that she’d find a pup. And she picked the breed at random, but never regretted it. Loulou was perfection. Asleep next to her. Eating what she offered, nuzzling her. Clearly speaking in his doggish incomprehensible way. Really each moment with him reminded her more and more of Jo. To hell with the land lords.

One morning she woke up knowing that the dog needed more exercise. She took him over the Tri borough bridge this time, and for he first time unclipped the leash. Off he went, and ten minutes later he reappeared, with a duck in his mouth. A still warm dead duck. Grace had a knife and very little idea what to do. [this is where I might come up with a description of plucking a duck?]

How about descriptions of summer and winter on Randall’s. Pity they will never be in the same league as the cold in soldier’s joy and the crispness of the air and the smoke from the cigarette under the banjo strings.

Well at least I can see Loulou showing up with the duck, and Grace’s dismay. Great that he caught it. How had he managed? Is that when she realized how wet and filthy the dog was – remnant of his chase into the water. Guess he could swim. What else that day? Did she hear anything from the duck or dog telling her what he was up to? What could she hear? A splash?

Or had he disappeared then reappeared silently almost unmissed?

The next time he was off lead he padded along by her side, occasionally his nose picked up a scent and his body would quiver. He’d be standing perfectly still. Sometimes the quiver was so subtle she could only feel it and not see it at all.

More of Loulou’s thoughts

Now to describe a thinking dog.

Loulou knew that Grace was dead. She smelled like meat. She didn’t move.

The children had given him am anxiety free chance.

He remembered Grace. He missed her. Every time he thought of her his tail wagged. But now there was Renie and Pam. They argue but not so seriously about whose bed he will sleep in.

It’s not really an issue because he already knows that most of the time he will sleep at their door.

He dragged his bed there as soon as they went to theirs.

The mother laughed when she saw that. She gave him another biscuit.

He got up and retrieved his new toy. Finally he could relax.

His eyes closed. He slept.

That’s a thought for the dog.

The bedroom: as you come in the floor to ceiling, or at least large, window to your right and across from you.

Let’s say the window faces west. Then the door is at the north end of the east wall.

There is a bed on each of the north and south walls. Each is at the west end of the wall.

At the east end of the south wall is the door to the closet. It’s a walk in. But not so large.

There are two dressers on the east wall both low.

There’s a rug at the center of the floor.

The dog dragged his bed to the hall way in front of the girls’ bedroom door. He’s sleeping peacefully now. The girls wonder if they should wake him when they need to go pee.

The answer is clear, he wakes and thumps his tail as Renie walks towards him. He stands and stretches then smiles.

She walks by and he gets up and follows her. Once she reaches the bathroom he walks to a spot where he can observe both the bathroom and the girls’ bedroom. Once Renie is back he settles again at the bedroom door. He is asleep instantly.

The girls are gently snoring within a few minutes.

Loulou gets up and wanders through the apartment. It’s less aimless than you might think.

He checked each window and each door. Yes of course he checked for entrances but also he knew to familiarize himself with the apartment’s natural scents.

He wandered into the girls’ room again. They slept.

That’s when he trotted with purpose to Her room. He plopped down at the foot of her bed and was fast asleep in 10 seconds.


Loulou’s thoughts

Now back to Grace Stroud. She and Louisa, for whom Loulou is named, had had two dogs. Both large. Both male. Both pits. Then they’d had no pets. Louisa’s lungs were weak. A clean house was necessary. A house with no hair. Grace had cut hers short, so that she’d shed less. She’d vacuumed twice and more daily. She dusted. Still, too much dust or what have you. Louisa Mendes, oxygen tank, humidifiers, filters. The second bedroom practically a clean room. Still, too much for her. Every breath painful. For years. Louisa hadn’t smoked. Louisa didn’t have tuberculosis. But something had gone wrong. She had constant pneumonia, constant obstructions. She wheezed.
Every breath so harsh she cried. No, not HIV. Her immune system was fine, and it wasn’t PCP any way. Ordinary bacterial pneumonia, and viral pneumonia. Perhaps not constant. There’d be months free of it. But those months, allergies? Who knew? Not her doctors.

Louisa Mendes had died five years ago. Loulou adopted one week after the room was cleared out.

Now there were dog beds, and Grace still vacuumed twice daily. But now she had Loulou who didn’t cough, but didn’t speak either.

And now she had nothing.

Loulou had been a smallish pup. His mother hadn’t eaten well. Three of the puppies in the litter had died within hours of birth. Loulou had noticed the number of smells decreased. Then smells changed. Harsh. But the bed was softer. Then he went outside with all his sibs. There were still eight siblings. All bigger than he. Nope, he was bigger than four of them now. A while later there were no sibs. Just Grace. And that was wonderful. Sometimes Grace left him alone, and he’d sleep. More often though he and Grace were together. They walked slowly often, because Grace fell down occasionally. He just knew that this was because she foolishly walked on only two of her legs. But he’d realized early on that Grace did a number of silly things. She covered her poor bare hide with cloth (which never quite smelled of her). She’d never developed reasonable callouses on her feet, even the two she walked on, and put things on them when she went outside. Although, when there were spiky things on the ground, the foot thingies made a lot of sense. Also, when it was really hot or cold.

Her nose didn’t work either. She never seemed to know who had been around. She certainly couldn’t tell when a place was too filthy to eat at, or had been cleaned with revolting substances.

She didn’t have much appreciation of rotten either. You could learn a lot about an animal from what its rotting relative, scat, or food smelled like. That made it just so much easier to catch it. At least, it became easier to trace the animal, and to know whether it was worth eating. Sometimes they weren’t.

He’d been overjoyed the few times she’d eaten what he caught for her. After all, usually she fed him. It was only fair that he return the favor.

Once he’d brought her a fish from the river.

That had been fun.

Once she’d taken him to the ocean. That wasn’t a word he knew, yet he did know that this vast expanse was different even from the salt water by Randall’s.




There’s something totally odd. What is it? He wasn’t quite awake and the smells were different. The sounds were off. What had happened?

He opened his eyes, knowing suddenly that the oddity was that anything at all was the same.

Yet he’s awake in a strange place. His Grace wasn’t here. He knew she’d never be here. He whimpers.

A light smell, constant in the room now gets stronger. A little like his Grace.

A soft voice, “oh Loulou, poor boy. C’mere.”

He pulls himself to his feet and lumbers toward the coach. He leans into the almost familiar smell. Her hand moves to his neck, his chin, his chest. He’s relaxed.

“Poor boy. You’ve had a rough time. What a long day for you. It’s all right. We’ll keep you happy.”

— that’s a passage about the dog. I think it’s only clear from the name. Certainly that’s my intention.

What I saw when writing was Luca under the table twitching. But this dog could be asleep anywhere that’s not by a couch.

There’s a bit missing. The part where Loulou is scared of abandonment at the groomer.

Another version of the letter

Back to Tricia (Treesha?, Trisha?) the QA queen. Notice that the girls didn’t know she knew about dogs. But yes she does. Or did.

As a child, her first beloved book had been /wild animals I have known/. Ernest Thompson Seton. A few things stayed with her: all wild animal stories end in tragedy; Seton said that repeatedly. And implicitly Seton said something else: animals are sentient. They’re feeling beings. They’re individuals. She’d always remembered that.

Whenever she saw a squirrel in the park, or a pigeon on the street, knowing it must be unique, she searched for the qualities which defined its individuality.

By the time she was in her teens birds and rodents all looked no less different than people did. Later, she’d honed her perceptions volunteering at the Humane Society.

All in all, yes. She knew dogs.

So when she met Lou-lou, he knew she knew him. He sighed and leaned into her. She felt him relax, and then she scratched behind his ears.

He was perfect.

Her girls knew it too. They realized as he leaned in that he would follow them home. He’d be theirs.

Of course the girls wouldn’t be the ones walking him, or taking him to the vet, or making sure he was housebroken.

So here we go, she thought. I have a dog.

We have a dog. I hope I can remember how to train them. I hope we can afford the vet.

He sighed again. He licked her hand. He licked again.

Tricia picked up the leash. Reeny and Pam smiled at each other. It had taken til just this moment for it to hit them. They had a dog.

Here’s another thought:

There are neighbors. Not actually in the building ; as we know most of the building was empty. Maybe all of it. But there are neighbors. They are in the nearby buildings. They are all over Pleasant Village.

And back to Grace Stroud.

She’d been married to a woman, who died a few years back. Not ten, that’s too long ago. She’d retired from teaching.

Grace had adopted Loulou as a puppy. She’d taken a cruise to Alaska. She’d stayed a month longer than she’d planned. She met a woman who raced dogs every now and then. They weren’t lovers, the woman was too young, she wasn’t any of Grace’s types. Having dogs around though, that interested Grace. When one of the bitches gave birth, Grace asked for a pup. “That one,” she said, “the curious one.”

Mind you, all huskies are curious, but “that one” was advanced. He walked almost immediately. It was impossible to keep him in with the other puppies.

Even his mother couldn’t keep him penned.

The month turned into two, then three. Finally Loulou was old enough to wean.

Grace took him home.

A day after the murder. The police will call Tricia. They’ll ask her why she took the dog. They’ll ask whether she knew Grace Stroud.

They’ll accept her answer, they won’t bother her about the dog, but they’ll give her the vet’s number. “Miss Stroud left a letter. She wanted the dog taken care of, and it seems like you’re doing that.”

Grace’s letter. To whom it may concern: You’ve found this, so something has happened to me. I have no money except for the accounts you’ll find in my desk. My will is there too.

If Loulou (he’s my dog) has not been harmed, please try to find him a home. He’s better with women than with men.

Please find him a home.

I have some jewelry. It’s in the top drawer of the chest in the large bedroom.

The will:

The gist: Any property to the Humane Society. The dog’s stuff to his adopter. The jewelry and silverware is among the property that the Humane Society gets. It’s probably worth selling.
The furniture isn’t valuable, it’s IKEA. Not very interesting. The clothing isn’t valuable either. Clothing, furniture, dishes – all can be donated or sold.

The insurance assessment: Silver gravy boat Silverware service for 20 Silver salad fork and spoon

1 Platinum and emerald necklace 1 Platinum and diamond ring inscribed Grace and Jen, now and forever 1 emerald and gold bracelet 2 large squash blossom necklaces 1 bracelet of three strands of gold: all reddish 1 large platinum cuff

4 Navaho rugs, each 4 feet by 6 feet all four wool, all four gray.
1 rug, cream and black zig zags on gray 1 rug, stick figure people 1 rug, cream, red, black 1 rug, cream, red, black

Glassware – 2 reidel white

Mostly Reeny and Pam, somewhat Loulou

Pamela and Reeny redux.

Reeny isn’t actually all that interested in science or mathematics – she is “good” at math. Really what Reeny wants is to make things with yarn. Clothing of course. She’s been knitting and crocheting since she was only eight. But clothing – except when it’s for one of her constructions – doesn’t quite fill the urge. Her constructions vary. Sometimes it will be a box, with figures inside. She’ll dress the figures even when they aren’t human, even when their agency is compromised. She knit a mountain last month, and she has started to realize that constructing shapes is the most fun.

What she liked best about clothes was knitting in the round. That just worked specially. It has occurred to her that fine lace could be an interesting arena for working out representations of emotions. Maybe a good arena for topology.

Topology is the part of mathematics she actually likes of course. Some times an approach to a problem plays itself to her. When it does, she listens inwardly and tries to capture the sounds. They describe shapes and surfaces.

Pam wants to be a vet, or a dolphin, or a singer … or or or. The harbor school, with its emphasis on marine biology iniatially will seem perfect. The intense scrutiny of the teachers, combined with the isolation, will leave her believing – at least for a little while – that she simply has to stick with marine biology.

Later, in college, she’ll fall in love with proteins. She’ll start talking to Reeny, who will laugh about the ability they both have to perceive structure.

Later still, she’ll do doctoral and post-doctoral work in Melbourne. The whole time she’ll be seeing dolphins’ and orcas’ DNA. But she’ll be composing protein structure. She will more and more dream in shapes and not images. Her shapes are a language of protein structure.

When their mother comes to pick them up.

“Ma – ” Pamela is sure that her mother will help with the dog. “Ma – we have to keep him. We’ve got to!l”

“His name is Lou-Lou and he’s friendly,” chimed in Reeny.

The dog padded over to her. He leaned into her leg.

She reached down to his chin. He gave a sigh and seemed to melt.

“Ok ok we’ll try him.”

“He isn’t Hachi” Reeny said. “Nothing at all like that. “

“Hachi wasn’t so healthy,” her mother smiled. All we can do is try.

The cops are confused by an old woman, apparently complete healthy, who landed on a tree.

Reeny and Pam


She wants to write a history of the world. Sometimes the history expands: a description and history of the solar system, or the universe. At those moments she almost can see the universe expand too, and she feels equations beckoning.

Astrophysics calls her then.

Sometimes the history contracts: she’ll watch a word’s form change, hear its vowels shorten or elongate, know how it was first used to describe a phenomenon; feel the original analogies and actions creating a language. For a brief moment she’ll understand why a language is highly inflected, or how another agglutinates. At those times she knows she’s a linguist or archeologist.

Sometimes history contracts still further, and she’ll ache to describe the particulars of a single day, or the actions and perceptions of one being then, and there. That’s when each cloud imprints sharply on her eyes, or she identifies thousands of different scents. That’s when she longs for other senses, each capable of cataloging an instant.

How does scent work, she’ll wonder. How can a chemical hit her nose or tongue and evoke memory and emotion.

Somehow sight is less mysterious.


Like and unlike her sister. That’s the way she’ll describe herself to others. But she’ll think: of course “like” of course “different.” Reeny and I are both people, we are close in age. Of course we are alike. How silly to notice that.

But there is a thread between them. Both have sudden and demanding models that they are compelled to express.

Pamela’s models are almost exclusively visual. They parade in front of her mind’s eye, showing structure. That’s why she’ll go to Melbourne. It’s in Melbourne that she’ll find the doyenne of protein structure. It’s in Melbourne that she’ll finally allow herself to build equipment.

Oddly, she’ll say that it was because of the dog. Loulou’s similarity to herself left her wondering how she differed from him. And every night she’d dream a different shape. At least, each morning she was sure that’s what she dreamed.

How does scent work, Pam would wonder. Why does it work so differently in me than in Reeny, and why does it work so consciously in our hunting friend.

What would scent consciousness be like?

The dog would nap near the girls as each thought mused meandered about how a dog’s nose could be so clear.

What do proteins smell like? Reeny would wonder. What is Loulou’s day like? Does he dream in smells? Does he hear things that evoke smells?

What is Loulou thinking? Pam would ask herself. How do smells shape themselves? Why can he perceive the history of a scent? Does it move? What is its shape?

Loulou’s a dog. His memories trouble him as he sleeps. In the morning sometimes he notices an emptiness that breakfast won’t fill. Reeny would’ve asserted that the hole was Loulou’s memories of Lydia Stroud. She would have said that sometimes the dog remembered, and what he remembered was sorrow.

Pam would have seen, however briefly, the image that memory placed before Loulou.

For both of them, though this would be imagination at work. At least that’s what they’d think.

Reeny did come very close to experiencing memory as Loulou did. Pam came even closer to perceiving the construction of memories. That would be her work: the chemical structure of memory.

Reeny would daydream about the disciplines she’d need to write her history of the world or of a day. Would she be able to extrapolate from a day to the entire life of the cosmos? Would it work the other way?

Pam would find Hermetic philosophy and pass it along to her older sister. “This is what you’ve been telling me: the larger holds and reflects the smaller. As above, so below.” Pam was joking though, she thought it entirely nonsense. Will Reeny agree? Reeny wants to find correspondences. Reeny wants all histories to be one history. Of course then particular moments will demand her attention, and she’ll know yet again that each difference is a universe itself. “Is everything fractal?” was the question she asked herself for more than two years.

Is nothing fractal? How long is the coastline? Can I hear a new cove? Where is it?

“Honestly” she said to her mother one morning: “honestly, why don’t people accept tiny differences construct our daily interactions? Why are people so grumpy when today and yesterday differ? Why the fear of change?”

After all, we age in one direction. Maybe two would be more fun, but our senses don’t work like that. If they did we’d be different. What’s the problem?