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March Book Club Pick: Other People’s Clothes

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From Other People’s Clothes

Per Carol’s email instructions, I prepared the documentation of my work for the abroad application, pressing each slide into its little plastic sleeve saying an inaudible prayer, which quickly mutated into inaudible fuck-yous.

F U C K Y O U D A V I D C H R I S A N D N A T E A N D A L L O F T H E S C U L P T U R E M O T H E R F U C K E R S .

Repeat. I would leave Manhattan, the isle of rotten man.

A few months later, with joyous exuberance, Carol Gaynor called me to her office, which was slender like her, and informed me that I had been accepted to Helsinki for a study abroad year. I would walk to the sauna on the sea and continue my studies with students of dignity. Carol did an embarrassing little dance with her index fingers shooting up above her head. High on my impending exit I treated myself to a box of sushi and a bubble tea and called my mom while sucking down tapioca balls.

I ran into Nate sitting on the steps of the school. And because I was happy I said hello. And he took my smile, my little opening after three months of cold-shouldering, to begin talking about himself and his life, a roaring faucet of banality. Enjoying the tapioca balls expanding in my stomach while staring at his dull face, I was pleased at my ability to ignore him. And then, as if dropping a brick on my sandaled foot, he mentioned how he had just heard he had been accepted to Helsinki. I said nothing, spun around, and walked back to Carol’s office, my brain thudding. Nate had known I was applying to Helsinki. I had even shown him the campus on Google Maps, zooming in on the sauna that splooshed out at the sea. The manipulative prick. Carol informed me there was one spot left at the art school in Berlin.

•••

I had really only known her from a distance, I never imagined spending a year in a foreign country with Hailey Mader. I knew she wore Chanel Mademoiselle—a ubiquitous Windexy vanilla scent that was popular with dental hygienists, gallery assistants and other women proximate to benign power. I knew she possessed the frightening fortitude to break her own nose, chewed Dentyne Ice gum, and decorated her dorm with 1930s posters of Italian liquors—but I had no idea what Hailey’s artwork was like. I’d never seen her in the pit. She’d told me once with an air of deep seriousness that her work was conceptual, as if that explained everything. At school, to me, she was a character in a poorly acted TV show with only the edges of an identity.

Apparently Hailey could speak German, a fact that Carol had been excited to relay while she handed me a wad of brochures. I was relieved I wouldn’t be alone. Relieved someone else might have a plan. I still had Hailey’s number from a study group, so I called, and she’d sounded genuinely excited, rattling things off—her tickets were booked, she’d found a hostel, she’d get a new SIM card when she got there. But there had been a slight falter in her voice toward the end of the conversation, a barely noticeable shift in tone, as if it were just dawning on her that she would no longer be alone. I imagined Hailey might have wanted to reinvent herself in Berlin. Maybe she’d watched Cabaret with Liza Minnelli too many times. Or planned on cutting short bangs and producing techno, or maybe she too hated the sculpture-dicks. Whatever it was, by the end of the call she knew we were stuck together.

From Other People’s Clothes by Calla Henkel, published by Doubleday, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright (c) 2022 by Calla Henkel.

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