JoAnna Novak


1. Bachelorette’s Bonus Round: Which of the following things about me does Matt not know?

A. Be bold was the slogan at Briar Cliff; with perseverance and tenacity and feminine aplomb, the safflower-coiffed president told us, class of 2012, we would become leaders, teachers, lifelong learners, philanthropists and diplomats in a rapidly-transitioning world ready to accept, with open arms, truly admirable women.
One in four was our statistic, same as the coed colleges.
I left after my first year.

B. Starting over sophomore year of college was easier than the million moves my family made when I was a kid. New lunch tables and cliques didn’t hold the same steadfastness as divorce or military assignments. Not that I didn’t scope out the hierarchy, but when I walked into Bear’s Den, I lingered at the ketchup and mustard pumpers, searching for girls like me, but then a bunch stormed past and some slunk and others stared at their tennies and I really didn’t know what or who I was looking for.

C. Studying didn’t hold me close and clutch me rough, but diligently I hauled a backpack of books to the library each night, where I favored a third-floor carrel below a window too high to see out. Once, after I’d reread the same sentence in Sense and Sensibility three times, I wheeled over the rickety office chair in which I’d been sitting, and stepped up: my eyes barely met the bottom third of the window, but I could see Elliot Chapel’s golden steeple, dull alchemy against the starless night, and I thought about all the students who’d come before me, who’d sat in this same flimsy seat, who’d never bothered to ponder the sky.
“What are you doing?” a husky voice said.
I recognized the girl by her gun.
She was in my Lit I, and the necklace was as big as her mouth: a burnished nickel pistol on a short chain. Only a little longer than a choker. Ava. Only a little fuller than a phoneme.
“There’s a better view from the roof on Toole.”
I’d survived high school: I knew better than to worry about spending time on roofs.
“Melissa,” I said. My hand shot out in front of me like a mailbox flag.
She scuffied. “I know you.”

D. Ava and I became study buds, brunch partners, Friday-and-Saturday-night friends, tentative lovers, and traveling companions; she was hardcore about classics, and she fancied us a pair of pants-wearing, modern-day lady-companions, like Marianne Moore’s mom and stuff, but she never let me wear her gun. She let me gin her juice. By junior year, over the winter, she was sending me notes on her stationary, linen etched something, with a delicate line drawing of an ostrich egg.
We were going to move into an apartment off-campus, a couple blocks from the loud part of downtown. We signed a lease and put down our deposit, first and last, and convinced our frowning landharpy to let us keep winter coats and comforters in an attic storage unit over the summer.
The famous author ruined everything.
He was in town because of his novel, Ava told me, the morning of his campus talk. We were sitting at the counter in some diner that had some name. We just called it Dove’s.
“You’d be gay not to go.”
“Don’t say that so loud,” I said, looking around. The two football players to my left leaned over and snorted. You couldn’t assume anything about people. If nothing else, in a year I’d leave college with that.
“Okay, I’m sorry, you’d be braindead. Liss—he won a Pulitzer. And a Genius grant.”
“I don’t even know what those things mean,” I said.
“You’ve never heard of a Pul—”
“Well, obviously, yeah, I’ve heard that, a Pulitzer, but like where the prize goes, for what, etceteras—”
Ava’s eyes fluttered, hummingbird fast.

E. To get off, I thought of Ava. The novelist had skinny fingers. My body was like eight hundred sockets that he wanted to plug. You know, the visiting writers stayed in a really nice walk-up. The school pays them something. Ten thousand dollars.
I walked around naked first because he asked me to and then because I had to get my clothing. My jewelry was on the dining room table, but my wearables were on the stairs.

F. I dreamt of the author binding my wrists, wrapping me in a hot pink blanket, and booting me out of a helicopter. I fell from the sky into the desert, and I met him on the ground. He appeared with a horse. I faced backwards, and nodded a giddy-up, giddy-up to the chestnut stallion’s tail, really in need of detangler. At the horizon, I saw Ava. Her gun glinted in the curdled yellow sun.
After graduation, I ignored her calls. Her fancy stationary. Her jagged penmanship. I had met a man into philandering. We were going to raise four babies. Me, going to mommy. I had to get on it.


IMG_0333JoAnna Novak is a writer of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. She lives in Massachusetts.