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Another Time, Another Place

An excerpt from the story “Tyrone Power Is Dead”:

“On the Upper East Side,” says Davida, for the second time. She’s speaking to her mother on the pay phone in the dorm lobby, practically shouting. The connection is bad, staticky; her mother’s voice crackles. “Yes, of course it’s safe,” says Davida, a far sight safer, she wants to add but doesn’t, than the South Side neighborhood back home where she grew up.

Miranda has invited her to New York, Manhattan. Miranda is her roommate, a small, dark girl half Davida's size who wears her hair in two braids tied with bows, like Margaret O’Brien, the former child star. Timid, insecure Miranda has made Davida her only friend. Davida is not sure of this friendship. Miranda is too intense, she feels, to be a comfort, which is what Davida has always assumed friends should be. Yes, to have fun with, but also to tell you everything is going to be okay when you think you’re going to die from shame, or grief.

Davida is Miranda’s friend, but Davida’s not sure the reverse is true. Miranda, emotionally greedy, feasts on Davida’s warmth and energy, her social ease, her charming facility for graceful conversation. These words do not come from Davida; Miranda has spoken them herself, telling Davida of her fascination. You remind me of Madame de Staël, Miranda told her. Said at dinner in the dorm, the day they first met. Miranda, brilliant and plain, has received a first-rate education; she’s well-equipped to handle the rigors of the liberal arts college they both entered as freshmen some weeks ago. Beautiful and bright Davida, not even sure who Madame de Staël is, is even less sure she belongs at this college. Yet Miranda praises her, obviously adores being around her.

Yes, makes Davida feel good about herself. So good she’s outscored Miranda on their first history test. This notable fact has attracted the attention of Miranda’s mother, an imposing lawyer who visits her daughter weekly from a not-too-distant city to make sure her only child is progressing as expected. Miranda’s mother supervised the decoration of the dorm room, displacing severe college furnishings with a Persian carpet, Tiffany lamps, matching escritoires and bombé commodes, and a pair of antique spindle beds topped with satin quilts. Miranda’s mother thinks that Davida, wholesome Davida owing to her Midwest birth and upbringing, is good for Miranda. And now she’s offered a weekend in New York as a present to both girls. Opera, museums, the theatre—“The Lunts, my dears, are in town, you must see them”—they are all to be attended. Davida wonders if she’ll have to submit a written report to Miranda’s mother after the weekend is over . . .