When I was eight months old, Jackson Pollock stuck his hand in my crib and let me squeeze one of his fingers. He was in my parents' kitchen in Hoboken, where we lived for three years; he said the new linoleum reminded him of one of his paintings. Every time my mother tells the story, she always adds, "this is true"; but my mother can't tell stories. And my father has stopped remembering. What never changes is my hand touching Pollock's and who was watching; my parents and my father's best friend from childhood—Nick Carone, a painter who had brought along his famous pal partly to show off, partly in the hope Pollock would notice that the work my parents loyally hung in our living room was Nick's. But all Pollock cared about, my mother says, was how much beer was left, how much money Nick could con my father into giving them, until the bottles on the table clinked happily and the artists looked at each other like lovers who had forgotten our world. Then Nick placed his hands on my father's shoulders, Pollock called over to my mother, who had gone to my crib. Without looking up she broke her train of baby talk to say goodbye, but watched my father follow them out into the hall and stand at the top of the stairs, waiting as both men began the long walk down. It's at this point my mother always stops to ask, Do I remember we lived on the fifth floor? And by now I've learned to answer, yes I do.
In the days when I wrote shorts stories and still didn't know how dreadful they were, when I used the real names of everyone I knew, I could not imagine anything other than how they dressed, what they ate, and why they did the expected. And I didn't notice across the river and overcast afternoon in Manhattan, or see the girl who's taken to the children's bookstore where her favorite author signs his latest work. Her mother, who's recently divorced and would never describe herself as impulsive discovers she's attracted to the man, and while afterward her daughter pretends to examine the displays of books, the woman invites him to their apartment for dinner. The shop where this will happen is small but well situated, filling steady orders from the private schools that seem to be on every other block. The girl, who's seven and still loves being read to, is in her room that looks across to Riverside Park. A wall calendar reads 1980, which seems right for the styles of dresses hanging in her closet, or the pink record player that sits in one corner and is living on borrowed time. In the kitchen she has to be told more than once to eat lunch, but she is thinking about later, and while she isn't sure what will happen at the bookshop, she dreams of discouraging clouds which shadow the other children, that rain will punish their beautiful mothers, though none as beautiful as hers, and she can see―seated at a table, fountain pen in his long fingers and waiting patiently, the handsome prince whose story she will write without my help.