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No More Gwendolynn

"Annie, what's the gee for?"

"Umm?" she murmured against his chest.

"G. Your middle name. It's just 'G.' on the grade sheets. You never told me what it stood for."

"Oh God, it's so dumb."


"I hate it, it's so dumb."


"Not that dumb."

"Georgette? Griselda?"

"Nobody's named 'Griselda'!"

"Sure. 'Heroine of Grace.' Teacher of medieval MCPs."

She said nothing. She breathed something between a sigh and a huff.



"Not really."

"Yes! Can you imagine? It's awful."

"It's one of my favorite names."

"No it isn't."

"Yes. Rare, too. Like Agatha or Millicent. Matilda. I never knew anyone with any of those names. Not even a matron aunt."

"Matilda's nice."

"I did know a Gwendolynn." He pressed his arm a little across her shoulders. "I loved her."


"A long time ago."

"Was she prettier than me?"

"No," he said too definitively.

"But smarter."

"In some ways maybe. In some ways not."


"She wasn't at all like you. It was a long time ago."

"You still love her."

"It was a bad time. She had this friend. She'd known her since they were ten I guess. Anastasia something."

"Anastasia?" she said, lifting the middle of the name incredulously.

"That's what she called her. Anastasia something. That was her name."

"She was Russian?"

"I don't think so. Maybe."

"How would they have met?"

"I never asked. Anastasia never really interested me. She was a Benchley cliché."

"You never knew her last name?"

"She was a spy. Maybe it was a fake name. Maybe she didn't have a last name."

"Frank. A spy?"

"She was a spy. She'd disappear and reappear. She kept turning up in Gwendolynn's life. We'd come home, and there she'd be. In the house. I complained; Gwendolynn was always glad to see her. She'd tell her about her latest adventures. Petty disruptions of foreign powers, emergency flights to countries that had only just been renamed. And men. I think her biggest thrill was to be unfaithful to two men on the same night."


"Not just make love to them. Convince them both that each was her only true, eternal love."

"You lived together?"

"What? Oh, yes. Gwen and I. We were married; nearly two years."


He rolled against her in the dark, taking the warmth of her hip to his belly. "No," he said. "Gwen envied Anastasia and her Femme Nikita life so much. I asked her once–Gwen, I mean–who Anastasia spied for. She went blank for a second, as if she'd never thought to wonder. 'Us,' she said. I could see she wasn't sure."

"Maybe she was a double agent. You know, working for two governments or something. Split loyalties."

"Or none. We would find her in the house, lounging in my favorite chair, drinking my rum, dressed like an exotic international spy in a Mirabella ad. She wouldn't even say hello when we arrived; she would pan the room with those hard, contemptuous eyes. She could say, 'your house,' in a tone that made Gwendolynn blush and fuss to tidy things. Once, toward the end, she said I was 'showing my age,' as if it were something I should hide."

"You're not old, Frank."

"Of course I'm old. Why not? As Anastasia became more openly contemptuous of us, Gwen finally started to fight back. She defended me in sad little ways. She told Anastasia she liked living with me, saying 'like' in that special way reserved for admitting we like a controversial cheese. Once she said I was no Dirk Bogarde, but she loved me."

"What did you say?"

"I said, 'Isn't he gay?'"

"Who is Dirk Bogarde?"

"Nobody. It was a long time ago. Gwen would do little things to the house: flowers, pictures, Russian plates on the walls. Anastasia noticed everything. 'How domestic,' she would observe drily. One day, I noticed that Gwendolynn had made herself a poster and framed it over her desk. She was a writer. Frivolous stuff, she always called it, self-deprecating: spy stories and humid romances. She was sitting at her desk that day and saw me see the poster.

"'I'm going to write a real book,' she said.

"'What about?' I said.

"'Growing up.'

"The poster said, 'No more Anastasia.'"


He was silent. She waited. Finally, she said, "Well, what happened?"

"She died."

"She died?" She waited. "Gwendolynn died?"

"Anastasia killed her."


"It was subtle. Keep in mind, she was the mistress of obscure poisons and moderately powerful men with understated mustaches. And a black belt in unnamed martial arts from otherwise undistinguished cultures."

"Frank; she killed your wife?"

"It was impossible to prove. There was nothing I could do. She found my helplessness... piquant. Two days before it happened, she and Gwendolynn had a fight; they were speaking in intense undertones when I came through the front door. Anastasia snapped at me as she left, 'Try and stop me.' I thought she meant the door."


"I knew it was her. The look of triumph and secret knowledge in her face was meant to be clear. I saw her, here and there, for about a month after. And one other thing. It could have been just petty cruelty, but I think not. I noticed it a few days after the burial. The poster. She had carefully slashed a black magic marker across her name and inked in below it, 'Gwendolynn.'"

"Frank." He did not speak. "You're making this up."

"Just kidding," he said, sighing in the dark. "A bad joke, Annie."

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