“So what is it with you and antiques?” Ava asks, from her perch on what she always calls the loose butthole couch. She’s playing idly with her empty soda glass, and watching Deborah intently. She’s been doing more of that lately.
Deborah keeps her eyes on her notebook. “What do you mean, me and antiques? I didn’t invent them, I just collect them.”
“Yeah, but why?”
“They’re beautiful,” Deborah replies. and if you think food poisoning is the worst of it, I have bad news for you about
the air vents whatever’s living in the air vents carpet???
“Okay,” says Ava, setting her glass down on the coffee table. “but lots of things are beautiful, and most of them are waaay cheaper than some seven thousand dollar pepper shaker.”
So it was seven. Deborah had wondered. But she says, only, “this from a girl who dresses like she’s on the fashion equivalent of a hunger strike.”
“Whatever.” Ava leans back on the couch, not even pretending that she’s still working on the closer to the food poisoning joke. “Beauty’s not, like, a real thing that just exists objectively in the world. Liking antiques is just letting a bunch of rich old white men telling you what to think.”
“That’s cute. You come up with that yourself?”
“No way dude, that’s Bourdieu,” Ava retorts, smug and scathing and grandiose. “Brilliant French social critic. Ever heard of him?”
“Yes,” Deborah replies, tone mild.
Deborah shrugs. “There was a thing about him in the New Yorker a couple of years ago.” She looks pointedly at Ava over the rims of her reading glasses. “Have you ever read him?”
Ava’s nervously folding those giant hands of hers. Ha. “I… mean… I’ve read some of, like…”
“Clips,” Deborah supplies helpfully.
“Look, the point is that our ideas about beauty are all constructed, okay? They’re the things people told us we’re supposed to like. That’s why everyone feels like they’re supposed to like antiques, even though nobody actually does.”
Deborah goes very still, her pen in the air. “Is that so?”
“Yeah,” Ava declares, with one of those weird millennial half-laughs of hers. “I mean, it was in the New Yorker, right?”
“For someone so devastatingly well-read, you have an awfully shaky grasp of how magazines work.” Deborah sets her notebook down next to her on the couch. “So tell me, Socrates, what’s real?”
Ava looks at her like she’s just shown up on the outskirts of Vegas asking if anyone knows where to find some sand. “Your feelings. Your own experiences.”
Deborah scoffs, folding her arms.
“So anytime I feel love, or hope, or anger, that means it’s true. Those are really my feelings.”
Ava spreads her hands. “Uh, yes? Obviously?”
There she is, so haughty and certain in her red-socked feet on the loose butthole couch (damnit, Deborah’s been trying not to think of it that way too) that Deborah’s self-control cracks and she cackles. “God, you’re ridiculous sometimes,” she says.
“Hey, you know I’m right about this,” Ava shoots back, sounding genuinely angry.
“I know you’re young enough not to have learned you’re wrong.” Deborah picks up her notebook and pen again. “That’s not the same thing.”
“Wow, I hope I’m never jaded like you.” Ava’s knees are tipping inward, and her shoulders seem narrower.
Deborah presses her advantage. “That’s an interesting way to pronounce ‘able to understand how art works.’ Is that an east coast thing, or something you picked up in LA?”
Ava shakes her head. “Wow, seriously?”
“I’m dead serious, sweetie. Experiences get manufactured all the time. That’s our whole damn business. What kind of writer are you if you don’t know this?”
“Oh, so you give bus tours about writing too, now?” Ava shoots back. “Look, just because somebody else wrote the thing that makes you feel something, it doesn’t mean your feelings aren’t genuine. It doesn’t mean they aren’t yours.”
“Oh, sure.” Deborah makes a mocking face. There’s only so much of Ava’s aggressive naïveté she can handle on any given day. “One minute you’re happy, the next you’re sad, then you stub your toe on the way out of the theater and all the rest of it vanishes. Poof! And by the next day you’ve forgotten you felt any of it.”
Ava closes her eyes and laughs humorlessly. “Right. So it’s all worthless.”
Deborah can’t help rolling her eyes at that one. “Of course it’s not worthless! It’s entertainment. It makes people feel good for awhile. That doesn’t mean it’s real.” She shrugs and opens her notebook. “Now, can we please…?”
Ava isn’t looking at her. “Yeah, in a minute,” she says, finally. “I, uhh, I just need another coke.” She hops up off the couch and trots into the kitchen with her empty glass in hand, restoring the living room to aesthetic consistency.
Deborah kills time by pretending to look at her notebook. She worked by herself for years, without anyone to bounce off of, and it was always fine. Hell, it was great. She’s Deborah Vance. The sudden change is irritating, and surprising, and something else she tries not to pay any attention to.
After she’s idly reread the entire page twice, Deborah grunts in impatience and tosses the notebook down. Some joke about Ava being unable to work a soda machine rises in her mind, half-formed, but she tosses that away too and goes into the kitchen.
Ava’s empty glass is on the kitchen island, but Ava herself is buried in the farthest corner, hunched over near the salt and pepper shaker cabinet.
“Oh for God’s sake, you’re not crying, are you?”
Ava says nothing, so Deborah picks up the glass, fills it with coke, and sets it on the counter nearby.
Ava picks it up and takes a long drink. Her face is blotchy, and Deborah recalls a line from a routine she used to do about Molly Ringwald: you can be a redhead, or you can be emotional, but God help you if you try to be both at once.
“It’s just… hard, okay?” Ava says at last. Of course she doesn’t say thank you for the coke. “I mean, I dropped everything--” Deborah snorts, but Ava ignores this-- “to come here to, to live in a casino in the fucking desert.” Ava sniffles loudly and takes another big guzzling drink. “You’re practically the only person I talk to, and it’s just… sorry.”
“Are you done?” Deborah asks, more kindly than she meant to.
“Yeah. I’m done.” Ava drains the glass and sets it down next to her. “I’m over it. Had my cry, I’m all good now.” She makes finger guns ad Deborah, clicking her tongue. “All set to dig back into writing meaningless shit for someone who doesn’t care about anything.”
Ava moves toward the living room, but pulls up short when she sees Deborah’s face.
“Excuse me, what?” Deborah says stonily.
Ava shrugs. “You said it, not me.”
“Okay first of all, that is not what I said.” Deborah snaps, annoyed at her own annoyance as much as at Ava. First of all? Who is she, her mother? God damn the way that girl gets under her skin. “Second, just because I don’t believe in plastering my feelings all over the internet for strangers to read doesn’t mean I don’t have any. I don’t need other people to see my feelings to know that they exist.”
“Okay.” Ava raises her eyebrows and chews vindictively on the inside of her own cheek. “Okay, then, let’s have it. I’m supposed to be getting to know you, right? So what do you have feelings about?”
Deborah looks over at the far wall, where the clock used to be before she had it moved eight years ago. They don’t have time for this. “You don’t need to know about my feelings to write for me.”
“Christ, you are a piece of work,” Ava exclaims. She steps closer, into Deborah’s line of sight. “Okay fine. Fuck feelings, who needs those. What’s real to you, Deborah? What’s important to you?”
Ava’s intense, beseeching look cuts into her before she can push the question away. She thinks: DJ, face alight with some batshit new idea, grouchy in the mornings, in her sky blue tank top as she waved goodbye from the doorway of her freshman dorm room. Laughing with Marty, and that familiar bitter twist whenever he pushes her aside, the way he always does as soon as someone else starts paying attention. That flare of fierce joy when Ava had called her a fucking bitch and they had sparred, lightning-quick, like she hadn’t done in years. Ava, watching her now, scornful and pleading and still so full of belief under that know-it-all attitude.
“Well,” Deborah says, turning toward the salt and pepper shaker cabinet, “I do like my antiques.” The cabinet is almost full. Some empty spaces – she’d particularly love to get her hands on some German repoussé – but every piece she owns has its partner now. She cannot suppress a sigh of satisfaction. “Though I suppose that’s just oppressive cultural overlords telling me I’m supposed to.”
“Hey,” Ava’s voice comes, conciliatory, over her shoulder. “If you really like them, I mean, that’s real. Just because you’ve internalized white male cultural ideas about how everything’s better when it’s old. It doesn’t mean you don’t, like. Really care about them.”
Deborah ignores this as she runs her eyes over her collection. She hasn’t visited this cabinet for more than a week. Most of the pieces here were genuine finds, acquired before dealers had figured out about the internet, when you had to take chances on rumors or go in blind. Her first matched King George II sterling set was a rumor that had paid off. She’d picked them up at a little hole-in-the-wall shop outside of Montgomery – woke up at six a.m. after an 11pm set at the Wind Creek and drove an hour each way on a cow path. Next to them are the blue glass Vernets, a gift from Marty for her thousandth show. Not something she would have chosen herself, but she’s come to love them over the years. They’ve got their place in the whole, a pop of color and simplicity against all the finely-worked silver.
“Believe me,” Deborah says, as she opens up the cabinet to straighten one of the Dighton trenchers. “Men don’t always think older is better.”
“All the more reason not to trust them, right?” says Ava. “Better to just stick to the antiques.” There’s a playful warmth in her voice. The speed at which that girl can ricochet her way around the emotional spectrum is just mystifying.
“Yep.” Deborah closes her cabinet and presses her back to the doors. “And besides, these I can get some actual money for, once I get tired of them.”
It’s not good enough to earn a laugh, Deborah knows that, but she isn’t ready for how Ava’s face closes up.
“Jesus Christ,” Ava says. “Who hurt you?”
She deals it out like one of her no-punchline jokes, not like a real question, but Deborah’s mind answers anyhow: Everyone, Ava. Everyone hurt me, back when I still let them.
But out loud, all she says is "let's get back to work."