The Manchester Review
Jennifer Egan
A to B
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   “Bosco? He’s still recording,” Bennie said tactfully. “His new album will be out in a couple of months: A to B. His solo work is more interior.” He left out the part about Bosco being obese, alcoholic, and cancer-ridden. He was their oldest friend.
   Stephanie had perched on the edge of Bennie’s deck chair, flushed because she’d hit well, her topspin still intact, her serve slicingly clear. She’d noticed one or two blond heads pausing by the court to watch and had been proud of how different she looked from these women: her cropped dark hair and tattoo of a Minoan octopus encompassing one calf, her several chunky rings. Although it was also true that she’d bought a tennis dress for the occasion, slim and white, tiny white shorts underneath: the first white garment Stephanie had owned in her adult life.
   At the cocktail party, she spotted Kathy — who else? — across a crowded expanse of terrace. As she was wondering whether she would again merit an actual hello or be downgraded to a crabbed Who are you? smile, Kathy caught Stephanie’s eye and began moving toward her. Introductions were made. Kathy’s husband, Clay, wore seersucker shorts and a pink oxford shirt, an ensemble that might have seemed ironic on a different sort of person. Kathy wore classic navy, setting off the bright blue of her eyes. Stephanie sensed Bennie’s gaze lingering on Kathy and felt herself to go tense — a residual spasm of unease that passed as quickly as his attention (he was now talking to Clay). Kathy’s blond hair hung loose, still bobbypinned at the sides. Stephanie wondered idly how many bobby pins the woman went through in a week.
   “I’ve seen you on the court,” Kathy said.
   “It’s been a while,” Stephanie said. “I’m just getting back into it.”
   “We should rally sometime.”
   “Sure,” Stephanie said casually, but she felt her heartbeat in her cheeks, and when Clay and Kathy moved on she was beset by a giddiness that shamed her. It was the silliest victory of her life.


Within a few months, anyone would have said that Stephanie and Kathy were friends. They had a standing tennis date two mornings a week, and they’d become successful doubles partners in an interclub league, playing other blond women in small tennis dresses from nearby towns. There was an easy symmetry to their lives right down to their names — Kath and Steph, Steph and Kath — and their sons, who were in the same first-grade class. Chris and Colin, Colin and Chris; how was it that of all the names Stephanie and Bennie had considered when she was pregnant — Xanadou, Peek-a-boo, Renaldo, Cricket — they’d ended up choosing the single one that melded flawlessly with the innocuous Crandale namescape?
   Kathy’s elevated status in the pecking order of local blondes gave Stephanie an easy and neutral entrée, a protected status that absorbed even her short dark hair and tattoos; she was different but okay, exempt from the feral scratching that went on among some others. Stephanie would never have said that she liked Kathy; Kathy was a Republican, one of those people who used the unforgivable phrase “meant to be” — usually when describing her own good fortune or the disasters that had befallen other people. She knew little about Stephanie’s life — would surely have been dumbstruck to learn, for example, that the celebrity reporter who had made headlines a few years back by assaulting Kitty Jackson, the young movie star, while interviewing her for Details magazine, was Stephanie’s older brother, Jules Jones. Occasionally Stephanie wondered whether her friend might understand more than she gave her credit for; I know you hate us, she imagined Kathy thinking, and we hate you too, and now that we’ve resolved that, let’s go rub out those bitches from Scarsdale. Stephanie loved the tennis with a ravenous aggression that half embarrassed her; she dreamed about line calls and backhands. Kathy was still the better player, but the margin was shrinking, a fact that seemed to pique and amuse them equally. As partners and opponents, mothers and neighbors, Steph and Kath were seamlessly matched. The only problem was Bennie.
   Stephanie hadn’t believed him at first when he’d told her, the summer after the invasion — their second in Crandale — that he felt people giving him odd looks by the pool. She’d assumed he meant women who were admiring the clutch of muscles above his swim trunks, brown and darkly
haired, his wide dark eyes, and she’d snipped, “Since when do you have a problem with being looked at?”
   But Bennie hadn’t meant that, and soon Stephanie felt it too: some hesitation or question around her husband. It didn’t seem to bother Bennie deeply; he’d been asked “What kind of name is Salazar?” enough times in his life to be fairly immune to skepticism about his origins and race, and he’d perfected an arsenal of charms to obliterate that skepticism, especially in women.