Ordinarily, Willow could no more ignore a ringing telephone than she could step on a crack and break her mother’s back, but she was 20 feet in the air, painting a house, when her cell started vibrating in the bib of her overalls. She closed one eye and cut in around a gutter as the buzzing continued. She was standing on a ladder that was actually making her ill, not only because it was bending like a cheap plastic ruler, but because it was precisely the kind of ladder she had not wanted in the first place. The phone seemed to thrum in her chest. She was about to drop it onto the brick walkway far below when it finally stopped.

The old Italians who taught Willow to paint houses had warned her about many things—men, the government, the modern world in general—but the warning she always remembered was the one about aluminum ladders. Wood! the old guys had said, outlining the shape of a tree with their hands. When a wooden ladder starts to fail, they told Willow, it talks to you—cracking and groaning and practically screaming at the poor painter to get off. An aluminum ladder, by contrast, folds like a stick of chewing gum with no sound whatsoever. The old guys had barely spoken English, and Willow spoke no Italian, yet their message had chimed in her mind for 20 years. If you desired a swift and silent death, get yourself an aluminum ladder.

Three months ago, when she decided to paint houses again, Willow went to the big-box hardware store, and the clerk said, “Ladders that talk to you. No, but I can show you a good microwave for house pets.”

“It’s not an urban myth,” said Willow. “A wooden ladder can save your life.”

“You heard this in Italy.”

“No, I heard it in Rhode Island. From master Italian painters who lived there. They told me never to forget it.”

“And you never did,” said the clerk. He hadn’t seen a wooden ladder in years. He didn’t think they even made them anymore.

Willow considered driving the 90 minutes to Narragansett, her childhood home, to visit her former employers and learn where they got their gear. But she’d worked with the old guys decades ago, and they’d been old guys then. They had planned to spend eternity painting frescoes for the big Italian in the sky. By now they had discovered there was no big Italian.

Besides aluminum, the big-box store had Fiberglas.

“Like a javelin pole,” said Willow. “So when it splits in half it makes a nice sharp spear to run through me.”

The clerk was hopping from foot to foot in his orange apron.

“If you have to pee, I can wait,” she said.

“I was thinking you might want to work with one of our female associates.”

“No, I like you.”

He had a top-of-the-line 20-foot aluminum extension ladder with a lifetime guarantee.

“So if it kills me, I get my money back,” said Willow.

“The refund, in that case, would go to your estate.”

She bought it. Her new friend carried it to the parking lot and tied it to the pipe rack of her minipickup. Willow’s husband, Russell, should have been there with her, tying down his woman’s ladder, but Russell was on the road with his band, The Sexual Congressmen. And even if he’d been around, he wouldn’t have helped. Russell was mad at Willow for giving up good therapy money to do this house painting thing. Apparently, only the aging frontmen of rock-’n’-roll bands were allowed to have midlife terrors. Russell wouldn’t listen, yet when he had problems with the other Congressmen, or problems writing a song, or problems with one of his beloved Stratocasters, Willow heard about that until four in the morning.

In a way, that told the tale. Russell loved to talk. Willow preferred action. In therapy she did behavior modification, not headshrinking. Let the theory people wade into the quicksand of why compulsives do what they do. Willow stopped them from doing it. But 13 years was enough. In her husband’s mind, she had inexplicably switched to a lesser-paying job just to be perverse, though she’d told him she was painting as therapy for herself, to remember who she was. He envisioned her singing along to a boom box while throwing some paint around. In fact, she worked in silence.

She was doing so now, her ladder propped against a bungalow on a luminous autumn day—nobody around, no radio playing. The sky was Cobalt at the top, fading to Robin’s Egg at the bottom where backlit herds of cloud animals circled the world as if on a rotating lampshade. It was the perfect backdrop for the colors she was using today: Crème Brûlée for the house’s body, Lemon Meringue for the trim, and a Marzipan eyeliner around the windows and doors. The owners were morbidly obese, and Willow felt it was unethical to paint their house like a giant dessert, but you didn’t tell your painting customers that you were also a behavioral therapist, or vice versa. And under no circumstances did you render both services to the same client.

Her phone started vibrating again.

She pinned her eyes to the puffy cloud creatures on the horizon and groped for the little machine in her breast pocket. Of all the things she had learned from the old Italians, “Don’t look down” was still the best.

Willow was horribly, horribly afraid of heights. Her mentors had discovered this right away, of course, but they let her stay and work the sections of a house she could scrape and sand and paint from the ground. And she excelled at that. But a basic piece of her character had remained unconfronted all these years. The coward piece.

She held the ladder with her knees and elbows and extracted her phone. Her caller was an ID-blocker, one of those secretive people who mirrored Willow’s relationship to the world at large: private, unknown, undisclosed, withheld. She tried to feel some scrap of identity in the buzzing silver clamshell. Answering such calls was just like playing Russian roulette. You even held the device to your head. This caller could be anyone in the entire world, right down to the man Willow had married—an unrepentant ID-blocker who was sometimes empty chamber and sometimes bullet.

She flipped open the phone. “Will here.”

“Will?” said the caller—not Russell at all, but a confused-sounding woman with a voice that Willow had never heard. “Willow? Willow Tyvek? This is Nancy DeCloud—Marcie Blix’s friend?”

Willow had to think for a second. “Oh, hi. Right, you’re the woman with—”

“The husband.”

“Yes. Sympathy. I have one myself.”

The woman laughed—sort of. Willow’s friend Marcie in Gloucester was in a gardening club with this Nancy DeCloud. Nancy’s husband was some kind of high-tech gazillionaire. The other thing about Mr. DeCloud—and this was where Willow came in—was that he was a hoarder, a person who could not throw anything away. An hour north of Boston, the DeClouds had a waterfront estate where Nancy ran the show; but in the metro area the eccentric exec lived with his stuff in a style that would have gone unnoticed only six or seven years ago in a town known sometimes as Slummerville. Its real name was Somerville, and it was coming up in the world. Mr. DeCloud’s new abutters had paid dearly for their fixer-uppers, and now they were filing complaints about the disturbing man next door.

That concluded Nancy’s summary of the situation. “Your name is spelled like that stuff on new houses,” she said.

“Daddy invented it,” said Willow.

“Wow,” said Nancy. “Marcie didn’t tell me.”

Willow was the last of the Rhode Island Tyveks. Her father had no brothers and neither did she. The final tuft of the family dandelion was clinging to a flimsy ladder 20 feet in the air. Someday the big wind would come and blow her away, yet even then her name would remain a household word, thanks to a strange substance whose singular virtue was that you couldn’t rip it up.

How different life would be, thought Willow, were there really any connection between herself and that infuriating material. There was not. But she had learned over the years that a bit of personal mythology was helpful when changing other people’s lives.

She touched a fingertip to the candy-colored house. Her paint was going tacky in the morning breeze. She had to get off the phone. “What did the abutters complain about? The smell?”

“That,” said Nancy, “and the rats that swarm around the building all night. But mostly the fact that the whole place looks like it’s about to burst into flame.”

“Heaps of paper stacked in every window,” said Willow.

“You really do this, don’t you? Marcie told me that when all else had failed, you were the one to call.”

“Our lady of last resort,” said Willow, but just as she said that, a freak gust of wind hit her ladder, a nature-spirit come to fling her into the air. She screamed and her paintbrush clattered down the side of the house, leaving semigloss Lemon Meringue hieroglyphics along the whole expanse of her flat Crème Brûlée. Somehow she had held on to the stupid phone.

“What happened?” asked Nancy DeCloud.

“I just almost fell off my ladder, that’s all.” Willow pressed her head to a metal step. She had a back spasm and her legs were humming like a tuning fork.

“Is that an expression from therapy? ‘Fell off my ladder’?”

“No, it’s an expression from physics. I’m 20 feet in the air on a flimsy extension ladder.”

Nancy DeCloud found this funny. She chuckled. “Are you working with someone who’s afraid of heights?”

“You wouldn’t laugh if you saw the terror on this poor person’s face.”
“You get right up there with them. You’re the real deal, aren’t you, Willow Tyvek?”

“Totally,” said Willow.

The term “high-tech millionaire” had never meant much to Willow, though she routinely impersonated the daughter of one.

She had no idea what such people actually did. She searched the network for “Vernon DeCloud” and he turned out to be a living legend of geekdom who invented things that stupefied Willow but which were, she gathered, wet dreams in the world he inhabited. He had the power to see the future. Fellow capitalists implored him to sit on their boards. And he was decidedly decent looking, his hawklike visage reminiscent of Samuel Beckett—a cleaver of a face slicing through the world like something flung from a butcher shop.

She had sent all her clients to other therapists, and now, three months later, she was popping out of retirement like a jack-in-the-box. It lent credence to her husband’s contention that she didn’t know what the hell she wanted. But she know. She wanted the inner peace that only divorce can bring. Three months of painting meditation had clarified it for her, though she hadn’t told Russell yet.

No sooner did she think “I need some serious money” than the wealthy Vernon DeCloud was sent to her. Her largest conceivable therapy fee would vanish in his rounding error. She could get her own place, take a year off, figure out her life, and it wouldn’t even ripple the man’s spreadsheet.


She showed up early and did a few drive-bys in her truck. His building was that late-19th-century rarity, the double triple-decker: two big-boned, bow-fronted behemoths fused at the hip, curved porches flying off the front like theater boxes, dentil molding the size of whale teeth banding the building at every floor. Through the etched glass in the front door, she saw the ballroom-caliber staircase spiraling up its spine.

In this dry-docked ocean liner lived the titanic Vernon DeCloud, all by himself. Neither squalor nor shameless disrepair could diminish its architectural grandeur. With each approach, Willow savored the stately, decrepit building and snapped megapixels from her driver’s window. It was, or once had been, painted conservatively, white with Dove Gray trim. The blinds were lowered so she couldn’t see any trash. A six-bay garage in back had its overhead doors pulled down. A bright yellow bmw was backed into the drive like a getaway car.

She parked her truck on the next street over and came in on foot. She was halfway down the block when the breeze changed direction and she caught the unmistakable tang of decay. She arrived with her nose in the air and failed to notice that a man was sitting in a low-slung chair on the deep wraparound porch.

“Hey,” the man said. “I’ve been seeing your name around.”

From behind her shades she looked up at him—a lean, long-limbed guy, 50-something, faded-flannel shirt, bottle-green cords, black slip-on sneakers that were falling apart. In no way did he resemble a megamillionaire.

“Yes, Daddy outdid himself with that one,” said Willow.

“What’s it made of?”

“Tyvek? Oh, resins or something. Not my department. They spread secret glop on huge racks and bake it in giant ovens.”

“And they might as well be baking money. I love it. Hey, wait a minute. That’s a great idea. U.S. currency on Tyvek. Wow. Could you talk to the board for me?”

“Sure,” said Willow. She suspected he was high. “But I’ll bet they’re already in talks with Uncle Sam. Smart whippersnappers over there at HQ. Can’t get a thing past them.”

“Just the way I like it,” he said.

“Good morning, Mister DeCloud.”

“Call me Vern.”

“Call me Ishmael.”

He laughed the way he must have laughed back in junior high, folded in his Adirondack chair. So, she was dealing with a substance-abusing tycoon who knew the first three words of Moby-Dick. That was something. She could work with that. Probably.

She began climbing the stairs. “Who else lives here, Vern?”

“Nobody. I live alone.”

“In this gigantic building? I find that hard to believe. Surely you have a girlfriend at least.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “No, it’s just me.” And then, before she could reply, he added, “Me and the guy in the mirror.”

He was reading her part of the script. “You and the guy in the mirror” was her line. She was going to say that and see what reaction it got out of him, but he said it first. Once in a blue moon you encountered a client like this, a witch or warlock whose mind slapped onto your mind like a blood-sucking leech. Working with such a person was out of the question.

She kept climbing the stairs. “You don’t often see a mansard roof on a double triple-decker. Real slate on the mansard, too. I love slate tiles on a roof, don’t you?”

“Sure. Until one sails down and slices through your head.”

“Fascinating. We’re discussing roofing tiles. I say ‘love.’ Vern says, ‘gruesome death.’”

“Are you an architecture buff, Ishmael?”

“In my way.”

“That must explain why you were photographing my building. I saw you out there, shooting from your truck. Why does a behavioral therapist need a ladder?”

“I’m actually a house painter. Your wife called me by mistake.”

“I like you,” said Vern. “This is fun.”

Things in apartment 1A were much as Willow expected. It was a murky cave maze, stalagmites of mail and periodicals approaching the ceiling, propping each other up, forming dim passage­ways through which she followed Vern into the recesses of the place, scuttling sideways like a crab. Everything was old here, too old to smell very bad. She flicked the tawny spine of a daily paper, and it puffed like a forest mushroom. She’d been in middle school the year Vern collected the magazines she saw. At intersections in the labyrinth, heaps of clothing lay like the bodies of earlier investigators, arms reaching for the newcomer.

“When was Nancy last here?” she asked.

“Nancy has never been here,” said Vern.

Eventually they entered the kitchen in back. The closets and cupboards were empty, their former contents piled on the floor. Willow reached to open the fridge.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Ishmael.”

She dropped her hand. “You don’t live here, do you, Vern?”

“Not anymore. I used to. This was where I started out.”

“I see. You go from one to the next. Nice. How long in each?”

“Four years or so.”

They took a spin through 1B, then 2A, and it all made perfect sense. In each apartment the objects were a little newer, the smell a little stronger. She followed Vern into 2B and said, “Suggestion. Next time you do this, separate the organic matter from the papers and the electronics.”

He sidled over to a window and peeked down, past stacks of books and magazines, at his huge garage. “I do.”

They took a break in the kitchen of 3A where Vern had six or seven microwaves and at least that many cases of microwavable popcorn.

He kept edibles in this apartment, yet this was not where he lived. That left 3B, the final frontier, or maybe it was all a joke and he didn’t live in this building at all. 3A was a mind-blowing mess and didn’t smell great, but the garage was what Willow had whiffed on the street. She could hardly wait.

“Why stop at the printed matter?” she asked while Vern ate popcorn on which he had sprinkled a foul-smelling yeast powder with life-extension properties. He had mentioned in passing that he planned to live forever. “Why not scan everything?” Down in 2B, she had noticed a subtle change in the object mix and guessed the existence of Vern’s digital hoard. He was scanning his mail and publications and sending their astral bodies to servers somewhere—cherished possessions crossing the bridge between matter and spirit. “Can you scan a rotting lemon rind? The texture, the smell, the taste? Surely computers can do that.”

“Not quite yet, I’m afraid,” said Vern, yeast powder coating his lips. “Hey, let’s say we did something together. Would I be . . . you know, your weirdest patient ever?”

She knew he was going to say this—exactly this phrase. She had heard it in her mind before he opened his mouth. That would have been bad enough, but he was also starting to remind her of Russell. The similarity of any particular man to all men was truly unnerving. Was there a formal study of it? Menology?

Client, Vern, not patient. And no, you would not. Don’t flatter yourself. Except for having failed to take out the trash for 30 years, you’re basically normal. But you wonder how you compare to other men. You’re unique that way. Okay, I once worked with a Boston locksmith who was like Houdini in reverse. He could get into anything—any house, any car, any building. He could get into the Fed. He did get into the Fed. But money didn’t interest this man. His obsession was parked cars. For some reason he could never define, every vehicle in the city struck him as being parked in the wrong place. It tortured him—scorched his mind like lye. He started unlocking cars and driving them to the spot where he felt they belonged. But of course another car was already parked there. So he had to move that car, too.”

Vern regarded her from across the room. “You’re saying he moved Car A to Car B’s spot and then Car B to where Car A had been.”

Willow laughed. “Come on, Vern. That would be child’s play. As if Car A’s spot would still be available at that point? No, this was like the puzzle where you slide the numbered chic­lets in the tray, except the tray was downtown Boston. What this guy did was amazing. He held the entire city in his mind. But it was also unspeakably sad because he had to do it all at night, when people were asleep, and he had to finish before the commuters came out at dawn to wreck it. If he could have rearranged the city’s cars just once he might have been able to let it go. But it never happened.”

“That’s the biggest load of bullshit I’ve ever heard.”

“It is not,” said Willow. “It’s true. I knew this man. He was real. Real like you’ll never know.”

“What happened to him?”

“He’s no longer with us.”

“How do you work with someone like that?”

“You do a lot of driving around.”

The front parlor of 3B had floor-to-ceiling windows set into the mansard roof. You could tell by the glow around the boxes and bags. It had sofas and chairs, too—Willow discerned their shapes in the kudzu of crap covering the floor. Vern did indeed reside in this final unit of DeCloud Manor. Many fresh takeout containers were on hand to testify to it. Willow moved boxes and bubble pack off two armchairs so she and Vern could sit.

“There’s a little guy inside you who wants to get this under control,” she said.

“Yes, but I haven’t heard from him lately. I think he’s dead.”

“You’ve heard from Nancy. You’ve heard her plaintive pleas.”

“Nice try, Ishmael. My wife, as I’m sure you’ve surmised, is a durable woman. She’ll survive.”

“Survive what, Vern? I thought you’d heard. You’ve been condemned. They’re taking you out in handcuffs and sending in a swat team for the maggots. It’s over. You can clean up with me or you can go downtown on TV.”

“You haven’t told me about your husband,” Vern said.

Willow stared at him and shook her head. She’d been saving some show-and-tell involving Russell. She was just about to bring him up when Vern beat her to it.

“My husband and I have the most consistent relationship I’ve ever known,” she said. “We’ve been breaking up since our very first date. When we finally got married, it was just to get some rest. And now we’re getting divorced.”

“Maybe you’ll be one of those couples who split up and then get married again, and the second time they live happily ever after.”

“Hey, Vern? Could you please not say things like that? Because that’s exactly the kind of thing Russell and I could do—except without the happily ever after.”

She hoisted her big leather handbag onto her lap. “So, this one time Russell and I actually did break up. For two weeks. And when we got back together we were so happy, we took a trip to Venice.”

“I can’t believe you’re a therapist.”

“And I’m one of the normal ones,” said Willow. She pulled an accordion file from her bag. “See? ‘Venice 2002.’” She thumbed the manila compartments as if strumming a guitar. “Bro­chures, postcards, photographs, receipts. Every memento is here.” She rubbed two paper stubs together. “Vaporetto tickets.” She tossed them back in. “I have no idea why I kept all this stuff.”

“I do,” said Vern.

She produced a restaurant menu from the file. “Taverna San Trovaso. Great little place by the Accademia. Next time you’re in Venice you should check it out.”


Her personal shredder was a battery-operated device resembling the wand they run over your body at airport security. “Air ionizer?” said Vern when she drew it from her bag.

“Hair curler. I thought I’d freshen up.”

Willow attached a one-gallon plastic bag to the wand and fed the menu into the slot. The shredder whirred for a second and San Trovaso’s savory dinner selections cascaded into the bag like tri-colored macaroni.

Vern recoiled in his chair. “What did you just do?”

“Also highly recommended,” said Willow, “Trattoria della Madonna.” She shredded its menu, and then she produced two brochures. “Murano has the famous glass, but its less-visited sister island, Torcello, has the amazing mosaic ceiling of the Virgin.” She turned those bro­chures to confetti.

“You’re taking out your marital problems on some poor helpless objects!” cried Vern.

Willow pulled a snapshot from her file. “Oh, wow. Look at this. Russell and me on the Rialto Bridge. We got a passerby to take our picture.” She turned it around so Vern could see.

“Nice-looking guy,” he said.

“His thought exactly.” She fed the picture to the shredder. A few minutes later her entire trip to Venice was ticker tape. “I love labelers, don’t you?” She brought a green plastic machine from her bag and typed on it with her thumbs. A white ribbon slid out: VENICE 2002. She sealed the bag and tossed it to Vern. “How’s that for lossless compression?”

“Except it’s irreversible,” said Vern. “You can’t reconstitute it. You can’t go back. Didn’t you think about that?”

“I don’t want to go back,” said Willow.

They stood together outside Vern’s building, contemplating the six-car garage at the top of his drive. If Willow held her breath and squinted her eyes, everything seemed pretty much normal. Vern wasn’t the only guy in the neighborhood with dead grass and blighted rhododendrons surrounding his building. He wasn’t the only one with paint flapping like a skin disease. Or porches that mocked the idea of public safety. But only Vern had all these qualities at once, in spades.

“So, you decided to cooperate even before I arrived.”

“I never said that,” said Vern.

“When did you decide, then?”

“Who said I decided anything?”

She glanced into his BMW as they walked by. It was dealership clean inside and out, but that was no great surprise. Big-time hoarders often led sanitized public lives. The surprise was how much Willow liked Metallic Lemon Yellow with a black leather interior. The typical CEO drove something out of a funeral motorcade. Vern’s boat was like a big fast bumblebee. She would be quite happy to own it herself. “I’ve never seen that color on a Beamer before.”

“And you never will,” said Vern. “It’s a custom order.”

His entire boyhood blossomed in her mind.

They reached the garage, and it smelled so outrageously bad that she could not explain why Vern’s neighbors had not already dragged him from his home and stoned him. He un-locked the leftmost bay, the one corresponding to apartment 1A, and heaved open its overhead door. It was dark inside, but Willow could see garbage bags stacked to the roof. The garage had five more bays after this one, each more seethingly alive than the last. Faced with something similar, Hercules had changed the course of a river.

Then her eyes adjusted and she saw something else. “Hey, wait a minute. Where did you find these?” He had paint-splattered wooden extension ladders stacked higher than her head. “Don’t tell me you got these from old Italian guys in Rhode Island.”

“No,” said Vern. “What old guys? Do they have any more?”

“You already have about 30.”

“I know, but they’re getting hard to find.”

The real reason for the passing of wooden extension ladders from the world became clear as Willow and Vern hauled a 40-footer out of his garage. The mothers were heavy. No way could she handle even a 20 by herself.

Vern raised the ladder arm over arm, monkey-bar fashion, while Willow held its bottom rung with her feet. Then he worked the ropes and the pulleys until the 40-foot monster was fully extended against the side of his building. No gust of wind could ever lift this hulking contraption. She pranced up the first four rungs like a butterfly. “Nice!” she called down to Vern.

“You really are a house painter, aren’t you?”

Willow flexed her knees a few times on the fourth rung of Big Bertha. “Yup.”

To which Vern responded with a proposition: He would let her supervise the removal of every bit of stuff from all six of his apartments and garage bays if she, Willow Tyvek, heiress, would personally scrape, sand, prime, and paint his entire building in Metallic Lemon Yellow with high-gloss Black Leather trim to match his BMW. And to stick it to his abutters.

“Two hundred thousand dollars and one of these apartments and you’ve got yourself a deal,” said Willow.

“Next you’ll be running one of my companies,” said Vern. He climbed to the step below her.

“Hey,” she said. “Rule number one. One person at a time on the ladder. Off.”

He climbed onto the rung she was on, his feet around her feet. “You can put 10 people on one of these babies.”

“Not funny, Vern.” She took the next rung to get away from him. In this fashion they went halfway up, 20 feet off the ground. “Okay, stop,” said Willow. “No more. This is the highest I’ve ever been.”

“What are you talking about? You’re a house painter.”

“Yeah, but a specialized one. Ranches, capes and bungalows. Twenty feet or less. Actually, 20 is kind of stretching it.”

Vern laughed and the wooden ladder laughed, too, making some of those sounds wooden ladders are famous for.

“Vern, you bastard! Let me down!”

It took five minutes to get to the top. If the ladder made any more warning noises, Willow couldn’t hear them over her own screaming and pleading. Finally she came face-to-face with the horrifying slates of the mansard roof. Vern pressed her to the rungs like a grilled panini, his arms around the ladder. She couldn’t move. She certainly couldn’t fall. She didn’t really even need to hold on.

Back in college Willow had read a strange little book about a prince who tries to grieve over a death for the rest of his life. He discovers that it can’t be done. The same turned out to be true for abject terror. After five minutes of staring at the roofing slates, she ceased to be afraid. She thought at first that she’d simply resigned herself to death, but that wasn’t it because she wasn’t dying—not today, anyway, not for climbing a ladder. Being up high didn’t automatically mean you died. Being on the ground didn’t mean you lived. It was more complicated than that.

“It’s fear that makes you fall,” she announced.

“Congratulations,” said Vern. “The story about the guy moving the cars. Was it true?”


“He died by his own hand?”

“His own vehicle, actually.”

“Why couldn’t you save him?”

“Nobody could. He was doomed.”

“So there are hopeless cases,” he said.

“Yes. But not many. And you’re not one of them.”

“Neither are you.”

They stopped talking. Vern’s breathing leveled out as if he’d fallen asleep. Pigeons flew by. A squirrel crested the roofline and stared at them, hopping from foot to foot like the guy in the hardware store. Willow stared back so calmly that the squirrel crawled over and sniffed her nose. When she got back down on the ground, she’d be a different woman.

“Tyvek,” Vern said suddenly.


“Not you, the substance. Something’s bothering me about it. It doesn’t rip, yet it cuts and shreds. Feature or bug?”

“Feature, of course. Daddy saw the whole identity-theft thing a mile away. He knew it would have to shred.”

Vern grunted. He seemed satisfied with that. “Are you going to tell him about my unrippable currency idea?”

“I said I would.”

“Try to be persuasive, okay? I’d like to see it happen.”

“Vern, you’d like a world where everything was unrippable.”

“Yes, but especially the money.”


***Click here to read a Q&A with Ralph Lombreglia.***

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Ralph Lombreglia is the author of two short-story collections, Men Under Water and Make Me Work. His stories have appeared in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and the Scholar, among other magazines.


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