Zach Lebowitz was in a bad mood: his younger sister, who was eighteen years old, had dropped out of college and moved to Los Angeles to become a porn star. To shake off his confused depression which pursued him at home and at the office, he called to his aid his sense of lofty morality, his genuine and noble ideas – he had always been an open-minded liberal, supporting ideas like gender equality, tolerance, and free love, but these political views were of no avail when it came to his personal life and his sister’s sudden departure and chosen profession, and he always came back to the recent conversation he had with his aunt (a devout Catholic), who believed that his sister had acted wrongly and betrayed the family. And that was fucking with him.
His mother did not leave their Upper-East Side penthouse in New York City all day long; his aunt (who lived with them) kept sighing, crossing herself, and speaking in whispers. His father, a respected Democrat and member of Congress, would only mumble incoherently at the dinner table and began drinking heavily at night. In the apartment it was as still as though there were some one dead in a room. Everyone, so it seemed to Zach Lebowitz, looked at him enigmatically and with perplexity, as though they wanted to say, “Your sister is ruining her life and our family’s reputation. She only listens to you. So why are you doing nothing?” And he reproached himself for inactivity, though he did not know precisely what action he ought to have taken.
So passed six days without a word from Zach’s sister. On the seventh – it was Sunday morning – Zach finally received an email. The message’s tone was flippant: “Hey! How’s it going? Sorry I took so long to reply. But…” Zach fancied that there was something defiant and provocative beneath the informality.
“She doesn’t give a rat’s ass about her family,” thought Zach, as he went to his mother in her bedroom.
His mother was lying on the bed watching the television show, Girls, dressed in the same clothes she had worn for the past three days and drinking white wine. Seeing her son’s face, she rose impulsively, and straightening her gray hair, asked quickly,
“What? What do you want?”
“An email came…” said her son.
Zissel’s name, and even the pronoun, “she” was not uttered in the apartment. Zissel was spoken of impersonally, “In Los Angelis,” “Gone away,” etc. The mother’s face grew ugly and unpleasant.
“No!” she said, with a motion of her hands, as though to block a ghost that was attacking her. “No, I don’t care. I don’t want to know. Leave me alone!”
The mother broke into hysterical sobs of grief and shame; she evidently longed to know what was said in the email, but her pride prevented her. Zach realized that he ought to read the email aloud from his phone, as it mentioned his mother, but he was overcome by anger such as he had never felt before; he ran out of the room and kicked a chair.
“God damn it! God fucking damn it!”
He threw his phone against the wall, (which fortunately didn’t break because of the high-quality case he had purchased two weeks ago); then tears came into his eyes, and feeling that he was stupid, miserable, and to blame, he went out into the city streets.
He was only twenty-seven, but he was already quite fat. He wore expensive suits, chain-smoked, and suffered from a nasty cough. He already seemed to be developing the characteristics of an elderly bachelor. He never fell in love, never thought of marriage, and loved no one but his mother, his sister, his aunt, and his father. He was fond of a good meal and of talking about politics and exalted subjects. He had in his day received his Bachelor’s and P.H.D. in Economics from George Mason University, but he now looked upon his studies as though in them he had discharged a duty incumbent upon young men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six. At any rate, the ideas that now strayed every day through his mind had nothing in common with the university or the subjects he had studied there.
Out in the city streets it was hot and still, as though rain were coming. The air above the avenues was wavering in the heat and there was the smell of asphalt and dust. He lit a cigarette and began to walk.