Alexandra Tanner

March 29, 2024 
The following is from Alexandra Tanner's debut novel Worry. Tanner is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. She is a graduate of the MFA program at The New School and the recipient of fellowships from MacDowell and The Center for Fiction. Her writing appears in The New York Times Book Review, Gawker, and Jewish Currents, among other outlets.

My sister Poppy arrives on a wet Thursday, dressed ugly and covered in hives.

“I started flaring a little in security,” she says, dropping her bags, toeing off her salt-streaked boots, unwrapping a chunky gray scarf I gave her six years ago after realizing it signaled nothing about me at all. Beneath the scarf, Poppy’s neck is doppled with welts, some pinker and fresher than others.

She closes her right eye and blinks her left rapidly, like something’s stuck in it, while she fills me in on her trip.

“Leaving Florida, there were—you know how there’s always that old, old couple in line at security who don’t take off their belts, don’t take out their iPads, then they have, like, soup with them, and things of lotion, and they go through probably eight times? I was behind those people. The whole thing was chaos. And I had to steal a water bottle at the little store because there was no one at the register.” Now I notice a huge Evian sticking out of her tote.

To save fifty bucks on airfare, Poppy flew from the Palm Beach airport not to JFK or LaGuardia or even Newark but to MacArthur, on Frontier, then rode a shuttle from the airport to Ronkonkoma to catch the LIRR, then took a two-hour train that ended up taking three hours because someone jumped onto the tracks and died as it was pulling into Jamaica.

“I saw the fucking body bag,” Poppy says. She claws at her throat. Her fingernails, overlong as always, leave red slashes. If she scratches too much, the hives will bleed, become infected, refuse to heal. Her body is a log of all the times she couldn’t be good and patient and just wait for the swelling to go down.

“Don’t itch,” I say, swatting at her hand. “I’ve seen body bags. You’ll see more if you move here. Do you have your EpiPen with you?”

“Yeah,” Poppy says. “But it’s not that bad, it’ll go down in a minute. I just need to let it breathe.” She sounds uncertain. “I haven’t had a real flare in forever,” she continues; “I don’t know if this is really even a flare, it’s probably like normal-people hives, I’m just not used to wearing a scarf for this long. And air travel is stressful, you know? So I don’t think it’s hives-hives. Also, I am moving here. That’s why I have all this shit with me.”

“We’ll see,” I say. “Should you use it?”

“Use what?” She throws herself down on the couch and fans her neck.

“Your EpiPen?”

Poppy looks at the floor, then back at me. “I don’t have one right now. They doubled the price, and Mommy and Daddy’s insurance doesn’t cover it anymore, and I’ve been on the phone with this company five, or, like, maybe four times this month, and I just don’t want to pay them seven hundred dollars or whatever they want for it. Like, I could, but I shouldn’t have to. It’s burglary, it’s criminal. My throat could close up and they want me to pay seven hundred dollars to have, like, a chance to stop it? Fuck Blue Cross Blue Shield,” she says, pushing her knuckles into her eyes, “fuck health care, fuck America.”

“Okay,” I say, “but what if your throat, like, does close up—”

“You know I’ve never had my throat close up, oh my god, that’s not the point,” Poppy says, pinching at her lashes to tug her lids away from her eyeballs, a thing she knows I hate.

“Stop that.”

“Oh my god,” she says again, “you stop,” and she stomps into the bathroom and shuts the door. I hear her peeing. After a moment she calls to me, sheepish, and asks me to bring over her phone, which, she tells me, is in the pocket of her coat: a monstrous and woolly wine-red robe-wrap kind of thing that I recognize as a hand-me-down from our mother. I take Poppy her phone—“I couldn’t poop on the plane,” she says as I hand it over, “it was so bumpy, plus, oh my god, have you heard this? That you’re not even supposed to wash your hands with the water from the airplane bathroom because it’s so filthy?”—and then I shut the door on her and try on her coat in the living room mirror. It goes better with my eyes than hers, and since I’m two inches taller than she is, it hits my legs in the right place. On me, it’s not so terrible. Now I’m wondering how I can get her to give it to me. Maybe I’ll tell Poppy I think the coat’s disgusting, and once she stops wearing it out of shame, I’ll take it—but then how would I explain wanting something I’d insulted? To avoid a whole fight I’d have to wait, probably until Poppy moved out of the apartment, maybe even until she left the city for good; but considering she’s just landed and has three job interviews and five apartment viewings lined up for later this week, and considering all Poppy has ever wanted is to come live in New York, and considering I should be supportive of her sole desire, maybe her departure isn’t something I should hope for. Poppy wants to stay, and I’m supposed to want to help her stay. Maybe I’ll just let her keep the coat.

In the bathroom, Poppy shits. I hear it hit the water. I carry her things across the apartment into the office, two trips, and each time I edge close to the bathroom, I can make out the voice of Donald Trump leaking from her phone.

“You motherfucker,” Poppy says. She opens the door and calls to me. “I hate that he’s, like, the funniest person in the world. Don’t you hate how fucking funny he is?” She closes the door before I can answer. Then she opens it again. “Oh, and on top of it all, I literally just got my period.”


“It turns me into an animal,” Poppy tells me on our way to the park. A walk, she says, dulls cramps, if you can get yourself out the door. “A few days before it comes I’ll get itchy. I can feel every hair on my head, all the necks of my shirts start bothering me, things like that. Sometimes I flare. Everything’s loud, everything smells. All my senses are heightened. Except vision. My vision gets so much blurrier than normal, like to the point where I can’t even see across the room. Even right now it’s like—I don’t know, like everything has an aura.”

I’m jealous of the way Poppy still thinks that everything she’s ever experienced is special.

She keeps going. “You know what I’m talking about. Your periods are really crazy, too, right?”

I wouldn’t describe my periods as “really crazy.” “Yeah,” I say anyway. “It can be an intense time.”

“What happens to you?” Poppy can never just let me agree with her and move on.

“Um,” I say. “My lymph nodes feel big sometimes.”

Poppy frowns. “That’s not a period thing.”

Suddenly my neck’s sweaty. “It is for me. Don’t invalidate my experience. I’ve been menstruating longer than you, I know how I menstruate.”

“But I started menstruating earlier in the timeline of my life than you did. I started menstruating in grade school. So I don’t think you have been menstruating longer than me in years total.”

I frown at her. “That doesn’t make sense.”

“It does. You just can’t do basic math.” Poppy starts walking faster than me, staring at the ground. Now we’re fighting about nothing, about a detail I made up to pacify her. I often find myself in spots like this with Poppy, getting all mixed up trying to pretend we’re more alike than we are.

“Do you think it’s normal if my lymph nodes do feel big sometimes?”

Poppy huffs. “I’m sure it’s normal,” she says.

“Because I saw this thing online where a girl thought she just had big lymph nodes but it was actually lymphoma, and her friends made her a GoFundMe, but they put up these pictures of her where it was, like, obvious this girl is not making it—”

“You don’t have lymphoma,” Poppy says. “You’re the healthy one.”

“I get really bad strep every sixteen months like clockwork. What makes you get strep every sixteen months?”

“Being alive,” Poppy says. “Getting strep is part of being alive.”

At the park, a few trees are trying to bloom. Wet sleet falls, patching the grass with blackening slush. Some cold-looking children, flush-cheeked and hunched, play soccer in long pants. Poppy tells a story about a friend of hers who used to coach coed youth soccer on weekends. Her friend’s team of six-year-olds had decided to call themselves “The Mommies and the Daddies.”

“Which friend?” I ask. “Anna, old roommate Anna?”

“Actually,” Poppy says, “it’s not a story from a friend. It’s just a funny tweet I saw.”

Poppy and I are wearing matching Danskos with socks. As we walk along the path at the edge of the Long Meadow, I take a picture of our feet standing on some old snow, open Instagram, put an orange heart emoji in the corner of the screen, and upload it to my stories. I don’t tag Poppy because she doesn’t like to be tagged in things.

Within minutes, I have a story reply from an account I don’t recognize: getwellwithwendy. The only Wendy I know is our mother. I open the message and see that getwellwithwendy has sent me a thumbs-down emoji and a single line of text: horrible shoes…. A very wendy thing to say. I click on her profile. Sure enough, it’s her. She has zero followers, but she’s uploaded her first post: a blurry picture of a smoothie that she’s captioned with #getwellwithwendy #kosher #smoothie #koshersmoothietime.

I’m about to show the message to Poppy and ask her if she knows what our mother is doing on Instagram and how long she’s been eating kosher, but she starts talking before I can: “Have you heard that thing about how it would be as easy to bite off your finger as it is to bite into a carrot but there’s something in our brains that won’t let us do it?”

“Everyone’s heard that,” I tell her.

We sit on a bench. Poppy pulls out her phone. “Why didn’t you tag me?”

“You hate when I tag you.” “Well,” Poppy says, “still.”

We hear a commotion from the field. One of the children playing soccer is on the ground, clutching his leg. When the coach pulls his hands away to get a closer look, there’s blood.

“My bone,” screams the child, “I see my bone!”

“Okay,” Poppy says. “Let’s go.”


One of the Mormon mommy bloggers I follow on Instagram posts about having a “mom crush” on her “mini boyfriend,” referring to her month-old baby. He’s like a tiny husband I get to hold on my hip! She asks if any other moms feel this way, urges them to answer in the comments. The filter over the photo makes her newborn’s just-opened eyes an icy, bright blue.

We need more blue eyed babies like yours!!!!! someone comments.

Amen!! the original mommy replies.

Omg, someone else writes, I always want to makeout with my baby boy!!!!! is that weird?, followed by three crying-with-laughter emojis.

SICK, another replies.

no this is totally normal, it’s a hormonal thing, a different person writes. it’s like how touching your nipples makes you feel homesick

I have a separate handle that I’ve started using just to follow these religious girls. A couple of years ago I used it to hate-stalk the accounts of brands I liked but couldn’t afford, writers who were younger than me but whose careers were so far ahead of mine I’d never catch up, my craziest cousins and their craziest acquaintances, the worst people from high school. But then I started getting a lot of Mormon mommy bloggers on my Discover page, and I kept following them, collecting them like Beanie Babies: danilambofgod, servantwife1515, and so on, each compressing their lives into posts, posts, posts: uncountable shining garnets of the sickest, most deranged content imaginable.

Not all of the mommies I follow now are Mormon—some are evangelicals, fundamentalists, tradcaths, homesteaders. A few nights ago, when I was really high and looking at some mommies, I found a ballerina-turned-prepper who very much resembled my own mother, and I started crying in a way that felt otherworldly and out of my control. Looking at these women makes me feel full.

The last few years my mother, too, has started getting religious, but in a weird way; it’s weirder, I think, when reform Jews suddenly find religion. She won’t call herself a Jew for Jesus, but that’s what she’s become. My parents used to make fun of such people around the dinner table; now my mother attends services at a messianic congregation in Boynton Beach with a sign out front that reads Congregation L’Chaim: Where Jew And Gentile Are At LAST One In CHRIST! Sometimes my mother emails Poppy and me YouTube recordings of their services, which are led by a guy in a bad rug called Pastor Bruce. She always includes a note like Amazing wisdom in here if you two would bother to pay attention. One video, I remember, was called THE BEST IS YET TO COME! I’ve never known a Jew who thinks this way.

“Jesus,” Poppy says when I tell her about my secret Instagram handle, Wendy’s new account, the late-night L’Chaim browsing, how they connect, how concerned I am about our mother. “Leave all this behind. Don’t think about it. How is this fun for you?”

I get ready to explain to Poppy that what I’m doing isn’t about fun, but I stop myself because I don’t know what it is about yet. I could tell her about the ex-ballerina, about what seeing her provoked. I could try to describe the feeling I get watching Pastor Bruce’s lectures in the middle of the night, browsing the TEACHINGS section of L’Chaim’s website (Teaching Number Four: We affirm Jewish Culture and Jewish practices [that do not contradict the Direct Word of God!]). I could tell her that I sometimes get the same feeling when an ad pops up for Endless Shrimp Mondays at Red Lobster while I’m trying to watch the Zapruder film on YouTube; when I see a linen clothing company post about how the “vibrational energy” of linen is 5,000 hertz, which is why wearing linen makes you magnetic to others.

Sometimes the things I see on the Internet—even and especially the anti-Semitic dog whistles, the worm-brained sociopolitical infographics, the mommy bloggers salivating to make out with their fauxhawked blond boychildren—feel like holes in the fabric of time only I am special enough to glimpse. If I’m not stoned already, they make me feel like I’m stoned. I can see the end of art and culture and sometimes even human life if I’ve been scrolling through the right pages for long enough. Sometimes I feel like my own ancestor. Sometimes I feel like a Tamagotchi. There’s no way to fully describe these feelings to Poppy or to anyone. So instead, I show her a recent post by a woman who celebrated her husband’s vasectomy reversal by posting a picture of him, asleep in a hospital bed and clothed in a paper gown, captioned Today is the day!! Can’t wait ’til my amazing man wakes up and we can start trying to make babies! If you have a spare moment y’all please pray for us! followed by two closed-eyed-tongue-out emojis and then the one of the white man and white woman kissing with a heart between their faces.

“Okay,” Poppy says, “wait,” and she grabs my phone out of my hands. I watch her hungry fingers pinch to zoom, and I smile.


I want to buy a SodaStream, but Poppy doesn’t want to support Israeli apartheid. So we’re inert in the middle of Brooklyn’s worst Target, just looking at one. Poppy has swiped some Babybels from the dairy section. She’s eating them while we shop.

“I thought Pepsi bought SodaStream,” I say, my need deepening by the second.

“The sanctions still apply,” says Poppy, her mouth full of cheese.

“You’re gonna pay for those, right?”

Poppy rolls her eyes and stashes the wrappers in her purse. “What’s with you and paying for everything,” she says.

I google sodastream bds and stare at a picture of Scarlett Johansson, dead-eyed, being unveiled as the company’s first-ever global brand ambassador during a ceremony at the Gramercy Park Hotel. The picture is attached to an article in which Scarlett, under fire for hawking SodaStream in a Super Bowl ad, says that SodaStream is a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits, and equal rights.

I show Poppy the article.

“Did you see Under the Skin?” she asks.


She grabs my arm and widens her eyes. “Oh my god,” she says, “we’re watching it later. As soon as we get home. Scarlett Johansson plays this alien—I’m not spoiling anything, but she’s an alien, I mean, that’s kind of the twist but there’s a bunch of other stuff, it’s not even a movie that’s really about the twist—”

“I’m, like, thirty,” I tell Poppy, even though I’m two years away from being thirty. “I don’t care about spoilers.” Of course, I’m furious that she’s just spoiled the movie for me. I grab the SodaStream off the shelf.

“You can’t break the boycott,” Poppy says.

“I don’t care where it’s made, it doesn’t matter to me. I don’t wanna have to keep buying Perriers for the rest of my fucking life.” On the back of the box, there’s a little Israeli flag with text underneath that reads: This product was produced by Arabs and Jews working side by side in peace and harmony. “Look,” I say, “there’s this sticker.”

Poppy inspects the sticker for a second. “How stupid are you?” she asks. “If you don’t stand up against the behemoth of fascism—”

“That’s not how you pronounce that word. It’s ‘behemoth.’” Instantly I feel like a bitch. It’s possible—probable—that I’ve just incorrectly corrected Poppy’s perfectly correct pronunciation of the word “behemoth.” But she doesn’t call me on it, so I blink and keep going. “I literally am not going to deny myself something I need right now because I don’t think Israel should be bombing the shit out of everyone. Everyone bombs the shit out of everyone. Who owns Babybel? Is Babybel fascist?”

“I’ve googled this. They’re fine. Also, you have this new thing I’m noticing,” Poppy says, moving her hands at me like a mime in a box, “where you don’t think anything means anything.”

“Because nothing does mean anything.”

“When did this start?”

“I don’t know,” I say.

“Have you talked to someone about this?”


Poppy makes a self-impressed face. “Well, I’ve found therapy to be really helpful in uncovering why I think certain things, and in building a belief system, and in, like: doing things like not supporting Israel.”

“I don’t support Israel.”

“You’re supporting Israel right fucking now.”

“Keep your voice down,” I say as a throng of school-age Hasidic girls walk past. “You can’t talk about Israel in public here.” At the self-checkout, Poppy scans a tub of chocolate-covered pretzels but secrets a nail polish into her plastic bag. “It’s like twelve dollars,” she says when I give her a look.

Not very long ago, Poppy tried to kill herself. No one knows but me. For years before she’d been clawing through a brown depression; the summer after college, she sunk into herself. My parents hustled up to the Research Triangle, moved her out of her roachy studio, and shuttled her back home to Florida, and she stayed there with them in our childhood house for several years: she attended outpatient therapy groups where she had to make inspirational mood boards out of decade-old magazines without the crucial use of scissors, flared with the hives that’d plagued her since puberty, ideated daily about throwing herself down the stairs. I visited rarely those first bad months, hardly called. I was too icked by the new way Poppy cried: constantly, close-eyed, keening like an old tea kettle.

Once she was doing a little better, she got a temp job in the college advising office of a local private high school helping rich children slide into their places at good enough universities. She stayed in group longer than anyone she went in with, made friends, loved therapy, read about the brain. She talked about grad school. About returning to Durham, about local office. Then, on a nothing Friday in October the year before last, a day ahead of her birthday, she pulled hard on the wheel of her Jetta and crashed into a guardrail along the turnpike. All she did was break a wrist and total the car. She didn’t tell anyone but me what she’d been trying to do.

Please don’t do it again, I remember begging her over the phone. Not for a while, at least, she said, and probably not with another car.

Shoplifting—being interested in any material thing at all— combined with her move to Brooklyn must be a sign that Poppy’s shaken away the pull of suicide and turned to face her future; that she is even, that she is whole. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Then again: who has ever finished a bottle of nail polish?


Jon, the guy I’ve been seeing, comes over for dinner. i always like meeting people’s siblings, he texted earlier. it’s like: there but for the grace of god goes that person

Over pre-dinner snacks, he and Poppy talk about Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, whom they both love, while I scroll on my phone. A girl I went to high school with is Instagramming about mindfulness:

your energetic frequency determines what comes toward you. energy is everything. everything is energy. the people and opportunities that vibrationally mirror your unique level of energetic sovereignty are what will come into your life. do not stay bogged down by the same old low-vibe loops. attune your heart to your true energetic blueprint. when you are aligned with your own energy, everything else will arrive.

“What do you guys think my level of energetic sovereignty is,” I ask them, unable to say anything meaningful about Sor Juana. They ignore me.

“I might be a nun, too, one day,” Poppy tells Jon. “Nuns are, like, having a moment.” Poppy wants to be anything her girlboss feminist idols are. A nun like Sor Juana, a showrunner like Tina Fey, a communist like Frida Kahlo.

“You’re not going to be a nun,” I say.

Poppy looks at me with ruthlessness. “What if being a nun is, like, in alignment with my level of energetic sovereignty,” she says. So she was listening; she just didn’t feel like my question was worth a response.

I go back into my phone. I don’t like having Poppy and Jon in the same room. I don’t know how to be; I feel naked and tense. Jon and Poppy get along, though, and I wonder if it’s the two of them who should be dating. This makes me feel more naked and more tense. I’ve been on the apps for nearly a year, clawing my way toward some lick of tenderness, making out with terrible kissers in Washington Square Park, making out with terrible kissers on Pier 46, making out with terrible kissers in that weird triangle at Atlantic and Washington, and then a couple months ago along came Jon: a marginally better kisser, smart, French on his mom’s side, rich even though he won’t talk about it, uncircumcised but whatever, with an MFA in poetry and half a PhD in poetry and poetics, and with all his hair, even, at least for now. He pretends he knows things about wine and I let him. I pretend I know things about Russian literature and he lets me. It’s all very tentative. And now here’s Poppy, squatting atop every part of my life.

There’s this moment halfway through the night when Poppy asks Jon who his candidate is, and he says, “We’re for Bernie,” his “we” meaning him and me, and Poppy looks at me with hatred because she knows I’m secretly for Warren. But the thing is I’m not actually for Warren. I just told Poppy that so she wouldn’t tell me I’d been brainwashed into liking Bernie by Jon, which I haven’t been, because I was for Bernie four years ago, too, but I never said so to Poppy, because four years ago I was still with my ex Gage, who was also for Bernie and was also a poet, and Poppy would’ve said that he had brainwashed me, too.

After some food, Jon and I show Poppy the first episode of Rick and Morty, which she hasn’t wanted to watch because of Reddit, but which Jon and I have been enthusiastically watching together, and at the end she says she doesn’t get it.

“It gets better in the second season,” Jon says. “Like Community? You know how it took them a while to find, like, the heart—”

“The heart of the show,” Poppy says. “Yeah,” Jon says.

“It takes every show a while to find its heart,” I say, feeling stupid. “That’s why they’re shows.”

Poppy ignores me. “And then they lost it again.”

“And then they got it back, kind of.”

“Kind of.”

Jon and Poppy talk about Dan Harmon’s story circles while I peel the skin around my thumbnails off in limp strips, opening myself some raw little holes.


Poppy is reading a book about a woman who’s marrying the man of her dreams: a rich Brit who owns land and calls her “darling.” The woman’s central problem is that her boyfriend is outed as secret royalty, and she has to decide if she wants to be royalty along with him. I think Poppy’s too smart to read these books, and I say so.

Poppy makes a disgusted face. “How dare you judge what I read in my personal time. What should I be reading, a fucking textbook? Freud? Sometimes I need comfort, sometimes comfort means turning off your brain. You of all people know that, mommy stalker.”

“The mommies are different.”

“Different how?”

I don’t have an answer. “Um,” I say. “I’m studying them, kind of.”

“For what?”

“For this essay I’m writing,” I say, “about America, and Jews, and assimilation, and militancy, and god, and conspiracism, and whatever.” There’s no essay I’m writing. There’s never anything I’m writing—anything real, at least. For a while I was writing copy for the online shopping vertical of a middling magazine. “20 Cute Puffers Under $200.” “33 Reasons to Check Out This Amazon Sale Right Now.” “These Influencers Love HomeGoods and HERE’S WHY.” Now I work remotely for a company called BookSmarts editing study guides to books like Of Mice and Men and Sapiens. I’m supposed to be the final word on whether rabbits are, in the context of Of Mice and Men, a symbol of the futility of escapist fantasies in the Depression-era West, but in reality my job is mostly just blindly approving content the writers have pulled out of their asses and then formatting it to go up on the site so that high-schoolers can bullshit their way to fours on their AP exams. A few years ago I was writing a novel, just like everyone else I knew. Now I’m afraid to finish it because I keep trying to think of it in terms of what the BookSmarts guide for it would say. But I can’t. And if I can’t figure out the major motifs of my own book, how could it possibly be a book of any merit?

I look out the window. On the street I see a dog and a woman walking it. The dog trots forward, nose to the ground, then hunches its body into a horrible stance and shits. The woman picks up the shit in a green bag, twists the bag shut, and keeps walking. Then she stops. She looks at the sleeve of her jacket. She stomps her foot. It seems like she got shit on her. She stares at her sleeve for a second, then keeps on walking. Snow flurries fall around her; in an hour it’ll probably all melt.

“I want a dog so bad,” Poppy says.

Jon texts me a picture of his dick. I save my work before taking a five-minute break to go into the bathroom and text him back one of my boobs, but when I lift up my shirt, my belly’s got those pink wrinkles it gets when I sit with bad posture for too long, so instead I write back god i love your cock and hope that’s enough. Of course, when I come out of the bathroom, I see that iMessage is open on my computer, and Jon’s cock is on the screen. Poppy is staring at it, shaking her head.

“You straights,” she says. She points with her bookmark at the penis. “You like that? You—no, I’m not being mean. You like looking at that?”

I hurry to the monitor and X out of the app. “Of course I don’t like it.”

“You can demand more,” Poppy says. “It’s 2019.”


“I’d be so good at BookSmarts,” Poppy says. “I’m book-smart. You’re not really that book-smart, you were always kind of bad at school and studying and having a work ethic, so it’s crazy you have that job and I have no job.” She’s heinously drunk after a night out with some college friends she hasn’t spoken to in three years. They’re all in law school now. Earlier, Poppy attended the last of her job interviews; she texted me when it ended that the interviewer had concluded by saying, And you have a lovely afternoon, code for See you never. So now Poppy’s blackout.

“I have lots of knowledge,” she tells me. “I have to do something with it. I have to start making money. But I don’t want to have to make money. I want to just have big piles of it for nothing. I have this dream for my life, but I’m so embarrassed to tell you. It’s so bad, it’s against—it’s not anything I believe in, but. But I’m gonna tell you anyway. So I’m at the Met in the middle of a weekday. I drop a glove in that big room full of the marble sculptures, and a kind tall dark handsome stranger picks it up and hands it back to me, and he compliments the glove, it’s velvet— it’s a velvet glove—and I make a joke, and he asks if I’m free for dinner, and I am, and then we go to a dim restaurant, and there’s olives, and candlelight, and a private party happening in the back room, and every once in a while we hear these big loud laughs, and we know that everyone is having a good time, and that makes us feel safe, and the man keeps telling me these great sophisticated political jokes, and at the end of the night he kisses me on my stoop, and we go out again and again, and on one of our dates he tells me he’s the sole heir to this huge fortune, billions of dollars, but like—he’s a good person, still, and I am just”—now Poppy is crying—“I’m just so happy, and so relieved, because he proposes, and my future is set, and I know in my heart deep down I’ll never want for anything, ever, I can have anything I want, and my new husband’s gonna buy me a townhouse with all this old pottery in it, just cabinets and cabinets of that smooth, white, fucking useless pottery, and a Hamptons house with beach access and insane jewelry for my birthdays and our anniversaries, one year he’ll buy me, like, a forty-thousand-dollar watch, and I go with him to the store to buy it and the people working there all treat us nicely and give us bottled waters for free,” and here Poppy, having reminded herself of water, gets up to go to the fridge, “and this husband just loves me so much, and he gets me pregnant, which you know I’m so grossed out by but then we have twin girls, so—sorry to be gender essentialist, sorry, we assign them female at birth, but they both grow up to be girls—and I get to dress them in pretty things, and then I send them to—to school at”—Poppy nearly gags with joy—“Barnard,” she wails, “they’ll go to Barnard when they’re old enough, and when we drop them off on drop-off day I’ll help them Lysol their mattresses, I’ll start spending more and more time out on Long Island, which is what I call it so that I don’t sound so fucking rich, which I of course am, because I’ve been so fortunate because of my husband, because I’ve never had to stress about paying sixteen dollars for—for MOVIE SNACKS,” Poppy says, weeping, her chin atremble, “or, like, a hundred dollars for a filling in my tooth, because my husband has made things so easy for me, and he’s such a good father to the girls, and like—Maya Rudolph speaks at their graduation, and she has flowers on her podium, and then after, they go to law school at Princeton, and they find their own rich husbands, and even though the husbands will never be good enough for them, they’re these clean nice boys in Sperrys, and even though I know they’ll never take care of my twins as perfectly as me, you can tell they’re the kind of boys that—they’ll never hit them or call them bitches or fuck other women without their consent, you know? And my daughters will go off with these boys and have daughters of their own, and those daughters will also always be taken care of, and will also go to the Ivy Leagues, because of the generational—the generational wealth, you know, and there’ll never be any, like—any, like—oh, hold on,” Poppy says, and she goes to the bathroom to throw up. She stays there, retching, for hours.

As I fall asleep, I’m jealous that Poppy can articulate such a clear, raw vision of want, that she can fantasize so deeply. Every time I think of something I want I manage to talk myself out of it. I close my eyes and tell myself to think hard about my deepest wish for my future life. I tell myself it’s okay to imagine; that I’m safe inside my own head; that I can get specific; that my desires are worth considering. Before I know it, it’s morning, and I don’t remember dreaming of anything.


From Worry by Alexandra Tanner. Used with permission of the publisher, Scribner. Copyright © 2024 by Alexandra Tanner.

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