BY MAURA PELLETTIERI
When I moved to the town where winter stayed long, and no one else came, except the man who returned to my bed without his armor only to leave again with my camera, I knew I wasn’t wrong about a silver lining, and it was Anastasia and the movie theater and all the brutal seamless nights in the brick basement with the wine.
The strange man never returned, a new one came, then a third. The men replaced each other. Anastasia, after she left, could not be replaced. She appeared at first, the smallest French woman you’ve ever seen. She seemed larger after she spoke. When she spoke, she seemed older than she was—when she danced, younger. She danced often, with tasteful vulgar hips, behind the bar where we worked, and got away with it in a low black V. She had a Moroccan father out there somewhere who’d been abusive, or maybe he was dead, or her mother had left—you couldn’t quite tell what had happened, you couldn’t keep up with Anastasia’s lies. She wore them proudly, and said they were political.
When you’re a woman, she said, you have to lie. Then it becomes everything, which is the opposite of everything becoming you. Sometimes I get caught, she said, I never feel guilty.
I partly agreed, though I didn’t understand why she lied to me. But she could—she was the only person in that place who was real with me.
Anastasia meant: When you are a woman, everyone wants to own your story. Then they’ll try to tell it to you. They’ll try to put it on you. If you lie enough, you get ahead of everybody. You get ahead of their failure to hear or see. She shared this philosophy while giving details of some lies she’d told her boyfriend, a gentle blonde man who I liked and sometimes pitied.
We discussed the lies we told when we didn’t feel safe (“I’m married,” “My boyfriend is calling,” “Someone is expecting me”); the ones we told to get through the day efficiently (“I don’t date men,” “My number is 867-9842,” “That’s so interesting but I have to pee”); and the ones we told for fun (“I’m a lawyer,” “I’m from Dublin,” “My name is Elise”).
There was the time a bar we liked employed a rapist who was known to drug women at the end of his shift, and I did pretend to be a lawyer, and we went down and got him fired by a web of complications, terminating facts to protect the women he threatened. There was the morning we told our manager we knew nothing of the missing cava, the night we told a customer we had no knowledge of his missing steak, the day we called in to go swimming. Once, we told our employer that if she didn’t throw out Walter, we would all leave. Walter: the regular whose hands we dodged, who made passes like he thought he could buy us, who spent hundreds on Nebbiolo, weekly. I fabricated expertise about vino. We stole tome and drunken goat, manchego, cornichons, marcona almonds, prosciutto and salami. And for my birthday, a bottle of rosé, something otherworldly. But it only counted as stealing if you didn’t count our revenge.
When we went out, everyone knew Anastasia and no one knew her name. She had changed it too many times. Some had known her growing up and couldn’t be bothered. They were rude, or slow. She was clearly Anastasia.
The first night we met, she trained me how to close the bar. She gestured to the empty room, threw shade at the ceiling. “This is ridiculous,” she said. “You know how to sweep.” A week later, we went to see the Baldwin documentary, and I wept silently beside her throughout the whole thing. Then we went somewhere no one knew us for a glass of red.
Maybe I lie. At that time, in the cold white town where the shame of men reigned, no one knew me anywhere. And Anastasia couldn’t hide. But we pretended we were elsewhere, and it worked. When the owner came over with complimentary castelvetranos, we said it was because we were cute as hell.
It was what we wanted, and what we each got, finally—the opposite thing—she to live somewhere large enough to be anonymous, me to live somewhere home enough to be seen.
We promised over rioja always to light a candle on the day Baldwin died. We talked about how insane it was that he hadn’t felt beautiful every moment he was alive. We called him the sun of America. And we kept each other’s lies. We held them sacred as truths and knew that in the end, it was the truth that lied.