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Winter 1997
Monopoly
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Surely she had been in the place before. Hadn't she seen servants come and go? Perhaps she'd only seen the quarters empty, between employees, never with someone living in them, never furnished. I saw what she saw: the small wooden kitchen table with its two mismatched chairs; the folded clothes on top of the table, Mother's slips and stretched, gray-white bra, my panties; the cold box not a refrigerator in the corner with a gunnysack of potatoes plunked on top; the couch with the bunched-up blankets and the pillow on top of the pile, its case yellow-stained in sprawling islands that made the pillow look, from where Mary Beth was standing, like a faded and deflated globe of the world. She gazed up at the naked light bulb over the table, then dropped her eyes to the window shades, yellow-stained like the pillowcase. Mother had talked of sewing curtains.

I thought fast. With one turn, I scooped the underwear off the table and stepped into the other room my bedroom. When I reappeared I held, in place of the underwear, a Monopoly board.

Mary Beth still hesitated at the door. She braced herself, arms stretched, palms pressed flat against each side of the door frame, as if someone was about to pull her inside against her will. For all her haste to get out of her house, she was in no hurry to come into mine.

"Monopoly," she said, unimpressed. "What's the big deal."

"Sit down," I said. I spread the board on the table and pulled a chair aside for her. She came, slowly, and plopped herself down. I sat opposite her. Her large glasses reflected the room. She held her face in the palms of her hands, elbows propped on the table, and stared at me. As if it weren't enough to show her reluctance before, now she was challenging me.

"Loser has to take off her clothes," I said. I counted 10 long seconds, let her stew and then rolled the dice: a pair of sixes. "To see who goes first," I said and pushed the dice across the board to her.

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