Roxane Gay is an award-winning fiction writer, memoirist, commentator and an associate professor at Purdue University. She is the author of the bestselling books Bad Feminist, Difficult Women and Hunger: A Memoir of My Body, released in June of 2017, among others. She is also the author of the Marvel comic’s superhero series World of Wakanda. Roxane Gay’s writing appears in Harper’s Bazaar, McSweeney’s, Virginia Quarterly Review, Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, to name a few. Gay is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times and a Scrabble champion.
Bertrand Grubiani, Bert for short, believed buildings moved. While in architecture school at Cooper Union in New York City, he sat on bus benches staring at skyscrapers. If he looked hard enough he could see them swaying against the horizon and that suggestion of movement filled him with something like faith. Bertrand, who went by Bert because people seemed to be uncomfortable with his given name, no longer lived in New York, but often, while driving to work, he would look at his small Midwestern city’s architectural offerings with a sense of longing and a little, or a lot, of desperation. The buildings were passionless, drab and unassuming. They were quotidian and reminded him far too much of the three bedroom, split-level home he shared with his wife, Brenda. They made him question his faith. Alicia, Bert’s mistress, and how he loved the sound of that word, mistress, and how holding that word on his tongue made him feel like a different, better man, said Brenda reminded her of the lawyer’s wife in the movie Pretty Woman, a woman whose ass could melt ice. Whenever she told him this, Bert snickered, imagining Brenda lying on her twin bed, ass in the air, an ice cube perched atop, slowly changing states of matter. Every morning before work, Bert stood in front of his office building hoping one of the buildings around him might move, even a little. Then, he would head to his office, wheezing slightly as he patted his jacket pocket for his inhaler, a device he hated because it reminded him of his respiratory impotence. It was humbling to have such ambition and visions of grandeur, coupled with an inability to reach for things greater than himself. His work, however, allowed him a certain freedom the body did not. The structures he designed, he liked to think, moved from his heart to his mind to his hand to the page and into the world. It was a small, slightly bitter consolation. Few people could tell Bert had such passion throbbing beneath his slight frame. Bert studied the sign for his firm, Design by Grubiani and Sons. The name was Brenda’s idea, in the hope that forward thinking would increase the motility of Bert’s sperm. Such was not the case. After seventeen years of marriage, they remained childless, instead devoting their attention to their poodle, Cookie. It took time for Bert to develop anything but antipathy for the dog, but as the years passed, his awe for Cookie’s longevity developed into an uncomfortable affection. Nodding to a coworker, Bert entered the building, mentally preparing for his day, the only bright spot a potential quickie with Alicia pressed up against the dusty blinds of his office. The last part of his day’s itinerary was wishful thinking at best. Alicia was increasingly apathetic to Bert’s affections—a fact that gnawed around the edges of Bert’s heart, but he ignored the sensation, telling himself it was heartburn, telling himself her current state of apathy was no different than the apathy she had demonstrated toward him for the past few years. Alicia regarded him the same way he regarded Cookie—with uncomfortable, distant affection.