Fiction May 2011

The Cross Word

A story and puzzle in 76 clues

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Use the arrows to jump to clues in the story.

ACROSS
1. In passion or fashion

Late at night, when we were small, Sara sat on my bed, whispering into my ear. Tell me something I don’t know about you, Mickey, she’d say. Sara loved secrets. The everyday didn’t interest her at all. It had to be secrets.

I could never think of anything so I told her this.

I killed a sparrow once. It fell out of its nest and I stepped on it.

On purpose or accidental?

Accidental, I told her. Though I’m not really sure. Those tiny bones crunched under my shoe.

She put her hands across her eyes. No, tell me a real secret, she pleaded. Something I don’t know.

I didn’t have any real secrets. Not then, though now I do. My life was an open book, not like hers. So I made things up to please her.

I eat dirt, I told her. I let boys look up my skirt. I touch myself here. And I pointed under the sheets.

I want to know everything, she said.

5. “Look back in ____” (and the theme of this puzzle, perhaps)

I was blind where Sara was concerned. I looked up to her. I admired her. And, yes, I envied her (which I know is a deadly sin), but still it wasn’t supposed to end up this way. We were to be friends forever. That was what we wrote on our valentines and birthday cards. FRIENDS FOR LIFE. ALWAYS!! With lots of Xs and Os and kisses and smiley faces. 2GETHER 4EVER!!! After all we only had each other, didn’t we? Sara knew that. We both did. The same blood ran through our veins.

I’ll take care of you, Sara said.

I believed her. When Sara tossed her head back and laughed, nobody doubted a thing.

10. People in a riot

Though by day I work as a paralegal, this is my true vocation. I am a cruciverbalist. A puzzle constructor. I am very good at theme puzzles (“Spice Girls,” “Card Games”). And this one I have dedicated to my wrath.

For the record, I wasn’t always this way. Once I was a NORMAL person, going out with friends, seeing shows, but that’s all behind me. Now I am an angry woman, mad at the world. I snap at waiters and salespeople in stores. I hate those who take up too much space. Mothers with strollers, blocking my path. Twenty-somethings, shouting into their phones. When people shove to get onto the subway, I shove back.

14. Where you eat Lo Mein

15. Bovine birth

Our mother favored Sara. Anyone could see that. She got the bigger room while I slept in a tiny one—the one that faced the street. Our mother bought her the matching outfits, pleated skirts and crew-neck sweaters, while I got this or that off the sale rack. The hand-me-downs. She went to parochial school. I went to public. She ate the wing and the thigh. I ate what was left. Sara marched with a silver baton in the Flag Day parade. I marched empty-handed. I was only younger by two years. Not even. Twenty months. Still I had to wait until it was my turn. MY TURN. Which never seemed to come. Meanwhile anything Sara touched was golden. Every play she was in, any time she performed, every finger painting she did, our mother always said, Oh look at that. Isn’t this beautiful? Look at what Sara did.

16. Give forth

Sara was beautiful and I was not. In some ways it was as simple as that. I was, and I am, many things. I was cute, smart and cuddly, and I got good grades, and I was funny, clever, a jokester, lots of things. But not that. My mother, when she was in a good mood (i.e. not drinking), called me all these names. My little trickster. My button-cute baby. My wild child.

But not beautiful. Never that. Once somebody gave us hula skirts and Sara went into the living room where our mom was watching TV. Sara started moving, swaying her hips. Oh god, our mother said, you are so beautiful.

Or once when our mother had too much to drink, she shouted at Sara, Hey, you better put something on. You’ll be showing up on kiddie-porn sites.

But it was the truth. Sara took your breath away. I never understood that expression until someone (maybe it was my dad) said it about her as well, and then I did. Yes, she took your breath away.

17. Shocks

One summer at the shore I met a boy. His name was Jimmy and he had a motorcycle. We met on the boardwalk, then he walked me to the hotdog stand. I was just fifteen, and Jimmy was older, maybe eighteen, or even more. He wore a leather jacket, even in summer, that smelled like a dead animal and he asked me if I wanted to go for a ride. I hesitated only because Sara was moping around the house. She’d met some new boy in high school, always some new boy, and she’d had to leave him to come down the shore for our annual family vacation, such as it was, and I did kind of feel sorry for her because Sara hated being alone and bored, and in fact for her those two were one and the same.

So I asked him, Do you mind if we bring my sister along?

Your sister? He gave me a shrug.

Yes. Can we bring my sister? She doesn’t have anything to do. Jimmy grumbled and groaned. He didn’t want anyone along with us. He wanted to be with me, but then he saw her, standing on the porch just before he rode off with her on the back of his bike. Or rather she rode off with him.

That’s your sister? he asked.

How many times did I have to hear this?

That’s YOUR sister?

As if this creature with her mane of chestnut hair, her violet eyes, those long legs, my god those legs, could not have the same blood that lives in my cells and veins. As if we couldn’t have come from the same womb. But we did. We are joined. Maybe we could share a kidney, bone marrow? We are, or rather were, in our own way, a perfect match.

18. Wicker basket

19. A very long story

Her father wasn’t my father. It took us a while to figure this out, though everyone else seemed to know. I suppose it was obvious because we looked nothing alike, except for a little bit of our mother in the shape of our eyes, but not the color, and our noses. We were our mother above the mouth, people who were just trying to be polite used to say. Not that I am ugly or unattractive per se, but I am dark and small like a nut, a petite size 6, and Sara was bigger and leggy (in this she took after our mother) and her eyes were amethysts.

She was the love child and I was the mistake. I was the baby our mom had when she was trying to get over the man she loved. Who had a wife and kids somewhere else. Sara’s father was a businessman from the West Coast whom Mom probably met at her job, but my father was nearby, uptown. I knew who he was. Hers was a drunken dream of our mother’s. But my father was real.

He was a small, pudgy man with a round head. I liked to rub the top of it. He came over at Christmas and Thanksgiving even if he could stay for only an hour. He paid some of my bills. He paid for college. Once he said, Michele is smart. She’s going to college. I called him Papi. He had a family somewhere else too, but they were in another country, like Puerto Rico, and he lived in Washington Heights, just a long subway ride away. Probably he would have lived with us if my mother had let him. Still he helped me blow out my birthday candles. He wore a Santa beard on Christmas Eve and brought us some gifts in a laundry bag.

But Sara’s father. The mystery man. Nobody ever saw him. There was just one picture of him, smoking a cigarette, leaning against a telephone pole. Very James Dean. Sara clung to that picture. She used to ask our mother about him. I’d hear her whining on her birthday or Christmas. Did my father write? Did he send me something?

For a while there were these gifts supposedly from him and every so often a card with money in it, though as I grew older I suspected that our mother gave her the gifts and wrote out the cards just to make her be quiet. But mostly our mother would turn away very coldly, and say, Sara, you know he didn’t write. Forget about him because he’s forgotten about you. And he hasn’t written to you in a very long time.

Our mother could be cruel. She could turn on you on a dime. The silent treatment, that was her specialty. If you did something she didn’t like, like not clean out the cat box, she never yelled or raised her voice. That wasn’t her way. Not our mom. She just wouldn’t say a word to you for days. Not even Pass the salt.

I am not mean by nature, but I have become this way. Like her. Perhaps meanness is an acquired skill and over time I’ve acquired it. I had this one little thing over Sara. A pudgy father who came by twice a year and brought me a gift or blew out some stupid candles and this was the one thing Sara wanted. Oh you can borrow mine, I’d joke. If you care that much, here. You can have mine.

20. Where the measure is in drams

Our mother hardly spoke of Sara’s father, but when she did, she’d get a look in her eye like an old person who keeps searching for the past. She also looked this way when she’d had too much to drink. Or when she came home late with that druggy smile on her face. Some man was always around, though only one ever married her, and that was so he could get a visa. She liked men, but she didn’t seem to like being encumbered by children. She’d throw a lunch together or help us with a math problem or two, then lose interest and go back to her TV or whatever she was doing. Or she’d head out.

Sara, she’d shout as she was leaving, take care of Mickey.

How was Sara supposed to take care of me? We were almost the same age! So Sara dragged me to a movie with her friends and I’d sit, eating popcorn while she giggled away. Or made out with boys who stuck their tongues in her mouth. Or she’d take me out for pizza and let me smoke her cigarettes, then laugh along with her friends when I almost choked to death. Once she made me drink a beer until I puked my guts out on the street.

But then I’d get to see my father, and Sara would go into a big sulk. She’d disappear into her room and not come out until he was gone. She couldn’t stand the fact that once or twice a year I got to see this stout little man whom our mother wouldn’t even look at when he showed up for my birthday or to take me to a Yankees game. That girl had everything, and she begrudged me the couple of hours a year I spent with my dad.

23. Sin City

Sara made plans to see her father. She wrote pretend letters that were never mailed. In a box she kept that picture of him, plus cards he’d supposedly sent over the years. He lived in L.A. Lalaland, she laughed, tossing her head back. Hollywood! She did a Marilyn Monroe twirl of her skirt. She’d traced him. That’s where he was, she decided, stomping her foot.

She watched movies, thinking he’d appear. He was an actor. A cameraman. A writer at times. I didn’t see what she needed a father for. She had ME. She had boys and later men and whatever she wanted in that regard. A lot more than she needed. And she was smart, straight-A smart, the star of school plays. A natural, teachers called her.

The sky’s the limit, one of her teachers said.

She was going to go to L.A. She made up her mind before she was twelve. She’d get the hell out of Brooklyn. She was going to move out West and take a screen test with those violet eyes. She had all these plans.

In a few years I’m going to get out of here, she told me. I’m going to L.A. to become an actress. My dad is waiting for me. I know where he is. Her eyes got all glisteny when she said these things.

Well, by the time I was ten or twelve, I was pretty sure her dad wasn’t waiting for her anywhere, but I played along. What harm could it do? I’m going with you, I told her.

Naw, she said, you’re too little. What am I going to do with you tagging along?

When I’m big, I told her, I’ll get a job. There’s lots I can do.

Like what? She tickled me. What can you do?

24. What the Joad family felt

If you follow the daily puzzles, you may be familiar with my work. I’m the person who brought you “The Wasp’s Nest.” What a brilliant puzzle that was. I loved the clues: “What comes in stripes.” “Mystery meat.” “On course.” “Dole (not a pineapple).” “What you lose when you sell.” (The answers: Seersucker. Roast beef. Par 3. Bob. Capital gains tax). If only Will Shortz didn’t mess with my clues. “The Wasp’s Nest” wasn’t perfect the way it was, but still that puzzle was good. I’m considered new wave, not old. I don’t hesitate, using brand names or celebs like Ice-T or recent Emmy Award winners.

And I don’t mind the tricks. I’ve done “Money for quarters” (Rent) and “Tank top,” when the answer isn’t Halter, but Gas cap (same number of letters). I’ve used “Igloo” and “Je ne sais quois.” I have no problem slipping in the obscure names of rivers and birds. Urubamba, Quetzal. I hate the repetitions of the old guard: A “Sideways glance” is always a Leer. And how many times can “The boarding school of princes” or “Black on the outside, white on the inside” appear (Eton. Oreo. Duh!)? (P.S. I’ve just given you an answer here.)

I did “Around the World” and “Film Noir.” And I’m good with homonyms. Meat, mete, meet. Or, ore, oar, o’er. But this puzzle is for Sara. Just for her. And for me. For my ____ (See 1 Across).

25. What most phony talk is

Our mother was a dancer at a Midtown club. She danced in long white boots on a Lucite box. And some nights she swung from a trapeze. She called herself an aerial dancer, and when I was little I thought it meant she could dance on air. But she was up so high that nobody could touch her. She wanted to be a real dancer, and she trained for a long time, but then she had kids. And that was the end of that. Except for the Lucite box. She had to keep moving up there. She danced and danced, her head flying, legs in those white boots, going up and down.

She could never sit still. Even on nights when she wasn’t working, she couldn’t stay home. She’d open a can of spaghetti and ask us what we were reading for like fifteen minutes, then she was out the door. Once in a while we got to the zoo and we even saw The Nutcracker, but that was about it for our mother. She was too busy because she had to work ALL THE TIME, sometimes waitressing as well, and men were always flitting in and out. Always some guy. It was like she was addicted to men the way you can be to chocolate or booze. Or cocaine.

Out of boredom, Sara started doing the puzzles. She zipped through her homework and didn’t want to watch any TV so she picked up the puzzle. She’d take a pen and never look up. I sat beside her as she filled in the blank spaces. Who was the American president before Wilson, she’d ask me and before I could open my mouth, she’d answer her own question. Taft.

But Sara wasn’t perfect. She had her flaws. She didn’t always flush when she peed and in the morning her breath was like sour milk. She had blackheads on her back, and she picked at herself when she thought nobody was looking. She picked at her zits and little scabs on her head. She dug into the side of her leg until it was raw. But like when you torture somebody, these were marks nobody could see.

But I saw them. Oh, Sara, I said, what are you doing to yourself?

Nothing, she replied. Or … None of your business.

Still at parties people came up to her and said, Oh, you look beautiful. Look at that hair.

And to me they’d say, I like your earrings.

28. It takes you up and down

“The time you spend wasting is not wasted time.” Bertrand Russell said this. I believe he was speaking of puzzles. Or perhaps games. At any rate I began doing crosswords because Sara did. I wasn’t really interested, but once I started, I couldn’t stop. Later when Sara stopped doing them, I hung on. Like a scavenger, I clung to the remains. I’ve stayed with them longer than I should. As I have done with old shoes, certain books, and men.

Not like Sara who let everything go.

I struggled with Monday. Once I did it through Tuesday, but by Wednesday I was done. I didn’t realize that the puzzles got harder as the week went on. I thought I was getting dumber. But soon I caught on. Now even Friday is a breeze.

You get used to the tricks after a while. Figuring out the theme helps. And most good puzzles, such as this one, have a theme. As in any good detective story, the theme rests in the clues. Once you know that you are dealing with hidden gems, the World Series, or organized crime, the rest falls into place.

But work is involved. I watch Sex and the City or Six Feet Under just to be able to answer clues. Ditto for Harry Potter. The wizard’s name, the owl. For sports I ask the guy sitting next to me on the subway on my way to work. (My goal is to do all I can on my commute. Google what I don’t know at work. Then finish it on the ride home.)

It doesn’t matter who the guy is. They all know how baseball is scored, the St. Louis bird, NFL fouls. I’ve met a few guys this way. One from Spanish Harlem followed me all the way home. I’m not hitting on them, though I’m a single thirty-four-year-old woman and I’m not unattractive. That is, all by myself I am not, but next to Sara, if I compare myself to her, I am doomed.

I don’t like to cheat. But we all do. I used to use dictionaries and reference books. Now Google. But how am I supposed to know the first name of King Arthur’s father or that an apothecary’s (another embedded clue!) measuring unit is a dram, not a gram. Still, when I look up an answer, something goes out of me. Life is a little less lived.

30. Describes the desert (or my life)

When she graduated from high school, Sara went to City College and moved out of her childhood room, though she left most of her stuff behind. Take what you want, Mookey, she told me. It’s yours. She said she wanted to stretch her wings. So she went to college for a year or so. Some weeks she was majoring in education or training to be a physician’s assistant. Then it was art history.

Maybe she didn’t go to school at all. I was never sure. She roomed with some girls downtown and for a while I hardly saw her. But some nights Sara showed up at home. We lived on the parlor floor of an old brownstone near Prospect Park—before living there was fancy—and she could reach our window if she stood on the front stoop. In high school she’d sneak in and out this way. I’d hear the finger taps like rain on the glass. I’d open the window and let her in. Don’t tell Mom. Promise me, Mookey, she pleaded. She’d lie on the bathroom floor, head in the toilet, spitting her guts up. Please, don’t tell.

No, Sara, I won’t. Why would I tell?

I met someone, she told me, gasping for breath. I wanted you to know. He’s the one this time, he really is. Then she’d puke again. Don’t tell Mom I came home like this.

She knew I wouldn’t. I’d clean her up, then tuck her into bed before I left for school or later for work and when I got home, I’d find the bed neatly made, no note, and she’d be gone.

She was living in a studio in Manhattan, a tenement really, on the Lower East Side, and I was still in Brooklyn. I was in the old apartment when our mother got sick. She suffered for a while and, as they say, it was a blessing when she was gone. Near the end I asked Sara to move home and help me, but she said no. She had to be free. She’d come around and help out when she could, but she was always rushing to be somewhere else. A class she had to get to, a job that was never clear.

After our mother died, I kept the apartment and fixed it up so that I had a bedroom and a study. Again I invited Sara to come live with me and our mangy cat who lived to be twenty-one (!), but she still said no. Only now, looking back, I can see why. After college, where I majored in English, I got a job as a paralegal. But I had dreams about graduate school that never quite materialized, and probably won’t.

Then Sara started dating Sam. She met him at one of those places. Behind Bars, I think it is called. But he worked in a doctor’s office and seemed like a decent guy. Sam was a small but handsome man. Chatty and fun to be with. I’m the kite and he’s the string, Sara told me one night. For the first time she didn’t seem to want to run away.

One night Sara called. Sam had a friend, Matt, and she wanted me to meet him. They’d grown up near one another in Queens. Come on a date with us, she said.

I didn’t want to meet anybody but she said, Come on, he’s a good guy. Besides you haven’t gone out with anybody in, what, like a hundred years.

More like a thousand.

So what can you lose?

Everything.

Oh come on, she pleaded. You don’t have anything else going on, do you? She didn’t even wait for my reply. I’ll give him your number. At least meet the guy. Just once.

Okay, I told her just to get her off my back. Just once.

Don’t mess it up. You know, like you always do, she teased. And then she laughed. That was Sara. She giveth with the right as she taketh with the left.

Then she went on. He’s nice and good-looking too. He’s divorced. He’s got a kid. Amber is her name. She’s about seven. Cute kid. You know, Amber, like the sap that holds the dead bugs inside.

31. Indian widows hurl themselves onto these

There’s a bar in one of those boutique hotels on Franklin Street, and I agreed to meet him there. On the phone we had a silly conversation. How will I know you? I said. How will I know you? he replied.

I’m a small brunette.

Do you look like your sister?

No, I don’t look anything like my sister.

Don’t worry. I’ll find you, Matt said.

He was waiting at the bar, nursing a dirty martini, when I walked in, and he knew me right away. Just the way Sara said you’d be, he told me. Cute as a button.

I can’t say that it was love at first sight, but I liked him. He was tall with a round face, fleshy hands. Matt was a public defender. He was always saying things like We gave the guy a chance to cop a plea and get zip to seven, but he went to trial and now he’s doing serious time. He sounded a little like an episode of Law & Order. But I didn’t care.

What drew us together was the puzzle. At least this is how we became more than friends. I didn’t even know he did them until one Friday night over dinner, I was stuck on a clue, and I said to him, You don’t happen to know a seven-letter word that starts with T and means swinging.

Trapeze, Matt replied without batting an eye.

Trapeze. A word that should have come easily to me.

Sure, he replied, looking proud, I did it this morning.

Soon we were swapping answers to clues. I’d send him “Yankees name in the 1920s.” I had Bombers, but he knew it was The Babe. “A pitching star”: Ace. “Baseball stat with a B in it”: RBIs. But I knew “Mother in Lassie.” (June Lockhart). And for “A way with ribs” Matt had Barbecue which didn’t work, but I sent him Babyback which did.

I’m good at geography, pop culture, and mythological beasts. Matt did the sports, modern history, TV. One morning I sent him an e-mail and the heading was HELP. “What cadets never do”? Thirteen letters. I had Disobey orders, but Matt knew.

Lie Cheat Steal.

We began going out. We went to movies where he held my hand. He walked me home and kissed me goodnight, then told me he couldn’t get involved with me because his life was “complicated.” His ex was giving him a hard time and he still wasn’t through with his divorce. It’s taking forever, he said. And I told him it was all right, not to worry, we could just be friends, but things started heating up and he’d call me the next night and ask me to meet him in Harlem at this cool jazz club or at some trendy restaurant in SoHo.

He was always saying I can’t really see you and the next thing I know it’s a Saturday and I’m with him and his daughter, Amber, at the zoo. She’s pointing at the polar bears, asking Why do they pace like that (because they’re bored, I told her). In the rain forest, we stared at the monkeys that looked like little people, staring back at you. As a tiny blue finch flew over our heads, Amber slipped her hand into mine.

32. Not her

After he dropped Amber off, Matt asked me to come back to his place. I hadn’t been with a man in a long time, and then just a few quickies with boys here and there, but Matt was a real grown-up man and he made love to me as if I was a beautiful woman. He was gentle and he took his time. He made love to me with a light on (So I can look at you).

Before long, every night we were at his place or mine. Sometimes we’d go out with Sara and Sam and she’d be all over Sam, leaning on his arm, kissing his ear. She’d stick her tongue in his ear right in front of me. That’s gross, I thought, but Matt was sticking things into me and vice versa. I was doing things I’d never done before and for a while I did whatever I wanted to and for once in my life I was free.

Except when Matt said Don’t get too involved. My life is complicated.

If it’s so complicated, why are you calling me to come over every night? I asked him.

Because I want you, he told me. I really do.

And I wanted him. What can I say?

How complicated is that?

One day we saw a pair of puzzle pajamas in the window of a store (they had sushi pajamas too) and Matt whispered to me Why don’t you get those pajamas and then I’ll do the puzzle.

The next Monday morning I got an e-mail from him. Do you know that people who do crossword puzzles are more moral than those who don’t? And at the bottom he added No comment!

35. In Shakespeare this is sweet

We began hanging out together. The four of us. Me and Matt, Sara and Sam. Double S&M. We could be a bridge team. We could play doubles tennis. We joked about that. And Sara and I talked every day. She’d call and ask, What are you guys up to this evening?

I don’t know. What’re you up to?

Wanna hang out? she asked. Meet in the Village?

This is nice, Sara said. We get to be together.

We went to movies, saw shows. We played billiards and bowled. Some days we’d all take Amber shopping or to the zoo. We were a family, really, the four of us. We were our own happy family, and I don’t think any of us had ever really had that before. And it was all going so well that in my head I was thinking about the wedding. I envisioned a creamy dress, me and Sara side by side. A double wedding. Maybe my dad would give us both away.

I couldn’t say that to Sara though.

But once I teased Matt about getting married. You know, I said, down the road, when your divorce is behind you, and he didn’t say no.

One night we all met for a quick bite at some Indian place in the East Village. Sam was awfully quiet. I’d never really seen him like that. Usually they were the chatty ones, but that night he hardly said a word.

What’s wrong, Sammy? I asked him.

But he shook his head. Just tired, he told me.

Then Sara said they were heading home and I was sure they were in some kind of a fight, but we didn’t say anything. Matt and I stopped at a bar near my place for a nightcap. We ordered a couple scotches, but we were both already a little drunk to begin with and pretty soon he’s kissing my neck and touching me. Let’s get home, he says, all over me, and I am moaning back Yes let’s go home, when he whispers into my ear, I love you, Sara.

I pull away as if a knife just whizzed by my head. What’d you say? I ask him.

He starts to sputter. I mean, I said—

What did you say? I’m shouting now.

It wasn’t anything. It was a slip. He’s patting my cheek, being very nice to me. We were just with them, and I’ve had too much to drink. Matt went on and on about how it was a dumb mistake and I shouldn’t think twice about it, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. Later that night we were making love and I was listening for him to call me Sara again and it just sort of came to me. Out of the blue really. Maybe I was bluffing. Maybe I was just making it up. But I said, You’re sleeping with my sister, aren’t you?

Of course I’m not. Even in the dark I could see the color rise to Matt’s face. How could you even think that?

You are, aren’t you? It’s the truth. You’re sleeping with my sister.

He was quiet as if he was hiding in that room. He didn’t really have any more to say. And nowhere, really, to hide.

How could you?

I’m sorry, he said. It just happened.

This doesn’t just happen. It is not the kind of thing that just happens. You have to do something. You have to make it happen. I suppose I could have asked for the details. When, where? I could have gotten explicit. But what was the point?

But I just told him, Get out. I never want to see you again.

And he left. Without a word of protest Matt was gone.

I rode the subway into work, numb, just hanging from a pole. It was a Tuesday, a day when I could have done the whole puzzle on my way into work, but I didn’t even take it out of my bag. When a seat was offered I just shook my head. I hung from that pole, staring straight ahead. I thought about confronting her. Having it out, but that seemed too easy, too direct. She had to have everything, didn’t she, and now she’d ruined my life. And this time I wasn’t going to let it go. She wasn’t going to get away so easily. I began to think of ways to get back at her. What could I do to bring her down? But I’m no bio-evangelist, no Unabomber. I do not traffic in anthrax or shrapnel. I do not shoot someone over a parking space. Words are my weapon of choice. What is it that Shylock says, “If they hurt us, do we not revenge?”

38. Waterfall

40. ___ the line

41. City in Japan

42. Size

43. The office where presidents work

44. A person who just talks on and on

46. Ogle

Men were always looking at her. She couldn’t walk down the street and avoid their nasty eyes. Those hungry eyes. Devouring eyes. That was how men looked at Sara. As if they could devour her. Not love her, not really. They looked at her with something else in mind, only I didn’t see it at the time.

49. ___ d’Este

51. An Orwellian-ism

Sainte-Exupéry wrote, “One cannot live any longer on refrigerators, on politics, on balance sheets, and crossword puzzles. One cannot live any longer without poetry, color and love.” He was referring here to the death of the human soul. I can understand politics and balance sheets, but why crossword puzzles? How could puzzles contribute to the demise of the soul?

57. Oil cartel

58. A single musical note

59. A double-reed instrument

60. Not fake

Matt must have told her what happened because she started calling me all the time. Hey, Mookey, she’d purr into my voicemail, we should talk.

Hey kiddo how come you aren’t calling me back?

Then, Hey, Michele, call me back.

I’d listen to her voice, pleading into the phone.

I should have seen it coming, but I missed all the signs. She had to have him, didn’t she? She had to have what was mine.

61. Ridge in the Pyrenees

62. A constellation

63. What the selfish child says

She had to have everything. Especially what wasn’t hers. We’d be in a shop and she’d hold up a blouse and say, What do you think? Do you think this would look pretty on me? Or a pair of leather gloves. A party dress.

Yes, I’d tell her, that would look nice on you. And she had to have it, even if it meant slipping it into her bag.

Once she came home wearing a pink summery dress. I know a cheap dress when I see one and this was NOT a cheap dress! She looked beautiful in it and when I asked where she got it she said My father sent it to me. He sends me things all the time.

Oh yeah, really? He sent you that?

The next night I found the dress lying on the floor, the security tag still on it.

64. Scrooge

Matt. Just one more thing Sara had to have. The one thing I’d really wanted. But I’d pay her back. I was like that guy who wanted his kidney returned as part of his divorce. She betrayed me. And I wanted my due. She called and called, trying to apologize. I just turned off my phone. When I turned it back on, there were a million messages from her.

Great discoveries are often made accidentally. Penicillin comes to mind. I realized I’d found the best thing I could do. The one thing she couldn’t stand. I blocked her e-mail. I deleted her texts. I screened my calls. This is a lesson my mother taught me. Silence is a weapon too.

65. Nerve fiber

She had this, didn’t she? Sara had nerve.

DOWN

1. A prince in India

2. “I need it right away!”

This is how she was as a child. Anything she wanted, she got. I envied that. But as a grown-up person, I can see that these successes were her undoing.

Me? I couldn’t even bring home the white mouse the science teacher asked me to keep over the summer. No way, our mother said, am I letting a rodent in this house. But when Sara found the stray silver cat with the big blue eyes, it got to sleep right on her pillow, fleas and all. That is, until she lost interest in it. Then that cat became mine.

She’d get all excited and make you think that doing something at that moment was the most important thing in the world. Hey Mickey, or Mookey, she’d say, let’s bake a cake. We’d get all the ingredients out and start mixing it in the bowl and I’d be cracking the eggs when the phone would ring or her friends would show up and all of a sudden Sara had to go. She couldn’t finish. But you can, can’t you, Monkey? she begged with those amethyst eyes.

And I was left to clean up the mess.

3. Method of payment, opposite of a check

4. Where the FDR is

5. Relinquish

I wrote her back. Just take him, I told her. You can have him. He’s yours. That was the last text from me she’d ever receive. I could have killed him. Or her. I thought about it at the time. Kill him; kill me. Kill her. What difference did it make? I hadn’t understood before, but now I do. That murder/suicide thing. How you can’t go on. You don’t think you can live another day. You are blinded by jealousy.

Something happens to people, doesn’t it? And you just snap. But then I decided to do the opposite. I decided I would not snap. I would be calm and cool. Just take him, I texted her. Then I deleted her from my phone.

6. Belongs to a cartel (not oil)

7. Be very bright

8. Always

She played with him for a month or two the way I knew she would. Sam left her, of course, brokenhearted. He called me late at night, shouting into my phone. That bitch! How dare she? And then weeping. How could she? Talk to me, Mickey, he pleaded. He thought I could tell him something he didn’t know. But what could I say? She’s just using him too.

Be patient, I told him. She’ll be done with him soon.

Sam wasn’t interested in being patient. I think he actually loved her. Somehow he had learned to really care, though I have no idea how. Not like all those other men, and the ones we found out about only later from the newspapers. Because Sara was living another life that none of us knew much about until we read about it. But Sam loved her. I think that’s what in the end Sara couldn’t stand. That a man would love her.

She needed men to toy with until she was done. And then she tossed Matt away as she’d tossed all the others. He called to tell me, but I wouldn’t speak to him either. He called, tail between his legs, asking me to meet him, but I wouldn’t. That was the end. Pretty soon it was Sara phoning me late into the night or sending me these long texts as if she was writing a novel (which I understand is all the RAGE now in Japan). I’m sorry, Mookey, I really am. I was wrong. Forgive me, won’t you? I didn’t know he meant that much to you. Honestly I didn’t.

9. Count on

I told Mom I’d take care of you. You can’t just not pick up this phone, you can’t do this to me. The more she called, the easier it became. Of course I could just not pick up the phone. It was the simplest thing really. Not talk to her again. Honest I didn’t know. I wouldn’t have, if I’d known. I promised Mom I’d be there for you.

She took care of me, all right. This was how she took care of me. At first I read the texts and listened to the messages, but what was the point? Sara didn’t think I could ever do this. She didn’t know. She’d never seen it before. Because I always hold on to things for too long.

But when I was really done with someone or something, I could just shut the door and walk away.

10. Misters in London

11. Mutual of ___

12. Someone driven by hate

Making this puzzle, ah, I tried ANGRY WITH, no. It is so frustrating. There’s the same number of letters in FURIOUS as in ENRAGED. I try MAD, but that definitely doesn’t work. But in puzzles you can’t be PISSED OFF. No swear words, no bodily functions. You can’t urinate or fornicate or just plain fuck. No cunts or balls. No private parts. No bathroom humor. You can’t shit or take a dump. You can’t even make love. No, in the world of puzzles, you can’t make love.

13. An infection you can get in the hospital

It has festered inside me. It is a sore, an injury, a wound. I am full of pus and venom. Like a cobra I can strike. I am diseased. Hate is so different from love. Love can be a part of you. It leaves room for other things. But hate can take up all.

21. The way some like it

22. A very specialized knife

Patricide, matricide, infanticide, fratricide. But did you know that sororicide exists? Have you ever heard it used? Because we think of brother killing brother (Cain and Abel, of course) and mother killing child, but have you ever read about sororicide? Even my spellcheck says it’s wrong.

But this crime of sister against sister exists as well. Not that I was going to commit it. But I thought about it. I was thinking about murder all the time. How would I kill her? I watched enough crime stories. What would be the easiest way? And how could I get away with it? I researched it. I am ashamed to confess this, but I did. Then I went to the Hemlock Society website, and I decided that if I were to do this, I’d make it look like a suicide. Sara could OD on drugs easily enough. It wouldn’t be that hard to do.

But I found a better way. The silent treatment. It can be very effective.

I excised Sara. I surgically removed her from my life.

25. Not all

26. Black on the outside, white on the inside

(You have been given the answer to this already.)

27. Susan Hayward wanted to do this in the 1958 film for which she won an Oscar. What we all want to do, really.

28. This one’s a real killer

I read about this once, or saw it on the Nature Channel, I don’t remember where. But there’s this place in Mexico called the Bay of Banderas where a certain creature (answer to this clue) comes to feast on the tongue of baby humpback whales. They don’t eat the flesh, only the tongue. I have thought about this a lot. The mother tongue. Cat got your tongue? Why feast on the tongue and leave the rest?

This is what my fury has done. It has made me turn my silence against her. And it gave me pleasure. It really did. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this.

Please Mickey, she begged in her texts, please talk to me; pick up your phone.

29. What you can have for two

When I think about it, when I feel sad and I miss her—because every day I miss her—I remember how for years it was just the two of us, Sara and me. Not our mother really because she was strung out on whatever and not our fathers who weren’t much use either. No, we were alone in our little world.

We even had a country of our own. We called it Ishkabibble. And we had our own language too. We spoke Burble. Our mother hated it when we spoke in our language. Our country consisted of mountain ranges and craggy peaks that we dubbed the Crystal Clear Mountains, of glacial lakes with names like Tiny Horse Pond and Macaroni Creek. We drew a map of our country and wrote down vocabulary and syntax too. We conjugated verbs in Burble as well. Mostly our language was a variation on pig Latin, but it was our own.

Once I read about the silent twins and how they had this language of their own and they wrote everything down and when I read about them I understood because, in our own way, even though we weren’t twins and we weren’t even silent, we may as well have been silent twins too.

31. Ring

32. What doctors aren’t supposed to cause

Sara never wanted to hurt me. I believe that now. Looking back. It has taken a long time for me to come to this, but I see it. I wish I’d seen it years ago.

She was my sister and I loved her. I hated her, but I really loved her too. Even as I erased her from my phone. As I blocked her e-mails. Once or twice when I saw her, walking down my street, I went the other way. Twice she rang my doorbell in the middle of the night, but I didn’t talk to her. In fact I never spoke to her again.

33. “Hey, that’s a great ___”

34. Streets can be this way, in film

There are places in the city I’ve never been to, but they’ve got names like Zorro and Rehab and Behind Bars. I didn’t even know much about them really until I read the story in the paper. And by then it was all over the news. A club girl, that’s what Sara was. One of those smiling faces that fills every bar. And stays after hours. Lolita. That’s the last place she was seen. That was perfect for her. Lolita. She once joked to me, when we were still speaking, that she’d started going to Lolita when she was 13, and it’s probably true. Night after night she’d show up in these dark, smoky places with no lights and lots of blow to be had and the booze. And Ecstasy. Sara loved her Ecstasy.

She’d go to the clubs when she couldn’t get enough of whatever else it was she needed. She’d go and stay out all night, dancing and drinking and snorting and swallowing whatever was handed to her.

I danced with a boy who wore angel wings, she told me the last time I opened my door to her. He had a halo too.

36. A new way of doing things

37. Rock lovers’ group, abbr.

39. He loved too many women

She met Wade at Lolita. She called to tell me about him. That is she called and left long messages on my phone that I never returned. He wasn’t like Sammy or Matt or any of those guys. He’s real, she texted me. He’s the one. She met him at Rehab which surprised me until I realized that Rehab was a club on the Lower East Side and not a place you go to get over something you can’t stop doing. It’s where his band was playing. They’d been together only like a week and one night she doesn’t show up so he starts texting her. He’s texting her ten, twenty times a day.

It was Sam who told me this. They’d stayed in touch.

Where are you? I’ve got to see you. That’s what he always says. See? See how much he loves me? I know he does.

43. People listen to what it tells them

44. It flies without a motor

45. Where “I come from,” for short

46. Tempest

I waited some mornings until she left her building. I followed her to her restaurant job, the clubs she’d frequent at night. Behind Bars, that was her favorite. Behind Bars. Where Sara belongs.

Hey, Michele, it’s me. I know you aren’t going to answer. But I think you’d really like Wade. He’s got his own rock band. You should see the way he puts his lips up to the microphone. Who wouldn’t go for that? You could come with me. We could have a good time. Call me, Mookey.

47. Safari helmet

48. The best you can assemble

49. They sit on top of barns

In New York City, and in other cities I suppose, people keep pigeons on rooftops. They can make their pigeons fly around in all kinds of crazy loops. They’re called mumblers. So the boy who came forth because his mother made him, he was a mumbler. I knew the word right away when the police told me. So he was there when it happened. He saw everything.

50. Furious

That apology. Once more. It was her last message to me. I am using the word was now because if you haven’t guessed, Sara is dead. She died a month ago. She was murdered, though at first the police thought it was “by her own hand.” A murder designed to look like a suicide. Which was what I’d considered as well. “By her own hand.” Isn’t that an odd way to say it? She leaped to her death from a tall building. She left no note. Not a word. Unless you count the drugs. The medications, all the pills and dope she took to get through her day. Uppers and downers and lots of speed.

But then somebody came forth. A boy who was on the roof where he kept his pigeons. My mother said I had to say what I saw. I wasn’t supposed to be on the roof at night, the boy told the police. That’s why he didn’t tell right away.

A boy saw a man on the roof with Sara.

She didn’t leap, the mumbler said.

I didn’t find out at first because no one told me or called me. I saw the first mention of her death in The Times on a Thursday, a relatively hard puzzle day. A tiny squib in the Metro section. Woman who fell from roof believed to be murdered. Nobody called me. I wasn’t listed as her next of kin. But the building was Sara’s. I saw the picture in the paper. I went out and bought the Post. And the Daily News. They covered it. In all its unseemly details. I ran into Sam at the memorial service and he came up to me. I thought he’d just walk away, but he didn’t.

He came up to me and said, You didn’t know, did you?

Know what?

Sara, her dark side. The secret life she led. She drank. She did drugs. She just couldn’t stop. She couldn’t get enough. Living on the edge. Literally she lived on the edge. And then somebody pushed her.

One night she showed up at my door. I danced with a man in angel wings, she said.

The devil if you ask me.

The man who killed her could have been anyone really. My sister, the object of perfection. Alone in bars, late at night, searching for men. Searching for one man really. The one who eluded her to the grave. My beautiful, tormented sister. My life.

52. A leader in the Muslim world

I am free-associating now, and really this has nothing to do with this clue, but here’s a word people often get stumped on. “Hebrew for destruction.” It is abaddon. Not so unlike abandon, I think. Abaddon. The demon angel of the abyss.

53. Actress Spelling

54. Goat with curved horns

55. I’ve been flying this way for too long

So now we are both alone in life and in death, trapped in this maze of our own making. I think of this as I am pacing back and forth in my apartment where I have been now for many days. I never understood the hole that Sara had in her heart, the places she couldn’t fill. The father she never found. I thought she had it all. I never understood the pieces that were missing. Sara, the one puzzle I’ll never solve.

56. Cruel

I know what I’ve done. And how I’ve behaved. I could have forgiven her, but I never did. I could have been the one she turned to. But I learned well from our mother. No one has to tell me what I’ve become. I already know. The answer to “Cruel,” that’s me.

With thanks to Maxwell Neeley-Cohen, puzzle designer and friend

The Cross Word

Our mother was a dancer at a Midtown club. She danced in long white boots, and sometimes she swung from a trapeze.

I’d pay her back. I was like that guy who wanted his kidney back as part of his divorce. She betrayed me. And I wanted my due.
















Mary Morris is the author of the novels Revenge and House Arrest among others, as well as collections of short stories and travel memoirs, including, most recently, The River Queen. Morris teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.
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Mary Morris is the author of the novels Revenge and House Arrest among others, as well as collections of short stories and travel memoirs, including, most recently, The River Queen. Morris teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.

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