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Book Club

By Anna Mavromati

In my book club we’ve been reading about witches. We’ve read about Updike’s girls in Eastwick who fell apart over their devil. We’ve read about the hags who taunted Macbeth. We read a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne about a man who learns that everyone in his town is actually a witch, that the church deacon is a witch, that the pious lady from town is a witch, that even his wife is a witch.

Mackenzie laughed a little too hard at the meeting for the Hawthorne story, looking at me the whole time as she laughed, her green eyes scrunched and tearing up. Amanda Michaels from management came into the room and told us to keep it down because we couldn’t have book club in the conference room if we were going to make the whole office feel like they were at a slumber party.

Mackenzie held her giggling, trembling head in her hands then turned it up to Amanda and said, “But it’s just so funny…”

Two of the guys from accounts, Greg Merrick and Owen Beasley, walked by a few minutes later and Owen, a short man with a strangely tiny head, tripped over what must have been his own pants leg and a stack of papers he was holding went flying. That set Mackenzie off all over again.

We have book club in the conference room every second Friday, because Friday’s a slow day. We have cooking club every other Saturday at my house because I have a big kitchen. Blair has a big kitchen too, but Mackenzie won’t meet us there because she’s convinced that the remains of Blair’s ex are in a jar she keeps in the pantry. And once a month we go for a night out. Just the girls from creative: Mackenzie, Blair and me.


At some of our book clubs we go for a lighter fare. Practical Magic, Harry Potter and series novels written for teenage girls. At some meetings we go pretty heavy—usually at the meetings when Blair picks a book. We barely spoke when we met about reading the Malleus Maleficarum, the three of us sitting in stony silence listening to the groans from cubicles when computers went on the fritz and pencils snapped in people’s hands. After about fifteen long minutes, Amanda Michaels stormed into the conference room to say, “Ladies, let’s cut it out in here, OK?”


At home a few weeks ago I was reading Anne Sexton when I saw a roach scurrying across the hardwood floor. I watched it for a while. It’s strange the way something unpleasant can transfix you. Then Ian walked into the room, looked at me, then down at the bug and said, “I guess we should probably do something before it becomes a problem.”

It took me a moment to look up from where the roach was carrying its tiny shell of a body into the kitchen.

“I just see the one,” I said. “Maybe it won’t be a problem at all.”

“Nah, those are little monsters,” he said. “They always become a problem.” He scrunched his nose part in disgust but also a little playfully at me. I scrunched my nose back at him.

Ian followed the roach into the kitchen where I heard the stomp of his boot on the tile. He walked back into the living room, sat beside me on the couch, put an arm around me and leaned to look at me book.

“What ya readin’?” he said with a fake Midwestern drawl.

We stared down at the poem on the page I held open on my lap. Although I share a lot with Ian, I felt a little embarrassed he was seeing it, as if Anne Sexton’s words were actually my diary entry. The poem describes an old hermit woman. As Ian read the words I could hear my own voice in my head reciting them.

I think of her sometimes now

And wonder if I am becoming her.

Ian stared down at the book for a long time. Then he looked up from the book at me, grinned a little and said, “Weird stuff.” Then he yawned and said he had to call it a night.


Blair’s the oldest of the three of us, but I’m the only one who’s married. The first time I had the girls over for our cooking club Blair turned to me after Ian left the room and said, “He seems normal.” Coming from Blair, I decided it was best to take that as a compliment. A pot of water boiled on the stove and the three of us had been politely biding time before Ian left.

“He is normal,” I said. “He’s amazingly normal and I adore it.”

Mackenzie looked up from the boiling water and smiled at me.


People in the office go to Mackenzie and me for advice a lot. Mackenzie gets a lot of the relationship questions. I’ll see her leaning against the copy machine, thoughtfully chewing on the back of a pen while some middle-aged man in a button-down or a woman a blazer says in a tone of voice that takes me straight back to Junior High each time, “But how do I know if someone feels the same way?”

Whenever someone in the office announces a wedding or an engagement, Mackenzie will be smiley and cocky with a skip in her step for days.

I get a lot of practical questions. Success strategies. Money problems. Investment advice. The coffee maker’s doing that spurting thing again. What’s the deal with that? Those kinds of situations. I don’t know how I got pegged as the go-to person for these types of things exactly. I’m not a millionaire myself and there’s usually only so much I can say or do to help people out. I think people just like the idea of having a safety net.

I’ve only ever seen three people in the office approach Blair that way before. One was a man who didn’t work at our ad firm and who I’d never seen before and I never saw again. The other was a secretary who ended up abruptly quitting a few months later. Rumor was that there was some sort of death in the family. The third person was Greg Merrick from accounts.

It’s not that Blair’s mean. She just keeps to herself. I think she’s beautiful and stoic, like a queen from a fable. And she has much more seniority than the rest of us in the creative department. I was only about five months in at the office and Blair had been around the longest. She has the most experience.


When Greg Merrick from accounts died, Blair didn’t even seem to make a facial expression. She stood casually by the water cooler as we were gathered together to hear Amanda Michaels give the sad announcement. And of all of us, I thought Blair new Greg pretty well. She wasn’t much for displaying emotion. And she didn’t seem to notice me watching her either.

Mackenzie, on the other hand, turned to me with a frown that’s usually reserved for worried mothers.

Everyone in the office was suddenly a good friend of Greg Merrick’s after that day.

“You know, I almost went out with Greg once,” girls in the office would say.

Or someone would say, “He really kept things running smoothly around here.”

“He fixed my carburetor once.”

“Isn’t he the one who invited the whole office to his house for Thanksgiving after his divorce? What a lonely guy.”

Even Owen Beasley, one of the most reserved, mousiest little people in the office, was found crying under his desk at one point in time and everyone knew that he hated Greg.


I told Ian that I’d dust the corners of every room of the house with boric acid one day.

“That should take care of the monster problem,” I said.

But I never got around to it. I guess a part of me thought that maybe we didn’t really need to do it. That night I caught sight of three of them in the bathroom before they disappeared somewhere under a cabinet.


We all have our little rituals at the office. The way Mackenzie lightly spits three times on all of her original prints of poster art before they’re presented. The way Blair files her nails at her desk and lets the shreds collect in a paper cup. The way I mumble at my keyboard whenever I type copy.

I was mumbling when Owen Beasley came into my office, the last time we spoke before Greg died. At first I didn’t hear him come in.

“What are you saying?” he asked me in a low voice.

“Just working,” I said.

Owen held his hands in front of him, interlocking his short, chubby fingers.

“I wanted,” he paused and stared at a space above my head, then back at me again, “to talk to you about something.”

I swiveled in my desk chair to face him. I’d barely spoken to Owen before, but it wasn’t that uncommon for us the creative department to be approached by someone new.

Later that night when I got into bed with Ian he asked me how things at work were going. I rested my head against his warm shoulder and told him everything was going fine.


Greg Merrick had always seemed like a friendly enough guy. He was confident, decent looking, and I’d never confirmed it with Blair but I’d heard they may have had a fling once, which automatically made me feel a strange sense of respect for Greg. But apparently a few of the guys from accounts would get together for drinks after meetings now and then and Greg could get a little aggressive. Like a bad cliché, Owen Beasley was usually the butt of everyone’s jokes because he was small and sweaty and the tips of his ears turned red any time someone disagreed with him at a meeting. The story goes that Greg got a little carried away one night and almost shoved Owen in front of a bus—not that he really meant to hurt him, people said, but that things had just gotten out of hand.

“What is this, high school?” Mackenzie had said, rolling her eyes as she sketched on a pad in the break room.

When Owen came to my office that day before Greg died, he told me a few other stories. That Greg was a girlfriend stealer and a womanizer. That Greg had stolen from Owen’s mother. That Greg was a raging alcoholic.

I wasn’t sure that I believed everything he said, but I listened and nodded and sipped coffee at all the right times. Owen talked fast-paced and quietly in a way that reminded me of how homeless people talk to themselves on the sidewalk, out in the open in front of dozens of strangers when they’ve had no one around to actually listen for years. And it was exciting to be able to break a new office story to Blair and Mackenzie, who usually already knew everything worth knowing before I did.

“I just wish,” Owen said, the bald spot on the top of his head gleaming in the light, “that he could get what was coming to him. That for everything he did, he would get what was coming to him.”

“So you just want some sort of karma,” I said. “You want something—any little thing—bad to happen to him for every bad thing he’s done to you.”

It sounded like a harmless enough comment to me and that’s really how I meant it. He nodded at me in a slow way and I couldn’t tell if he was thoughtful or confused.

And I remember thinking, this poor, sad little bastard.


Mackenzie was holding her copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe up so that it covered her face up to her nose as she flipped through the pages.

“I’ve always had this feeling,” she said, “since I was a kid that if I ever did something bad, someone would know about it. Like, there’s someone watching us. Like Santa Claus or the devil but scarier.”

I asked if she grew up religious and she snorted into her book.

“No, I mean it’s like another kind of scary,” she said. “Blair, you know what I mean?”

Blair’s copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe looked untouched, sitting stiffly on the corner of the table.

Blair said, “I need to get cigarettes.”

Mackenzie turned to me again. “It’s the idea of conspiracy. How did the White Queen know to give Edmund Turkish Delight if she hadn’t already been watching him? Like this dark presence that’s always watching him? I mean, who the hell eats Turkish Delight?”


Owen Beasley was staring at me all day at work that one day. He was watching me as I walked to the break room. I felt him staring at me as I typed furiously, muttering to myself at a more rapid pace because even though it was so uncomfortable to have someone watching me work, old habits die hard.

When it looked like he was about to approach me, I dialed for Ian.

“I’m really swamped right now,” Ian said on the other end of the line. “And we’re going to have to get the place fumigated.”


Ian’s voice sounded irritated. He sighed heavily into the receiver. The kind of sigh that made something in my stomach sink.

“I’m just realizing how bad this roach situation’s getting,” he said. “It’s out of control, isn’t it?”

There was something accusatory in his voice. I said, “I don’t know what you mean.”

There was silence at the other end of the line.

“I don’t want to pump our home full of poison,” I said.

“Well, it’s already pretty contaminated in there. And what have you been cooking with those women from work? After that last time, the whole place just smelled kind of foul. I wonder if it drew the bugs in.”

“I didn’t draw the bugs in.”


I was sitting in the conference room with Mackenzie and Blair when Owen showed up again. The three of us turned our heads, copies of The Iliad still in hand, when Owen slowly raised a finger and pointed it directly at me.

He was sputtering, his mouth puckering together but no sound coming out for what seemed like the longest, most surreal seconds of my life. And then he finally screamed out, “W-W-WW-WITCH. WITCH. WITCH.”

Mackenzie turned to me shocked and also a little wary. Even Blair’s eyes widened in an expression of surprise that I’d never seen on her before.

The four of us were frozen like that for a while, the three of us sitting and Owen still standing there, a stiff arm still pointing. A crowd was gathering and Amanda Michaels cut through it and turned to me with a furrowed brow. The crowd of co-workers, the ones who came to me to ask about special financial strategies and the microwave settings being too powerful, all stopped at an invisible line around the conference room doorway, as if they were afraid that I would spontaneously combust at any given moment if they come too close.


The book I’m reading now is Rosemary’s Baby. The woman in the novel learns that everyone around her is a witch. Her doctor’s a witch. Her neighbors are witches. Even her husband’s a witch. And the witches are everywhere. The witches are there when you think you’re alone with your spouse. The witches are there when you take your first bite of meat, the juices trickling down the back of your throat. And the witches are there when you’re spreading white powder and spraying poison in every dark corner and crevice of your home, trying too late to solve your pest problem.


By Anna Mavromati

Jeremy’s wrist is broken. There’s a small white line cutting across it in the glowing image of his skeleton hand that the doctor is pointing at. The line is so thin I can barely see it, but I’m distracted. The X-ray isn’t just a close up of Jeremy’s wrist bones. I can see Jeremy’s whole hand, his finger bones outstretched, and for some reason I keep expecting the picture to move.

Jeremy is sitting on the examination table leaning back against the wall and he looks bored. He holds out his hand and for the doctor to wrap it in a black cast and even though I know he would never let me sign his cast anyway, I feel a little disappointed that it’s black.

He didn’t break his wrist in the bar fight last night. It didn’t even end up being much of a fight—just a lot of shoving and yelling, and the older lady in the tank top who’d served us our beers was burying her fingers in her hair and looked like she was about to scream. Jeremy really broke his wrist when he fell down on our way back to the car. Tom didn’t get there to catch him in time and there’s no way I could have done it. It’s almost funny that what actually ended up beating Jeremy up a little was his own weight.

The doctor smiles at me and tells Jeremy he’s lucky to have a nice sister to take care of him. It sounds a little like something my dad once said to me when he was alive, when Jeremy and I were kids—but my dad said it differently, and he threw in words about responsibility and family and definitely cussed more. I nod at the doctor but I don’t smile back at him. I wonder how many people like us the ER doctor sees every day. Most of the people in the waiting room were older or coughing or holding a baby with a fever. These are people who don’t deserve the things that happen to them to bring them here. But this doctor, grinning with crinkling eyes and a receding hairline, must get a lot of people like us too—or worse. He doesn’t make any comments about us being out-of-the-ordinary. He doesn’t stare at the tattoos on my forearms or the frayed patches on Jeremy’s vest.

Jeremy slides off the table, pushing himself with his good hand, and slouches out the door beside me.

I finally say something to him. “That’s gotta hurt like a bitch.”

He climbs into the passenger side of my truck silently.

Tom is in the kitchen, waiting for us and drinking black coffee. For the first time in a long time, I wish he wasn’t here.

“The fuck is wrong with you, man?” he says.

Jeremy doesn’t answer.

“He’s tired,” I say, shaking my head at Tom. “Leave him alone for a minute.”

Tom turns his frown to me and I look away.

“The fuck, man,” he says. “That was bullshit.”

Jeremy drops onto the couch in the living room with his bed sheets still tangled on it and lies back like he’s going to take a nap there. Tom slams his mug down so hard it seems like he’s about to break it.

“I’m not gonna do this anymore,” he says. “I’m not dealing with this. I’m out. I’m done. This is not the shit I agreed to.”

It takes me a second to realize he’s talking to me.

“You get drunk,” I say. “I’ve seen it. I get drunk. Everyone gets drunk. It’s not that big a deal. Don’t be an asshole.”

“You know I’m not talking about getting drunk,” Tom says.

“He broke his wrist out on the sidewalk when he fell. That’s all that fucking happened.”

Tom’s face is red.

“Sarah, that is not,” he says and he breathes out like it’s hard to talk. “No. That is not all that happened.”

I can tell that Jeremy’s still awake, but his eyes are closed. His injured hand is resting on his chest and the cast makes it look even bigger and thicker than it already is. This kind of emphasizes how big and thick Jeremy is in general. One of our stepmom’s once joked that Jeremy got all of the muscle from our dad’s genes and when I was born there was nothing left for me but skin and bones. Of course, the guy Jeremy almost got into a fight with last night was the only other person in the bar who looked about as big.

“We let him in our home, you drive him everywhere, drive him to the goddamn bar and then to the goddamn hospital, and he can’t even stay on parole,” Tom says. He points a finger at me but he turns to Jeremy now, who still hasn’t opened his eyes. “And she’s going to college now and working at the restaurant every day and you’re dragging her back into this.”

“Shut up, Tom,” I say.

I want to say more about how Jeremy has taken care of me too, but I stop myself.

Jeremy sits up on the couch now and opens his eyes, fixing them dully on Tom. Even though the cast makes his wrist look bigger, I know what it will look like in six weeks when the cast comes off. I broke my arm once when I was fifteen and I watched the doctor cut through the bandages. My arm was pale and shriveled and it looked like it had aged a hundred years.

“Just leave him alone,” I say. “It could have gone a lot worse.”

“What college?” Jeremy asks me.

“Just a community college for now.”

“You,” Tom says, his finger pointing at Jeremy this time, “are going to ruin her life like this, man. I know it.”

He turns away and leans against the kitchen counter.

And I already know what all of this is leading to because this kind of thing has happened to me and Jeremy before. At the bar last night Jeremy almost swung at a guy who said that a break in the mirror behind the bar was a bullet hole, left over from the last time some crooked meth dealer showed up in this town. It looked like someone had taken a hole-puncher to that mirror, like the one I use to put homework in my three-ring binder. The hole in the mirror exposed the earthy molding wood behind it. It looked disgusting but I wanted to stick my finger through it, just because it was almost the perfect size for that sort of thing.

The comment this guy made at the bar that night didn’t really sound like a threat against Jeremy. None of us really believed the story and I think he was partly joking. And of all the shit Jeremy’s gotten into, he’s never actually sold meth, or at least I don’t know about it if he did. But Jeremy stood up in that way he does, where he seems to be even taller than he already is and his shoulders broaden out, and I knew that we were in trouble. And my poor skinny, freckled Tom, who’s never been arrested in his life, held his hands in front of his face and hung his head like he was not scared, but ashamed.

“What classes are you taking in college?” Jeremy asks me after Tom storms out. We’re sitting on the couch together now and the TV is on mute. A girl is smiling at us from the screen, her face floating over a Crest toothpaste logo.

“Just some of the basic stuff right now,” I say. “English, math, an anthropology.”

“Good. That’s real good, Sarah.”

Jeremy pats his good hand on my knee for a second then moves it away. My knee still feels warm after. Sometimes he reminds me so much of our dad that it’s almost like dad’s alive again, with big hands and thick eyebrows, and I want to tell him that I’ve missed him so damn much for a long time. I look down at his cast.

“I guess this time we don’t really have anyone to get even with unless you want me to try to beat up the sidewalk for you,” I say.

I imagine myself on my knees on the pavement outside of that bar from last night, slamming my fists against the ground, getting revenge on the earth for hurting my brother. I’m embarrassed to admit to Jeremy how much I like the idea of that. Dad used to say we had to take care of our own. Or something like that.

“I remember that time I broke my arm,” I say. “Do you remember that? Or that other time when I got my lip busted and you took me home and said you were gonna mess up that kid for me. We were staying not far from this neighborhood back then. I liked that place.”

Jeremy left home when I was eight, but I guess we’ve always ended up living together again whenever something’s been broken.

He turns to me and doesn’t say anything, but I’m pretty sure he’s remembering everything I’m talking about. Places we used to live and people we used to know, for better or for worse. They’re all these hazy memories, even dad, and thinking about it is like looking back into the horizon when you’re heading the opposite direction, probably toward another horizon, and the way you can’t see to the end of the road in either direction.

“Emile’s got a room,” Jeremy says. “Says I can stay. It’s over on the east side.”

He turns back to the TV but I can tell he’s not paying attention to it. His expression is solemn.

“Tom isn’t so bad,” I say. “He just doesn’t want any trouble, but he’ll get used to you. He smokes weed and does some illegal shit too. He’s just not used to the bigger stuff. It’ll get better if you just stay.”

Jeremy’s mouth thins and I keep talking.

“He’s from a pretty nice family and he wants to own a restaurant of his own one day and I really think he could do it,” I say. “And this place is nice and he could get you a job. I thought you would be OK here when you got out because we’re in a good neighborhood and we’re not near anything bad. I’ll talk to Tom and deal with this. You can stay with us as long as you want to. He’s not so bad when you get to know him.”

Jeremy raises his eyebrows slightly and says, “You can do better.”

Then he shakes his head and rests his good hand over his cast, almost hiding it, and I know he’s not talking about Tom.

But I’ll still leave Tom, like I’ve left boys before him, and I’ll probably follow Jeremy to the east side even if he tries to shake me off or doesn’t answer my phone calls, and I’ll tell Jeremy it’s because me and Tom didn’t work out so I can’t stand working at the restaurant with him anymore and that the college classes were bullshit. And I can already imagine the way Tom is going to watch me from the porch as my truck backs out of the driveway. His arms will be folded in front of his chest and his boyish face will be hardened into an expression that’s hard for me to read, probably wondering whether he should pity me or be disgusted with me or miss me. I can see him leaning against the open front doorway, watching the road long after I’m gone, already two blocks away with my foot lifted off the gas pedal, just letting the wheels roll me steadily downhill.