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Super Sad True Love Story
An excerpt from the forthcoming novel by the author of Absurdistan.
BY GARY SHTEYNGART
Eunice Park and I marched ahead. She marched, I hopped, unable to cover up the joy of having escaped the party with her by my side. I wanted Eunice to thank me for saving her from the sculptor and his stench of death. I wanted her to get to know me and then to repudiate all the terrible things he had said about my person, my supposed greed, my boundless ambition, my lack of talent, my ﬁctive membership in the Bipartisan Party, and my designs on Caracas. I wanted to tell her that I myself was in danger, that the American Restoration Authority otter had singled me out for sedition, and all because I had slept with one middle-aged Italian woman.
I eyed Eunice’s ruined sweater and the obscenely fresh body that lived and sweated and, I hoped, yearned beneath it. “I know of a good dry cleaner that can ﬁx red-wine stains,” I said. “There’s this Nigerian up the block.” I stressed “Nigerian” to underline my open- mindedness. Lenny Abramov, friend to all.
“I volunteer at a refugee shelter near the train station,” Eunice said, apropos of something.
“You do? That’s so fantastic!”
“You’re such a nerd.” She laughed cruelly at me.
“What?” I said. “I’m sorry.” I laughed too, just in case it was a joke, but right away I felt hurt.
“LPT,” she said. “TIMATOV. ROFLAARP. PRGV. Totally PRGV.”
The youth and their abbreviations. I pretended like I knew what she was talking about. “Right,” I said. “IMF. PLO. ESL.”
She looked at me like I was insane. “JBF,” she said.
“Who’s that?” I pictured a tall Protestant man.
“It means I’m ‘just butt-fucking’ with you. Just kidding, you know.”
“Duh,” I said. “I knew that. Seriously. What makes me a nerd in your estimation?”
“ ‘In your estimation,’ ” she mimicked. “Who says things like that? And who wears those shoes? You look like a bookkeeper.”
“I’m sensing a bit of anger here,” I said. What had happened to that sweet, hurt Korean girl of three minutes ago? For some reason I puffed out my chest and stood up on my toes, even though I had a good half a foot on her.
She touched the cuff of my shirt, and then looked at it more carefully. “This isn’t buttoned right,” she said. And before I could say anything, she rebuttoned my cuff and pulled on the shirtsleeve to make it less bunched up around the shoulder and upper arm. “There,” she said. “You look a little better now.”
I didn’t know what to say or do. When dealing with people my own age, I know precisely who I am. Not physically attractive, but at least well educated, decently paid, working at the frontiers of science and technology (even though I have the same ﬁnesse with my äppärät as my aged immigrant parents). On Planet Eunice Park, these attributes clearly did not matter. I was some kind of ancient dork. “Thanks,” I said. “Don’t know what I’d do without you.”
She smiled at me, and I noticed that she had the kind of dimples that not merely puncture the face but easily ﬁll it with warmth and personality (and, in the case of Eunice, take away some of her anger). “I’m hungry,” she said.
I must have looked like the befuddled Rubenstein at his press con- ference after our troops got routed at Ciudad Bolívar. “What?” I said. “Hungry? Isn’t it a little too late?”
“Um, no, Gramps,” Eunice Park said.
I took that in stride. “I know of this place on Via del Governo Vecchio. It’s called da Tonino. Excellent cacio e pepe.”
“So it says in my Time Out guide,” the impudent girl said to me. She lifted up her äppärät-like pendant, and in shockingly perfect Italian ordered a taxi to pick us up. I hadn’t felt so frightened since high school. Even death, my slender, indefatigable nemesis, seemed lackluster when compared with the all-powerful Eunice Park.
In the taxi, I sat apart from her, engaging in very idle chatter indeed (“So I hear the dollar’s going to be devaluated again . . .”). The city of Rome appeared around us, casually splendid, eternally assured of itself, happy to take our money and pose for a picture, but in the end needing nothing and no one. Eventually I realized that the driver had decided to cheat me, but I didn’t protest his extended route, especially as we swung around the purple-lit carapace of the Coliseum, and I told myself, Remember this, Lenny; develop a sense of nostalgia for something, or you’ll never ﬁgure out what’s important.