Patient Women excerpts

Larissa Shmailo

Nora at 13:

Joey was playing Suzanne. She stopped often to tune her guitar and puff on her cigarette, which she kept in the neck frets of her guitar and carefully repositioned after each drag. This made for frequent interruptions, but Nora sang with feeling anyway as leaf shadows danced across Joey’s face. When Joey grew tired of playing, she surrendered the guitar to Nora, who played A minor chords.

A tall boy in a fringed jacket with a flag on the back approached the pier. Nora looked away and sang louder as the boy listened. As she started to strum the minor chords for The Cruel War, the boy cleared his throat.

“Can I hold your guitar?” he asked politely. Joey and the boy passed the guitar back and forth, playing Beatles songs, blues riffs, and anything else they knew. Red-faced, Nora sat next to the boy, singing too loud. She didn’t want to seem desperate, like her friends from Queens. If one of her girlfriends from Queens so much as talked with a boy, Nora heard about it for weeks afterward. They sifted and sifted through casual, unimportant conversations that clearly meant nothing, nothing at all to the boy: “Then he smiled, and I think he thought I meant I liked him . . . What do you think he meant when he said his school was nearby? Do you think he likes me?” Dee Ann Distefano called every Miller in Queens to hunt down a boy she talked to once; when she and Nora finally got her boy on the line, Dee Ann got scared and hung up.

Girls from Queens were bores. Girls from Queens were awkward and shy. Girls from Queens were vulgar and loud. Girls from Queens wore their sweaters too tight, wore too much makeup, wore the wrong kind of pants, their faces were zitty, and their tits were too big. Girls from Queens turned out like their mothers.                                             

Some boys in a rowboat were calling to the boy in the fringed jacket. Nora watched the long-haired boys stand straight up in the rowboats, then belly flop into the lime green algae. The boy in the fringed jacket explained to Joey that his friends had dropped acid cut with speed. He lit a thick joint and offered it to Nora, who coughed until her face turned red. Joey politely interrupted a story about Eric Clapton to wait for Nora to finish coughing.

Embarrassed, Nora ran to the lake and threw herself into the water fully dressed. She heard applause and hoots behind her. She swam, cold and embarrassed, thinking, I have a pretty face, prettier than Joey but I am fat and my breasts flop in my wet shirt. I am embarrassed: it is too much to throw yourself into the water dressed in Central Park, it isn’t hot enough in May and my jeans and shirt and shoes take too long to dry . . . .

Nora at 22

When it was slow, Nora told Billy the plots of Russian novels. They had just finished TheBrothersKaramazov, which Billy enjoyed, and were now starting AnnaKarenina.

“Anna is a brilliant woman, “Nora told Billy, who was lying on the floor with a bottle of bourbon between her knees. “Most people don’t realize that. She can do anything, except speak up for herself.” Nora reached over and filled her tumbler from Billy’s bottle. “While she’s shacked up with Vronsky, she writes children’s books, she studies architecture, follows local politics; anything Count Vronsky does, she does too, and better. She even handles horses better.”

The phone rang. Billy sat up.

“Friends with Style”, Nora answered. She listened into the receiver for a few moments, then hung up. “Breather,” she told Billy. Billy lay back down.

“So, why can’t she talk about herself?” Billy asked.

Nora shrugged “Never learned. The men in the book do it for her. At one point, Dolly—that’s Stiva’s wife—tries to talk to her about what’s happening in her life and Anna just blanks. She starts to talk a little but then it gets onto abortion.”

“They had abortions then?” Billy asked.

do you think?” Nora replied. “Anna may have had one by this point in the novel, or may be planning to; it’s very strongly suggested. The thing is, she can’t talk about any of this stuff, not Vronsky, not leaving her husband; she just shuts down.”

“So what happened to her?” Billy asked.

Before Nora could answer, the doorbell rang.

“Coming,” Billy called gaily. She looked through the peep-hole.

But instead of a trick, a woman entered. She was about thirty years old, tall, big-boned and ungainly. She was wearing a plaid dress trimmed with lace and velvet; she had patent leather flats with bows on her too-large feet, with straps bracing the shoes. She looked, Nora thought, like a giant child going to a birthday party.

“I’m here for a job,” the woman said.

Billy and Nora exchanged looks.

“The ad said you needed models,” the woman insisted.

Nora sat her down to wait for the pimp and told her the rates: one hundred dollars for suck and fuck, two hundred for Greek, three hundred for dominance, no equipment. The women took half.

“I’m working now,” the woman interrupted. “I have a job now.” She was rocking slightly, as if she needed to pee.

“That’s nice,” Nora answered automatically.

The woman smiled. “I know how to work,” she said proudly.

“How much do you make now?” Nora asked, expecting her to double her take.

“Five dollars,” the woman replied.

“How much?” Nora asked in disbelief.

The woman rocked harder. “I know how to work,” she said. “I make two hundred dollars a day. Two hundred dollars a day.” She looked at Nora. “I know how to work,” she repeated, “I know how to work, I know how to work, I know how to work. I know how to work, I know how to work . . . .”



I. Jesuisune femme de lettres et jegagne ma vie.
– Colette

All ways a feather: bed your bugs as they bud
Welling roses these sweltering days
Rose roaches blooming by books, near pillows
Blooming by Bloomsday, busting out by June
Busting on Broadway, busting the busts…
Hey, this is…my bra!
(Like swallowing feathers, you know,
dirty feathers.)
And this is December and over there, Christmas
We call April Easter cause she makes them march.

Welling roses in Wellington Rolls
Rose roaches blooming by books, near pillows
Rolls with butter, rolls with jam
Roll her over, let’s go hot damn
Sweltering days as rose roaches bloom
Swilling slaves in rose roaches’ room

Bloom, concrete blossoms!
Bloom, Broadway bottoms!
Bloom! Picks his nose
Bloom! As he grows. . . .

Bed your bugs as they bud, as they breed─what a breed!
Ill-bred, no bread
Dirty cunt’s puking
Just giving me head. . . .

All ways are fettered
Fellated and fucked
For ever and all
But mostly for us

II. Foret sans oiseaux

All ways are feathered.
For rest a bed,
For the rest, a bed . . . .
Hey, this is. . . .I know; I’ve had them for years.
I’ve had it. Have you? Been had?
Have you a forest? Have you a bed?
Have you a haven?
(Forests of feathers: naked birds shrieking
Bony birds swooping
Burning birds screaming
Descending like hell)
Blooming rose roaches all buds destroyed
Bony birds bleeding, beating, breaking, bled. . .
For rest, a bed, for rest. . .
Fine-feathered slaughter by books, near pillows
Rose roaches breed,
Bleed swiftly and die.

III. On commence par ệtre dupe, on finit par ệtrefripon.
─George Sand

Always the feathers: hi, I’m Molly Bloom;
Blow by my bathroom . . . .
By the window a frozen bird, frozen for weeks,
A weak bird, a dead duck, a gone goose,
A pigeon petered out. . . .

But I’m Molly Bloom, you’ve had me, you know:
Birds are just chirping snakes.
But I’m Molly Bloom, I’m a mammal,
I have mammaries, see: This is a bust!
I don’t touch dead birds.

This is December, and over there’s Christmas
And Easter will rise to any occasion
For ever and all
For Peter and Paul. . . .
But I’m Molly Bloom, I’m a pagan, you fuck!
(A man? Where?)

A feather bed for me, a haven for rest,
Pillows for the head, and books for the rest
I need the rest: this is short, where’s the rest?
All ways are fetid
Fellated and fucked
No bird’s no damn good
Until it’s been plucked.
A man? Amen. This is Easter.
Rest that piece.


(This Article is ‘Patient Women’ novel contains poetry, so it is cross-genre)


Larissa Shmailo, Author of Patient Women (BlazeVOX [books] 2015), called a “a brutally honest wrestling match of truth-telling and sex” and “the best book . . . about this period of life in NYC since Patti Smith’s Just Kids” is Larissa’s new novel about a young woman’s search for love and identity. Larissa’s poetry collections are#specialcharacters (Unlikely Books), In Paran (BlazeVOX [books], and the chapbooks A Cure for Suicide (Červená Barva Press) andFib Sequence (Argotist Ebooks). Her poetry CDs are The No-Net World and Exorcism (SongCrew); tracks are available from Spotify, iTunes, Muze, Deezer, Rhapsody, Amazon, and CDBaby. Larissa translated Victory over the Sun for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s celebrated reconstruction of the first Futurist opera; the libretto is now available from Červená Barva Press. She has also been a translator on the Russian Bible for the American Bible Society and the editor of the acclaimed anthology, Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry.   Larissa’s work recently appears in Measure for Measure (Everyman’s Library / Penguin Random House),Words for the Wedding (Perigee / Penguin Putnam), Contemporary Russian Poetry (Dalkey Archive Press),FULCRUM, the Atlanta Review, Barrow Street, Drunken Boat, the Battersea Review, Plume, and Sensitive Skin.


Readers like you make Alephi possible. Please show your support.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *