Age of Consent

novel excerpt

           Age of Consent, a novel


There are no facts, only interpretations.

                                                                                    – Frederick Nietzsche


In June the trees are almost overfull in Central Park. I need to run, but the sky is an ominous yellow. Lightening icons and high wind warnings grace my phone’s “severe weather alert.” If you happen to be running under a branch laden with leaf and water, it could wind up on your head.

I stand at the window. Down on the sidewalk a woman roughly my age pushes her mother in a wheelchair; they are from the nursing home up the way, I’ve seen them before. Next promenade a buoyant Latina and her teenage daughter, heads conspiratorially inclined.

These pairings leave me feeling untethered — a hot air balloon loosed from its moorings. Perhaps because I’m uncharacteristically without my usual anchors of husband and intern, I feel more strongly the clout of the magazine split open behind me on the table.

On the right page, a tampon ad features an athletically clad young woman crouched in a runners’ stance. It entreats readers, “Be Bold! Be Brave!”  On the left runs an interview I gave some months ago. I should tell you now that I am a lawyer, with letters of commendation from three American presidents and the U.N. Secretary-General, for my work on behalf of women and children, victims of war crimes. Sex crimes, committed in war zones, in refugee camps, and on the migrant trail.

Yet something I said over the course of that interview was picked up and twisted and came back to hit me like a boomerang:
“You can’t go home stoned drunk with three football players and expect to control the outcome.”

A story in the news, not one of my cases, date rape not being my area of expertise. But when directly questioned, I feel obliged to tell the truth.

“Chivalry goes only so far.” I had laughed, saying this, because it seemed so obvious. “Young women have a personal responsibility to avoid these situations. Alone in a room with three jocks is too late.”

An avalanche of Twitter hate ensued.

No, one cannot Be Bold, Be Brave, one must self-censor, one must be downright timid.

I scan a wall of books: Modern Feminisms, The Sex That Is Not One.  Further down, Susan Brownmiller and Eldridge Cleaver nestle side by side, ancient enemies entwined in the grave. The issues once so compelling, they seemed to have launched me like a catapult years ago, leave me unmoved today. Perhaps I’ve finally reached the end of that trajectory. Maybe I’m just done.

Futile moods pass, if you can only manage to ignore them, only manage to distract yourself. The thing is to get out! Out into the green. I glance again at the yellow sky, the leaves straining their stems; flipping and tumbling, dull side and bright.

On the scuffed hardwood floor stacks of vinyl records await pruning, and my briefcase contents lay exploded over the couch. Through the bedroom door my suitcase gapes, hungry for the heap of clean laundry by its side. Where are my running shoes?

The house is a mess. By house, I mean apartment, by mess, I mean we’re purging the basement storage unit in order to fill it with fresher junk. Ours is one of those too-dark West Side apartments that nonetheless harbors the magic of double closets. My only request for “Chranuka”, as my husband and I call the holiday season, was for Mark to de-clutter the office closet. Six months later, he’s done it, in a burst of procrastinator’s energy, yesterday afternoon, just before he left for Seattle.

Now I see that a contained mess has replaced a chaotic one. I face a three-deep wall of boxes, some from stores decades out of business. My running shoes, usually tumbled on the pink shag carpet up front, appear to have been stowed in one of the new plastic containers in the very back. Through a gap I discern a waffle sole.

Sitting just outside the closet is an ancient air conditioner box with a large gash in its top. Over this is taped a letter-sized sheet of paper, on which my husband has scrawled “ALL YOUR STUFF” in bold, crooked caps. Then, more genially and fairly legibly: I didn’t know what to do with it. Go through and toss.  HAPPY CHRANUKA! Under this, a Star of David with a cross plunged through like a dagger.

The gash reveals another, smaller box, this one black with white speckles.  If this is what I think it is …  I tear open the outer box, and lift it out to see. Yes, there on its side, a small, gold-tone rectangular label, and my own dispassionate script: “U.K. 1980.”  Inside, the documentation: five or six old film processing envelopes, negatives jammed every which way; an undeveloped roll pried from a broken camera, letters, a frayed music magazine, 45s, the little red book with everyone’s names and phone numbers neatly etched. At the very bottom is the green and blue plaid-covered diary.

I flip it open, and skim until I reach the entry that stops me cold:

            June 21st, Gloucester Road in London is a nice place to walk onto when you’re through with work at one o’clock. The pavement is wet, the clouds are clearing, and it looks like a nice afternoon for Hyde Park. You jingle your keys from building 58, glad you don’t have to make beds or scrub toilets again till tomorrow…