“The Invention of Love,” by Sara Schaff

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Fiction by Sara Schaff excerpted from our Fall 2017 issue.


Saturday night, no plans to go out. I preferred the quiet of my dorm room to any student apartment that smelled like beer. But at ten when I was already in my pajamas, my friend called and told me about a party. He didn’t know the people having it, only that everyone was saying it would be the place to be on Spring Weekend and that he needed to borrow some makeup.

Twenty minutes later he showed up at my dorm with another friend — both of them tall and thin and bearded.

While I sat on my bed under the covers, they applied my eye shadow and lipstick, then turned to me for approval. I found their new beauty charming. My friend leaned over the mattress to kiss me lightly on the cheek, then pulled on my hand. His friend tugged at my other hand.

I changed out of my pajamas in front of them, slipping into the clothes in a pile near the hamper. But the boys informed me that my corduroys were not the right look for spring or even for this decade, which was nearing its end, anyway. Instead, they selected a dress from my closet, a summery one with thin straps and little stars scattered across the skirt. It was unsuitable for the cool night, but when I spun around, my friend and his friend clapped in admiration.

We walked down the leafy streets together, holding hands.

When we arrived at the house, we found it silent and dark. The front porch sagged with couches and bikes. We stood outside on the grass littered with red plastic cups, and debated whether to knock on the door.

After a while, the porch light turned on, and a woman several years older than us came outside. She wore tight jeans under a sparkly tutu and a sweatshirt with a different college’s name on it unzipped over a low-cut tank top. She leaned over the railing and said hello without smiling. I tried not to stare at her enormous breasts, but her cheeks were so mottled with acne I felt embarrassed looking at her face.

“Is this where the party is supposed to be?” my friend’s friend asked.

The woman’s expression didn’t change.

“Two people fell off the roof,” she said, finally. “One of them died.” She pointed to where it happened — the parking lot between this house and its neighbor. “The kid who lived fell right onto my car. So in a way, I guess I saved him.” Her face was still blank. Shock, I supposed. Or maybe that was just her face. Once I had met a man who had a condition that made it impossible for him to smile.

Now she sighed, then zipped up her sweatshirt, which seemed to take a very long time. She stuck her hands in the pockets and went back inside.

To read “The Invention of Love,” purchase MQR 56:4 for $7, or consider a one-year subscription for $25.


Image: Klee, Paul. “Lovers.” 1920. Gouache and graphite on paper mounted on black paper mounted on cardboard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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