Nathan is spending his thirtieth birthday alone in a diner. Alone unless you count the pretty, distracted woman in glasses—the only other patron—sitting several booths down. And he does. Nathan leafs through a menu he knows well, stealing glances as she rummages through an omelet’s insides with a fork. She looks up and catches him. Embarrassed, Nathan jerks his head toward the window just in time to catch lightning. Thunder follows. A downpour follows that.
Nathan checks his phone for notifications and there are none.
The turn in the weather is baffling, but then so is the reminder that Nathan’s mother, a woman who spent nineteen hours in labor, really has forgotten this day once again. As the waitress emerges from the kitchen—presumably to take his order—the door flies open and a man of Nathan’s age, soaking wet, rushes in. “Sophie, please!” the man cries out.
Nathan watches the pretty, distracted woman sigh, remove her glasses, and slide lazily out of the booth. It is as if she has forgotten to take out the trash. “Not inside, Kevin,” is what she says. Kevin teeters on his feet and wipes his wet face with his wet sleeves.
“Anywhere. Where?” Spit dribbles from the corner of his mouth. Sophie turns Kevin around and ushers him out into the storm, past the waitresses’s glare.
The woman picks up Nathan’s umbrella, leaning against the wall by the door. “I’m going to borrow this,” she declares to no one in particular.
In the window he watches Kevin drop to his knees and grip the woman’s sweater. Nathan can hear only faintly what he is shouting: “Sophie, please. I love you, I love you, I love you.” Sophie peels Kevin’s hands off her sweater, and, as if it were his only source of support, Kevin drops to the ground and coils himself around her boots like a frightened dog. She steps carefully out of his grasp, leans down to whisper something into the man’s ear, and heads back inside the diner. A black towncar parked across the street drives away. Nathan watches Kevin pound his fists on the concrete before surrendering the weight of his head to it.
Inside, Nathan tries not to stare as Sophie shakes the rain out of the umbrella and out of her hair. “I’m sorry about all of that,” she says. Nathan will remember with raving ache and later, an earned humor, that this was the first thing Sophie ever said to him. “My company will happily cover the bill for disrupting your breakfast.”
“He doesn’t have a bill yet. He doesn’t have breakfast yet,” the waitress scowls and hands Sophie her check.
Sophie fishes a business card out of a shiny red cardholder. “You can send a copy of the receipt, today’s date, and the location of the disturbance to the email address on there. We’ll reimburse you.” Nathan notes the thirty-two point pearl paper stock, the velvety blue ink—a luxury in the business card world. One a three-year employee of Print Palace can appreciate. He brushes his thumb over the title: First Cut Inc, and turns the card over: First cut is the deepest. Let me make it the cleanest and the swiftest. Beside the slogan, a tiny red heart cracked along the center.
Outside, Kevin stumbles into what Nathan fears may be oncoming traffic. He turns back to Sophie, the card still in his hand.
“A team of researchers, working alongside myself and my business associate, Mr. Franklin Finick, have scientifically proven that I possess a unique blend of characteristics crucial to an enriching learning experience for those looking to fall in love for the first time. The company is currently in the R&D phase for a range of other enriching emotional experiences, but our flagship experience is first love.”
“What happened to that man?” Nathan asks.
Sophie glances in the direction of the window, at Kevin now splayed out across the windshield of a parked car, the heavy rain pinging off his face, then back at the counter, at her receipt.
“That man’s contract has come to an end.”
The next morning Nathan wakes to giggling. His brother’s marriage is on the rocks. At least this is how their mother describes it. Nathan thinks that maybe if James would stop having to hose down the backseats of the couple’s Toyota with cheap body spray to cover up the smell of an expensive perfume popular with the younger ladies, the marriage would cease finding such rocks. James has been staying in Nathan’s apartment. Since he missed birthday breakfast, James promised to take his baby brother out for birthday drinks. But Nathan was asleep at four in the morning when James snuck in with the source of the giggling: the bagel store girl from across the street.
Nathan peeks into the kitchen and bumps into a confirmation of his suspicion: the girl, bare legs and clad in a too-big t-shirt, turns the corner toward the bathroom.
“Oh!” she says.
“Oh!” Nathan replies and slinks back into his room.
Two weeks ago, after months of courtship—well, Nathan’s form of courtship, which entailed a weekly bagel purchase that coincided with her work schedule—Nathan asked the bagel store girl out for coffee. She misunderstood his proposal and instead charged him for a small to-go cup along with his egg everything. When he clarified, she said no.
“Fuck, really?” Nathan can hear James in the kitchen.
“How was I supposed to know?” the bagel girl whispers harshly. “How is it even possible that you two are related?”
It’s a fair question. To Nathan’s wallflower, James is an invasive species. A fantastic head of hair coupled with a compulsory tendency to suck the air out of a room works wonders with sex, friendships, as well as discounts on large purchases. In the presence of his brother, Nathan is background noise if the background noise was silence. So yes, Nathan thinks as he works the buttons of his Print Palace uniform, the girl is justified in her bewilderment.
“I’m sorry, little buddy. You gotta tell me these things!” James says to Nathan outside.
“I called you last week and you told me to fuck it and there are plenty more.”
James pauses for recollection but decides to trust himself. “Fuck it, then! There are plenty more.”
“Well, I met someone,” Nathan blurts out. “Kind of.”
“Kind of or yeah?”
“Oh yeah!” James, in his excitement, pushes Nathan into shrubbery. “Wait.” He yanks him back out. “How much did you pay her?” James stares intently at his brother before bursting into laughter. Another fair question, not that James will ever have any reason to think so. “No but that’s good. I was starting to get a little worried.
At Print Palace, Nathan searches the database for First Cut Inc. Lo and behold, they are the store’s costumers, under a Franklin Finick.
“Yeah?” A deep, distracted voice picks up.
Nathan panics. “Yes, I’m calling from Print Palace to see if you need a refill of business cards, we’re running a promotion and—”
“No.” And the conversation is over.
Mrs. Rollins, Print Palace’s only regular, arrives for her weekly copies of a Missing Parrot flyer for Pickles, missing since Nathan started here three years ago. Her dementia is a kind of custom-built layer of hell and Nathan has long ago stopped charging her for the flyers. Sometimes she fishes ancient candy out of her pocketbook and winks at him, sometimes she calls him a stupid little man. Today Mrs. Rollins is in a rush and makes use of the service bell. Nathan instructs her on the copy machine, hopeful that the information will one day leap from short to long-term memory.
He dials again. “I think we got disconnected, sir.”
“We did not get disconnected. I hung up, which I’ll be doing again now.” So Nathan rushes to explain the run-in with Mr. Finick’s associate, Sophie. He treads softly around the incident with Kevin, but notes the product piqued his interest.
“Shame you had to see all that,” Mr. Finick says. “But that’s great, that you’re interested. We’re very glad that you’re interested and we can get started right away.”
Nathan hesitates. Mrs. Rollins snaps her fingers and gestures at the machine beeping, blinking, ERROR! Nathan can hear the printer trying in spite of itself.
“Look, son, it’s like this,” Mr. Finick begins. “Say I call you up, I tell you I need some business cards printed. You say, ‘Okay! How many? How would you like them shipped? When?’ and then I say, ‘Oh, well I was just thinking out loud’—what’s your name?”
“I say, ‘I was just thinking out loud, Nathan.’ Wouldn’t you think that’s kind of ridiculous?”
Nathan tests the length of the phone cord until he can see the issue with the printer: Mrs. Rollins has added two too many zeroes, tasking the ordinary machine with the extraordinary task of two thousand copies.
“I didn’t call you on a Saturday to sell you anything, son. I just answered my work phone. And I did that because I believe in my work. In what First Cut Inc does. So I’m just gonna ask you and you answer honestly, okay? Are you calling to sell me some business cards or fall in love?”
Mrs. Rollins gestures toward smoke.
“You’re what, son?”
“I’m calling to fall in love.”
“Well, great! Here I am, knocking on your door, metaphorically speaking, and saying, ‘Let’s do this thing.’ But you’re giving me the runaround. That’s kind of ridiculous, you understand? The way you’re living your life, son. It’s ridiculous.”
Mrs. Rollins, with none of Nathan’s self-doubt, produces a pair of dainty scissors from her manicure kit, intent on cutting the phone line if Nathan doesn’t do something about this. He huffs into the receiver, cradling the phone base in his arms. The printer trembles toward its impossible goal. The smoke detector’s batteries are fresh.
“Can I put you on hold for just a moment, sir?”
“No you cannot.” And Mr. Finick goes on to recite what sound to Nathan like lines of poetry. Over Mrs. Rollins’ shouting Nathan catches “hell” and “urge” repeated. Print Palace’s oldest and most loyal costumer dissolves into hysterics at the choked gurgling of the machine and rushes toward the exit, toward the wailing of fire engines. Five critical beeps and the printer finally gives. Smoke whispers up the paper refill tray, the plastic blisters from the heat.
“Norman, think of this experience as a wisdom tooth: it’s gonna have to come out eventually. Now, you could go get it taken care of. It’ll hurt, but you’ll be in trusted hands. Or you could sit around until you can’t take it anymore then go runnin to the first friendly face with a pair of pliers. The tooth’s coming out one way or another is my point here.”
Under a desk, searching for quiet from sirens, Nathan recites his bank information, a convenient mailing address, and the barren history of his love life.
A date is set! Dinner at seven-thirty next Thursday. Mr. Finick suggests Nathan suggest Pandora, a Cavernous-Yet-Cozy Greek restaurant. Since Nathan requested the experience not be managed entirely by him, Mr. Finick has renamed Sophie, Diane. Nathan leaves this out when he calls his brother—out of the doghouse and so out of Nathan’s apartment—with the news.
“Don’t wear a button-down,” James warns. “It’s tacky. You’re gonna look like a wedding singer. Or a car salesman.”
“You’re a car salesman.”
“Yeah and I don’t look like one which is why I sell the damn things. I mean, do what you want but I’d listen to the married guy here, little buddy.”
The First Cut Code of Conduct Mandates & Suggestions Manual Nathan receives in the mail the morning of the date disagrees with his brother on this among many other things. He leafs through sections on personal space, (give lots of it) communication maintenance, (a section on discarding the Three Day Rule) and gift-giving, (what’s too big, too sentimental, too soon).
That evening, Nathan arrives early and takes a window seat. For early December, the temperature in New York City is record low. Nathan tugs at the shirtsleeves buried beneath his sweatersleeves, and watches people rush to shelter in the merciless wind. A woman in a puffy silver coat and bright orange hat, pink pompoms bobbing, sprints across his view and into the restaurant. A gust of cold air follows her inside. Diane is fifteen minutes late. Nathan checks his phone for notifications but there are none. He grows queasy with worry: is this real?
It is. Diane is tangled charmingly in a scarf that looks like a knitted orange peel, talking to the hostess. Diane is Puffy Silver Coat Woman. Sophie from the diner.
“I’m late,” Diane declares, and teases her fingers through a heap of burnt-honey hair.
“I was too early,” Nathan offers and extends a hand she doesn’t notice as she organizes winter accessories over her chair. The manual had a section on Appropriate First Time Greetings and a handshake was the only suggestion. He looks at her looking around the restaurant. He hopes it is her first time here, that already they share something.
“Oh! I forgot this part,” Diane laughs and extends a hand across the table. “I’m Diane.”
Nathan takes the delicate appendage into both of his, shielding it, he hopes, from the heat of the votive candle on their table.
At dinner Nathan searches for the nausea-inducing tension he’s come to expect from prior experiences of first dates, but cannot find it. Like Nathan, Diane grew up in a small town with a fudge shoppe, a parking lot designated for hangouts, and school full of cruel children. Like Nathan, she misses none of it. Besides her dog.
“Ricky’s a lab. Seems crazy to keep him cooped up in a tiny studio apartment. He’d probably chew the walls or something. They’re really goofy, labs.” Nathan watches the tender expression with which she regards the wallet photo of Ricky as a puppy: a plush heart in his mouth, a young Diane draped around his neck, her cheek smushed against his ear. Nathan’s never been jealous of a dog before.
It’s midnight when dessert they didn’t order arrives with the check they didn’t request.
“Say it again.” Nathan, not much of a drinker, leans across the table to keep Diane’s mouth in focus.
“Karabiethes,” Diane bites into the plump butter cookie. She reaches across the table to feed him the other half but the darling gesture is spoiled by Nathan’s simultaneous attempt at pronunciation. The cookie slips from Diane’s fingers and into his glass of ouzo, inducing a howling laugh Nathan would like to bottle and be buried with.
Diane brushes the sugar from his lips and licks her fingers. She leans in, clears her throat.
“Kah,” she starts, and nods for him to follow.
“Rah,” he growls. She giggles.
Diane leans in just a little closer, this is the part he’s been struggling with. “Bye—” but Nathan steals the last of the syllable from her lips in a brazen attempt at romance. There, he tastes the bright spice of the cookie on her tongue. Heat roars down his throat, through his chest, and down his arms—specifically the right one, cupping Diane’s face across the table. When the feeling becomes unbearable Nathan discovers the candle on the table burning a hole through his sweater. Diane yelps as Nathan bats at his arm, the shock of pain salved immediately by Diane’s touch, her worried expression. The hostess shows them out with Metaxa in plastic coffee cups and ice wrapped in a dinner napkin.
Outside, Diane suggests Diane’s: a place that definitely contains the ingredients for an old-fashioned and probably contains a burn ointment. In the taxi, Nathan’s attention darts between Diane’s arm threaded through his scorched one and the memory of his last experience in bed with a woman: two floundering attempts at aiding her through a climax when it became apparent he wouldn’t rise to the occasion. He looks out of the window and finds nothing there.
“Hey,” Diane pinches his burned arm playfully. Nathan stifles a gasp. “Where’d you go?” Can she feel his muscle pulsing beneath the burn, beating into her palm, reaching for her?
“I think I should go home.”
Diane sighs out a laugh, knocks her knee into his. “Don’t do that, Nathan,” she says. “Just come. Have an old-fashioned, maybe do something about that burn, and try to feel something.”
In Diane’s modest studio, amid the season’s first snowstorm, Nathan discovers the strongest evidence for the existence of a higher power: a shared orgasm. He buckles under the gravity of this miracle and presses his forehead against Diane’s beating heart.
“I love you,” Nathan whispers to it. “I love you, I love you, I love you.”
For two months, every week from Thursday at six pm to Saturday at eleven am, the couple wanders from coffee shop to book shop to bridge. For the first time in his life, Nathan is grateful for his family’s indifference to the holidays: he spends Christmas bathing senile pitbulls at the Tender Mercies Animal Rescue Shelter and brings the New Year in with Diane on his shoulders, glitter in his eyes, a kazoo in his mouth. A kazoo!
One Saturday in bed Nathan confesses that he met Diane on his thirtieth birthday, that it was the sixth one he’d spent alone. It’s yeah, a little weird, Nathan admits, to have no witnesses on such a day, no one to acknowledge your life, the difference it has made, year after year. But really—Nathan thinks aloud watching her belly rise and fall, his ear pressed to her rib—the last two years have been an improvement as far as acceptance is concerned. He lifts his head from her chest to thank her for just being here, witness to this. To him. But she turns away.
“Did I say something wrong?”
“I’m ten to your six,” Diane mutters.
“Ten to my six,” he fumbles for context.
A decade spent all by yourself. Nathan senses for the first time that Diane is hiding, refusing to look at him. Refusing, he realizes, to let what binds them bind them further. How else could you make reverse engineering loneliness your life’s work? It takes the loveless to know the loveless. Nathan carefully unfolds her arms, cups her cold hands in his. Vows silently to push through this.
“Diane,” he whispers, “I will never let you spend another anything alone.” And for a moment, it is as if Diane has malfunctioned. She blinks, squints into the sun of Nathan’s face, and cocks her head as if she were inspecting her own reflection. Then it is over. Diane rubs her eyes coarsely with her knuckles and yanks the blanket off their naked bodies.
“It’s ten to eleven,” she says. “You’re gonna be late.”
Nathan has offered to cover any and every shift at Print Palace, struggling to meet the weekly bills sent in heavy black envelopes the shop keeps in stock exclusively for First Cut Inc. Mr. Finick calls to warn that more than a week of outstanding dues will result in immediate termination of the contract and Nathan applies for his first personal loan, but just as a formality. Sure, there might be some bureaucratic wrist slapping but Mr. Finick isn’t in this relationship. He doesn’t see what Nathan sees.
Take just a week ago, when on his way home from work, Nathan wanted to surprise Diane with a cake for her twenty-second birthday. The couple had decided to re-celebrate their lonely birthdays together, a kind of re-writing of history. Nathan was on Diane’s third out of ten when he found her sobbing in her building lobby beneath the mailboxes, produce spilled out around her. Ricky, the chocolate lab, died suddenly and her parents had sent the cremation bill as notification of the tragedy. After several failed attempts to shoo Nathan out of the building, away from her grief, Diane finally let him gather the tangerines dotting the lobby and help her up the stairs. At her apartment door, Diane tried once again to send him away, but Nathan proclaimed that if her happiness was his to partake in so must her anguish be, and Diane, exhausted or inspired by his dogged love, stepped aside to let him carry the bruised citrus into the kitchen.
Sunday morning James shows up at Print Palace. “I’ve been trying to reach you all weekend.” James gestures to the phone in Nathan’s hand—the one he’s using to gather a list of animal rescue shelters—and drops a duffle on the floor. He needs a place to stay; rocks again.
“Well, she’s throwing the D word around. But probably just rocks again.”
Nathan knows he should say no, that he’d be justified considering he can’t recall a single phone call from James that wasn’t out of need. But he’s not the one being threatened with divorce, and he’s only got one brother, and it is better to lead by example. So of course James can stay.
That evening Nathan invites Diane to dinner at James’s request, though he leaves that part out. It’s a Sunday, out of their schedule, but to Nathan’s surprise she agrees. “You’re cooking, aren’t you,” she teases. An inside joke, one of many. He can hear her smiling over the phone. This sound, this chime-sound of her pleasure, this will linger like a phantom ache in Nathan’s ears for months and months and months.
Diane arrives with Nathan’s twenty-seventh birthday cake—an impressive portrait of his favorite Beach Boy, Brian Wilson, rendered in icing. She’s greeted with a, “Hey now, little buddy. She’s really real!” Nathan carries the cake into the kitchen and knows he’s made a mistake.
“So what do you do? Besides be the center of this guy’s world?” James nudges at Nathan, meat in his mouth. Dinner is Italian takeout, James’s request.
“I work in research and development.” Diane spears the peas in a bowl of bowtie pasta, Nathan can almost feel the razors in her mouth.
“Me too,” James says. Nathan tries to connect the selling of used cars to the selling first love and falls short.
“Tell us about it,” Diane says, and the rest of the evening is like this. James details one failed venture (“a social networking thing”) after another (“stag parties abroad”) that’s led to a sort of “between companies gig” at a car dealership in Newark that ended just a few days ago. His boss can’t handle that James is a married man and his wife can’t handle that James is a wanted man, if Diane knows what he means.
“Like a Chinese finger trap, marriage.” He winks at Diane. Nathan exhales and offers to clear the dishes. James checks his phone.
Late into the evening, after several failed attempts to send his baby brother off for a sixpack, James polishes off the Montepulciano and confesses to Diane that for a little bit there, he thought Nathan was just making her up. Before he could get to the hilarious story about accidentally porking Nathan’s bagel girl, Diane cites an early morning.
Outside, Nathan leaps into traffic for a cab. Diane sits on the building steps. A taxi honks him out of the way.
“Do you know how I learned to swim?” Diane taps a Zippo against the iron handrail. Nathan’s never seen her smoke before. “We were visiting family in Michigan for Christmas. I was six. My older brother wanted to go ice skating on a lake near the house. Just to be safe, he tested the ice by pushing me onto it. I slid a few feet from the shore and the ice cracked immediately. From the waist down I was the color of a bruise when the neighbors pulled me out with rope. For two weeks after that I refused to go near a sink, I was so terrified of water. Then one night I got in the tub, turned the water on, and sobbed until it got boring. In sixth grade I became a lifeguard for the school swimming pool.” She flicks her cigarette into the street and stands up. A black towncar has pulled up to the curb. “People use you because you let them, Nathan. You present yourself as a tool and they use you. It’s not personal, it’s survival. Thanks for dinner.” She kisses his cheek and gets in the car.
When Nathan comes back upstairs James is in the kitchen with a piece of Diane’s cake on a plate.
“Store-bought,” James shrugs. “But it’s the thought that counts, right?”
The next day Nathan calls Mr. Finick. Diane hasn’t replied to any of his texts.
“You got the Code of Conduct Manual handy?”
“I’m at work.” Nathan hopes this will evoke some sympathy.
“When you get home, take a look at, let’s see here…”
Nathan looks around the closet converted to an Employees and Mrs. Rollins Only bathroom. When Nathan explained Mrs. Rollins to Diane she showed up at the woman’s door with a lime green parrot in a box claiming she had just moved in and found the poor thing squawking around her fire escape, trying to get inside. Were there any tenants with a parrot in the building?
The following week Mrs. Rollins was back at Print Palace for her flyers, late for a hairdresser’s appointment and not in the mood for the stupid little man’s antics. When Nathan told Diane, she shrugged. “Happiness is like that.”
“Like a missing parrot squawking on someone’s fire escape.”
“Imaginary?” Nathan asked.
“Oh, here we go, ” Mr. Finick clears his throat. “Section nine, page twenty-seven. No family visits, or formal family events unless explicitly discussed, agreed upon the terms of, and revised in contract.”
Nathan squeezes his eyes shut. What happens now?
“What happens now is this is grounds for immediate termination of contract.”
“No, I don’t think—Diane came on Sunday and that’s outside of our schedule—I think she’s feeling—”
“Son,” Mr. Finick clears his throat and cuts off the spigot of Nathan’s speech. “Off-schedule visits, assuming they’re convenient and abide by the company rules, are charged by the hour at a golden-hour rate listed in the Exceptions, Exemptions, and Accommodations section toward the end of the manual. It should be relatively simple to calculate.”
Nathan bumps the back of his head against the wall once, twice.
“Look, I have work. Let me get back to you later, okay? Oh! While I have you…” Mr. Finick places a refill order for the First Cut Inc business cards.
When he gets home to find his brother on the couch, clipping his toenails into a take-out container, Nathan sits down beside him and explains that James is going to have to go. It’s not working out.
James grins. “She dumped you? Oh, buddy. Well I said it before: plenty more! Fuck her.”
Nathan lunges at James. With his fists clenching James’s jersey, Nathan lodges his knuckles into his brother’s throat and repeats himself, inches from James’s face, saliva frothing from the edges of his mouth. Afterward, Nathan sits on the couch and watches his brother haunt the corners of the living room for scattered socks, muttering what he’s afraid to shout.
Hope flickers across his screen in the dead of night: Diane texts to schedule a dinner date. She hopes he’s well :). Nathan curses himself for having doubted her and thinks to call Mr. Finick if only to say, “Told you so!” He spends the gap week in rescue shelters, searching for Ricky’s replacement, buzzing with the manic joy of a second wind. On his tour of the Tender Mercies Animal Rescue Shelter, Nathan stops in front of a rattling cage and watches a chestnut-colored mutt hurtling its little body against the bars, trying to pry the lock open with its teeth. The shelter volunteer warns that this little guy is… a lot of work. Probably the lab in him.
Nathan arrives at Pandora twenty minutes early. It gives him plenty of time to beg the hostess to house Diane’s gift in the manager’s office. She remembers Nathan when he yanks at his sleeve to show her the egg-shaped scar from his burn. The puppy squirms under Nathan’s arm, reaching for something to gnaw on, his paws splashing helplessly in the air. The hostess, an aspiring screenwriter and a lover of happy endings, sneaks Nathan past the velvet curtain when he tells her it’s his first three-month anniversary.
Diane arrives fifteen minutes late and gives him a cheek, cold and dry from the windy March weather. Nathan tries to force eye contact; he’s hungry for any affirmation of their last three months together. Hungry for the moment when Diane stared into his eyes, naked in bed, before they shared a single good birthday memory. Diane settles opposite him, orders a tea, and keeps her coat on.
“Nathan,” she begins.
Mr. Finick calls to apologize for any bodily harm dealt to Nathan during the contract termination procedure and reminds him that the First Cut Inc Post-Contract-Termination-Care Manual recommends fiber and physical exercise, so perhaps Kevin the Puppy is a blessing in disguise. His brother visited and promptly fled the apartment—Nathan’s evening keening ritual coupled with Kevin’s teething has made the place uninhabitable. If it were not for the puppy’s demanding to be the center of his surrogate father’s world, Nathan knows he would disappear into the bottomless pit of his anguish. For the third week in a row, Nathan exceeds the recommended dose of sleeping pills—his portal to Diane playing kazoo, Diane inspecting citrus in the supermarket, Diane laughing before a birthday cake. But every morning Nathan is jolted awake by the rapidly growing animal, feverish with need, and thrusted into the raw wound of his life, beating with feeling for the first time.
Darina (Dasha) Sikmashvili was born in Lubny, Ukraine, and raised in Brooklyn, New York, where she moved at age eight. Her writing has been awarded the Hopwood Prize, the Kasdan Scholarship, and the Henfield Prize, among others. She was a 2019 grant recipient from the Can Sarrat Writing Residency, a 2021 grant recipient from the Laimun Residency, and a 2022 scholar at the Sewanee Writers Conference. Before pursuing an MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan, Darina worked in film production for over a decade. Her writing has appeared in Hobart, The Common, and Fence, among others. She’s working on a novel. www.sikmashvili.com