Once and Again...Once Again

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Summary of Letting Go

by Angela Stockton
edited by Larramie Kertis

Near closing time one evening, Lily enters My Sister's Bookstore, where Judy is dolefully counting up the day's meager receipts, all $69.00 worth. Lily has not been inside the store since their father's death, and the first thing that catches her eye is the well-filled bargain bin. She asks Judy why it contains so many books which she thinks can still be sold at full price.

Defensively, Judy replies that they're outdated, and the bookstore is overstocked anyway. It's not just the bookstore, she adds: there's too much "stuff" in her apartment, her car, even her clothes closet. She's feeling oppressed by it all.

Lily has come to invite Judy out to dinner, but Judy begs off, citing a backlog of bookkeeping chores. She asks for a rain check: "Tomorrow night I have to fend for myself -- I mean, you know, I'm free." Her stammer goes unnoticed by Lily, who agrees that they can visit the rib place tomorrow night instead.

As soon as Lily leaves, Judy locks the front door and goes to a back room. A shadowy figure at the service entrance startles her momentarily, but when he moves into the light, Judy is clearly not surprised that it's Sam. They embrace and kiss.

[In an interview, Judy says, "I don't know what to say. Not that there's not a lot to say. There's a lot to say....I don't want to break the spell."]

At Judy's apartment, Judy and Sam make love with a roughness utterly unlike the sweet gentleness typical of Rick and Lily; Sam pushes Judy against the headboard and, with arms flailing, she accidentally lands a resounding slap on his jaw. Mortified, she apologizes, although Sam laughs it off and she laughs with him.

As they wind down, Sam tells Judy that she looks about twelve years old. He asks her for a photograph of herself as a child, and promises to give her an old photo of himself. Too soon, however, Sam must go home to his wife. ["And then it's always broken for me," Judy says wistfully.]

The next day, Grace visits pagesAlive.com to interview her mother for a school project about Earth Day. Tone deaf as ever, Christie offers condolences to Grace (whom she initially calls "Zoe") on the death of her grandfather, and then gratuitously comments that she can't stand her own grandfather and it's too bad he wasn't the one who died.

While Grace grills Lily about her commitment to fight global warming, Lily tries to steer the conversation to Jake. Grace curtly refuses to talk about him. [In an interview, Grace says she'd rather not think about "the thing with my dad and Tiffany."]

Later in the day, Lily visits Rick at his office. Although Rick is clearly not well -- he is sneezing and has clogged sinuses -- Lily is less concerned with his cold than with the cold war between Grace and Jake. When she frets that she doesn't know what to do, Rick advises that she do nothing. Lily decides that she will let Grace work things out for herself.

On his way home, Rick stops in a convenience store to stock up on cold remedies and meets Sam, who is buying condoms. Assuming that Sam is also headed home, and oblivious to his old friend's wary glances toward the door, Rick engages him in conversation. Suddenly Judy bounds into the store, giggling and waving strips of Sam-and-Judy photo portraits taken at a coin-operated booth. Too late she notices Rick, who immediately puts two and two together.

Once Rick has left, Sam assures Judy that Rick won't tell Lily, but Judy is afraid to leave this to chance. She runs after Rick and pleads with him not to tell Lily -- or as she spins it, "She's my sister, I should do it." Only too happy to not be involved, Rick agrees and drives off.

Sitting in Sam's truck, Judy expresses relief that it wasn't Sam's wife, Janine, who caught them. Even so, spending the night together has lost its appeal for them both. [In her interview, Judy admits, "I know we couldn't stay in our perfect little bubble. Bubbles break, otherwise we wouldn't call them bubbles."]

Grace and Zoe are at Jake's apartment for the night. While Grace is discussing global warming with her father (and terrifying Zoe with doomsday predictions that Chicago will become a desert), Jake brings up "my extramarital relationship." Grace bluntly corrects him, "About you cheating on Mom while you were still married." Though civil to Jake, she rebuffs all his attempts to converse with her about that topic.

The following day, Judy and Lily are having lunch in the bookstore when Judy says, "There's something going on I need to share with you." But she's interrupted by Mali's arrival, and Lily interprets her hesitation as lingering grief over their father's death. Even after Judy insists, "It's not about Daddy," Lily babbles on about her own grief, and how Judy's extended mourning is causing her to mismanage the bookstore. Frustrated, Judy gives up.

That evening, when Lily arrives at Rick's apartment after having dinner with Judy, she declares that she can't talk to her sister because, when she tries, "a movie-screen projection of a fifty-foot Lily shaking a finger at her" is all that Judy sees. "How can she not see what she's doing?" she demands.

"Obviously, she has lots of feelings for him," Rick responds -- which means nothing to Lily, as he belatedly realizes. Lily is shocked to learn from Rick that the "him" of Judy's feelings is Sam, and that their relationship has moved far beyond a mere flirtation. Rick explains that he just learned about it himself, he hadn't told her because Judy said she would, and he assumed that she had told Lily at their dinner.

While Lily is at Rick's, the girls spend another evening with Jake. Grace again rebuffs his conversational overtures. Father and daughters are all surprised when Tiffany lets herself into the apartment with her own key; seeing the girls there, she is embarrassed at having forgotten which night Jake would be alone. While Zoe is, as always, delighted to see her, Grace is chilly. When Tiffany offers to leave and Jake urges her to stay, Grace is appalled.

[Grace explains, in an interview, that when her father said he wanted to talk to her, she expected him to admit that he did something wrong. Instead, it's clear that he wants her to exonerate him, since he appears to have no intention of breaking up with Tiffany.]

When Lily drops by Judy's apartment the next day, her attempt to talk about Sam puts Judy on the defensive, and she accuses Lily of calling her "a terrible feminist and a self-destructive slut." When the telephone rings, Judy doesn't answer. To her dismay, the caller is Sam, who describes on her answer machine, in graphic language which Lily also hears, how much he misses her.

The following morning, while the girls prepare for school, Lily is on the telephone with Jake, discussing Grace's refusal to talk to him. Lily berates him for having Tiffany over and suggests that this may be part of the problem. When Jake wearily says it's never going to go away, Lily retorts, "You should have thought about what you were doing before you told me you were staying out late to play racquetball" -- his standard alibi for the occasions when he was seeing other women.

At school, Grace is cool to Jared, who cannot understand why her preoccupation with problems at home should affect their friendship. Too proud to plead, he immediately turns his attention to another girl.

Sorting through old photos, Judy selects one of herself as an eight-year-old to give Sam, whom she expects that night. He arrives late, explaining that Janine, in a sudden housecleaning frenzy, had drafted him to help her turn the mattresses, "one in our bedroom, one in the guest room that nobody ever uses," among other chores. Judy is upset by Sam's offhanded admission that he and Janine, who supposedly don't love each other any more, share the same bed. When Judy and Sam make love, she is so "jangly" (Sam's description) that he becomes alarmed.

Afterward, Sam gives Judy a photo of himself as a little boy on his first bicycle, which she posts on her refrigerator, and asks again for a photo of her. She asks archly if he plans to post it on his refrigerator, and if he wants to know what's happening in her life, or if he ever wonders if she's sleeping with someone else. He insists that he hasn't had sex with his wife in a long time, even when "this morning for some reason she wanted to." She complains that as his mistress, she isn't allowed to question him; he replies that she's not his mistress and he loves her.

Jake telephones his daughters' house and Zoe answers. He asks for Grace, who tells Zoe to lie and say she's not there. Zoe refuses and forces the telephone on Grace. When Jake tries to explain about Tiffany, Grace cuts him off with the excuse that she has to finish her Earth Day project. Jake tells her, "I love you," to which she perfunctorily responds, "I love you, too," before hanging up.

At the bookstore, Judy informs Lily that she no longer wants to run the store, or even own it, because "it's too lonely" and with Sam's help, she hopes to become a photographer's assistant. Lily points out that Judy is "jettisoning things left and right," first marking down books, now proposing to sell the entire store. If her boyfriend could be with her openly, Lily suggests, maybe she wouldn't be so lonely.

This argument is interrupted by a call from Eli, telling Lily that Rick is in the hospital with pneumonia. She rushes to his bedside, where she apologizes for having taken him for granted throughout the past year, the worst of her life, when he has always been there for her. She promises to try to make it up to him. Rick, not as debilitated as he appears, impishly invites her to climb into bed with him.

Through the front window of the bookstore, Judy sees Grace standing outside in a downpour. Taking her inside, she wraps Grace in a quilt and listens to her vent her anger. Barely hearing when Judy insists that Jake loves her, Grace cries that he's not the person she thought he was; the difference between her perception of his character and the reality is as different as the change in her grandpa: alive one day, gone the next.

"I think the hardest thing about growing up is you sorta find out that people are just people," Judy agrees.

"Not all people," Grace protests. "You're not like that!"

"I'm afraid I am," Judy answers sadly.

Grace declares that she no longer wants Jake to walk her down the aisle at her wedding. Judy, who will never be walked down an aisle by her own father, is deeply affected by Grace's agony.

Judy takes her niece home, where Lily thanks Judy for helping Grace; Judy says it was the other way around. Having heard from Grace about Rick's illness, Judy asks about him. From Lily's happy glow, when she responds, Judy infers that Lily wants to marry him. Lily admits that he hasn't asked her, but that if he did, she wouldn't be able to say no.

Jake comes to the house and Grace immediately goes to her room. Jake follows her and angrily tells her that he is still her father and she has to learn to deal with her problem concerning his adultery. She reminds him that he was late for a parent-teacher conference the year before, and when he did arrive, his hair was wet.

For Grace, Lily's reference to racquetball in her recent telephone conversation with Jake was a missing puzzle piece. She tells her father that she saw him with his hair wet many times last year, and she no longer believes that in every instance, it was from taking a shower after playing racquetball. Not only is she now convinced (despite his denial) that he came to her parent-teacher conference after being with another woman, she has to re-examine every occasion when she saw him with wet hair and decide whether or not he was lying then.

"You didn't just cheat on Mom," she says coldly. "You want to just come up here and fix it -- well, it isn't fixed."

Waiting downstairs, Judy remarks that every act of every person causes ripples. "I'm getting seasick from the ripples," Lily complains.

[In her interview, Judy compares her life to driving a car, but always with another car ahead of her so that she can't see the road. Since her father's death, the other car has disappeared, and she is in front "in my own stupid car."]

The next time Sam visits her apartment, Judy tells him that she's never loved anyone the way she loves him, but that they're not free to love each other, and that he must go and make a decision. When he protests, "I don't know if I'm ready to do that right now," Judy realizes that his decision has already been made. He leaves.

Alone again, Judy looks at the old photo she had chosen to give Sam. Eight-year-old Judy seems to come alive and prattle about the honeymoon she plans to spend in Venice, and about all the qualities -- sense of humor, intelligence, niceness -- that she expects her future husband to have. The happy naivete of Judy the child tears at the adult Judy's older, sadder, and not entirely wiser heart.

The end.

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