What she remembers most clearly is the dark, wide, wooden staircase—not the gray-haired doctor or his bare-bones second-floor office or the cruel thing he said or the ride back to her college town beside the more-or-less stranger who’d promised it would be no big deal and they would go for Chinese food afterward. She barely remembers the weeks of bleeding or the unhelpful, unpleasant visit to the clinic, though she does remember her lab partner from summer school sitting by her bedside for hours that first weekend, looking worried and very sad. She also remembers her spring-and-summer boyfriend arriving in her college town weeks earlier, as the leaves turned russet, somehow knowing, somehow realizing—had she told him? what had she told him?—and handing her four hundred dollars. No questions, no pleading, no insistence. A very decent guy.

No, it’s the staircase that imprinted itself on her mind, its darkness and wornness and the way it loomed and then her difficulty descending it, weak and stunned and reeling. But no, no regrets. The alternatives were too dismal.


Formerly an art historian and curator, Avis Lang is the coauthor, with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, of the New York Times bestseller Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military (W. W. Norton, 2018). She has spent decades recasting the writings of friends and strangers, both as a senior editor at Natural History magazine and as a freelance copy editor. Her stories and creative nonfiction have appeared in The Racket Journal and New Millennium; a speculative tale by her and Tyson appeared in Orca.