The Brilliant Woman: A Fable by Letitia Trent

The Brilliant Woman: A Fable

A woman who calls herself nothing special often sleeps with a man at the edges of fame, a record producer who lives in large, confident gestures, who buys expensive champagne and makes her feel alive but also makes her anxious, so she always leaves him to go back to her husband, who is a steady, kind man, but not the usual beige cuckold in middle management that you find in this kind of story. He’s an artist, a quiet one, dedicated to something outside of himself, but never fully present. She likes this about him.

The record producer is in a turbulent relationship with a troubled musician, a brilliant woman. Her black hair rises around her head in a halo. She wears a great deal of eye makeup. When she’s angry, she breaks her guitar and then the next day buys a new one, tearfully. He breaks her heart by leaving her for a comfortable weekend with the first woman, nothing special, who never makes him feel as though his gestures go unnoticed. He likes nothing special because with her, he feels young and impressive. Neither of them are exactly young. Nothing special has wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and snores in her sleep now. He imagines the sound must be the failing structures inside her face, age collapsing her from the inside. He’s fascinated by her aging. When he looks at her aging he cannot see his own.

The brilliant woman, in her sadness, drags herself into a hole and from that hole she pulls a song, and then another. She makes an album. Her body is hollow. She itches. She wakes up to find a hank of hair on her pillow. She stands on a stage and hands hold her up as she sings the songs that are brilliant but bring her back each time to the edge of the hole. She doesn’t understand why she keeps going back to the hole because really, had she cared that much for this loud man, endearing in the way a boy on a skateboard can be endearing? She has mistaken the man for something else she’s lost but she can’t find the original thing.

Nothing special hears the song on the radio, hears mention of another woman, and knows she’s the other woman. This warms her. It feels better than being with the man, whose texts she stops answering. Her artist husband smiles at her and touches her face because she’s flushed with something and it makes her beautiful. She’s filled with things he can’t understand, and when she’s like this, that’s when he
loves her. He writes a poem about how you can fuck a person for years but they are still a mystery, and how is that possible? Nothing special writes articles about the brilliant woman’s album, praising its brilliance. She meets the woman, whose ballet flats are frayed, whose face is full of new lines and bones. She’s trying to kill
herself, which astonishes nothing special. How could you want to die once you’ve made something beautiful?

But the brilliant woman wants to die. She cannot help it: that urge to drive your car over a cliff or throw your new baby out the window or take the steak knife in your hand and rub it lengthwise across your wrist. It’s a force beyond her control, like how a beat can hijack your heart or a contraction makes you double over. But she’s got a song to sing almost every night and the song creates a dull, warm light in her chest that brings her through till the morning. She takes a medication that’s no longer a medication.

The nothing special woman is warm and motherly, she smells like vanilla, and when she comes with comfort and adoration, the brilliant woman has the clear, mad thought this is my real mother.

The nothing special woman begins to live with the brilliant woman. She manages her social media accounts. She takes a picture of the woman eating an orange on a beach and posts it moments before the brilliant woman vomits blood and oranges onto the sand and begs to go home, the sunshine makes her ill. Nothing special soothes her and tucks her into bed, smoothing the covers. She never felt much like being a mother but mothering a woman her age, already brilliant, who has written a song about her without knowing it, this is a love she can manage.

At the end, the brilliant woman, now also the dying woman, crawls out of bed with her last strength to tell the nothing special woman that she loves her, that nobody has ever been so selfless, and nothing special watches her breathing become labored. As it ends, she takes a picture, this one only for herself, of the brilliant woman’s opened mouth, her fingers as they pressed hard into the plush carpet. It is
not a joy to see the brilliant woman dead but nothing special feels something like joy anyway. I’m better at something than you, is the thought that comes to her, and then she calls the man who broke the brilliant woman’s heart. They both cry together in genuine sadness as the paramedics cover her body with a sheet.

Nothing special goes back to her artist husband, who shows her a series of visual poems he’s created, titled I’ll Never Know You. She holds him and apologizes for her absence, though the absence was what he loved, was what she loved, was what the brilliant woman crawled into to find the songs, was what the man with large gestures
held inside them, holding it as another might hold a hand, a baby, a collection of love letters with no address to send them, so they become love letters to the imaginary beloved, the best beloved, the only beloved there ever is.


The Brilliant Woman a Fable


Letitia Trent’s work includes the novels Almost Dark and Echo Lake and the poetry collections Match Cut (Fall of 2018) and One Perfect Bird. Her work has appeared in Fence, Waxwing, 32 Poems, and SmokeLong Quarterly. She has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and The Vermont Studio Center. Trent lives in the Ozarks with her husband, son, and three black cats.


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