By: Curtis Sittenfeld
December 25, 2019

One in an ongoing, seasonal series via which we cross-post stories originally written — by HILOBROW contributors and friends — for Josh Glenn and Rob Walker’s 2009–2010 anthropological-literary experiment SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS. This 2019–2020 installment of 12 stories will bring the series total to 60.

See below for links to more info about both SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS and PROJECT:OBJECT.



It’s not that I think I married the wrong man. Because really, how can any of us make a decision except as the person we are in a particular moment? I met Larry and Ronald less than two weeks apart, when I was nineteen. After high school, I’d moved into an apartment with a couple girlfriends from St. Agnes Academy, and we all thought we were very sophisticated, living on our own like that; Bernadette used to grow alfalfa sprouts in pantyhose in the tub. This was in ’68, and I was working as a switchboard operator at a bank downtown. I met Ronald through a girl from work — he was the girl’s cousin — and Larry I met on the bus riding home one day. I was carrying an orchid plant I’d bought for the apartment, and he asked if I considered myself a flower child.

I dated them both, but not in a loose way if you know what I mean. That’s how it was then — my girlfriends all dated more than one man at the same time, too. I liked Ronald better because he was taller and because it was harder for me to guess where things stood with him; I had to work to draw him out. Larry just flat-out adored me. He’d always compliment my outfit, and once when he said my perfume smelled nice, I told him in kind of a haughty way that I didn’t wear perfume, it was just shampoo. At the movies he’d take my hand even before the trailers had ended. When he picked me up for a date, he’d mention whatever he’d seen or done since we’d last been together that had reminded him of me — a song he’d heard on the radio, for instance, or these spotted dogs, which he gave me after we’d been going out a couple months.

Part of the way I got Ronald to propose was by hinting that Larry might do it first, and that I’d say yes if he did. If I’m being honest, I can admit that while Larry did sometimes angle toward the topic of marriage, I’d always change the subject. I didn’t want him to propose, maybe because I really wouldn’t have known what to do but accept. Ronald and I had been married about three years when I heard that Larry and Bernadette, my old alfalfa-sprout-growing roommate, were engaged. I was pregnant then with Jenny, our second daughter, so this news didn’t register much with me. Well, time passed — almost forty years, which just floors me to think about — and last spring Larry and Bernadette moved into a house one street over from ours. They’d been living in the western suburbs, so I’d hardly laid eyes on either of them all those years, and suddenly, at any hour of the day I can now see into the back of their house from the back of ours — they’re not directly behind us, but they’re only two lots down, so it’s impossible not to notice if their lights are on or not.

Back when we lived together, Bernadette was so weight-conscious that she wouldn’t lick stamps or envelopes because she said it was wasted calories, but she’s gotten hefty since then. This is the thing, though — she and Larry sometimes stroll around the block in the evening, and I can see out our front window that they’re holding hands, that when he turns to talk to her, the expression on his face is of pure devotion. Why didn’t I understand when I was young how rare his kindness was, why was I so intent on shoving it out of my way?

Ronald and I have had a perfectly fine marriage, and he’s a responsible husband and father, but we’ve never had much to say to each other; we eat dinner watching the local news. It’s clear enough now that what I thought was a mystery in him worth teasing out is just a kind of flatness.

Again, it’s not that I’m unhappy, but I will say that when I open the drawer of the dressing table where I keep these little dogs, they’re such an unsettling reminder that sometimes just seeing them, my breath catches.


CROSS-POSTED FROM SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS: Matthew Battles on CANDYLAND | Patrick Cates on MEAT TENDERIZER | Matthew De Abaitua on PIGGY BANK | Mark Frauenfelder on JUG | Jason Grote on DOME DOLL | Mimi Lipson on HALSTON MUG | Annie Nocenti on JFK BUST | Gary Panter on DIVE MASK | James Parker on KITTY SAUCER | Greg Rowland on MUSHROOM SHAKER | Luc Sante on FLANNEL BALL | Douglas Wolk on PORTABLE HAIR DRYER | Annalee Newitz on COCONUT CUP | Cintra Wilson on TROPHY | Jen Collins on UNCOLA GLASS | Joanne McNeil on GRAIN THING | Jonathan Lethem on MISSOURI SHOTGLASS | Sarah Weinman on UNICORN FIGURINE | Shelley Jackson on CRUMB SWEEPER | Barbara Bogaev on JUST MARRIED CUP | Dan Reines on FRIDAY MUG | Jenny Offill on MINIATURE TURKEY DINNER | Katie Hennessey on WOODEN FIGURINE | James Hannaham on NAPKIN RING | Bruce Sterling on METAL BOOT | Colson Whitehead on WOODEN MALLET | Jenny Davidson on TOY HOT DOG | Kate Bernheimer on PINK HORSE | Lydia Millet on CHILI CAT | Matthew Sharpe on MULE FIGURINE | Meg Cabot on WOODEN ANIMAL | Sara Ryan on POPSICLE STICK CONSTRUCTION | Ed Park on COW VASE | Jessica Helfand on ELVIS CHOCOLATE TIN | Sheila Heti on CAPE COD SHOE | William Gibson on “HAWK” ASHTRAY | Ben Greenman on SMILING MUG | Dean Haspiel on KENTUCKY DISH | Doug Dorst on RUSSIAN FIGURE | Kurt Andersen on SANTA NUTCRACKER | Matt Brown on CRUMPTER | Chris Adrian on KANGAMOUSE | Nicholson Baker on MEAT THERMOMETER| Rachel Axler on FORTUNE TELLING DEVICE | Sean Howe on PABST BOTTLE OPENER | Susannah Breslin on NECKING TEAM BUTTON | Tim Carvell on ROUND BOX | Susanna Daniel on SHARK AND SEAL PENS | Curtis Sittenfeld on SPOTTED DOGS FIGURINE | Matthew Klam on DUCK VASE | Merrill Markoe on FLIP-FLOP FRAME | Blake Butler on UTAH SNOW GLOBE | Neil LaBute on RABBIT CANDLE | Rob Agredo on LIGHTER SHAPED LIKE SMALL POOL BALL | Rosecrans Baldwin on PRAYING HANDS | Rob Baedeker on FOPPISH FIGURINE | Scarlett Thomas on BIRTHDAY CANDLES | Wayne Koestenbaum on DUCK NUTCRACKER | Jeff Turrentine on “WOMEN & INFANTS” GLASS | Joe Lyons on LETTERS AND NUMBERS PLATE

SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS at HILOBROW: PROJECT:OBJECT homepage | PROJECT:OBJECT newsletter | PROJECT:OBJECT objects (Threadless shop — all profits donated to the ACLU) | POLITICAL OBJECTS series (1Q2017) | TALISMANIC OBJECTS series (2Q2017) | ILLICIT OBJECTS series (3Q2017) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 1 series (4Q2017) | FLAIR series (2Q2018) | FOSSIL series (4Q2018). 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 MORE DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE (AGAIN) | ANOTHER 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE . ALSO SEE: SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS website | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS collection, ed. Rob Walker and Josh Glenn (Fantagraphics, 2012) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY, ed. Josh Glenn (Princeton Architectural Press, 2007) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY excerpts.

CURATED SERIES at HILOBROW: UNBORED CANON by Josh Glenn | CARPE PHALLUM by Patrick Cates | MS. K by Heather Kasunick | HERE BE MONSTERS by Mister Reusch | DOWNTOWNE by Bradley Peterson | #FX by Michael Lewy | PINNED PANELS by Zack Smith | TANK UP by Tony Leone | OUTBOUND TO MONTEVIDEO by Mimi Lipson | TAKING LIBERTIES by Douglas Wolk | STERANKOISMS by Douglas Wolk | MARVEL vs. MUSEUM by Douglas Wolk | NEVER BEGIN TO SING by Damon Krukowski | WTC WTF by Douglas Wolk | COOLING OFF THE COMMOTION by Chenjerai Kumanyika | THAT’S GREAT MARVEL by Douglas Wolk | LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE by Chris Spurgeon | IMAGINARY FRIENDS by Alexandra Molotkow | UNFLOWN by Jacob Covey | ADEQUATED by Franklin Bruno | QUALITY JOE by Joe Alterio | CHICKEN LIT by Lisa Jane Persky | PINAKOTHEK by Luc Sante | ALL MY STARS by Joanne McNeil | BIGFOOT ISLAND by Michael Lewy | NOT OF THIS EARTH by Michael Lewy | ANIMAL MAGNETISM by Colin Dickey | KEEPERS by Steph Burt | AMERICA OBSCURA by Andrew Hultkrans | HEATHCLIFF, FOR WHY? by Brandi Brown | DAILY DRUMPF by Rick Pinchera | BEDROOM AIRPORT by “Parson Edwards” | INTO THE VOID by Charlie Jane Anders | WE REABSORB & ENLIVEN by Matthew Battles | BRAINIAC by Joshua Glenn | COMICALLY VINTAGE by Comically Vintage | BLDGBLOG by Geoff Manaugh | WINDS OF MAGIC by James Parker | MUSEUM OF FEMORIBILIA by Lynn Peril | ROBOTS + MONSTERS by Joe Alterio | MONSTOBER by Rick Pinchera | POP WITH A SHOTGUN by Devin McKinney | FEEDBACK by Joshua Glenn | 4CP FTW by John Hilgart | ANNOTATED GIF by Kerry Callen | FANCHILD by Adam McGovern | BOOKFUTURISM by James Bridle | NOMADBROW by Erik Davis | SCREEN TIME by Jacob Mikanowski | FALSE MACHINE by Patrick Stuart | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 MORE DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE (AGAIN) | ANOTHER 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | UNBORED MANIFESTO by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen | H IS FOR HOBO by Joshua Glenn | 4CP FRIDAY by guest curators


Original Fiction