“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked.

One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out.

I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

- Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
At nearly four in the morning, the streets were sparsely populated by the few either trying to get home or off to some thankless job that started them way too early – even in a busy city such as London. Even the few pubs that offered refuge for drunks well into the night had closed, and the storefronts Zofia passed were dark. After they had started dating, Connor was uncomfortable with her making that solitary commute night after night, offering to wake up and escort her home, and she had found it endearing, taking it for a joke before she realized he wasn't laughing along with her. Something inside her had bristled then, telling him in no uncertain terms that with God and Beyonce as her witness, she was more than capable of walking six blocks in the dark. But it was endearing nonetheless, especially given that before Connor there was Natalie, the junkie and before her, Charlie, the cheater; neither especially were preoccupied with any concern for her well-being.

Although she had never enjoyed being alone before, Zo had learned to savor the moments of solitude she could seize, between every night an adventure in serving drunks and a relationship that had progressed quickly to cohabitation. She enjoyed her chances to think to herself, even if nearly all of her thoughts inevitably led, like a well-traversed one way road, to a sense of dissatisfaction. It wasn't as though she wanted to 'apply herself' to finding a better job – something in an office, her mother meant; four off-white walls and stiff clothing that never felt like it would fit right – or that she longed for the days of dating addicts and assholes; but, ennui was as much a part of her as the dull ache in her legs from hours on days on weeks on months of working on her feet, thanklessly and barely scraping by.

The tightness of their collective belt that week had not escaped her notice. It occurred to her days ago that they did have a source she could ask for help, or at least get a free meal out of, but the unwanted house guest of queasiness in her stomach told her whenever she considered it to hold onto her pride and seek outside means. But she was tired – from a long shift, from listening to her fears – and realized she needed to at least consider calling her mother.

It had been eleven years since she and her mum had fought explosively, first over Zo’s decision to skip university all together, and eventually after exhausting that fight in particular, dredging up every negative thought they had toward each other. Roberta had been an immovable object and she, the unstoppable force, and when she finally ended up thrown out it had nearly felt like a relief in finally getting it over with. Both seemed afraid to go nuclear again, or at least Zofia regarded every infrequent meeting with wariness, anticipating at any moment for the détente to fall apart. Given her status as the family disappointment – Dom, making a name for himself at National Anthem and Ivan’s career in law and Juno about to take her A-Levels – Zo’s nights serving at a pub felt every bit as deserving of the contempt she was sure her mother felt for her.

As she climbed the stairs toward their shared flat, Zo realized she was decided – at least for now, though who knew if it her resolve would stand in the light of day. Although she held herself as quietly as she could, trying to hold onto her last few minutes to herself as herself, she could see Connor stirring as she stripped down to her t-shirt and settled on the still-cool side of the sheets, pressing her back against his chest.

“Hey,” he greeted quietly.

“Hey,” she answered, her fingers picking nervously at a loose thread in her pillowcase as she built up the courage to say, “I think I should take you to meet my mum this weekend.”

On a near empty stomach, swallowing her pride was almost palatable.

Her hair is the same electric blue as her jacket, not that she planned it that way. See, just last week her friend, Olivia said to her, “You need a change”, and she agreed of course and found herself right away hunched over a sink too small to be doing anything like that in while Olivia chatted nonstop like a real stylist would, working two bottles of blue dye that she already apparently had into Zo's already platinum dyed hair. The jacket wasn't even hers until forty minutes ago, when she found it abandoned on a bench in the tube station and yeah, Ellie Rose was probably right in calling her mental for nicking a stranger's forgotten shit, but it matched her hair and finders keepers was the law of the jungle Zo always observed so long as she was the one finding and keeping.

And since it's her jacket now, Zo feels absolutely no shame in digging through the pockets, waving the crumpled £5 notes she finds under Ellie's nose as she asks, “Who's mental now, bitch?” Even more exciting is the baggie of colorful tablets hidden in an inside pocket, each stamped to smile up at her and her now apprehensive friend.

“You don't know where those came from,” she says in a quite reasonable voice, but Zo rolls her eyes as though her doubts were stifling. The tube rocks slightly as she leans forward, cupping her face in both hands gently.

“It's a gift from the fun gods, Ellie,” she says, her tone lilting on the syllables of her name so that it comes out as a sing-song. “They're gutted you're being such a wet blanket right now.”

It's Ellie's turn to roll her eyes, but she swallows the tablet Zo places in her palm. It's not as strong as she'd like, truth be told, but who is she to complain about a such a pleasant and free surprise?

The party Zo shows up to DJ is an actual paying gig, not a shit house party whoever she's fucking that week is throwing, so there are actually important people there. She's built a name for herself, she likes to think, on the strength of her skills as a DJ – her ability to keep a crowd pumped and interactive, rather than simply bringing a laptop and hitting play on a playlist, her eclectic and wide-ranging music collection, and now her fucking cool aesthetic – but in truth, Zofia Allyne is a socialite and an occasional star-fucker keeping herself in designer clothes and drugs the same way other grungy looking socialites had before her.

She is, unsurprisingly, in no rush to leave after her allotted set and Ellie is at the bar, pressed against some guy Zo doesn't recognize. She hates whatever this second DJ is playing, though; it fades to a more palatable din when she slips into the toilets, something she can push out of mind. The woman at the sinks jerks up and even though Zo is more familiar with the sight of her haloed by spotlight, her brows knit for a second as recognition sets in – first, at the woman herself and then at the white powder she was currently bent over.

“Alright?” she says, trying to sound as casual as possible. She runs her tongue over her teeth as the woman nods back, letting her gaze drift over to the neatly cut lines once more. “Can I have a line?”

She almost expects her to say no and balk at sharing with this stranger when she has friends of her own to do drugs with, but she doesn't and Zo steps up to lean down. As far as free offerings go, this is the best that money can buy.

It's more than likely the cocktail coursing through her veins but as Zo waits for this amateur hour DJ's music to die down, she's able to chat like they're old friends, even pushing out a gaggle of girls who try to invade their space and keeping her back against the door to keep them, or anyone else, from coming back.

When she finally does return to Ellie's side, cutting off her immediate inquiry with, “Hey, I just did a line – with Eva Luton. The Eva Luton.”

“What a load of shite,” says the guy at Ellie's side; Zo had almost forgotten that he was there at all and fixed him with a charmless, empty smile. “You don't know me, I've got friends in high places.” She waits a beat, then laughs, too proud of her own apparent word play. “Literally.”

I have grown tired of what my fellow critics are calling the golden age of television. If anything, I want nothing more than to contest that statement –

If I’ve grown weary of the cynicism of prestige television, does that make me a glass half-empty or fully-empty kind of gal?

Don Draper and Walter White are gone, now can we exorcise existential man pain from our television screens?


We plan and God laughs.

Her nan used to say that, but then, she used to say a lot of things – tall tales convincing her and her brothers that they were descended from lost Russian royalty, a number of insults directed her mother’s way, her brief experiences singing the opera. But any time one Allyne or another seemed overconfident in their plans she’d remind them, we plan and god laughs.

“I don’t believe in god, baboushka,” Zofia answered one day in halting Russian over the phone; the plan she had just said, was for her to consider university in America, close to her father’s family. “Then He’s laughing at you the most,” was her nan’s stinging response.

Zo had always thought she avoided becoming the subject of some deity’s mirth by doing exactly as she said she would: applying to and attending university in the United States. She had even been accepted into the program she had wanted to at New York University, focusing on the business aspect of the music industry.

It is my goal to make sociology majors out of all of you, her professor announced on the first day of an introductory class.

“Yeah, right,” Zofia muttered under her breath, barely looking up from the doodle she had started on the syllabus; she barely knew her place in the university food chain, but one thing Zo felt all the way in her bones was that she was no one’s punch line. Except her nan wasn’t wrong, and neither was her professor. The introductory class was supposed to be just for credit, but after that she took another class in the discipline and then another until her guidance counselor eventually went, “Why don’t you minor in it? You have half the credits required for a minor.”

Her plan didn’t account for a minor discipline but it also didn’t account for one, so why not? She was still staying the course – the same course where she was forced to blend into the wallpaper in her internships and treated as though she had less value; wallpaper and women alike were just there for decoration, while male interns wrote blog posts and scouted for A&R.

We plan and God laughs; God, if She was out there, surely had a big, belly laugh the day Zofia decided not to follow the plan she had set in motion when she was fourteen, when she changed majors and eventually graduated with a degree in something else. It must have tickled God pink to see Zofia get into graduate school, as pink as her bloodshot eyes all the sleep deprived nights she curled up in a staked out corner of the library, half a forgotten chocolate pretzel hanging from her mouth as she typed, deleted, and typed again.

There was no room in Zofia’s initial plan for any more schooling, and yet and yet and yet –

“Guess where I am?” she asked immediately when Ivan picked up the phone.

“I don’t know,” he started, sounding every bit as exhausted as she did. They had always been different, but now … she had always known that Ivan was the family academic, but she didn’t think she had it in herself, too. “Outside? Remembering what sunlight looks like? For the both of us?”

“No, that’s too unrealistic,” she tutted. “They gave me an office, I have my name on the door and everything.”


“I mean, it’s – it’s in the basement, it’s kind of crappy, but you know.”

“But it’s an office. It’s yours.”

“Yeah, and you know what’s wild? They want me to teach a class in the summer term. Some, you know, three hour intro class no one else wants to teach but still – ”

“Oh, Jesus, I can’t decide if you’re going to be the fun teacher or the biggest hard-ass they’ve ever seen.” “A little of both,” Zo decided, swiveling around in her chair, “I put a cardboard cutout of Bey in here to help stare everyone down if they visit for office hours.”

She was trapped in a state of liminality: there was before she was trapped in this house, and there was this house. She couldn’t imagine an after. She knew, truly, she only had herself to blame for being there but god, what had led to this point?

Actually, the answer to that question was also one she knew exactly – two days ago, she was walking when she noticed a girl go past, already showing heavily but still dressed in what was, by all accounts, a cute outfit. Inexplicably, Zofia felt a mostly dead instinct stir in herself and though she worried how her girlfriend might take this sudden announcement, she nevertheless turned to Mattie and told her, “I could do it, you know.”

“Do what?” Her companion’s attention mostly diverted by her mobile, Zo was not surprised to hear that she sounded distracted and hadn’t spotted the nicely dressed pregnant woman at all.

“I could be pregnant, like, if I could at least maintain a sense of style,” she started, her defenses rising when Mattie looked up from her screen to stare as though she had gained three extra heads. “I mean, I don’t want to, but I could, that’s the point. I could. And it probably wouldn’t be so bad, like if I had a girl – I could teach her feminist theory, raise her right – ”

“That’s what kids love, feminist theory.”

“I’m just saying, if I raised a kid, there’d be one less shithead in the world. That’s all.”

“I think you’d lose your shit within five minutes of being in a room with a kid.”

Zo didn’t have to reflect on Mattie’s statement for more than a second to realize she was right, and yet her pride was too strong to concede that just yet. “I could – probably – you know, handle more than five minutes. Like ten. I could handle ten minutes.”

She could feel her girlfriend watching her without looking, imagining the amused set of her mouth, her eyebrows raised in challenge. “You willing to put your money where your mouth is?”

“I don’t know, Matts, is this going to lead to kidnapping?”

She was relieved to hear kidnapping was not on the table; however, she was less relieved as Mattie smugly told her that her sister’s usual babysitter had caught the flu, conveniently leaving a temporary vacancy in the care of her niece, Vicki, aged five. Normally, Zo would have shrugged it off with a “life sucks, doesn’t it?” but now that she was backed into that corner, she had to prove her wrong. Besides –

“Whatever, I’ll just put her in front of the TV with a grilled cheese, it’ll be so chill.”

And that was how she came to be here, two days later and fully out of her depth when it came to her tea party improvisational skills. She had faced down the challenges of moving to a new country, to presenting her projects in school, but when Vicki Richardson went, “More tea, Ms. Lion?” Zofia blinked twice, looked at the stuffed animal in question and went, “Uh, yeah, sure.”

That had, essentially, been her approach to all of Vicki’s requests. When she noticed that Zo had a phone – take a picture of me!, Yeah, sure. When she asked to paint Zo’s nails, which were now a speckled approximation of a Barbie doll pink, more on her skin than her nails herself: Yeah, sure.

But she could see in Vicki’s scrunched up, irritated expression that her half-hearted acquiescence was not quite the answer she was looking for.

“I didn’t ask you, Zoey,” she yelled, “I asked Miss Lion!”

She cast a helpless look at the lion stuffed animal, as if it would suddenly answer and take her off the hook before this kid burst a fucking vein, then sighed when it only let her down.

“Right – sorry – my bad – ” Her hand came up to the stuffed animal’s back, tilting it forward toward the table and the girl. “Yeah, sure,” she answered in a slightly different accent, one she hoped passed for leonine.

“Nevermind,” Vicki huffed, shoving the fake china aside as she stood, “this is stupid.”

It is, Zo wanted to agree, but instead she slipped her phone out under the table like a kid in class, sending a text to Mattie reading: you win, I made her mad.

If this were a movie, she would be a seductress, coiled around her prey like a snake, dressed in something low-cut and couture. He'd be some big wig, too weak to resist a pretty girl who radiated danger, but the fun kind, the human embodiment of jumping out of a plane. Maybe she'd fuck him as some ruse to get him alone. But that was a lot of work, the attire was impractical and she was a gamine little thing – not to mention she didn't want those disgusting old pricks anywhere near her.

If this were a movie, she'd like to do it up close and personal. She'd like to see the look of fear in their eyes, feel her own adrenaline spike as she escaped dozens of trained professional security guards. And she'd have some tragic backstory to account for the fact that a gun had become an extension of her hands. But maybe a girl just wanted to shatter another glass ceiling.

Well, that and get paid exorbitant amounts of money.

It's not a movie, so most of the time it's just bitter spouses and whiny rich kids trying to collect wills and insurance policies; she probably should care more, recommend them to a divorce lawyer or a therapist, but as far as she sees it, they'd still want them dead and she still had to eat. Every so often, like tonight, she gets a real challenge, getting to sets her sights down the barrel at some political family man from the roof across the garage his security detail parked him in, calculating the best time to take her shot, her brain racing ten steps ahead to her escape route. As her gloved index finger squeezes the trigger, she takes a moment to smile – lips painted a movie-vixen matte red, because some things were just a tradition – at the ensuing chaos of someone's skull opening in front of them, the feeling of a job well done. She's a professional, though; there's no time to stick around and enjoy it, and she's gotta stay out of jail long enough to collect the rest of her payment from his wife.