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"The Arrangement" [A page-turner!]

 
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Joined: 30 Apr 2005
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Location: L.A., California

PostPosted: Tue Jul 05, 2016 4:55 pm    Post subject: "The Arrangement" [A page-turner!] Reply with quote

"The Arrangement": A Work of Fiction [a page-turner!]

[The New York Times Book Review asked the acclaimed novelist Chimamanda
Ngozi Adichie to write a short story about the American election. A second
work of election fiction - by a different writer - will follow this
fall
.]

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/03/books/review/melania-trump-in-chimamanda-ngozi-adichie-short-story.html

The New York Times Book Review
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
July 3, 2016

Melania decided she would order the flowers herself. Donald was too busy
now anyway to call Alessandra’s as usual and ask for “something
amazing.” Once, in the early years, before she fully understood him, she
had asked what his favorite flowers were.

“I use the best florists in the city, they’re terrific,” he replied,
and she realized that taste, for him, was something to be determined by
somebody else, and then flaunted.

At first, she wished he would not keep asking their guests, “How do you
like these great flowers?” and that he would not be so nakedly in need
of their praise, but now she felt a small tug of annoyance if a guest did
not gush as Donald expected. The florists were indeed good, their peonies
delicate as tissue, even if a little boring, and the interior decorators
Donald had brought in — all the top guys used them, he said — were
good, too, even if all that gold yellowness bordered on staleness, and so
she did not disagree because Donald disliked dissent, and he only wanted
the best for them, and she had what she really needed, this luxurious
peace. But today, she would order herself. It was her dinner party to
celebrate her parents’ anniversary. Unusual orchids, maybe. Her mother
loved uncommon things.

Her Pilates instructor, Janelle, would arrive in half an hour. She had
just enough time to order the flowers and complete her morning skin
routine. She would use a different florist, she decided, where Donald did
not have an account, and pay by herself. Donald might like that; he always
liked the small efforts she made. Do the little things, don’t ask for
big things and he will give them to you, her mother advised her, after she
first met Donald. She gently patted three different serums on her face and
then, with her fingertips, applied an eye cream and ­sunscreen.

What a bright morning. Summer sunlight raised her spirits. And Tiffany was
leaving today. It felt good. The girl had been staying for the past week,
and came and went, mostly staying out of her way. Still, it felt good.
Yesterday she had taken Tiffany to lunch, so that she could tell Donald
that she had taken Tiffany to lunch.

“She adores all my kids, it’s amazing,” Donald once told a reporter
— he was happily blind to the strangeness in the air whenever she was
with his children.

To keep the lunch short, she had told Tiffany that she had an afternoon
meeting with the Chinese company that produced her jewelry — even though
she had no plans. Tiffany had cheerily forked spinach salad into her
mouth, her California voice too pleasant, too fey. Her wrists looked
fragile and breakable. She talked about how much she loved Ivanka’s new
collection; she talked about a vegan recipe, reciting details of berries
and seaweed, as though Melania would actually ever make it. She played a
recording of her singing and said: “It’s not there yet but I’m
working on it. You think Dad will like it?” Melania said, “Of
course.”

Now she found herself warming to Tiffany, perhaps more because the girl
was leaving today. Tiffany was nice. Tiffany courted her. Tiffany
acknowledged her power. Tiffany was different from that Czech woman’s
children — she never disputed, with her manner, the primacy of
Melania’s place in Donald’s life.

Not like Ivanka. Melania breathed deeply. Even just thinking of Ivanka
brought an exquisite, slow-burning irritation. That letter Ivanka wrote to
Donald after their engagement. She would never forget it. Congratulations,
Dad. At least your ex-wife was pure. It lay carelessly on the desk, as
most of Donald’s papers did, and Melania had read it over and over, and
later, unable to control herself, had shown it to Donald. What does she
mean by this? Donald laughed it off. Ivanka gets moody and jealous, he
said. I am here! Melania had wanted to shout once at the girl,
golden-haired and indulged by Donald, one summer when Ivanka joined them
for breakfast in Palm Beach and did not once glance at Melania.

“Melania looks great, but we have to think about how to make her more
relatable for the convention, maybe less contour makeup and her smiling
and not squinting so much,” Ivanka said just two days earlier, at a
meeting with Donald’s campaign team. Melania was seated there, next to
Donald and part of the meeting, and yet Ivanka spoke of her as though she
were invisible.

“Yes, that’s a good idea,” Donald said. He always agreed with
Ivanka. Ivanka who spoke in eloquent streams of words that meant nothing
but still impressed everyone, Ivanka whom Donald showed off like a glowing
modern toy that he did not know how to operate.

Remember, only praise for his daughter when he is there, her mother told
her whenever Melania complained.

Her phone chimed; a text from Donald. I’m leading in the latest poll.
National! Nice!

It was probably what he had tweeted as well. He copied and pasted his
tweets to her in text messages. Once she had suggested he hold back on a
tweet and he replied that he had already tweeted it. He showed her his
tweets after he had sent them, not before.

That is so great! she texted back.

She sagged suddenly with terror, imagining what would happen if Donald
actually won. Everything would change. Her contentment would crack into
pieces. The relentless intrusions into their lives; those horrible media
people who never gave Donald any credit would get even worse. She had
never questioned Donald’s dreams because they did not collide with her
need for peace. Only once, when he was angry about something to do with
his TV show, and abruptly decided to leave her and Barron in Paris and go
back to New York, she had asked him quietly, “When will it be enough?”
She had been rubbing her caviar cream on Barron’s cheeks — he was
about 6 then — and Donald ignored her question and said, “Keep doing
that and you’ll turn that kid into a sissy.”

She forced herself to stop thinking of Donald winning. There was this
evening to look forward to, with Donald and her parents and a few friends,
food and flowers, the butler’s creaseless service, and the magnanimous
ease of it all.

Barron had told her last night that he would not join them at dinner.
“Too boring, Mom,” he had said in Slovenian. She missed his delicious
younger days, when he was pliable and happy to go everywhere with her,
when she would brush his hair and hold his perfect little body close and
feel it almost one with hers. Now, he had an individual self, separate and
wise, with knowledge of golf and video games; when she kissed him he
twisted away. At least she had persuaded him to come down and say hello to
the guests after they arrived.

She had asked the chef for a menu that was both “old and new,” and he
suggested steak and watercress and quinoa and lobster and something else
she did not remember. Her mother would like it. When she was growing up,
her mother used the French or English terms for the food she cooked, as if
the Slovenian would make them unforgivingly ordinary. She would serve a
ragout for dinner, after a long day at the textile factory, her lips still
carefully rouged, her waist tightly cinched, always striving, always
trying to escape the familiar. A woman had to hold herself together, her
mother said, or end up looking like a wide middle-aged Russian.

The butler called her bedroom. “Miss Tiffany would like to say goodbye,
Mrs. Trump.”

“Yes, thank you,” Melania said, and waited for Tiffany to knock on her
door.

“I’m so sorry, didn’t want to bother you,” Tiffany said. Her blond
hair extensions were distracting; too long and doll-like.

“No, no problem,” Melania said. “You look nice.”

“Thank you so much for everything! See you in Cleveland next week!”
Tiffany said, hugging her.

“Take care.”

At the door, Tiffany turned back and said, “Ivanka donates to
Hillary.”

“What?”

“I saw it on her laptop when I went over there last night. She uses a
fake name. It’s the same fake name she uses to order stuff online. I
thought you should know.”

Melania swallowed her surprise. Why was Tiffany telling her this? Around
Ivanka, Tiffany was like an eager insecure puppy, as though she would not
truly be part of the family but for Ivanka’s good grace — a grace that
needed to be fed with loyalty and adulation.

So why tell her this? And could it be true? Tiffany was watching, waiting
for a reaction. She was determined to say nothing, just in case Tiffany
was reporting back to someone. She always suspected intrigue among
Donald’s children — and she would not tell Donald about this, not yet;
she would first discuss it with her mother. Whether it was true or not,
this was a morsel to be saved, molded, used in the best way.

“I must get ready for my Pilates, Tiffany,” she said firmly. “See
you in Cleveland.”

Donald called just after she ordered the orchids. He had some meetings,
but his big event of the day was a luncheon organized by the Republican
National Committee.

“How is it going?” she asked.

“Great. Did you see the polls, honey? Can you believe this?” His voice
had an ebullient pitch. He still did not entirely believe this was
happening — his lead in the polls, the new veneer of being taken
seriously. She could tell from the disbelieving urgency of his actions,
and from the way he flipped through cable channels and scanned newspapers
for his name.

“Remember I told you: You will win,” she said.

She always tried to sound casually believing, as if the polls were merely
incidental, and her faith had conjured his victory. But she was as
startled by his rise as he was.

When she had first told him “you will win,” that balmy day in Florida
last year, drinking Diet Coke in tennis whites, she had meant he would win
at what he wanted: the publicity, the ego polish. It would help his TV
show, and impress those business associates tickled by fame. But she had
never meant he would actually win the Republican primary, nor had she
expected the frenzy of media coverage he received. Americans were so
emotionally young, so fascinated by what Europeans knew to be world-weary
realities. They were drawn to Donald’s brashness and bluster and
bullying, his harsh words, even the amoral ease with which untruths slid
out of his mouth. She viewed these with a shrug — he was human, and he
had his good points, and did Americans truly not know that human beings
told lies? But they had followed him from the beginning, breathlessly and
childishly. There were days when every television channel she switched to
had his image on the screen. They did not understand that what he found
unbearable was to be ignored, and for this she was grateful, because being
in the news brought Donald the closest he could be to contentment. He
would never be a truly content person, she knew this, because of that
primal restlessness that thrummed in him, the compulsion to prove
something to himself that he feared he never would. It moved her, made her
feel protective. Even the way he nursed his grudges, almost lovingly,
unleashing in great detail slights from 20 years ago, made her protective
of him. She often felt, despite the age gap of more than two decades, that
she was older than Donald. Her response to his agitations was a curated
series of soothing murmurs. Be a little calmer, she told him often. In
bed, she had learned to gauge Donald and know when he expected her to
gasp. On nights when she did not have the mental energy to act, she would
tell Donald, “It is not a good night today,” and he would kiss her
cheek and leave, because he liked her air of delicate mystery.



The butler knocked and brought her lemon water on a tray. “Janelle is
here, Mrs. Trump.”

He did his characteristic almost-bow. He liked her, mostly because of how
little she said, and how she encouraged an air of enigmatic formality.

“Thank you,” she said.

She applied concealer and lip gloss and highlighter, checked herself in
the mirror. She had not worn makeup with Amy, her last instructor, but
Janelle made her want to look attractive. After Amy moved to Los Angeles
and recommended Janelle, Donald saw her — he was home on Janelle’s
first day and said: “Really? I didn’t think they did that Pilates
stuff. It’s not like Pilates is hip-hop or whatever.” She, too, was
taken aback when she first saw Janelle, sinuous and small, skin the color
of earth, locs pulled up in a bun. She’s professional and discreet, Amy
had said. Now, weeks in, Melania wished that Janelle were not so
professional, so singularly focused on straightening Melania’s feet,
flattening Melania’s belly, and never saying anything personal.

“Hi, Mrs. Trump. Ready for the warm-up?” Janelle asked, her face, as
usual, a pleasant mask scrubbed of expression.

“Yes,” Melania said.

Janelle was beside her on the mat, legs aloft. She smelled of grapefruit.
Melania wanted to reach out and taste her — the smooth skin of her arm,
her full, ­brownish-pink lips. She followed Janelle’s lead and wondered
about Janelle’s life. Was there a boyfriend? Someone like her, dignified
and quiet? Each time the Pilates session ended, she considered asking
Janelle to stay for lunch, or just a glass of juice, but she feared that
Janelle would say no.

“Oh, I must get a massage, for my thighs,” Melania said, tentative,
desperate to say something personal and yet safe.

“A warm bath should help,” Janelle said. “Have a good day, Mrs.
Trump.”

Melania felt deflated. Had she expected Janelle to offer to give her a
massage? It was so silly of her. Had Janelle meant anything more by
“warm bath”? She was trying to read what was not there. But she would
not allow herself to be sad. There was the evening to look forward to.



Her phone chimed. Another text from Donald.

Hope says fashion people are asking what you’ll wear to convention. Has
to be a big name. An American designer. Have you decided?

I have three and will choose tomorrow, she texted back.

Donald had never taken much interest in what she wore. Not like Tomaz, her
ex, who had picked out her clothes and liked the smell of her sweat. Why
had she suddenly thought of Tomaz? Tomaz smoked thin cigarettes and walked
the world in an existential haze of disapproval. After she was interviewed
in a French magazine some years ago, Tomaz had sent her an email through
her sister Ines. Now you have what you always wanted, you have forgotten
Ljubljana? It had annoyed her and of course she did not reply. Unlike
Tomaz, Donald was not a sensual man. But it was what had attracted her to
Donald in the beginning: He was not a man who traded in complexities.
After brooding, Sartre-quoting Tomaz, Donald came as a relief.

She checked the time. Donald would be done with his luncheon. She would
call, to remind him to be back on time. He sometimes forgot himself at
these things.

“The dinner party?” he said. “Of course I’ll be home.”

“You want me to wear those first diamonds?” she asked, light and
teasing. It was their joke; the first time they made love, she had worn
nothing but those earrings. It had also been his first gift to her, in a
pretty black box, and he asked her to open it, humming with a need for her
gratitude. He was not eager to please her, she realized, he was keen to be
pleased by her pleasure. And so she gave in, thanking him, wreathing her
face with delight, even though she wished the diamonds were bigger.

“Yes, wear them. I bet those beauties have tripled in value,” he said.
“I have to go, honey, I’m meeting with the top five guys of the
committee. They’re all dying to talk to me.”

She undressed and examined herself in the mirror. There was a new dimple
in her thigh. Donald would say something if he noticed it. “You need to
get these fixed soon,” he had said a few months back, cupping her
breasts, and when he got up from bed, she looked at his pale, slack belly,
and the sprinkle of bristly hair on his back.



In the bath, sunk into scented foam, Melania settled down to read the
latest coverage of Donald. There was a story about his money; they kept
saying he did not have as much as he claimed to have. What did it matter?
He had a lot. She glanced at the comments at the end of the article and
the name “Janelle” caught her eye. The commenter wrote: Trump needs to
modernize those ill-fitting suits, throw away the bottle of orange tan,
get fake teeth that actually look like teeth and let himself go bald like
God intended. How many Janelles were there in America? Of course it could
not be her Janelle. Still, seeing the name excited her. It was unfair that
people made fun of Donald’s hair but she could not help smiling, reading
it, imagining her Janelle writing it.

There was a story about some of his angry supporters, displaying swastikas
on their trucks, and she cringed reading it. Extremes of anything
discomfited her. The day Donald announced he would run for president, she
had been filled with light on their glorious descent in the escalator,
eyes and cameras on them, and everything dazzling. Afterward, she escaped
to the cool white of her bedroom, and lay still for a long time, and then
looked online at the coverage. She loved the way her smoky eyes popped in
the photographs. A heady sense of accomplishment suffused her. But she did
not want too many more of those moments, because they shifted her balance,
left her spirit vaguely disjointed.

She Googled herself and enlarged some of the photos. Why did some news
sites choose the most unflattering images? It was deliberate. She was
scrupulous about presenting the best angles of her face to the cameras,
practicing the tilt to her neck that ensured a slim silhouette. Yet some
photo editors were determined to use the few bad shots. They were jealous
of Donald; nothing else could explain it.

She hoped Donald would not open her bedroom door tonight; this was the
kind of day that he would come, exuberant and expansive from victory. It
had been almost two months. The last time, he kissed her, eager and
dramatic and sweaty as he often was — he hated her initiating things,
“aggressive women make me think I’m with a transsexual,” he’d told
her years ago — and then fumbled and shifted and suddenly got up and
said he had a phone call to make. Only then did she understand what had
happened. They did not talk about it, but for a few days he had sulked and
snapped, as though it were her fault.

Donald came home red-faced, his lips a snarl of rage. He ignored the
butler’s greeting. Melania kissed him hello and braced herself.

“Can you believe these losers? They’re talking about 2020,” he said.
He flung his jacket down on the living room floor and she picked it up.

“What happened?” she asked.

“Reince pulled me aside after the meeting. He’s a great guy, always
nice to me. He said all the top guys at the R.N.C. have decided to focus
on 2020, and put very little money and effort into my campaign. Like I
don’t even have a chance at all!”

“It makes no sense what they want to do. You have many votes. Look at
the polls. People love you.”

She knew how easily mollified he was by praise, but he barely seemed to
hear her, consumed as he was, typing furiously on his phone. She hoped he
would not hurl the phone at the wall, as he had done after a newspaper
wrote about Trump University, after which he stayed up all night writing
hasty, flagrant letters to journalists.

The doorbell rang and there was Ivanka, her face dewy as though she had
not had a long day at work, lips crimson. Too crimson; Melania herself
favored nude lipsticks. She imagined Ivanka sending money to Hillary
Clinton’s campaign, using a fake name. Could it be true? What name did
she use? Thinking of a fake name made her think of Janelle.

“Hey!” Ivanka said. A general greeting, but she was looking at her
father.

“Ivanka. What a surprise,” Melania said.

“Ivanka wanted to come over to discuss this,” Donald said, glancing up
from his phone. He was only telling her now. He would expect her to ask
Ivanka to dinner and she would have to endure Ivanka’s polished voice,
that fulsome surface that shielded cold metal.

“Oh, what gorgeous flowers,” Ivanka said. “Are they from
Alessandra’s, Dad?”

“No. I used another florist,” Melania said. Ivanka’s admiration
pleased her, and she resented Ivanka for it.

“Can you just believe these losers?” Donald said testily, impatient
with talk of flowers. “They want to sabotage me!”

Donald admired in his daughter qualities he would not abide in a wife. Not
that Melania minded, she told herself, watching them. Ivanka moved like
him, loose-limbed. Like him, she was comfortable with display. Like him,
she was always selling something. The difference was that you knew what
Donald was selling; Ivanka left you wondering.

“It’s utter sabotage and unacceptable,” Ivanka said.

“I’ve got to hit back at these guys.”

“You do have to hit back, totally,” Ivanka said. “We have to figure
out the best way.”

Why did she not calm him down? Melania was annoyed. Her evening would be
ruined, Donald’s churlish mood would darken her dinner, and he would
probably leave after the main course, without apology. He had done it the
day after Cruz beat him at a primary, and they had been with guests that
he had invited.

“I’m leaving the Republican Party. That’s it. If they’re going to
treat me this way. It’s not nice. That’s it,” Donald said.

“But you need the party,” Melania said.

“This isn’t Europe, honey. You don’t know anything about this,”
Donald said and turned back to Ivanka.

She would not be annoyed, not with Ivanka to witness it. Donald used
“Europe” to belittle her sometimes, but he also used “European” as
Americans did, like an aspirational word. European chocolates. European
bread. European style.

“Can we set up a three-way with Paul and Hope in the study, Dad?”
Ivanka said, looking amused. “Is Barron in his room? I’ll just go say
a quick hi.”

Melania felt an unreasonable urge to get up and drag Ivanka back. You do
not go to my son’s room without my permission!

If only Barron didn’t like her. It was Ivanka with whom he discussed
tennis and golf.

“Look, honey, can we do this dinner another time?” Donald said after
Ivanka left. “I need to think about this. These losers can’t do this
to me. Your parents will be fine. They’re here most of the time anyway,
and I can fly them back in if they want to. . . .”

He was still speaking, but she could no longer understand. A tightness had
gripped her temples, her hands shook. “Donald, I want this,” she said.
“We have not hosted my parents. It is 50 years of marriage for them.
Their friends are coming. I have planned for one week. I want this
today.”

Donald looked up astonished from his phone. She dug her nails in her palm
and stared back at him.

“O.K., O.K.,” Donald said sighing. “Just give me some time to talk
to Ivanka.”

He went inside, and a new elation settled in Melania’s bones.

They emerged half an hour later, Donald’s face relaxed, Ivanka laughing,
pushing her hair away from her face, fondly indulgent of her beloved
man-child father.

“We can’t keep letting them think you’re going to be Caligula when
you become president, Dad,” Ivanka said.

“Whatever,” Donald said with a grin. He turned to Melania. “Honey,
we have a plan. I announce two days before the convention that I’m done
with the party. My supporters don’t care about the party anyway. It’s
Trump they want. If I’m an independent they’ll still come to me. So
that leaves the R.N.C. with one day to try and fix things. I’ll give
them a list of my conditions, they need to show me plans and figures for
how they’ll support my campaign, otherwise no deal. It’ll knock them
down. Let’s see what they do with that!” He sounded gleeful.

Melania was startled. How could Ivanka have agreed to this? It would only
lose him votes. His supporters were already with him, but what about the
people who would vote for him only because of the Republican Party? Would
that not turn them off? She opened her mouth to say something and then
closed it. Ivanka had the smallest of triumphant smiles on her face. A
well-oiled smile. Melania remembered that smooth smile at other times,
when Donald insulted John McCain, when Donald boycotted a Republican
debate. Ivanka always egged him on, never dissuaded him; she stirred the
pot with her fulsome words.

But Donald was calmer and her evening would go well and her mother would
be happy.

After dinner, she would ask Donald to come to her room, and she would be
soft and subtle, and wear the jasmine scent he liked, and tell him Tiffany
had come to her this morning, upset and crying, because she had discovered
that Ivanka was supporting Hillary Clinton. She would suggest that Donald
do and say nothing about it, hopefully none of the dishonest media people
would find out, because of course it would be terrible if he had to
publicly denounce his daughter, and Ivanka was so wonderful really, even
though she was always telling the press how she didn’t agree with all of
her father’s policies.

“Ivanka, will you join us for dinner?” Melania asked, knowing Ivanka
would decline.

“Thanks, but I have to get back to the kids,” Ivanka said.

Melania smiled sagely. “Of course. Say hello to the family.”

The doorbell rang. Her guests had arrived.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the author of three novels, most recently
“Americanah.”

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