‘All This, After a Lifetime Bet on One Woman’

An excerpt from Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s new novel, Fleishman Is in Trouble.

Photo-Illustration: by Preeti Kinha; Photos: Getty
Photo-Illustration: by Preeti Kinha; Photos: Getty
Photo-Illustration: by Preeti Kinha; Photos: Getty

Toby Fleishman awoke one morning inside the city he’d lived in all his adult life and which was suddenly somehow now crawling with women who wanted him. Not just any women, but women who were self-actualized and independent and knew what they wanted. Women who weren’t needy or insecure or self- doubting, like the long-ago prospects of his long-gone youth—meaning the women he thought of as prospects but who never gave him even a first glance. No, these were women who were motivated and available and interesting and interested and exciting and excited. These were women who would not so much wait for you to call them one or two or three socially acceptable days after you met them as much as send you pictures of their genitals the day before. Women who were open-minded and up for anything and vocal about their desires and needs and who used phrases like “put my cards on the table” and “no strings attached” and “I need to be done in ten because I have to pick up Bella from ballet.” Women who would fuck you like they owed you money, was how our friend Seth put it.

Yes, who could have predicted that Toby Fleishman, at the age of forty-one, would find that his phone was aglow from sunup to sundown (in the night the glow was extra bright) with texts that contained G-string and ass cleavage and underboob and sideboob and just straight-up boob and all the parts of a woman he never dared dream he would encounter in a person who was three-dimensional—meaning literally three-dimensional, as in a person who wasn’t on a page or a computer screen. All this, after a youth full of romantic rejection! All this, after putting a lifetime bet on one woman! Who could have predicted this? Who could have predicted that there was such life in him yet?

Still, he told me, it was jarring. Rachel was gone now, and her goneness was so incongruous to what had been his plan. It wasn’t that he still wanted her—he absolutely did not want her. He absolutely did not wish she were still with him. It was that he had spent so long waiting out the fumes of the marriage and busying himself with the paperwork necessary to extricate himself from it—telling the kids, moving out, telling his colleagues—that he had not considered what life might be like on the other side of it. He understood divorce in a macro way, of course. But he had not yet adjusted to it in a micro way, in the other-side-of-the-bed-being-empty way, in the nobody-to-tell-you-were-running-late way, in the you-belong- to-no-one way. How long was it before he could look at the pictures of women on his phone—pictures the women had sent him eagerly and of their own volition—straight on, instead of out of the corner of his eye? Okay, sooner than he thought but not immediately. Certainly not immediately.

He hadn’t looked at another woman once during his marriage, so in love with Rachel was he—so in love was he with any kind of institution or system. He made solemn, dutiful work of trying to save the relationship even after it would have been clear to any reasonable person that their misery was not a phase. There was nobility in the work, he believed. There was nobility in the suffering. And even after he realized that it was over, he still had to spend years, plural, trying to convince her that this wasn’t right, that they were too unhappy, that they were still young and could have good lives without each other—even then he didn’t let one millimeter of his eye wander. Mostly, he said, because he was too busy being sad. Mostly because he felt like garbage all the time, and a person shouldn’t feel like garbage all the time. More than that, a person shouldn’t be made horny when he felt like garbage. The intersection of horniness and low self-esteem, he told me, seemed reserved squarely for porn consumption.

But now there was no one to be faithful to. Rachel wasn’t there. She was not in his bed. She was not in the bathroom, applying liquid eyeliner to the area where her eyelid met her eyelashes with the precision of an arthroscopy robot. She was not at the gym, or coming back from the gym in a less black mood than usual, not by much but a little. She was not up in the middle of the night, complaining about the infinite abyss of her endless insomnia. She was not at Curriculum Night at the kids’ extremely private and yet somehow progressive school on the West Side, sitting in a small chair and listening to the new and greater demands that were being placed on their poor children compared to the prior year. (Though, then again she rarely was. Those nights, like the other nights, she was at work, or at dinner with a client, what she called “pulling her weight” when she was being kind, and what she called “being your cash cow” when she wasn’t.) So no, she was not there. She was in a completely other home, the one that used to be his, too. Every single morning this thought overwhelmed him momentarily; it panicked him, so that the first thing he thought when he awoke was this: Something is wrong. There is trouble. I am in trouble. It had been he who asked for the divorce, and still: Something is wrong. There is trouble. I am in trouble. Each morning, he shook this off. He reminded himself that this was what was healthy and appropriate and the natural order. She wasn’t supposed to be next to him anymore. She was supposed to be in her separate, nicer home.

But she wasn’t there, either, not on this particular morning. He learned this when he leaned over to his new IKEA nightstand and picked up his phone, whose beating presence he felt even in those few minutes before his eyes officially opened. He had maybe seven or eight texts there, most of them from women who had reached out during the night via his dating app, but his eyes went straight to Rachel’s text, somewhere in the middle. It seemed to give off a different light than the ones that contained body parts and lacy bands of panty; it somehow drew his eyes in a way the others didn’t. At five a.m. she’d written, “I’m headed to Kripalu for the weekend; the kids are at your place FYI.”

It took two readings to realize what that meant, and Toby, ignoring the erection he’d allowed to flourish knowing that his phone was rife with new masturbation material, jumped out of bed. He ran into the hallway, and he saw that their two children were in their bedrooms, asleep. FYI the kids were there? FYI? FYI was an afterthought; FYI was supplementary. It wasn’t essential. This information, that his children had been deposited into his home under the cover of darkness during an unscheduled time with the use of a key that had been supplied to Rachel in case of a true and dire emergency, seemed essential.

He returned to his bedroom and called her. “What were you thinking?” he whisper-hissed into the phone. Whisper-hissing still did not come easily to him, but he was getting better at it every day. “What if I’d gone out and not realized they were there?”

“That’s why I texted you,” she said. Her response to whisper-hissing was eye-rolling glibness.

“Did you bring them here after midnight? Because I went to sleep at midnight.”

“I dropped them off at four. I had been trying to get in for the weekend. There was a cancellation. The program starts at nine. Give me a break here, Toby. I’m having a hard time. I really need some me-time.” As if all her time weren’t completely and totally her-time.

“You can’t pull this kind of shit, Rachel.” He only said her name at the end of sentences now, Rachel.

“Why? You had them this weekend anyway.”

“But not till tomorrow morning!” Toby put his fingers to the bridge of his nose. “The weekends begin Saturday. This was your rule, not mine.”

“Did you have plans?”

“What does that even mean? What if there had been a fire, Rachel? What if there had been an emergency with one of my patients, and I ran out without knowing they were here?”

“But you didn’t. I’m sorry, I should have woken you up and told you they were there?” He thought of her waking him up, how it could have been catastrophic to his progress in understanding that she was no longer part of his waking up.

“You shouldn’t have done it at all,” he said.

“Well, if what you were saying last night is true, then you could have predicted this would happen.”

Toby searched his bleary brain for their last hateful interaction and remembered it with the force of a sudden, deep dread: Rachel had been sputtering some nonsense about opening up a West Coast office of her agency, because she was not busy enough and overwhelmed enough as it was. Honestly, it was a blur. She’d ended the conversation, he remembered now, by screaming at him through her sobbing so that he couldn’t understand her until finally the line went dead and he knew she’d hung up on him. This was how conversations ended now, rather than with the inertia of marital apology. Toby had been told all his life that being in love means never having to say you’re sorry. But no, it was actually being divorced that meant never having to say you’re sorry.

“This hasn’t been easy on me, Toby,” she said now. “I get that I’m early. But all you have to do is drop them at camp. If you have plans, ask Mona to come. Why are we even still talking about this?”

How could she not see that this wasn’t a small deal? He actually did have a date that night. He didn’t want to leave the kids with Mona—that was Rachel’s solution to everything, not his. He couldn’t seem to convey to her that he was a real person, that he was not a blinking cursor awaiting her instructions, that he still existed when she wasn’t in a room with him. He couldn’t understand what the goal of having all these agreements in place was if she wasn’t going to even pretend to adhere to them, or apologize when she didn’t. He’d given her a key to his new apartment not to pull shit like this, but so they could have something that was amicable. Amicable amicable amicable. Did you ever notice that you only use the word amicable in relation to divorce? Was it because it was so often used for divorce that you didn’t want to poison anything else with it? The way you could say “malignant” for things other than cancer but you never did?

The kids were stirring and it was just as well because his boner was gone.

Solly,  his nine-year-old,  woke up, but Hannah,  who was eleven, wanted to stay in bed. “Sorry, kid, no dice,” Toby told her. “We have to be out the door in twenty.” They stumbled into the kitchen with unfocused eyes, and Toby had to muck around in their bags to find the clothing they were supposed to wear for camp that day. Hannah snarled at him that he’d chosen the wrong outfit, that the leggings were for tomorrow, and so he held up her tiny red shorts and she swiped them out of his hands with the disgust of a person who was not committed to any consideration of scale when it came to emotional display. Then she flared her nostrils and stiffened her lips and told him somehow without opening her teeth that she had wanted him to buy Corn Flakes, not Corn Chex, the subtext being what kind of fucking idiot was she given for a father.

Solly, on the other hand, ate his Corn Flakes cheerfully. He closed his eyes and shook his head with pleasure. “Hannah,” he said. “You have to try these.”

Toby was not above being grateful for Solly’s sad show of solidarity. Solly understood. Solly knew. Solly was his in a way that made him never wonder if all of this had been worth it. He had Toby’s same internal need for things to be okay. Solly wanted peace, just like his father. They even looked alike. They had the same dark blond hair, the same brown eyes (though Solly’s were slightly larger than Toby’s and so gave the appearance of always being a little scared), the same comma-shaped nose, the same miniatureness—meaning not just that they were short, but they were short and regular-sized. They weren’t slight or diminutive, so that if you were to see them without a height benchmark, you wouldn’t understand just how short they were. This was good because it was hard enough to just be short. This was bad because it meant disappointing people who had seen you in just such a benchmark-deprived way and had expected you to be bigger.

Hannah was his, too, yes, except that she had Rachel’s straight blond hair and narrow blue eyes and sharp nose—her whole face an accusation, just like her mother’s. She had a specific kind of sarcasm that was a characteristic of the Fleishman side. At least she once did. Her parents’ separation seemed to ignite in her a humorlessness and a fury that had already been coming either because her parents fought too often and too viciously, or because she was becoming a teenager and her hormones created a rage in her. Or because she didn’t have a phone and Lexi Leffer had a phone. Or because she had a Facebook account she was only allowed to use on the computer in the living room and she didn’t even want that Facebook account because Facebook was for old people. Or because Toby suggested that the sneakers that looked just like Keds but were $12 less were preferable to the Keds since again they were exactly the same just without the blue tag on the back and what about being too-overt victims of consumerism? Or because there was a sad popular song on the radio about a long-gone romance that meant a lot to her and he had asked her to turn down her speakers while he was on the phone with the hospital. Or because later when she explained why that sad popular song was so meaningful by making him listen to it she seethed at him because he didn’t appear to magically understand how a song could ignite in her a nostalgia that she couldn’t possibly have had, never having had a boyfriend. Or because he wondered if her skirt was too short to sit down in. Or because he wondered if her shorts were too short if they showed the crease between her buttocks and thighs and were even so short that their full pocket linings couldn’t be contained by them and so extended beyond the shorts’ hem. Or because he asked where her hairbrush was, which clearly implied, to her, that he thought her hair looked terrible. Or because she. did. not. want. to. see. The Princess Bride or any of his old-man movies. Or because he ran his hand across her head one day in a display of tenderness, ruining her very perfect middle part that had taken ten minutes to get right. Or because no. she. did. not. want. to. read The Princess Bride either, or any of his old-man books. Yes, her contempt for her parents, which seemed manageable when it was aimed at both Rachel and Toby, was absolutely devastating in its current concentration when it was directed only at him. He had no idea if she saved any of it for Rachel. All Toby knew was that Hannah could barely look at him without her lake-water eyes narrowing even further into lasers and her nose becoming somehow pointier than it was and her lips turning white with purse.

They inched toward camp glacially because they were tired (See, Rachel? See?) and he was too annoyed to deal with watching them drag their feet and begging to take a cab anyway.

“I hate camp,” Hannah said. “Can’t I just stay home?” She’d  wanted to go to sleepaway camp for the whole summer, but her bat mitzvah was in early October, and she had still needed June and July to learn her haftorah.

“You’re leaving in like a week. One more lesson left.”

“I want to leave now.”

“Should I maybe rent you an apartment in the interim?” Toby
asked. Solly laughed at least.

They arrived at the 92nd Street Y, along with all the mothers in their brightly patterned leggings and their exercise shirts that said YOGA AND VODKA or EAT SLEEP SPIN REPEAT. This place cost about as much as sleepaway camp, and Hannah wasn’t even a camper; she was some kind of counselor assistant, which meant she was technically working and still they had to pay tuition.

“Why do I have to pay for you to learn how to be a counselor while they use you as an actual counselor?” he’d asked her in the spring.

“Why did you have to pay to learn how to be a doctor while they used you as an actual doctor?” she’d answered. It was a good point. Toby thought then how sharp she was, and how he wished she didn’t deploy this sharpness exclusively against him. She was becoming, it seemed to him, the kind of girl that it was completely exhausting to be.

They had made it with maybe six minutes to spare. The Y took them to a campus in the Palisades every day, and if you dropped them off too late, they had to spend the entire day in the room with the very little children. Hannah declined her father’s offer to escort her to her gathering classroom, so he took Solly to his. Toby watched him for a minute as he participated in the last minutes of the morning slime experiment, and was just about to exit the lobby when he heard his name being called.

“Toby,” called a low, breathy woman’s voice.

Toby turned around to see Cyndi Leffer, a good friend of Rachel’s who had a daughter in Hannah’s grade. She took a moment to survey him. Ah, this. He knew what was coming: the head tilted twenty degrees, the exaggerated pout, the eyebrows simultaneously raised and furrowed.

Toby. I keep meaning to reach out to you,” Cyndi said. “We haven’t seen an inkling of you.” She was wearing turquoise spandex leggings that had purple clawprints on the upper thighs, like a streak of purple tigers was climbing toward her crotch, trying to get to it. She wore a tank top that said SPIRITUAL GANGSTER. Toby remembered Rachel telling him that parents who sub out y’s for i’s in the middle of their girls’ names, and vice versa at the end, are not giving their daughters much of a chance in the world. “How are you doing? How are the kids doing?”

“We’re okay,” he said. He tried to not adjust the angle of his head to match hers, but his mirror neurons were too well developed and he failed. “We’re plugging along. It’s a change, for sure.”

Her hair was dyed in that new way where the top was purposefully dark and it progressively faded until the ends were blond. But the dark part of the roots was too dark—it was the darkness of a younger woman—and against the border of her forehead all it did was accentuate the relative raggedness of her skin. He thought about a physical therapist he’d slept with a few weeks ago, about how she had the same hairstyle but that the dark part had a warmer cast to it and wasn’t so stark against her same-age-as-Cyndi skin.

“Had things been hard for long?” she asked. Jenny. The physical therapist’s name was Jenny.

“It wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment thing, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Toby and Rachel had separated at the very beginning of June, just after school ended, the culmination of an almost yearlong process, or maybe a process that began shortly after their wedding fourteen years before; it depends whom you ask or how you look at a thing. Is a marriage that ends doomed from the start? Was the marriage over when the problems that would never get solved started or when they finally agreed that the problems couldn’t be solved or when other people finally learned about it?

Of course Cyndi Leffer wanted information. Everyone did. The conversations were always artless, and they were always the same. The first thing people wanted to know was how long things in the marriage had been bad for: Were you unhappy that night at the school gala, when you were showing off your college swing dancing lessons? Were you unhappy at that bat mitzvah when you took her hand and kissed it absentmindedly during the speeches? Was I right that at parent-teacher conferences when you stood by the coffee and she stood by the office checking her phone you were actually fighting? How it shook people to see someone extricate themselves from a bad situation; how people so brazenly wondered aloud every private thing there was to wonder. Toby’s cousin Cherry, who was prone to long, disappointed stares at her husband, Ron: “Had you tried therapy?” His boss, Donald Bartuck, whose second wife had been a nurse on the hepatology floor: “Were you unfaithful?” The camp director at the Y, when he was explaining that his kids might be a little shaky since when camp started, they’d just separated: “Did you guys have a regular date night?”

These questions weren’t really about him; no, they were questions about how perceptive people were and what they missed and who else was about to announce their divorce and whether the undercurrent of tension in their own marriages would eventually lead to its demise. Did the fight I had with my wife on our actual anniversary that was particularly vicious mean we’re going to get divorced? Do we argue too much? Do we have enough sex? Is everyone else having more sex? Can you get divorced within six months of an absentminded hand-kiss at a bat mitzvah? How miserable is too miserable?

How miserable is too miserable?

One day he would not be recently divorced, but he would never forget those questions, the way people pretended to care for him while they were really asking about themselves.

He had spent the early summer in a haze, trying to find footing in this strange world where every aspect of his life was just slightly different than it used to be and yet immensely so: He was sleeping, just alone and in a different bed. He was eating with the kids just like always—Rachel hadn’t come home before eight or nine on weeknights in years—but after dinner he dropped them off at the old apartment and walked the five blocks home to his new one. That slippery fuck Donald Bartuck told him he, Bartuck, was being promoted to head of internal medicine and that he was putting Toby up as the only candidate for subdivision head of hepatology in the gastroenterology division once the current one, Phillipa London, evacuated the post to take Bartuck’s job. It was incredible news—“You can’t imagine the vindication,” he told me—and he didn’t have the natural first person to tell. He thought about calling me or Seth, but it seemed too pathetic to not have an actual family member to tell. He almost called his parents in Los Angeles, but the time difference put them at five a.m. when he learned; then he debated if this was news that Rachel should hear or know. He did tell her, later when he dropped the kids off, and she smiled with her mouth but not her eyes. She did not have to pretend to care about his career anymore.

But now, in late July, as summer was rounding second base, he felt steady again, like at least he had a routine. He was coming along nicely. He was adjusting. He was cooking for one less person. He was learning to use the I instead of we to indicate availability for barbecues and cocktail parties, when he was invited, which wasn’t often. He was taking long walks again and learning to bat away the feeling that he should let someone know where he was. Yes, he was coming along nicely, except for conversations like this one, with Cyndi. He had been wallpaper to the Cyndi Leffers of the world before this; he’d been a condition that came co-morbid with his family. Fun, smart, successful Rachel’s husband, or social Hannah’s father or cute Solly’s father, or, hey, you’re a doctor, right, will you just look at this bump I’ve had for a week? Now he was someone people wanted to talk to. His divorce had somehow given him a soul.

Cyndi was waiting for an answer. Her eyes were searching his face the way soap opera actors looked at each other in the seconds before commercial breaks. He knew what was expected of him. He was working on trying to not fill in this pause; he was working on letting the discomfort of the silence be the property of the person who was mining him for dirt. His therapist, Carla, was trying to get him to learn how to sit with uncomfortable feelings. He, in turn, was trying to get the people who were pumping him for information to learn to sit with uncomfortable feelings.

But also: There was no way to talk about a divorce without implying terrible things about the other person in the marriage, and he didn’t want to do that. He felt a strange call for diplomacy now. School was a battleground state, and it would be so easy to get people over to his side, he knew that. He knew he could allude to Rachel’s craziness, her anger, her tantrums, her unwillingness to immerse herself in her children’s lives—he could say things like “I mean, I’m sure you noticed that she never came to STEM Night?”— but he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to undermine Rachel’s status at school out of an old sense of protectiveness that he couldn’t quite shake. She was a monster, yes, but she had always been a monster, and she was still his monster, for she had not yet been claimed by another, for he was still not legally done with her, for she still haunted him.

Cyndi took a step closer. He was only five-five, and she was a full head taller than him and skinnier than any woman needed to be. Her face was large-featured and pumped full of hyaluronic acid and botulinum toxin. Her concern, which was mostly transmitted via a slow back-and-forth shaking of the head and an exaggerated protrusion of her mouth, was mitigated by the fact that her browline was completely ossified, and had been since he’d known her. This was what she looked like when she was happy, too. “Todd and I were so sad to hear,” she said. “If there’s anything we can do. We’re your friends, too.”

Then she took another step closer, which was two too many
steps close for a camp lobby encounter with a married woman who was friends with his wife. His phone buzzed. He looked down. It was Tess, a woman he had plans to meet for the first time later that night. He squinted at his phone to see a close-up photograph of the fertile crescent where her thighs and her black, netted panties formed a delta.

“That’s work,” Toby said to Cyndi. “I have a biopsy to get to.”

“You still at the hospital?”

“Uh, yeah,” he said. “As long as people still get sick. Supply and demand.”

Cyndi gave a one-syllable laugh but looked at him with, what? Sympathy? All the school parents did. A doctor wasn’t a thing to be anymore. Just last year Cyndi’s husband, Todd, had looked at him earnestly at parent-teacher conference night, while they waited outside classrooms for their names to be called (no Rachel in sight, because she was at a client dinner and would not arrive in time) and said, “If your kids told you they wanted to be doctors, how would you advise them?” Toby hadn’t quite understood the question until his walk home from school, at which point he’d realized it was a guy in finance feeling sorry for a guy in medicine. A doctor! He had been raised to think that a doctor was a respectable thing to be. It was a respectable thing to be! When Rachel got home that night, he told her what that douche Todd had asked him, and she said, “Well, what would you say?” They had all turned on him.

“You better get going, then,” Cyndi said now. “We’ll see Hannah tomorrow night, right?” She leaned over to give him a full frontal three-point hug with connection at the head, chest, and pelvis. The hug lingered for a millisecond longer than any previous physical contact he’d ever had with Cyndi Leffer, which was zero.

He walked away from the Y, wondering if the vibe he got off Cyndi—that she wanted to comfort him, yes, but, could it be, to fuck him as well—was real. It couldn’t be. And yet. And yet. And yet and yet and yet and yet and yet she was clearly wondering what it might be like to fuck him.

No, it couldn’t be. He thought about the way her nipples lined up so evenly and soldier-like under her stupid tank top. He was getting carried away, which is an easy thing to do when your phone is literally dripping with the lust of women who did definitely and assuredly claim to want to fuck you, fuck you bad, fuck you bad all night long.

Each little holler he got—each little winky emoji or purple devil emoji or bra selfie or actual photographed upper-region ass crack—made him revisit the essential questions of his youth: Could it be that he wasn’t as repulsive as he’d been led to believe by the myriad rejections of just about every single girl he’d ever made eye contact with? Could it be that he was maybe attractive? Was it not his looks or his physique but the desperation inherent in his attempts at a rigorous sex life in those days, or any sex life really, that rendered him something less attractive than he actually was? Or maybe now there was something about his current situation, being newly divorced and a little wounded, that had somehow made him that way. Or maybe absent mirror neurons and pheromones and other things that could not penetrate phone screens, all you had was a reflection of the intersection of your own horniness and your own availability, and the minute someone else’s horniness and availability matched up with yours, voilà and kaboom. He didn’t like to think that, that sex was no longer about attraction, but he couldn’t pretend it wasn’t a possibility; he was a scientist, after all.

He’d met Rachel when he was a first-year in med school. He thought about that time nearly constantly now. He thought of the decisions he’d made and whether he could have seen the warning signs. Her at that library party, her eyes flashing sex, her hair the same shape it would continue to be forever. How his eyes filled at the sight of the gleam of her geometry hair. How the blue of her eyes was both cold and hot. How the Cupid’s bow beneath her nose was a dewdrop mountain to be climbed; how it mirrored the cleft in her chin with the kind of symmetry that science said initiated male sexual imperative and created visual gratification and feelings of well-being. How the sharpness of her face seemed like a correction to the Semitic girls he was bred to want—her father hadn’t been Jewish, and by the account of her grandmother and the few pictures that existed of him, she looked just like him, and that, too, felt dangerous—that someone raised as traditionally as Toby would love a woman who looked like her absent Gentile father. How he was made dizzy, how he utterly dissolved in lust, by the way she stuck a hip out when she was trying to decide something. How, after knowing him just four weeks, she came with him to California for his grandmother’s funeral; how she sat in the back and looked sad for him and came to the house afterward and helped put all the catered food on trays. The way she undressed him—no, he shouldn’t think about that now. Thinking about that would be detrimental to his healing.

The point was that she had wanted him. The point was that someone
wanted Toby Fleishman. We’d watched him watch the world pass him by; we’d watched him bewilder at his inability to attract someone. He’d only had one real girlfriend before, and other than that, just some drunk girls he had rolled around on the floor with at parties; he’d had sex with just two women before Rachel. But then college was over and the girls in med school were almost all attached to some guy from before. And there had been Rachel, who didn’t look at him like he was too short or too pathetic, even though he was, he was. He looked across the room to her at that party, and she looked back at him and smiled. So much time had passed since then, and yet that was Rachel for him. He had spent so many years in the service of trying to relocate that Rachel within the Rachel that she kept proving herself to be. But even now, it was that version of Rachel that was the first that ever came to mind when he thought of her. He felt he would be doing worlds better if it weren’t.

Excerpted from Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. Published by Random House, an imprint and a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2019 by Taffy Brodesser-Akner.

‘All This, After a Lifetime Bet on One Woman’