Lisa Halliday, Fiction


Whiting Awards 2017

Lisa Halliday. Photo by Vittore Buzzi.


Lisa Halliday’s work has appeared in The Paris Review. She previously worked at The Wylie Agency and is a freelance editor and translator in Milan. Her novel, Asymmetry, will be published by Simon and Schuster in 2018.


An excerpt from Asymmetry:

It was still four-four in the bottom of the ninth when he muted a Viagra ad and swiveled brightly to face her. “Darling, in the cooler in the back of the deli here on the corner they have Häagen Dazs bars. Do you want one?”


“Sure. You’ll be right back. But listen. I want vanilla on the inside, chocolate on the outside, nuts. If they don’t have that I want chocolate on the inside, chocolate on the outside, no nuts. And if they don’t have that I want vanilla on the inside, chocolate on the outside, no nuts. Plus whatever you want, darling. My wallet’s right on the table there. Go!”

At the deli they only had raspberry. And in the convenience store one block up they had only chocolate on the inside, chocolate on the outside, nuts. Alice picked one up and stared at it for a faintly agonizing moment — it wasn’t even the right brand — before putting it back again and running the long block over to Amsterdam, where, in the narrow all-sorts shop that sold pornography next to Caramel Creams, she found, in the back, a freezer stocked almost exclusively with vanilla on the inside, chocolate on the outside, nuts.


The cashier was eating takeout and watching a television stashed under the counter. “What happened?” Alice asked.

“Ortiz struck out.” Fork aloft, he continued watching for a moment before lifting his free hand to take Ezra’s money; when at last he looked up and saw the B on Alice’s hat he inhaled sharply. “Ah, la enemiga.”

“Where have you been?” Ezra asked her when she got back.

In the twelfth inning, Ortiz tried to steal second but was called out after Jeter, legs spread, sprung vertically into the air to catch a high throw from Posada. He snagged it, and, after seeming to hang in space for an impossibly long moment, returned to the ground and tagged Papi on the back.

“My God,” said Ezra, pointing his ice cream stick at the screen. “For a moment I thought I was watching Nijinsky.”

“Ugh. I can’t stand him. Look how smug he looks.”

“Remember when we used to have sex, Mary-Alice?”

“He was safe!”

“No he wasn’t, darling.”

“Yes he was!”

In the thirteenth, Varitek dropped three knuckleballs, letting Yankees advance to second and third. Alice groaned. Another sign went up in the stands: BELIEVE.

“In what?” said Ezra. “The Tooth Fairy?”

With two outs in the bottom of the fourteenth, Ortiz fouled right, then left, plus two more fouls up and over the backstop, then hit a fair ball that dropped down in centerfield, driving Johnny Damon home.


“All right, Choo. That’s it. Time for bed.”


“Uh, Mary-Alice,” he said to her voicemail the following morning, less than an hour after she’d left. “I’m sorry to ask you this, but before you come over here this evening — I assume you are coming over here this evening — would you mind first going to Zabar’s and picking up some applesauce? The chunky kind? I’ll pay you back.” His voice sounded flat and irritable, drained of the previous evening’s garrulousness, and when Alice arrived after an emergency e-book meeting that had run the full length of the afternoon he was holding his back, pacing and grimacing again, the television on mute and an electric heating pad warming the empty seat of his chair. As quietly as she could she put the applesauce into the refrigerator, got a tumbler down from the cupboard, and unwound the wax on a new bottle of Knob Creek. CALL MEL RE: WILL read a Post-it note stuck to the counter. A second note next to it read Q-TIPS!!! Even the way this looked in his incontrovertible hand made her feel a fool for ever thinking she could write. When she looked up again he was in his chair, neck stoically erect, the back of his head like a wax copy of itself if not for its infinitesimal pulsing.

She carried her drink to the bed and lay across it. In the flickering silence they watched the pre-game graphics as intently as if any moment now their own life expectancies would be posted there. GAME 3: LONGEST 9 INN. GAME IN POSTSEASON HISTORY (4:20). GAME 5: LONGEST GAME IN POSTSEASON HISTORY (5:49). 21 HOURS, 46 MINUTES TOTAL OF 1ST 5 GAMES. 1,864 PITCHES. Alice memorized each lineup, briefly contemplated life in the Dominican Republic, and wondered about dinner. Her instinct, as ever, if not innate then informed by old childhood fears, was to ride out and perhaps even allay such moods by being as still and quiet as possible. But the bourbon had different ideas.

“I love that color,” she said, when the screen cut to a wide shot of Yankee Stadium with its grass mown into stripes that were actually two slightly different shades of emerald.

A long moment later, Ezra replied in a low and even voice: “Yes. Night-game green.”

When Jon Lieber took to the mound, Alice got up again to refresh her drink. “Would it be all right if we turned the sound on now?”

It was too loud, as though the night before they’d been watching with a dozen friends all laughing and chatting at once, and one of the announcers had a slight Southern accent that sounded almost stoned in its serenity, the other a rich, reassuring baritone not dissimilar to the one that narrated the Viagra ads. Babbling away about the bullpen, Curt Schilling’s tendon, and the “difficult conditions” presented by the weather, their voices filled the little room like disembodied dinner guests trying to ignore the tension mounting between their hosts. Forecast: Drizzle. Wind speed: 14MPH, left to right. Superimposed against the misty skyline, her and Ezra’s reflections in the yellow glow of his reading lamp had the trapped and inanimate look of dollhouse detainees. Alone together, together alone… Except of course they weren’t alone. Ezra’s pain was with them. Ezra, his pain, and Alice, barely tolerable envoy from the enraging world of the healthy.


Read more work from the 2017 Whiting Award winners.