The Sultry Older Sister of My Imaginary
I ARRIVED at Ariane’s house, she greeted me with a wet kiss, quite a kiss—lascivious,
shameless, dizzying. It was the very kiss that I had dreamed of when
I was a boy, except for the fact that she tasted of scotch.
“I used to dream of that kiss,” I said.
“Except for the scotch, that was exactly the kiss that I dreamed of when
I was a boy.”
“All the little boys dreamed of kisses from
Tootsie Koochikov,” she said. She took my coat.
“I had forgotten that they called you that,”
“Had you?” she said. “I hadn’t.”
“Well,” I said, embarrassed, not certain how
she wanted me to respond.
She shrugged and handed me a glass with some
of the same scotch she was drinking. “I had an unusual name,” she
said. “It was a trial. Kids made fun of it. They made
fun of me for having it. Lodkochnikov—a preposterous name.
My little school chums found it impossibly hard to pronounce.”
BECAUSE THEY COULDN’T say “Lodkochnikov,” they crushed it into “Koochikov”
and called her that instead. It’s hard to blame them: “Koochikov”
is fun to say, and each time they said it all the other little girls got
the giggles. Ariane didn’t find it particularly funny, but then,
she wasn’t supposed to.
The first time she heard herself called Koochikov,
in the first grade, she thought that the little girls who said it, an adorable
bunch, cute kids in mary janes and pinafores, with their hair in pigtails,
were calling her to join them, so she bounded over, smiling and eager,
and that made them break out all over in hysterical giggling, which made
Ariane feel very amusing and popular and welcome for about three seconds
before she realized that it had been a joke. She pretended that she
didn’t mind, pretended even to herself, because she didn’t want to spoil
After that, she never quite heard them
call her Koochikov. She heard it whispered as she walked by, and
she soon discovered the trick of pretending that she hadn’t heard it or
had misheard it. It might have been a sneeze. It might have
been Lodkochnikov. Very early on she understood and appreciated the
convenience of pretending that it was a sneeze or Lodkochnikov—pretending,
when she turned and looked at the giggling girls, that she didn’t get the
joke, didn’t even see that there was a joke, didn’t have the faintest idea
that she was a joke.
When it was unavoidable, when one of those
odd silences fell and into it clattered, unmistakably, “Koochikov,” she
stepped right in, eager to please, and made her second mistake about the
name: from ignoring it she went to endorsing it.
“Oh, I don’t care,” she said. “I can
hardly even say ‘Lodkochnikov’ myself. Call me Koochikov. Or
anything. Just don’t call me late to dinner. That’s what my
“Koochikov” was such a big success, and Ariane
was such a good sport about it, that the little girls and boys gave her
a new first name, too: “Tootsie.” They had such fun with that, and
she had such fun going along with it, that she hardly even noticed that
she was collaborating with them in making herself into somebody they could
really enjoy, that good sport, the easygoing Tootsie Koochikov.
Copyright © 1994
by Eric Kraft
What Piece of Work I Am is a work of fiction. The characters,
incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products
author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance
to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted
in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying,
recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without
permission in writing from the publisher.
First published by Crown Publishers, Inc., 201 East 50th Street, New
York, New York 10022. Member of the Crown Publishing Group.
Now available in paperback from Picador
USA, a division of St. Martin’s Press.
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