Author Archives

‘Little Grandpa’ and The List

Illustration by Giselle Potter

Abigail Rasminsky | Longreads | May 2019 | 17 minutes (4,208 words)

It’s a long plane ride, so I puke in midair, grunting and coughing up the last remnants of breakfast. My mother holds the paper bag open for me, an encouraging look on her face. When I am done, she closes it up, wipes my face with a tissue from her purse, and carries the slosh to the bathroom. Down the row, a bald man in a suit looks away in disgust.

I am 10, it is May, 1988, and we are on our way to my grandfather’s funeral in Los Angeles. In the locker room at school the day before leaving, in the loudest fourth grade voice she could muster, my friend Laura announced that it was my fault that he had died. I suspect this can’t really be possible — I live in Montreal, which is in a different country, after all — but it still worries me. On the plane, lying my head across my mother’s lap, I tell her about Laura and the locker room. She glares down at me from behind the thick frames of her oversized oval glasses, then looks up and starts fiddling with the tray table. “Sweetheart,” she says. “I think it’s time for some new friends.”

My grandfather is being cremated, and I am spellbound by the word — I have learned its meaning especially for the occasion, and let it cycle through my mouth over and over again, the “eemmm” sound turning into a hum at the back of my throat. Last night, my mother explained that a lot of people didn’t like the idea of being put in a coffin and buried in the earth. Instead, she said, some preferred to be cremated, which turned out to be a fancy word for being burned into ashes. But the word seems slightly suspicious: too lovely to mean something so violent.

In bed the night before, I wondered where we’d visit Grandpa if he wasn’t lying in a cemetery next to Grandma — the two headstones side by side, their bones resting together underneath. “Cremation” made it sound like he would just disappear.


We arrive in L.A. in the afternoon. It is bright everywhere. Since I still feel a bit like throwing up again, the warm breeze feels good on my body. As we wait at an outdoor baggage claim, my mother yanks my long, thick hair into a tight ponytail, the tip tickling my spine. A little yellow stain, evidence of the unsettling flight, has dried on my pink-and-white striped T-shirt.

Even though she has a bad back, my mother drags our big beige bag off the carousel by herself, her red sundress riding up the back of her thighs. Once she takes hold of the handle, she yells for people to get out of the way, then drops it, the tiny wheels crashing to the cement. I stand a bit away, wishing Dad were here.

The four of us usually rent a car when we come to visit Grandpa in L.A., but since my father and older sister will arrive later in the week, we take a cab, my mother talking in a feverishly speedy tone all along the freeway. Once in the city, I roll down my window, and the familiar smell of L.A. — a cocktail of palm trees and dry grass — calms my stomach.
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At Home on Carmine Street

Tongdang5 / Getty

Abigail Rasminsky | Longreads | August 2018| 14 minutes (3,400 words)


When the two stragglers let the door clatter shut behind them, I turn the lights in the restaurant’s dining room all the way up and zip over to the stereo. For the past few months, we’ve been blasting the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” while closing. We all sing You may ask yourself, my God, what have I done? while manning brooms and mops and rags, none of us aware that we are singing of our own lives. At the chorus, we give in, drop what we’re doing and dance: Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down…

I stack the chairs and tables as I’ve been taught, sweep crusts of bread and remnants of lettuce off the tiled floor, grab the register drawer with the remaining cash — 200, 300 bucks tops, since I’ve been emptying it steadily all night — while, behind the counter, Emily cleans the cappuccino machine and stashes the whipped cream, milk, and pie in the fridge. Tom drags the mop over the floor I just swept, the bucket for dunking sitting at the lip of the kitchen.

During the day, the place is bustling with people — upstairs, downstairs, out front, gates open all summer long. But now it’s 12 a.m. at The Grey Dog on Carmine Street in the West Village, and everyone else has gone home.

I leave Emily and Tom singing in the dining room, and carry the money from the register, platter-like in one hand, through the swinging doors of the upstairs kitchen, down the narrow, slippery staircase, past the dishwashing station and the baker’s area, where the croissants and scones are warmed at 5:30 a.m., past the catering department, where two Irishmen make platters of Caesar salad and triangular-cut sandwiches all morning to the sounds of NY1, and get to the restaurant’s windowless, corner office. I unhook the mass of keys from the loop of my jeans and let myself in. Sammy, the resident cat, slips past my ankles. The office reeks of cigarettes and pot.

Up on the desk, I count the cash, separating crisp bills from soft ones, count it again, and add it to the change drawer under the desk, which is always stacked with rows of 1s, 5s, 10s, 20s, and a couple of 50s — $1,000 or $2,000 total. Much of that night’s profits — but not all — have already been rolled up, wrapped in elastic bands, and dropped into a heavy metal drop box in the corner of the room.

When I’m done, I switch off the lights and lock the door behind me, making sure that Sammy is inside. If I forget — as I have before — the cat wandering the restaurant will set off the alarm at 3 a.m. and my boss will get a call from the police: There’s been a break-in.

Just as I turn around to walk through the unlit basement and bound back up the stairs, I see Emily in the semi-darkness. There is a gun by her right ear, its barrel pointing at me. Her body is bigger than usual these days — she’s 27 and six months pregnant with her second child, a mistake courtesy of a quick fuck in the restaurant’s downstairs bathroom with one of the cooks. They broke the sink off the wall, and now here she is, shuffling along the slick floor, belly first, with a man at her back, pushing her slowly into me, toward the office door at my back. I can barely see his face; it is nuzzled behind Emily’s hair and concealed by the panic on her own face.

Emily and I stand frozen in the underground quiet, looking at each other.

Then it hits me: The door.

I didn’t lock the front door.

Emily whispers, “Open the office.”
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Dance Me to the End of Love

Photo by Ahmad Odeh

Abigail Rasminsky | Longreads | January 2018 | 20 minutes (4,983 words)

We converged on New York City from every corner of the globe: from college dance departments in Ohio and Michigan and Minnesota, and conservatories in Florida and California and North Carolina; from Athens and Stockholm and Tel Aviv, and tiny towns in Brazil and Ecuador and Italy, all of us sweeping into Manhattan, that sliver of an island, from the outer boroughs for morning class. In our bags: cut-off sweatpants and bottles of water, tape to bandage split and bleeding toes, matches to soften the tape, apples and bags of tamari almonds from the Park Slope Food Coop, sports bras and tubes of mascara, gum, cigarettes, wallets full of cash from late nights working in bars and restaurants, paperbacks and copies of New York Magazine, and iPods for long subway rides. The bags weighed 10, 15 pounds.

Our lives were organized around class. We needed jobs that wouldn’t interfere with our real reason for being here. We heard rumors of people who had gotten Real Jobs — as temps, as school teachers, jobs with insurance and benefits and holidays off — who swore they’d keep dancing. There are plenty of classes after work! they’d say. This was technically true, but we knew that they’d get talked into going out for that one post-work drink, or be lulled by the security and predictability of it all, the paycheck and the summer Fridays, the day-in, day-out schedule; a full-time modern dancer’s life too eccentric, too chancy, too ridiculous. We knew that once that happened, it was hard to let go and dive back in. This was the time: you had to do it early; this career couldn’t wait until 28 or 30, couldn’t wait for you to get properly settled in the city, to hook up your safety net. There would always be a stronger, younger dancer on your heels. The time was now, only now.

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