An excerpt from The Dots by Eliza Fontaine
Once upon a time there was a girl named Dot, and she loved her aunt—her namesake—Dorothy. They were two peas in a pod, Dot and Dorothy. Two dots connected by a solid, straight line. They could finish each other’s sentences. They looked very much alike. Sometimes, Aunt Dorothy joked that Dot was a clone of herself, a perfect genetic match. Dot hoped so, because that would mean great things for her future.
Her aunt’s full name was Dorothy Ophelia Banks. With her pale skin and violet eyes, the story went that, as a teenager, a modeling agent plucked her off Henry Street in Brooklyn and told her she was going to be a star. She went on to model for a brand of mints that weren’t quite as good as Tic Tacs, an airline that was plagued with technical problems just months after taking to the skies, and a brand of butt-hugging jeans that should have been the next Jordache but never caught on. Soon after, she married a tycoon who’d invented a new type of contact lens. She bounced around New York doing the club circuit, socializing, making friends with writers and playwrights and countesses and people who had fleets of helicopters; one man had his own spaceship. She was the type of woman
who could charm any person in any room. She could wear a silk jumpsuit and platform heels; she was proud to traipse around in a thong bikini. A trapeze school in New York City opened; she was a natural at high-flying and spent a little time with a small postmodern circus. She did stand-up comedy at smoky clubs and always got belly laughs.
Two years later, she ditched Mr. Contact Lens and dated a man working for the government, changing her wardrobe to tweedy shoulder-padded power suits and dark Ray-Bans. Rumor had it she was activated by a phone call one sunny Sunday morning and went undercover in Tunisia. Assuming her undercover identity, she learned to parachute. She took up puppeteering. She raised champion Airedales. Later on, tired of DC and espionage, she moved to Los Angeles and married a film producer who promptly died, though not before giving her a son, Thomas, who then died, too. She joined a cult in New Mexico and made pottery. She wrote a novel called The Riders of Carrowae and spent years editing it. She distilled her own whiskey. She sold off a tech stock her late husband purchased in its infancy; with the handsome capital gains, she bought a house in the Hollywood Hills that had a clichéd but lovely view of the Hollywood sign off the back deck. She submitted Riders of Carrowae to agents. Everyone rejected it.
She went to parties. She flirted with men. People gave her gifts, mostly museum-quality jewelry and keys to safe-deposit boxes. She frequently gambled in Vegas—her favorite casino was the Golden Nugget—and always won. And then her niece, Dot, was born. And that’s when everything changed. Dot became the center of Dorothy’s life.
Dot thought Dorothy was the most amazing person ever. The hours she spent with Dorothy were magical. She disappeared into Dorothy’s walk-in closet in the hotel bungalow where she’d made her residence and emerged in Dorothy’s furs, gowns, and jewels. Dorothy took pictures of her and told her tales of where the outfits
came from—a mink from a prince who’d fallen in love with her, a diamond necklace from a director who wanted her in his movie, a handmade beaded shift from when she was in a Vogue photo shoot, though her photos hadn’t made the issue’s final cut. Dorothy spritzed Dot with her signature scent she’d had a Portuguese perfumer concoct for her out of bergamot oranges. Then they played Oscar Night, Dot strutting on the red carpet, Dorothy conducting the interviews. Other days, they played Funeral, Dorothy settling into a silky coffin she kept in a back room, Dot weeping for her and giving a heartfelt eulogy. Often, from inside the coffin, Dorothy stage-whispered lines to add to the speech.
They spent days in bed eating Oreos and Brie and watching The Third Man and other old noir films. They wrapped Dorothy’s Hermès scarves around their heads—Dot’s favorite was the one printed with prowling leopards—and tooled around town in Dorothy’s Cadillac convertible. They made up stories—Dot told the beginning, Dorothy the middle, as middles were hard, and Dot the denouement.
Dot needed Dorothy. It wasn’t that she didn’t love her mother, but there was something so familiar about Dorothy. So recognizable. Her aunt sharpened who she was; she made Dot’s existence feel important and meaningful and tethered to a larger, brighter, bigger something. Dot pitied those who didn’t have a Dorothy in their lives. That’s what made what happened later on so tragic. When things soured, when things got tempestuous, it wasn’t just a hurricane-level disaster. It was an exploding atomic bomb.
This is that story.