"You don't say," Helena said. She took a cigarette out of her ripped purse and lit it because she smoked. She was a smoker.
"I like to put the expensive stuff here where I can keep an eye on it," the guy said.
Helena blew a smoke ring, which was illegal in this country. "Well," she said, "I'll be over here, as far as possible from you."
"You have a sexy accent," the guy said. "Are you from someplace?"
"Yes," Helena said. "I'm from Britain, originally."
"I told you," the guy said. "Because you can't smoke in a liquor store in San Francisco. In California, and everyone knows it. So I figured you're new."
"I guess I am new," Helena said, and walked toward him with a bottle. "I imagine you have a lot to teach me," and this is a good example. Why would she say this? Helena was a young woman, originally from Britain, whatever that means. She was a smoker. She had a sexy accent and a bottle of wine in her hands. The wine was Chianti, also from Europe and very cheap in this case, but that was no excuse for the "I imagine you have a lot to teach me," or that milder, less scrutable joke about being cheap herself. Why behave this way? Helena was beginning to think there was no particular reason. Arguably, of course, there was a particular reason that Helena could not find. Perhaps she had left it in Britain. She paid for her wine, in American currency. Money money money money money.
Helena had moved to New York first. She planned to stay there and work on a new book until her money ran out. Her money ran out in nine days. Prices will have changed as people read this book, so I'll try to explain it this way: Let's say Helena arrived in New York with money from the American publication of her first novel in the amount of $700 billion. She found a hovel of an apartment, crawling with grimy American insects, that cost $500 billion a month to rent, and half a million usually went to the taxi driver who took her there. Milk—milk!—cost $100,000. A pair of smashing, striking new boots cost over $1 billion. Nine days was actually something of a miracle, although not the miracle Helena was hoping for. Unfortunately this is also the way she explained it to her husband.
David sighed when he heard it. "You really shouldn't say smashing or striking," he said, possibly to change the subject. "Those are terms from Britain, really. In America smashing or striking means something different, sort of violent. You know, I'm smashing and striking you. It's all the same to me, but if we're going to live here—"
"We can't afford to live here," Helena said in her boots. "To live in New York for nine days costs more than the gross national product of my country of origin."
"Have you written anything?" David asked.
"Yes, I've written something," Helena said. She had two drafts of the first sentence of a novel, on the index cards taped to the end of the tub where she could look at them in the bath, if that's the expression. One was, "I imagine you have a lot to teach me," and the other was, "I imagine you are going to teach me a lot." She hadn't decided between the two, but she also had something a little longer written in a $400,000 notebook.
"Take it to your editor," David said. "Show your editor what you have written and he'll give you some money."
Helena knew that's not how it goes but she went to lunch. "Something new?" the editor said with a frown. He was Caucasian, or white, and it was almost Christmas. Helena forged ahead with her plan of reading it out loud.
I am about to run out of money. Please send me some money. I need a lot of money. Please send me all, or nearly all, of your money. Money money money money money. Please, mommy. I love you.