Zana Previti


Zana Previti was born and raised in New England. She earned her MFA in fiction from the University of California, Irvine and is currently pursuing her MFA in poetry from the University of Idaho. Her work has been published in The New England Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, RHINO Poetry, Ninth Letter, and she was recently named the recipient of Poetry International‘s 2014 C.P. Cavafy Prize for Poetry. She lives in Northern Idaho.


I own a photograph of a road in the Tagab District, in Kapisa Province, in Afghanistan. It is not a good photograph. It is a very brown photograph. I imagine the person who took the photo—a man—and he is very hot, sweating so much that he is wet inside his boots and pants, and he is taking the photograph because someone—a woman, with a gap between her front teeth—tells him, “You must take a photograph of this road,” and he is annoyed because it is sweltering and there is nothing spectacular about this road, and it is ugly, actually, and he snaps pictures, one after the other, of the soft crumbling shoulder, the brown stones, the blowing sand. What an ugly place. Huge. Huge and ugly. It was not worth it.


I met the actress Blane Kronborg, for the first time, four years ago. The meeting, at her request, was held at a restaurant bar in Laguna Beach. It was a Wednesday morning. The place was called Fin and when I sat down she asked, “What do you think they mean? Like a fish? Or the end?”

“Both?” I said.

“Ah,” she said, and I did not know if she meant she liked ambiguity or did not like it, or if she had any opinion on ambiguity at all. She smiled at me. Her teeth were false and perfect—no gaps, no chips, not a single flaw. She said her name. I said mine, and we shook hands. Blane explained, very efficiently and deftly stepping around the obvious emotional mines, that she had taken a film role—the role of a recently bereaved twin sister —and she thought that I could help her.

“Okay,” I said. I looked around the bar. She had chosen a desolate time of day. It was eleven in the morning. Some of the chairs were still hiked up on the tables, and the lone bartender, a thick blonde block, leaned her elbows on the bar and watched us. Blane Kronborg was absurdly beautiful. Her skin . . . her complexion was too duskily perfect, too unearthly and glowing, to be in a bar, to be in a bar at eleven in the morning, to be sitting next to someone like me.

Blane sipped a martini. I drank orange juice. We admired the surfers who dotted the waves outside the window. Outside, the dishwashers and busboys, in long white aprons, smoked in the parking lot. When Blane spoke, I had trouble listening, and really understanding, because her voice sounded just like her—just like her movies, the ones I had paid money to go to see on the nights they opened. I owned two of her films on DVD, the one about the submarine and the one where she plays Marie Curie.

“What do you want?” I asked. “Not to sound rude. But what can I do to help you? I don’t know anything about movies.”

Blane rubbed her thumb and the tip of her forefinger together. No more than a few interviews, she told me. No more than ten hours, all together. Arranged around my schedule, she promised, and she would be happy to have a car come and pick me up from my home or my work. Her assistant would call later that day to arrange everything.

“Okay,” I said. “That’s fine with me. But I took my lunch a little early, so—“

“Of course.” Blane Kronborg stood up and for a moment I did not know how to operate my legs or voice. There was a machine inside of her, one that calculated my qualities like an avenging robot from a science fiction film. It was the machine that had made her into such an good actress, probably. Blane Kronborg could take what she needed from my inventory of skill and emotion and biography and create art from it. It is a rare thing, to see your own worth in the eyes of a genius, and to see it amount to so little, so quickly.

She smiled and shook my hand and left before I had come down from my barstool.


Caedra disappeared in Afghanistan in 2007. I stopped working for a little while. I became a staple on television news programs. But when the news cycle tired of her, I found that I had nothing to do, and so I began to eat. I ate studiously and seriously. Within a year, I had gained almost a hundred pounds and my doctor told me that I was killing myself.

Three years later, I felt very tired, and one day I looked in my bathroom mirror and could no longer see a face that I loved. With all the fury and coldness with which I had put in on, I set about taking off the weight. When I lost the weight, I took a position as a weight management counselor at a Costa Mesa health clinic. I still work at the same clinic, though in a different role, and look after many of the same people who came to me in those days. I am not slim, now, but I am recognizable to the people who knew us in our youth.


Around this time, when I was meeting with Blane Kronborg, the clinic was very busy. I had begun seeing teenagers in group sessions, and one of my bosses had just had a baby so we were coping without her and without a replacement. I had begun taking classes, at night, toward my master’s degree. Once a week I saw my mother, and we went to church and to T.J. Maxx and we steamed chicken and vegetables for our dinner. Sometimes, on a Friday night, a friend from the clinic and I would go salsa dancing at a small nightclub near the beach. We gossiped and danced and sometimes invented a romance. I did some online dating but nothing came of it, and soon I decided that it was not worth the anxiety, so I canceled my subscription and spent the money on an elliptical machine for my living room and did not regret it.


I have a terrible memory. Once, I slipped and fell down the few concrete steps leading to the door of our duplex, and my mother, having seen me fall, asked me why I ran so wildly out the door. I had lived in that duplex my whole life, all nine years of it to that day. I could only respond that I had forgotten the concrete steps and ran so wildly because, in my mind, they were not there. My sister laughed and laughed.

My twin sister is Caedra Margolis, the journalist who went missing, along with a British photographer and their interpreter, during a trip to Afghanistan in 2007. She is the elder by seven minutes. When we were young, she lurked in the backgrounds of things: birthday parties, in the corner with a new toy, in the den—not on the sofa with me, watching television—but on the floor, leaning against the heating vent, half-obscured by our cat sleeping in her lap, photographs in which she is only an arm or a shadow. In photographs, now as then, I look surprised and out of place. I am always caught moving, my mouth open and my eyes dull, swimming to the point I ought to be. And when I look at these photographs, I can hear Caedra, laughing laughing and laughing, off-stage. We slept in the same bed until we were ten.


Blane Kronborg’s agent offered me a great deal of money in exchange for a series of six conversations over the course of the next six weeks and so, the following Tuesday night, I met Blane at a hotel in Los Angeles.

“Look,” said Blane, “here is the crisis.”

She spoke like that: “here is the crisis.” Her voice, when she was not acting, was low and monotone. And she rarely used the muscles of her face. I never even saw her raise her eyebrows. I felt as though she was saving up all her emotions for when she needed them, the way that singers sometimes speak in whispers on the day before a big performance. Except that Blane did not do this for one day. It seemed like she did this forever. I remember thinking that it must be a very carefully housed life, Blane Kronborg’s life.

“This is a small little film,” said Blane. “But I want to do it well and, of course, I think I’d do a better job if I could understand a little bit more about the relationship between twins. Twin sisters.”

“What is the movie about?” I asked.

“Me. I play a woman—about your age, a little younger—and my twin sister overdoses on heroin and dies. And then the crisis is that her sister is dead. So she’s in mourning. And the movie takes place in the weekend she goes to her sister’s house, to clean it out.”

“No one else could have done that? No one else?”

“No. The sister who is dead lived alone. I—my character—lives with her husband and two small children.”

“I do not have a husband or children.”

“Good for you. I mean it. Keep it that way.”

“Do you have a family?”

“Could you, do you think, clean out your sister’s house if she were to die?”

I nodded. She had decided to speak as if Caedra was still alive.

“Why do you say that so readily? You have absolutely no doubt? Wouldn’t it be painful for you?”

“I have already done it. Caedra had a small apartment. My mother and I did it together.”

Blane nodded and made a note in her little book. “Can you name some of the things in the apartment that made you especially emotional?”

“She had left a hamper full of dirty laundry.” Blane had perfect skin. Perfect olive skin, smooth as cake batter.

“How did you feel about that?”

“I thought . . . my mother wouldn’t have liked seeing that Caedra hadn’t done her laundry before she left. Stupid. I knew she wouldn’t be mad, but I still wanted to do it . . . do the laundry.”

“Did you do the laundry?”


“Did you feel closer to your mother during that time?”

“I have always been close to my mother.”

“Do you feel that your sister is the same person as you?”

“Of course not.”


“This is not possible to understand unless you have a twin, I think.”

“You do feel that your sister is the same person as you.”

“We are very different. Caedra was very strong and very bold. I am not that way.”

Blane smiled at me and said that she, too, was very different than who she was. I suppose I should have given her more credit. She might have understood something I could not say or even coherently feel. She was a very good actor.

The film, Blane went on to explain, is about how, as her character is cleaning out the sister’s apartment, she finds evidence of a wholly different life than the one she thought her sister had been living. And she becomes obsessed with finding out who her sister really was. Did I think I really knew who my sister was?


Six years ago, some teeth and part of a jawbone, later identified to be those of the British photographer who had accompanied Caedra to Afghanistan, were found off a road in Tagab District, in Kapisa Province. His name was Tallent Oakes, and he had no brothers or sisters. His camera was eventually found and purchased in a stall market by a German tourist.


Blane received a telephone call from her child’s father, a man called Michael. He had been called out of town unexpectedly, and so Blane would have her son for a few days. She became happy and sent me away with many thanks and a box of very expensive chocolates, and I did not see her for more than a week. I had to throw away the chocolates after I had eaten one, a caramel. Food is a razor in my palm, some days.


It was a full two weeks before I saw Blane Kronborg again. In that time I went to work, saw my mother, wrote a paper for my management class, and watched television. My favorite show was one that focused on a small team of crime investigators who flew around the country and worked together to solve horrifying murders. There was an interesting balance on the show, I thought, between the gruesome slaughters and massacres that the camera loved and the tight-knit camaraderie of the detectives. They often referred to their little group as a family, and the episodes always ended with a shot of two or more of them together, smiling or even embracing. The show’s producers meant, I suppose, to temper the blood-lust of their audience with an element of wholesome community, so that it could be argued that the program centered on the triumph of the human spirit over darkness. I watched the program every day. I watched an episode every weeknight at seven o’clock as I ate my dinner.


When Blane called again, she invited me to her home in Calabasas. A fat white woman wearing green running sneakers walked me through a cavernous and cool house, and we came outside again into Blane Kronborg’s backyard. Around the periphery stood a cheerful militia of citrus trees—grapefruits and lemons and oranges—and ensconced in the green lawn was a small clear pond, swarming with golden fish. A trickle of water gurgled down a pyramid of stones. Blane sat by the pond, in one of two sturdy Adirondack chairs, in a yellow bathing suit, drinking ginger ale from a can.

“Hello,” I said. “Sorry. I got a little lost.”

“Where do you live? I should have sent a car.”

“No, no. It’s fine. I live in Costa Mesa.”

“My god,” Blane said. “I knew that, and forgot. I’ll send a car next time. You’ll be on the 5 forever, going home. What do you take? The 5? The 405?”

I did not like talking about roads. I said I would decide later, and that it was not a big deal, anyway, but that we should get started so that I did not waste any of her time. Blane stood up in her bathing suit, and though her body was beautiful, I felt concern for her. I am not sure why. She was very thin, of course. With some effort, she pulled the second chair into the shade of an orange tree and I sat down in it. There was a small table between us, and on this sat Blane’s little notebook and pen.

“I want to talk about some experiences you had growing up,” said Blane. She pulled a loose white t-shirt over her head, and then she pulled her hair out from the collar. “Some things that I could perhaps find similar experiences to in my own life. I really would like to understand your feelings and the complexities of the relationship between you and your sister.”

“Caedra,” I said.

“Exactly. Do you remember a time when you were angry with her?”

“Loads,” I said. I thought, this is why her films are so successful. I would watch this woman do anything. Wash dishes. Cut her toenails. Count grains of sand.

“Really, really angry. Terribly angry. A time when you may have said, ‘I hate you,’ or ‘I want to kill you.’”

The fat woman came outside and handed me a cold glass of orange juice. I thanked the woman but she did not look at me.

“When Caedra first went missing and we got the news, we were watching television. We learned from the television. I was with my mother. I was very angry with Caedra. That she had decided to go to such a dangerous place. She should have known what would happen. She was stupid. And she ruined my life because she was stupid. She had broken my mother’s heart.”

Blane looked at me. I could see her swallow. She was wearing sunglasses, but she took them off and immediately shielded her eyes with her palm.

“What about,” she asked evenly, “when you were kids?”

I sipped my orange juice. It was very good. Someone had spent the time to squeeze oranges, and I guessed that the oranges came from these trees.

“This is good,” I said. “Thank you.”

Blane smiled. Caedra had a large gap between her front teeth. I have this gap, as well.

“We got angry lots of times,” I said. “Once I fell down the stairs. We were nine. I was rushing and I stepped outside the door like the stairs weren’t there, and I tumbled down them and cut my cheek. And Caedra laughed at me. She laughed at everything. I was very angry at her. I said, Don’t laugh at me when I hurt myself. And she was laughing so hard that she was crying. I felt betrayed. I felt very betrayed and I thought I would never speak to her again.”

“Did you speak to her again?”

“Of course.”

“How soon?”

“I don’t remember. Probably that afternoon.”

“Why do you think she laughed at you?”

I finished my orange juice. I felt even more thirsty than when I had arrived, but I did not want to ask for more. “She asked me to cut her cheek, to match mine. But we only had a butter knife and it didn’t work very well,” I said.

Blane squinted at me. She had the pen and her little notebook on the table, but she did not pick them up. I wanted to stand up and walk away, slowly, through the orange trees and the grass and the clear, cold water through which the fish darted like flashes of gold. She watched my face with the kind of focus that turns coal into gems. “Now that she is gone, do you still feel angry at her?”


“Why not?”

“There is no point. There is no one to feel angry at. Or with. We were always together until she was gone. I did not become a person by myself, and so it is not the same as it is for other people, being people.” I felt ugly and I was confusing myself.

“You are still alive,” said Blane. She wore the most impressive mask of humanity I have ever seen. I wondered, if I came across her in a year, would she remember who I was? I folded my hands on my stomach and let them rest there. I am still a little bit fat. I will always be a little bit fat.

“Yes,” I said. “But . . . yes. I spend most of my days trying not to be fat.”

Very slowly, Blane reached out and picked up her pen. She uncapped it with her teeth and wrote a few lines in her notebook.

We spoke a long while longer until I left her there, in the sun. A man in khaki shorts, walking his Dalmatian on the street, watched me leave the house. I knew that he thought I was a maid.


At the clinic, a few days later, my boss visited with her newborn baby. His name was Zachary, and he had been born after more than twenty hours of labor and an emergency Caesarean section. He did not seem to care, however. His little red face turned unconcernedly to all of us cooing and crying over him. He looked like his mother. My phone rang, and I returned to my office. Blane Kronborg’s agent asked if I would be available for one last interview, but I told him that it would be impossible, and he did not press the point. He told me that Ms. Kronborg would like to send me a gift, and so I gave him my home address. The following week, a man in white pants delivered a baby orange tree in a blue bucket.


The following year, my mother died—complications from diabetes—and the year after that, Blane’s film came out. I went to see it at the big theater in Pleasant Hill, with a friend, the same one who went salsa dancing with me, and afterwards we talked about how beautiful Blane Kronborg was, and how much the movie had made us cry, and how the landscapes in the movie—snowy, ice-colored landscapes—had been so unlike what we saw here in southern California. We decided that the following winter we would learn to ski, take a trip to Big Bear and ski in the snow, maybe. And then I went home and I watered my orange tree and then I washed my face with soap and water and then I went to sleep and dreamed again of coarse brown sand and coarse black heat and something, something clawing our face like an animal, and then, the next morning, I stepped on the scale, looked in the mirror, and wrangled down the pandemonium of joy that rose up like steam upon seeing her face, and I said hello, hello, I miss you, come back, to my sister.

Years ago, when I was teaching high school in New Hampshire, I had, in my class, twin boys. The quiet loyalty these two teenagers had for each other, and the unflinching sureness with which they loved each other, struck me and everyone who knew them. Once, one of the boys told me that his greatest fear, as a young child, was that his brother would disappear. I wrote 'Caedra’ to explore whatever it was about that fear and love that impressed me so much and stayed with me all these years.