Standing there in the doorway, gaping at the television, spooning ice cream into my mouth, I felt more than ever that I was not one person. I was the awkwardly shuffling, distracted dad that the boys may have vaguely noticed as he opened the freezer and rummaged; I was the kind of fussy, self-involved husband who pestered his dying wife with petty issues about his work life, until she had to beg him: Please. I can’t; I was the kind of man who would sit by your bedside and feed you ice chips from a spoon; I was also the one who thought that the ending didn’t have to be so grim, if only you tried harder. If only you’d be less pessimistic.
•And yet you’ll still feel this weird pinch of tenderness toward him. It was his dream to have sons who adored him, to be the fabled Good Dad, to be sweet and kind and wise, to be your buddy in your time of need, and you feel a twinge of compassion but combined with the urge to flee, to put as much distance between the two of you as possible.
•There are few words that are harder to explain than "loyalty." It's always regarded as a positive characteristic, because a lot of people would say that many of the best things people do for each other occur precisely because of loyalty. The only problem is that many of the very worst things we do to each other occur because of the same thing.
•How was it possible to miss something you no longer wanted? Blaine needed what she was unable to give and she needed what he was unable to give, and she grieved this, the loss of what could have been.
•And now here she was telling him it was over. “Why?” he asked. He taught ideas of nuance and complexity in his classes and yet he was asking for a single reason, the cause. But she had not had a bold epiphany and there was no cause; it was simply that layer after layer of discontent had settled in her, and formed a mass that now propelled her. She did not tell him this, because it would hurt him to know she had felt that way for a while, that her relationship with him was like being content in a house but always sitting by the window and looking out.
•It never occurred to him that she might have been exaggerating, that the grief she felt over losing her mother had distorted her vision, that she had pushed away her stepmother without giving her a chance, turning her into an enemy for no other reason than the fact that she was not her mother and never would be, that her overworked father was doing the best he could for his enraged and obstinate daughter, that there was, as there always is, another side to the story. Adolescence feeds on drama, it is most happy when living in extremis, and Ferguson was no less vulnerable to the lure of high emotion and extravagant unreason than any other boy his age, which meant that the appeal of a girl like Anne-Marie was fueled precisely by her unhappiness, and the greater storms she engulfed him in, the more intensely he wanted her.
•There was no question that Uncle Don could be more loquacious than his father, funnier than his father, more interesting than his father, but only when he wanted to be, and now that Ferguson had come to know him as well as he did, he saw how often he seemed to look straight through Aunt Mildred when she talked to him, as if he were searching for something behind her back, not able to hear her because he was thinking about something else, which was not unlike how his father often looked at his mother now, more and more often now, the glazed-over look of a man unable to see anything but the thoughts inside his own head, a man who was there but not there, gone.
•His mother looked agitated, more confused and distraught than Ferguson had ever seen her, no longer acting as the rock of composure and wisdom he had always thought she was but someone just like himself, a fragile being prey to sadness and tears and hopelessness, and when she put her arms around him he felt frightened, not just because his mother's store had burned down and there would be no more money for them to live on, which meant they would have to move to the poorhouse and subsist on porridge and dried-out pieces of bread for the rest of their days, no, that was bad enough, but the truly frightening thing was to learn that his mother was no stronger than he was, that the blows of the world hurt her just as much as they hurt him and that except for the fact that she was older, there was no difference between them.
•After the festivities ended, however, as he and his parents were on their way home in the blue car, he was caught by surprise when his mother started bad-mouthing Uncle Lew to his father. He couldn't follow everything she said, but the anger in her voice was unusually harsh, a bitter harangue that seemed to have something to do with his uncle owing his father money, and how dare Lew splurge on Cadillacs and mink coats before paying his father back. His father took it calmly at first, but then he raised his voice, which was something that almost never happened, and suddenly he was barking at Ferguson's mother to stop, telling her that Lew didn't owe him anything, that it was his brother's money and he could do anything he goddamned pleased with it. Ferguson knew his parents sometimes argued (he could hear their voices through the wall of their bedroom), but this was the first time they had fought a battle in front of him, and because it was the first time, he couldn't help feeling that something fundamental about the world had changed.
•Because she was nervous herself, and because Stanley continued to sit there mostly in silence, she wound up talking for the two of them, which is to say, she talked too much, and as the minutes ticked by she grew more and more appalled with herself for rattling on like a brainless chatterbox, bragging about her sister, for example, and telling him what a brilliant student Mildred was, summa cum laude from Hunter last June and now enrolled in the graduate program at Columbia, the only woman in the English Department, one of only three Jews, imagine how proud the family was, and no sooner did she mention the family than she was on her way to Uncle Archie, her father's younger brother, Archie Adler, the keyboard man with the Downtown Quintet, currently playing at Moe's Hideout on fifty-second Street, and how inspiring it was to have a musician in the family, an artist, a renegade who thought about other things besides making money, yes she loved her Uncle Archie, he was far and away her favorite relative, and then, inevitably, she began talking about her work with Schneiderman, enumerating all the things he had taught her in the past year and a half, grump, foul-mouthed Schneiderman, who would take her to the Bowery on Sunday afternoons to hunt for old winos and bums, broken creatures with their white beards and long white hair, magnificent heads, the heads of ancient prophets and kings, and Schneiderman would give these men money to come to the studio to pose for him, in the most part in costumes, the old men dressed up in turbans and gowns and velvet robes, in the same way Rembrandt had dressed up the down-and-outs of seventeenth-century Amsterdam, and that was the light they used with these men, Rembrandt's light, light and dark together, deep shadow, all shadow with the merest touch of light, and by now Schneiderman had enough faith in her to allow her to set up the lighting on her own, she had made several dozen of these portraits by herself, and then she used the word chiaroscuro, and she understood that Stanley had no idea what she was talking about, that she could have been talking Japanese for all the sense it made to him, but still he went on looking at her, listening to her, rapt and silent, thunderstruck.
•The driver of the ambulette brings in a wheelchair.
Mother lets herself be placed without a murmur,
as though this happened every day.
Amazed, we suddenly remember how to breathe.
I fetch her doctor's order:
“DNR — Do Not Resuscitate”
off the kitchen wall.
My hand bursts into flame.
•When I talk to Mother, she looks vaguely at someone else,
as though they were the speaker.
But she gets jealous and sarcastic
if two people talk and don't include her.
What I do is: talk to another person but look at her.
She is making converts to her ways.
•Her fears that the break-up of her marriage to Charles might portend a life of solitary, uninvited, ostracized, divorced neglect had not of course been fulfilled, but neither had they been wholly without foundation.
•She knew that despite their fondness for her, they were sure to find something almost satisfactory in watching her plunge and flounder and skitter off course — a plunging and floundering and skittering that their sharp, informed eyes could clearly detect, behind the confident public progress, the illusion of purpose, of direction. They knew quite well that Liz had lost purpose (momentarily, permanently, who could tell) and they were not wholly displeased. She had been too confident, too knowing, too rich: she had assumed privileges, she had lived in her own charmed world, had despised those who had been less certain, less secure. Let her taste confusion.
•They did not know then, were not to know for many years, were never fully to understand what it was that held them together — a sense of being on the margins of English life, perhaps, a sense of being outsiders, looking in from a cold street through a lighted window into a warm lit room that later might prove to be their own?
•Of course they should divorce. She had often thought of it herself, had once or twice in low or high moments suggested it. But was nevertheless outraged, outraged, that the suggestion should have come from Charles. Had he meant it? Yes, he had meant it, she had no doubt. It was up to her, quickly, to forge herself a manner that would give her an advantage in whatever negotiations were to come: and she had done so by the time he came down for breakfast.
•It was by her own choice that she sat here. It was by her own choice that she had married Cliff, in a field of cow parsley on a May evening. She had obeyed her body, she had opened her legs, had pulled him into her and said, Now, come, now. What was, what could have been wrong about that? She had thought to free herself, through nature, through the violence of nature. But nature was cunning and had kept her trapped. What did it want her for? She had obeyed sex, she had trusted sex, she had loved sex, and it had betrayed her, had deceived her, had left her sitting here, a middle-aged housewife, mother of three, playing cards, with nothing before her but old age.
•Irie studied a small slice of the Chalfen family tree, an elaborate illustrated oak that stretched back to the 1600s and forward into the present day. The differences between the Chalfens and the Jones/Bowdens were immediately plain. For starters, in the Chalfen family everybody seemed to have a normal number of children. More to the point, everybody knew whose children were whose. The men lived longer than the women. The marriages were singular and log-lasting. Dates of birth and death were concrete. And the Chalfens actually knew who they were in 1675. Archie Jones could give no longer record of his family than his father’s own haphazard appearance on the planet in the back room of a Bromley public house circa 1895 or 1896 or quite possibly 1897, depending on which nonagenarian ex-barmaid you spoke to. Clara Bowden knew a little about her grandmother, and half-believed the story that her famed and prolific Uncle P. had thirty-four children, but could only state definitively that her own mother was born at 2:45 P.M. on January 14, 1907, in a Catholic church in the middle of the Kingston earthquake. The rest was rumor, folktale and myth.
•“Where I come from,” said Archie, “a bloke likes to get to know a girl before he marries her.”
“Where you come from it is customary to boil vegetables until they fall apart. This does not mean,” said Samad tersely, “that it is a good idea.”
•They knocked around ideas that Archie did not entirely understand, and Samad offered secrets into the cool night that he had never spoken out loud. Long, comfortable silences passed between them like those between women who have known each other for years. They looked out onto stars that lit up unknown country, but neither man clung particularly to home. In short, it was precisely the kind of friendship an Englishman makes on holiday, that he can only make on holiday. A friendship that crosses class and color, a friendship that takes as its basis physical proximity and survives because the Englishman assumes the physical proximity will not continue.
•“But Auntie,” begs Neena, raising her voice, because this is what she really wants to argue about, the largest sticking point between the two of them, Alsana’s arranged marriage. “How can you bear to live with somebody you don’t know from Adam?”
In response, an infuriating wink: Alsana always likes to appear jovial at the very moment her interlocutor becomes hot under the collar. “Because, Miss Smarty-pants, it is by far the easiest option. It was exactly because Eve did not know Adam from Adam that they got on so A-OK. Let me explain. Yes, I was married to Samad Iqbal the same evening of the very day I met him. Yes, I didn’t know him from Adam. But I liked him well enough. We met in the breakfast room on a steaming Delhi day and he fanned me with The Times. I thought he had a good face, a sweet voice, and his backside was high and well-formed for a man of his age. Very good. Now, every time I learn something more about him, I like him less. So you see, we were better off the way we were.
•He thought of his wife, Alsana, who was not as meek as he had assumed when they married, to whom he must deliver the bad news; Alsana, who was prone to moments, even fits—yes, fits was not too strong a word—of rage. Cousins, aunts, brothers thought it a bad sign, they worried if there wasn’t some “funny mental history” in Alsana’s family, they sympathized with him the way you sympathize with a man who has bought a stolen car with more mileage on it than first thought.
•“Cousin!” said Ardashir, with a friendly grimace at the sight of Samad’s body curling cautiously around the door. He knew that Samad had come to inquire about a pay increase, and he wanted his cousin to feel that he had at least considered the case in all his friendly judiciousness before he declined.
•In one of the patches of waiting that were like pleats in time, while Corinne remained at their father’s bedside in case he should wake, Marianne and Judd, faint with hunger, had a quick meal in the hospital cafeteria; and afterward, grateful for each other’s company like old friends who’d somehow forgotten how much they liked each other, went outside to walk for a half hour in the bright windy autumn air.
•“It’s just that he loses control sometimes. As soon as he gets the business established again, and gets back to work, you know how he loves to work, he’ll be fine. The drinking is only temporary—it’s like medicine for him, like he has a terrible headache and needs to anesthetize himself, you can sympathize with that, Judd, can’t you? We might be the same way in his place. He’s a good, decent man who only wants to provide for his family. He’s told me how sorry he is, and he’d tell you except—well, you know how he is, how men are. He loves you no matter what he says or does, you know that don’t you?
•In a flash it came to her: of course she’d known something had been wrong with her daughter, these past few days. Something not-right. Since Sunday. Since the telephone call. A mother always knows, can’t not know. But Corinne had been so busy, hadn’t gotten around to investigating. And hadn’t she always been proud she wasn’t the kind of mother to “investigate”—on principle. I want my children to trust me. To think of me as an equal.
•"Dishes stacked in the sink..." Carl now said—he seemed to have given up the pretense of the key—and he made a tsk sound, like some grandmother from the fifties. And why are the dishes in the sink the universal emblem of domestic squalor and parental failure? Is it the stacking? Dishes shouldn't be stacked—was that the conclusion? Or is it that they're in the sink? It's okay that they're stacked, but not in the sink? Should they be stacked elsewhere? In a closet, on the bed?
•unite for life in stoic love to the last shrimp and a little longer
•I think Effie is going to commit adultery with the Major.
•Kiss you? In public? On the platform? Before the boy? Have you taken leave of your senses?
•I am sorry for all this randam.
•It is the Protestant thing to do (give me your arm). Pismires do it for one another. I have seen slugs do it. [Miss Fitt proffers her arm].
•Don’t mind me. Don’t take any notice of me. I do not exist. The fact is well known.
•Come back and unlace me behind the hedge!
•Let us wait for a minute and this vile dust fall back upon viler worms.
•Love, that is all I asked, a little love, daily, twice daily, fifty years of twice daily love like a Paris horse-butcher’s regular. What normal woman wants affection?
•But there was Jordan beside me who, unlike Daisy, was too wise ever to carry well-forgotten dreams from age to age.
•‘How,’ Jones asked Martin, ‘are things with your father?’
Martin shrugged and told him.
•And this is the other thing they shared, the sadness and clarity of time, time mourned in the music—how the sound, the shaped vibrations made by hammers striking wire strings made them feel an old sorrow not for particular things but for time itself, the material feel of a year or an age, the textures of unmeasured time that were lost to them now, and she turned away, looking past her lifted hand into some transparent thing he thought he could call her life.