social

While they wished to look out for each other, and to keep tabs on each other, staying in touch took a toll on them, serving as an unsettling reminder of a life not lived, and also they grew less worried each for the other, less worried that the other would need them to be happy, and eventually a month went by without any contact, and then a year, and then a lifetime. It is commonplace to hear middle-class people declare that they enjoy their jury service because it gives them an insight into how other people think and live. As though there were no other way of discovering these things. They enjoy the brief illusion of community, the sense of joint purpose. 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. Alix was, at this stage, perhaps perversely, perhaps naturally, attracted by poverty. It seemed to her less alarming than it had seemed to her parents. She got on speaking terms with it. She discovered the art of sinking. She sank. Not very deep, but she sank. As the front door closed behind her, Clara bit her own lip once more, this time in frustration and anger. Why had she said Captain Charlie Durham [was where she got her brains]? That was a downright lie. False as her own white teeth. Clara was smarter than Captain Charlie Curham. Hortense was smarter than Captain Charlie Durham. Probably even Grandma Ambrosia was smarter than Captain Charlie Durham. Captain Charlie Durham wasn’t smart. He had thought he was, but he wasn’t. He sacrificed a thousand people because he wanted to save one woman he never really knew. Captain Charlie Durham was a no-good djam fool bwoy. This has been the century of the great immigrant experiment. It is only this late in the day that you can walk into a playground and find Isaac Leung by the fish pond, Danny Rahman in the football cage, Quang O’Rourke bouncing a basketball, and Irie Jones humming a tune. Children with first and last names on a direct collision course. The school had learned to its cost that you cannot unite a thousand children under one Latin tag (school code: Laborare est Orare, To Labor is to Pray); kids are like pissing cats or burrowing moles, marking off land within land, each section with its own rules, beliefs, laws of engagement. Despite every attempt to suppress it, the school contained and sustained patches, hangouts, disputed territories, satellite states, states of emergency, ghettos, enclaves, islands. There were no maps, but common sense told you, for example, not to fuck with the area between the garbage cans and the craft department. There had been casualties there. I can take dictation at the rate of a hundred words a minute. I am willing to work. Will you let me try it? I am looking for a position as a cashier. This is to certify that Mabel Howard has been in my employ for fifteen months. She is a most able and willing worker. Merry Christmas to you and all the family. May each of the three hundred and sixty-five days of the new year be a happy one for you. May your Easter be a bright and happy one. Birthday greetings. You have our heartfelt sympathy. Heartiest congratulations. As a teen, during the worst years of Candyland, she'd been though a very long few years of aloneness, a brutal and wonderful and terrible time of luxuriating in her tortured mind, her suddenly heavy thighs, her growing nose, the rumors about her parents, the word Rosemont on everyone's tongues, always implicating her parents, her feeling of being horrified at being alone on weekend nights but not wanting to be among people, either. This was the march of civilization. First there is barbarism, no schools at all, all learning done at home, chaotically if at all. Then there is civil society, democracy, the right to free schooling for every child. Close on the heels of the right to free education is the right to pull these children out of the free schools and put them in private-schools—we have a right to pay for what is provided for free! And this is followed, inevitably and petulantly, by the right to pull them from school altogether to do it yourself at home, everything coming full circle. That was the primary response she provoked in others: disappointment. Her employees were disappointed in their hours and pay, her patients were disappointed in their care, in their cavities, in the fact of their dirty mouths, their soft teeth, in their slippery insurance plans. The suggestion box, the staff's idea, had been a disaster. Kinda disappointed. Very disappointed. Super disappointed. She put away the box, had a few happy years, then the customer-review websites appeared, jesus, so many aggrieved, all these anonymous patients avenging her every slip, every imperfect moment. Disappointment in her bedside manner. Disappointment in the diagnosis. Disappointed in the magazines in the waiting room. Every disappointment a crime. These were the breed of people who had overtaken Josie's town, had overtaken the kids' school. No one seemed to work; everyone had matching lycra and found time to be at every one of the three or four hundred yearly events at school. How could someone like Josie have a job, be a mother, and yet not be a failure, a pariah, at this average school in this average town? One would think you were struggling with a dead language. [I know full well what you mean], I often have that feeling, it is unspeakable excruciating. I confess I have it myself sometimes, when I happen to overhear what I am saying. I am sorry for all this randam. K. knew clearly now that it was his duty to seize the knife as it floated from hand to hand above him and plunge it into himself. But he didn’t do so.
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