Her blog was doing well, with thousands of unique visitors each month, and she was earning good speaking fees, and she had a fellowship at Princeton and a relationship with Blaine—“You are the absolute love of my life,” he’d written in her last birthday card—and yet there was cement in her soul. Princeton, in the summer, smelled of nothing, and although Ifemelu liked the tranquil greenness of the many trees, the clean streets and stately homes, the delicately overpriced shops, and the quiet, abiding air of earned grace, it was this, the lack of a smell, that most appealed to her, perhaps because the other American cities she knew well had all smelled distinctly. Philadelphia had the musty scent of history. New Haven smelled of neglect. Baltimore smelled of brine, and Brooklyn of sun-warmed garbage. But Princeton had no smell. She liked taking deep breaths here. She liked watching the locals who drove with pointed courtesy and parked their latest-model cars outside the organic grocery store on Nassau Street or outside the sushi restaurants or outside the icecream shop that had fifty different flavors including red pepper or outside the post office where effusive staff bounded out to greet them at the entrance. She liked the campus, grave with knowledge, the Gothic buildings with their vine-laced walls, and the way everything transformed, in the half-light of night, into a ghostly scene. She liked, most of all, that in this place of affluent ease, she could pretend to be someone else, someone specially admitted into a hallowed American club, someone adorned with certainty. Brian, redundant, would have time to write his novel, the great chronicle novel of the Northern working class. Brian would be forced, by redundancy, to confront the knowledge that time was not what he needed, Brian would turn sour. Already he had become unreasonable: later, he would, like everyone else, become sour. It was boredom that had driven her to drugs and crime: and in her case, the crime had not been wholly in pursuit of the drugs, it had been embraced for its own sake. For thrills, for excitement, for a sense of being alive, for a momentary freedom from the tyranny of time. 'All my childhood,' Jilly had told Alix, 'I sat with my eyes on the clock, waiting for things to be over. Waiting for time to pass. Bored? I thought I'd die. I thought I'd die of boredom. And I mean die. I thought I'd just stop breathing, at the dinner table, in front of telly, in school prayers, in lessons. I used to play these games with myself — that I mustn't look at my watch or at the clock until I'd counted three hundred backwards, until my father had cleared his throat three times, until a cloud edged across the window pane, until the history teacher blew her nose — and then I'd look, and only a poxy five minutes would have passed. Five miserable minutes, out of a lifetime. And it just seemed so stupid — wrong, stupid — to spend the rest of my life waiting for time to pass. Glad when every day was over. Sorry when I woke up every morning. Relieved whenever a minute passed without my counting it out, second by second. What was wrong with me? I don't know. When I was high, time flew. And it was even better, breaking into the chemist's, breaking into corner shops. The excitement. Planning what to go for. Hiding in the dark. Listening out. Hearing one's heart beat. You know what I mean? 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. 'Look,' said Esther, ' I don't know how to explain this, I know quite well that Claudio knows he hasn't seen a werewolf or spoken to a witch, but that so great is his power of — well, of what? of self-hallucination that he can persuade himself that he might have done? No, not even that. He knows he hasn't. But —' and Esther glanced at Liz in anxiety, in embarrassment, for never in all their years of close friendship had she ever made such a confession ' — the thing is, when I'm with Claudio, I find myself believing these things myself. It's as though I know I'd better believe them. that, when I'm with him, it's safer to believe them. Does that make any kind of sense at all? She crosses to the sink, pours away her unwanted cup of instant coffee, washes the cup, washes a foil milk bottle top, puts her foot on the pedal bin, opens it, drops in the foil top, gazes absently for a moment at an empty egg box, an empty tomato tin, the scrapings of last night’s spaghetti, some apple peel, some kitchen roll, a browning lettuce leaf, a cigarette carton, a tonic bottle. She wishes they would not throw tonic bottles in the pedal bin: she likes to take them to the newly-provided Bottle Bank. She thinks of rescuing it, but does not. I don’t want to get too like Ma, she repeats to herself: but even as she rehearses these words, a strange, perverse, numbing respect for her mother seeps through her: how she has persisted, her mother, in being what she is, how stubbornly she has refused to divert herself with trivia, how bleakly and boldly she has stared over the years into the heart of nothingness. For it is trivial, it is all trivial, coffee mornings, eating, drinking, the National Theatre, shopping outings, reading books, embroidery, evening classes, country walks, wiping surfaces, emptying waste-paper baskets, Bond Street, Regent’s Park, saving bottles for the Bottle Bank, gardening, telephone calls, listening to the radio, Terry Wogan, going to the hairdresser, chatting to the window cleaner, giving small donations to Oxfam, throwing away silver foil, collecting silver foil, cleaning the bath. It is nothing, all of it. Sex and small children had provided a brief purpose, the energy they generated had made sense of the world for a while, had forged a pattern, a community: clinics, playgrounds, parks, nursery groups, mothers waiting at the school gate: and now: nothing. An idle flutter of garbage over an empty pavement. Coldness, nothingness, grips Shirley as she stands in her kitchen. She knows herself to be biologically dead. Her spirit shudders: she has seen a vision, of waste matter, of meaningless after-life, of refuse, of decay. An egg box and a tin can in blue and white plastic pedal bin. So might one stand forever. She lifts her foot. The lid drops. He also tried to write the great pedestrian realistic working-class novel of the 1970s and 1980s, but he had moved to London, married a middle-class wife, and acquired too good an education to write what he wanted, as he wanted. 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. 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. She laid claim to the past—her version of the past—aggressively, as if retrieving misdirected mail. So this was where she came from. This all belonged to her, her birthright, like a pair of pearl earrings or a post office bond. X marks the spot, and Irie put an X on everything she found, collecting bits and pieces (birth certificates, maps, army reports, news articles) and storing them under the sofa, so that as if by osmosis the richness of them would pass through the fabric while she was sleeping and seep right into her. 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. 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. 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. Often you see old men in the corner of dark pubs, discussing and gesticulating, using beer mugs and salt cellars to represent long-dead people and far-off places. At that moment they display a vitality missing in every other area of their lives. They light up. Unpacking a full story onto the table—here is a Churchill-fork, over there is a Czechoslovakia-napkin, here we find the accumulation of German troops represented by a collection of cold peas—they are reborn. Something to rationalize, to explain, why one would keep returning, like Freud’s grandson with his fort-da game, to the same miserable scenario. But time is what it comes down to. After you’ve spent a certain amount, invested so much of it in one place, your credit rating booms and you feel like breaking the chronological bank. You feel like staying in the place until it pays you back all the time you gave it—even if it never will. Irie, looking strangely like the crowd on top of the wall in her everyday garb of CND badges, graffiti-covered trousers, and beaded hair, shook her head in saddened disbelief. She was that age. Whatever she said burst like genius into centuries of silence. Whatever she touched was the first stroke of its kind. Whatever she believed was not formed by faith but carved from certainty. Whatever she thought was the first time such a thought had ever been thunk. For six days and six nights Alsana did not know, was not sure. During this period she read extensively from the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore and tried hard to believe his assurances (Night’s darkness is a bag that bursts with the gold of the dawn), but she was, at heart, a practical woman and found poetry no comfort. “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. At the traffic lights he flipped a ten-pence coin and smiled when the result seemed to agree that Fate was pulling him toward another life. Like a dog on a leash round a corner. Generally, women can’t do this, but men retain the ancient ability to leave a family and a past. They just unhook themselves, like removing a fake beard, and skulk discreetly back into society, changed men. Unrecognizable. In this manner, a new Archie is about to emerge. We have caught him on the hop. For he is in a past-tense, future-perfect kind of mood. He is in a maybe this, maybe that kind of mood. When he approaches a forked road, he slows down, checks his undistinguished face in the rearview mirror, and quite indiscriminately chooses a route he’s never taken before, a residential street leading to a place called Queen’s Park. Go straight past Go!, Archie-boy, he tells himself; collect two hundred, and don’t for Gawd’s sake look back. Strangely, Daria was the final pulse of thought that passed through Archie just before he blacked out. It was the thought of a whore he met once twenty years ago, it was Daria and her smile that made him cover Mo’s apron with tears of joy as the butcher saved his life. He had seen her in his mind: a beautiful woman in a doorway with a come-hither look; and he realized he regretted not coming hither. If there was any chance of ever seeing a look like that again, then he wanted the second chance, he wanted the extra time. This is worse than the Matterhorn, were you ever on the Matterhorn, Miss Fitt, great honeymoon resort. A barometric low hung over the Atlantic. It moved eastward toward a high-pressure area over Russia without as yet showing any inclination to bypass this high in a northerly direction. The isotherms and isotheres were functioning as they should. The air temperature was appropriate relative to the annual mean temperature and to the aperiodic monthly fluctuations of the temperature. The rising and setting of the sun, the moon, the phases of the moon, of Venus, of the rings of Saturn, and many other significant phenomena were all in accordance with the forecasts in the astronomical yearbooks. The water vapor in the air was at its maximal state of tension, while the humidity was minimal. In a word that characterizes the facts fairly accurately, even if it is a bit old-fashioned: It was a fine day in August 1913. I think revenge must be good. The Greeks knew—how blood calls out for blood. I think it must be inborn, in our genes, the instinct for ‘justice’. The need to restore balance. 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. Corinne had begun to cry silently, in that way that Marianne recalled for the first time in years: a mother’s crying, stifled, soundless, secret so as to not disturb. If you cried so others could hear you were crying to be head but a mother’s crying was just the opposite, crying not to be heard. “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? They say the youngest kid of a family doesn’t remember himself very clearly because he has learned to rely on the memories of others, who are older and thus possess authority. Where his memory conflicts with theirs, it’s discarded as of little worth. What he believes to be his memory is more accurately described as a rag-bin of others’ memories, their overlapping testimonies of things that happened before his birth, including him. so it wasn’t a smart-ass remark, I don’t know what I know. It was just the truth. Most of the Co-op members, male and female, from the youngest who was eighteen to the eldest who was in his thirties, complained of home. It was fashionable among the Kilburn College students generally, Marianne noted, to complain of home, family. Her professors made witty jokes about “domestic American rituals”—Thanksgiving, Christmas gift-giving, family summer vacations—in such knowing ways, everyone in class laughed; or almost everyone. Marianne perceived that to be without a family in America is to be deprived not just of that family but of an entire arsenal of allusive material as cohesive as algae covering a pond. The terrifying possibility came to Patrick: our lives are not our own but in the possession of others, our parents. Our lives are defined by the whims, caprices, cruelties of others. That genetic web, the ties of blood. It was the oldest curse, older than God. Am I loved? Am I wanted? Who will want me, if my parents don’t? Of course he knew beauty doesn’t exist. He hadn’t known then but he knew now. Beauty is a matter of perspective, subjectivity. Cultural prejudice. You require a human eye, a human brain, a human vocabulary. In nature, there’s nothing. Still beauty gives comfort. Who knows why? A cruel counterthought mocked No, you’re just afraid of what you might discover. 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. Corinne tried one of the heavy doors, cautiously—it opened. Her heart was beating painfully. She stepped inside the dim-lit vestibule and a sweet-rancid odor made her nostrils pinch. Incense. An undercurrent of mildew. That unmistakable smell of so-aged-it-can’t-really-be-cleaned-any-longer linoleum tile. As if rehearsing a way in which to speak of this adventure, a way of most artfully recounting it to make her listeners laugh, Corinne thought Why, you know right away it isn’t one of our churches, it’s one of theirs! So Corinne was a new mother: slightly touched by new-mother craziness. She hoped to dignify herself by commenting sagely to the doctor (always, you want to impress them: men of authority) about “the sucking reflex”—“the bonding instinct”—and similar clinical-anthropological phenomena. She wanted to impress this man she hardly knew, she’d been a college student after all, even if she was only at Fredonia State, and she’d dropped out between her junior and senior years to get married. Was she invincible? She wondered if she was guided by some higher power. Was her mission, avoiding Carl, leaving civilization, a holy one? There was no other answer. 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. His thoughts and the thoughts of others were constantly on what he would achieve, on what he would become, in a pleasantly anticipated future, while the present lay just at hand, all the riches of the world ignored and untouched. It was scarcely Michael's fault. I could see that his clever childhood had been a grooming, an anticipation, for the future use of his many talents, and he had fallen into the habit of tomorrow which in a man of thirty-three shows a rosy promise beginning to wither and arouses pity rather than admiration. Everything is always comparative in another country. Crooks are crookeder, grass is greener, heights are higher, words are wordier, pleasures are more pleasurable, death is deader, life is livelier, dogs are doggier, fortune is more fortunate, vaults more vaulted, distance is further, water more watery, blue is bluer, grey is greyer, fame more famous, continuance more continuing, consumers more consumed, reality more real, fantasy more fantastic, adjustments more adjusted, fires more fiery, chaos more chaotic... I mean to say... I quite enjoy these detective stories. There's an art in them, you know. (He was defensive.) What neither of them said was that when you plan to retire, to get to the country of perpetual relaxation, and you start travelling there and eventually arrive you may find you have picked up a perpetual sense of despair and a feeling of timelessness that is not merely the abandoning of timetables and not the grand eternity 'pinnacled dim in the intense inane', but a prospect of desert, of fruitlessness from which death begins to appear, enticingly, as the last springtime. Everywhere, every year there is weather described as unusual, not by the visitors but by those who know best, the inhabitants. Have you sensed the nothingness of my nature, that I am as empty as the carriages of the trains that pass, dusty, used, in the morning sun? A novelist must be that way, I think, and not complain of it, otherwise how shall the characters accommodate themselves in his mind? The library performed a similar function to the English church—it gathered together the exiles who had left England partly because they did not wish to be gathered together but who had changed their mind once they had arrived on the Côte d'Azur, settled in their retirement homes or apartments, redecorated and furnished the interior, cleaned up and planted the garden, and then sitting back to enjoy the arrival of the long-anticipated time for living, found that it was late, or it had been and gone, or it was only a dream. When three hours had passed Dorset's voice was very loud, Elizabeth's too, and Elizabeth began to talk of Rose and how she and Rose had both written poems while they were young and hers, Elizabeth's, were longer with more words and had more titles. Menton is a city of innumerable retirement dreams quietly being wrecked by reality. The lizard ideal of sun and warmth, the human ideal of unlimited leisure, of unbroken views of ocean, sky, mountains, trees, make Menton a promised paradise for all when reaching their troisième âge they try to follow the tradition of stopping suddenly their pursuits of twenty, thirty, forty years. What a dreary life an author's life is, I thought. Grace, in this family setting, was the tolerated outsider whose slightest false move would change her to the enemy; the seeds of enmity had been planted with her arrival as Michael's unofficial wife but the rain- and sun-making forces necessary for their growth had been imprisoned within the seasonless weatherless world of the parents' love for or indulgence of their son. When she spoke, French or English, she spoke slowly, almost mechanically, with a swaying motion of her body as if she had within her some instrument for winding her words, in sentence-containers, up from a great depth where they had fallen or been banished; sometimes one felt as if they were extracted with difficulty, as if she herself had gone away down into the rock to hack them out and shake them clean—a long slow process which made her listeners impatient: usually Max or Michael took over the telling of a long story when the words appeared to fit it appeared to be growing scarce. ...perhaps reliving that same kind of afternoon when she (the old maid, his sister—and more than his sister: the woman (she was more than fifteen years older than he) who had brought him up and nursed him and virtually held him in her arms until he could stand up by himself), when she had appeared, carried by that same seven o’clock train, although then composed of an assortment of irregular cars in which she had travelled—or rather lived—for three days and three nights, with this difference, too, that it wasn’t seven but around three in the afternoon, and that it was the train from the day before arriving around twenty hours late, or today’s train four hours ahead of time, or perhaps even tomorrow’s and even the day after’s train with, in that case, a huge supply of hours ahead of time, for after this one and for almost a week, no other train came through From here, at least, nothing more could be heard. Through the trees the car was still visible on the top of the rise, and, to the left, the window with the closed shutters behind which the old woman was dying, motionless in her solitary bed, the sheet which was drawn up to her chin rising and falling with the regular rhythm of that continuous, calm and terrible rattle escaping from her lungs like the monstrous respiration of a giant, some playful mythological creature which had chosen its residence in the frail body of this woman in her death agony, so that these slow and interminable bellows could be heard like the trumpets of the Last Judgement,—dying, diligently dying, concentrated, focussed (solitary, arrogant and terrible) on the action of dying, in the dimness of the room where the summer’s powdery light penetrated only through the slit between the two closed shutters: a T whose crosspiece, shaped like a thin triangle lying base upward, corresponded to the interval between the top of the shutters and the window frame, and which slowly shifted from right to left, somewhat distended toward noon, then again diagonally lengthened again, all between morning and evening: like the initial of the word Time, an impalpable and stubborn letter trailing in the moribund odor, the stale and moribund fragrance hanging in the air: the smell of cheap eau de cologne the nurse bathed her in, and that ineffable, obsolete and ashen odor of faded bouquets which seems to float forever in the rooms of old ladies, around mirrors reflecting their worn faces, like the discreet, fragile, slightly rancid exhalation of faded days... “...And now she’s going to die, and there’ll be nothing left.” (the voice stopping suddenly breaking off, and Louise standing there, panting a little, as if surprised, furious at having talked so much, still staring at whatever it was that he couldn’t see—that he knew he couldn’t see, that he wouldn’t see, even if he turned around, staring in his turn over his shoulder in the direction where whatever it was seemed to be... “No,” she repeated submissively. But she continued looking at something in front of her which he could not see. ...“Then nothing,” she said (still staring through the trees, across the fields of that calm September landscape, at whatever it was that he could not see). “Nothing:...” But she has nothing, nobody, and no-one will mourn for her... She mused over the word mine. What a funny word for the extraction of precious metals from the earth: mine. She thought she would tell her kids her thoughts on this, the very funny confluence of the meanings of mine and mine, and then found herself whispering the words, mine mine mine, and noticed she was smiling. She was far gone. The diner was in full swing. Josie was in her flannel shirt, so she was invisible and enjoying a second glass of chardonnay. She could drive all night, she decided. She could pull over anywhere. It didn't matter. She was free and her children were safe. She felt powerful, capable, heroic as she had when they'd left the bed and breakfast. She wanted a drink. Coast to coast, most Americans would not be sure that war was still on, that we were still there, that men and women like Jeremy were still fighting and dying, that Afghans were still fighting and dying too. In the relentless morning sun Josie drove, exhausted and angry and tired of watching the bottle break across her face, but knowing she deserved it. What kind of person takes it from behind in a trailer park, with her children sleeping mere feet away? "Eight thirty," Josie said, because she knew it was probably true. "Thanks," the man said, but in a way that implied he was a paying guest and she was some kind of bike-path clock keeper—that she worked on the path and was in charge of time. She thought of the bicycle man in her town, the one responsible for the maiming, the furious and florid sense of themselves these men felt. I am wearing these clothes and have gone fast. Move from my path. Fix my teeth. Tell me the time. The purple wildflowers, the grey dirt, the smell of the pine needles cooling. The tall trees halved by lightning. The waning sun on the hills in the distance, bright blue and white. Whose bike was she riding anyway? A log-hewn fence. The wail of a far-away truck slowing. The monotony of an unburned forest on the sun-drenched hillside. Why did she have to be tipsy before she could notice anything? To be described is to be seduced. Shit. One turn of phrase. One thing noticed that she'd never noticed. It worked always. He understood that she'd spent the day wondering why she hadn't had happiness like this, Jesus Christ why had she made all the wrong decisions, these stupid teenagers getting married knew how to have a beautiful and humble wedding by this Alaskan river, goddamnit, why did she make it all so difficult when it could be so simple? 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. Twenty-two years of struggle for what—your child sits inside at an Ikea table staring into a screen while outside the sky changes, the sun rises and falls, hawks float like zeppelins. This was the common criminal pursuit of all contemporary humankind. Give my child an Ikea desk and twelve hours a day of sedentary typing. This will mean success for me, them, our family, our lineage. She would not pursue this. She would not subject her children to this. They would not seek these specious things, no. It was only about making them loved in a moment in the sun. "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? Child support was never discussed or contemplated. For six months he wasn't seen at all. But when he reappeared, he acted like he'd been there all the while. "Are you sure about this school they're in?" he'd asked last fall, the last time he'd visited. "Are they being fully challenged?" Any given year you should expect certain things. You can expect to see some horrifying act of terror, for example. A new beheading of a man in orange is a shock and will make you want to never leave the house, but not if you have budgeted for it. A new mass shooting in a mall or school can cripple you for a day but not if you've budgeted for it. That's this month's shooting, you can say. And if there isn't a shooting that month, all the better. You've come out ahead on the ledger. You have a surplus. A refund. The crime of the ponytail ladies was that they were always in a hurry, in a hurry to exercise, in a hurry to pick up their children from capoeira, in a hurry to examine the scores from the school's Mandarin-immersion program, in a hurry to buy micro-greens at the new ivy-covered organic grocery, one of a newly dominant national chain begun by a libertarian megalomaniac, a store where the food had been curated, in which the women in their ponytails rushed quickly through, smiling viciously when their carts' paths were momentarily waylaid. 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. Back home Josie was so tired, so bone-weary of spending money. It crushed the spirit. 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? There is proud happiness, happiness born of doing good work in the light of day, years of worthwhile labor, and afterwards being tired, and content, and surrounded by family and friends, bathed in satisfaction and ready for a deserved rest—sleep or death, it would not matter. Then there is the happiness of one's personal slum. The happiness of being alone, and tipsy on red wine, in the passenger seat of an ancient recreational vehicle parked somewhere in Alaska's deep south, staring into a scribble of black trees, afraid to go to sleep for fear that at any moment someone will get past the toy lock on the RV door and murder you and your two small children sleeping above. José Palacios, his oldest servant, found him floating naked with his eyes open in the purifying waters of his bath and thought he’d drowned. He knew this was one of the many ways the General meditated, but the ecstasy in which he lay drifting seemed that of a man no longer of this world. unite for life in stoic love to the last shrimp and a little longer He’s a little old man we’re two little old men something wrong here I’ll never have a past never had “The Lord upholdeth all that fall and raiseth up all those that be bowed down” (they join in wild laughter). All day the same old record. All alone in that great empty house. She must be a very old woman now. It’s like the sparrows, than many of which we are of more value, they weren’t sparrows at all. You exaggerate. They weren’t sparrows at all! Does that put our price up? Rotting leaves in June. From last year, and from the year before last, and from the year before that again. I have forgotten what way I am facing. You have turned aside and are bowed down over the ditch. You lie awake at night, tossing to and fro and brooding on it (and other wretchedness). The only thing wrong with her as far as he could see was that she was dying. It is a help sometimes to get up and pace to and fro between the seats, like a caged beast. I did not care. I just sat on, saying, If this train were never to move again, I should not greatly mind. Things are very dull today, I said, nobody going down, nobody getting on. Then as time flew by and nothing happened, I realized my error. We had not entered a station. Where was I in my composition? At a standstill. Oh, the pretty little woolly lamb, crying to suck its mother! 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. On the other hand, I said, these are the horrors of home life, the dusting, sweeping, airing, scrubbing, waxing, waning, washing, mangling, drying, mowing, clipping, raking, rolling, scuffling, shoveling, grinding, tearing, pounding, banging and slamming. And the brats, the happy hearty little howling neighbour’s brats. Of all this and much more the weekend, the Saturday intermission and then the day of rest, have given you some idea. But what must it be like on a working day? A Wednesday? A Friday! And I fell to thinking of my silent, back-street, basement office, with its obliterated plate, rest couch and velvet hangings, and what it means to be buried there alive, if only from ten to five, with convenient to the one hand a bottle of light pale ale and to the other a long ice-cold fillet of hake. Nothing, I said, not even fully certified death, can ever take the place of that. It was then I noticed we were at a standstill. I dream of other roads, in other lands. Of another  home. We drew out in the tick of time, I can vouch for that. If I could go deaf and dumb I think I might pant on to be a hundred. Just concentrate on putting one foot before the next or whatever that expression is. Sit at home on the remnants of my bottom counting the hours - till the next meal. The very thought puts life in me! Just cling to me and all will be well. I have been up and down these steps five thousand times and still I do not know how many there are. I think Effie is going to commit adultery with the Major. We shall fall into the ditch. Oh! It will be like old times! My birthday? Don’t you remember? I wished you your happy returns in the bathroom. Kiss you? In public? On the platform? Before the boy? Have you taken leave of your senses? I do think we are owed some explanation, if only to set our minds at rest. I quite agree, we are better here, in the shadow of the waiting room. A collision! Oh that would be wonderful! What terrible thing has happened? The cruel fact remains that the twelve thirty has not yet arrived (Oh darling mother!) Do not flatter yourselves for one moment, because I hold aloof, that my sufferings have ceased. Do not imagine, because I am silent, that I am not present, and alive, to all that is going on. I am sorry for all this randam. That will do, just prop me up against the wall like a roll of tarpaulin and that will be all for the moment. That is a nice way to treat your defenceless subordinates, hitting them without warning in the pitt of the stomach. 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]. Maddy Rooney, née Dunne, the big pale blur. You have piercing sight, Miss Fitt, if only you knew it, literally piercing. I start eating my doily instead of thin bread and butter. I stumble in a daze as you might say, oblivious to my coreligionists. Mr Barrell (testily). What is it, Mrs. Rooney, I have my work to do. There was a moment there, I remember now, I was so plunged in sorrow I wouldn’t have heard a steam roller go over me. No coughing or spitting or bleeding or vomiting, just drifting gently down into the higher life. Would I were lying stretched out in my comfortable bed, just wasting painlessly away, keeping up my strength with arrowroot and calves-foot jelly, till in the end you wouldn’t see me under the blankets any more than a board. Crouch down! At my time of life! This is lunacy! Don’t mind me. Don’t take any notice of me. I do not exist. The fact is well known. One minute picking happy at the dung, on the road, in the sun, with now and then a dust bath, and then -- bang! - all her troubles over. Oh, mother, you’ve squashed her, drive on, drive on! My nice frock! Look what you’ve done to my frock! Suppose I do get up? Will I ever get down? Come back and unlace me behind the hedge! What kind of a country is this where a woman can’t weep her heart out on the highways and byways without being tormented by retired bill-brokers! In her forties now she’d be, I don’t know, fifty, girding up her lovely little loins, getting ready for the change... Speak for yourself. I am not alive nor anything approaching it. In spite of all it is a blessed thing to be alive in such weather, and out of hospital. Let us wait for a minute and this vile dust fall back upon viler worms. I saved his life once. I have not forgotten it. Are we very late? I have not the courage to look at my watch. The back! The chain! The oil! The grease! The hub! The brakes! The gear! No! It is too much! It is suicide to be abroad. But what is it to be at home? A lingering dissolution. 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? Oh I am just a hysterical old hag I know, destroyed with sorrow and pining and gentility and church-going and fat and rheumatism and childlessness. Oh let me just flop down flat on the road like a big flat jelly out of a bowl and never move again! A great big slop thick with grit and dust and flies, they would have to scoop me up with a shovel. Why do you not climb up on the crest of your manure and let yourself be carried along? Poor woman. All alone in that ruinous old house. The loneliness of this country and the impermanence of the people who huddle on a land that belongs only to itself. She knew it had been the fifteenth because she had arrived in Washington on the fifteenth of August and given herself a month to find a house and put Catherine into school and get the raise that meant she was no longer a provisional hire (there again a survivor, there again that single-minded efficiency), and at the moment her father called she had just made a note to ask about the raise. You will notice that participants in disasters typically locate the "beginning" of a disaster at a point suggesting their own control over events. A plane crash retold will not begin with the pressure system over the Central Pacific that caused the instability over the Gulf that caused the wind shear at DFW but at some manageable human intersect, with for example the "funny feeling" ignored at breakfast. An account of a 6.8 earthquake will not begin with the overlap of the tectonic plates but more comfortably, at the place in London where we ordered the Spode that shattered the morning the tectonic plates shifted. Had we just gone with the funny feeling. Had we just never ordered the Spode. We all prefer the magical explanation. If I could believe (as convention tells us) that character is destiny and the past prologue et cetera, I might begin the story of what happened to Elena McMahon during the summer of 1984 at some earlier point. He wanted to meet in the real world the unsubstantial image which his soul so constantly beheld. But there was Jordan beside me who, unlike Daisy, was too wise ever to carry well-forgotten dreams from age to age. The story of my life does not exist. Does not exist. There’s never been any center to it. No path, no line. There are great spaces where you pretend there used to be someone, but it’s not true, there was no one. ‘How,’ Jones asked Martin, ‘are things with your father?’ Martin shrugged and told him. ‘Don’t misunderstand me,’ said the priest, ‘I’m just pointing out the various opinions that exist on the matter. You mustn’t pay too much attention to opinions. The text is immutable, and the opinions are often only an expression of despair over it…’ Nature, who has played so many queer tricks upon us, making us so unequally of clay and diamonds, of rainbow and granite, and stuffed them into a case, often of the most incongruous, for the poet has a butcher’s face and the butcher a poet’s; nature, who delights in muddle and mystery, so that even now (the first of November, 1927) we know not why we go upstairs, or why we come down again, our most daily movements are like the passage of a ship on an unknown sea, and the sailors at the masthead ask, pointing their glasses to the horizon: Is there land or is there none? to which, if we are prophets, we make answer ‘Yes’; if we are truthful we say ‘No’; nature, who has so much to answer for besides the perhaps unwieldy length of this sentence, has further complicated her task and added to our confusion by providing not only a perfect rag-bag of odds and ends within us—a piece of a policeman’s trousers lying cheek by jowl with Queen Alexandra’s wedding veil—but has contrived that the whole assortment shall be lightly stitched together by a single thread. Memory is the seamstress, and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither. We know not what comes next, or what follows after. Thus, the most ordinary movement in the world, such as sitting down at a table and pulling the inkstand towards one, may agitate a thousand odd, disconnected fragments, now bright, now dim, hanging and bobbing and dipping and flaunting, like the underlinen of a family of fourteen, on a line in a gale of wind. When de long, cold———Oh, I tells you, breddren, when de long cold. . . I sees de light en I sees de word, po sinner! Dey passed away in Egypt, de swingin chariots; de generations passed away. Wus a rich man: whar he now, O breddren? Wus a po man: whar he now, O sistuhn? Oh I tells you, ef you aint got de milk en de dew of de old salvation when de long, cold years roll away! Incredible the first animal that dreamed of another animal. Monstrous the first vertebrae that succeeded in standing on two feet and thus spread terror among the beasts still normally and happily crawling close to the ground through the slime of creation. Astounding the first telephone call, the first boiling water, the first song, the first loincloth. Sometimes I think everything I’ve done those years, everything around me in fact, I don’t know if you feel this way but everything is vaguely—what—fictitious. She thinks she longs for rest, a carefree afternoon to decide suddenly to go to the pictures, or just to sit with the birdcages and listen to the children play in snow. This notion of rest, it’s attractive to her, but I don’t think she would like it. They are all like that, these women. Waiting for the ease, the space that need not be filled with anything other than the drift of their own thoughts. But they wouldn’t like it. They are busy and thinking of ways to be busier because such a space of nothing pressing to do would knock them down. No fields of cowslips will rush into that opening, nor morning free of flies and heat when the sky is shy. No. Not at all. They fill their minds with soap and repair and dicey confrontations because what is waiting for them, in a suddenly idle moment, is the seep of rage. Molten. Thick and slow-moving. Mindful and particular about what in its path it chooses to bury. Or else, into a beat of time, and sideways under their breasts, slips a sorrow they don’t know where from. Her face is wasted away so that the bones draw just under the skin in white lines. Her eyes are like two candles when you watch them gutter down into the sockets of iron candle-sticks. But the eternal and the everlasting salvation and grace is not upon her. For some time now he had felt the need to urinate, but he did not get up. Until last night he would have hopped out of bed and gone in the can in the corner of his cell. But now he was daunted at the thought of walking down the hall to a room marked by a wooden sign bearing the letters WC. The realization that he could open the door of his own free will and walk to the toilet without being watched by a guard filled him with something approaching terror. Opinions vary as to whether the doorkeeper intends the announcement that he is going to shut the gate merely as an answer, or to emphasize his devotion to duty, or because he wants to arouse remorse and sorrow in the man at the last moment. ‘…No,’ said the priest, ‘you don’t have to consider everything true, you just have to consider it necessary.’ 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. Things remain much as they are for two or three hundred years or so, except for a little dust and a few cobwebs which one old woman can sweep up in half an hour. 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.     He wants me to go to the zoo because the animals are real. I told him these are zoo animals. These are animals that live in the Bronx. On television I can see animals in the rain forest or the desert. So which is real and which is fake, which made him laugh. To his surprise, Brian did not reject this theory. He didn’t necessarily believe it but he didn’t dismiss it either. He believed it provisionally here in this room located below street level in a framehouse on a weekday afternoon in Cliffside park, New Jersey. It was lyrically true as it emerged from Marvin Lundy’s mouth and reached Brian’s middle ear, unprovably true, remotely and inadmissably true but not completely unhistorical, not without some nuance of authentic inner narrative. In the dark he thinks about the game. The game comes rolling over him in a great warm wave of contented sleep. The game was lost and then they won. The game could not be won but they won it and it’s won forever. This is the thing they can never take away. It is the first thing he will think of in the morning and one part of him is already there even as he falls asleep, waking up to think about the game. This is a terrible moment, one of those times when Cotter realizes he has won a struggle he didn’t know was taking place. He has beat his father into surrender, into awful withdrawal. She looked at me and walked out of the room. I heard the shower running across the hall and I realized I’d done it all wrong. I should have brought up the subject standing in the doorway while she was watching TV. Then I could have been the one who walks out of the room. I noticed how people played at being executives while actually holding executive positions... You maintain a shifting distance between yourself and your job. There’s a sort of self-conscious space, a  sense of formal play that is a sort of arrested panic, and maybe you show it in a forced gesture or a ritual clearing of the throat... but it’s not that you’re pretending to be someone else. You’re pretending to be exactly who you are. Famous people don’t want to be told that you have a quality in common with them. It makes them think there’s something crawling in their clothes. It’s the special skill of the adolescent to imagine the end of the world as an adjunct to his own discontent. He went out to get a pack of cigarettes and never came back. This is a thing you used to hear about disappearing men. It’s the final family mystery. All the mysteries of the family reach their culmination in the final passion of abandonment. ...the way people modelled themselves on someone else, a few people, it’s only natural, mostly mimicking up, repeating a superior’s gestures or expressions. A man sat in a corner chair in a living room set with a coffee table in front of him and books or covers of books arrayed on the wall behind. I lived responsibly in the real. I didn’t accept this business of life as a fiction, or whatever Klara Sax had meant when she said that things had become unreal. History was not a matter of missing minutes on the tape. I did not stand helpless before it. I hewed to the texture of collected knowledge, took faith from the solid and availing stuff of our experience. Even if we believe that history is a workwheel powered by human blood—read the speeches of Mussolini—at least we’ve known the thing together. A single narrative sweep, not ten thousand wisps of disinformation. I watched TV in my motel. I found the more she talked the more she owed me. But I didn’t say a word. Broad and open like a summer waitress who says there you go when she deposits the food in front of you. He realized he’d forgotten to give his dad two glasses of water to take with the yellow and blue capsule despite the bold-faced reminder on the prescription bottle. These little failures ate away at his confidence even when he knew it was not his father’s fault for not managing his own intake or his mother’s for not being around when she was needed. There were constant little wars of whose fault is it and okay I’m sorry and I wish he’d die and get it over with, all taking place in Richard’s inner mind.
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