by Dave Eggers
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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.
•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.