by Joyce Carol Oates
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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.