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.
In any case, she liked Jill Tillman better: there was something a little snappier about it, more acerbic, which suited her. She got on the phone—to talk to one of the boys’ teachers, or a construction contractor whose work wasn’t quite up to par, or some bureaucratic functionary—and she had found a perfect, crisp snap to the words. “This is Jill Tillman,” she would say, and a perfectly pleasant chill would spread across the syllables. “May I speak to your supervisor, please?”
She glanced at her brothers, at her mother, still in her bathrobe on their tree lawn and thought, They have literally nothing but the clothes on their backs. Literally was one of Lexie’s favourite words, which she deployed even when the situation was anything but literal. In this case, for once, it was more or less true.
She hoped her driver would not be a Nigerian, because he, once he heard her accent, would either be aggressively eager to tell her that he had a master’s degree, the taxis was a second job, and his daughter was on the dean’s list at Rutgers; or he would drive in sullen silence, giving her change and ignoring her “thank you,” all the time nursing humiliation, that this fellow Nigerian, a small girl at that, who perhaps was a nurse or an accountant or even a doctor, was looking down at him. Nigerian taxi drivers in America were all convinced that they really were not taxi drivers.
And this, I realized, is the excrutiating scrupulosity, the same maddening, meticulous attention to every last detail that makes you great, that keeps you going and got you through and now is dragging you down. Standing with E. I. Lonoff over the disobedient arm of his record player, I understood the celebrated phenomenon for the first time: a man, his destiny, and his work—all one. What a terrible triumph!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
It’s like the sparrows, than many of which we are of more value, they weren’t sparrows at all.
They weren’t sparrows at all!
Does that put our price up?
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.
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 have been up and down these steps five thousand times and still I do not know how many there are.
I quite agree, we are better here, in the shadow of the waiting room.
Maddy Rooney, née Dunne, the big pale blur. You have piercing sight, Miss Fitt, if only you knew it, literally piercing.
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.
‘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…’
‘…No,’ said the priest, ‘you don’t have to consider everything true, you just have to consider it necessary.’
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.