Neel takes a sharp breath and I know exactly what it means. It means: I have waited my whole life to walk through a secret passage built into a bookshelf.
— from Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan.
Neel takes a sharp breath and I know exactly what it means. It means: I have waited my whole life to walk through a secret passage built into a bookshelf.
Some things we plan,
we sit and we invent and we plot and cook up;
others are works of inspiration, of poetry;
and it was this genius hand that pushed me [...]
I saw "lust" where the text said "last." I tried to continue reading, but couldn't. I mused on my mistake, marvelling at the ability to read in the first place. How did the eyes work? And the brain? Just as I wobbled on a bike if I allowed myself to think about balance, my reading became shaky if I wondered about the mechanism of reading. I loved reading and had always thought of it as a refuge. I even read the labels on bottles, if only to keep myself occupied on trains or in restaurants. I read in bed at night. If I lay awake for more than two minutes after switching off the light, I switched it on again to avoid lapsing into thought. To avoid thinking.
"Darling Melisande," the Rom said tenderly, "if flesh can stop feeling, can't metal begin to feel? If anything feels, can anything else not feel? Didn't you know that the stars love and hate, that a nova is a passion, and that a dead star is just like a dead human or a dead machine? The trees have their lusts, and I have heard the drunken laughter of buildings, the urgent demands of highways..."
The problem is we don't notice the years pass, he thought. Screw the years — we don't notice things change. We know that things change, we've witnessed things change ourselves many a time, and yet we're still utterly incapable of noticing the moment that change comes — or we search for change in all the wrong places. A new breed of stalker has appeared — armed with technology. The old stalker was a sullen, dirty man, stubborn as a mule, crawling through the Zone inch by inch on his stomach, earning his keep. The new stalker is a tie-wearing dandy, an engineer, somewhere a mile away from the Zone, a cigarette in his teeth, a cocktail by his elbow — sitting and watching the monitors. A salaried gentleman. A very logical picture. So logical that other possibilities don't even occur.
"Go back?" he whispers.
I desperateley shake my head and wave my fist right in his visor — Cut that out. For God's sake! You never know which way to look with these novices — at the Zone or at them... And here my mind goes blank. Over the pile of ancient trash, over the colorful rags and broken glass, drifts a tremor, a vibration, just like the hot air above a tin roof at noon; it floats over the mound and continues, cuts across our path right beside a marker, lingers over the road, waits for half a second — or am I just imagining that? — and slithers into the field, over the bushes, over the rotten fences, toward the old car graveyard.
Damn these eggeheads, a great job they did: ran their road down here amid the junk! And I'm a smart one myself — what on Earth was I thinking while mooning over their stupid map?
"Go on at low speed," I tell Kirill.
"What was that?"
"God knows! It came and went, thank God. And shut up, please. Right now, you aren't a person, got it? Right now, you are a machine, my steering wheel, a lever..."
How can an immature human understand the complicated system of social relationships? He can't. To him, an exaggeration of natural courtesy is silly. In his functional structure of life-patterns, it is rococo. He is an egotistic little animal, who cannot visualize himself in the position of another, certainly not an adult. A self-contained, almost perfect natural unit, his wants supplied by others, the child is much like a unicellular creature floating in the blood stream, nutriment carried to him, waste products carried away —
From the standpoint of logic, a child is rather horribly perfect. A baby may be even more perfect, but so alien to an adult that only superficial standards of comparison apply. The thought processes of an infant are completely unimaginable. But babies think, even before birth. In the womb they move and sleep, not entirely through instinct. We are conditioned to react rather peculiarly to the idea that a nearly-viable embryo may think. We are surprised, shocked into laughter, and repelled. Nothing human is alien.
But a baby is not human. An embryo is far less human.
New York had always been a city destined for the rule of dandies, thieves, and men who resembled hardboiled eggs. Those who made its politics were the people who poured gasoline on fires, rubbed salt into wounds, and carried coals to Newcastle. And its government was an absurdity, a concoction of lunacies, a dying man obliged to race up stairs. The reason for this condition was complex rather than accidental, for miracles are not smoothly calculated. Instead, they are the subjugation of apparent anarchy to a coherent design. Just as music must be like a hive of bees, with each note that strains to go its own way gently held to a thriving plan, a great empire depends for its driving force upon the elements that will eventually tear it apart. So with a city, which if it is to make its mark must be spirited, slippery, and ungovernable. A tranquil city of good laws, fine architecture, and clean streets is like a classroom of obedient dullards, or a field of gelded bulls — whereas a city of anarchy is a city of promise.
On Turning Ten
The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I'm coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light —
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.
You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.
But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.
This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.
It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.
— Billy Collins
Hugh Close, The Sun's rewrite editor, had the boundless energy of a hound, and was always perched upright, like a Labrador waiting for a stick to be thrown into a cool lake. He had a red mustache, and red hair that was sculpted to his head like clay. He could see puns in everything, and one could not speak to him without suffering an embarrassing disinterment of double entendres. His suits were gray; his shirts had collars with bars; he could read a thousand words a minute upside down and backward (the words, that is, not him); he knew all the Romance languages (including Romanian), Hindi, Chuvash, Japanese, Arabic, Gullah, Turqwatle, and Dutch; he could speak any of these languages in the accent of the other; he generated new words at a mile a minute; he was the world's foremost grammarian and a maser of syntax; and he drove everyone mad. But The Sun was unmatched in style and linguistic precision. Words were all he knew; they possessed and overwhelmed him, as if they were a thousand white cats with whom he shared a one-room apartment. (In fact, he did not like cats, because they could not talk and would not listen.)
They walked along the line of machinery until they were discovered by a workman who was emerging from one of the long passages inside. He said nothing as he approached. But in his expressionless face and jewel-like eyes he was expression itself held down and stilled. Peter Lake had heard Beverly say that the greater the stillness, the farther you could travel, until, in absolute immobility, you achieved absolute speed. If you could hold your breath, batten yourself down, and stop every atom from its agitation within you, she had said, you could vault past infinity. All this was beyond his comprehension.
— No-one's trying to kill him at all. He's just paranoid, isn't he? Nora says irritably. He's just a red herring. And the old people — I bet they're just paranoid as well.
"Ah, yes, but that doesn't mean that someone's not out to get them."
— You'll never make a crime writer.
"This isn't a crime story. This is a comic novel."
I have my mother's temperamental hair — hair that usually exists only in the imagination of artists and can be disturbing to see on the head of a real woman. On Nora it is the colour of nuclear sunsets and of over-spiced gingerbread, but on me, unfortunately, the same corkscrewing curls are more clownish and inclined to be carroty.
The old woman had skin that was the texture and colour of white marshmallows and in a poor light (which was always) you might have mistaken her hair for a cloud of slightly rotten candyfloss. Although fast asleep, she was still clutching a pair of knitting needles on which hung a strange shapeless thing, like a web woven by a spider on drugs.
His eyes were like razors and white diamonds. They were impossibly pale, lucid, and silver. People said, "When Pearly Soames opens his eyes, its electric lights." He had a scar that went from the corner of his mouth to his ear. To look at it made the beholder feel a knife on his own skin, cutting deep and sharp, because Pearly Soames' scar was like a white trough reticulated with painful filaments of cold ivory. It had been with him since the age of four, a gift from his father, who had tried and failed to cut his son's throat.
Of course, it's bad to be a criminal. Everyone knows that, and can swear that its true. Criminals mess up the world. But they are, as well, retainers of fluidity. In fact, one might make the case that New York would not have shone without its legions of contrary devils polishing the lights of goodness with their inexplicable opposition and resistance. It might even be said that criminals are a necessary component of the balanced equation which steadily and beautifully eats up all the time that is thrown upon its steely back. They are the sugar and alcohol of a city, a red flash in the mosaic, lightning on a hot night. So was Pearly.
The content had to touch upon physicality and its effect on functionality within James Bridle's temporal model of the book. In his model, the book is first an advertisement, next a reading experience and finally a souvenir. Printed books work well at all points along the timeline. Ebooks, however, make lousy advertisements, so-so reading experiences and terrible souvenirs.
What if I didn't leave Bob? What if our slouch towards commitment ended at the altar? What would it be like if I occupied the wife-shaped space next to Bob? My life as a wife. In a Barratt's starter-home, with an avocado bathroom and a three-piece suite in leather. If we ever had a child (a curious idea) I thought we should call it Inertia. Although our occasional dull missionary encounters didn't seem passionate enough to produce anything as real and lasting as a child, even one called Inertia, and Bob (more likely to consult Mr Spock than Dr Spock) wasn't fit to be in charge of a push-and-pull lawnmower let alone a baby in a pram.
I did so hope that Bob was a dress rehearsal, a kind of mock-relationship, like a mock-exam, to prepare me for the real thing, because if I tried to imagine Bob in a grown-up life I could only visualize him slumped on the leather sofa, watching Jackanory with a huge joint in his hand.
Retracing these journeys, I have made a 15-part series for BBC Radio 4, Foreign Bodies, which uses celebrated fictional detectives — from Christie's Poirot to Nesbø's Harry Hole — to explore the history of modern Europe. Cop novels are a useful tool for such a survey because the police procedural turns on detail. Novelists working in crime-free narratives have no need (and often no wish) to specify a character's job, clothes, income or family background. But because observation and evidence are crucial to the investigation of a crime – the motive for which will often rest on who someone was or what they possessed or desired – crime writers routinely provide a mass of social detail: menus, train timetables, fashion labels, shops, newspaper stories. As a result, good crime novels become a case-file of their times. The introduction of the welfare system and unemployment benefit, for example, can be traced through the comments of posh employers in Christie's mysteries. And reporters preparing to cover the impending referendum on Scottish independence would be well advised to read Ian Rankin's DCI Rebus books, which systematically depict the country's re-examination of its identity over the last 25 years.
In Rome, Andrea Camilleri — creator of the Sicilian policeman Inspector Montalbano — pointed out to me the complete set of Maigret books on his shelves. In Berlin, one of the leading German crime-writers, Jakob Arjouni, also kept a complete Simenon close to his desk. PD James cites Simenon as a master as well, confirming a literary afterlife that perhaps validates the view of André Gide that the Belgian writer should have won the Nobel prize for literature.
Mock got up from his chair and cast his eye over the assembled men. This was what he had been missing for the past three years. Briefings, focus, pertinent questions, suggestions exchanged and spiced with political discussions. One could not discuss politics in Breslau any more. Only one set of values was permitted, and only the Austrian Corporal honoured. Mock breathed a sigh of relief. How he missed this smoke-filled world of meetings and swearing, and the quest for corpses! In distant Lwów he had found what he had longed for back in his sterile office, where he analysed information and wrote endless reports and statements.
The room was filled with the sound of chairs scraping against the floor, pages turning and cigarettes hissing as they were extinguished in the damp ashtray. Mock filled his lungs with air. This was what he missed. For the first time in his life he thought with gratitude about Kraus, who had wanted to banish him but instead had awoken in him something nobody would ever be able to eradicate: the happy excitement of an investigator who could display on his the standard the slogan investigo, ergo sum — "I detect, therefore I am."
Holland and Niles Perry are identical thirteen-year-old twins. They are close, close enough, almost, to read each other's thoughts, but they couldn't be more different. Holland is bold and mischievous, a bad influence, while Niles is kind and eager to please, the sort of boy who makes parents proud. The Perrys live in the bucolic New England town their family settled centuries ago, and as it happens, the extended clan has gathered at its ancestral farm this summer to mourn the death of the twins' father in a most unfortunate accident. Mrs. Perry still hasn't recovered from the shock of her husband's gruesome end and stays sequestered in her room, leaving her sons to roam free. As the summer goes on, though, and Holland's pranks become increasingly sinister, Niles finds he can no longer make excuses for his brother's actions.
With a goodly harvest, almost more than he could manage, he footed his way back along the mud shelf to the loading platform. He dropped the cattails in a heap and lay on his belly beside them, head hanging over the platform edge, eyes staring meditatively down at the water. It was pleasant there in the shadows. It smelled of coolness, like a fern garden; like the well once had before they sealed it up. From upside down, one piling, gloved with green algae and slime, and larger than the rest, seemed to rear back as though resisting the gray mud that mired it. He squinted, looked hard, saw: primordial ooze, spawning strange being down below, a race of quasi-lunged, half-legged creatures dragging themselves along the bottom; a world sunless, gloomy, nocturnal, where sunken logs lay, sodden and heavy, poor dead drowned things, and with them, hidden in the murk, savage bloated creatures, mouths wide as shovels, thick lips nuzzling threads of water-whitened ganglia, picking clean of flesh skeletons through whose empty eye-sockets coldly glowing eels would like night trains, while overhead, through the ruined roof, pterodactyls soared the vacant sky.
He drifted, dreamed; and dreamed some more.
The novel is really about the moment when the weapons of childhood are revealed to be no more than a box of tricks. It's a parable of the terror many us come to around age twelve or thirteen, a deeply disturbing epiphany.
I used to tell stories to Mary, stories of my childhood and immigrant adventures, stories I had picked up from other people. But I had become tired of telling them, tired of listening to them. In Chicago, I had found myself longing for the Sarajevo way of doing it — Sarajevans told stories ever aware that the listeners' attention might flag, so they exaggerated and embellished and sometimes downright lied to keep it up. You listened, rapt, ready to laugh, indifferent to doubt or implausibility. There was a storytelling code of solidarity — you did not sabotage someone else's narration if it was satisfying to the audience, or you could expect one of your stories to be sabotaged one day, too. Disbelief was permanently suspended, for nobody expected truth or information, just the pleasure of being in the story and, maybe, passing it off as their own. It was different in America: the incessant perpetuation of collective fantasies makes people crave the truth and nothing but the truth — reality is the fastest American commodity.
I thought only of the Earth. It was the Earth that caused each of us to be that someone he was rather than someone else; up there, wrested from the Earth, it was as if I were no longer that I, nor she that She, for me. I was eager to return to the Earth, and I trembled at the fear of having lost it. The fulfillment of my dream of love had lasted only that instant when we had been united, spinning between Earth and Moon; torn from its earthly soil, my love now knew only the heart-rending nostalgia for what it lacked: a where, a surrounding, a before, an after.
I was having a Big Mac, large fries, and a large Coke. Rora got McEggs and a milk shake. We sat outside and ate quickly, greedily. This was no comfort food; it was food that implied that there had never been and would never be any need for comfort.
Rora put his black Canon down in his lap, then under the table. He snapped a picture of the graces' legs, covering the click with a false cough.
Why did you take that picture?
That's a stupid question, Rora said. I take pictures.
Why do you take pictures?
I take pictures because I like to look at the pictures I take.
It seems to me that when people take a picture of something, they instantly forget about it.
So nothing, I shrugged.
They can look at the picture and remind themselves.
But what do you see when you look at a picture you took?
I see the picture, Rora said. What's with these questions?
When I look at my old pictures, all I can see is what I used to be but am no longer. I think: What I can see is what I am not.
Drink more coffee, Brik, Rora said. It will pick you up.
The waitress came by with our coffees, so I drank more of it.
Americans, we are bound to agree, go out after they wash their hair, with their hair still wet — even in the winter! We concede that no sane Bosnian mother would ever allow her child to do that, as everybody knows that going out with your hair wet commonly results in lethal brain inflammation. At this point I usually attest that my American wife, even though she is a neurosurgeon — a brain doctor, mind you — does the same thing. Everybody around the table shakes their head, concerned not only about her health and welfare but about the dubious prospects of my intercultural marriage as well. Someone is likely to mention the baffling absences of draft in the United States: Americans keep all of their windows open, and they don't care if they are exposed to draft, although it is well known that being exposed to severe airflow might cause brain inflammation. In my country, we are suspicious of free-flowing air.
It's a trick, isn't it?
"Yas, I think so, but if a trick, it is a Russian one." As if that explained it all.
But how? How?
"Well, Russians if you can see it, feel more than do most people. Deep down. Russians, I suspect, have a sixth or seventh sense that God didn't give to most other people. They have a lot more of what do you call it — " Thinking a moment. "Insight. They are mystical folk, Russians, and," she added jokingly, "the drunker they get, the more mystical they get. Worse than the Irish, Russians."
It has conspicuous, classical flaws in technique and is undeniably frustrating on its own terms. The interesting thing is that many of those flaws are exactly the things which Bolaño expanded, developed, and turned into virtues of the highest originality.
After faltering repeatedly, the second match went out, but this time there was no interval of darkness; she lit another straight away and, as if succumbing to an attack of vertigo, stepped back suddenly, away from the edge of the rink. The third match soon went out, and its death was accompanied by a sigh. Only once have I ever heard anyone sigh like that: a hard, harsh sigh, alive in every hair, and the mere memory of it made me feel ill.
That is all to say The Skating Rink is detective fiction only in a very nominal sense, perhaps only insofar as it needs to be in order to subvert the genre’s conventions. The solution of the crime isn't the thing in The Skating Rink, the novel doesn't rationally tick off the competing explanations until only one remains. Logic and answers have nothing to do with it. Rather, The Skating Rink is concerned with the search, a search for something difficult to name and not discoverable purely by deduction. The book is, to borrow the words of one character, "a labyrinth with a frozen center."
At the time Lola was twenty-two, and she was strong-willed and smart, up to a point, of course, because if she'd been really smart, she wouldn't have gotten involved with me. She was fun, but responsible too, and she had an amazing gift for happiness. I don't think we were too bad for each other. We got on well, we started going out, and after a few months we got married. We had a child, and when the boy was two years old, we got divorced. She introduced me to the world of adults, although I only realized that after we split up. With Lola, I was an adult, living among adults; I had adult problems and desires, and reacted like an adult; even the reasons for our separation were unambiguously adult. The aftermath was long and sometimes painful, but the upside was that is brought a degree of uncertainty back into my life, which what I had really been missing.
Clare: This is a secret: sometimes I am glad when Henry is gone. Sometimes I enjoy being alone. Sometimes I walk through the house late at night and I shiver with the pleasure of not talking, not touching, just walking, or sitting, or taking a bath. Sometimes I lie on the living room floor and Listen to Fleetwood Mac, the Bangles, the B-53's, the Eagles, bands Henry can't stand. Sometimes I go for long walks with Alba and I don't leave a note saying where I am. Sometimes I meet Celia for coffee, and we talk about Henry, and Ingrid, and whoever Celia's seeing that week. Sometimes I hang out with Charisse and Gomez, and we don't talk abut Henry, and we manage to enjoy ourselves. Once I went to Michigan and when I came back Henry was still gone and I never told him I had been anywhere. Sometimes I get a baby-sitter and I go to the movies or I ride may my bicycle after dark along the bike path by Montrose beach with no lights; it's like flying.
Sometimes I am glad when Henry's gone, but I'm always glad when he comes back.
Henry: [...] Running is many things to me: survival, calmness, euphoria, solitude. It is proof of my corporeal existence, my ability to contol my movement through space if not time and the obedience, however temporary, of my body to my will. As I run I dispace air, and things come and go around me, and the path moves like a filmstrip beneath my feet. I remember, as a child, long before video games and the Web, threading filmstrips into the dinky projector in the school library and peering into them, turning the knob that advanced the frame at the sound of a beep. I don't remember anymore what they looked like, what they were about, but I remember the smell of the library, and the way the beep made me jump every time. I'm flying now, that golden feeling, as if I could run right into the air, and I'm invincible, nothing can stop me, nothing can stop me, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing — .
I think I dropped my guard that time
I was flesh and blood and grit and slime
And I think I may have lost my mind
On the last day of summer
I think I fell in love back there
It was tooth and nail it was bones and hair
And you'll never never know how much I cared
On the last day of summer
Most of their children had reached the age when they were no longer naturally endearing to anyone save their own parents; the size when their energy was more a menace than a wonder; and the level of intelligence when what would be called innocence in a smaller child was infuriating rudeness.
Finkle-McGraw began to develop an opinion that was to shape his political views in later years, namely, that while people were not genetically different, they were culturally as different as they could possible be, and that some cultures were simply better than others. This was not a subjective value judgment, merely an observation that some cultured thrived and expanded while other failed It was a view implicitly shared by nearly everyone but, in those days, never voiced.
Hackworth had made efforts to learn a few Chinese characters and to acquaint himself with some basics of their intellectual system, but in general, he liked his transcendence out in plain sight were he could keep an eye on it — say, in a nice stained-glass window — not woven through the fabric of life like gold threads through a brocade.
The media net was designed from the ground up to provide privacy and security, so that people could use it to transfer money That's one reason the nation-states collapsed — as soon as the media grid was up and running, financial transactions could no longer be monitored by governments, and the tax collections systems got fubared. So if the old IRS, for example, wasn't able to trace these messages, then there's no way that you'll be able to track down Princess Nell."
"It wouldn't work," Finkle-McGraw said. "I've been thinking about this for years. I had the same idea: Set up a sort of young artistic bohemian theme park, sprinkled around in all the major cities, where young New Atlantans who were so inclined could congregate and be subversive when they were in the mood. The whole idea was self-contradictory. Mr. Hollywood, I have devoted much effort, during the last decade or so, to the systematic encouragement of subversiveness."
"We change the script a little," Madame Ping said, "to allow for cultural differences. But the story never changes. There are many people and many tribes, but only so many stories."
"Yo! Aren't you going to invite the King of the Reptiles?"
They looked at me like I was crazy.
"Reptiles are obsolete," said the King of the Shrews.
"Reptiles are just retarded birds," said the King of the Birds, "and so I am your King, thank you very much."
"There's only zero of you," said the Queen of the Ants. In ant arithmetic, there are only two numbers: Zero, which means anything less than a million, and Some. "You can't cooperate, so even if you were King, the title would be meaningless."
When his ship finally settled it was an hour before dawn, the safe hour, the time when most creatures, no matter what planet spawned them, are least alert. Or so his father had told him before he left Earth. Invading before dawn was part of the lore of Earth, hard-won knowledge directed solely toward survival on alien planets.
"But all this knowledge is fallible," his father had reminded him. "For it deals with that least predictable of entities, intelligent life." The old man had nodded sententiously as he made that statement.
"Remember, my boy," the old man went on, "you can outwit a meteor, predict an ice age, outguess a nova. But what, truthfully, can you know about those baffling and constantly changing entities who are possessed of intelligence?"
"There is a great deal of hope within the hopelessness of your mission. There are thousands of unidentified and unaccounted-for soldiers in the aftermath of this horrible war. The odds are on your side."
And why would you start writing again?
There are things we do without any reason of for the most trivial of reasons, I said: going out and walking along the road during the rush hour and looking at people in their cars; showing up in midafternoon at the box office of a movie theater or browsing in bookshops or sitting on a balcony watching people on their way home, and repeating to yourself in you mind, why am I doing all this? why today did I walk to a bookshop or go to a movie theater and just as I got to the door decide not to go in? We do thing that have no meaning or only acquire meaning over time, perhaps because deep down we want to change our lives at the last moment, when everything appears fixed, like those roulette players who one second before the close of bets nervously shift a tower of chips, from one number to another, and then bite their fingers; because we're searching for some kind of intense experience, or because we want to be someone else, yes, to be someone else, there you have your answer: I write to be someone else.
[Y]ou know, there's a sentence in Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, which says: "Man is a fickle creature of doubtful reputation, and perhaps, like a chess player, he is more interested in the process of reaching his objective than in the the objective itself," I don't know if you remember it . . . I shook my head and Supervielle continued: that's what we were discussing, my friend, that simple yet profound way of reading experience, what drives a person to make one decision and not another at a specific moment? to get off a train, get on a boat, cross the street? What there is at the end of a life is irrelevant, it isn't the result that makes a life exceptional, but the path trodden, am I being excessively obscure? There are great lives that don't get anywhere, but what does it matter? That's not a paradox.
[I]t has happened too many times in the history of thought and culture that the genius of exceptional people is unrecognized because of the stupidity and limited vision of their contemporaries, but what can we do if we live surrounded idiots and simpletons?
She was trembling again. She was used to climbing fire escapes, but hadn't ever scaled a tree. It didn't help that this was an insane tree in an insane woods in an insane park that had appeared — insanely — in this apartment.
These trees weren't at all like the ones she'd seen on trips to the Queens Botanical Garden or Flushing Meadows Park. These trees were like their demented cousins. They were so tall they seemed to run as high as her entire apartment building. Sixty feet straight up, that big. Their trunks were misshapen, bubbling out here and there in thick knots, and their outer barks gray and ashen, as if burned. In places the bark showed great tears and the inner bark was sickly white, the color of bones. She didn't want to climb this tree. She didn't even want to touch it. But then she heard the calls out in the meadow once again and she had no choice. She reached for the lowest branch of the nearest tree and climbed.
It's amazing what a person can do when her life depends on it.
But even the flightiest girl could not ignore Danton's lack. He was liable to weary after only a few hours of Mass Dancing, when the fun was just beginning. At Twelve-hand Bridge, Danton's attention frequently wandered and he would be forced to ask for a recount of the bidding, to the disgust of the other eleven players. And he was impossible at Subways.
He tried hard to master the spirit of that classic game. Locked arm in arm with his teammates, he would thrust forward into the subway car, trying to take possession before another team could storm in the opposite doors.
His group captain would shout, "Forward, men! We're taking this car to Rockaway!" And the opposing group captain would scream back, "Never! Rally, boys! It's Bronx Park or bust!"
Danton would struggle in he close-packed throng, a fixed smile on his face, worry lines etched around his mouth and eyes. His girlfriend of the moment would say, "What's wrong, Edward? Aren't you having fun?"
"Sure I am," Danton would reply, gasping for breath.
"But you aren't!" the girl would cry, perplexed. "Don't you realize, Edward, that this is the way our ancestors worked off their aggressions? Historians say the game of Subways averted an all-out hydrogen war. We have those same aggressions and we, too, must resolve them is a suitable social context."
"Yeah, I know," Edward Danton would say. "I really do enjoy this. I — oh. Lord!"
For at that moment, a third group would come pounding in, arms locked, chanting, "Canarsie, Canarsie, Canarsie!"
In that way, he would lose another girlfriend, for there was obviously no future in Danton. Lack of Fit can never be disguised.