Flying Leap Judy Budnitz Ëèòàãåíò HarperCollins FLYING LEAP STORIES JUDY BUDNITZ CONTENTS COVER (#u1f678051-c88a-504f-9fa9-cba8e341b709) TITLE PAGE (#u718286a1-f597-59f8-9568-76470c153bec) Dog Days (#u8cd51366-3ae4-51cc-9227-fae0af671eb9) Guilt (#u538ed6a8-8e9c-53c6-a705-02adf807db07) Scenes from the Fall Fashion Catalog (#u8d27b7b7-2227-5337-85b6-9a39c26c96a3) Directions (#u793faa94-4a62-5423-80d5-503bd5930491) Got Spirit (#litres_trial_promo) Art Lesson (#litres_trial_promo) Yellville (#litres_trial_promo) Average Joe (#litres_trial_promo) Flight (#litres_trial_promo) Composer (#litres_trial_promo) Park Bench (#litres_trial_promo) Hundred-Pound Baby (#litres_trial_promo) What Happened (#litres_trial_promo) Chaperone (#litres_trial_promo) Vacation (#litres_trial_promo) Skin Care (#litres_trial_promo) Barren (#litres_trial_promo) Lessons (#litres_trial_promo) Train (#litres_trial_promo) Permanent Wave (#litres_trial_promo) Bruno (#litres_trial_promo) Burned (#litres_trial_promo) Hershel (#litres_trial_promo) ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (#litres_trial_promo) ABOUT THE AUTHOR (#litres_trial_promo) PRAISE (#litres_trial_promo) ALSO BY THE AUTHOR (#litres_trial_promo) COPYRIGHT (#litres_trial_promo) ABOUT THE PUBLISHER (#litres_trial_promo) DOG DAYS (#ulink_edd10617-c3bb-55db-9764-62db08a04375) The man in the dog suit whines outside the door. “Again?” sighs my mother. “Where’s my gun?” says my dad. “We’ll take care of it this time,” my older brothers say. They go outside. We hear the shouts and the scuffle, and whimpers as he crawls away up the street. My brothers come back in. “That takes care of that,” they say, rubbing their hands together. “Damn nutcase,” my dad growls. But the next day he is back. His dog suit is shabby. The zipper’s gone; the front’s held together with safety pins. He looks like a mutt. His tongue is flat and pink like a slice of bologna. He pants at me. “Mom,” I call, “he’s back.” My mother sighs, then comes to the door and looks at him. He cocks his head at her. “Oh, look at him, he looks hungry,” my mother says. “He looks sad.” I say, “He smells.” “No collar,” says my mother. “He must be a stray.” “Mother,” I say. “He’s a man in a dog suit.” He sits up and begs. My mother doesn’t look at me. She reaches out and strokes the man’s head. He blinks at her longingly. “Go get a plate,” she tells me. “See what you can dig out of the garbage.” “Dad’s going to be mad,” I say. “Just do it,” she says. So I do it, because I have no excuses, there’s nothing left to do, no school, no nothing. No place to go. People don’t leave their houses. They sit and peer out the windows and wait. Outside it’s perfectly quiet, no crickets, no katydids. I go back to the door and lay the plate on the stoop. My mother and I watch as he buries his face in the dirty scraps. He licks the plate clean and looks up at us. “Good dog,” my mother says. “He’s a man,” I say. “Some retard-weirdo.” He leans against my mother’s leg. My mother doesn’t even look at me. “Not a word to your father, Lisa,” she says, and she goes inside and slams the door. I sit down on the stoop. The man sits next to me. He smells dirty and sweet, like garbage on a hot day. His eyes are big and brown. His face is lost in tangled hair. He scratches himself. I sit there and breathe his smell and wonder if he has fleas. Finally I reach out and touch his head. The fur is matted and stiff. I touch a ragged ear, then give it a yank. He doesn’t even blink. Of course. It’s not his real ear. I pat his head, and stroke it, and his eyes sort of melt and blur on me the way a dog’s eyes will when he’s happy. Then I stop and give him a shove, then a kick, then I chase him away so my father won’t find him when he comes home from hunting. It is so deathly quiet. I can hear him panting, his four-legged scamper scuttling on the sidewalk for a long time. Last February was when things started happening. The plant closed. That meant my dad was out of work and sulking around the house all day. He’d sit and drink in front of the TV, his face big and red and his eyes all tiny from the drinking. He’d sit all scrunched up in the chair, his big head right on his shoulders like he had no neck at all. He’d watch the morning news, the news at noon, the evening news. “Aren’t you going to look for another job?” my mother would ask. My dad would point to the TV screen and say, “What’s the use?” Then March came. Some of the stores in town closed up, and the movie place, and two of the gas stations. No new stock coming in, they said. The government needs supplies, they said. Gasoline shortage. You understand. April: My school closed early for summer vacation. So did the high school my brothers, Eliott and Pat, went to. For a while they enjoyed it. Then they got bored and tried to find summer jobs. But no one was hiring. Later even more stores closed up, and restaurants. Downtown began to look like a ghost town. For a while Eliott and Pat and their friends liked to drive around at night, smashing windows and things. Then gasoline ran out. My friend Marjorie lived two and a half blocks away and I went there. Marjorie had two long ponytails and always thought of things to do. She taught me to hang by my knees, and how to make a grass stem buzz between my thumbs. Once we drew faces on our stomachs and made them talk to each other and kiss. Then came June. The electricity went. No air-conditioning, and it was just beginning to get hot. We missed the TV. We still sat around it sometimes and stared at it like it might all of a sudden come to life. Then one night Dad got angry and kicked the glass screen in. Now he sits and reads the paper—every word of it, even the ads. It’s all because of the war, they say. Roads are closed off. For government use only. And the power—they say the government shut it off so the enemy can’t trace it with their radars and bomb us. I think the government’s hoarding it for themselves; they’re all holed up in Washington watching TV, one giant slumber party. There’s nothing to do; it’s deathly quiet. No cars running since the gasoline ran out. People stay in their houses now. Nobody goes out. When you do, you can see people watching you from their windows, from behind curtains, all up and down the street. Everyone sits and waits. That’s the worst of it, sitting and waiting. For what? The attack? Should we look at the sky? Should we look down the road? Dad keeps the news in the paper to himself. The government delivers the paper, once a week. Dad says you can’t believe a word of it anyway. But still he reads it and chews his lip. I have nothing to do because Marjorie is gone. Her family went to stay with her grandmother who lives in the city. They left in June, just before the roads closed. These days my dad says I should stay near the house, but when he is away, I walk over to Marjorie’s old house and just look at it. I’m afraid to hang by my knees without her. I might fall on my head. The worst of it is the animals. Sometime in July, they all went away, every one. You don’t think about it really, until they’re gone. Then the silence. No birds singing. No squirrels doing acrobatics in the trees or knocking in the attic. Even the crickets—gone. The pets have disappeared. My mother’s cat, Polka Dot, wandered off long ago. She cried about it for days. Pets that couldn’t get out died in their cages. My pet goldfish, belly-up in the bowl. Are they all dead, all those missing animals? Or did they all go somewhere else, a great exodus in the middle of the night? The flock, the pack, the herd, the horde of them. Two by two down the road? To somewhere safe? We’ll never know. “Rats deserting a sinking ship,” says my dad. “They know something we don’t know.” So we wait and watch the skies, watch the roads, watch the ground—who knows, they could tunnel straight through the earth and surprise us that way, where we least expect it. Technology, the technology can do anything these days, my father says. I picture technology as a big transformer robot crushing cities, slicing the sky. Germ warfare, Dad warns us. When I drink water, I try to filter it through my teeth, screen out the germs. Surely they are big germs, heavily armed. We try to hold our breath. I think radiation, when it comes, will rain down glowing like the juice inside neon signs. No one seems to know who we’re fighting. Pat says it could be anyone. America has been number one for too long, and now all the little countries are ganging up on us. Anyone could be an enemy. Your next-door neighbor could be a spy. Pat says, “Your own sister could be a spy, even.” “Am not,” I say, and hit him in the gut. “I was just kidding, sport,” he says, and whacks me a hard one. Pat has straight greasy brown hair. It hangs in his face. He hasn’t had a haircut for a long time. Eliott doesn’t like to talk about who we’re fighting. He is almost old enough to get drafted. My dad says they haven’t started drafting people yet, but they may, soon. He keeps telling Eliott to walk around barefoot all the time, so then maybe he’ll develop flat feet and they won’t want him in the army. I can’t tell anymore when my dad is kidding. His eyes are always shiny. He watches us all without blinking. My mother says he has begun to grind his teeth in his sleep, keeping her up all night. In August the beggars started coming around. My mom calls them unfortunates; my dad calls them bums. They don’t have anywhere to live; they don’t get government rations. They came wandering from I don’t know where. First they came around asking for work, a night in the garage. Now they ask for food, scraps, even a glass of water. Now there’s nothing left, and still they come by. All they seem to want is the human interaction—a little attention, some eye contact, conversation. Even when you yell at them, they seem to like it. This one is the dog suit is a new thing. He comes back again the day after we feed him that first time. It is almost nice to see an animal again, even if it’s not a real one. He’s well trained. He sits up and begs. My mother puts a morsel in his mouth. He rolls over. “How adorable,” says my mother. “He’s trying to look up your skirt,” I say. “You’d better look out; he’s some nut,” says Pat. “Some crazy. Some loony who hasn’t seen tail in a long time. Yeah, and I don’t mean a dog tail, either.” My mother turns around and stares at him. “Where did you learn to speak like that?” she says. Pat hunches over and slinks away without answering. I could tell her where Pat learns things. Pat and Eliott spend their nights sitting in the basement reading old Playboys by the light of the moon. There’s a curfew now at night, so everybody has to be home, inside, before dark. Army trucks patrol the streets. My mother strokes the man’s head for a moment. Then she goes back inside. She finds things to do—she cleans the house; she keeps busy. We haven’t gotten mail for months, but she still checks the mailbox. There’s nothing to do, but still she bustles around all day, stays on her feet, is exhausted by evening. My dad reads the paper every day, then goes out with his gun. He’s looking for anything: a pigeon, a rabbit, a squirrel, someone’s pet chicken. There’s nothing out there. Pat and Eliott keep to themselves. They don’t talk to me. They wear the same clothes, day after day. Back in May they traded most of their clothes to a friend for some joints. I heard them talking about it. Now they wear the same sour-smelling jeans and T-shirts. When I go down to the basement, they chase me out. That is why I sit there on the stoop after my mother goes back inside. I sit next to the man in the dog suit. I tell him things. He cocks his head at me like he’s listening, but he doesn’t really understand—which is okay. I stroke his head. It is a hot day. His nose is shiny with sweat. He pants. It must be hot in the dog suit. He smells worse than before. His teeth are yellow and his gums are black. After a while I push him away. He looks back at me, wiggling his stump of tail. I chase him away again. He crawls off, whining and sobbing. I go inside and find my mother straightening up closets. “Why does he do that, Mom? Why does he pretend he’s a dog? Is he crazy?” My mother sighs and sits back on her heels. “If he thinks he’s a dog, why can’t we let him think that? If that’s what he wants, is it so hard for us to go along with it? It’s the polite thing to do, don’t you think?” “I guess,” I say, though it doesn’t seem polite to me, exactly. “If he thinks he’s a dog, then he is a dog,” my mother says, in a way that means, That’s final. “Okay,” I say. Then I look down and see what she’s doing. She’s sweeping out little dried carcasses from the back of the closet. Dead beetles or roaches or something. Dozens of them, curled up and hollow, legs in the air. Now it is September. Now the man in the dog suit comes to our house every day. My mother feeds him bits and crumbs of things. Then I play with him, tell him things. He is a good listener. I show him the bruise Pat gave me the day before, pushing me out of the basement. They don’t want me down there, but sometimes I sit at the top of the stairs and listen to their voices. I tell the man in the dog suit all this, and also about the limp dark hairs on Eliott’s upper lip. And about the dark cloud that always settles in the room where my father is. I tell him about Rick Dees, my favorite DJ on the radio, before the power went out. Rick Dees, I tell him, has a slick, handsome voice and he must be a slick, handsome man, with sunglasses and movie-star eyes. The man in the dog suit nods. I decide to give him a name. Prince. I tell my mother and she says, “Good. That’s a good name for a dog.” Then the day comes when my father comes home too early and finds Prince on the front steps, and my mother and me stroking his back. “What’s this?” says Dad, his face going darker than ever. He’s got his gun pointed at Prince, at us. His shirt is unbuttoned, so I can see the tuft of fur peeking out. Prince freezes. “Oh, Howard,” says my mother, “he’s not hurting anything. Really.” “What’s that you’re giving him?” Dad says. “Just trash,” my mother says. “He’s helping me clean up.” “He’s dangerous. He could hurt you,” says my dad, aiming with the gun. “He keeps the other beggars away,” says my mother. This is true. Since Prince started coming, the other beggars have avoided our house. “Like a guard dog,” I say. My dad looks at us, squinting, like he’s aiming. “Howard, let him stay. He’s not doing any harm,” says my mother. “Please, Dad,” I say. And Dad—I don’t know why—cocks his head and says okay and stomps into the house. A moment later he calls to my mother to find him something to eat. I sit on the stoop with Prince. We listen and wait. We watch the sky. October now. We’re still holding our breath, waiting. Nothing happens. It is still hot. Nobody tells us anything: how the war’s going, or when school will start, or how many people are dead. I think the war is getting bigger, coming closer. No one has told me this, but I can feel the waiting, the tension buzzing in the air around my head like a hornet. I think people are moving away. I don’t see our neighbors peering from behind their curtains anymore. “They’re dead,” says Pat, “The government comes with trucks and clears them out in the middle of the night, when we’re asleep.” I think he’s teasing. Maybe not. I play in the yard with Prince. I throw the ball. He chases it, brings it back to me in his mouth. My dad, watching us, says, “He’s not a dog, he’s a man, for God’s sake. Treat him like a man.” But we ignore him. I throw, Prince fetches. We are having an all-American good time, just like Dick and Jane and Spot in the reader. After my dad leaves, I sing all of Rick Dees’s favorite songs for Prince. Prince likes that. He barks with me. I tell Prince all kinds of things. I know he won’t laugh, like Eliott, or punch me, like Pat does. He presses against me, all warm and furry. He would never hurt me. I am taller than he is anyway. His face is so kind: warm, wet, blank eyes. I have little pink bumps on my legs. Fleabites, I think, but I won’t tell my mother. “If he ever hurts you, tell me right away,” says my dad. Prince would never hurt me. My dad thinks everybody thinks like him. One day I see my dad in the yard, talking to Prince. “You’re a human being, for God’s sake. Stand up like a man. Listen to me! Take off that Halloween costume shit. I’ll give you my own clothes if you’ll take it off and stand up like a man and talk to me. I know you can talk. Come here, you.” And he grabs for the dog suit, tries to pull it off. Prince runs away. One night Eliott says, “Well, you know what they say. Man’s best friend.” Pat says, “Don’t let him touch you. You want to end up with a litter of puppies?” He and Eliott snigger and lean in together, their faces all twisted. Pat’s face is rotten with pimples. He doesn’t have any cream to put on them, so they are getting worse and worse. Sometimes at night I creep downstairs and out on the porch, and Prince is there sleeping or waiting. I curl up beside him and bury my face in the rough, sick-smelling fur. Prince gives my hand a lick. That is his way of saying good night. November: The army trucks, with their ration packages and bottles of water, stop coming. The sky is a curdled yellow color. It seems like most of our neighbors have gone on vacation, or died or disappeared or moved away, or something. We seem to be losing. The silence is deafening. In December Eliott and Pat break into some houses at night, looking for food. An army patrol brings them back. If they do something like this again, they will be taken away for good. “Taken away where?” I say. No one will tell me. My father has a dark look all the time now, as if a black mildew is growing and spreading on him. “Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, to get out of this shithole,” says Pat. But he and Eliott stay in at night. There is nothing to eat. My mother has scoured the house. She tries making us a salad of grass and things. It makes me throw up. I find a bottle of Flintstones chewable vitamins in the back of my drawer. I don’t want to share. I eat a whole handful and it gives me a horrible stomachache. My legs are nice and thin now. And my bones stick out of my face in a nice way. I look like the models in the magazines. I know this because I spend a lot of time in my room now, looking in the mirror. I don’t want to be with my parents, or Pat or Eliott, so I sit with the mirror to keep me company. The mirror behaves. We have conversations. Sometimes if I squint really hard into the mirror, I can see Marjorie there, in the mirror room, smiling at me. I’ve been writing things down in my diary, month after month. I’m beginning to lose track of the days. They all run together. I remember when every day was different: Monday was music day at school; Wednesday I had piano lessons; Friday I went to Marjorie’s house. Now they are all the same. Sometimes I look in my closet and it surprises me to see all the clothes hanging there. Now I always wear the same shirt, and some pants all bunched up with a belt. There’s no reason to change. I remember my mother used to yell at me to put on clean underpants every day. Now they are all dirty and she is too tired to yell. Every day I go downstairs and sit on the porch. Prince is still curled up there, shivering in the cold. My dad won’t let him in the house. And Prince won’t leave, even though we can’t feed him anymore. He loves me. I can see this in his soft brown eyes. I scratch him and sing to him. His fur is loose and baggy on him. I tell him secrets. Sometimes I pretend he is Rick Dees and we are on a fashionable date in his fancy car. Prince plays along, though he doesn’t really understand. Rick Dees and I have a romantic dinner at a fancy restaurant. My mother stays in bed most of the time now. She asks that we not disturb her. Maybe she is imagining that she is somewhere else, someone else. But who else would she want to be? She’s my mother, she can’t be anything else. My brothers stay in the basement. They are making plans down there, I think. They are stroking the magazine pictures, trying to pretend they are real. I know that by now the magazine pages must be all withered from their pawing. Looking at the fleshy naked women all day must make them hungrier. Only my dad still goes out, every day, with his gun. He walks unsteadily, hanging on to things, but still he goes. He still seems to think there is something out there, something to put in the pot. There’s nothing left. There hasn’t been for months. But he refuses to believe it. Then suddenly it gets colder. Is it because of the war, because of a bomb? I wonder. Or is it just a very cold December? My mother comes downstairs, my brothers come upstairs, and we all settle in the living room. The bedrooms and the basement are too cold. It is warmer with all of us together, and the living room is better insulated. We hardly speak to one another. My brothers seem to speak by looks: They snicker suddenly, together, at nothing. And my parents speak with stares and shrugs. Me, I don’t look at anybody; I stay in my corner with my winter coat and my blanket. Two of my teeth are loose. They shouldn’t be. I still spend a few hours a day with Prince on the porch. Most of the time he stays curled up against the side of the house, trying to steal some of the warmth. Once in a while he crawls around the yard, trying to warm himself up. I’m too tired these days to sing. Just opening my mouth gives me a headache. Prince understands. He is the only one who understands me. Then one day I come in from the porch. It’s starting to get dark so early, now that it’s winter. I go into the living room and it’s all in shadow. I can’t see anyone’s face clearly; all I see are their teeth shining. It is so quiet. Then I hear their breathing, each one of them separately, like singers not in harmony. They are all waiting for something. “I wish I had a steak,” says Eliott, his voice strained and high. A pause. “In Africa they eat grubs and things. Maybe there are worms in the backyard,” says Pat. “You can eat dandelion greens. I’ve heard of a dandelion salad,” says Eliott. Pat says, “I heard in Korea people eat dogs.” No one says anything. I can see the room get darker. Then my dad stands up. “What are you doing?” my mother says. He doesn’t answer. “Where are you going? Howard—don’t—don’t—” My dad is reaching for his gun. My brothers stand up. “What are you doing? How can you even think of—” They are walking slowly to the door. “He’s a man, Howard! A man! You can’t—” my mother screams. “He’s a dog,” says my dad. “He’s an animal.” And then I see the door swing open, see Prince lift his head expectantly. I see my dad lift the gun and aim. I’m trying to get over there; I can’t get there fast enough—the air is too thick. They’re framed in the doorway, my dad and my brothers, and beyond them I see Prince pause, showing the whites of his eyes, wind ruffling the fur on his head. Then he’s running, galloping on all fours across the yard, his tongue hanging out like a pink streamer. A shot rings out, echoing in the silence, but it misses him. He keeps running, and then he’s up, up on his hind legs, lurching away two-footedly, front legs pawing the air, and then another shot rings out, shaking the world, and he’s down, down, splayed out on our front lawn, nose in the dirt, tail in the air, wind whipping his fur around, his legs quivering, then still. I try to go to him, but it’s too late. My dad and Eliott and Pat beat me to him. They run across the lawn, the pack of them, and fall upon him snarling. GUILT (#ulink_7ebfdd3d-f993-5323-a68c-fa65f925ab3c) “What kind of son are you?” asks Aunt Fran. Aunt Nina says, “Your own flesh and blood!” “What your mother wouldn’t do for you …” Aunt Fran goes on. “She’d do anything for you, anything in the world.” “And now you won’t give just a little back. For shame,” says Aunt Nina. “Now I’m glad I didn’t have any children; it would hurt me too much if they grew up as hard and selfish as you!” Aunt Fran cries and shudders. The heat is stifling, but she pulls her sweater closer. We’re sitting in the hospital waiting room, Aunt Fran and Aunt Nina and I. My mother suffered a heart attack this morning. An hour ago we talked to the doctors. They told us her heart is in bad shape. It’s tired, they said, and erratic—a senile old dancer lurching from a tango to a two-step, stumbling to a halt and starting again. We’re waiting to see her, the aunts and I. The doctors told us her heart won’t last much longer. Her old ticker is ticking its last, unless something is done. “What can be done?” the aunts cried. “We can’t fix it,” the doctors said. “She needs a new one, a transplant.” “Then give her one!” the aunts cried. “It’s not that easy,” said the doctors. “We need a donor.” The doctors went away. The aunts looked at me. “Arnie,” Nina said, “what about your heart?” “My heart!” I shouted. “Are you crazy?” That started them both off on what a bad son I was. It’s impossible to argue with Nina, especially with Fran to back her up. They see no reason why I should not donate my heart to save my mother’s life. The doctors still won’t let us see my mother. So we sit here waiting on the green vinyl chairs in the waiting room. It is empty, but we can see the ghosts of other bodies imprinted in the vinyl, others who sat waiting here for hours. I sit in the middle. Aunt Fran clutches one arm, Aunt Nina the other. They wept at first, but now they sit grimly. A Styrofoam cup of coffee steams next to my foot, but I can’t reach for it. The aunts don’t care; they are amazed that I bought it, amazed that I can even think of coffee at a time like this. Aunt Fran wears a bally sweater and sensible shoes. Her lips are pressed tight. She taps her feet nervously. On my other side, Nina licks her lips again and again. She has high blood pressure, so when she’s upset, she becomes flushed and overheated. Even now I can feel the creeping heat of her thigh touching mine. I try to pretend it’s Mandy sitting beside me, clutching my arm the way she does at horror movies. “I saw it on Sixty Minutes,” Aunt Fran announces. “They put the heart in a cooler, a regular Igloo cooler like we have at home, and they rush it in a helicopter to the hospital, and they put it in, connect up the pipes—it’s just like plumbing.” “You must be your mother’s tissue type, too. I’m sure you are,” Aunt Nina puts in. “You’re young. You’re strong. You have a college education! Your heart is exactly what she needs.” “It looked like a fist—a blue fist,” Aunt Fran goes on. “It wasn’t heart-shaped at all; I wonder why….” “You shouldn’t have started smoking, though,” Aunt Nina says. “It’s so bad for the heart. You should have thought of that when you started.” “But what about me?” I blurt out finally. “That’s what we’re talking about—we’re talking about your heart,” Nina says. “But what happens to me?” I say again. “I can’t believe he’s thinking of himself at a time like this.” Aunt Fran sniffs. “I need my heart! You want me to die so my mother can live?” “Of course we don’t want that,” says Aunt Fran. “Sylvie loves you so much, she’d want to die herself if you died.” “We can’t both have my heart,” I say. “Of course not,” says Nina. “You could get one of those monkey hearts, or that artificial heart they made such a fuss about on the news awhile back.” “Why can’t Mother get one of those? Or a transplant from someone else?” “Do you want your mother should have a stranger’s heart? Or a monkey’s heart? Your poor mother? Do you remember how she never used to take you to the zoo because she couldn’t stand to see the filthy monkeys? And you want her to have a monkey’s heart? It would kill her!” Fran cries. “She’s so weak, she needs a heart that will agree with her,” Aunt Nina adds. “Any heart but yours just wouldn’t, wouldn’t do. But you—you can handle anything. You’re young. You’re strong. You—” “Have a college education,” I finish for her. Aunt Nina glares and says, “Your mother worked herself to the bone for you, so you could go to college. She nearly killed herself so you could go and study and make something of yourself. And now what do you do? Out of college four years already, and all you do is sit in front of a typewriter all day, call yourself a writer, smoke those cigarettes, never get a haircut—” “And the first time your mother needs you, you turn your back on her!” Aunt Fran finishes. They both tighten their grips on my arms. I don’t remember ever wanting to go to college; it had seemed like my mother’s idea all along. I went because I thought it would make her happy. “I do things for Mother all the time—” I begin. “Only half the things any normal son would do. And I thought you were raised to be better than an average son!” Aunt Fran huffs. “Oh, Isaac must be just turning over in his grave right now,” her sister moans. Isaac is my father. I never knew him. “You’re so lucky. I wish I’d had the chance to save my poor mother,” Aunt Fran says. One of the doctors appears at the end of the hall. As he approaches, my aunts rise, pulling me with them. “Is she all right?” demands Fran when he is still twenty feet away. “We’ve found a donor!” Nina announces. The doctor greets us. He is a small man, completely bald. The eyes, behind thick glasses, are sad. He strokes his scalp as he talks, savoring the feel of it. “She’s all right. She’s being monitored,” he said. “We will look for a donor, but there’s a long waiting list.” “We’ve got a donor. Sylvie’s son. He’s in the prime of health,” Aunt Nina says. “This is Arnie,” Fran explains. The doctor studies me carefully. “Surely you don’t do that sort of thing?” I say incredulously. He gazes at me. “It’s very rare, very rare indeed that a son will be so good as to donate his heart. In a few cases it has been done. But it’s so rare to find such a son. A rare and beautiful thing.” He takes off his glasses and polishes them on his sleeve. Without them, his eyes are small, piggish. He puts them back on and his eyes are sad and soulful once more. “You must love your mother very much,” he says, gripping my shoulder with a firm hand. “Oh, he does,” Fran says. I shift my feet and knock over the cup of coffee and it spills on the floor, a sudden ugly brownness spreading over the empty white. A nurse leads us to the intensive care unit, where my mother is lying attached to machines and bags of fluid. The room has no outside windows. There is an inner window, through which I can see a nurses’ station, where they are watching our every move. Aunt Fran rushes to one side of the bed, Aunt Nina the other. I shuffle awkwardly at the foot of the bed. I touch my mother’s feet. “Sylvie!” “Are you all right?” the aunts cry. They are afraid to touch her because of the tubes snaking into her arms, the needles held by strips of tape. My mother opens her eyes. There are purple circles around them. She looks pale, but not so different from usual. Hardly on the verge of death. “I’m fine,” she says, gazing at them. I look at them, the three sisters. To me, the aunts are just variations on my mother. Fran, the oldest, is like my mother, only stretched—tall, hair strained tightly back, thin drawn-on eyebrows, cheekbones jutting up under the skin, long front teeth resting on the lower lip. And Nina is my mother plus some extra—her cheeks are full, her chin sags, and her eyes are heavy-lidded. My mother is just my mother. Not a young woman, but not an old one. Gray hair spread on the pillow. She’s young for a heart attack, I suppose; she’s still got many years to go. She smiles dully at her sisters. “Oh, Sylvie, you look wonderful! Just the same!” they say. Then she raises her eyes to me. “Oh, Arnie, you look terrible,” she says. “That jacket—I told you to throw it away. I’ll find you another. There’s no reason to go around looking like a mess.” “Arnie has some good news,” Nina says. “Then why does he look like a thundercloud?” says my mother. “Arnie, is something bothering you?” Fran says, “Arnie wants to give you his heart.” “I never said that—” I cry. There is a pause. “Of course, Arnie, you shouldn’t. You don’t need to do that for me. Really you don’t,” my mother says. She looks terribly sad. The aunts’ faces have gone stony. “You have your whole life ahead of you, after all,” my mother says. She looks down at her arms, at the branching veins that creep up them like tendrils of a vine. “I never expected anything from you, you know,” she says. “Of course nothing like this.” I look down at her feet, two motionless humps under the blanket. “I’m considering it, Mother. Really, I am. I want to find out more about it before I decide, that’s all. It’s not as simple as changing a car battery or something.” I force out a laugh. No one else laughs, but the aunts’ faces melt a little. My heart is pounding. My mother closes her eyes. “You’re a good boy, Arnie,” she says. “Your father would be proud.” A nurse comes in and tells us we should let my mother rest for a while. Aunt Fran and Aunt Nina head back to the waiting room. They sit down in the same seats and look up expectantly, waiting for me to sit between them. “I think I’m going to take a little walk. I need to stretch my legs,” I say. “He probably wants to go call one of those tarty women he runs around with,” Nina whispers loudly. “Tart” and “run around” are as close as she gets to profanity. I walk up and down halls of dull white where patients shuffle in slow motion, wheeling their IV’s along beside them. I can feel in the floor the buzzing vibration of motors churning away somewhere in the heart of the building. I take the elevator and wander through more humming white halls until I find a pay phone. I call up Mandy. She picks up on the first ring. “Hi,” she says. “Where have you been?” “My mother had a heart attack this morning,” I say. “I’m at the hospital.” “Oh, I knew this would happen,” Mandy says. “I burned my hand on the radiator this morning, and right away I thought, Uh-oh, an omen, something bad’s going to happen. How old’s your mother?” “Fifty-seven,” I say. “Ooh, that’s young for a heart attack. And she wasn’t fat or anything. I feel like it’s my fault; I should have warned you or something.” This is how I met Mandy: One day last spring she got some takeout Chinese for lunch, including a fortune cookie that told her that she would soon meet a mysterious stranger in a blue coat. That afternoon I happened to take my car to get fixed at the garage where she worked. Lucky thing: I was wearing the old blue jacket my mother hated. Mandy asked me out to dinner right then and there. That doesn’t sound like a sound basis for a relationship, but for some people it is. Mandy believes in signs and predictions the way some people believe in religion. She’s usually right about things. She sure did a lousy job on my car, though. Mandy’s asking me something, but I can’t hear because the woman next to me is sobbing Spanish into the phone. Mandy says again, “Where did it happen?” “At the bank. She was working,” I tell her. “There was an ambulance, and her sisters are here, and I got here as soon as I could. Mandy, could I—” The woman next to me is screaming. “I need to ask you something,” I shout into the phone. “What—what?” Mandy’s voice calls. Finally I tell her to come to the hospital and she says all right and hangs up. I don’t need to tell her where to go; she always seems to be able to find me. She says she just follows my smell. I wander down toward where I think the entrance of the hospital is. I stop some stretcher attendants and ask directions, but I can’t understand their English. Mandy never gets lost. And she never has to wait in line. Strangers on the street talk to her. Jobs fall in her lap. She’s nice-looking: freckles on her nose, good straight teeth. She keeps telling me that my signs indicate that my life will be on a big upswing soon and that I am just in a transition period right now. I hope she’s right. Lately she’s been dropping hints about getting married. And Mandy drops hints like she’s dropping a load of bricks on your foot. My mother hates Mandy. She doesn’t put it that way; she says Mandy is “untidy,” “irresponsible,” and “has no future,” but I get the message. I finally reach the lobby, and just as I do, Mandy comes bursting through the doors, beaming at me. She doesn’t smile; she beams. Not like sunlight. Like lasers. She has these eyes like headlights. “I knew I’d find you,” she says. “How’s your mother? Have you seen her?” Her breath in my face is like pine trees and toothpaste. “Yeah, she’s all right for now. Come on, let’s go outside for a minute. I want to ask you something.” Outside, the afternoon is darkening to early evening. The hospital breathes and shudders behind us. We wander in the parking lot, among the cars, talking softly, like we’re afraid we’ll wake them. It’s cold. The wind sends trash and dry leaves scuttling along the ground. I keep looking back to see if anyone’s following us. “They say my mother’s heart is bad. She needs a new one. They want me to donate my heart. What do you think of that?” Mandy stops, her eyes and mouth open. Wind whips her frizzy hair around her face. She looks shocked. I breathe a sigh of relief: at last, someone who can see reason. But then she says, “Oh, Arnie. How wonderful! Can they really do that? That’s so wonderful—congratulations!” “You mean you think I should do it?” “Isn’t technology incredible?” Mandy says. “These days doctors can do anything. Now you can share yourself, really give yourself to someone else in ways you never thought were possible before. Your mother must be thrilled.” “But it’s crazy—” She takes my hands in hers and looks up into my eyes. “Frankly, Arnie, I didn’t think you had it in you. I’m really impressed. Really, I am.” “Mandy, I thought you could be realistic about this. What about me? Do you want me dead? What am I supposed to do without a heart?” “Oh, I’m sure they could fix you up. The important thing right now is to help your mother.” She unzips my jacket and presses her hands against my chest. My heart twitches, flutters like a baby bird in her hands. “What about your heart? If I give my mother my heart, would you give me yours?” She draws away from me suddenly. All the lights in the parking lot click on simultaneously and her face is flooded with white. She presses her knuckles to her mouth. “Now that’s not fair,” she says. “There! Now you see! When it’s your own heart in question, you change your mind, don’t you?” I cry, waving my arms around. “You’re not being fair,” she says again, her lower lip quivering. “You’re the one who doesn’t want a commitment. You’re the one who can’t even say the word marriage. A few months ago I would have given you my heart, and gladly, but you didn’t want it. But now … well, if I gave it now, that wouldn’t be fair to either of us, don’t you see?” “No, I don’t. Maybe it’s time we thought about getting married. You could come share the apartment; we could share things—” “Oh, you’re just saying that. You’re just thinking about yourself, what you need; you don’t care about me. I think I’d better go—” “But Mandy! Wait! What am I supposed to do?” “Arnie, you know what the right thing to do is. You should get back to your mother now. Give her my regards.” “You hate my mother.” “No, I just feel sorry for her. She has a bad aura. She’s had a hard life, and it’s not all her fault,” Mandy says. She pats my arm. “You know what you should do. She’s your mother.” I try to kiss her, but she turns away and I get a mouthful of hair. “Why don’t you call me after you make a decision?” she says. “Then maybe we’ll talk.” I’m reaching after her, wanting to grab hold of her hair, the belt on her overcoat, anything, but she’s too quick, a few steps away already. I watch her go. Brisk, determined steps, like a schoolteacher. “But Mandy!” I bawl. “Mandy—this may be the last time you ever see me with my heart! Next time I could have a different heart! A different heart! What about that?” She doesn’t even stop, just calls over her shoulder, “Who knows, it might be better than the old one.” I find my way back to the waiting room. Someone has mopped up the coffee. “Feel better?” Nina asks. “Made a decision yet?” Fran says. “Yes … no … I don’t know,” I say. They are both quiet. Then Aunt Nina says, “She carried you for nine months. More than nine months! You were late. Do you remember it?” “Of course he doesn’t,” Aunt Fran says. “She didn’t mind it, of course. She loved it. But it couldn’t have been easy,” Aunt Nina says. “She was a frail woman.” “What are you talking about?” I say, though I can guess. “There was a time when her heart beat for both of you.” She sniffs. “I don’t see why you can’t do the same for her.” “He said he’s thinking about it,” Aunt Fran reminds her. Fran turns to me. “Arnie, think about this: The heart’s a little thing really. Less than a pound. It’s just a muscle. You’ve got muscles all over the place. Can’t you spare one?” She looks earnestly into my face. “Can’t you spare a little bit of flesh?” “Your mother’s dying in there!” Nina blurts out. She heaves a shuddering sigh, then another. “Don’t you care?” she says, and then they are crying, both of them, drops sliding down the wrinkles in their faces. My mother’s dying in there. Dying? She looked all right just a little while ago, I remind myself. But I have to sit down. A coldness sinks and spreads through my gut. I want to call someone, talk to someone. I want a drink badly. Later we go visit my mother again. She looks worse, but perhaps it is the fluorescent lights draining color from her face. I stand again at the foot of her bed. I can see the veins and tendons on her neck. So delicate, so close to the surface, you could snip them with scissors. “Arnie,” she says softly, “you should go home and get some sleep. And shave. You look terrible. So tired. Go. I’ll be here tomorrow, I’m not going anywhere.” “You see?” Fran hisses at me. “Sick in the hospital with a bad heart, and all she can think about is you!” Nina strokes my mother’s head and tells her she’ll be fine. I look at my mother lying there and I try to think of her as organs, blood, cogs and springs and machinery. I remember a time when I was small and she hugged my head to her. My ear pressed into her stomach and I could hear the churning, gurgling workings within. “Go on, now. Get some sleep. I’ll be fine,” my mother says weakly, and closes her eyes. We shuffle out. Fran and Nina say they will stay awhile longer, in case anything happens. I leave, but promise to come back soon. I drive home in the dark. I go up to my apartment and turn on the lights. I take a shower and try to shave, but my body does not want to work properly. I stub my toes, jab my elbow, and poke a toothbrush in my eye. When I look down, my body looks strange and alien, hairier than I remembered, and larger. Looking in the mirror gives me a chill; as I shave I have the feeling the face in the mirror will start to do something different from what I am doing. I go into the kitchen and put a frying pan on the stove. I put in a dab of margarine and watch it slide around, leaving a sizzling trail. I think of eggs. Scrambled? No—fried, sunny-side up, half-raw and runny. I get two eggs out of the refrigerator. I crack one into the pan. There’s a blob of blood mixed in among the yellow. I dump everything in the sink and run the garbage disposal, trying not to look at it too closely. I want to call Mandy. Then I realize I don’t want to call her at all. Usually my mother calls in the evenings to tell me about TV programs and weather changes. I turn off the lights and sit in the dark. I look at the ceiling, at the smoke detector. It has a blue light that pulses and flickers with a regular beat like the blip on a cardiograph. Early the next morning, at the hospital, I tell the doctor, “I want to do it. Give her my heart.” He gives me a long, steady look, eyes huge behind the glasses. “I think you’ve made the right decision. I do,” he says. His eyes drop to my chest. “We can get started right away.” “But what about a transplant for me?” I say. “Don’t you need to arrange that first?” “Oh, we’ll take care of that when the time comes. I want to get your heart into your mother right away, before … before—” “Before I change my mind,” I say. He hardly hears; he’s already deep in his plans. His scalp is shiny with sweat. “Is it a complicated kind of operation?” I ask. “Not really,” he says. “Making the decision is the hardest part. The incision is easy.” He claps me on the back. “Have you told your mother yet? Well, go tell her, and then we’ll get your chest shaved and get started.” This is what I’ve realized: All along I thought I’d publish a book. Lots of books. Get recognition, earn lots of money, support my mother in style in her old age. Give her gorgeous grandchildren. I thought that was the way to pay her back everything I owe her. But now it looks like I have to pay my debts with my heart instead. Under these circumstances, I don’t have a choice. I’m almost glad; it seems easier this way. I’ll just give her a piece of muscle and then I’ll be free of her forever, all my debts paid. One quick operation will be so much easier than struggling for the rest of my life to do back to her all the things she thinks she’s done for me. It seems like a good bargain. When I tell my mother the news, she cries a little, and smiles, and says, “Oh, I didn’t expect it. Oh, not for a minute. I wouldn’t expect such a sacrifice from you, Arnie, I wouldn’t dare even to mention such a thing. It’s more than any mother could expect of her son. I’m so proud of you. I guess I did a good job raising you after all. You’ve turned into such a fine, good person. I worried that I may have made mistakes when I was bringing you up, but now I know I didn’t.” On and on she goes. And the aunts. They cry, and clutch my arms, not so tightly as before. They say they doubted me but they never will again. “What a good son,” they keep saying. Looking at them now, they seem smaller than they did before, shriveled. I call Mandy, and she dashes over to the hospital. She kisses all over my face with her cherry-flavored Chap Stick, and she hugs me and presses her ear against my chest. She tells me she knew I’d do the right thing. I’m feeling pretty good now; I light up a cigarette. She takes it away from me and mashes it beneath her heel. “That belongs to your mother now,” she says. They all give me flowers. I feel like a hero. I kiss my mother’s cheek. I hop on a stretcher. They wheel me out. They sedate me slightly, strip me, shave me. And then they put the mask on and knock me out good; it’s like I’m falling, falling down a deep well, and the circle of daylight above me grows smaller and smaller and smaller, until it is a tiny white bird swooping and fluttering against a vast night sky. How does it feel to have no heart? It feels light, hollow, rattly. Something huge is missing; it leaves an ache, like the ghost of a severed limb. I’m so light inside, but so heavy on the outside. Like gravity increased a hundredfold. Gravity holding me to the bed like the ropes and pegs of a thousand Lilliputians. I lie at the bottom of a pool. Up above I see the light on the surface. It wavers, ripples, breaks, and comes together again. I can see the people moving about, far above, in the light. I am down here in the dark, cradled in the algae. Curious fish nibble my eyelashes. After a while I see a smooth pink face above me. The doctor? “Arnie,” he says. “The operation went very well. Your mother is doing wonderfully. She loves the new heart.” His words begin far away and drift closer, growing louder and louder, until they plunk down next to me like pebbles. “Arnie,” he calls. The pool’s surface shivers. His face balloons, shrinks to a dot, then unfolds itself. “Arnie, about you—we’re having a little trouble. There’s a shortage of spare hearts in this country right now. We’re looking for some kind of replacement. But don’t worry, you’ll be fine.” Later I see Aunt Fran and Aunt Nina. They lean close; they’re huge. Their faces bleed and run together like wet watercolors. “Your mother’s doing so well!” they call. “She loves you. Oh, she’s so excited. She’ll be in to see you soon!” And later it’s my mother gliding in, her face pink, her hair curled. “Arnie … Arnie … you good boy …” she calls, and then they wheel her out. They leave me alone for a long time. I lie in the deep. It sways me like a hammock. There is a deep, low humming all around, like whales moaning. My mother does not visit again. When do I get to go out and play? Alone in the dark, no footsteps, no click of the light switch. Then the doctor looms above me. “Your mother,” he says, “is not doing well. The heart does not fit as well as we thought. It’s a bit too small.” He turns away, then leans over again. “As for you, we’re working on it. There’s nothing available at the moment. But don’t worry.” And then Fran and Nina are back. “How could you?” they scream, their voices shattering the surface into fragments. “Giving your mother a bad heart. How could you? What kind of son are you? She’s dying—your mother’s dying, all because of you.” They weep together. For a long time no one comes. I know without anyone telling me that my mother is dead. It is my heart. When it ceases to beat, I know. A high keening rises from the depths. The doctor comes to tell me how sorry he is. “She was doing so well at first. But then it turned out the heart just wasn’t enough. I tell you, though, she was thinking of you when she died. She asked for you.” He sits quietly for a moment. “We haven’t managed to find a heart for you. But you’ll be fine. We’ve shot you up full of preservatives. You’ll stay fresh for a while yet.” He goes away. Aunt Fran and Aunt Nina no longer visit. Mandy? Gone. I lie listening to the emptiness in my chest, like wind wailing through canyons. These days the doctor comes in often to chat with me. One day he tells me a story: “You know, when your mother died, we managed to save your heart. It was still healthy. We thought about giving it back to you. But there was a little girl here, about eight years old, and she needed a new heart, too. Cute little blond girl. One time a basketball star came here to visit her and there were TV cameras and photographers and everything. She was in the papers a lot. Kids were always sending her cards. Anyway, we decided to give her your heart. She’s only a kid, after all; she’s got a whole life ahead of her. Why should we deny her that? I’m sure your mother would have wanted it that way. She was such a caring, selfless woman. I’m sure deep down you want her to have it, too, don’t you?” Of course I do. SCENES FROM THE FALL FASHION CATALOG (#ulink_cf46fa47-38fc-5b50-b43c-9bbca367cb4f) Ournew fall collection has something to suit every woman. We’ve reinvented the fashions of the past to create clothes that never go out of style. Our catalog contains everything today’s woman could possibly need, from lingerie to shoes to jewelry and accessories, as well as an easy-to-use order form on the back page. I. PRAIRIE DRESSES Choosefrom among several colorful prints in washable wrinkle-free fabrics. The woman lies spread-eagled across the tracks, beneath the noonday sun in the middle of the prairie. The sage ripples in the breeze. Her breasts heave; the sweat trickles down between them. Her dress is lace-trimmed, scattered with flowers. The skirt rises, and falls, and flaps in the wind. A bleached steer skull leers in the grass nearby. Above, a vulture circles and stares with red eyes, cocking his bald head. His shadow passes over her face. Her eyes are closed; she doesn’t notice. The land fades into the distance, rolling and overlapping, like giant tangled bodies under bedclothes. The sky: baked, hazy. Thunder rumbles far away. It rolls like smoke, thick and uncoiling. A mosquito buzzes and lands, drawing a perfect drop of blood from the smooth inside of her arm. I should add, I suppose, that her hair is golden, her cheeks are flushed, and her eyes are blue. But I think you know that; you have seen this picture before. You know already the way her hair blows, and her neck arches, and her body writhes against the tracks. The metal of the tracks is warm against her wrists and ankles. The tracks stretch out unbroken on either side of her; they lie snugly against the ground’s curve, a belt holding the earth’s fat belly. The splintery wooden ties prick through her petticoats. Her mouth is firm and resolute, but her brows are drawn and her lashes tremble. Flowing tresses, trickling sweat, relentless sun, woman trussed to the tracks. And finally a tremor, the slightest sizzle in the hot metal touching her wrists. There. In the distance the column of smoke appears, like a tornado leashed and dragged forward by the great engine. There are whistles and snorts, the grind and pulse of machinery, metallic thunder and lightning. She hears the noise and raises her head. The train approaches; its cowcatcher and round one-eyed face loom ever larger. The noise engulfs her; the tracks rattle beneath her. The engine man, with mustache, striped cap, and bandanna, peers ahead and spots the obstruction. Heavens! Word spreads quickly through the passenger cars. Frantic heads pop from windows on both sides; the news even reaches the heaving, bleating livestock car, where one cow is groaning in labor, a calf’s hoof dangling between her hind legs, swaying with the motion of the train. The train hurtles forward at breakneck pace. She stretches her neck in silent entreaty, but everyone knows brakes are useless at such a speed. The train roars onward. The engine man throws up his hands, then hides his face in his bandanna. The passengers must look on helplessly as the train approaches its doomed target. She stares up at the sky, resigned, expectant. Children kneel on the train seats to see better. The monstrous engine snorts and squeals and rears. Grisly death is moments away. The wind again lifts her skirts; her fair legs flash in the sun. But wait! Far in the distance, there is an answering flash of white! The passengers shade their eyes and hold their breath. Here he comes, on his silver steed, galloping twice as fast as the train. He emerges from clouds of dust: broad-shouldered, graceful, impeccably dressed. Tanned cheeks, strong chin, a smooth shave. Bright teeth flashing—they fill his mouth neatly as bathroom tile. The eyes are far-seeing, surrounded by squint lines. Thick curls show between the buttons of his shirt; he is blessed with a full head of hair and none on his back. His boots are expensive, his gun large. These qualities are apparent even from a distance; all the spectators murmur in relief. The circling vulture spots him, sighs, and flaps away. He gallops hard to the lucky damsel. The show is nearly over now. He leaps from his loyal horse; he bends over her and drizzles her with manly sweat. The train passengers are treated to a view of his muscular hindquarters in tight leather pants. He snips her bonds and tears her limp body from the tracks in the nick of time. The engine screams past with a defeated roar. She reaches for his face; he cradles her in his protective arms; they share a hearty but tasteful kiss. And they are surrounded suddenly by hundreds of cheering spectators. It is uncertain whether they jumped from the train or sprang spontaneously from the empty grasslands, but it does not matter. There is much cheering and cap tossing and backslapping. The man is borne aloft as a hero. The woman in the flowered dress is borne to the marriage altar. She is speechless, seems bewildered by her good fortune. So they are married right there with much fanfare, amid the jostling good-natured crowd. He holds her tightly—a bit too tightly, actually, making it difficult to breathe—and his gun digs into her side. But everyone tells her how lucky she is, and what a handsome couple they make, and many pictures are taken. In the pictures her head hangs down, hair hiding her face. His smile is dazzling. What big teeth he has. People find the whole affair so fine and romantic that they try to imitate it. All over the country, women are tied to every available stretch of track, usually by an obliging gentleman in black with a curling mustache. Then, in quick succession: sunset, train, white horse and rider, fade-out. The scene appears in novels and on movie screens, and all the viewers relish the heroine’s horizontal wiggle, the train’s shuddering approach, the happy union drenched in surging music, kisses for everyone. Everyone knows the ending of this scenario. The funny thing is that almost no one knows the beginning of the story. The beginning—you can imagine it if you retrace your steps through the story, rewind the film so that horses gallop backward, the sun rises in the west, and people’s mouths open and close as they swallow their words. Backward to the time before she came to be lying on the tracks. Our woman with the flowered dress and golden hair lives in a small town. She wears an apron. She cooks; she sews. She makes butter. You’ve seen pictures of this in your history books: the butter churn, and the heavy dasher, which the woman holds in both hands and jerks up and down until the cream breaks. She knits socks; she quilts. She smells clean. She is wonderfully domestic. Her mother has trained her well. One day her father calls her outside and introduces her to the man who has asked for her hand. This man has a round, low-slung belly and a shiny wetness all around the mouth. He has brought three cows as a gift. These stand in the yard, ignoring the conversation. They are dull-eyed, coarse-haired animals. The udders sag; the teats are raw and chapped. Her father looks pleased. Good milkers. He runs his hands over the heavy heads. That night after her suitor leaves, she tries to speak to her father. He raises his voice and slams his fists on the table. She goes to bed sullen but not cowed. In the dark hour before dawn she leaves her home and runs away across the fields. She runs to another town, but it is not so different from the first. She finds work baking and churning and pickling. But the town’s women all tell her to pinch her cheeks rosier, fasten her corset tighter. The men all talk of trade and domestic animals. One day while sewing she is startled by a man’s groping hands. She pricks her finger, and the drops sprinkle on the cream waiting in the churn, so that the butter is pink that day. During the night she runs to another town, but it is more of the same. She moves from place to place, like a pencil following a connect-the-dots picture. With each town there are more horses and cows and dogs, and chickens wandering the streets. You might picture the swing-door saloons, the piano player, sneering men and shiny guns. Clouds of dust. Men who proposition her, who press and prick. You can call her Caroline—that is a nice name and appropriate for the time period—but you could just as well call her Virginia or Evangeline, or Mary Lou; she doesn’t care. You can stare at her, but her face will not come into focus. She would rather be left alone. Eventually she tires of the faded towns, the men who bellow for their dinners and a back rub. She leaves the latest town and walks the grasslands. Here she comes: hopes dashed, battered, bitter. She stumps along until the train tracks cut snakelike across her path and give her an idea. High above, the vulture with the sunburned head circles and watches her arrange herself on the tracks. She fastens herself to the rails with shoelaces and stay strings, tightening the knots with her teeth. Then she lies back to wait, sun warm on her face. Of course the train appears, then the shining horse with its rider. The hero with the chiseled chin leaps from his steed with the train fast approaching; the spectators hold their breath. The woman on the tracks groans and thrashes in frustration. No one seems to notice her face; no one hears her scream at him to leave her alone, to just let her be. He tears her loose in the nick of time. The train crashes past, cheers and confetti pour from the windows, and as he holds her triumphantly aloft, she watches her own hands rise and reach for him, not in a grateful embrace, but to rip his eyes out. II. CIRCUS EVENING WEAR We took our inspiration from the circus, to bring you everything from sequined thongs to tent dresses. One day my neighbor approaches me and says she has a date the following evening; would I mind baby-sitting her seven-year-old daughter? Phil appears at my door on the arranged night, dressed in red overalls, scratching scabs. Her name is Phyllis, but she likes to be called Phil. She smells of childhood, of sweet milk and graham crackers. The hand she offers me is sticky. I don’t know how to entertain children, so I’ve arranged for us to go to the circus. The circus appears not in a tent but in a large indoor theater, which holds in the smells of elephant dung and gunpowder and the sugar-tainted spit of a thousand children. I buy Phil a T-shirt and cotton candy. It is light and feathery on our lips, and then it turns to sweet nothing on our tongues. We eat it in handfuls until the opening parade, with the elephants and clowns and stilt walkers. The Siamese Twins. The Thin Man. And the Fat Lady. The Fat Lady reclines on a float drawn by twenty straining horses. She rolls her eyes at us, too languid to wave. Her body is all one large rippling mass, rubbery and inflated. The features are lost in the puffiness of her face. She looks so familiar; she is someone I have seen or been in a nightmare. I take the cotton candy away from Phil and flatten it beneath my shoes. Sticky mess. Phil whines. Next are the dancing bears, the dogs jumping through hoops, the monkeys riding motorcycles. The lion tamer does his thing in the center ring. He has platinum hair, meaty pectorals, a big whip. When the tigers and lions get too close, he cracks the whip at their noses. The animals have sullen faces and beautiful hair; they are sulky and aloof, like runway models. They drag their paws the whole time. Phil yawns. Next is the Knife Thrower. He spits on his hands while his gold-spangled assistant straps herself to the round target, which begins to rotate. Her body spins like the hands of a mad clock. She wears a smug, expectant look. The Knife Thrower sweats; he hesitates, staring straight ahead at her bare spinning stomach and the rhinestone pasted to her navel. There is an odd tension between them. He begins flinging the knives, with rapid precision. The knives sink into the target, neatly outlining her arms and legs. The knives land between each finger and toe. Knife handles form a halo around her head. The bristling target. Her dangerous smile. Scattered applause, oohs and aahs. For the final knife, he blindfolds himself, stretches his arms at the sound of a drumroll, then kisses the blade and lets it fly—straight at her face. The audience gasps; hands hide eyes. Her body within its metallic outline is electric. The world stands still as the knife screams through the air; her head snaps in a sudden sickening way—and then a fanfare bursts out of the sound system, trumpets and cymbals. The assistant smiles more brightly than before. She has caught the knife in her teeth. The Knife Thrower turns and bows to the audience. We clap uncertainly. Then the target halts and the assistant steps down. The applause swells; we all rise to our feet. The Knife Thrower we applaud merely for his manual dexterity. The woman we applaud for her courage. She is brave to the point of foolishness. The Knife Thrower has a dark look. I’m sure that in the deep coilings of his mind is the thought that he would like, just once, to see a knife veer off course. He would like this, but he will never let it happen. Without her, he is nothing, a pizza slicer in tights. The assistant knows his conflict; this is why she smiles and thrusts out her belly-button bull’s-eye. The assistant now smiles brilliantly at the crowd. I’ve heard she once had teeth of her own, but after a few months of the act they were so broken and jagged that they tore her tongue and frightened small children. So the teeth were pulled out and now she wears false teeth like an old woman. The new teeth are flawless and indestructible; they leave little semicircles of dents on the knife blades. The drama of the knife-throwing act has left me queasy. I stand up to leave, but Phil begs to stay a bit longer. She wants to see The Lady Who Hangs by Her Hair. I sit down again. Soon she appears—the Lady. All the little girls in the audience clasp their hands and gaze upward. The Lady wears only heavy makeup and sequins in strategic places. Her hair is knotted on the top of her head and she clips herself to a cable. She leaps from the platform and hangs by her hair; she swings with a tight, strained smile and her eyebrows inching up to her hairline. She twirls high above the floor, then swings to and fro, to and fro, toes pointed, with a dreamy, pendulous motion. Phil is kneeling on her seat, entranced. There is a terrible accident. The Lady Who Hangs by Her Hair is swinging and then abruptly she drops out of the spotlight. In a sudden flash and crinkle and crumple of sequins she is lying on the ground. Shreds of sawdust and elephant dung cling to her skin. I hear her harsh unrehearsed cry, and then she is whisked away on a stretcher. A murmur rises from the crowd. Children wailing. Hostile mingled voices. “Ruined the whole show,” mutters a woman behind me. “Great—now the kids will have nightmares,” says another. Someone says, “It was bound to happen. She had split ends, don’t you know. They say she’d been putting on weight, wasn’t taking care of herself.” A child’s voice says, “Is she Rapunzel?” And her mother answers, “No, honey. In the Rapunzel story the lady sits in a tower, and her lover climbs up her hair. This lady here, she hangs from her hair her own self.” The child says, “Why did she fall?” And the mother: “That’s what she gets for trying to change the rules like that.” The lights switch on and I see that Phil has thrown up all over herself. The stuff is pink and smells sickly sweet. She holds her wet shirt away from her chest. Her face is teary-slick, but she twists away from me. “I want my mother,” she says with dignity. So I take her home. A few days later I knock on the door and ask about Phil. “Still a little sick,” her mother says, and eyes me suspiciously. She’s wondering what I’ve done to her daughter that’s made her afraid to get out of bed. “Can I come in and see her?” I ask. Her mother says, “No, I don’t think so, not right now; she’s very busy watching cartoons.” She shuts the door in my face. III. KITCHEN WEAR Apronsfor every occasion. Do you remember: being knee-high, living in a world of pant cuffs, skirt hems, and the undersides of things? Your mother stands in the kitchen. She cooks for your father: fondue, meringues, shish kebab, chutney. Gefilte fish, lotus, lo mein, ravioli. Tabouli, tortilla, moussaka, succotash and goulash. Your aunt wears high heels and goes out at night. She dances for men: salsa, samba, chacha, meringuee. Lambada, salome, tango, fandango, disco. Jitterbug and hokey-pokey. Your mother holds the bowl tightly against her stomach; she beats and beats with a wooden spoon. Your aunt practices the tricky steps, heels pounding the floor; sweat darkens her dress under her arms and in a long stripe down her back. Your mother’s tools are called savory, relish, and sage; your aunt’s are rhythm and a roll of her eyes. Your aunt gives you the high-heeled shoes to try on; your mother holds out the spoon. They are hunters: Your aunt’s war paint is the red on her mouth; your mother’s is a dusting of flour. They have the same smell, the smell of desire, the smell of cooking meat. The trap is set: the sprightly meal, the spicy dance. Afterward, your father pats his stomach. A man on the dance floor pats your aunt’s hip. Your mother, your aunt, neither goes to bed alone. IV. TRAVEL WEAR Versatile cotton and linen separates for the girl on the go. I’ve decided to take a vacation. Someplace exotic and warm and far away. The sort of place you read about in books and see in movies where the colors are supersaturated and the focus crystal clear. Impossible fairy-tale things can happen in a place like that. I want to walk through the movie screen, enter another world through the portal of the metal detector in the airport. I board the plane behind a troop of Girl Scouts. Their uniforms are flashy as those of dictators in South American countries. Berets and sashes, tassels on their kneesocks, pins and badges and patches for campouts and cookie sales. Handbooks, bubble gum, first-aid kits. They are fully equipped. They walk in jangling pairs—the buddy system. One girl has glasses. One has her hair done up in a mass of fantastic little braids. One looks retarded, with sleepy eyes and a drooping lower lip. Her partner drags her along by the hand. I sit down next to a puffy man with a tight collar and sweating face. The Girl Scouts troop past. People bustle about, stowing baggage in the overhead compartments. Most of the bags are made of soft meaty-looking leather. The seats on the plane seem unusually small and close. My neighbor and I battle silently for the armrest, both of us trying to force off the other’s elbow while seeming oblivious. The stewardesses recite the safety features in a familiar litany. The plane takes off. The pilot reassures us over the intercom that everything is normal—the weather is good; the sky is clear. The man in the seat next to mine says he is a shoe salesman, just returning from a shoe convention. “You wouldn’t believe,” he says, “the synthetics they have now. I’ve seen stuff that looks like leather, smells like leather”—he raises his hands, widens his eyes—”pure synthetics. Incredible.” “Yes,” I say. The stewardess approaches, trundling her beverage cart. The shoe salesman offers to buy me a drink. I say no thanks, but he requests two Bloody Marys anyway. “If you don’t drink it, I will,” he says. I hear the crackle of cellophane, the crunch of peanuts all through the cabin. “What’s your address?” the shoe man says. “I’ll send you some free shoes.” “No thanks,” I say. “No, really. I can send you some samples. What size do you wear?” A quick glance down. “Seven and a half, isn’t that right?” “That’s right.” “You know, you have nice feet. Nice thin ankles. You know what I always say—you gotta stay away from a woman if she’s got thick ankles. Even if the rest of her is thin. A woman with thick ankles is doomed. Over the years, or maybe overnight, you never know, that thickness will start creeping up her legs, puffing them up, then her thighs and hips and stomach, and eventually it reaches your neck and fats up your face. I mean, not your face—like I said, you have nice thin ankles, so there’s nothing to worry about.” The back of his hand brushes my arm. “Thank God,” I say. The plane suddenly swerves and plunges sickeningly; there is a confusion of running figures, a struggle, raised voices, a stewardess shriek. Three figures stand in the front of the cabin, hoods covering their faces. Each holds a gun so ridiculously large, it doesn’t look real. The plane veers over an edge into a realm of impossibility, of bad movies, tasteless jokes, the evening news. The tallest one says, “This plane is being hijacked. Please stay seated and remain calm.” Instantly all the passengers stand up and move into the aisles. Voices rise to a shrill pitch. People fumble about, push at one another. It seems they are not trying to escape; instead, they are all trying to retrieve their carry-on luggage. Then they sink into their seats, clutching their suitcases for comfort. Some, I think, are sucking their thumbs. My head is ringing. I am in denial. I am thinking, No, this can’t be happening; this sort of thing never happens to me; it is some kind of joke, a silly dream. I look out the window, and I’m aware, as never before, of the emptiness of the sky, and our incredible distance from the earth. The shoe salesman tries to rise; he bucks and kicks, panting, nearly weeping, before he remembers to unfasten his seat belt. He finds his case of shoe samples and cradles it in his lap. He remembers the Bloody Marys and gulps them down. The tallest hijacker retreats to the cockpit, to talk to the pilot (or perhaps he is the pilot? Their voices seem suspiciously similar), while the other two watch the cabin as the hubbub subsides. Then the shortest hijacker gestures to one of the stewardesses with his gun. It is the blond stewardess, naturally. He leads her into the lavatory in the front of the plane. The cabin grows silent; we listen to the thuds and screams as he ravishes her, in the tiny room hardly large enough for one. They soon emerge, the stewardess rumpled and weeping, the hijacker, in spite of the hood, undeniably smiling. Now it is the middle-sized hijacker’s turn. He looks over the stewardesses, then begins walking up the aisle, eyeing passengers. It is silent except for the humming of engines, the sound of his slow steps. He approaches; I watch his scuffed boots. He is almost past me when I remember the Girl Scouts sitting near the back of the plane. Pretty braids, skinny legs. Lips scented with cherry lip gloss. The retarded one. I raise my hand like a schoolgirl, then undo my seat belt. It slides down my thighs and I stand up. He turns his head and gives me a nod. We walk together down the aisle. He in his black executioner’s hood, I in my white linen suit crumpled from sitting. We walk with a slow, measured step. I stare at the passengers as I pass, but the women look away, breathing small guilty sighs of relief. To the back of the plane we go, then through a secret door and down a ladder into the baggage hold. It is dark here; the suitcases are stacked up in hulking, uneven piles. I can see a narrow path winding mazelike among the mounds. The hijacker removes his hood and his black leather gloves. He comes close and grabs my arm, his breath hot and heavy with peanuts. His sweat is rank like the sewers of a foreign country. Without a word, he licks my face and starts to tear at my clothes. I begin to form a fantastic plan. I push him away—gently. I give him a big smile and take off my jacket, dropping it on the floor. The shoes go next. He watches suspiciously. I start to unbutton the blouse, retreating into the luggage. I drop it on the floor and walk farther into the darkness. He begins to understand the game, and follows the trail. He finds my skirt next, then my bra. This he holds in his hands a minute, trying to judge its size. The light is dim; we can barely see each other in the narrow passageway, a dark tunnel in the middle of the sky. I leave my slip next; he fingers it, rubs it against his face. I pull off my stockings. The next bread crumb is a glittering pile of jewelry. I can hear him breathing harder now, getting excited as he imagines my bare body waiting just ahead. Next I drop a girdle in his path. This confuses him; it takes him a moment to figure out what it is. He holds it in his hands, trying to remember how I looked in the lighted cabin. He squints now, trying to see me. He is wondering if perhaps this woman he is following is older than he thought. Perhaps she is not what she seemed. Next he finds the panties, and these reassure him somewhat. They are skimpy, silky; they have a certain smell. He walks faster now, perspiring with desire, eager to reach the naked perfect woman waiting just around the bend, splayed out on a garment bag. I have not yet laid myself completely bare. I now leave for him: false nails, a dental plate, corn pads, contact lenses. A tampon. He slips and skids on this litter. It disturbs him, and his mental picture begins to crumble. Yet he doggedly pushes onward, still hopeful that his goal will be curvy and intact. But I have only begun to strip down; I am peeling myself like a complicated fruit and leaving the husks in his path. So many layers: scrapings of makeup, blobs of cellulite, breast implants like two clear disks of Jell-O. Scars, tattoos, an IUD. Now I begin to pluck out the deeper things, which grate against my bones and aggravate my stomach. The things that fester in my cramping brain. Barbed memories, secret thoughts, hairy hands, thickened skin, dirty secrets whispered drunk late at night. Abortions, braces, blood tests. I am plucking these things out with tweezers; I am throwing them down in a flood of tears and mucus and menstrual blood. Here I am: This is my pure center, the fruit’s core, the inner nugget. Down here in the luggage hold, I am unloading my own personal baggage and strewing it at his feet. And he—at the sight of this blinding nakedness, this shocking intimacy—flees, howling. He races away, and I chase after him, scratching at his back with rough-bitten nails. He tosses the gun aside and vaults up the ladder. I follow after him, wild and cackling. We dash through the cabin, past rows of surprised faces. The hijacker is raising his hands in surrender. I run faster; I am nearly upon him. Then the shoe salesman leaps to his feet. He sticks his foot into the aisle and trips up the hijacker, who falls flat. I am running too fast to stop. I plow straight into the shoe man, who catches me in his arms. The passengers applaud wildly. He pushes me aside and plants a foot on the hijacker’s rump. I look down and see that I am no longer naked. I am as I was before—sheathed, concealed; only bits of my clothing are missing. Passengers crowd around. The heroic shoe man nods and beams, accepting high fives and slaps on the back. The captain awards him an airline pin. Children beg for autographs. I twist about, trapped in the crush. My blouse pops open and men are staring at my breasts. The stewardesses are passing out free cocktails. People are dancing around with oxygen masks on their heads for party hats, the elastic straps beneath their chins. The plane dives and loops; people raise their hands and whoop as if they’re on a roller coaster. The in-flight movie begins. I’m blinded by dancing colors. “You’re blocking the screen!” somebody yells. The passengers cheer as the opening credits scroll across my chest. Framed in the window is a sunset, with the words The End sketched across the sky. And then suddenly there is a whooosh, a great blast of air as the hatch is opened. Everyone turns to stare. The twelve Girl Scouts, fully equipped with parachutes and helmets, spring out into the air. They’re looking ahead, squinting, sunlight glinting on their braces. They float down two by two, holding hands. Sailing free and brave in the wide-open sky. DIRECTIONS (#ulink_087ad1f2-a9cd-5a2a-9013-5921ac69be1f) This is a city of many faces. It folds itself into dark corners. It stretches out its fingers of neon signs and asphalt. It unrolls itself like a magic carpet. It changes from day to day. It had a heart that beats in the center, though no one knows where the center is. This is a city of paths and destinations. A hundred thousand people make their way through the maze. Their paths meet and cross; they leave their trails of broken hearts and bread crumbs behind them. They think their ways are secret, their desires unknown. But they are like the ants in an ant farm: Anyone watching from above can see exactly where they are going and where they have been. Mr. and Mrs. Clark stand on a street corner. They are looking for the Theater District. They are visiting their daughter here in the city for the first time. They are to meet her for an evening show. She had offered to make arrangements for them, but Mr. Clark said, “What? Do you think we’re senior citizens already? We can take care of ourselves, thank you.” But now they are lost; they have wandered far from their hotel and the streets are unfamiliar. The boys playing on the sidewalk speak in foreign tongues. Some have no shirts; some have no shoes. Mr. Clark has a thick red neck. He is perspiring a bit. Mrs. Clark clutches his arm, not because she loves him but because her new shoes are too tight. Now Mr. Clark looks for a cab, then tries to make sense of the street signs. Mrs. Clark tries to ask directions of the boys. They laugh and call her “fat lady” in their own language, but she understands anyway. She turns away from them, lips trembling, and says, “We’re going to miss it, aren’t we? We’re going to miss the show.” You’re lost. Or you’re looking for something. You’re trying to find your way. You turn a corner, then another—no, that’s not it. The streets all look the same, but they change their stripes as soon as you turn your back. You need a guide; you need a map. You walk with your collar turned up and your chin sunk in. The sun’s going down, the streets are empty, and it’s getting later and later. The something that you’re looking for is waiting for you to find it, but it won’t wait forever. Gordon sits on the examining table in his underwear and a paper robe. His feet are very, very cold. “I’m sorry,” says the doctor. “I have some bad news.” “Yes,” says Gordon. The doctor shows him shadowy pictures of his insides. The doctor points to this dark splotch and that one, and tells him a long, dull story about the microscopic things in his blood. “I see,” says Gordon. “I’m sorry,” says the doctor. Gordon says, “How long do I have?” “According to the statistics, you have about five to ten years. But they could be wrong.” “Five years. Five years,” says Gordon. “Five years or fifty thousand miles, is that it? Is that my warranty?” The doctor has no sense of humor. He is a bald man, all business. Gordon looks with envy at the doctor’s bald head. Then he puts on his clothes and leaves. Outside, the receptionist tells him that his fly is undone. She is white-haired and wrinkled. Gordon looks covetously at the wrinkles in her face, the soft folds of her neck, and her twisted fingers. This city wakes and stretches itself like a cat. New neighborhoods spring up overnight like tropical jungles. Old neighborhoods die majestically, slowly sinking to their knees in the muck like dying dinosaurs. The old theaters are the last to go, the gilded palaces filled with ghosts of music. They groan and settle and expire with a wheeze, and then there is only dust. Natalie is a practical girl. Not about money or everyday things. She is practical with her heart. When she loves, she does it efficiently and well. Her heart is reliable. She has two arms and two legs and her hair is red. Just yesterday she lost something. She lost it to a man she thought she loved, and then afterward he put his hand on her thigh in a proprietary way and told her about his wife. Most girls would have slapped and cried, to have lost what she did, to a man like that. But not Natalie. She is a practical girl. She put on her shoes and she put on her coat, and she went out into the street and started walking. And she’s still walking today. She’s searching. She’s a practical girl—she lost something and now she’s going to get it back. “I’ll find it,” she says, “I’ll find what he took from me.” You’re still looking. You’ll never find it. You know it’s here somewhere, but this city keeps teasing and changing in the corner of your eye. You’re about to give up—but then you look up from the sidewalk and there it is—the map shop, wedged in between the skyscrapers. It’s there waiting for you. Low, sagging, with a mansard roof like a hat pulled low on the brow. MAPS—GUIDEBOOKS—DIRECTIONS reads the sign. What a coincidence, you say to yourself, that it should be right here, right when I need it. “Five years or fifty thousand miles,” says Gordon as he walks the streets with his hands in his pockets and stubble on his face. He passes the lit windows of shops: stuffed animals, grapefruits, shiny dresses on mannequins that gaze at him longingly. What should I do now, what should I do? he sings in his head. Quit my job? Spend my savings? Do I have time to love a beautiful woman, start a family, star in a movie, study Zen? Is there time to do anything before the time’s up? Maybe, he thinks, if I don’t have much of anything, it will be easier to give it all up. Maybe I should keep walking and walking, use up my miles as fast as possible, get it over with. Then I’ll never have to know what I’m missing. You’re looking at the sign, peering in the windows. They’re coated with dust, broken, patched with cardboard. What a coincidence, you say. But it’s not a coincidence at all. It’s simply practical. People who know where they are don’t need maps; those who are lost do. So naturally, the mapmaker has situated his shop in the place where people are lost, the place where demand is greatest. The mapmaker and his shop are waiting here for you. He saw you coming; he put himself in your path. The map shop is here especially for you, like the gingerbread house in the heart of the deep dark forest. “Look—maps,” says Mr. Clark. He’s hurrying up the sidewalk, mopping his neck with a handkerchief. Mrs. Clark wobbles after. “Surely they can at least give us directions,” he says. The place looks deserted, some of the windows broken. He reaches for the doorknob. It is shaped like a fish and slithers in his hand. They push their way inside. And inside—maps. Rolls and rolls of them, on shelves, pinned to the walls, lying crumbling in corners. Blurred splotches of color. Thin tangles of line that trail into nothing. “This isn’t what we need,” Mrs. Clark clucks. “Can I help you?” says the man behind the counter. “We’re lost,” says Mr. Clark. “I see,” says the man. “Theater District,” says Mrs. Clark, and stumbles against Mr. Clark in her tight shoes. “Sorry, lost my balance,” she gasps. “One thing at a time,” says the mapmaker. Two men, in a booth, in a bar. Slouching before two glasses of beer. Victor has black greasy hair like Elvis. Nick has Elvis’s soft, pouty mouth. “Here’s the deal. It’s simple,” says Victor. “Yeah,” says Nick. Victor says, “We got the tools; we know the codes. It’s a cinch once we get in there. We can take it all.” Nick says, “Right.” Victor: “But we’re gonna need a way in. There’s got to be a way.” Nick: “Yeah.” Victor: “Yeah, maybe through the basements? Underneath? You think?” Nick: “Yeah. Sure.” Victor: “Maybe a garbage chute? The subway carries garbage; some buildings have a tunnel going straight down there.” Nick: “Yeah.” Victor: “Can’t you say anything useful?” Nick thinks for a while and says: “Yeah.” Victor grabs him by the hair and knocks his head against the table twice, spills the beer, and laughs. Natalie walks the streets. She looks for what she lost. She looks in grocery stores and in alleys. She looks on park benches. She wanders through hotel hallways, watching the maids airing out the rooms and killing last night’s sweaty ghosts. She watches the people leaving the movie houses with their eyes glazed and dreamy, full of distant cities and music and imagined touches. She asks prostitutes and drag queens if they have seen it—the thing she lost. “Sorry, honey,” they say, “everybody knows once you lost that, you don’t ever get it back.” She knows that in a way they are right. But in a way they are not. You go inside the map shop. Inside it is like a church gone to seed. High ceiling, stained-glass windows, a holy hush, the pews replaced by shelves. You almost wish it was a church. You would like that sort of guidance. Here are maps. Hundreds of maps in curling piles. Fantastic faded colors. Delicate lines across the paper like a lover’s hair on the pillowcase. Street maps as intricate as the designs on a computer chip. Continents cramped into strange new shapes: a dog begging, a charm bracelet of islands, a centaur, a toilet seat. Maps in which sea monsters, mermaids, and watery gods are drawn where the oceans spread into the unknown. The best parts, you think, are these unknown regions. The wife says I should take a vacation. She says to me, “You should close up the shop, take some days off.” I tell her I can’t, but she doesn’t understand. “Your back,” she says, “you’re straining your eyes, and your arthritis. You’re old; you should retire.” “This is my job,” I tell her. “These people need me. What can I do?” “Let’s take a trip,” she begs. “Let’s go to another city. You draw maps of a new place if you want.” I tell her a new place wouldn’t make any difference, but she doesn’t understand. The map shop finds Gordon. It seems to spring up out of the ground in front of him. He has been walking for days, nonstop, and he bumps his nose on the wall before he sees it. “Maps,” he says. “Hmmm.” He scratches the stubble on his face. He pushes open the door and steps inside. “Can I help you?” says the mapmaker. “Maybe,” says Gordon. “I’m looking,” he says. He looks at the mapmaker, who has wrinkles grooved deep in his face, marking his age like the rings in a tree. Gordon sighs. “I’m looking for something. A place I can go to. A destination. A reason to keep going. Do you have anything like that?” “A simple street map,” says Mr. Clark, “of the neighborhood. A subway map even. Don’t you have anything like that?” Mrs. Clark says, “The Theater District. Everybody knows where that is!” The mapmaker looks at them blankly. “I’ll do my best,” he says, and sharpens his pencil. “We’re going to be late,” mutters Mr. Clark. Mrs. Clark moans, “She’ll think we’re getting senile.” Natalie goes to the map shop. She makes a beeline for it; she knows it is there. She’s a sensible girl. As she goes inside, the bell on the door tinkles. She goes to the counter and explains what she is looking for. “I see,” says the mapmaker. He looks at the gooseflesh on her bare legs and the blisters on her heels. “I have something for you,” he says, and hands her a roll of paper. She studies it. “I don’t see anything,” she says. “You will,” he says. “Well, thank you.” She is as polite as ever, gives him everything in her pocket—a bus token and $3.45. He takes it with a gallant bow. You ask the mapmaker if he has a map for you. He looks at your face and then takes your hand and studies the whorls and lines of your fingertips. His hair is white; his eyes are deep; his skin is dry and paper-thin. “I might have something,” he says. “There is a map for you,” says the mapmaker, “but I don’t have it. It’s a map you have to find yourself.” “Then can you give me a map to find that map?” says Gordon. “Sorry,” says the mapmaker. “I see,” says Gordon sadly. He turns and leaves, and the bell on the door rings softly after him. “I need a map,” says Victor, who has found the map shop even though it tried to hide from him. He says, “I need a map of the underground.” “The underground?” says the mapmaker. “Yeah,” says Nick. Victor says, “You know, a map of the subways and basements and things in the city. Infrastructure. Don’t you have anything like that?” The mapmaker says, “The underground? Is that like the underworld?” Nick says, “Yeah.” Victor says, “Yeah, I guess. You got anything like that? Something for the neighborhood around the First National?” The mapmaker smiles and says, “I do.” Natalie steps outside and studies her map. Now she sees a line on it, starting in the middle and snaking to the right. So she turns to her right and begins walking. At the corner she stops and consults the map. The line has hooked to the left and now she can see it moving, bleeding across the paper in a decisive way. She turns left and follows it. The mapmaker knows you. Some people say he can follow you everywhere. Your shadow is like the ink spot the mapmaker traces to draw your path. Some say he has your future and fate drawn out in the lines on his map, indelible as the lines on your hand, and as he watches you walk the paths of your life, he is proud of his handiwork. You don’t know what to think, but you look into his piercing hawk eyes and feel his talon grip on your wrist, and you are suddenly not sure you want to see the map he has for you. “The Theater District,” says Mrs. Clark, as if it will help the mapmaker understand. She leans against her husband. Mr. Clark clears his throat in annoyance. The mapmaker bends over his work. Gordon wanders the streets, not looking for anything. He tries to remember his mother’s face, the laugh of a friend, the dog that was a childhood companion, his toy soldiers. They are all gone, all lost. The streets are cold underfoot. He will not stop walking. Victor and Nick wear dark clothes and leather gloves. They have made arrangements. They carry their tools and heavy metal things and ski masks. They follow the map, the map that the mapmaker gave them. They follow it down streets, down some stairs, down below the subway, through hidden passages, down and down and down. Past pipes and rats and blasts of steam, down into the underbelly of the city. “This map is incredible,” says Victor. Natalie follows her map. She follows the line as it wanders over the page, bending, turning, twisting back on itself like a restless sleeper. She’s determined; she will reach the end. Her feet hurt terribly. You take the map he gives you. You fold it in your hands and go out to the street. You decide you’ll look at it later. But you wonder if he has, back in his shop, a master map with every person’s life drawn out neat and indelible, all the paths that cross and join and separate, all the lives that run parallel and never meet at all. You wonder if he is laughing as he draws the thoughts you are thinking right now, to amuse himself. Gordon stops walking. The world stops flowing past him. It holds still so he can look. He looks up at the buildings, so high that they nearly meet over his head. He looks at the neat lines and squares beneath his feet. The children playing on the corner speak another language. He is lost, and there is no map shop. “What’s this?” says Mr. Clark as the mapmaker hands him a piece of paper. “That will take you where you want to go,” the mapmaker says. “I can’t read it,” Mr. Clark says. “Let me see,” says Mrs. Clark, and snatches it from him. The shop is dim; she takes it to the door to read it in the twilight from outside. “I can’t—” she says as the door bangs open with a gust of wind, and the paper is swept out of her hand. Natalie is near the end; she can feel it. Down stairs and ladders, through passages where the rats look up, surprised at being disturbed. Moisture drips down the walls. “This is terrific,” says Victor. “We should be getting there soon.” Nick says, “It’s really hot down here.” Natalie’s map has ceased to move. She folds it and puts it in her pocket and looks up. She sees a man sitting on a stoop, watching her. “Hello,” she says. He says, “Hello. I’m so tired.” He has a grizzled face and kind eyes. She says, “I am, too.” She sits beside him. He opens his mouth and so does she and they talk for hours, gazing at each other and at the little section of starry sky visible between the buildings. Mr. Clark chases the bit of paper as it blows down the street. “Damn it!” he cries, and runs after it, panting. “Wait!” cries Mrs. Clark. She takes off her shoes and flies after him, her breasts bouncing, her shoes in hand. She runs like a gazelle, in leaps and bounds, chasing her husband as he chases the paper. Mrs. Clark has found her balance. Victor and Nick reach a metal platform surrounded by a railing. They lean over and stare into a chasm. Nick wipes his forehead. “It’s so hot in here. Very, very hot,” he says. “Shut up,” says Victor. “We have to go on.” “Down there?” says Nick. Victor says, “That’s what the map says. Do you see a ladder?” And then a fiery breath heaves out of the chasm, bringing with it a hot burning smell and shrill screaming echoes. “Did you hear that?” says Nick. “It’s the subway, jerk,” says Victor. And the two of them make their way down. Gordon stands and asks her to come home with him. She consults her map and finds that this is the right thing to do. She knows it is, but she is a practical girl and wants to make sure. They walk to Gordon’s apartment. She takes off her coat and she takes off her shoes. And then he sees it—the curves and shapes and colors. He puts his finger on her arm, on a thin blue vein that bends and branches like a river. He explores the texture of her skin, the shape of her coastline, her temperate regions, the mountains and valleys that poets write about. She is warm and wet and dry and large and small all at once. She is a country he can live in. Here is a place he can be. Natalie is a practical girl. She knows she has not found the thing she lost. But she has found something else, something better. The paper blows, dancing on the wind, and Mr. Clark follows, cursing and sweating, Mrs. Clark skipping with her newfound lightness, and the paper leads them in a fluttering, flailing dance all the way to the Theater District. You can’t resist. You look at the map he gave you. You see wondrous colors and dancing shapes; everything you want is spread out on the paper, waiting for you. It is just what you wanted. And so you go on your way, feeling secure that now everything will be all right; the mapmaker has said so. Back in his shop, the mapmaker sits over his master map, watching the paths converge. He smiles at your thoughts, and then he leans his head on his hand. He sleeps. He sleeps, and dreams of dandelions and tiger lilies that roar in foreign lands. In his sleep he reaches out to stroke them, and he knocks over his pot of ink, and it spills all over the map, and all your lives take a glorious, disastrous, unexpected turn. Êîíåö îçíàêîìèòåëüíîãî ôðàãìåíòà. Òåêñò ïðåäîñòàâëåí ÎÎÎ «ËèòÐåñ». Ïðî÷èòàéòå ýòó êíèãó öåëèêîì, êóïèâ ïîëíóþ ëåãàëüíóþ âåðñèþ (https://www.litres.ru/pages/biblio_book/?art=39789433&lfrom=390579938) íà ËèòÐåñ. Áåçîïàñíî îïëàòèòü êíèãó ìîæíî áàíêîâñêîé êàðòîé Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, ñî ñ÷åòà ìîáèëüíîãî òåëåôîíà, ñ ïëàòåæíîãî òåðìèíàëà, â ñàëîíå ÌÒÑ èëè Ñâÿçíîé, ÷åðåç PayPal, WebMoney, ßíäåêñ.Äåíüãè, QIWI Êîøåëåê, áîíóñíûìè êàðòàìè èëè äðóãèì óäîáíûì Âàì ñïîñîáîì.