My wife has always been a kind woman, but during the six months when I was in prison, her kindness grew to be a firm, beating thing. She called me every day and sent small and constant gifts. She brought our children to visit, and the kids soon lost their fury and held their smiles behind their palms, watching me with a kind of incredulous wonder. My wife was so graceful in the newspaper photographs and interviews, shining on me so much of her own quiet light, that by the time I was released I was more a figure of pity, even a scapegoat, than the monster I’d been painted as throughout the trial.
Among the snowy houses, a small woman in a white wool coat shoveled a path from the street to her front door. Meanwhile snow was falling, gathering slowly on the path being cleared, and on the small woman shoveling.
Each of the woman’s movements was like the second half of an echo: It seemed as if her gestures weren’t occurring now, but had been initiated some time ago. Faint, also fated. She emptied half a shovelful of snow onto a large bank, and then gathered more snow in her shovel.
We were unemployed and without a place to go, but we got up in the morning and pressed things under the iron anyhow. Our parents turned us out of their houses, telling us to Go get some fresh air!, then locked the doors they refused to give us keys to. We piled up in the streets like garbage, a dozen of us on every block, sitting open-legged on the curb in department-store suits. There was me, Mike, Paul, and all the rest of the guys we’d grown up with. We were a decade and a half past high school graduation, loaded down and barely breathing under stubble and spare tires and thick letters from Sallie Mae, but there we all were, out at the bus stop again.
The plan was to take the bus to my father’s farm, to see him in person for a change. My mother said, Your father is too busy for you, and you don’t know his wife. But I went anyway. I wanted to be able to say that my father was unavailable, firsthand account.
I packed only one large duffel bag, and my mother drove me to the bus station.She told me, Call me if you need anything. I said I’d call her every day.
In the courtyard were more of these men and women who—how should I describe them?—who still were. They didn’t do anything except exist. They sat, alone or in silent clusters. None would say yes to an interview. I circled the courtyard, asking. Most did not even say no.
Now it is just a question of what to do with Guy Gever. For extra money he works in the evenings to frighten the birds that eat the crops in the fields around the kibbutz. At night, he hunts the porcupines, the dorban, and sometimes the tiny kipod, the hedgehogs, with his brothers. But now people think he has gone mad.
Nanjing, the furnace of the Yangtse, is a city so big it swallows. I can stroll through the streets and brush by anyone, but a weight presses on me like a singular, enveloping fog that never leaves. Men gather outside my apartment building and smoke in the afternoon. On some days a neighbor calls the Chengguan—the Urban Management Enforcement. They arrive in their white van and white hats and chase the smokers off. The smokers flee like carrion birds shooed away.
Ramesh Thakur had three houses—one in Defence Colony, one in R.K. Puram, and one in Malviya Nagar. But he was not happy.
“So much dusting, Chandar. I go to each house once a week. I dust, I dust. The sofas, the tables, the mantelpiece. I do not forget anything.
“But it is hard work, Chandar. It is not easy.”
But still I was happy for him. He was retired, he needed something to do. This kept him busy. He had three houses: there was security in that. He had some place to go three days a week: this kept him busy, there was security in that as well.
The last eel of the Rio Grande grows up lonely, brown and serpentine, a river with gills and a pulse swimming inside itself, spooning the river’s oxbows eager for siblings. What the eel doesn’t know could fill a book: that hydroelectric dams keep its kind from traveling upstream to spawn; that eels live elsewhere churning by the hundreds in slicktight knots; the taste of its own firm flesh smothered in soy sauce. The last eel stays ignorant, growing fat on cigarette butts and dreams of parents, growing heavy and slow feeding on the heavy metal hodgepodge downstream of the power plants, a bully coiled up in dark water only coming out to scare smaller fish into submission. And then one day it happens: the flossy flick of a line, the hook and tug before the drag. The eel fights, but its broad, tubed muscles are lazy from afternoon sleeps. It hasn’t run swiftly through a spring flood in years. Hands pull it easily from the water, helped along by the river saying ‘take it, I don’t want this anymore.’