Somewhere in the attic I have letters from Bud, typed on a real typewriter and sent to me when I was in high school and college. The letters chronicle the adventures of his terrier and on occasion were written in the dog’s voice. The dog used to wait for his chance—when the man was sleeping or when he took up his guitar in a corner of a room with a bottle and some cigarettes, maybe the beginnings of a tune. Then the dog would leap to the typewriter and start tapping the keys with small white paws.
When I was seven years old, we moved from Cleveland to New York City. I remember when my parents announced the decision to me and my two sisters. We were eating dinner at the aluminum kitchen table of our suburban home. Their tone was excitingly conspiratorial. They told us not to tell anyone just yet, not until plans were settled. The aspects of the move that might have troubled me—leaving relatives, friends, my bedroom, and my school—paled in comparison to the fact that I had been entrusted with a secret.
“Hell, there are no rules here—we’re trying to accomplish something.”
there were seventeen witnesses for the first execution of a human being by electrocution. William Kemmler, a sometime peddler of produce and a heavy drinker, was sentenced to death on March 29, 1889, for killing his common-law wife, Matilda Ziegler, with a hatchet. There are few details about Kemmler or his life. Born in Philadelphia but raised in Buffalo, he was said to be slender, with brown hair tending toward black. We know his parents were alcoholic immigrants from Germany. He could speak both German and English but couldn’t read a word. We also know that his father was a butcher who died after a cut he received in a drunken brawl became infected. His mother died less accidentally from alcoholism.
When you finish reading the last of these seven letters, you will be dead.
Oh, not right away, my enemy, my friend. There are still many pages to be turned, many words to be devoured. You will receive one letter every day, just like today, by courier with no return address, drip by drip, each morning’s venom, just in time, always just before you shut yourself tight and cozy inside your study to work on your most recent review, your daily dose of toxic excess.
The mortician had trimmed the chaos of hair that had once sprouted from the ears and nostrils of Colton’s grandfather, but a single black arc of eyelash still lay like an unmatched parenthesis atop one bratwurst-colored cheek. Colton licked his thumb, as if readying to turn a page, touched the eyelash, and then studied it against the meaningless swirls of his fingerprint.
“Doesn’t he look natural?” Colton’s grandmother said. She stared down at the body, squeezed a dead shoulder. “That’s how I found him, honey. Just like that, with his eyes closed. Peaceful.”
Colton brushed the eyelash against his slacks and straightened his tie.
In Copenhagen there is a street that on certain days looks, feels even, like Sarajevo. Kingosgade, or Kingo Street. The same sootiness, the frayed composure. Kingo was some white-ruffed Danish giant of piety and poetry centuries ago. Like everybody else’s in those days, his neckpiece looked like someone had smashed a platter over his head and he never got around to getting it off, and in his portrait he seems all the more sullen for it—angry with himself for going to the painter’s studio with the ridiculous crockery still around his neck. He wrote psalms and sermons, that kind of thing. But Sarajevo never was pious. It is a city of mischief and raillery, of street wisdom. At least that’s what it was before it became the city of siege and bombardment.
It was early September, the air still balmy, the perfect weather for a Venetian escapade. Caterina and Pascal were sitting in a café across a canal divining their future, in a quiet campo off the beaten track, away from the tourists and the film crowd who had invaded the city for the festival. They sipped their frothy iced cappuccinos, basking in the sun, their eyes fixed on its refractions dotting the greenish canal with specks of glitter. They felt that for once things were beginning to look promising for both of them.