“I am living permanently in my dream,
from which I make brief forays into reality.”
—Ingmar Bergman, The Magic Lantern: An Autobiography
Erminia danced the Charleston. My friend Gianluca told me how, almost every evening, his grandmother would pause on the threshold of the French doors that opened onto the terrace and trace out the steps. Her arms swinging, legs twisting, a toe to the front, then to the back, a heel swiveling to the side, a toe to the front again. She confined her movements to the doorway as though she wanted to go unnoticed, and yet somehow she demanded the attention of anyone nearby. Whenever I was at Gianluca’s, I always saw her singing softly to herself.
We called him Ísjaki. Few knew his real name. I certainly didn’t when I was charged with being his caretaker during his first visit to New York. Ísjaki meant “iceberg” in Iceland, where this man came from.
As the parakeet-green municipal bus pulled into Cuddalore, Sai held his sign up as high as he could, his forehead burning from the morning sun. He did not want the reporter to miss him.
The sign was flimsy, made of two pieces of printer paper taped together, but it was sufficient.
He’d written SARA, THE NEW YORK TIMES in thick capital letters with a black marker. He knew of only a handful of women doing serious journalism, mostly Barkha Dutt copycats. His favorite female journalist was actually a character from the movie Gandhi. He had rented it when he was in college in Chennai and watched it alone. He was instantly smitten with the actress who played the Time magazine photographer from America, charmed by the way her short, wavy hair bounced as she squatted to the ground to take pictures of the Mahatma spinning cotton on his chakkaram.
I will make this short but not sweet, unlike the chocolate delicacy at the center of this blunder:
Whoever is eating cookies in The Loomery, cease. Did you not see the signs in the hall outside? Did you not read the pamphlets on initiation day? Surely not, because you would’ve noticed they read in large Impact font: DO NOT EAT INSIDE THE LOOMERY.
At an artists’ collective near the Polish border about an hour from Berlin, I’d been taking a break from translating texts into English, a task I once enjoyed but was beginning to resent, as I was beginning to feel invisible—or was it burnt out?—in any case, I was glad to get away for a few days: it was my first vacation since I-don’t-know-when, and I’d begun to feel my soul was spent. Over lunch on my last day there, a woman from Seoul who went by the nickname Hae—a transliteration of the word “sun” in Korean, she said—asked what the word in German was for “soul.” Actually, the woman sitting next to her asked, but the woman sitting next to Hae came from Spain and was shy about her English, so when she directed the question at me I heard the word as “sol”—we’d spent the week speaking both Spanish and English—and said, in reply, “Sonne.”
It’s the last day of school, and I get home with butterflies in my stomach. My mouth already tastes like summer, like heat outside and air conditioning inside, like the darkness of my cave, like cloister and crypt. I turn on the television and change the channel, change the channel, one to the next, discovering the lineup for the beginning of the end of the week, the beginning of my three-month rest, the beginning of a new wave of televised hunger, the same that ensues from another year of school.