“Asanka,” sneered Emma’s landlord, his bony frame planted in front of the staircase that led to her apartment. It was dawn and she had just returned from walking with her friend, Martin, to the bus stop. He had tutored her throughout the night, in preparation for the entrance exam that she would take in a week’s time, and she had felt obligated to see him off afterward. But now as she stared into her landlord’s rheumy eyes, she wished she had stayed indoors.
“Drinks,” Muzzie says. “You, me, and Chen—a celebration in Dizzy’s memory. Not a drinking party.” He won’t go that far with it—but Kev knows that though he never went to college, never set foot in a frat house, Muzzie holds a pretty clear definition of what a drinking party entails: keg stands and beer pong and at least twenty women. Though it’s his first night back in Pennsylvania after almost ten years, he knows every note Muzzie’s going to play before he ever plays them.
“Who was it who decided on where Tallahassee should be?” Toby asks questions, and we laugh a lot. Stupid things really. But it makes you think, and it helps to pass the time. He takes the money when people pump their gas, and I do most of the other things, like brake jobs, tires, and shocks. Mostly minor repairs, quick jobs that get a good price for the boss.
When I pick Kirti up from the bus station, I don’t want to look at her all at once. It’s been years since I’ve seen her last and I want to take her in piece by piece. I look at her brown arms that hug her dirty yellow backpack to her chest, a pose too childish for her twenty-three years. Her elbows are so dark they’re nearly purple, from the bunching of her skin. Her right ear has a ring pierced through the top of it, like a goat’s.
Heejoung took the job as a flight attendant because she wanted to see the world. It has been three years. She has seen the world. Its major cities have blurred together. Bangkok’s floating paper lanterns are superimposed onto Singapore’s harbor. She calls this place Hong Kong—no, she calls it HKG. Her life becomes simple. An abbreviation of life. There is night and there is day, there is sky and there is earth, and earth, in the day, is a runway imprisoned by razor-crowned fences.
The women waited for Olivia. Perched on their lawn chairs beneath the dogwood, which blossomed in leathery white bursts, Nel thought they looked more like they were waiting for their youth. Leanne had slathered on so much foundation she resembled an overripe tangerine, and Connie stank of French perfume. Nel regretted wearing new capris. The white pants had looked effortless on the pretty, child-like model in the catalogue, but they hung limply from her own middle-aged waist. What would Kevin call them if he walked into the backyard now? A gaggle, she thought. A gaggle of women, hoping for some mid-afternoon miracle that would transform them from mere sacks of marriages and motherhood into pristine girls again.
Milena always reminded me of a backdrop to a bleak landscape, a woman unlikely to arouse much conscious consideration, though she hovered around like an uncertain but inescapable future punishment. She popped in and out of our lives at random, insignificant moments. There was, for instance, that typically drab October afternoon in Frankfurt.
For the last hundred miles, Brooks’ ten-year-old son, Adler, had been yelling profanities out the window. It started during a break from driving. To stretch their legs they jogged down a rural road along the wire fence separating the pavement from endless rolling hills of grazing land.
For a week in the middle of March, Paul Haberman felt increasingly out of sorts. Not much appetite, lousy sleep. In meetings he’d find himself absently chewing a knuckle. When the phone rang after nine at night, he braced for calamity. The wind blew hard against his bedroom window, and he imagined his neighbor’s oak tipping onto the roof. Lying in bed, with Cynthia huffing peacefully beside him, he asked himself what could be the matter and then did his best to answer. Maybe he’d been working too hard. Maybe he was troubled by the state of the world.
The first time with Dean, I was on a couch and he knelt beside me on the floor. He parted my lips with two fingers and slid them into my mouth. Something moved inside, a snake in a basket. He ran his fingers along the edges of my teeth and pushed them open. His fingers were salty. It was unpleasant.
He pushed my teeth father apart, inserting a third finger. I wanted to laugh. In and out the fingers slid. I closed my mouth. He pushed my teeth open. He was a swimmer.
With every mile Johnny drives, Lester Cronin is closer to dead. Nobody knows this yet but me. Nobody ever talks about what happened to Grandpa Eddie anymore, like the whole family just forgot all about it. But I never will. The last four years, my whole time in the Army, I’ve been planning and working toward revenge, waiting for the chance to set things right. Once I finish off Lester, I’ll go to college on the G.I. Bill—move on and live a respectable life. I’m just coming home to take care of business first.
That Janet Williams hadn’t liked children all that much she blamed on the boy’s mother. Children annoyed her, frankly—all that incessant energy, the enthusiasm for obnoxious music and inedible food, their general and relentless neediness. When pressed, however, she would admit there was something special about this one, this Danny, her five-year-old grandson. On that day—that god-awful day—he’d mostly amused himself, trying out all of the chairs in the living room, plopping himself on the new loveseat and scootching his little bottom around, testing it for comfort, twisting his face around like a bad actor portraying a food critic. Goldilocks with nappy hair.