She had witnessed this scene dozens of times before, her husband yelling at Luke. For joyriding with his friends, theater-hopping, sneaking beer onto the beach in old Coke bottles, smoking reefer in Buddy Todd Park, goading Marines into fights. He wasn’t a bad kid but he was reckless. Black boys couldn’t afford to be reckless, she had tried to tell him. Reckless white boys became politicians and bankers, reckless black boys became dead.
Hatred was easy. The permutations constant over the years: a stranger at a fair who palmed my crotch through my shorts. A man on the sidewalk who lunged at me, then laughed when I flinched. The night an older man took me to a fancy restaurant when I wasn’t even old enough to like oysters. Not yet twenty. The owner joined our table, and so did a famous filmmaker. The men fell into a heated discussion with no entry point for me: I fidgeted with my heavy cloth napkin, drank water. Staring at the wall. “Eat your vegetables,” the filmmaker suddenly snapped at me. “You’re a growing girl.” The filmmaker wanted me to know what I already knew: I had no power. He saw my need and used it against me.
Well, as I see it, it’s exactly one half-dozen significant things: Humor, Imagination, Eroticism—as opposed to the mindless, instinctive mating of glowworms or raccoons—Spirituality, Rebelliousness, and Aesthetics, an appreciation of beauty for its own sake.
“How can you ask us to go back to our parlors?” I said, rising to my feet. “To turn our backs on ourselves and on our own sex? We don’t wish the movement to split, of course we don’t—it saddens me to think of it—but we can do little for the slave as long as we’re under the feet of men. Do what you have to do, censure us, withdraw your support, we’ll press on anyway. Now, sirs, kindly take your feet off our necks.”
“Have you ever killed an animal?” I said I had never killed anything.
“You will. You’ll put Viola down. You’ll have him injected, when the time comes. Try to understand. When the sands run out for someone, don’t stop them going. You can’t give them anything to replace life. Do you think I didn’t love Polett? That it meant nothing to me when she’d had enough and wanted out? It’s just that, as well as love, you also have to know how to kill. It won’t do you any harm to remember that. Ask your God — since you’re on such good terms with him — what Polett told him when they finally met.”
A few days go by. Maybe a few weeks. But after that, one by one, other different children start tagging along with Alex and Elsa in the playground and corridors. Until there are so many of them that no one dares to chase them anymore. Until they’re an army in themselves. Because if a sufficient number of people are different, no one has to be normal.
I have no idea what I hope to accomplish. I only know that I must try to see her. That’s what love is about, Roger. It’s when a woman drives all lucid thought from your head; when you are unable to contrive romantic stratagems, and the usual manipulations fail you; when all your carefully laid plans have no meaning and all you can do is stand mute in her presence. You hope she takes pity on you and drops a few words of kindness into the vacuum of your mind.
I have done it. Full fathom five it lies. Hiding out here in the 3rd class library for the time being. Strange how a ship was our doing and now our undoing. Let him rage. Let him rage across the oceans. But he will rage alone. I am getting off tomorrow at Aden. Doubling back to Sydney. He is wine and bread and deep in my stomach.
His gaze climbed her legs. When he reached her eyes, she’d already seen him. “I’m Kolya,” he managed to say. “Galina,” she replied. Her lips flattened and curved at the ends like something wet that hadn’t dried right. It was a smile. His chest unzipped from the inside.
Humans haunt more houses than ghosts do. Men and women assign value to brick and mortar, link their identities to mortgages paid on time. On frigid winter nights, young mothers walk their fussy babies from room to room, learning where the rooms catch drafts and where the floorboards creak. In the warm damp of summer, fathers sit on porches, sometimes worried and often tired but comforted by the fact that a roof is up there providing shelter. Children smudge up walls with dirty handprints, find nooks to hide their particular treasure, or hide themselves if need be. We live and die in houses, dream of getting back to houses, take great care in considering who will inherit the houses when we’re gone.