“We lie. That's what we do. You're selling me a line of bullshit and you want me to sell you a line of bullshit back so you can write a major line of bullshit and be paid for it.”
“I would lie of course. I lied a lot and with good reason: to protect the truth—safeguard it like wearing fake gems to keep the real ones from getting stolen or cheapened by overuse. I guarded what truths I possessed because information was not a thing—it was colorless odorless shapeless and therefore indestructible. There was no way to retrieve or void it no way to halt its proliferation. Telling someone a secret was like storing plutonium inside a sandwich bag the information would inevitably outlive the friendship or love or trust in which you’d placed it. And then you would have given it away.”
“At night, the house thick with sleep, she would peer out her bedroom window at the trees and sky and feel the presence of a mystery. Some possibility that included her--separate from her present life and without its limitations. A secret. Riding in the car with her father, she would look out at other cars full of people she'd never seen, any one of whom she might someday meet and love, and would feel the world holding her making its secret plans.”
“He doesn’t know who he’s making love to, I would think, and panic would slash through me until I reminded myself that it was over now, a freakish aberration not to be repeated. It was Hansen who first made me aware of shadow selves. He would lie in bed watching me for whole minutes, and I would look back into his eyes and wonder, What does he see? How can he not see the truth? Where is it hidden? It made me ask, when I looked at other people, what possible selves they were hiding behind the strange rubber masks of their faces. I could nearly always find one, if I watched for long enough. It became the only one I was interested in seeing.”
“And it was only as he rose from the bed, his body illuminated by the colored lights of the city, that I caught the glint of calculation behind his eyes, a cold, blank set to his face. His shadow self, and not a nice one.”
“I sensed immediately that he'd once been overweight. He moved with a fat person's tiptoey apology.”
“I was peeling apart in layers. I was breaking into bits. She was coming apart at the seams … my head buzzing with a confusion of junk noise, white noise, space junk, a junkyard of noisy thought that made me long instead for a lovely, petaled silence.”
“By then I’d been watching shadow selves for many years. They’d rescued me from boredom, from sadness. From tables full of rich, awful people. They’d given depth to the shallow, dimensions to the simpleminded. Mystery to the blatant. They were my own secret project. But Z knew about them, too. He was looking for mine. A spy. Like me.”
“As for myself, I’d rather not say very much. When I breathe, the air feels good in my chest. And when I think of the mirrored room, as of course I still do, I understand now that it’s empty, filled with chimeras like Charlotte Swenson—the hard, beautiful seashells left behind long after the living creatures within have struggled free and swum away. Or died. Life can’t be sustained under the pressure of so many eyes. Even as we try to reveal the mystery of ourselves, to catch it unawares, expose its pulse and flinch and peristalsis, the truth has slipped away, burrowed further inside a dark, coiled privacy that replenishes itself like blood. It cannot be seen, much as one might wish to show it. It dies the instant it is touched by light.”
“But a story was invisible, infinite, it had no size or shape. Information. It could fill the world or fit inside a fingernail.”
“And Moose heard her happiness then—Oh, the joy that came of dispensing happiness to others, of entering happiness’s interlocking circuitry!”
“My apartment was just as I had left it, except that now the empty bottles and chaos of discarded outfits looked like the hopeful prelude to a ruined evening.”
“She gave up the rest. The relief was physical, like releasing a long tight breath that had crowded her lungs for too long, letting it go because it was stale, the oxygen was gone.”
“Like the apple bruising Kafka’s beetle, each of these pellets of recollection lodged in Moose’s flesh, releasing its cargo of memories of all the things he had lost— “Not lost! Gained!” Moose thundered aloud, but now, mercifully, that debate (lost or gained?) was supplanted in his mind by the proximity of Belmont Harbor and the yacht club. Yes, this was the place; Moose eased the station wagon into a parking space, desperate to free himself of its chassis, whose sole purpose, it now seemed, was to hold him still so that these bullets of memory could assault him, enter his flesh and release their shrapnel of foolish and unreliable nostalgia.”
“This way,” he said gently, wheedlingly, rallyingly, and they walked, Moose and his diminutive companion, around the edge of Belmont Harbor, past the totem pole, up toward the bird sanctuary and then to the edge of the lake, the great flickering oceanic lake that could look milky and tropical in sunlight (as now) or greenish-gray beneath clouds, that during storms could rage in tones of purple-black. And Moose finally did what he’d been longing to do: climbed over the seawall and perched on a cube of concrete with the boy beside him, that mischievous boy he had been, that happy, blind boy, looking out at the sunlight striking the lake with sparks, listening to sounds of locusts although there were none, they had ended with the cornfields. Clicking noises, amoebic phantoms waving their tentacles from the sky; Moose observed these phenomena, which he recognized as hallucinations induced by the excited state of his thoughts, observed them in part to avoid looking at Moose-the-boy, who was watching him. Moose felt the boy’s eyes on his face, a prolonged stare that would be rude in anyone but a child, a stare Moose put off returning for as long as possible because he knew it contained a question he could answer only with the greatest expenditure of energy (and right now he was so tired), and perhaps not even then: What had happened to him?”
“A weird sequence of weather events had left a thin skin of ice around every tree and branch and twig. Each time the wind blew, a splintery groan issued from all directions at once.”
“And Moose heard her happiness then—Oh, the joy that came of dispensing happiness to others, of entering happiness’s interlocking circuitry! Yet even now Moose felt the persistence of whatever worry he’d heard in Ellen’s voice before the happiness his remark had occasioned, and no sooner was the phone back in its cradle than he was felled by a crash of despair on his sister’s behalf. We’re all alone, he thought, crumpling back onto the fragment of living room couch that wasn’t draped in maps of Rockford. We are all alone.”
“It was starting to rain, big sloppy drops spilling onto the windshield. No thunder yet. His driving was stymied by a clobbering sensation of loss. But what exactly had he lost? Himself as he had been, firm-bodied and flabby-minded? Some clarity of vision he once had possessed? Or was it the old, dormant chamber of his bicameral mind calling out to him, reminding him of the days when rocks and trees and statues had spoken with the voices of gods?”
“In moments, I clutched at the notion of some larger “me” that could contain and justify my contradictory behavior, but more often I simply felt like the scene of two irreconcilable visions, two different people, one unerringly loyal and faithful, the other treacherous and greedy.”
“I crossed my arms, stilled by a revelation that had been mounting in me ever since our arrival in this bower of poured concrete: that as the “subject,” I was both the center of attention and completely extraneous. The feeling brought with it an eerie, stultifying familiarity; I was still the model, after all. I was modeling my life.”
“As the weeks progressed, I developed a morbid fascination with the enormity of all he didn’t know. I reminded myself incessantly that the happiness I heard in his voice when we spoke each night was predicated upon a trust and faith and mutual understanding that I had already betrayed countless times in countless different ways, ways that would make him scream, were he to glimpse them. The thought tortured me. I felt like a poisoner sprinkling arsenic on Hansen’s food while he wasn’t looking, watching him eat it bite by bite. I wished he would guess, but I did everything in my power to keep him from guessing, and it was easy. I sounded the same! He had no reason to doubt me! He believed that I loved him, and he was right! I was made for this treachery! Each night, as I reported to him the jobs I was on hold for, the church I’d wandered into, the croque monsieur I’d had for lunch, I would imagine rescuing him from his ignorance and my duplicity by telling him everything. This fantasy of absolution so enthralled me that at times I completely lost track of our conversation. To say it and have him know, to close the gap between us. I couldn’t do it. And yet I knew that it couldn’t go on this way, either, that sooner or later I would have to choose between Hansen and everyone else. A lifetime of deceiving a good man was more than even I could stomach. So I left.”
“I love the way he says my name, like it’s something he wants to keep safe.”
“Drinks were a lot like books, really: it didn’t matter where you were, the contents of a vodka tonic were always more or less the same, and you could count on them to take you away to somewhere better or at least make your present arrangements seem more manageable.”
“Sometimes life has a habit of flooding over you and rushing you along in its overwhelming tide.”
“I shouldn't have done that," I said.
That was when I kissed him again.
May God forgive me for this and all these things I've done.”
“Man does not ask for nightmares, he does not ask to be bad. He does not will his own willfulness.”
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