Grandmother died when I was seven and aliens raided the village. Their long guns fired out of nowhere, shattering walls and smashing bodies. Father threw me to the floor, shielding me, and I didn’t see Grandmother die, didn’t realize Mother was missing until the raid was over. Father got up and looked outside the house, cautiously; there were shouts of dismay and distress everywhere, and my ears were still ringing from the gunfire. The whole world seemed wreathed in smoke, blurred. My eyes stung.
Boy howdy, had the match proven an ugly one. The fight’s underdog had her entire arm ripped off at the shoulder during the first five minutes in the ring, but then she dropped into a deep stance and swept her opponent’s legs out from under him, knocking him to the floor in what the audience clearly considered a thrilling reversal of fortune. When she stomped his neck, hard, and used her remaining hand to pluck out the other geung si’s left eye, the crowd went crazy.
I don’t read much, out here on the highway, but I remember everything I’ve read. And here’s something I remember, a stray scrap of poetry, cribbed from a water-stained paperback that someone left on a bench in front of a Valero. I left the book where I found it, but I kept the words: “The living are wrong to believe in the too-sharp distinctions which they themselves have created.” That’s Rilke, sister. Keep it in mind.
The thing he would remember most about his days, his weeks at the Rivendale resort — had it really been weeks? — was not the enormous lobby and dining room, nor the elaborately carved mahogany woodwork framing the library, nor even the men and women of Rivendale themselves, with their bright eyes and pale, almost hairless heads and hands. The thing he would remember most was the room he and Cathy stayed in, the way she looked when she curled up in bed, her bald head rising weakly over her shoulders.
Outside was too big. Eric felt like an ant crawling on the surface of a volleyball, as if the big white cotton dome of the sky was surrounded by giant faces peering down at him and sniggering. He wished it was raining; heʼd have an umbrella then, at least. Tilly was waiting at the bus stop already. Her hair needed cutting. “Hi,” she said, eyeing him warily. He hadnʼt been at school for a week.
Long past midnight, Carl Weston sat in a ditch in the Sonoran Desert with his finger on the trigger of his M-16, waiting for something to happen. Growing up, he’d always played army, dreamed about traveling around the world and taking on the bad guys — the black hats who ran dictatorships, invaded neighboring countries, or tried exterminating whole subsets of the human race. That was what soldiering was all about. Taking care of business. Carrying the big stick and dishing out justice.
Hand in hand, your family and some friends stand in a circle around your father. Ten seconds have passed since his last breath, and you’re counting, wondering if it was his last breath or his last breath. Your eyes lock on his face, and you try to remember when he last opened his eyes and looked around. Days, at least. The memory blooms in your head, something like a flower or a drop of ink expanding in water.
Walking through gray north London to the tube station, feeling guilty that he hadn’t let Jenny drive him to work and yet relieved to have escaped another pointless argument, Stuart Holder glanced down at a pavement covered in a leaf-fall of fast-food cartons and white paper bags, and saw, amid the dog turds, beer cans, and dead cigarettes, something horrible.
The hike hadn’t been Ella’s idea. Of course it hadn’t; nothing about this holiday was. It was Nick who’d chosen the destination, Nick who’d chosen the hotel. It was Nick who wanted to go walking, though the day was hot, the sun already furious. At least, she thought as she pulled on the new hiking boots he’d insisted she buy, it would be cooler under the trees. This part of Croatia was thick with them, the trunks tight-packed, keeping out the light.
The fear took him by the throat with the first chord. It was the violins and their high, piercing wail that caught him unaware, making the terror vibrate within him as the strings vibrated to their horsehair prod. Tortured, he thought. The bow tortured the strings to make them howl so. The music grew in intensity and volume, and he knew he would have to leave before he *could not* leave, before the soaring, searing music immobilized him like a fly in amber.