The burned house stood at the back of a scrubby lot. If a house could be said to glower, then glower it did: rising from the ashes which were all that was left of its south face, sitting back on its haunches, its wooden front porch inexplicably wrapped in chicken wire (to keep out trespassers? to keep something in?), its second floor rearing up and threatening to topple. The For Sale sign had been there forever.
“I have something I want to show you,” said Nancy. She stared at Jazmine from Jazmine’s front porch, wet and bedraggled. Nancy was a petite white woman with long hair the way teenage boys had long hair: tangled and perpetually in need of a good shampoo. Jazmine sighed and reached out to rest her hand on Nancy’s shoulder, then pulled back.
He thought at first that she was dead. And that was terrible, of course — but what shocked him most was how dispassionate that made him feel. There was no anguish, no horror, he should be crying but clearly no tears were fighting to get out — and instead all there was was this almost sick fascination. He’d never seen a corpse before. His mother had asked if he’d wanted to see his grandfather, all laid out for the funeral, and he was only twelve, and he really really didn’t.
Cars never bounce around the way they make them appear in the movies. No, instead they glide, more like the lull of a boat on stale waters. And they’re just as loud as the boat’s engine, even with the windows rolled up there are always loud swooshing noises assaulting the senses. The sounds should be calming, like the ocean, but they never are. They are annoying and invading.
It had been terrible from the start. He knew it was a disaster, knew from the very beginning, maybe even from the very first instant, that they were not, no matter what she claimed, MEANT FOR EACH OTHER, that he should get away from her as fast as he could, if not faster. And yet, somehow, he couldn’t. He’d always experienced a certain amount of inertia, but it was something other than that. What exactly it was, though, he wasn’t sure.
We gathered for the last time in October, under the pretense of discussing a novel that was currently bobbing along in the zeitgeist like a rubber duck at sea. It was unusually cold for October — the summer season had lasted long and hard and then dropped precipitously in a matter of days. Now we came bundled to Luna’s house, sweaters beneath jackets and dishes in chapped hands and the novel tucked into our armpits.
The bedroom was stifling. The ceiling fan’s soft sucking sound as it moved through the humid air only intensified her discomfort. Of course he was asleep beside her; not much kept him awake. He hadn’t wanted to put the air conditioning in yet, saying it was too expensive, that the nights were still cool enough for sleeping with windows open, that the fan would regulate the temperature. So here she was lying awake in their new home, a perfect center entrance Georgian, hating him.
Waiting on the steps at Changdeokgung for my language study group, I watched a girl in a guide’s vest herding American tourists. She had full cheeks and a broad nose, vanishing eyebrows, sad eyes. It was summer, boiling hot. Her skin was sheened with sweat. As I watched, she slipped the wallet from an American man’s back pocket, extracted some bills, and put it back. In chipper English she called to them, “This way! This way please!” Leading them off, she looked at me and smiled.
The Binding takes place tomorrow at the Sisters of Solace Hospital outside Charlottesville, Virginia. From my bed, I can just see the peaks of the October hills, dappled maroon and scarlet. If I could lift my head, I’d be able to glimpse the wing of what was once a dormitory at the University of Virginia and now serves as a Confinement Center for the most violent prisoners/inmates, but gel compression restraints, deemed more humane by hospital staff than electro-loops, ensnare my wrists and ankles.
It starts with a small child — a girl of no more than eight or nine, with stringy blond hair and grease caked under her ragged fingernails — trotting down a street in a not so fashionable district of London. It’s 1886. It’s nearly three in the morning, the night shrouded in fog. She’s barefoot and hungry, and back in the rooms she left just ten minutes ago, her parents have begun making up from the row they’ve just ended.