When Lucas walked in and nodded toward the Ice Bus, I thought for a fleeting moment he was finally going to make a move. Not that there was much of a dating scene in the small research station, but sometimes I would walk a short way away from camp and lie on my back and watch the stars and imagine that I could feel the Antarctic ice streams moving beneath me. And every time I would wish someone else was there with me, to let the sound of their breathing tether me to the Earth while my mind wandered among the distant lights.
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I was five when we moved to the island. Mommy and Daddy knew that the end was near. There were harbingers, omens, and dire events: poisoned apples, collapsing buildings, broken sidewalks, and the ever-present idiot boxes, a parade of heathens that prayed in tongues. A riot over papayas and saddle shoes broke out in the fifth quarter, and half the city burned. In a far-off desert, our soldiers fought the sand worms.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The shadows press on your skin, prickled velvet that shouldn’t have weight, shouldn’t have texture, shouldn’t feel like you are wearing sandpaper and poison, but they do. You are almost used to it, this new way that things that shouldn’t happen do, but you do not like it. Here is one of the things that shouldn’t have happened: You are awake, and you do not want to be.
My hands were badly chapped that fall, the year we found Bog Dog. At least that I remember. The ground iced in early September, a month and a half early, and we had to dig the turnips from the earth with trowels. The soil was like pebbles of ice and the turnip tops were stiffened with freezing juice that re-froze on our hands as we sliced them off.
They had known that the pillbox was in the woods, but for some reason they’d never got around to visiting it. Andy thought maybe it was because the older kids went there sometimes, smoking cigarettes and drinking cider and, so rumour had it, getting blowjobs from Mandy Sullivan. He wasn’t entirely sure what a blowjob was—though his older brother Nick seemed to think it was something to do with sticking your tongue into your cheek—but those ideas were enough to keep the pillbox out of bounds.