Excerpt of Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen
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On a temperate stormy night
Last December a woman entered my apartment who looked exactly
like my wife. This woman casually closed the door behind her.
In an oversized pale blue purseRemas purseshe was carrying
a russet puppy. I did not know the puppy. And the real Rema, she
doesnt greet dogs on the sidewalk, she doesnt like dogs at all.
The hayfeverishly fresh scent of Remas shampoo was filling the
air and through that brashness I squinted at this woman, and at
that small dog, acknowledging to myself only that something was
She, the woman, the possible dog lover, leaned down to de-shoe.
Her hair obscured her face somewhat, and my migraine occluded
the edges of my vision, but still, I could see: same unzipping of
wrinkly boots, same taking off of same baby blue coat with jumbo
charcoal buttons, same tucking behind ears of dyed cornsilk
blonde hair. Same bangs cut straight across like on those dolls
done up in native costumes that live their whole lives in plastic
cases held up by a metal wire around the waist. Same everything,
but it wasnt Rema. It was just a feeling, thats how I knew. Like
the moment near the end of a dream when I am sometimes able to
whisper to myself, I am dreaming. I remember once waking up
from a dream in which my mother, dead now for thirty-three
years, was sipping tea at my kitchen table, reading a newspaper on
the back of which there was the headline Wrong Man, Right
Name, Convicted in Murder Trial. I was trying to read the smaller
print of the article, but my mother kept moving the paper, readjusting,
turning pages, a sound like a mess of pigeons taking
sudden flight. When I woke up I searched all through the house
for that newspaper, and through the trash outside as well, but I
never found it.
Oh! the simulacrum said quietly, seeming to notice the
dimmed lights. Im so sorry. She imitated Remas Argentine accent
perfectly, the halos around the vowels. You are having your
migraine? She pressed that lean russet puppy against her chest;
the puppy trembled.
I held a hushing finger to my lips, maybe hamming up my
physical suffering, but also signing truly, because I was terrified,
though of precisely what I could not yet say.
You, the simulacrum whispered seemingly to herself, or
maybe to the dog, or maybe to me, can meet your gentle new
friend later. She then began a remarkable imitation of Remas
slightly irregularly rhythmed walk across the room, past me, into
the kitchen. I heard her set the teakettle to boil.
You look odd, I found myself calling out to the woman I
could no longer see.
Yes, a dog, she singsonged from the kitchen, still flawlessly
reproducing Remas foreign intonations.
Excerpted from Atmospheric Disturbances
by Rivka Galchen Copyright © 2008 by Rivka Galchen. Excerpted by
permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.