Excerpt of Great House by Nicole Krauss
(Page 1 of 6)
Printer Friendly Excerpt
Talk to him.
Your Honor, in the winter of 1972 R and I broke up, or I should
say he broke up with me. His reasons were vague, but the gist was that
he had a secret self, a cowardly, despicable self he could never show
me, and that he needed to go away like a sick animal until he could
improve this self and bring it up to a standard he judged deserving
of company. I argued with him - I'd been his girlfriend for almost
two years, his secrets were my secrets, if there was something cruel
or cowardly in him I of all people would know - but it was useless.
Three weeks after he'd moved out I got a postcard from him (without
a return address) saying that he felt our decision, as he called it, hard
as it was, had been the right one, and I had to admit to myself that our
relationship was over for good.
Things got worse then for a while before they got better. I won't
go into it except to say that I didn't go out, not even to see my grandmother,
and I didn't let anyone come to see me, either. The only
thing that helped, oddly, was the fact that the weather was stormy,
and so I had to keep running around the apartment with the strange
little brass wrench made especially for tightening the bolts on either
side of the antique window frames - when they got loose in windy
weather the windows would shriek. There were six windows, and just
as I finished tightening the bolts on one, another would start to howl,
so I would run with the wrench, and then maybe I would have a half
hour of silence on the only chair left in the apartment. For a while, at
least, it seemed that all there was of the world was that long rain and
the need to keep the bolts fastened. When the weather finally cleared,
I went out for a walk. Everything was flooded, and there was a feeling
of calm from all that still, reflecting water. I walked for a long time,
six or seven hours at least, through neighborhoods I had never been
to before and have never been back to since. By the time I got home I
was exhausted but I felt that I had purged myself of something.
She washed the blood from my hands and gave me a fresh T-shirt,
maybe even her own. She thought I was your girlfriend or even your
wife. No one has come for you yet. I won't leave your side. Talk to him.
Not long after that R's grand piano was lowered through the huge
living room window, the same way it had come in. It was the last of
his possessions to go, and as long as the piano had been there, it was
as if he hadn't really left. In the weeks that I lived alone with the
piano, before they came to take it away, I would sometimes pat it as I
passed in just the same way that I had patted R.
A few days later an old friend of mine named Paul Alpers called
to tell me about a dream he'd had. In it he and the great poet César
Vallejo were at a house in the country that had belonged to Vallejo's
family since he was a child. It was empty, and all the walls were
painted a bluish white. The whole effect was very peaceful, Paul
said, and in the dream he thought Vallejo lucky to be able to go to
such a place to work. This looks like the holding place before the
afterlife, Paul told him. Vallejo didn't hear him, and he had to repeat
himself twice. Finally the poet, who in real life died at forty-six,
penniless, in a rainstorm, just as he had predicted, understood and
nodded. Before they entered the house Vallejo had told Paul a story
about how his uncle used to dip his fingers in the mud to make a
mark on his forehead - something to do with Ash Wednesday.
And then, Vallejo said (said Paul), he would do something I never
understood. To illustrate, Vallejo dipped his two fingers in the mud
and drew a mustache across Paul's upper lip. They both laughed.
Throughout the dream, Paul said, most striking was the complicity
between them, as if they had known each other many years.
Reprinted from Great House: A Novel by Nicole Krauss Copyright (c) 2010 by Nicole Krauss. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.