Excerpt of The Submission by Amy Waldman
(Page 6 of 7)
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"The Garden," he said, and the room broke loose, less with pleasure than relief.
"Thank you, Paul. Thank you, everyone," Claire whispered.
Paul slumped in his chair and allowed himself some sentimental chauvinism. The dark horse had won - he hadn't thought Claire could trump Ariana - and this seemed appropriately American. Champagne appeared, corks popped, a euphonious clamor filled the room. Paul clinked his flute to command their attention for a moment of silence in the victims' honor. As heads bowed, he glimpsed the part in Claire's hair, the line as sharp and white as a jet's contrail, the intimacy as unexpected as a flash of thigh. Then he remembered to think of the dead.
He thought, too, of the day, as he hadn't for a long time. He had been stuck in uptown traffic when his secretary called to say there had been an accident or attack and it might affect the markets. He was still going into the office in those days, not having learned yet that in an investment bank, "emeritus" translated to "no longer one of us." When the traffic stopped completely, Paul got out of the car. Others were standing outside looking south, some shielding their eyes with their hands, all exchanging useless information. Edith called, sobbing "It's falling down, it's falling down," the nursery-rhyme words, then the mobile network went dead. "Hello? Hello? Honey?" all around, then a silence of Pompeian density so disturbing that Paul was grateful when Sami, his driver, broke it to say, "Oh sir, I hope it's not the Arabs," which of course it would turn out to be.
Oh sir, I hope it's not the Arabs. Sami wasn't Arab, but he was Muslim. (Eighty percent of Muslims were not Arab: this was one of those facts many learned and earnestly repeated in the wake of the attack, without knowing exactly what they were trying to say, or rather knowing that they were trying to say that not all Muslims were as problematic as the Arab ones, but not wanting to say exactly that.) Paul had known his driver was Muslim but never dwelt on it. Now, despite all efforts otherwise, he felt uncomfortable, and three months later, when a sorrowful Sami - was he ever any other way? - begged leave to return to Pakistan because his father was dying, Paul was relieved, although he hated to admit it. He promised Sami an excellent recommendation if he returned, politely declined to take on his cousin, and hired a Russian.
The trauma, for Paul, had come later, when he watched the replay, pledged allegiance to the devastation. You couldn't call yourself an American if you hadn't, in solidarity, watched your fellow Americans being pulverized, yet what kind of American did watching create? A traumatized victim? A charged-up avenger? A queasy voyeur? Paul, and he suspected many Americans, harbored all of these protagonists. The memorial was meant to tame them.
Not just any memorial now but the Garden. Paul began his remarks by encouraging the jurors to "go out there and sell it, sell it hard," then, rethinking his word choice, urged them to "advocate" for it instead. The soft patter of the minute-taker's typing filled the interstices of his speech, and the specter of the historical record spurred him to unsteady rhetorical heights. He drew all eyes to a gilded round mirror topped with an eagle shedding its ball and chain.
"Now, as at America's founding, there are forces opposed to the values we stand for, who are threatened by our devotion to freedom." The governor's man alone nodded at Paul's words. "But we have not been bowed, will not be. 'Despotism can only exist in darkness,' James Madison said, and all of you, in working so hard to memorialize the dead, have kept the lights burning in the firmament. You handled a sacred trust with grace and dignity, and your country will feel the benefit."
Time to put a face on the design, a name with it. Another unfamiliar feeling for Paul: avid, almost childlike curiosity - glee, even - at that rarity, a genuine surprise. Best if the designer was a complete unknown or a famous artist; either would make for a compelling story to sell the design. He clumsily punched away at a cell phone that sat on the table before him. "Please bring the file for submission number 4879," he said into the phone, enunciating the numbers slowly to avoid misunderstanding. "Four eight seven nine," he repeated, then waited for the digits to be repeated back to him.
Excerpted from The Submission
by Amy Waldman. Copyright © 2011 by Amy Waldman.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.