serving the five boroughs
I handed him my card and told him, "Greetings. Gerald. I. Am. Oskar." He asked me why I was talking
like that. I told him, "Oskar's CPU is
a neural-net processor. A learning
computer. The more contact he has with
humans, the more he learns." Gerald
said, "O" and then he said "K." I
couldn't tell if he liked me or not, so
I told him, "Your sunglasses are one
hundred dollars." He said, "One seventy-five." "Do you know a lot of curse
words?" "I know a couple." "I'm not allowed to use curse words." "Bummer."
"What's 'bummer'? " "It's a bad thing." "Do you know 'shit'?" "That's a curse,
isn't it?" "Not if you say 'shiitake.' " "Guess not." "Succotash my Balzac, dipshiitake." Gerald shook his head and
cracked up a little, but not in the bad
way, which is at me. "I can't even
say 'hair pie,' " I told him, "unless I'm talking about an actual pie made out
of rabbits. Cool driving gloves." "Thanks."
And then I thought of something, so I
said it. "Actually, if limousines were extremely long, they wouldn't need
drivers. You could just get in the back seat, walk through the limousine, and
then get out of the front seat, which would be where you wanted to go. So in
this situation, the front seat would be at the cemetery." "And I would be
watching the game right now." I patted
his shoulder and told him, "When you
look up 'hilarious' in the dictionary,
there's a picture of you."
In the back seat, Mom was holding something in her purse. I could tell that she was squeezing it, because I could see her arm muscles. Grandma was knitting white mittens, so I knew they were for me, even though it wasn't cold out. I wanted to ask Mom what she was squeezing and why she had to keep it hidden. I remember thinking that even if I were suffering hypothermia, I would never, ever put on those mittens.
"Now that I'm thinking about it," I told Gerald, "they could make an incredibly long limousine that had its back seat at your mom's VJ and its front seat at your mausoleum, and it would be as long as your life." Gerald said, "Yeah, but if everyone lived like that, no one would ever meet anyone, right?" I said, "So?"
Mom squeezed, and Grandma knitted, and I told Gerald, "I kicked a French chicken in the stomach once," because I wanted to make him crack up, because if I could make him crack up, my boots could be a little lighter. He didn't say anything, probably because he didn't hear me, so I said, "I said I kicked a French chicken in the stomach once." "Huh?" "It said, 'Oeuf.' " "What is that?" "It's a joke. Do you want to hear another, or have you already had un oeuf?" He looked at Grandma in the mirror and said, "What's he saying?" She said, "His grandfather loved animals more than he loved people." I said, "Get it? Oeuf?"
I crawled back, because it's dangerous to drive and talk at the same time, especially on the highway, which is what we were on. Grandma started touching me again, which was annoying, even though I didn't want it to be. Mom said, "Honey," and I said, "Oui," and she said, "Did you give a copy of our apartment key to the mailman?" I thought it was so weird that she would mention that then, because it didn't have to do with anything, but I think she was looking for something to talk about that wasn't the obvious thing. I said, "The mailperson is a mailwoman." She nodded, but not exactly at me, and she asked if I'd given the mailwoman a key. I nodded yes, because I never used to lie to her before everything happened. I didn't have a reason to. "Why did you do that?" she asked. So I told her, "Stan" And she said, "Who?" And I said, "Stan the doorman. Sometimes he runs around the corner for coffee, and I want to be sure all of my packages get to me, so I thought, if Alicia " "Who?" "The mailwoman. If she had a key, she could leave things inside our door." "But you can't give a key to a stranger." "Fortunately Alicia isn't a stranger." "We have lots of valuable things in our apartment." "I know. We have really great things." "Sometimes people who seem good end up being not as good as you might have hoped, you know? What if she had stolen your things?" "She wouldn't." "But what if?" "But she wouldn't." "Well, did she give you a key to her apartment?" She was obviously mad at me, but I didn't know why. I hadn't done anything wrong. Or if I had, I didn't know what it was. And I definitely didn't mean to do it.
From Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, pages 1-15. Copyright © 2005 by Jonathan Safran Foer. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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