I moved over to Grandma's side of the limousine and told Mom, "Why would I need a key to her apartment?" She could tell that I was zipping up the sleeping bag of myself, and I could tell that she didn't really love me. I knew the truth, which was that if she could have chosen, it would have been my funeral we were driving to. I looked up at the limousine's sunroof, and I imagined the world before there were ceilings, which made me wonder: Does a cave have no ceiling, or is a cave all ceiling? "Maybe you could check with me next time, OK?" "Don't be mad at me," I said, and I reached over Grandma and opened and closed the door's lock a couple of times. "I'm not mad at you," she said. "Not even a little?" "No." "Do you still love me?" It didn't seem like the perfect time to mention that I had already made copies of the key for the deliverer from Pizza Hut, and the UPS person, and also the nice guys from Greenpeace, so they could leave me articles on manatees and other animals that are going extinct when Stan is getting coffee. "I've never loved you more."
"Mom?" "Yes?" "I have a question." "OK." "What are you squeezing in your purse?" She pulled out her hand and opened it, and it was empty. "Just squeezing," she said.
Even though it was an incredibly sad day, she looked so, so beautiful. I kept trying to figure out a way to tell her that, but all of the ways I thought of were weird and wrong. She was wearing the bracelet that I made for her, and that made me feel like one hundred dollars. I love making jewelry for her, because it makes her happy, and making her happy is another one of my raisons d'être.
It isn't anymore, but for a really long time it was my dream to take over the family jewelry business. Dad constantly used to tell me I was too smart for retail. That never made sense to me, because he was smarter than me, so if I was too smart for retail, then he really must have been too smart for retail. I told him that. "First of all," he told me, "I'm not smarter than you, I'm more knowledgeable than you, and that's only because I'm older than you. Parents are always more knowledgeable than their children, and children are always smarter than their parents." "Unless the child is a mental retard," I told him. He didn't have anything to say about that. "You said 'first of all,' so what's second of all?" "Second of all, if I'm so smart, then why am I in retail?" "That's true," I said. And then I thought of something: "But wait a minute, it won't be the family jewelry business if no one in the family is running it." He told me, "Sure it will. It'll just be someone else's family." I asked, "Well, what about our family? Will we open a new business?" He said, "We'll open something." I thought about that my second time in a limousine, when the renter and I were on our way to dig up Dad's empty coffin.
A great game that Dad and I would sometimes play on Sundays was Reconnaissance Expedition. Sometimes the Reconnaissance Expeditions were extremely simple, like when he told me to bring back something from every decade in the twentieth centuryI was clever and brought back a rockand sometimes they were incredibly complicated and would go on for a couple of weeks. For the last one we ever did, which never finished, he gave me a map of Central Park. I said, "And?" And he said, "And what?" I said, "What are the clues?" He said, "Who said there had to be clues?" "There are always clues." "That doesn't, in itself, suggest anything." "Not a single clue?" He said, "Unless no clues is a clue." "Is no clues a clue?" He shrugged his shoulders, like he had no idea what I was talking about. I loved that.
I spent all day walking around the park, looking for something that might tell me something, but the problem was that I didn't know what I was looking for. I went up to people and asked if they knew anything that I should know, because sometimes Dad would design Reconnaissance Expeditions so I would have to talk to people. But everyone I went up to was just like, What the? I looked for clues around the reservoir. I read every poster on every lamppost and tree. I inspected the descriptions of the animals at the zoo. I even made kite-fliers reel in their kites so I could examine them, although I knew it was improbable. But that's how tricky Dad could be. There was nothing, which would have been unfortunate, unless nothing was a clue. Was nothing a clue?
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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