Karina's coloring is like mine, pure English/Irish, reddish-haired, fair-skinned, blue-eyed, rather than her olive-skinned, black-haired, dark-eyed Mexican mother's, but her face looks so much like Luz's - oval shape, large eyes, blunt nose, a quiveringly focused expression like an alert animal's - it pierced my heart just then to look at her.
"Come on," she said. "Tell the truth."
"The truth," I told her as she took a swig of bitter foam, "is that life goes on, like it or not, till you croak."
"Oh Dad," she said without appearing to have heard me, "I wish you would come and live at my place. That hotel is a death trap. Guys knife each other in the hallway."
"Thank you," I said with a brief internal quailing. Had it come to this, that my own daughter thought I was incapable of taking care of myself? Of course it had; she had thought that since the day she was born, and she was right. "Thank you, Karina, but really, I'm all right."
"I have that extra little room," she said, bossy and insistent.
"When is the last time you heard from your brother?"
"Hector? He never calls me."
"I haven't been able to contact him for a while. The only number I have for him is some sort of public telephone, and no one seems to be willing to go and fetch him when I call. He's always in some sort of meeting or working or asleep."
"Why are you trying to call him? You never call me."
"Because I'm worried about him, and I'm not worried about you."
"You can't call just to say hi? Look, I came all the way over to Greenpoint to track you down. And Hector can't even bother to come to the friggin' phone."
"I'm worried about him," I repeated, "and I'm not worried about you."
She laughed. "Okay, okay. But come on! He's probably just busy." She took another sip of beer. "Dad, please come and stay at my place. Please. You're living with junkies and vagrants and lunatics. It's dangerous."
"I like it there," I said. "It suits my purposes for now. I don't want to move all the way to Crown Heights. That's not my neighborhood. I don't know anyone there, and it's too far from Marlene's, but thanks for the offer."
"Then please get a cell phone. I have a heap of cast-off phones in a drawer, so all you need is a cheap monthly plan. Or pay as you go."
"I don't have any money," I said. "Have you seen your mother lately?"
"I just came from there. She needed help getting rid of some things."
"My things," I said without inflection.
"Well, she says you don't want them."
"I want them," I said, "to stay right where they are, waiting for me to live among them again."
This put an end to our conversation for a moment. Behind me on the enormous flat-screen, a coiffed Latina in a blue jacket looked directly into the camera and with plush red lips intoned the goings-on of today's world with cool, sultry authority. She reminded me of Luz. But everything reminded me of Luz right now, even the moose antlers above the bar. They made me think of our twentieth-anniversary trip; there had been moose antlers over our bed in the Adirondacks cabin we'd rented for a week. Luz had asked me to take them down and put them in a closet, or better yet, outside where they belonged. They were disgusting, she said; they were cruel. That I hadn't done so, on the grounds that it was not my place to redecorate property belonging to others, was ranked thereafter in her hypothetical marital black book as one of my offenses. At least, I had always assumed it was hypothetical. Maybe she had written it all down somewhere. If so, I wondered what she would do with her compendium now that it was all over. Sell it at a stoop sale? Publish it as an antimarriage manifesto?
"Oh, well," I said, "never mind about that. Will you come with me to visit Hector tomorrow?"
Karina lifted up her glass and looked into her beer as if it were piss, then set it down again. "I have a lot to do tomorrow."
Excerpted from The Astral by Kate Christensen. Copyright © 2011 by Kate Christensen. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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