Excerpt from Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Specimen Days

by Michael Cunningham

Specimen Days
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    Jun 2005, 320 pages
    Apr 2006, 352 pages

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She smiled. At least she wasn't angry with him. She said, "I should go now. Will you walk me home?"

"Yes," he said. "Yes."


Outside, on the street, Catherine slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow. He tried to steady himself, to stride manfully, though what he wanted most was to stop striding altogether, to rise up like smoke and float above the street, which was filled with its evening people, workingmen returning, newsboys hawking their papers. Mad Mr. Cain paced on his corner, dressed in his dust-colored coat, snatching distractedly at whatever crawled in his beard, shouting, "Mischief, gone and forgotten, what have ye done with the shattered hearts?" The street was full of its smell, dung and kerosene, acrid smoke—something somewhere was always burning. If Lucas could rise out of his body, he would become what he saw and heard and smelled. He would gather around Catherine as the air did, touch her everywhere. He would be drawn into her when she breathed.

He said, "The smallest sprout shows there is really no death."

"Just as you say, my dear," Catherine said.

A newsboy shouted, "Woman brutally murdered, read all about it!" Lucas thought he could be a newsboy, but the pay was too low, and he couldn't be trusted to call the news, could he? He might lose track of himself and walk the streets shouting, "Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you." He'd do better at the works. If the impulse overcame him, he could shout into Simon's machine. The machine wouldn't know or care, any more than Simon had.

Catherine didn't speak as they walked. Lucas forced himself to remain silent as well. Her building was three blocks to the north, on Fifth Street. He walked her up onto the stoop, and they stood there a moment together, before the battered door.

Catherine said, "Here we are."

A cart rolled by with a golden landscape painted on its side: two cows grazing among stunted trees and a third cow looking up at the name of a dairy, which floated in the golden sky. Was it meant to be heaven? Would Simon want to be there? If Simon went to heaven and it proved to be a field filled with reverent cows, which Simon would he be when he got there? Would he be the whole one, or the crushed?

A silence gathered between Lucas and Catherine, different from the quiet in which they'd walked. It was time, Lucas thought, to say something, and not as the book. He said, "Will you be all right?"

She laughed, a low murmuring laugh he felt in the hairs on his forearms. "It is I who should ask you that question. Will you be all right?"

"Yes, yes, I'll be fine."

She glanced at a place just above Lucas's head and settled herself, a small shifting within her dark dress. It seemed for a moment as if her dress, with its high collar, its whisper of hidden silk, had a separate life. It seemed as if Catherine, having briefly considered rising up out of her dress, had decided instead to remain, to give herself back to her clothes.

She said, "Had it happened a week later, I'd be a widow, wouldn't I? I'm nothing now."

"No, no. You are wonderful, you are beautiful."

She laughed again. He looked down at the stoop, noticed that it contained specks of brightness. Mica? He went briefly into the stone. He was cold and sparkling, immutable, glad to be walked on.

"I'm an old woman," she said.

He hesitated. Catherine was well past twenty-five. It had been talked about when the marriage was announced, for Simon had been barely twenty. But she was not old in the way she meant. She was not soured or evacuated, she was not dimmed.

Excerpt from Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham. Copyright © 2005 by Mare Vaporum Corp. Published June, 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

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