I was looking for a quiet place to die. Someone recommended
Brooklyn, and so the next morning I traveled down there from Westchester to
scope out the terrain. I hadn't been back in fifty-six years, and I remembered
nothing. My parents had moved out of the city when I was three, but I
instinctively found myself returning to the neighborhood where we had lived,
crawling home like some wounded dog to the place of my birth. A local real
estate agent ushered me around to six or seven brownstone flats, and by the end
of the afternoon I had rented a two-bedroom garden apartment on First Street,
just half a block away from Prospect Park. I had no idea who my neighbors were,
and I didn't care. They all worked at nine-to-five jobs, none of them had any
children, and therefore the building would be relatively silent. More than
anything else, that was what I craved. A silent end to my sad and ridiculous
The house in Bronxville was already under contract, and once the closing took place at the end of the month, money wasn't going to be a problem. My ex-wife and I were planning to split the proceeds from the sale, and with four hundred thousand dollars in the bank, there would be more than enough to sustain me until I stopped breathing.
At first, I didn't know what to do with myself. I had spent thirty-one years commuting back and forth between the suburbs and the Manhattan offices of Mid-Atlantic Accident and Life, but now that I didn't have a job anymore, there were too many hours in the day. About a week after I moved into the apartment, my married daughter, Rachel, drove in from New Jersey to pay me a visit. She said that I needed to get involved in something, to invent a project for myself. Rachel is not a stupid person. She has a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Chicago and works as a researcher for a large drug company outside Princeton, but much like her mother before her, it's a rare day when she speaks in anything but platitudesall those exhausted phrases and hand-me-down ideas that cram the dump sites of contemporary wisdom.
I explained that I was probably going to be dead before the year was out, and I didn't give a flying fuck about projects. For a moment, it looked as if Rachel was about to cry, but she blinked back the tears and called me a cruel and selfish person instead. No wonder "Mom" had finally divorced me, she added, no wonder she hadn't been able to take it anymore. Being married to a man like me must have been an unending torture, a living hell. A living hell. Alas, poor Rachelshe simply can't help herself. My only child has inhabited this earth for twenty-nine years, and not once has she come up with an original remark, with something absolutely and irreducibly her own.
Yes, I suppose there is something nasty about me at times. But not all the timeand not as a matter of principle. On my good days, I'm as sweet and friendly as any person I know. You can't sell life insurance as successfully as I did by alienating your customers, at least not for three long decades you can't. You have to be sympathetic. You have to be able to listen. You have to know how to charm people. I possess all those qualities and more. I won't deny that I've had my bad moments as well, but everyone knows what dangers lurk behind the closed doors of family life. It can be poison for all concerned, especially if you discover that you probably weren't cut out for marriage in the first place. I loved having sex with Edith, but after four or five years the passion seemed to run its course, and from then on I became less than a perfect husband. To hear Rachel tell it, I wasn't much in the parent department either. I wouldn't want to contradict her memories, but the truth is that I cared for them both in my own way, and if I sometimes found myself in the arms of other women, I never took any of those affairs seriously. The divorce wasn't my idea. In spite of everything, I was planning to stay with Edith until the end. She was the one who wanted out, and given the extent of my sins and transgressions over the years, I couldn't really blame her. Thirty-three years of living under the same roof, and by the time we walked off in opposite directions, what we added up to was approximately nothing.
From The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster. Copyright Paul Auster 2005. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Henry Holt.
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