"When?" I asked.
She came over to my chair and wrapped her slender arms around herself wishing, I knew, that she could hug me with them but knowing I couldn't bear it.
"I'll miss you too," she whispered, not looking at me. Then, in another voice she added, "I leave this Wednesday, early in the morning." She struck a dramatic pose, one arm up and one to the side, her head thrown back to expose her ivory neck. "I'll write you postcards," she said.
I would place them beneath my pillow and memorize them in my sleep. I would dream in languages I'd never heard.
At the door of my apartment, leaving, Paula stopped with her hand on the doorknob. "What's it like, Julian? What's it like to live inside your body?" She leaned against the door frame, frowning a little, waiting for me to answer.
I aimed my gaze above her head, at the place where the wall met the ceiling. In two days she would be gone. "It's very quiet," I said.
"Quiet," she repeated softly. From the corner of my eye I could see her frown grow deeper. She didn't know what I was talking about.
"What's inside yours?" I asked her.
She shrugged and said, "Music."
I nodded. "Think of plants," I said. "They're breathing and growing, eating and drinking. We just can't hear them."
Paula looked at me, and I tried to look back, tried to stay right there with her. She was far enough away that I couldn't see the color of her eyes.
"No wonder you have to be so careful," she said. "They'd have you for breakfast out there."
"Who?" I asked, although I knew who.
"All of them," Paula said, shaking her head. "Every goddamn one."
Every goddamn one, I silently repeated. Then out loud I said, "I wonder what I'd taste like," and Paula flashed that wide-open smile of hers.
"Like sweet potatoes," she said.
"In bocca al lupo," I said to Julian before I left. Mouth of the wolf. It was backstage code from the Italians, their way of saying break a leg. I blew a kiss into the air, not aiming at his face but somewhere high, over his head, where he wouldn't be afraid of it.
"Forget the wolf," he said back to me the way he was supposed to, the signal for courage and faith. But Julian needed it more than I did. He must have thought I was always leaving him, as if it were easy for me. I opened doors and slammed them behind me, never letting myself check if anything had cracked from the blow.
On the morning of Paula's flight to Europe, I stood by the window in the early light and watched a white taxicab pull up in front of our building. Paula stood beside the trunk while the driver loaded her luggage, and a breeze lifted the ends of her dark green scarf as she turned to look up at my window. Her lips were painted the color of raspberries. She waved and smiled, tucking the scarf into the collar of her coat. I put my hand flat against the smooth glass and held it there. Paula disappeared behind the opaque windows of the taxi, and then the taxi disappeared too. Below me, the ginkgo tree was full of green, fluttering its fan-shaped leaves.
I adjusted all the sets, fine-tuning their brightness and vertical hold, wiping the electric dust from their screens. I turned up the volume for a while, filling my room with too many voices, all of them and none of them talking to me. Inside, where I lived, it was still very quiet.
My earliest memory is the sound of crying---my father waking up from a nightmare. Or was it my brother? A nameless sobbing in the dark. Julian told me I cooed like a bird before I learned to speak; I made my mouth into an O and I began, with no reason, to sing.
When I was still very young, before my mother died, we kept a pair of canaries in a cage by the kitchen window; at night, the cage was covered with a towel. Such a simple script: In the daylight, they sang, and at night, they slept. I used to wonder if they knew that outside the window lay a world they could never reach.
Excerpted from The Speed of Light by Elizabeth Rosner Copyright 2001 by Elizabeth Rosner. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, 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.
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