Book Excerpt The Silver Hearted
March 05 2010 4:55 PM EST
November 17 2015 5:28 AM EST
A thousand years before any of this happened, I was rich and bored and living in the famous city of Z. Something came over me. Even before I got the bad news from the five trustees, something changed. For several days I felt a paralyzing frustration, sexual, occupational. I longed -- the longing was so balky it wasn't clear what exactly I was longing for. I longed for a subject in my life. I hunted sex but came up with nothing. I cravenly abandoned my idiosyncratic numismatic research. I stopped calling people I knew. The fifth day was eerily overcast and warm. A friend who'd been wondering about me stopped by. We drank a few bottles of beer, and he innocently bored me. I hustled him out. Just before it set, the sun dropped below the distant margin of the cloud layer and cast a pale, swelling glow on a table of photographs in silver and leather frames. Mom and Dad, some famous but staid ancestors, the house I'd grown up in, me as a camp counselor showing a crowd of boys a leaf of edible yarrow.
Explosively impatient, I jumped out of the chair and folded my arms at the window. Down on the street dusk accreted like the ordinary shadow it really is. The August breeze and perfumes, the glaze of a rain shower I hadn't noticed except as a strange hiss too soft to question fifteen minutes ago, even the yellowish dung of carriage horses thatching the gutters, it all had a plangent clarity in that softening light. My senses were heightened, and at the same time they distracted me from whatever it was I wanted. Not from the urgency of wanting it, though. A long way off, roiling clouds of locomotive steam vented from the great glass shed of Z's Southern Station. The sun shone through, and the station glowed like a lantern with a small ruddy flame inside.
My senses told me I was right here. I was in Z this August evening, the third, about to turn twenty-nine and in the grip of melancholy freedom. My parents were dead. I was long finished at Z's university. Tonight, if I felt like it, I could go anywhere. Trebizond, Trebizond, Trebizond, a lone horse clip-clopped on the street. Something seemed to be speaking in the voice of sensation. Opportunity -- illusory maybe -- quieted all interior babble. And all the other, the many other, illusions of my life seemed on the verge of fainting dead away, leaving me in -- I don't know what state. As if I might really do something.
The trustees were in touch the following day. They hemmed and hawed. As they saw it, I'd go from rich to penniless -- or all but -- in a month. It's surprisingly difficult to lose so much so fast. Exceedingly rare. Mismanagement, embezzlement had nothing to do with it. The trustees themselves were horrified. My parents had imposed rigid and eccentric rules on the money they left behind. The plan had come to ruin.
My reaction wasn't what I would have expected. I didn't know what not having money was like. I felt naked, unburdened, giddy. Even the fear was sweet. Over the next few days, I kept myself busy packing things in boxes (for no reason I could pinpoint) and drank heavily. This seemed like the natural continuation of the strange frustration I'd felt before. I was constantly changing my mind. I was going to call a friend, then didn't. I was going to go to South America, then I didn't want to. I was going to find work in a museum, then I decided that was a bad idea. I ate in expensive restaurants. I had no care for the little money I had left. I slept badly. I'd never felt so powerless. I was happy.
My little yellow dog got caught up in my excitement. He did a jig whenever I came home. At night in bed he pressed his back against my belly with almost human sighs. Cozying up like a child, he kept looking over his shoulder to see if I was still awake behind him. Instead of sleeping, I played the game of staring at him. When the dog had checked on me four or five times like this and found my eyes fixed on him each time, he snorted, leapt out of bed and did his jig on the floor in maddened delight. Then he jumped back in to nestle against me again.
I saw a few friends, but I didn't confide. Their interests and the fussy practicalities of their lives struck me as pallid. I kept finding myself awake, abuzz, at three or four in the morning. I'd go out to dives. I'd strike up conversations with strangers, playing the big man in queasy spasms, buying drinks for them. This was how I met the plump, feline, faintly amused older man who gave me a job. I had a notion he was a criminal. When the subject of work first came up, I was able to sound amazingly firm and self-convinced. I thought I'd snowed him. I didn't realize that it was just my pretending to deserve a job that so pleased Dadi Anton, owner of a small casino.
When I woke in the early evening of the following day, I felt better than I ever had. It was my first job. My little dog was full of attentions. I sat naked on the bed, and he licked my foot, as fully absorbed as an artist. Thinking I wanted to go to the kitchen, he loped to the kitchen door. But I went to the bathroom. He hurried to follow me. He peered over the edge of the toilet bowl to watch the burbling water ripple concentrically. He winced at stray droplets. I shook my head, smiling disbelievingly, because I had a job. I reached down and ruffled the dog's unrisen hackles. "Dog," I said. "I've been paying so little attention to you. I've been worried. Now everything's better." The dog's forebody salaamed. He sprang up and yipped playfully. The best thing about my new job was that, sometime next year, I'd get a chance to travel.