I grew up seeing dead people. And it wasn’t some sort of freaky, sixth-sense rich kid shit. My dead people were real; as real as you and me. But, if I’m being honest here, I never actually saw the dead. It was just their eternally brown-boxed rectangles. I grew up across from a cemetery, on a narrow street without much cement between my stoop and the high metal fence that marked the edge of the dead and the living. The fence didn’t stretch far, just a block or two. I used to be able to hold my breath when I ran passed it, like kids are taught to do so that ghosts can’t steal their souls. I’m not sure who teaches them. Other kids, I guess. It’s a strange ritual when I think about it now, but I did grow up next-door to a cemetery. And kids are good at believing in strange things.

For a long time I didn’t know what the people in the cemetery were doing. I’m not even sure I knew what a cemetery was for that matter. The plot across the street had always just been a green park filled with half-buried stegosauruses; as if the archeologists had grown bored of their finds and left the spikes exposed beneath the willow trees. Their slate was subject to the seasons, but the rest of their skeletons slumber underneath. I’d watch the archeologists, dressed in black suits, lower those rectangles into the leftover excavations, only to stand around and throw dirt. If they had wanted fill the holes, I wondered why they didn’t use bigger machines.

I even asked my dad that very question once. We were planting tulips in the front yard.

“Why don’t they cover up the dinosaurs with big tools?” I said this as I pulled another bulb from the wooden crate between us, kinking my head toward the shovel at my feet.
“What dinosaurs?” My dad did not break concentration from his hands, which were tangled around the hose.
“The ones in the park across the street!” I pushed the bulb under a fresh layer of dirt.
“That’s not a….” His voice caught as he spritzed a bit of water across the left corner of the flowerbed. “I don’t know, kid. Maybe they could borrow our shovel.” He chuckled as a quick ray of sun glinted across his sweat-streaked forehead. 

Like I said though, I was little then. I did come to learn that the dead were under the dirt, not dinosaurs. And when I learned, I saw so many coffins carried by those men in black suits, that I thought there were more dead people than living. The boxes revolved like the seats of a carrousel, just the passengers changing with each rotation. People got on, but no one ever got off, and there was nothing merry about it. I worried that one day the whole world would shrivel up like a popped balloon, no population left to fill it.

When futures like these crept into my sleep, I tried to imagine the headstones like the spikes of a stegosaurs again. But I’d lost my sense of imagination. There were no more tulips in the front yard when I tried to reinvent the Jurassic era. Even they knew better than to stare at the dead.

*A merry-go-round [Pg.49]


The old man in green sat down next to the young man in grey. He dragged the open chair from beneath the heavy wooden table, its copper legs pulling and then scratching as they moved from carpet to cemented floor. The chair’s noises–its protest against manmade inertia–spilled with force into the well-lit room, as if to say, I am here. I am still here. As if collecting debit on the entire world for just having lived longer than most. As if to remember and to forget all at once, like rain disappearing into a bigger puddle; still rain, but different. The sound went unnoticed, though, and the old man’s fingers clawed with great effort around the chair’s rounded top. Unheard. Unseen.

His hands held on tight to something that even he couldn’t see, but it was there, in the copper and the veins and the scratching sounds. The chair’s song was silenced as the old man in green sat down next to the young many in grey, no longer trying to convince the world that he was here. He was. The young man smiled, for he was here, too.

*An entry in an account of an item owed [Pg.80]

Jane was thinking about electricity when it happened. She often found herself daydreaming about these types of things–electricity, cars, skyscraper, bottled milk–for no reason other than that she enjoyed knowing that, just decades and centuries before, no one had been thinking about these things at all. No one was, and no one could have been, because they didn’t exist.

Jane had been fascinated by this phenomenon for as long as she could remember. She thought about these things excessively–while waiting for her dad to finish his dinner, while standing in line at the Super 7 grocery store just two blocks west, while observing her reflection in the rearview mirror of her Honda Civic. Jane was amazed by thinking about these things because she thought that there was nothing more amazing, and frankly that there never would be anything more amazing than how her thinking, her brain, her whole life, really, would have been so different if she had been born just a few years earlier. Or later for that matter, too. Jane didn’t much bother with inventions of the future, even though she wondered what they might be. Imagining those new things was a job for someone else, not Jane.

It was a shame, though, that the last time Jane was thinking about these things (electricity, to be exact) was while she was sitting in the tub. Her toes wrinkled beneath the surface, and her knees breached through the disappearing suds. Jane blew a bubble from the lip of the faded shampoo bottle.

And then it was over. Jane thought no more. Not about the past. Not about the future. And not about the present, although the present hadn’t particularly amused her while she was living, either. Jane’s life was illuminated by these two streetlights–the past and the future–and when they went out, well, that was that. She went out, too.

*Extreme; immoderate; unreasonable [Pg.108]

His right foot bobbed just above the carpet, like a sailboat rolling in lazy, summer waves–caught just offshore; too far to swim to, but not so far away that you couldn’t see the breeze rippling across the bottom of the open sail. Up and down his foot bounced, keeping rhythm with an internal beat. The shoes’ laces bounced with each downswing. His left foot sat on the carpet, waiting for its own anchor to be pulled from the plush.

I don’t mean to park in your grave, the man behind me wheedled, pushing in closer to my back. But are you heading out?

And I was, but I was trapped offshore, too. It was the strangest thing, though. I didn’t notice the water in my lungs. I didn’t mind drowning.

*Coming, moving or directed away from the shore; situated away from the shore [Pg.211]

Thinking about it now, there are so many ways that it could have happened. Our life was like an egg–finely nurtured and a perfect white. All we’d ever known was how to grow within that shell, but that’s not where things started. Not really. Life began when we finally cracked.

There’s a tree at the park downtown that I remember when I think about it. Its branches hung lower than the most, almost heavy enough to reach if I stood on my tiptoes beneath them. The leaves were marbled with a sinew of yellow veins that I would follow for hours, sitting beneath the canopy. The trunk was firm, the bark jagged through my t-shirt, but I leaned against it all the same. The tree loomed above me like a mantel over a fireplace. I was the embers, slow burning and tempered, but I’m surprised that the tree never burned.

I’ve never been a deep thinker; never was. And I’ve never much liked wasting my time thinking about the past, but that tree and that time have a way of coming back to me. I think it’s because there were so many endings, and I’ve never been sure that I liked the one I got.

It’s funny really–when I think about it, that tree and I aren’t so different. It’s stuck and so am I, and I wonder if maybe our roots aren’t the same. There were so many options inside of the trying pan, and this was the one we both ended up with.

*A narrow ornamental slab above a fireplace [Pg.187]

I thought about them all and watched the rain fall on the other side of the window. It fell heroically, and I thought about them like crops in a passing field, each becoming clearer when it was right in front of me.

There was the man who offered his newspaper to pretty girls on the train. And the kid who played tennis against the far side of the school down the street. The woman who left her dog tied to the church fence and prayed while it barked at the sunset. The couple who split sandwiches in the park, her half a little bigger than his. The man who picked flowers and let them wrinkle in his pockets. The teenagers who hung out around the telephone pole, their cigarette staining the asphalt black. The girl who watched the taximeter from the back seat of my cab, wondering when she’d make it home.

I thought about them all as the puddles grew bigger across the sidewalk. I thought about them. I thought about what they did and how they lived behind the glass.

I wonder if they ever think about me.

*A mechanism to show a passenger in a taxicab what the fare is at any moment and for printing a card with the charge at the end of a ride [Pg.324]

Even little dogs bite. The phrase reasserted itself every so often, like the echo of bats around the back of a deep and narrow cave. I couldn’t see them, but I knew they were there from how the ripple of their wings changing the texture of the air. Even little dogs bite, he’d said. I could still remember how it’d sounded when he said it, his voice heavy and firm. It was like bats’ wings, possessed and alive in the dampness.

I folded the last of my laundry as I thought about him. The sheets were still warm. I liked doing laundry because it was almost guaranteed that I could be alone. It wasn’t as if I would invite someone over to wash and dry, or make plans to do laundry with a group larger than myself. It was at times like these–when I was alone with my laundry or a book or trying to fall asleep–that his voice came back to me most clearly. It was as if the empty space gave him the room to grow. The freedom, really. The sheets folded as I wanted them to as I pressed them into my chest.

Even little dogs bite, he’d said, twisting his knuckles into the dark grey of his shirt. His voice was sharp, as if the bite were his; his voice was elastic, like latex snapping back into place and as if he’d always intended to sound that way. As if he’d meant it to. But it wasn’t. The bite was mine, and nothing about it felt good between my teeth.

*A milky juice of certain plants, as the rubber tree [Pg.175]

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