Chapter no 4

A Little Life

SATURDAYS WERE FOR work, but Sundays were for walking. The walks had begun out of necessity five years ago, when he had moved to the city and knew little about it: each week, he would choose a different neighborhood and walk from Lispenard Street to it, and then around it, covering its perimeter precisely, and then home again. He never

skipped a Sunday, unless the weather made it near impossible, and even now, even though he had walked every neighborhood in Manhattan, and many in Brooklyn and Queens as well, he still left every Sunday morning at ten, and returned only when his route was complete. The walks had long ceased to be something he enjoyed, although he didn’t not enjoy them, either—it was simply something he did. For a period, he had also hopefully considered them something more than exercise, something perhaps restorative, like an amateur physical therapy session, despite the fact that Andy didn’t agree with him, and indeed disapproved of his walks. “I’m fine with your wanting to exercise your legs,” he’d said. “But in that case, you should really be swimming, not dragging yourself up and down pavement.” He wouldn’t have minded swimming, actually, but there was nowhere private enough for him to swim, and so he didn’t.

Willem had occasionally joined him on these walks, and now, if his

route took him past the theater, he would time it so they could meet at the juice stand down the block after the matinee performance. They would have their drinks, and Willem would tell him how the show had gone and would buy a salad to eat before the evening performance, and he would continue south, toward home.

They still lived at Lispenard Street, although both of them could have moved into their own apartments: he, certainly; Willem, probably. But neither of them had ever mentioned leaving to the other, and so neither of them had. They had, however, annexed the left half of the living room to make a second bedroom, the group of them building a lumpy Sheetrocked wall one weekend, so now when you walked in, there was only the gray light from two windows, not four, to greet you. Willem had taken the new bedroom, and he had stayed in their old one.

Aside from their stage-door visits, it felt like he never saw Willem

these days, and for all Willem talked about how lazy he was, it seemed he was constantly at work, or trying to work: three years ago, on his twenty-ninth birthday, he had sworn that he was going to quit Ortolan before he turned thirty, and two weeks before his thirtieth birthday, the two of them had been in the apartment, squashed into their newly partitioned living room, Willem worrying about whether he could actually afford to leave his job, when he got a call, the call he had been waiting for for years. The play that had resulted from that call had been enough of a success, and had gotten Willem enough attention, to allow him to quit Ortolan for good thirteen months later: just one year past his self-imposed deadline. He had gone to see Willem’s play—a family drama called The Malamud Theorem, about a literature professor in the early throes of dementia, and his estranged son, a physicist—five times, twice with Malcolm and JB, and once with Harold and Julia, who were in town for the weekend, and each time he managed to forget that it was his old friend, his roommate, onstage, and at curtain call, he had felt both proud and wistful, as if the stage’s very elevation announced Willem’s ascendancy to some other realm of life, one not easily accessible to him.

His own approach to thirty had triggered no latent panic, no fluster

of activity, no need to rearrange the outlines of his life to more closely resemble what a thirty-year-old’s life ought to be. The same was not true for his friends, however, and he had spent the last three years of his twenties listening to their eulogies for the decade, and their detailing of what they had and hadn’t done, and the cataloging of their self-loathings and promises. Things had changed, then. The second bedroom, for example, was erected partly out of Willem’s fear of being twenty-eight and still sharing a room with his college roommate, and that same anxiety—the fear that, fairy-tale-like, the turn into their fourth decade would transform them into something else, something out of their control, unless they preempted it with their own radical announcements—inspired Malcolm’s hasty coming out to his parents, only to see him retreat back in the following year when he started dating a woman.

But despite his friends’ anxieties, he knew he would love being

thirty, for the very reason that they hated it: because it was an age of undeniable adulthood. (He looked forward to being thirty-five, when he would be able to say he had been an adult for more than twice as long as he had been a child.) When he was growing up, thirty had been a far-off, unimaginable age. He clearly remembered being a very

young boy—this was when he lived in the monastery—and asking Brother Michael, who liked to tell him of the travels he had taken in his other life, when he too might be able to travel.

“When you’re older,” Brother Michael had said.

“When?” he’d asked. “Next year?” Then, even a month had seemed as long as forever.

“Many years,” Brother Michael had said. “When you’re older. When you’re thirty.” And now, in just a few weeks, he would be.

On those Sundays, when he was readying to leave for his walk, he would sometimes stand, barefoot, in the kitchen, everything quiet around him, and the small, ugly apartment would feel like a sort of marvel. Here, time was his, and space was his, and every door could be shut, every window locked. He would stand before the tiny hallway closet—an alcove, really, over which they had strung a length of burlap—and admire the stores within it. At Lispenard Street, there were no late-night scrambles to the bodega on West Broadway for a roll of toilet paper, no squinching your nose above a container of long-spoiled milk found in the back corner of the refrigerator: here, there was always extra. Here, everything was replaced when it needed to be. He made sure of it. In their first year at Lispenard Street he had been self-conscious about his habits, which he knew belonged to someone much older and probably female, and had hidden his supplies of paper towels under his bed, had stuffed the fliers for coupons into his briefcase to look through later, when Willem wasn’t home, as if they were a particularly exotic form of pornography. But one day, Willem had discovered his stash while looking for a stray sock he’d kicked under the bed.

He had been embarrassed. “Why?” Willem had asked him. “I think

it’s great. Thank god you’re looking out for this kind of stuff.” But it had still made him feel vulnerable, yet another piece of evidence added to the overstuffed file testifying to his pinched prissiness, his fundamental and irreparable inability to be the sort of person he tried to make people believe he was.

And yet—as with so much else—he couldn’t help himself. To whom could he explain that he found as much contentment and safety in unloved Lispenard Street, in his bomb-shelter stockpilings, as he did in the facts of his degrees and his job? Or that those moments alone in the kitchen were something akin to meditative, the only times he found himself truly relaxing, his mind ceasing to scrabble forward, planning in advance the thousands of little deflections and smudgings

of truth, of fact, that necessitated his every interaction with the world and its inhabitants? To no one, he knew, not even to Willem. But he’d had years to learn how to keep his thoughts to himself; unlike his friends, he had learned not to share evidence of his oddities as a way to distinguish himself from others, although he was happy and proud that they shared theirs with him.

Today he would walk to the Upper East Side: up West Broadway to Washington Square Park, to University and through Union Square, and up Broadway to Fifth, which he’d stay on until Eighty-sixth Street, and then back down Madison to Twenty-fourth Street, where he’d cross east to Lexington before continuing south and east once more to Irving, where he’d meet Willem outside the theater. It had been months, almost a year, since he had done this circuit, both because it was very far and because he already spent every Saturday on the Upper East Side, in a town house not far from Malcolm’s parents’, where he tutored a twelve-year-old boy named Felix. But it was mid-March, spring break, and Felix and his family were on vacation in Utah, which meant he ran no risk of seeing them.

Felix’s father was a friend of friends of Malcolm’s parents, and it had been Malcolm’s father who had gotten him the job. “They’re really not paying you enough at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, are they?” Mr. Irvine had asked him. “I don’t know why you won’t just let me introduce you to Gavin.” Gavin was one of Mr. Irvine’s law school friends, who now presided over one of the city’s more powerful firms.

“Dad, he doesn’t want to work for some corporate firm,” Malcolm had begun, but his father continued talking as if Malcolm hadn’t even spoken, and Malcolm had hunched back into his chair. He had felt bad for Malcolm then, but also annoyed, as he had told Malcolm to discreetly inquire whether his parents knew anyone who might have a kid who needed tutoring, not to actually ask them.

“Really, though,” Malcolm’s father had said to him, “I think it’s terrific that you’re interested in making your way on your own.” (Malcolm slouched even lower in his seat.) “But do you really need the money that badly? I didn’t think the federal government paid that miserably, but it’s been a long time since I was in public service.” He grinned.

He smiled back. “No,” he said, “the salary’s fine.” (It was. It wouldn’t have been to Mr. Irvine, of course, nor to Malcolm, but it was more money than he had ever dreamed he would have, and every two weeks it arrived, a relentless accumulation of numbers.) “I’m just

saving up for a down payment.” He saw Malcolm’s face swivel toward him, and he reminded himself to tell Willem the particular lie he had told Malcolm’s father before Malcolm told Willem himself.

“Oh, well, good for you,” said Mr. Irvine. This was a goal he could understand. “And as it happens, I know just the person.”

That person was Howard Baker, who had hired him after interviewing him for fifteen distracted minutes to tutor his son in Latin, math, German, and piano. (He wondered why Mr. Baker wasn’t hiring professionals for each subject—he could have afforded it—but didn’t ask.) He felt sorry for Felix, who was small and unappealing, and who had a habit of scratching the inside of one narrow nostril, his index finger tunneling upward until he remembered himself and quickly retracted it, rubbing it on the side of his jeans. Eight months later, it was still unclear to him just how capable Felix was. He wasn’t stupid, but he suffered from a lack of passion, as if, at twelve, he had already become resigned to the fact that life would be a disappointment, and he a disappointment to the people in it. He was always waiting, on time and with his assignments completed, every Saturday at one p.m., and he obediently answered every question—his answers always ending in an anxious, querying upper register, as if every one, even the simplest (“Salve, Felix, quid agis?” “Um … bene?”), were a desperate guess—but he never had any questions of his own, and when he asked Felix if there was any subject in particular he might want to try discussing in either language, Felix would shrug and mumble, his finger drifting toward his nose. He always had the impression, when waving goodbye to Felix at the end of the afternoon

—Felix listlessly raising his own hand before slouching back into the

recesses of the entryway—that he never left the house, never went out, never had friends over. Poor Felix: his very name was a taunt.

The previous month, Mr. Baker had asked to speak to him after their lessons were over, and he had said goodbye to Felix and followed the maid into the study. His limp had been very pronounced that day, and he had been self-conscious, feeling—as he often did—as if he were playing the role of an impoverished governess in a Dickensian drama.

He had expected impatience from Mr. Baker, perhaps anger, even though Felix was doing quantifiably better in school, and he was ready to defend himself if he needed—Mr. Baker paid far more than he had anticipated, and he had plans for the money he was earning there—but he was instead nodded toward the chair in front of the


“What do you think’s wrong with Felix?” Mr. Baker had demanded.

He hadn’t been expecting the question, so he had to think before he answered. “I don’t think anything’s wrong with him, sir,” he’d said, carefully. “I just think he’s not—” Happy, he nearly said. But what was happiness but an extravagance, an impossible state to maintain, partly because it was so difficult to articulate? He couldn’t remember being a child and being able to define happiness: there was only misery, or fear, and the absence of misery or fear, and the latter state was all he had needed or wanted. “I think he’s shy,” he finished.

Mr. Baker grunted (this was obviously not the answer he was looking for). “But you like him, right?” he’d asked him, with such an odd, vulnerable desperation that he experienced a sudden deep sadness, both for Felix and for Mr. Baker. Was this what being a parent was like? Was this what being a child with a parent was like? Such unhappinesses, such disappointments, such expectations that would go unexpressed and unmet!

“Of course,” he had said, and Mr. Baker had sighed and given him his check, which the maid usually handed to him on his way out.

The next week, Felix hadn’t wanted to play his assignment. He was more listless than usual. “Shall we play something else?” he’d asked. Felix had shrugged. He thought. “Do you want me to play something for you?” Felix had shrugged again. But he did anyway, because it was a beautiful piano and sometimes, as he watched Felix inch his fingers across its lovely smooth keys, he longed to be alone with the instrument and let his hands move over its surface as fast as he could.

He played Haydn, Sonata No. 50 in D Major, one of his favorite pieces and so bright and likable that he thought it might cheer them both up. But when he was finished, and there was only the quiet boy sitting next to him, he was ashamed, both of the braggy, emphatic optimism of the Haydn and of his own burst of self-indulgence.

“Felix,” he’d begun, and then stopped. Beside him, Felix waited. “What’s wrong?”

And then, to his astonishment, Felix had begun to cry, and he had tried to comfort him. “Felix,” he’d said, awkwardly putting his arm around him. He pretended he was Willem, who would have known exactly what to do and what to say without even thinking about it. “It’s going to be all right. I promise you, it will be.” But Felix had only cried harder.

“I don’t have any friends,” Felix had sobbed.

“Oh, Felix,” he’d said, and his sympathy, which until then had been of the remote, objective kind, clarified itself. “I’m sorry.” He felt then, keenly, the loneliness of Felix’s life, of a Saturday spent sitting with a crippled nearly thirty-year-old lawyer who was there only to earn money, and who would go out that night with people he loved and who, even, loved him, while Felix remained alone, his mother—Mr. Baker’s third wife—perpetually elsewhere, his father convinced there was something wrong with him, something that needed fixing. Later, on his walk home (if the weather was nice, he refused Mr. Baker’s car and walked), he would wonder at the unlikely unfairness of it all: Felix, who was by any definition a better kid than he had been, and who yet had no friends, and he, who was a nothing, who did.

“Felix, it’ll happen eventually,” he’d said, and Felix had wailed, “But when?” with such yearning that he had winced.

“Soon, soon,” he had told him, petting his skinny back, “I promise,” and Felix had nodded, although later, walking him to the door, his little geckoey face made even more reptilian from tears, he’d had the distinct sensation that Felix had known he was lying. Who could know if Felix would ever have friends? Friendship, companionship: it so often defied logic, so often eluded the deserving, so often settled itself on the odd, the bad, the peculiar, the damaged. He waved goodbye at Felix’s small back, retreating already into the house, and although he would never have said so to Felix, he somehow fancied that this was why Felix was so wan all the time: it was because Felix had already figured this out, long ago; it was because he already knew.



He knew French and German. He knew the periodic table. He knew

—as much as he didn’t care to—large parts of the Bible almost by memory. He knew how to help birth a calf and rewire a lamp and unclog a drain and the most efficient way to harvest a walnut tree and which mushrooms were poisonous and which were not and how to bale hay and how to test a watermelon, an apple, a squash, a muskmelon for freshness by thunking it in the right spot. (And then he knew things he wished he didn’t, things he hoped never to have to use again, things that, when he thought of them or dreamed of them at night, made him curl into himself with hatred and shame.)

And yet it often seemed he knew nothing of any real value or use, not really. The languages and the math, fine. But daily he was reminded of how much he didn’t know. He had never heard of the

sitcoms whose episodes were constantly referenced. He had never been to a movie. He had never gone on vacation. He had never been to summer camp. He had never had pizza or popsicles or macaroni and cheese (and he had certainly never had—as both Malcolm and JB had—foie gras or sushi or marrow). He had never owned a computer or a phone, he had rarely been allowed to go online. He had never owned anything, he realized, not really: the books he had that he was so proud of, the shirts that he repaired again and again, they were nothing, they were trash, the pride he took in them was more shameful than not owning anything at all. The classroom was the safest place, and the only place he felt fully confident: everywhere else was an unceasing avalanche of marvels, each more baffling than the next, each another reminder of his bottomless ignorance. He found himself keeping mental lists of new things he had heard and encountered. But he could never ask anyone for the answers. To do so would be an admission of extreme otherness, which would invite further questions and would leave him exposed, and which would inevitably lead to conversations he definitely was not prepared to have. He felt, often, not so much foreign—for even the foreign students (even Odval, from a village outside Ulaanbaatar) seemed to understand these references—as from another time altogether: his childhood might well have been spent in the nineteenth century, not the twenty-first, for all he had apparently missed, and for how obscure and merely decorative what he did know seemed to be. How was it that apparently all of his peers, whether they were born in Lagos or Los Angeles, had had more or less the same experience, with the same cultural landmarks? Surely there was someone who knew as little as he did? And if not, how was he ever to catch up?

In the evenings, when a group of them lay splayed in someone’s

room (a candle burning, a joint burning as well), the conversation often turned to his classmates’ childhoods, which they had barely left but about which they were curiously nostalgic and certainly obsessed. They recounted what seemed like every detail of them, though he was never sure if the goal was to compare with one another their similarities or to boast of their differences, because they seemed to take equal pleasure in both. They spoke of curfews, and rebellions, and punishments (a few people’s parents had hit them, and they related these stories with something close to pride, which he also found curious) and pets and siblings, and what they had worn that had driven their parents crazy, and what groups they had hung out

with in high school and to whom they had lost their virginity, and where, and how, and cars they had crashed and bones they had broken, and sports they had played and bands they had started. They spoke of disastrous family vacations and strange, colorful relatives and odd next-door neighbors and teachers, both beloved and loathed. He enjoyed these divulgences more than he expected—these were real teenagers who’d had the sorts of real, plain lives he had always wondered about—and he found it both relaxing and educational to sit there late at night and listen to them. His silence was both a necessity and a protection, and had the added benefit of making him appear more mysterious and more interesting than he knew he was. “What about you, Jude?” a few people had asked him, early in the term, and he knew enough by then—he was a fast learner—to simply shrug and say, with a smile, “It’s too boring to get into.” He was astonished but relieved by how easily they accepted that, and grateful too for their self-absorption. None of them really wanted to listen to someone else’s story anyway; they only wanted to tell their own.

And yet his silence did not go unnoticed by everyone, and it was his

silence that had inspired his nickname. This was the year Malcolm discovered postmodernism, and JB had made such a fuss about how late Malcolm was to that particular ideology that he hadn’t admitted that he hadn’t heard of it either.

“You can’t just decide you’re post-black, Malcolm,” JB had said. “And also: you have to have actually been black to begin with in order to move beyond blackness.”

“You’re such a dick, JB,” Malcolm had said.

“Or,” JB had continued, “you have to be so genuinely uncategorizable that the normal terms of identity don’t even apply to you.” JB had turned toward him, then, and he had felt himself freeze with a momentary terror. “Like Judy here: we never see him with anyone, we don’t know what race he is, we don’t know anything about him. Post-sexual, post-racial, post-identity, post-past.” He smiled at him, presumably to show he was at least partly joking. “The post-man. Jude the Postman.”

“The Postman,” Malcolm had repeated: he was never above grabbing on to someone else’s discomfort as a way of deflecting attention from his own. And although the name didn’t stick—when Willem had returned to the room and heard it, he had only rolled his eyes in response, which seemed to remove some of its thrill for JB— he was reminded that as much as he had convinced himself he was

fitting in, as much as he worked to conceal the spiky odd parts of himself, he was fooling no one. They knew he was strange, and now his foolishness extended to his having convinced himself that he had convinced them that he wasn’t. Still, he kept attending the late-night groups, kept joining his classmates in their rooms: he was pulled to them, even though he now knew he was putting himself in jeopardy by attending them.

Sometimes during these sessions (he had begun to think of them this way, as intensive tutorials in which he could correct his own cultural paucities) he would catch Willem watching him with an indecipherable expression on his face, and would wonder how much Willem might have guessed about him. Sometimes he had to stop himself from saying something to him. Maybe he was wrong, he sometimes thought. Maybe it would be nice to confess to someone that most of the time he could barely relate to what was being discussed, that he couldn’t participate in everyone else’s shared language of childhood pratfalls and frustrations. But then he would stop himself, for admitting ignorance of that language would mean having to explain the one he did speak.

Although if he were to tell anyone, he knew it would be Willem. He admired all three of his roommates, but Willem was the one he trusted. At the home, he had quickly learned there were three types of boys: The first type might cause the fight (this was JB). The second type wouldn’t join in, but wouldn’t run to get help, either (this was Malcolm). And the third type would actually try to help you out (this was the rarest type, and this was obviously Willem). Maybe it was the same with girls as well, but he hadn’t spent enough time around girls to know this for sure.

And increasingly he was certain Willem knew something. (Knows what? he’d argue with himself, in saner moments. You’re just looking for a reason to tell him, and then what will he think of you? Be smart. Say nothing. Have some self-control.) But this was of course illogical. He knew even before he got to college that his childhood had been atypical—you had only to read a few books to come to that conclusion—but it wasn’t until recently that he had realized how atypical it truly was. Its very strangeness both insulated and isolated him: it was near inconceivable that anyone would guess at its shape and specificities, which meant that if they did, it was because he had dropped clues like cow turds, great ugly unmissable pleas for attention.

Still. The suspicion persisted, sometimes with an uncomfortable intensity, as if it was inevitable that he should say something and was being sent messages that took more energy to ignore than they would have to obey.

One night it was just the four of them. This was early in their third year, and was unusual enough for them all to feel cozy and a little sentimental about the clique they had made. And they were a clique, and to his surprise, he was part of it: the building they lived in was called Hood Hall, and they were known around campus as the Boys in the Hood. All of them had other friends (JB and Willem had the most), but it was known (or at least assumed, which was just as good) that their first loyalties were to one another. None of them had ever discussed this explicitly, but they all knew they liked this assumption, that they liked this code of friendship that had been imposed upon them.

The food that night had been pizza, ordered by JB and paid for by Malcolm. There had been weed, procured by JB, and outside there had been rain and then hail, the sound of it cracking against the glass and the wind rattling the windows in their splintered wooden casements the final elements in their happiness. The joint went round and round, and although he didn’t take a puff—he never did; he was too worried about what he might do or say if he lost control over himself—he could feel the smoke filling his eyes, pressing upon his eyelids like a shaggy warm beast. He had been careful, as he always was when one of the others paid for food, to eat as little as possible, and although he was still hungry (there were two slices left over, and he stared at them, fixedly, before catching himself and turning away resolutely), he was also deeply content. I could fall asleep, he thought, and stretched out on the couch, pulling Malcolm’s blanket over him as he did. He was pleasantly exhausted, but then he was always exhausted those days: it was as if the daily effort it took to appear normal was so great that it left energy for little else. (He was aware, sometimes, of seeming wooden, icy, of being boring, which he recognized that here might have been considered the greater misfortune than being whatever it was he was.) In the background, as if far away, he could hear Malcolm and JB having a fight about evil.

“I’m just saying, we wouldn’t be having this argument if you’d read


“Yeah, but what Plato?” “Have you read Plato?”

“I don’t see—” “Have you?” “No, but—”

“See! See, see?!” That would be Malcolm, jumping up and down and pointing at JB, while Willem laughed. On weed, Malcolm grew both sillier and more pedantic, and the three of them liked getting into silly and pedantic philosophical arguments with him, the contents of which Malcolm could never recall in the morning.

Then there was an interlude of Willem and JB talking about something—he was too sleepy to really listen, just awake enough to distinguish their voices—and then JB’s voice, ringing through his fug: “Jude!”

“What?” he answered, his eyes still closed. “I want to ask you a question.”

He could instantly feel something inside him come alert. When high, JB had the uncanny ability to ask questions or make observations that both devastated and discomfited. He didn’t think there was any malice behind it, but it made you wonder what went on in JB’s subconscious. Was this the real JB, the one who had asked their hallmate, Tricia Park, what it was like growing up as the ugly twin (poor Tricia had gotten up and run out of the room), or was it the one who, after JB had witnessed him in the grip of a terrible episode, one in which he could feel himself falling in and out of consciousness, the sensation as sickening as tumbling off a roller coaster in mid-incline, had snuck out that night with his stoner boyfriend and returned just before daybreak with a bundle of bud-furred magnolia branches, sawn off illegally from the quadrangle’s trees?

“What?” he asked again, warily.

“Well,” said JB, pausing and taking another inhalation, “we’ve all known each other a while now—”

“We have?” Willem asked in fake surprise.

“Shut up, Willem,” JB continued. “And all of us want to know why you’ve never told us what happened to your legs.”

“Oh, JB, we do not—” Willem began, but Malcolm, who had the habit of vociferously taking JB’s side when stoned, interrupted him: “It really hurts our feelings, Jude. Do you not trust us?”

“Jesus, Malcolm,” Willem said, and then, mimicking Malcolm in a shrieky falsetto, “ ‘It really hurts our feelings.’ You sound like a girl. It’s Jude’s business.”

And this was worse, somehow, having to have Willem, always Willem, defend him. Against Malcolm and JB! At that moment, he hated all of them, but of course he was in no position to hate them. They were his friends, his first friends, and he understood that friendship was a series of exchanges: of affections, of time, sometimes of money, always of information. And he had no money. He had nothing to give them, he had nothing to offer. He couldn’t loan Willem a sweater, the way Willem let him borrow his, or repay Malcolm the hundred dollars he’d pressed upon him once, or even help JB on move-out day, as JB helped him.

“Well,” he began, and was aware of all of their perked silences, even Willem’s. “It’s not very interesting.” He kept his eyes closed, both because it made it easier to tell the story when he didn’t have to look at them, and also because he simply didn’t think he could stand it at the moment. “It was a car injury. I was fifteen. It was the year before I came here.”

“Oh,” said JB. There was a pause; he could feel something in the room deflate, could feel how his revelation had shifted the others back into a sort of somber sobriety. “I’m sorry, bro. That sucks.”

“You could walk before?” asked Malcolm, as if he could not walk now. And this made him sad and embarrassed: what he considered walking, they apparently did not.

“Yes,” he said, and then, because it was true, even if not the way they’d interpret it, he added, “I used to run cross-country.”

“Oh, wow,” said Malcolm. JB made a sympathetic grunting noise.

Only Willem, he noticed, said nothing. But he didn’t dare open his eyes to look at his expression.

Eventually the word got out, as he knew it would. (Perhaps people really did wonder about his legs. Tricia Park later came up to him and told him she’d always assumed he had cerebral palsy. What was he supposed to say to that?) Somehow, though, over the tellings and retellings, the explanation was changed to a car accident, and then to a drunken driving accident.

“The easiest explanations are often the right ones,” his math professor, Dr. Li, always said, and maybe the same principle applied here. Except he knew it didn’t. Math was one thing. Nothing else was that reductive.

But the odd thing was this: by his story morphing into one about a car accident, he was being given an opportunity for reinvention; all he had to do was claim it. But he never could. He could never call it an

accident, because it wasn’t. And so was it pride or stupidity to not take the escape route he’d been offered? He didn’t know.

And then he noticed something else. He was in the middle of another episode—a highly humiliating one, it had taken place just as he was coming off of his shift at the library, and Willem had just happened to be there a few minutes early, about to start his own shift

—when he heard the librarian, a kind, well-read woman whom he liked, ask why he had these. They had moved him, Mrs. Eakeley and Willem, to the break room in the back, and he could smell the burned-sugar tang of old coffee, a scent he despised anyway, so sharp and assaultive that he almost vomited.

“A car injury,” he heard Willem’s reply, as from across a great black lake.

But it wasn’t until that night that he registered what Willem had said, and the word he had used: injury, not accident. Was it deliberate, he wondered? What did Willem know? He was so addled that he might have actually asked him, had Willem been around, but he wasn’t—he was at his girlfriend’s.

No one was there, he realized. The room was his. He felt the creature inside him—which he pictured as slight and raggedy and lemurlike, quick-reflexed and ready to sprint, its dark wet eyes forever scanning the landscape for future dangers—relax and sag to the ground. It was at these moments that he found college most enjoyable: he was in a warm room, and the next day he would have three meals and eat as much as he wanted, and in between he would go to classes, and no one would try to hurt him or make him do anything he didn’t want to do. Somewhere nearby were his roommates—his friends—and he had survived another day without divulging any of his secrets, and placed another day between the person he once was and the person he was now. It seemed, always, an accomplishment worthy of sleep, and so he did, closing his eyes and readying himself for another day in the world.



It had been Ana, his first and only social worker, and the first person who had never betrayed him, who had talked to him seriously about college—the college he ended up attending—and who was convinced that he would get in. She hadn’t been the first person to suggest this, but she had been the most insistent.

“I don’t see why not,” she said. It was a favorite phrase of hers. The

two of them were sitting on Ana’s porch, in Ana’s backyard, eating banana bread that Ana’s girlfriend had made. Ana didn’t care for nature (too buggy, too squirmy, she always said), but when he made the suggestion that they go outdoors—tentatively, because at the time he was still unsure where the boundaries of her tolerance for him lay

—she’d slapped the edges of her armchair and heaved herself up. “I don’t see why not. Leslie!” she called into the kitchen, where Leslie was making lemonade. “You can bring it outside!”

Hers was the first face he saw when he had at last opened his eyes in the hospital. For a long moment, he couldn’t remember where he was, or who he was, or what had happened, and then, suddenly, her face was above his, looking at him. “Well, well,” she said. “He awakes.”

She was always there, it seemed, no matter what time he woke. Sometimes it was day, and he heard the sounds of the hospital—the mouse squeak of the nurses’ shoes, and the clatter of a cart, and the drone of the intercom announcements—in the hazy, half-formed moments he had before shifting into full consciousness. But sometimes it was night, when everything was silent around him, and it took him longer to figure out where he was, and why he was there, although it came back to him, it always did, and unlike some realizations, it never grew easier or fuzzier with each remembrance. And sometimes it was neither day nor night but somewhere in between, and there would be something strange and dusty about the light that made him imagine for a moment that there might after all be such a thing as heaven, and that he might after all have made it there. And then he would hear Ana’s voice, and remember again why he was there, and want to close his eyes all over again.

They talked of nothing in those moments. She would ask him if he

was hungry, and no matter his answer, she would have a sandwich for him to eat. She would ask him if he was in pain, and if he was, how intense it was. It was in her presence that he’d had the first of his episodes, and the pain had been so awful—unbearable, almost, as if someone had reached in and grabbed his spine like a snake and was trying to loose it from its bundles of nerves by shaking it—that later, when the surgeon told him that an injury like his was an “insult” to the body, and one the body would never recover from completely, he had understood what the word meant and realized how correct and well-chosen it was.

“You mean he’s going to have these all his life?” Ana had asked,

and he had been grateful for her outrage, especially because he was too tired and frightened to summon forth any of his own.

“I wish I could say no,” said the surgeon. And then, to him, “But they may not be this severe in the future. You’re young now. The spine has wonderful reparative qualities.”

“Jude,” she’d said to him when the next one came, two days after the first. He could hear her voice, but as if from far away, and then, suddenly, awfully close, filling his mind like explosions. “Hold on to my hand,” she’d said, and again, her voice swelled and receded, but she seized his hand and he held it so tightly he could feel her index finger slide oddly over her ring finger, could almost feel every small bone in her palm reposition themselves in his grip, which had the effect of making her seem like something delicate and intricate, although there was nothing delicate about her in either appearance or manner. “Count,” she commanded him the third time it happened, and he did, counting up to a hundred again and again, parsing the pain into negotiable increments. In those days, before he learned it was better to be still, he would flop on his bed like a fish on a boat deck, his free hand scrabbling for a halyard line to cling to for safety, the hospital mattress unyielding and uncaring, searching for a position in which the discomfort might lessen. He tried to be quiet, but he could hear himself making strange animal noises, so that at times a forest appeared beneath his eyelids, populated with screech owls and deer and bears, and he would imagine he was one of them, and that the sounds he was making were normal, part of the woods’ unceasing soundtrack.

When it had ended, she would give him some water, a straw in the

glass so he wouldn’t have to raise his head. Beneath him, the floor tilted and bucked, and he was often sick. He had never been in the ocean, but he imagined this was what it might feel like, imagined the swells of water forcing the linoleum floor into quavering hillocks. “Good boy,” she’d say as he drank. “Have a little more.”

“It’ll get better,” she’d say, and he’d nod, because he couldn’t begin to imagine his life if it didn’t get better. His days now were hours: hours without pain and hours with it, and the unpredictability of this schedule—and his body, although it was his in name only, for he could control nothing of it—exhausted him, and he slept and slept, the days slipping away from him uninhabited.

Later, it would be easier to simply tell people that it was his legs that hurt him, but that wasn’t really true: it was his back. Sometimes

he could predict what would trigger the spasming, that pain that would extend down his spine into one leg or the other, like a wooden stake set aflame and thrust into him: a certain movement, lifting something too heavy or too high, simple tiredness. But sometimes he couldn’t. And sometimes the pain would be preceded by an interlude of numbness, or a twinging that was almost pleasurable, it was so light and zingy, just a sensation of electric prickles moving up and down his spine, and he would know to lie down and wait for it to finish its cycle, a penance he could never escape or avoid. But sometimes it barged in, and those were the worst: he grew fearful that it would arrive at some terribly inopportune time, and before each big meeting, each big interview, each court appearance, he would beg his own back to still itself, to carry him through the next few hours without incident. But all of this was in the future, and each lesson he learned he did so over hours and hours of these episodes, stretched out over days and months and years.

As the weeks passed, she brought him books, and told him to write

down titles he was interested in and she would go to the library and get them—but he was too shy to do so. He knew she was his social worker, and that she had been assigned to him, but it wasn’t until more than a month had passed, and the doctors had begun to talk about his casts being removed in a matter of weeks, that she first asked him about what had happened.

“I don’t remember,” he said. It was his default answer for everything back then. It was a lie as well; in uninvited moments, he’d see the car’s headlights, twinned glares of white, rushing toward him, and recall how he’d shut his eyes and jerked his head to the side, as if that might have prevented the inevitable.

She waited. “It’s okay, Jude,” she said. “We basically know what happened. But I need you to tell me at some point, so we can talk about it.” She had interviewed him earlier, did he remember? There had apparently been a moment soon after he’d come out of the first surgery that he had woken, lucid, and answered all her questions, not only about what had happened that night but in the years before it as well—but he honestly didn’t remember this at all, and he fretted about what, exactly, he had said, and what Ana’s expression had been when he’d told her.

How much had he told her? he asked at one point.

“Enough,” she said, “to convince me that there’s a hell and those men need to be in it.” She didn’t sound angry, but her words were,

and he closed his eyes, impressed and a little scared that the things that had happened to him—to him!—could inspire such passion, such vitriol.

She oversaw his transfer into his new home, his final home: the Douglasses’. They had two other fosters, both girls, both young—Rosie was eight and had Down syndrome, Agnes was nine and had spina bifida. The house was a maze of ramps, unlovely but sturdy and smooth, and unlike Agnes, he could wheel himself around without asking for assistance.

The Douglasses were evangelical Lutherans, but they didn’t make him attend church with them. “They’re good people,” Ana said. “They won’t bother you, and you’ll be safe here. You think you can manage grace at the table for a little privacy and guaranteed security?” She looked at him and smiled. He nodded. “Besides,” she continued, “you can always call me if you want to talk sin.”

And indeed, he was in Ana’s care more than in the Douglasses’. He slept in their house, and ate there, and when he was first learning how to move on his crutches, it was Mr. Douglass who sat on a chair outside the bathroom, ready to enter if he slipped and fell getting into or out of the bathtub (he still wasn’t able to balance well enough to take a shower, even with a walker). But it was Ana who took him to most of his doctor’s appointments, and Ana who waited at one end of her backyard, a cigarette in her mouth, as he took his first slow steps toward her, and Ana who finally got him to write down what had happened with Dr. Traylor, and kept him from having to testify in court. He had said he could do it, but she had told him he wasn’t ready yet, and that they had plenty of evidence to put Dr. Traylor away for years even without his testimony, and hearing that, he was able to admit his own relief: relief at not having to say aloud words he didn’t know how to say, and mostly, relief that he wouldn’t have to see Dr. Traylor again. When he at last gave her the statement—which he’d written as plainly as possible, and had imagined while writing it that he was in fact writing about someone else, someone he had known once but had never had to talk to again—she read it through once, impassive, before nodding at him. “Good,” she said briskly, and refolded it and placed it back in its envelope. “Good job,” she added, and then, suddenly, she began to cry, almost ferociously, unable to stop herself. She was saying something to him, but she was weeping so hard he couldn’t understand her, and she had finally left, though she had called him later that night to apologize.

“I’m sorry, Jude,” she said. “That was really unprofessional of me. I just read what you wrote and I just—” She was silent for a period, and then took a breath. “It won’t happen again.”

It was also Ana who, after the doctors determined he wouldn’t be strong enough to go to school, found him a tutor so he could finish high school, and it was she who made him discuss college. “You’re really smart, did you know that?” she asked him. “You could go anywhere, really. I talked to some of your teachers in Montana, and they think so as well. Have you thought about it? You have? Where would you want to go?” And when he told her, preparing himself for her to laugh, she instead only nodded: “I don’t see why not.”

“But,” he began, “do you think they’d take someone like me?”

Once again, she didn’t laugh. “It’s true, you haven’t had the most— traditional—of educations”—she smiled at him—“but your tests are terrific, and although you probably don’t think so, I promise you know more than most, if not all, kids your age.” She sighed. “You may have something to thank Brother Luke for after all.” She studied his face. “So I don’t see why not.”

She helped him with everything: she wrote one of his recommendations, she let him use her computer to type up his essay (he didn’t write about the past year; he wrote about Montana, and how he’d learned there to forage for mustard shoots and mushrooms), she even paid for his application fee.

When he was accepted—with a full scholarship, as Ana had predicted—he told her it was all because of her.

“Bullshit,” she said. She was so sick by that point that she could only whisper it. “You did it yourself.” Later he would scan through the previous months and see, as if spotlit, the signs of her illness, and how, in his stupidity and self-absorption, he had missed one after the next: her weight loss, her yellowing eyes, her fatigue, all of which he had attributed to—what? “You shouldn’t smoke,” he’d said to her just two months earlier, confident enough around her now to start issuing orders; the first adult he’d done so to. “You’re right,” she’d said, and squinted her eyes at him while inhaling deeply, grinning at him when he sighed at her.

Even then, she didn’t give up. “Jude, we should talk about it,” she’d say every few days, and when he shook his head, she’d be silent. “Tomorrow, then,” she’d say. “Do you promise me? Tomorrow we’ll talk about it.”

“I don’t see why I have to talk about it at all,” he muttered at her

once. He knew she had read his records from Montana; he knew she knew what he was.

She was quiet. “One thing I’ve learned,” she said, “you have to talk about these things while they’re fresh. Or you’ll never talk about them. I’m going to teach you how to talk about them, because it’s going to get harder and harder the longer you wait, and it’s going to fester inside you, and you’re always going to think you’re to blame. You’ll be wrong, of course, but you’ll always think it.” He didn’t know how to respond to that, but the next day, when she brought it up again, he shook his head and turned away from her, even though she called after him. “Jude,” she said, once, “I’ve let you go on for too long without addressing this. This is my fault.”

“Do it for me, Jude,” she said at another point. But he couldn’t; he couldn’t find the language to talk about it, not even to her. Besides, he didn’t want to relive those years. He wanted to forget them, to pretend they belonged to someone else.

By June she was so weak she couldn’t sit. Fourteen months after they’d met, she was the one in bed, and he was the one next to her. Leslie worked the day shift at the hospital, and so often, it was just the two of them in the house. “Listen,” she said. Her throat was dry from one of her medications, and she winced as she spoke. He reached for the jug of water, but she waved her hand, impatiently. “Leslie’s going to take you shopping before you leave; I made a list for her of things you’ll need.” He started to protest, but she stopped him. “Don’t argue, Jude. I don’t have the energy.”

She swallowed. He waited. “You’re going to be great at college,” she said. She shut her eyes. “The other kids are going to ask you about how you grew up, have you thought about that?”

“Sort of,” he said. It was all he thought about.

“Mmph,” she grunted. She didn’t believe him either. “What are you going to tell them?” And then she opened her eyes and looked at him.

“I don’t know,” he admitted.

“Ah, yes,” she said. They were quiet. “Jude,” she began, and then stopped. “You’ll find your own way to discuss what happened to you. You’ll have to, if you ever want to be close to anyone. But your life— no matter what you think, you have nothing to be ashamed of, and none of it has been your fault. Will you remember that?”

It was the closest they had ever gotten to discussing not only the previous year but the years that preceded it, too. “Yes,” he told her.

She glared at him. “Promise me.”

“I promise.”

But even then, he couldn’t believe her.

She sighed. “I should’ve made you talk more,” she said. It was the last thing she ever said to him. Two weeks later—July third—she was dead. Her service was the week after that. By this point he had a summer job at a local bakery, where he sat in the back room spackling cakes with fondant, and in the days following the funeral he sat until night at his workstation, plastering cake after cake with carnation-pink icing, trying not to think of her.

At the end of July, the Douglasses moved: Mr. Douglass had gotten a new job in San Jose, and they were taking Agnes with them; Rosie was being reassigned to a different family. He had liked the Douglasses, but when they told him to stay in touch, he knew he wouldn’t—he was so desperate to move away from the life he was in, the life he’d had; he wanted to be someone whom no one knew and who knew no one.

He was put into emergency shelter. That was what the state called it: emergency shelter. He’d argued that he was old enough to be left on his own (he imagined, also illogically, that he would sleep in the back room of the bakery), and that in less than two months he’d be gone anyway, out of the system entirely, but no one agreed with him. The shelter was a dormitory, a sagging gray honeycomb populated by other kids who—because of what they had done or what had been done to them or simply how old they were—the state couldn’t easily place.

When it was time for him to leave, they gave him some money to buy supplies for school. They were, he recognized, vaguely proud of him; he might not have been in the system for long, but he was going to college, and to a superior college at that—he would forever after be claimed as one of their successes. Leslie drove him to the Army Navy Store. He wondered, as he chose things he thought he might need— two sweaters, three long-sleeve shirts, pants, a gray blanket that resembled the clotty stuffing that vomited forth from the sofa in the shelter’s lobby—if he was getting the correct things, the things that might have been on Ana’s list. He couldn’t stop himself from thinking that there was something else on that list, something essential that Ana thought he needed that he would now never know. At nights, he craved that list, sometimes more than he craved her; he could picture it in his mind, the funny up-and-down capitalizations she inserted into a single word, the mechanical pencil she always used, the yellow legal

pads, left over from her years as a lawyer, on which she made her notes. Sometimes the letters solidified into words, and in the dream life he’d feel triumphant; ah, he’d think, of course! Of course that’s what I need! Of course Ana would know! But in the mornings, he could never remember what those things were. In those moments he wished, perversely, that he had never met her, that it was surely worse to have had her for so brief a period than to never have had her at all.

They gave him a bus ticket north; Leslie came to the station to see him off. He had packed his things in a double-layered black garbage bag, and then inside the backpack he’d bought at the Army Navy Store: everything he owned in one neat package. On the bus he stared out the window and thought of nothing. He hoped his back wouldn’t betray him on the ride, and it didn’t.

He had been the first to arrive in their room, and when the second boy came in—it had been Malcolm—with his parents and suitcases and books and speakers and television and phones and computers and refrigerator and flotillas of digital gadgetry, he had felt the first sensations of sickening fear, and then anger, directed irrationally at Ana: How could she let him believe he might be equipped to do this? Who could he say he was? Why had she never told him exactly how poor, how ugly, what a scrap of bloodied, muddied cloth, his life really was? Why had she let him believe he might belong here?

As the months passed, this feeling dampened, but it never disappeared; it lived on him like a thin scum of mold. But as that knowledge became more acceptable, another piece became less so: he began to realize that she was the first and last person to whom he would never have to explain anything. She knew that he wore his life on his skin, that his biography was written in his flesh and on his bones. She would never ask him why he wouldn’t wear short sleeves, even in the steamiest of weather, or why he didn’t like to be touched, or, most important, what had happened to his legs or back: she knew already. Around her he had felt none of the constant anxiety, nor watchfulness, that he seemed condemned to feel around everyone else; the vigilance was exhausting, but it eventually became simply a part of life, a habit like good posture. Once, she had reached out to (he later realized) embrace him, but he had reflexively brought his hands up over his head to protect himself, and although he had been embarrassed, she hadn’t made him feel silly or overreactive. “I’m an idiot, Jude,” she’d said instead. “I’m sorry. No more sudden

movements, I promise.”

But now she was gone, and no one knew him. His records were sealed. His first Christmas, Leslie had sent him a card, addressed to him through the student affairs office, and he had kept it for days, his last link to Ana, before finally throwing it away. He never wrote back, and he never heard from Leslie again. It was a new life. He was determined not to ruin it for himself.

Still, sometimes, he thought back to their final conversations, mouthing them aloud. This was at night, when his roommates—in various configurations, depending on who was in the room at the time

—slept above and next to him. “Don’t let this silence become a habit,” she’d warned him shortly before she died. And: “It’s all right to be angry, Jude; you don’t have to hide it.” She had been wrong about him, he always thought; he wasn’t what she thought he was. “You’re destined for greatness, kid,” she’d said once, and he wanted to believe her, even though he couldn’t. But she was right about one thing: it did get harder and harder. He did blame himself. And although he tried every day to remember the promise he’d made to her, every day it became more and more remote, until it was just a memory, and so was she, a beloved character from a book he’d read long ago.



“The world has two kinds of people,” Judge Sullivan used to say. “Those who are inclined to believe, and those who aren’t. In my courtroom, we value belief. Belief in all things.”

He made this proclamation often, and after doing so, he would groan himself to his feet—he was very fat—and toddle out of the room. This was usually at the end of the day—Sullivan’s day, at least

—when he left his chambers and came over to speak to his law clerks, sitting on the edge of one of their desks and delivering often opaque lectures that were interspersed with frequent pauses, as if his clerks were not lawyers but scriveners, and should be writing down his words. But no one did, not even Kerrigan, who was a true believer and the most conservative of the three of them.

After the judge left, he would grin across the room at Thomas, who would raise his eyes upward in a gesture of helplessness and apology. Thomas was a conservative, too, but “a thinking conservative,” he’d remind him, “and the fact that I even have to make that distinction is fucking depressing.”

He and Thomas had started clerking for the judge the same year,

and when he had been approached by the judge’s informal search committee—really, his Business Associations professor, with whom the judge was old friends—the spring of his second year of law school, it had been Harold who had encouraged him to apply. Sullivan was known among his fellow circuit court judges for always hiring one clerk whose political views diverged from his own, the more wildly, the better. (His last liberal law clerk had gone on to work for a Hawaiian rights sovereignty group that advocated for the islands’ secession from the United States, a career move that had sent the judge into a fit of apoplectic self-satisfaction.)

“Sullivan hates me,” Harold had told him then, sounding pleased. “He’ll hire you just to spite me.” He smiled, savoring the thought. “And because you’re the most brilliant student I’ve ever had,” he added.

The compliment made him look at the ground: Harold’s praise tended to be conveyed to him by others, and was rarely handed to him directly. “I’m not sure I’m liberal enough for him,” he’d replied. Certainly he wasn’t liberal enough for Harold; it was one of the things

—his opinions; the way he read the law; how he applied it to life— that they argued about.

Harold snorted. “Trust me,” he said. “You are.”

But when he went to Washington for his interview the following year, Sullivan had talked about the law—and political philosophy— with much less vigor and specificity than he had anticipated. “I hear that you sing,” Sullivan said instead after an hour of conversation about what he had studied (the judge had attended the same law school), and his position as the articles editor on the law review (the same position the judge himself had held), and his thoughts on recent cases.

“I do,” he replied, wondering how the judge had learned that. Singing was his comfort, but he rarely did it in front of others. Had he been singing in Harold’s office and been overheard? Or sometimes he sang in the law library, when he was re-shelving books late at night and the space was as quiet and still as a church—had someone overheard him there?

“Sing me something,” said the judge.

“What would you like to hear, sir?” he asked. Normally, he would have been much more nervous, but he had heard that the judge would make him do a performance of some sort (legend had it that he’d made a previous applicant juggle), and Sullivan was a known opera


The judge put his fat fingers to his fat lips and thought. “Hmm,” he said. “Sing me something that tells me something about you.”

He thought, and then sang. He was surprised to hear what he chose

—Mahler’s “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”—both because he didn’t even really like Mahler that much and because the lied was a difficult one to perform, slow and mournful and subtle and not meant for a tenor. And yet he liked the poem itself, which his voice teacher in college had dismissed as “second-rate romanticism,” but which he had always thought suffered unfairly from a poor translation. The standard interpretation of the first line was “I am lost to the world,” but he read it as “I have become lost to the world,” which, he believed, was less self-pitying, less melodramatic, and more resigned, more confused. I have become lost to the world / In which I otherwise wasted so much time. The lied was about the life of an artist, which he was definitely not. But he understood, primally almost, the concept of losing, of loosing oneself from the world, of disappearing into a different place, one of retreat and safety, of the twinned yearnings of escape and discovery. It means nothing to me / Whether the world believes me dead / I can hardly say anything to refute it / For truly, I am no longer a part of the world.

When he finished, he opened his eyes to the judge clapping and

laughing. “Bravo,” he said. “Bravo! But I think you might be in the wrong profession altogether, you know.” He laughed again. “Where’d you learn to sing like that?”

“The brothers, sir,” he’d replied.

“Ah, a Catholic boy?” asked the judge, sitting up fatly in his chair and looking ready to be pleased.

“I was raised Catholic,” he began.

“But you’re not now?” the judge asked, frowning.

“No,” he said. He had worked for years to keep the apology out of his voice when he said this.

Sullivan made a noncommittal grunting noise. “Well, whatever they gave you should have offered at least some sort of protection against whatever Harold Stein’s been filling your head with for the past few years,” he said. He looked at his résumé. “You’re his research assistant?”

“Yes,” he said. “For more than two years.”

“A good mind, wasted,” Sullivan declared (it was unclear whether he meant his or Harold’s). “Thanks for coming down, we’ll be in

touch. And thanks for the lied; you have one of the most beautiful tenors I’ve heard in a long time. Are you sure you’re in the right field?” At this, he smiled, the last time he would ever see Sullivan smile with such pleasure and sincerity.

Back in Cambridge, he told Harold about his meeting (“You sing?” Harold asked him, as if he’d just told him he flew), but that he was certain he wouldn’t get the clerkship. A week later, Sullivan called: the job was his. He was surprised, but Harold wasn’t. “I told you so,” he said.

The next day, he went to Harold’s office as usual, but Harold had his coat on. “Normal work is suspended today,” he announced. “I need you to run some errands with me.” This was unusual, but Harold was unusual. At the curb, he held out the keys: “Do you want to drive?”

“Sure,” he said, and went to the driver’s side. This was the car he’d learned to drive in, just a year ago, while Harold sat next to him, far more patient outside the classroom than he was in it. “Good,” he’d said. “Let go of the clutch a little more–good. Good, Jude, good.”

Harold had to pick up some shirts he’d had altered, and they drove to the small, expensive men’s store on the edge of the square where Willem had worked his senior year. “Come in with me,” Harold instructed him, “I’m going to need some help carrying these out.”

“My god, Harold, how many shirts did you buy?” he asked. Harold had an unvarying wardrobe of blue shirts, white shirts, brown corduroys (for winter), linen pants (for spring and summer), and sweaters in various shades of greens and blues.

“Quiet, you,” said Harold.

Inside, Harold went off to find a salesperson, and he waited, running his fingers over the ties in their display cases, rolled and shiny as pastries. Malcolm had given him two of his old cotton suits, which he’d had tailored and had worn throughout both of his summer internships, but he’d had to borrow his roommate’s suit for the Sullivan interview, and he had tried to move carefully in it the entire time it was his, aware of its largeness and the fineness of its wool.

Then “That’s him,” he heard Harold say, and when he turned, Harold was standing with a small man who had a measuring tape draped around his neck like a snake. “He’ll need two suits—a dark gray and a navy—and let’s get him a dozen shirts, a few sweaters, some ties, socks, shoes: he doesn’t have anything.” To him he nodded and said, “This is Marco. I’ll be back in a couple of hours or so.”

“Wait,” he said. “Harold. What are you doing?”

“Jude,” said Harold, “you need something to wear. I’m hardly an expert on this front, but you can’t show up to Sullivan’s chambers wearing what you’re wearing.”

He was embarrassed: by his clothes, by his inadequacy, by Harold’s generosity. “I know,” he said. “But I can’t accept this, Harold.”

He would’ve continued, but Harold stepped between him and Marco and turned him away. “Jude,” he said, “accept this. You’ve earned it. What’s more, you need it. I’m not going to have you humiliating me in front of Sullivan. Besides, I’ve already paid for it, and I’m not getting my money back. Right, Marco?” he called behind him.

“Right,” said Marco, immediately.

“Oh, leave it, Jude,” Harold said, when he saw him about to speak. “I’ve got to go.” And he marched out without looking back.

And so he found himself standing before the triple-leafed mirror, watching the reflection of Marco busying about his ankles, but when Marco reached up his leg to measure the inseam, he flinched, reflexively. “Easy, easy,” Marco said, as if he were a nervous horse, and patted his thigh, also as if he were a horse, and when he gave another involuntary half kick as Marco did the other leg, “Hey! I have pins in my mouth, you know.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, and held himself still.

When Marco was finished, he looked at himself in his new suit: here was such anonymity, such protection. Even if someone were to accidentally graze his back, he was wearing enough layers so that they’d never be able to feel the ridges of scars beneath. Everything was covered, everything was hidden. If he was standing still, he could be anyone, someone blank and invisible.

“I think maybe half an inch more,” Marco said, pinching the back of the jacket in around the waist. He swatted some threads off his sleeve. “Now all you need’s a good haircut.”

He found Harold waiting for him in the tie area, reading a magazine. “Are you done?” he asked, as if the entire trip had been his idea and Harold had been the one indulging his whimsy.

Over their early dinner, he tried to thank Harold again, but every time he tried, Harold stopped him with increasing impatience. “Has anyone ever told you that sometimes you just need to accept things, Jude?” he finally asked.

“You said to never just accept anything,” he reminded Harold. “That’s in the classroom and in the courtroom,” Harold said. “Not in

life. You see, Jude, in life, sometimes nice things happen to good

people. You don’t need to worry—they don’t happen as often as they should. But when they do, it’s up to the good people to just say ‘thank you,’ and move on, and maybe consider that the person who’s doing the nice thing gets a bang out of it as well, and really isn’t in the mood to hear all the reasons that the person for whom he’s done the nice thing doesn’t think he deserves it or isn’t worthy of it.”

He shut up then, and after dinner he let Harold drive him back to his apartment on Hereford Street. “Besides,” Harold said as he was getting out of the car, “you looked really, really nice. You’re a great-looking kid; I hope someone’s told you that before.” And then, before he could protest, “Acceptance, Jude.”

So he swallowed what he was going to say. “Thank you, Harold. For everything.”

“You’re very welcome, Jude,” said Harold. “I’ll see you Monday.”

He stood on the sidewalk and watched Harold’s car drive away, and then went up to his apartment, which was on the second floor of a brownstone adjacent to an MIT fraternity house. The brownstone’s owner, a retired sociology professor, lived on the ground floor and leased out the remaining three floors to graduate students: on the top floor were Santosh and Federico, who were getting their doctorates in electrical engineering at MIT, and on the third floor were Janusz and Isidore, who were both Ph.D. candidates at Harvard—Janusz in biochemistry and Isidore in Near Eastern religions—and directly below them were he and his roommate, Charlie Ma, whose real name was Chien-Ming Ma and whom everyone called CM. CM was an intern at Tufts Medical Center, and they kept almost entirely opposite schedules: he would wake and CM’s door would be closed and he would hear his wet, snuffly snores, and when he returned home in the evenings at eight, after working with Harold, CM would be gone. What he saw of CM he liked—he was from Taipei and had gone to boarding school in Connecticut and had a sleepy, roguish grin that made you want to smile back at him—and he was a friend of Andy’s friend, which was how they had met. Despite his perpetual air of stoned languor, CM was tidy as well, and liked to cook: he’d come home sometimes and find a plate of fried dumplings in the center of the table, with a note beneath that read EAT ME, or, occasionally, receive a text instructing him to rotate the chicken in its marinade before he went to bed, or asking him to pick up a bunch of cilantro on his way home. He always would, and would return to find the chicken simmered into a stew, or the cilantro minced and folded into scallop

pancakes. Every few months or so, when their schedules intersected, all six of them would meet in Santosh and Federico’s apartment— theirs was the largest—and eat and play poker. Janusz and Isidore would worry aloud that girls thought they were gay because they were always hanging out with each other (CM cut his eyes toward him; he had bet him twenty dollars that they were sleeping together but were trying to pretend they were straight—at any rate, an impossible thing to prove), and Santosh and Federico would complain about how stupid their students were, and about how the quality of MIT undergraduates had really gone downhill since their time there five years ago.

His and CM’s was the smallest of the apartments, because the landlord had annexed half of the floor to make a storage room. CM paid significantly more of the rent, so he had the bedroom. He occupied a corner of the living room, the part with the bay window. His bed was a floppy foam egg-carton pallet, and his books were lined up under the windowsill, and he had a lamp, and a folding paper screen to give him some privacy. He and CM had bought a large wooden table, which they placed in the dining-room alcove, and which had two metal folding chairs, one discarded from Janusz, the other from Federico. One half of the table was his, the other half CM’s, and both halves were stacked with books and papers and their laptops, both emitting their chirps and burbles throughout the day and night.

People were always stunned by the apartment’s bleakness, but he

had mostly ceased to notice it—although not entirely. Now, for example, he sat on the floor before the three cardboard boxes in which he stored his clothes, and lifted his new sweaters and shirts and socks and shoes from their envelopes of white tissue paper, placing them in his lap one at a time. They were the nicest things he had ever owned, and it seemed somehow shameful to put them in boxes meant to hold file folders. And so finally, he rewrapped them and returned them carefully to their shopping bags.

The generosity of Harold’s gift unsettled him. First, there was the matter of the gift itself: he had never, never received anything so grand. Second, there was the impossibility of ever adequately repaying him. And third, there was the meaning behind the gesture: he had known for some time that Harold respected him, and even enjoyed his company. But was it possible that he was someone important to Harold, that Harold liked him more than as just a

student, but as a real, actual friend? And if that was the case, why should it make him so self-conscious?

It had taken him many months to feel truly comfortable around Harold: not in the classroom or in his office, but outside of the classroom, outside of the office. In life, as Harold would say. He would return home after dinner at Harold’s house and feel a flush of relief. He knew why, too, as much as he didn’t want to admit it to himself: traditionally, men—adult men, which he didn’t yet consider himself among—had been interested in him for one reason, and so he had learned to be frightened of them. But Harold didn’t seem to be one of those men. (Although Brother Luke hadn’t seemed to be one of those men either.) He was frightened of everything, it sometimes seemed, and he hated that about himself. Fear and hatred, fear and hatred: often, it seemed that those were the only two qualities he possessed. Fear of everyone else; hatred of himself.

He had known of Harold before he met him, for Harold was known.

He was a relentless questioner: every remark you made in his class would be seized upon and pecked at in an unending volley of Whys. He was trim and tall, and had a way of pacing in a tight circle, his torso pitched forward, when he was engaged or excited.

To his disappointment, there was much he simply couldn’t remember from that first-year contracts class with Harold. He couldn’t remember, for example, the specifics of the paper he wrote that interested Harold and which led to conversations with him outside the classroom and, eventually, to an offer to become one of his research assistants. He couldn’t remember anything particularly interesting he said in class. But he could remember Harold on that first day of the semester, pacing and pacing, and lecturing them in his low, quick voice.

“You’re One Ls,” Harold had said. “And congratulations, all of you. As One Ls, you’ll be taking a pretty typical course load: contracts; torts; property; civil procedure; and, next year, constitutional and criminal law. But you know all this.

“What you may not know is that this course load reflects— beautifully, simply—the very structure of our society, the very mechanics of what a society, our particular society, needs to make it work. To have a society, you first need an institutional framework: that’s constitutional law. You need a system of punishment: that’s criminal. You need to know that you have a system in place that will make those other systems work: that’s civil procedure. You need a

way to govern matters of domain and ownership: that’s property. You need to know that someone will be financially accountable for injuries caused you by others: that’s torts. And finally, you need to know that people will keep their agreements, that they will honor their promises: and that is contracts.”

He paused. “Now, I don’t want to be reductive, but I’ll bet half of you are here so you can someday wheedle money out of people—torts people, there’s nothing to be ashamed of!—and the other half of you are here because you think you’re going to change the world. You’re here because you dream of arguing before the Supreme Court, because you think the real challenge of the law lies in the blank spaces between the lines of the Constitution. But I’m here to tell you—it doesn’t. The truest, the most intellectually engaging, the richest field of the law is contracts. Contracts are not just sheets of paper promising you a job, or a house, or an inheritance: in its purest, truest, broadest sense, contracts govern every realm of law. When we choose to live in a society, we choose to live under a contract, and to abide by the rules that a contract dictates for us—the Constitution itself is a contract, albeit a malleable contract, and the question of just how malleable it is, exactly, is where law intersects with politics—and it is under the rules, explicit or otherwise, of this contract that we promise not to kill, and to pay our taxes, and not to steal. But in this case, we are both the creators of and bound by this contract: as citizens of this country, we have assumed, from birth, an obligation to respect and follow its terms, and we do so daily.

“In this class, you will of course learn the mechanics of contracts—

how one is created, how one is broken, how binding one is and how to unbind yourself from one—but you will also be asked to consider law itself as a series of contracts. Some are more fair—and this one time, I’ll allow you to say such a thing—than others. But fairness is not the only, or even the most important, consideration in law: the law is not always fair. Contracts are not fair, not always. But sometimes they are necessary, these unfairnesses, because they are necessary for the proper functioning of society. In this class you will learn the difference between what is fair and what is just, and, as important, between what is fair and what is necessary. You will learn about the obligations we have to one another as members of society, and how far society should go in enforcing those obligations. You will learn to see your life—all of our lives—as a series of agreements, and it will make you rethink not only the law but this country itself, and

your place in it.”

He had been thrilled by Harold’s speech, and in the coming weeks, by how differently Harold thought, by how he would stand at the front of the room like a conductor, stretching out a student’s argument into strange and unimaginable formations. Once, a fairly benign discussion about the right to privacy—both the most cherished and the foggiest of constitutional rights, according to Harold, whose definition of contracts often ignored conventional boundaries and bounded happily into other fields of law—had led to an argument between the two of them about abortion, which he felt was indefensible on moral grounds but necessary on social ones. “Aha!” Harold had said; he was one of the few professors who would entertain not just legal arguments but moral ones. “And, Mr. St. Francis, what happens when we forsake morals in law for social governance? What is the point at which a country, and its people, should start valuing social control over its sense of morality? Is there such a point? I’m not convinced there is.” But he had hung in, and the class had stilled around them, watching the two of them debate back and forth.

Harold was the author of three books, but it was his last, The

American Handshake: The Promises and Failures of the Declaration of Independence, that had made him famous. The book, which he had read even before he met Harold, was a legal interpretation of the Declaration of Independence: Which of its promises had been kept and which had not, and were it written today, would it be able to withstand trends in contemporary jurisprudence? (“Short answer: No,” read the Times review.) Now he was researching his fourth book, a sequel of sorts to The American Handshake, about the Constitution, from a similar perspective.

“But only the Bill of Rights, and the sexier amendments,” Harold told him when he was interviewing him for the research assistant position.

“I didn’t know some were sexier than others,” he said.

Of course some are sexier than others,” said Harold. “Only the eleventh, twelfth, fourteenth, and sixteenth are sexy. The rest are basically the dross of politics past.”

“The thirteenth is garbage?” he asked, enjoying himself. “I didn’t say it was garbage,” Harold said, “just not sexy.” “But I think that’s what dross means.”

Harold sighed dramatically, grabbed the dictionary off his desk,

flipped it open, and studied it for a moment. “Okay, fine,” he said, tossing it back onto a heap of papers, which slid toward the edge of the surface. “The third definition. But I meant the first definition: the leftovers, the detritus—the remains of politics past. Happy?”

“Yes,” he said, trying not to smile.

He began working for Harold on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons and evenings, when his course load was lightest—on Tuesdays and Thursdays he had afternoon seminars at MIT, where he was getting his master’s, and worked in the law library at night, and on Saturdays he worked in the library in the morning and in the afternoons at a bakery called Batter, which was near the medical college, where he had worked since he was an undergraduate and where he fulfilled specialty orders: decorating cookies and making hundreds of sugar-paste flower petals for cakes and experimenting with different recipes, one of which, a ten-nut cake, had become the bakery’s best seller. He worked at Batter on Sundays as well, and one day Allison, the bakery’s owner, who entrusted him with many of the more complicated projects, handed him an order form for three dozen sugar cookies decorated to look like various kinds of bacteria. “I thought you of all people might be able to figure this out,” she said. “The customer’s wife’s a microbiologist and he wants to surprise her and her lab.”

“I’ll do some research,” he said, taking the page from her, and

noting the customer’s name: Harold Stein. So he had, asking CM and Janusz for their advice, and had made cookies shaped like paisleys, like mace balls, like cucumbers, using different-colored frosting to draw their cytoplasms and plasma membranes and ribosomes and fashioning flagella from strands of licorice. He typed up a list identifying each and folded it into the box before closing it and tying it with twine; he didn’t know Harold very well then, but he liked the idea of making something for him, of impressing him, even if anonymously. And he liked wondering what the cookies were meant to celebrate: A publication? An anniversary? Or was it simple uxoriousness? Was Harold Stein the sort of person who showed up at his wife’s lab with cookies for no reason? He suspected he perhaps was.

The following week, Harold told him about the amazing cookies

he’d gotten at Batter. His enthusiasm, which just a few hours ago in class had been directed at the Uniform Commercial Code, had found a new subject in the cookies. He sat, biting the inside of his cheek so he

wouldn’t smile, listening to Harold talk about how genius they’d been and how Julia’s lab had been struck speechless by their detail and verisimilitude, and how he had been, briefly, the hero of the lab: “Not an easy thing to be with those people, by the way, who secretly think everyone involved in the humanities is something of a moron.”

“Sounds like those cookies were made by a real obsessive,” he said. He hadn’t told Harold he worked at Batter, and didn’t plan on doing so, either.

“Then that’s an obsessive I’d like to meet,” said Harold. “They were delicious, too.”

“Mmm,” he said, and thought of a question to ask Harold so he wouldn’t keep talking about the cookies.

Harold had other research assistants, of course—two second-years and a third-year he knew only by sight—but their schedules were such that they never overlapped. Sometimes they communicated with one another by notes or e-mail, explaining where they’d left off in their research so the next person could pick it up and carry it forward. But by the second semester of his first year, Harold had assigned him to work exclusively on the fifth amendment. “That’s a good one,” he said. “Incredibly sexy.” The two second-year assistants were assigned the ninth amendment, and the third-year, the tenth, and as much as he knew it was ridiculous, he couldn’t help but feel triumphant, as if he had been favored with something the others hadn’t.

The first invitation to dinner at Harold’s house had been spontaneous, at the end of one cold and dark March afternoon. “Are you sure?” he asked, tentative.

Harold had looked at him, curiously. “Of course,” he said. “It’s just dinner. You have to eat, right?”

Harold lived in a three-story house in Cambridge, at the edge of the undergraduate campus. “I didn’t know you lived here,” he said, as Harold pulled into the driveway. “This is one of my favorite streets. I used to walk down it every day as a shortcut to the other side of campus.”

“You and everybody else,” Harold replied. “When I bought it just before I got divorced, all these houses were occupied by grad students; all the shutters were falling off. The smell of pot was so thick you could get stoned just driving by.”

It was snowing, just lightly, but he was grateful that there were only two steps leading up to the door, and that he wouldn’t have to worry about slipping or needing Harold’s help. Inside, the house

smelled of butter and pepper and starch: pasta, he thought. Harold dropped his briefcase on the floor and gave him a vague tour—“Living room; study behind it; kitchen and dining room to your left”—and he met Julia, who was tall like Harold, with short brown hair, and whom he liked instantly.

“Jude!” she said. “Finally! I’ve heard so much about you; I’m so happy to be meeting you at last.” It sounded, he thought, like she really was.

Over dinner, they talked. Julia was from an academic family from Oxford and had lived in America since graduate school at Stanford; she and Harold had met five years ago through a friend. Her lab studied a new virus that appeared to be a variant of H5N1 and they were trying to map its genetic code.

“Isn’t one of the concerns in microbiology the potential weaponization of these genomes?” he asked, and felt, rather than saw, Harold turn toward him.

“Yes, that’s right,” Julia said, and as she explained to him the controversies surrounding her and her colleagues’ work, he glanced over at Harold, who was watching him, and who raised an eyebrow at him in a gesture that he couldn’t interpret.

But then the conversation shifted, and he could almost watch as the discussion moved steadily away from Julia’s lab and inexorably toward him, could see how good a litigator Harold would be if he wanted to, could see his skill in redirecting and repositioning, almost as if their conversation were something liquid, and he was guiding it through a series of troughs and chutes, eliminating any options for its escape, until it reached its inevitable end.

“So, Jude,” Julia asked, “where did you grow up?”

“South Dakota and Montana, mostly,” he said, and he could feel the creature inside of him sit up, aware of danger but unable to escape it.

“So are your parents ranchers?” asked Harold.

He had learned over the years to anticipate this sequence of questioning, and how to deflect it as well. “No,” he said, “but a lot of people were, obviously. It’s beautiful countryside out there; have you spent any time in the West?”

Usually, this was enough, but it wasn’t for Harold. “Ha!” he said. “That’s the silkiest pivot I’ve heard in a long time.” Harold looked at him, closely enough so that he eventually looked down at his plate. “I suppose that’s your way of saying you’re not going to tell us what they do?”

“Oh, Harold, leave him alone,” said Julia, but he could feel Harold staring at him, and was relieved when dinner ended.

After that first night at Harold’s, their relationship became both deeper and more difficult. He felt he had awakened Harold’s curiosity, which he imagined as a perked, bright-eyed dog—a terrier, something relentless and keen—and wasn’t sure that was such a good thing. He wanted to know Harold better, but over dinner he had been reminded that that process—getting to know someone—was always so much more challenging than he remembered. He always forgot; he was always made to remember. He wished, as he often did, that the entire sequence—the divulging of intimacies, the exploring of pasts—could be sped past, and that he could simply be teleported to the next stage, where the relationship was something soft and pliable and comfortable, where both parties’ limits were understood and respected.

Other people might have made a few more attempts at questioning

him and then left him alone—other people had left him alone: his friends, his classmates, his other professors—but Harold was not as easily dissuaded. Even his usual strategies—among them, telling his interlocutors that he wanted to hear about their lives, not talk about his: a tactic that had the benefit of being true as well as effective— didn’t work with Harold. He never knew when Harold would pounce next, but whenever he did, he was unprepared, and he felt himself becoming more self-conscious, not less, the more time they spent with each other.

They would be in Harold’s office, talking about something—the University of Virginia affirmative action case going before the Supreme Court, say—and Harold would ask, “What’s your ethnic background, Jude?”

“A lot of things,” he would answer, and then would try to change the subject, even if it meant dropping a stack of books to cause a distraction.

But sometimes the questions were contextless and random, and these were impossible to anticipate, as they came without preamble. One night he and Harold were in his office, working late, and Harold ordered them dinner. For dessert, he’d gotten cookies and brownies, and he pushed the paper bags toward him.

“No, thanks,” he said.

“Really?” Harold asked, raising his eyebrows. “My son used to love these. We tried to bake them for him at home, but we never got the

recipe quite right.” He broke a brownie in half. “Did your parents bake for you a lot when you were a kid?” He would ask these questions with a deliberate casualness that he found almost unbearable.

“No,” he said, pretending to review the notes he’d been taking.

He listened to Harold chewing and, he knew, considering whether to retreat or to continue his line of questioning.

“Do you see your parents often?” Harold asked him, abruptly, on a different night.

“They’re dead,” he said, keeping his eyes on the page.

“I’m sorry, Jude,” Harold said after a silence, and the sincerity in his voice made him look up. “Mine are, too. Relatively recently. Of course, I’m much older than you.”

“I’m sorry, Harold,” he said. And then, guessing, “You were close to them.”

“I was,” said Harold. “Very. Were you close to yours?” He shook his head. “No, not really.”

Harold was quiet. “But I’ll bet they were proud of you,” he said, finally.

Whenever Harold asked him questions about himself, he always felt something cold move across him, as if he were being iced from the inside, his organs and nerves being protected by a sheath of frost. In that moment, though, he thought he might break, that if he said anything the ice would shatter and he would splinter and crack. So he waited until he knew he would sound normal before he asked Harold if he needed him to find the rest of the articles now or if he should do it in the morning. He didn’t look at Harold, though, and spoke only to his notebook.

Harold took a long time to reply. “Tomorrow,” Harold said, quietly, and he nodded, and gathered his things to go home for the night, aware of Harold’s eyes following his lurching progress to the door.

Harold wanted to know how he had been raised, and if he had any siblings, and who his friends were, and what he did with them: he was greedy for information. At least he could answer the last questions, and he told him about his friends, and how they had met, and where they were: Malcolm in graduate school at Columbia, JB and Willem at Yale. He liked answering Harold’s questions about them, liked talking about them, liked hearing Harold laugh when he told him stories about them. He told him about CM, and how Santosh and Federico were in some sort of fight with the engineering undergrads who lived

in the frat house next door, and how he had awoken one morning to a fleet of motorized dirigibles handmade from condoms floating noisily up past his window, up toward the fourth floor, each dangling signs that read SANTOSH JAIN AND FEDERICO DE LUCA HAVE MICRO-PENISES.

But when Harold was asking the other questions, he felt smothered by their weight and frequency and inevitability. And sometimes the air grew so hot with the questions Harold wasn’t asking him that it was as oppressive as if he actually had. People wanted to know so much, they wanted so many answers. And he understood it, he did— he wanted answers, too; he too wanted to know everything. He was grateful, then, for his friends, and for how relatively little they had mined from him, how they had left him to himself, a blank, faceless prairie under whose yellow surface earthworms and beetles wriggled through the black soil, and chips of bone calcified slowly into stone.

“You’re really interested in this,” he snapped at Harold once, frustrated, when Harold had asked him whether he was dating anyone, and then, hearing his tone, stopped and apologized. They had known each other for almost a year by then.

This?” said Harold, ignoring the apology. “I’m interested in you. I don’t see what’s strange about that. This is the kind of stuff friends talk about with each other.”

And yet despite his discomfort, he kept coming back to Harold, kept accepting his dinner invitations, even though at some point in every encounter there would be a moment in which he wished he could disappear, or in which he worried he might have disappointed.

One night he went to dinner at Harold’s and was introduced to Harold’s best friend, Laurence, whom he had met in law school and who was now an appellate court judge in Boston, and his wife, Gillian, who taught English at Simmons. “Jude,” said Laurence, whose voice was even lower than Harold’s, “Harold tells me you’re also getting your master’s at MIT. What in?”

“Pure math,” he replied.

“How is that different from”—she laughed—“regular math?” Gillian asked.

“Well, regular math, or applied math, is what I suppose you could call practical math,” he said. “It’s used to solve problems, to provide solutions, whether it’s in the realm of economics, or engineering, or accounting, or what have you. But pure math doesn’t exist to provide immediate, or necessarily obvious, practical applications. It’s purely

an expression of form, if you will—the only thing it proves is the almost infinite elasticity of mathematics itself, within the accepted set of assumptions by which we define it, of course.”

“Do you mean imaginary geometries, stuff like that?” Laurence asked.

“It can be, sure. But it’s not just that. Often, it’s merely proof of—of the impossible yet consistent internal logic of math itself. There’s all kinds of specialties within pure math: geometric pure math, like you said, but also algebraic math, algorithmic math, cryptography, information theory, and pure logic, which is what I study.”

“Which is what?” Laurence asked.

He thought. “Mathematical logic, or pure logic, is essentially a conversation between truths and falsehoods. So for example, I might say to you ‘All positive numbers are real. Two is a positive number. Therefore, two must be real.’ But this isn’t actually true, right? It’s a derivation, a supposition of truth. I haven’t actually proven that two is a real number, but it must logically be true. So you’d write a proof to, in essence, prove that the logic of those two statements is in fact real, and infinitely applicable.” He stopped. “Does that make sense?”

Video, ergo est,” said Laurence, suddenly. I see it, therefore it is.

He smiled. “And that’s exactly what applied math is. But pure math is more”—he thought again—“Imaginor, ergo est.”

Laurence smiled back at him and nodded. “Very good,” he said. “Well, have a question,” said Harold, who’d been quiet, listening

to them. “How and why on earth did you end up in law school?”

Everyone laughed, and he did, too. He had been asked that question often (by Dr. Li, despairingly; by his master’s adviser, Dr. Kashen, perplexedly), and he always changed the answer to suit the audience, for the real answer—that he wanted to have the means to protect himself; that he wanted to make sure no one could ever reach him again—seemed too selfish and shallow and tiny a reason to say aloud (and would invite a slew of subsequent questions anyway). Besides, he knew enough now to know that the law was a flimsy form of protection: if he really wanted to be safe, he should have become a marksman squinting through an eyepiece, or a chemist in a lab with his pipettes and poisons.

That night, though, he said, “But law isn’t so unlike pure math, really—I mean, it too in theory can offer an answer to every question, can’t it? Laws of anything are meant to be pressed against, and stretched, and if they can’t provide solutions to every matter they

claim to cover, then they aren’t really laws at all, are they?” He stopped to consider what he’d just said. “I suppose the difference is that in law, there are many paths to many answers, and in math, there are many paths to a single answer. And also, I guess, that law isn’t actually about the truth: it’s about governance. But math doesn’t have to be convenient, or practical, or managerial—it only has to be true.

“But I suppose the other way in which they’re alike is that in mathematics, as well as in law, what matters more—or, more accurately, what’s more memorable—is not that the case, or proof, is won or solved, but the beauty, the economy, with which it’s done.”

“What do you mean?” asked Harold.

“Well,” he said, “in law, we talk about a beautiful summation, or a beautiful judgment: and what we mean by that, of course, is the loveliness of not only its logic but its expression. And similarly, in math, when we talk about a beautiful proof, what we’re recognizing is the simplicity of the proof, its … elementalness, I suppose: its inevitability.”

“What about something like Fermat’s last theorem?” asked Julia. “That’s a perfect example of a non-beautiful proof. Because while it

was important that it was solved, it was, for a lot of people—like my adviser—a disappointment. The proof went on for hundreds of pages, and drew from so many disparate fields of mathematics, and was so— tortured, jigsawed, really, in its execution, that there are still many people at work trying to prove it in more elegant terms, even though it’s already been proven. A beautiful proof is succinct, like a beautiful ruling. It combines just a handful of different concepts, albeit from across the mathematical universe, and in a relatively brief series of steps, leads to a grand and new generalized truth in mathematics: that is, a wholly provable, unshakable absolute in a constructed world with very few unshakable absolutes.” He stopped to take a breath, aware, suddenly, that he had been talking and talking, and that the others were silent, watching him. He could feel himself flushing, could feel the old hatred fill him like dirtied water once more. “I’m sorry,” he apologized. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to ramble on.”

“Are you joking?” said Laurence. “Jude, I think that was the first

truly revelatory conversation I’ve had in Harold’s house in probably the last decade or more: thank you.”

Everyone laughed again, and Harold leaned back in his chair, looking pleased. “See?” he caught Harold mouthing across the table to Laurence, and Laurence nodding, and he understood that this was

meant about him, and was flattered despite himself, and shy as well. Had Harold talked about him to his friend? Had this been a test for him, a test he hadn’t known he was to take? He was relieved he had passed it, and that he hadn’t embarrassed Harold, and relieved too that, as uncomfortable as it sometimes made him, he might have fully earned his place in Harold’s house, and might be invited back again.

With each day he trusted Harold a little more, and at times he wondered if he was making the same mistake again. Was it better to trust or better to be wary? Could you have a real friendship if some part of you was always expecting betrayal? He felt sometimes as if he was taking advantage of Harold’s generosity, his jolly faith in him, and sometimes as if his circumspection was the wise choice after all, for if it should end badly, he’d have only himself to blame. But it was difficult to not trust Harold: Harold made it difficult, and, just as important, he was making it difficult for himself—he wanted to trust Harold, he wanted to give in, he wanted the creature inside him to tuck itself into a sleep from which it would never wake.

Late one night in his second year of law school he was at Harold’s, and when they opened the door, the steps, the street, the trees were hushed with snow, and the flakes cycloned toward the door, so fast that they both took a step backward.

“I’ll call a cab,” he said, so Harold wouldn’t have to drive him. “No, you won’t,” Harold said. “You’ll stay here.”

And so he stayed in Harold and Julia’s spare bedroom on the second floor, separated from their room by a large windowed space they used as a library, and a brief hallway. “Here’s a T-shirt,” Harold said, lobbing something gray and soft at him, “and here’s a toothbrush.” He placed it on the bookcase. “There’s extra towels in the bathroom. Do you want anything else? Water?”

“No,” he said. “Harold, thank you.” “Of course, Jude. Good night.” “Good night.”

He stayed awake for a while, the feather comforter wadded around him, the mattress plush beneath him, watching the window turn white, and listening to water glugging from the faucets, and Harold and Julia’s low, indistinguishable murmurs at each other, and one or the other of them padding from one place to another, and then, finally, nothing. In those minutes, he pretended that they were his parents, and he was home for the weekend from law school to visit them, and this was his room, and the next day he would get up and do

whatever it was that grown children did with their parents.

The summer after that second year, Harold invited him to their house in Truro, on Cape Cod. “You’ll love it,” he said. “Invite your friends. They’ll love it, too.” And so on the Thursday before Labor Day, once his and Malcolm’s internships had ended, they all drove up to the house from New York, and for that long weekend, Harold’s attention shifted to JB and Malcolm and Willem. He watched them too, admiring how they could answer every one of Harold’s parries, how generous they were with their own lives, how they could tell stories about themselves that they laughed at and that made Harold and Julia laugh as well, how comfortable they were around Harold and how comfortable Harold was around them. He experienced the singular pleasure of watching people he loved fall in love with other people he loved. The house had a private walk down to a private spit of beach, and in the mornings the four of them would troop downhill and swim—even he did, in his pants and undershirt and an old oxford shirt, which no one bothered him about—and then lie on the sand baking, the wet clothes ungluing themselves from his body as they dried. Sometimes Harold would come and watch them, or swim as well. In the afternoons, Malcolm and JB would pedal off through the dunes on bicycles, and he and Willem would follow on foot, picking up bits of shaley shells and the sad carapaces of long-nibbled-away hermit crabs as they went, Willem slowing his pace to match his own. In the evenings, when the air was soft, JB and Malcolm sketched and he and Willem read. He felt doped, on sun and food and salt and contentment, and at night he fell asleep quickly and early, and in the mornings he woke before the others so he could stand on the back porch alone looking over the sea.

What is going to happen to me? he asked the sea. What is happening to


The holiday ended and the fall semester began, and it didn’t take him long to realize that over that weekend, one of his friends must have said something to Harold, although he was certain it wasn’t Willem, who was the only one to whom he’d finally told something of his past—and even then, not very much at all: three facts, each more slender than the last, all meaningless, all of which combined to make not even a beginning of a story. Even the first sentences of a fairy tale had more detail than what he had told Willem: Once upon a time, a boy and a girl lived with their father, a woodcutter, and their stepmother, deep in a cold forest. The woodcutter loved his children, but he was very

poor, and so one day … So whatever Harold had learned had been speculation, buttressed by their observations of him, their theories and guesses and fictions. But whatever it was, it had been enough to make Harold’s questions to him—about who he had been and where he had come from—stop.

As the months and then the years passed, they developed a friendship in which the first fifteen years of his life remained unsaid and unspoken, as if they had never happened at all, as if he had been removed from the manufacturer’s box when he reached college, and a switch at the base of his neck had been flipped, and he had shuddered to life. He knew that those blank years were filled in by Harold’s own imaginings, and that some of those imaginings were worse than what had actually happened, and some were better. But Harold never told him what he supposed for him, and he didn’t really want to know.

He had never considered their friendship contextual, but he was prepared for the likelihood that Harold and Julia did. And so when he moved to Washington for his clerkship, he assumed that they would forget him, and he tried to prepare himself for the loss. But that didn’t happen. Instead, they sent e-mails, and called, and when one or the other was in town, they would have dinner. In the summers, he and his friends visited Truro, and over Thanksgiving, they went to Cambridge. And when he moved to New York two years later to begin his job at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Harold had been almost alarmingly excited for him. They had even offered to let him live in their apartment on the Upper West Side, but he knew they used it often, and he wasn’t sure how real their offer was, and so he declined. Every Saturday, Harold would call and ask him about work, and he’d tell him about his boss, Marshall, the deputy U.S. Attorney, who had the unnerving ability to recite entire Supreme Court decisions from memory, closing his eyes to summon a vision of the page in his mind, his voice becoming robotic and dull as he chanted, but never dropping or adding a word. He had always thought he had a good

memory, but Marshall’s amazed him.

In some ways, the U.S. Attorney’s Office reminded him of the home: it was largely male, and the place fizzed with a particular and constant hostility, the kind of hissing acrimony that naturally arises whenever a group of highly competitive people who are all evenly matched are housed in the same small space with the understanding that only some of them would have the opportunity to distinguish themselves. (Here, though, they were matched in accomplishments; at

the home, they were matched in hunger, in want.) All two hundred of the assistant prosecutors, it seemed, had attended one of five or six law schools, and virtually all of them had been on the law review and moot court at their respective schools. He was part of a four-person team that worked mostly on securities fraud cases, and he and his teammates each had something—a credential, an idiosyncrasy—that they hoped lifted them above the others: he had his master’s from MIT (which no one cared about but was at least an oddity) and his circuit court clerkship with Sullivan, with whom Marshall was friendly. Citizen, his closest friend at the office, had a law degree from Cambridge and had practiced as a barrister in London for two years before moving to New York. And Rhodes, the third in their trio, had been a Fulbright Scholar in Argentina after college. (The fourth on their team was a profoundly lazy guy named Scott who, it was rumored, had only gotten the job because his father played tennis with the president.)

He was usually at the office, and sometimes, when he and Citizen

and Rhodes were there late, eating takeout, he was reminded of being with his roommates in their suite at Hood. And although he enjoyed Citizen’s and Rhodes’s company, and the specificity and depth of their intelligence, he was in those moments nostalgic for his friends, who thought so differently than he did and who made him think differently as well. In the middle of one conversation with Citizen and Rhodes about logic, he recalled, suddenly, a question Dr. Li had asked him his freshman year, when he was auditioning to be accepted into his pure math seminar: Why are manhole covers round? It was an easy question, and easy to answer, but when he’d returned to Hood and had repeated Dr. Li’s question to his roommates, they were silent. And then finally JB had begun, in the dreamy tones of a wandering storyteller, “Once, very long ago, mammoths roamed the earth, and their footprints left permanent circular indentations in the ground,” and they had all laughed. He smiled, remembering it; he sometimes wished he had a mind like JB’s, one that could create stories that would delight others, instead of the mind he did have, which was always searching for an explanation, an explanation that, while perhaps correct, was empty of romance, of fancy, of wit.

“Time to whip out the credentials,” Citizen would whisper to him

on the occasions that the U.S. Attorney himself would emerge onto the floor and all the assistant prosecutors would buzz toward him, mothlike, as a multitude of gray suits. They and Rhodes would join

the hover, but even in those gatherings he never mentioned the one credential he knew could have made not only Marshall but the U.S. Attorney as well stop and look at him more closely. After he’d gotten the job, Harold had asked him if he could mention him to Adam, the

U.S. Attorney, with whom Harold was, it happened, longtime acquaintances. But he’d told Harold he wanted to know he could make it on his own. This was true, but the greater reason was that he was tentative about naming Harold as one of his assets, because he didn’t want Harold to regret his association with him. And so he’d said nothing.

Often, however, it felt as if Harold was there anyway. Reminiscing about law school (and its attendant activity, bragging about one’s accomplishments in law school) was a favorite pastime in the office, and because so many of his colleagues had gone to his school, quite a few of them knew Harold (and the others knew of him), and he’d sometimes listen to them talk about classes they’d taken with him, or how prepared they’d had to be for them, and would feel proud of Harold, and—though he knew it was silly—proud of himself for knowing him. The following year, Harold’s book about the Constitution would be published, and everyone in the office would read the acknowledgments and see his name and his affiliation with Harold would be revealed, and many of them would be suspicious, and he’d see worry in their faces as they tried to remember what they might have said about Harold in his presence. By that time, however, he would feel he had established himself in the office on his own, had found his own place alongside Citizen and Rhodes, had made his own relationship with Marshall.

But as much as he would have liked to, as much as he craved it, he

was still cautious about claiming Harold as his friend: sometimes he worried that he was only imagining their closeness, inflating it hopefully in his mind, and then (to his embarrassment) he would have to retrieve The Beautiful Promise from his shelf and turn to the acknowledgments, reading Harold’s words again, as if it were itself a contract, a declaration that what he felt for Harold was at least in some degree reciprocated. And yet he was always prepared: It will end this month, he would tell himself. And then, at the end of the month: Next month. He won’t want to talk to me next month. He tried to keep himself in a constant state of readiness; he tried to prepare himself for disappointment, even as he yearned to be proven wrong.

And still, the friendship spooled on and on, a long, swift river that

had caught him in its slipstream and was carrying him along, taking him somewhere he couldn’t see. At every point when he thought that he had reached the limits of what their relationship would be, Harold or Julia flung open the doors to another room and invited him in. He met Julia’s father, a retired pulmonologist, and brother, an art history professor, when they visited from England one Thanksgiving, and when Harold and Julia came to New York, they took him and Willem out to dinner, to places they had heard about but couldn’t afford to visit on their own. They saw the apartment at Lispenard Street—Julia polite, Harold horrified—and the week that the radiators mysteriously stopped working, they left him a set of keys to their apartment uptown, which was so warm that for the first hour after he and Willem arrived, they simply sat on the sofa like mannequins, too stunned by the sudden reintroduction of heat into their lives to move. And after Harold witnessed him in the middle of an episode—this was the Thanksgiving after he moved to New York, and in his desperation (he knew he wouldn’t be able to make it upstairs), he had turned off the stove, where he had been sauteeing some spinach, and pulled himself into the pantry, where he had shut the door and laid down on the floor to wait—they had rearranged the house, so that the next time he visited, he found the spare bedroom had been moved to the ground-floor suite behind the living room where Harold’s study had been, and Harold’s desk and chair and books moved to the second floor.

But even after all of this, a part of him was always waiting for the

day he’d come to a door and try the knob and it wouldn’t move. He didn’t mind that, necessarily; there was something scary and anxiety-inducing about being in a space where nothing seemed to be forbidden to him, where everything was offered to him and nothing was asked in return. He tried to give them what he could; he was aware it wasn’t much. And the things Harold gave him so easily— answers, affection—he couldn’t reciprocate.

One day after he’d known them for almost seven years, he was at the house in springtime. It was Julia’s birthday; she was turning fifty-one, and because she had been at a conference in Oslo for her fiftieth birthday, she’d decided that this would be her big celebration. He and Harold were cleaning the living room—or rather, he was cleaning, and Harold was plucking books at random from the shelves and telling him stories about how he’d gotten each one, or flipping back the covers so he could see other people’s names written inside,

including a copy of The Leopard on whose flyleaf was scrawled: “Property of Laurence V. Raleigh. Do not take. Harold Stein, this means you!!”

He had threatened to tell Laurence, and Harold had threatened him back. “You’d better not, Jude, if you know what’s good for you.”

“Or what?” he’d asked, teasing him.

“Or—this!” Harold had said, and had leaped at him, and before he could recognize that Harold was just being playful, he had recoiled so violently, torquing his body to avoid contact, that he had bumped into the bookcase and had knocked against a lumpy ceramic mug that Harold’s son, Jacob, had made, which fell to the ground and broke into three neat pieces. Harold had stepped back from him then, and there was a sudden, horrible silence, into which he had nearly wept.

“Harold,” he said, crouching to the ground, picking up the pieces, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.” He wanted to beat himself against the floor; he knew this was the last thing Jacob had made Harold before he got sick. Above him, he could hear only Harold’s breathing.

“Harold, please forgive me,” he repeated, cupping the pieces in his palms. “I think I can fix this, though—I can make it better.” He couldn’t look up from the mug, its shiny buttered glaze.

He felt Harold crouch beside him. “Jude,” Harold said, “it’s all right. It was an accident.” His voice was very quiet. “Give me the pieces,” he said, but he was gentle, and he didn’t sound angry.

He did. “I can leave,” he offered.

“Of course you’re not going to leave,” Harold said. “It’s okay, Jude.” “But it was Jacob’s,” he heard himself say.

“Yes,” said Harold. “And it still is.” He stood. “Look at me, Jude,” he said, and he finally did. “It’s okay. Come on,” and Harold held out his hand, and he took it, and let Harold pull him to his feet. He wanted to howl, then, that after everything Harold had given him, he had repaid him by destroying something precious created by someone who had been most precious.

Harold went upstairs to his study with the mug in his hands, and he finished his cleaning in silence, the lovely day graying around him. When Julia came home, he waited for Harold to tell her how stupid and clumsy he’d been, but he didn’t. That night at dinner, Harold was the same as he always was, but when he returned to Lispenard Street, he wrote Harold a real, proper letter, apologizing properly, and sent it to him.

And a few days later, he got a reply, also in the form of a real letter, which he would keep for the rest of his life.

“Dear Jude,” Harold wrote, “thank you for your beautiful (if unnecessary) note. I appreciate everything in it. You’re right; that mug means a lot to me. But you mean more. So please stop torturing yourself.

“If I were a different kind of person, I might say that this whole incident is a metaphor for life in general: things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.

“Actually—maybe I am that kind of person after all. “Love, Harold.”



It was not so many years ago—despite the fact that he knew otherwise, despite what Andy had been telling him since he was seventeen—that he was still maintaining a sort of small, steady hope that he might get better. On especially bad days, he would repeat the Philadelphia surgeon’s words to himself—“the spine has wonderful reparative qualities”—almost like a chant. A few years after meeting Andy, when he was in law school, he had finally summoned the courage to suggest this to him, had said aloud the prediction he had treasured and clung to, hoping that Andy might nod and say, “That’s exactly right. It’ll just take time.”

But Andy had snorted. “He told you that?” he asked. “It’s not going to get better, Jude; as you get older, it’ll get worse.” Andy had been looking down at his ankle as he spoke, using tweezers to pick out shreds of dead flesh from a wound he’d developed, when he suddenly froze, and even without seeing Andy’s face, he could tell he was chagrined. “I’m sorry, Jude,” he said, looking up, still cupping his foot in his hand. “I’m sorry I can’t tell you differently.” And when he couldn’t answer, he sighed. “You’re upset.”

He was, of course. “I’m fine,” he managed to say, but he couldn’t bring himself to look at Andy.

“I’m sorry, Jude,” Andy repeated, quietly. He had two settings, even then: brusque and gentle, and he had experienced both of them often, sometimes in a single appointment.

“But one thing I promise,” he said, returning to the ankle, “I’ll always be here to take care of you.”

And he had. Of all the people in his life, it was in some ways Andy who knew the most about him: Andy was the only person he’d been naked in front of as an adult, the only person who was familiar with every physical dimension of his body. Andy had been a resident when they met, and he had stayed in Boston for his fellowship, and his postfellowship, and then the two of them had moved to New York within months of each other. He was an orthopedic surgeon, but he treated him for everything, from chest colds to his back and leg problems.

“Wow,” Andy said dryly, as he sat in his examining room one day hacking up phlegm (this had been the previous spring, shortly before he had turned twenty-nine, when a bout of bronchitis had been snaking its way through the office), “I’m so glad I specialized in orthopedics. This is such good practice for me. This is exactly what I thought I’d do with my training.”

He had started to laugh, but then his coughing had begun again and Andy had thumped him on the back. “Maybe if someone recommended a real internist to me, I wouldn’t have to keep going to a chiropractor for all my medical needs,” he said.

“Mmm,” Andy said. “You know, maybe you should start seeing an internist. God knows it’d save me a lot of time, and a shitload of headaches as well.” But he would never go to see anyone but Andy, and he thought—although they had never discussed it—that Andy wouldn’t want him to, either.

For all Andy knew about him, he knew relatively little about Andy. He knew that he and Andy had gone to the same college, and that Andy was a decade older than he, and that Andy’s father was Gujarati and his mother was Welsh, and that he had grown up in Ohio. Three years ago, Andy had gotten married, and he had been surprised to be invited to the wedding, which was small and held at Andy’s in-laws’ house on the Upper West Side. He had made Willem come with him, and was even more surprised when Andy’s new wife, Jane, had thrown her arms around him when they were introduced and said, “The famous Jude St. Francis! I’ve heard so much about you!”

“Oh, really,” he’d said, his mind filling with fear, like a flock of flapping bats.

“Nothing like that,” Jane had said, smiling (she was a doctor as well: a gynecologist). “But he adores you, Jude; I’m so glad you came.” He had met Andy’s parents as well, and at the end of the evening, Andy had slung an arm around his neck and given him a

hard, awkward kiss on the cheek, which he now did every time they saw each other. Andy always looked uncomfortable doing it, but also seemed compelled to keep doing it, which he found both funny and touching.

He appreciated Andy in many ways, but he appreciated most his unflappability. After they had met, after Andy had made it difficult not to continue seeing him by showing up at Hood, banging on their door after he had missed two follow-up appointments (he hadn’t forgotten; he had just decided not to go) and ignored three phone calls and four e-mails, he had resigned himself to the fact that it might not be bad to have a doctor—it seemed, after all, inevitable—and that Andy might be someone he could trust. The third time they met, Andy took his history, or what he would provide of it, and wrote down the facts he would tell him without comment or reaction.

And indeed, it was only years later—a little less than four years ago

—that Andy had directly mentioned his childhood. This had been during his and Andy’s first big fight. They’d had skirmishes, of course, and disagreements, and once or twice a year Andy would deliver a long lecture to him (he saw Andy every six weeks—though more frequently these days—and could always anticipate which appointment would be the Lecture Appointment by the terseness with which Andy would greet him and conduct his examination) that covered what Andy considered his perplexing and infuriating unwillingness to take proper care of himself, his maddening refusal to see a therapist, and his bizarre reluctance to take pain medication that would probably improve his quality of life.

The fight had concerned what Andy had retroactively come to consider a botched suicide attempt. This had been right before New Year’s, and he had been cutting himself, and he had cut too close to a vein, and it had resulted in a great, sloppy, bloody mess into which he had been forced to involve Willem. In the examining room that night, Andy had refused to speak to him, he was so angry, and had actually muttered to himself as he made his stitches, each as neat and tiny as if he were embroidering them.

Even before Andy had opened his mouth at his next appointment, he had known that he was furious. He had actually considered not coming in for his checkup at all, except he knew if he didn’t, Andy would simply keep calling him—or worse, calling Willem, or worse yet, Harold—until he showed up.

“I should fucking have had you hospitalized,” were Andy’s first

words to him, followed by, “I’m such a fucking idiot.”

“I think you’re overreacting,” he’d begun, but Andy ignored him.

“I happen to believe you weren’t trying to kill yourself, or I’d’ve had you committed so fast your head would’ve spun,” he said. “It’s only because statistically, anyone who cuts themselves as much as you do, and for as many years as you have, is in less immediate danger of suicide than someone who’s less consistently self-injurious.” (Andy was fond of statistics. He sometimes suspected he made them up.) “But Jude, this is crazy, and that was way too close. Either you start seeing a shrink immediately or I’m going to commit you.”

“You can’t do that,” he’d said, furious himself now, although he knew Andy could: he had looked up the laws of involuntary commitment in New York State, and they were not in his favor.

“You know I can,” Andy had said. He was almost shouting at this point. Their appointments were always after office hours, because they sometimes chatted afterward if Andy had time and was in a good mood.

“I’ll sue you,” he’d said, absurdly, and Andy had yelled back at him, “Go right ahead! Do you know how fucked up this is, Jude? Do you have any idea what kind of position you’re putting me in?”

“Don’t worry,” he’d said, sarcastically, “I don’t have any family. No one’s going to sue you for wrongful death.”

Andy had stepped back, then, as if he had tried to hit him. “How dare you,” he’d said, slowly. “You know that’s not what I mean.”

And of course he did. But “Whatever,” he said. “I’m leaving.” And he slid off the table (fortunately, he hadn’t changed out of his clothes; Andy had started lecturing him before he’d had a chance) and tried to leave the room, although leaving the room at his pace was hardly dramatic, and Andy scooted over to stand in the doorway.

“Jude,” he said, in one of his sudden mood changes, “I know you don’t want to go. But this is getting scary.” He took a breath. “Have you ever even talked to anyone about what happened when you were a kid?”

“That doesn’t have anything to do with anything,” he’d said, feeling cold. Andy had never alluded to what he’d told him, and he found himself feeling betrayed that he should do so now.

“Like hell it doesn’t,” Andy had said, and the self-conscious theatricality of the phrase—did anyone really say that outside of the movies?—made him smile despite himself, and Andy, mistaking his smile for mockery, changed directions again. “There’s something

incredibly arrogant about your stubbornness, Jude,” he continued. “Your utter refusal to listen to anyone about anything that concerns your health or well-being is either a pathological case of self-destructiveness or it’s a huge fuck-you to the rest of us.”

He was hurt by this. “And there’s something incredibly manipulative about you threatening to commit me whenever I disagree with you, and especially in this case, when I’ve told you it was a stupid accident,” he hurled back at Andy. “Andy, I appreciate you, I really do. I don’t know what I’d do without you. But I’m an adult and you can’t dictate what I do or don’t do.”

“You know what, Jude?” Andy had asked (now he was yelling again). “You’re right. I can’t dictate your decisions. But I don’t have to accept them, either. Go find some other asshole to be your doctor. I’m not going to do it any longer.”

“Fine,” he’d snapped, and left.

He couldn’t remember when he had been angrier on his own behalf. Lots of things made him angry—general injustice, incompetence, directors who didn’t give Willem a part he wanted—but he rarely got angry about things that happened or had happened to him: his pains, past and present, were things he tried not to brood about, were not questions to which he spent his days searching for meaning. He already knew why they had happened: they had happened because he had deserved them.

But he knew too that his anger was unjustified. And as much as he resented his dependence upon Andy, he was grateful for him as well, and he knew Andy found his behavior illogical. But Andy’s job was to make people better: Andy saw him the way he saw a mangled tax law, as something to be untangled and repaired—whether he thought he could be repaired was almost incidental. The thing he was trying to fix

—the scars that raised his back into an awful, unnatural topography, the skin stretched as glossy and taut as a roasted duck’s: the reason he was trying to save money—was not, he knew, something Andy would approve of. “Jude,” Andy would say if he ever heard what he was planning, “I promise you it’s not going to work, and you’re going to have wasted all that money. Don’t do it.”

“But they’re hideous,” he would mumble.

“They’re not, Jude,” Andy would say. “I swear to god they’re not.” (But he wasn’t going to tell Andy anyway, so he would never have

to have that particular conversation.)

The days passed and he didn’t call Andy and Andy didn’t call him.

As if in punishment, his wrist throbbed at night when he was trying to sleep, and at work he forgot and banged it rhythmically against the side of his desk as he read, a longtime bad tic he’d not managed to erase. The stitches had seeped blood then, and he’d had to clean them, clumsily, in the bathroom sink.

“What’s wrong?” Willem asked him one night.

“Nothing,” he said. He could tell Willem, of course, who would listen and say “Hmm” in his Willem-ish way, but he knew he would agree with Andy.

A week after their fight, he came home to Lispenard Street—it was a Sunday, and he had been walking through west Chelsea—and Andy was waiting on the steps before their front door.

He was surprised to see him. “Hi,” he said.

“Hi,” Andy had replied. They stood there. “I wasn’t sure if you’d take my call.”

“Of course I would’ve.” “Listen,” Andy said. “I’m sorry.” “Me too. I’m sorry, Andy.”

“But I really do think you should see someone.” “I know you do.”

And somehow they managed to leave it at that: a fragile and mutually unsatisfying cease-fire, with the question of the therapist the vast gray demilitarized zone between them. The compromise (though how this had been agreed upon as such was unclear to him now) was that at the end of every visit, he had to show Andy his arms, and Andy would examine them for new cuts. Whenever he found one, he would log it in his chart. He was never sure what might provoke another outburst from Andy: sometimes there were many new cuts, and Andy would merely groan and write them down, and sometimes there were only a few new cuts and Andy would get agitated anyway. “You’ve fucking ruined your arms, you know that, right?” he would ask him. But he would say nothing, and let Andy’s lecture wash over him. Part of him understood that by not letting Andy do his job— which was, after all, to heal him—he was being disrespectful, and was to some degree making Andy into a joke in his own office. Andy’s tallies—sometimes he wanted to ask Andy if he would get a prize once he reached a certain number, but he knew it would make him angry—were a way for him to at least pretend he could manage the situation, even if he couldn’t: it was the accrual of data as a small compensation for actual treatment.

And then, two years later, another wound had opened on his left leg, which had always been the more troublesome one, and his cuttings were set aside for the more urgent matter of his leg. He had first developed one of these wounds less than a year after the injury, and it had healed quickly. “But it won’t be the last,” the Philadelphia surgeon had said. “With an injury like yours, everything—the vascular system, the dermal system—has been so compromised that you should expect you might get these now and again.”

This was the eleventh he’d had, so although he was prepared for the sensation of it, he was never to know its cause (An insect bite? A brush against the edge of a metal filing cabinet? It was always something so gallingly small, but still capable of tearing his skin as easily as if it had been made of paper), and he was never to cease being disgusted by it: the suppuration, the sick, fishy scent, the little gash, like a fetus’s mouth, that would appear, burbling viscous, unidentifiable fluids. It was unnatural, the stuff of monster movies and myths, to walk about with an opening that wouldn’t, couldn’t be closed. He began seeing Andy every Friday night so he could debride the wound, cleaning it and removing the dead tissue and examining the area around it, looking for new skin growth, as he held his breath and gripped the side of the table and tried not to scream.

“You have to tell me when it’s painful, Jude,” Andy had said, as he

breathed and sweated and counted in his head. “It’s a good thing if you can feel this, not a bad thing. It means the nerves are still alive and still doing what they’re supposed to.”

“It’s painful,” he managed to choke out. “Scale of one to ten?”

“Seven. Eight.”

“I’m sorry,” Andy replied. “I’m almost done, I promise. Five more minutes.”

He shut his eyes and counted to three hundred, making himself go slowly.

When it was over, he would sit, and Andy would sit with him and give him something to drink: a soda, something sugary, and he’d feel the room begin to clarify itself around him, bit by blurry bit. “Slowly,” Andy would say, “or you’ll be sick.” He would watch as Andy dressed the wound—he was always at his calmest when he was stitching or sewing or wrapping—and in those moments, he would feel so vulnerable and weak that he would have agreed to anything Andy might have suggested.

“You’re not going to cut yourself on your legs,” Andy would say, more a statement than a question.

“No, I won’t.”

“Because that would be too insane, even for you.” “I know.”

“Your anatomy is so degraded that it’d get really infected.” “Andy. I know.”

He had, at various points, suspected that Andy was talking to his friends behind his back, and there were times when they would use Andy-like language and turns of phrase, and even four years after “The Incident,” as Andy had begun calling it, he suspected that Willem was going through the bathroom trash in the morning, and he’d had to take extra cautions disposing of his razors, bundling them in tissue and duct tape and throwing them into garbage cans on the way to work. “Your crew,” Andy called them: “What’ve you and your crew been up to these days?” (when he was in a good mood) and “I’m going to tell your fucking crew they’ve got to keep their eyes on you” (when he wasn’t).

“Don’t you dare, Andy,” he’d say. “And anyway, it’s not their responsibility.”

“Of course it is,” Andy would retort. As with other issues, they couldn’t agree on this one.

But now it was twenty months after the appearance of this most recent wound and it still hadn’t healed. Or rather, it had healed and then broken again and then healed again, and then he had woken on Friday and felt something damp and gummy on his leg—the lower calf, right above the ankle—and had known it had split. He hadn’t called Andy yet—he would do so on Monday—but it had been important to him to take this walk, which he feared would be his last for some time, maybe months.

He was on Madison and Seventy-fifth now, very near Andy’s office, and his leg was hurting him so much that he crossed to Fifth and sat on one of the benches near the wall that bordered the park. As soon as he sat, he experienced that familiar dizziness, that stomach-lifting nausea, and he bent over and waited until the cement became cement again and he would be able to stand. He felt in those minutes his body’s treason, how sometimes the central, tedious struggle in his life was his unwillingness to accept that he would be betrayed by it again and again, that he could expect nothing from it and yet had to keep maintaining it. So much time, his and Andy’s, was spent trying to

repair something unfixable, something that should have wound up in charred bits on a slag heap years ago. And for what? His mind, he supposed. But there was—as Andy might have said—something incredibly arrogant about that, as if he was saving a jalopy because he had a sentimental attachment to its sound system.

If I walk just a few more blocks, I can be at his office, he thought, but he never would have. It was Sunday. Andy deserved some sort of respite from him, and besides, what he was feeling now was not something he hadn’t felt before.

He waited a few more minutes and then heaved himself to his feet, where he stood for half a minute before dropping to the bench again. Finally he was able to stand for good. He wasn’t ready yet, but he could imagine himself walking to the curb, raising his arm to hail a cab, resting his head against the back of its black vinyl banquette. He would count the steps to get there, just as he would count the steps it would take him to get from the cab and to his building, from the elevator to the apartment, and from the front door to his room. When he had learned to walk the third time—after his braces had come off

—it had been Andy who had helped instruct the physical therapist (she had not been pleased, but had taken his suggestions), and Andy who had, as Ana had just four years before, watched him make his way unaccompanied across a space of ten feet, and then twenty, and then fifty, and then a hundred. His very gait—the left leg coming up to make a near-ninety-degree angle with the ground, forming a rectangle of negative space, the right listing behind—was engineered by Andy, who had made him work at it for hours until he could do it himself. It was Andy who told him he thought he was capable of walking without a cane, and when he finally did it, he’d had Andy to thank.

Monday was not very many hours away, he told himself as he struggled to stay standing, and Andy would see him as he always did, no matter how busy he was. “When did you notice the break?” Andy would say, nudging gently at it with a bit of gauze. “Friday,” he’d say. “Why didn’t you call me then, Jude?” Andy would say, irritated. “At any rate, I hope you didn’t go on your stupid fucking walk.” “No, of course not,” he’d say, but Andy wouldn’t believe him. He sometimes wondered whether Andy thought of him as only a collection of viruses and malfunctions: If you removed them, who was he? If Andy didn’t have to take care of him, would he still be interested in him? If he appeared one day magically whole, with a stride as easy as Willem’s

and JB’s complete lack of self-consciousness, the way he could lean back in his chair and let his shirt hoist itself from his hips without any fear, or with Malcolm’s long arms, the skin on their insides as smooth as frosting, what would he be to Andy? What would he be to any of them? Would they like him less? More? Or would he discover—as he often feared—that what he understood as friendship was really motivated by their pity of him? How much of who he was was inextricable from what he was unable to do? Who would he have been, who would he be, without the scars, the cuts, the hurts, the sores, the fractures, the infections, the splints, and the discharges?

But of course he would never know. Six months ago, they had managed to get the wound under control, and Andy had examined it, checking and rechecking, before issuing a fleet of warnings about what he should do if it reopened.

He had been only half listening. He was feeling light that day for some reason, but Andy was querulous, and along with a lecture about his leg, he had also endured another about his cutting (too much, Andy thought), and his general appearance (too thin, Andy thought).

He had admired his leg, pivoting it and examining the place where the wound had at last closed over, as Andy talked and talked. “Are you listening to me, Jude?” he had finally demanded.

“It looks good,” he told Andy, not answering him, but wanting his reassurance. “Doesn’t it?”

Andy sighed. “It looks—” And then he stopped, and was quiet, and he had looked up, had watched Andy shut his eyes, as if refocusing himself, and then open them again. “It looks good, Jude,” he’d said, quietly. “It does.”

He had felt, then, a great surge of gratitude, because he knew Andy didn’t think it looked good, would never think it looked good. To Andy, his body was an onslaught of terrors, one against which the two of them had to be constantly attentive. He knew Andy thought he was self-destructive, or delusional, or in denial.

But what Andy never understood about him was this: he was an optimist. Every month, every week, he chose to open his eyes, to live another day in the world. He did it when he was feeling so awful that sometimes the pain seemed to transport him to another state, one in which everything, even the past that he worked so hard to forget, seemed to fade into a gray watercolor wash. He did it when his memories crowded out all other thoughts, when it took real effort, real concentration, to tether himself to his current life, to keep himself

from raging with despair and shame. He did it when he was so exhausted of trying, when being awake and alive demanded such energy that he had to lie in bed thinking of reasons to get up and try again, when it would be much easier to go to the bathroom and untape the plastic zipped bag containing his cotton pads and loose razors and alcohol wipes and bandages from its hiding place beneath the sink and simply surrender. Those were the very bad days.

It really had been a mistake, that night before New Year’s Eve when he sat in the bathroom drawing the razor across his arm: he had been half asleep still; he was normally never so careless. But when he realized what he had done, there had been a minute, two minutes—he had counted—when he genuinely hadn’t known what to do, when sitting there, and letting this accident become its own conclusion, seemed easier than making the decision himself, a decision that would ripple past him to include Willem, and Andy, and days and months of consequences.

He hadn’t known, finally, what had compelled him to grab his towel from its bar and wrap it around his arm, and then pull himself to his feet and wake Willem up. But with each minute that passed, he moved further and further from the other option, the events unfolding themselves with a speed he couldn’t control, and he longed for that year right after the injury, before he met Andy, when it seemed that everything might be improved upon, and that his future self might be something bright and clean, when he knew so little but had such hope, and faith that his hope might one day be rewarded.



Before New York there had been law school, and before that, college, and before that, there was Philadelphia, and the long, slow trip across country, and before that, there was Montana, and the boys’ home, and before Montana was the Southwest, and the motel rooms, and the lonely stretches of road and the hours spent in the car. And before that was South Dakota and the monastery. And before that? A father and a mother, presumably. Or, more realistically, simply a man and a woman. And then, probably, just a woman. And then him.

It was Brother Peter, who taught him math, and was always reminding him of his good fortune, who told him he’d been found in a garbage can. “Inside a trash bag, stuffed with eggshells and old lettuce and spoiled spaghetti—and you,” Brother Peter said. “In the alley behind the drugstore, you know the one,” even though he didn’t, as

he rarely left the monastery.

Later, Brother Michael claimed this wasn’t even true. “You weren’t in the trash bin,” he told him. “You were next to the trash bin.” Yes, he conceded, there had been a trash bag, but he had been atop it, not in it, and at any rate, who knew what was in the trash bag itself, and who cared? More likely it was things thrown away from the pharmacy: cardboard and tissues and twist ties and packing chips. “You mustn’t believe everything Brother Peter says,” he reminded him, as he often did, along with: “You mustn’t indulge this tendency to self-mythologize,” as he said whenever he asked for details of how he’d come to live at the monastery. “You came, and you’re here now, and you should concentrate on your future, and not on the past.”

They had created the past for him. He was found naked, said Brother Peter (or in just a diaper, said Brother Michael), but either way, it was assumed he’d been left to, as they said, let nature have its way with him, because it was mid-April and still freezing, and a newborn couldn’t have survived for long in that weather. He must have been there for only a few minutes, however, because he was still almost warm when they found him, and the snow hadn’t yet filled the car’s tire tracks, nor the footprints (sneakers, probably a woman’s size eight) that led to the trash bin and then away from it. He was lucky they had found him (it was fate they had found him). Everything he had—his name, his birthday (itself an estimate), his shelter, his very life—was because of them. He should be grateful (they didn’t expect him to be grateful to them; they expected him to be grateful to God).

He never knew what they might answer and what they might not. A

simple question (Had he been crying when they found him? Had there been a note? Had they looked for whoever had left him?) would be dismissed or unknown or unexplained, but there were declarative answers for the more complicated ones.

“The state couldn’t find anyone to take you.” (Brother Peter, again.) “And so we said we’d keep you here as a temporary measure, and then months turned into years and here you are. The end. Now finish these equations; you’re taking all day.”

But why couldn’t the state find anyone? Theory one (beloved of Brother Peter): There were simply too many unknowns—his ethnicity, his parentage, possible congenital health problems, and on and on. Where had he come from? Nobody knew. None of the local hospitals had recorded a recent live birth that matched his description. And that was worrisome to potential guardians. Theory two (Brother

Michael’s): This was a poor town in a poor region in a poor state. No matter the public sympathy—and there had been sympathy, he wasn’t to forget that—it was quite another thing to add an extra child to one’s household, especially when one’s household was already so stretched. Theory three (Father Gabriel’s): He was meant to stay here. It had been God’s will. This was his home. And now he needed to stop asking questions.

Then there was a fourth theory, invoked by almost all of them when he misbehaved: He was bad, and had been bad from the beginning. “You must have done something very bad to be left behind like that,” Brother Peter used to tell him after he hit him with the board, rebuking him as he stood there, sobbing his apologies. “Maybe you cried so much they just couldn’t stand it any longer.” And he’d cry harder, fearing that Brother Peter was correct.

For all their interest in history, they were collectively irritated when he took interest in his own, as if he was persisting in a particularly tiresome hobby that he wasn’t outgrowing at a fast enough rate. Soon he learned not to ask, or at least not to ask directly, although he was always alert to stray pieces of information that he might learn in unlikely moments, from unlikely sources. With Brother Michael, he read Great Expectations, and managed to misdirect the brother into a long segue about what life for an orphan would be like in nineteenth-century London, a place as foreign to him as Pierre, just a hundred-some miles away. The lesson eventually became a lecture, as he knew it would, but from it he did learn that he, like Pip, would have been given to a relative if there were any to be identified or had. So there were none, clearly. He was alone.

His possessiveness was also a bad habit that needed to be corrected.

He couldn’t remember when he first began coveting something that he could own, something that would be his and no one else’s. “Nobody here owns anything,” they told him, but was that really true? He knew that Brother Peter had a tortoiseshell comb, for example, the color of freshly tapped tree sap and just as light-filled, of which he was very proud and with which he brushed his mustache every morning. One day the comb disappeared, and Brother Peter had interrupted his history lesson with Brother Matthew to grab him by the shoulders and shake him, yelling that he had stolen the comb and had better return it if he knew what was good for him. (Father Gabriel later found the comb, which had slipped into the shallow wedge of space between the brother’s desk and the radiator.) And Brother

Matthew had an original clothbound edition of The Bostonians, which had a soft-rubbed green spine and which he once held before him so he could look at its cover (“Don’t touch! I said don’t touch!”). Even Brother Luke, his favorite of the brothers, who rarely spoke and never scolded him, had a bird that all the others considered his. Technically, said Brother David, the bird was no one’s, but it had been Brother Luke who had found it and nursed it and fed it and to whom it flew, and so if Luke wanted it, Luke could have it.

Brother Luke was responsible for the monastery’s garden and greenhouse, and in the warm months, he would help him with small tasks. He knew from eavesdropping on the other brothers that Brother Luke had been a rich man before he came to the monastery. But then something happened, or he had done something (it was never clear which), and he either lost most of his money or gave it away, and now he was here, and just as poor as the others, although it was Brother Luke’s money that had paid for the greenhouse, and which helped defray some of the monastery’s operating expenses. Something about the way the other brothers mostly avoided Luke made him think he might be bad, although Brother Luke was never bad, not to him.

It was shortly after Brother Peter accused him of stealing his comb that he actually stole his first item: a package of crackers from the kitchen. He was passing by one morning on the way to the room they had set aside for his schooling, and no one was there, and the package was on the countertop, just within his reach, and he had, on impulse, grabbed it and run, stuffing it under the scratchy wool tunic he wore, a miniature version of the brothers’ own. He had detoured so he could hide it under his pillow, which had made him late for class with Brother Matthew, who had hit him with a forsythia switch as punishment, but the secret of its existence filled him with something warm and joyous. That night, alone in bed, he ate one of the crackers (which he didn’t even really like) carefully, breaking it into eight sections with his teeth and letting each piece sit on his tongue until it became soft and gluey and he could swallow it whole.

After that, he stole more and more. There was nothing in the

monastery he really wanted, nothing that was really worth having, and so he simply took what he came across, with no real plan or craving: food when he could find it; a clacky black button he found on the floor of Brother Michael’s room in one of his post-breakfast prowlings; a pen from Father Gabriel’s desk, snatched when, mid-lecture, the father had turned from him to find a book; Brother Peter’s

comb (this last was the only one he planned, but it gave him no greater thrill than the others). He stole matches and pencils and pieces of paper—useless junk, but someone else’s junk—shoving them down his underwear and running back to his bedroom to hide them under his mattress, which was so thin that he could feel its every spring beneath his back at night.

“Stop that running around or I’ll have to beat you!” Brother Matthew would yell at him as he hurried to his room.

“Yes, Brother,” he would reply, and make himself slow to a walk.

It was the day he took his biggest prize that he was caught: Father Gabriel’s silver lighter, stolen directly off his desk when he’d had to interrupt his lecturing of him to answer a phone call. Father Gabriel had bent over his keyboard, and he had reached out and grabbed the lighter, palming its cool heavy weight in his hand until he was finally dismissed. Once outside the father’s office, he had hurriedly pushed it into his underwear and was walking as quickly as he could back to his room when he turned the corner without looking and ran directly into Brother Pavel. Before the brother could shout at him, he had fallen back, and the lighter had fallen out, bouncing against the flagstones.

He had been beaten, of course, and shouted at, and in what he thought was a final punishment, Father Gabriel had called him into his office and told him that he would teach him a lesson about stealing other people’s things. He had watched, uncomprehending but so frightened that he couldn’t even cry, as Father Gabriel folded his handkerchief to the mouth of a bottle of olive oil, and then rubbed the oil into the back of his left hand. And then he had taken his lighter— the same one he had stolen—and held his hand under the flame until the greased spot had caught fire, and his whole hand was swallowed by a white, ghostly glow. Then he had screamed and screamed, and the father had hit him in the face for screaming. “Stop that shouting,” he’d shouted. “This is what you get. You’ll never forget not to steal again.”

When he regained consciousness, he was back in his bed, and his

hand was bandaged. All of his things were gone: the stolen things, of course, but the things he had found on his own as well—the stones and feathers and arrowheads, and the fossil that Brother Luke had given him for his fifth birthday, the first gift he had ever received.

After that, after he was caught, he was made to go to Father Gabriel’s office every night and take off his clothes, and the father would examine inside him for any contraband. And later, when things

got worse, he would think back to that package of crackers: if only he hadn’t stolen them. If only he hadn’t made things so bad for himself.

His rages began after his evening examinations with Father Gabriel, which soon expanded to include midday ones with Brother Peter. He would have tantrums, throwing himself against the stone walls of the monastery and screaming as loudly as he could, knocking the back of his damaged ugly hand (which, six months later, still hurt sometimes, a deep, insistent pulsing) against the hard, mean corners of the wooden dinner tables, banging the back of his neck, his elbows, his cheeks—all the most painful, tender parts—against the side of his desk. He had them in the day and at night, he couldn’t control them, he would feel them move over him like a fog and let himself relax into them, his body and voice moving in ways that excited and repelled him, for as much as he hurt afterward, he knew it scared the brothers, that they feared his anger and noise and power. They hit him with whatever they could find, they started keeping a belt looped on a nail on the schoolroom wall, they took off their sandals and beat him for so long that the next day he couldn’t even sit, they called him a monster, they wished for his death, they told him they should have left him on the garbage bag. And he was grateful for this, too, for their help exhausting him, because he couldn’t lasso the beast himself and he needed their assistance to make it retreat, to make it walk backward into the cage until it freed itself again.

He started wetting his bed and was made to go visit the father more

often, for more examinations, and the more examinations the father gave him, the more he wet the bed. The father began visiting him in his room at night, and so did Brother Peter, and later, Brother Matthew, and he got worse and worse: they made him sleep in his wet nightshirt, they made him wear it during the day. He knew how badly he stank, like urine and blood, and he would scream and rage and howl, interrupting lessons, pushing books off tables so that the brothers would have to start hitting him right away, the lesson abandoned. Sometimes he was hit hard enough so that he lost consciousness, which is what he began to crave: that blackness, where time passed and he wasn’t in it, where things were done to him but he didn’t know it.

Sometimes there were reasons behind his rages, although they were reasons known only to him. He felt so ceaselessly dirty, so soiled, as if inside he was a rotten building, like the condemned church he had been taken to see in one of his rare trips outside the monastery: the

beams speckled with mold, the rafters splintered and holey with nests of termites, the triangles of white sky showing immodestly through the ruined rooftop. He had learned in a history lesson about leeches, and how many years ago they had been thought to siphon the unhealthy blood out of a person, sucking the disease foolishly and greedily into their fat wormy bodies, and he had spent his free hour— after classes but before chores—wading in the stream on the edge of the monastery’s property, searching for leeches of his own. And when he couldn’t find any, when he was told there weren’t any in that creek, he screamed and screamed until his voice deserted him, and even then he couldn’t stop, even when his throat felt like it was filling itself with hot blood.

Once he was in his room, and both Father Gabriel and Brother Peter were there, and he was trying not to shout, because he had learned that the quieter he was, the sooner it would end, and he thought he saw, passing outside the doorframe quick as a moth, Brother Luke, and had felt humiliated, although he didn’t know the word for humiliation then. And so the next day he had gone in his free time to Brother Luke’s garden and had snapped off every one of the daffodils’ heads, piling them at the door of Luke’s gardener’s shed, their fluted crowns pointing toward the sky like open beaks.

Later, alone again and moving through his chores, he had been regretful, and sorrow had made his arms heavy, and he had dropped the bucket of water he was lugging from one end of the room to the other, which made him toss himself to the ground and scream with frustration and remorse.

At dinner, he was unable to eat. He looked for Luke, wondering when and how he would be punished, and when he would have to apologize to the brother. But he wasn’t there. In his anxiety, he dropped the metal pitcher of milk, the cold white liquid splattering across the floor, and Brother Pavel, who was next to him, yanked him from the bench and pushed him onto the ground. “Clean it up,” Brother Pavel barked at him, throwing a dishrag at him. “But that’ll be all you’ll eat until Friday.” It was Wednesday. “Now go to your room.” He ran, before the brother changed his mind.

The door to his room—a converted closet, windowless and wide enough for only a cot, at one end of the second story above the dining hall—was always left open, unless one of the brothers or the father were with him, in which case it was usually closed. But even as he rounded the corner from the staircase, he could see the door was shut,

and for a while he lingered in the quiet, empty hallway, unsure what might be waiting for him: one of the brothers, probably. Or a monster, perhaps. After the stream incident, he occasionally daydreamed that the shadows thickening the corners were giant leeches, swaying upright, their glossy segmented skins dark and greasy, waiting to smother him with their wet, soundless weight. Finally he was brave enough and ran straight at the door, opening it with a slam, only to find his bed, with its mud-brown wool blanket, and the box of tissues, and his schoolbooks on their shelf. And then he saw it in the corner, near the head of the bed: a glass jar with a bouquet of daffodils, their bright funnels frilled at their tops.

He sat on the floor near the jar and rubbed one of the flowers’ velvet heads between his fingers, and in that moment his sadness was so great, so overpowering, that he wanted to tear at himself, to rip the scar from the back of his hand, to shred himself into bits as he had done to Luke’s flowers.

But why had he done such a thing to Brother Luke? It wasn’t as if Luke was the only one who was kind to him—when he wasn’t being made to punish him, Brother David always praised him and told him how quick he was, and even Brother Peter regularly brought him books from the library in town to read and discussed them with him afterward, listening to his opinions as if he were a real person—but not only had Luke never beaten him, he had made efforts to reassure him, to express his allegiance with him. The previous Sunday, he was to recite aloud the pre-supper prayer, and as he stood at the foot of Father Gabriel’s table, he was suddenly seized by an impulse to misbehave, to grab a handful of the cubed potatoes from the dish before him and fling them around the room. He could already feel the scrape in his throat from the screaming he would do, the singe of the belt as it slapped across his back, the darkness he would sink into, the giddy bright of day he would wake to. He watched his arm lift itself from his side, watched his fingers open, petal-like, and float toward the bowl. And just then he had raised his head and had seen Brother Luke, who gave him a wink, so solemn and brief, like a camera’s shutter-click, that he was at first unaware he had seen anything at all. And then Luke winked at him again, and for some reason this calmed him, and he came back to himself, and said his lines and sat down, and dinner passed without incident.

And now there were these flowers. But before he could think about

what they might mean, the door opened, and there was Brother Peter,

and he stood, waiting in that terrible moment that he could never prepare for, in which anything might happen, and anything might come.

The next day, he had left directly after his classes for the greenhouse, determined that he should say something to Luke. But as he drew closer, his resolve deserted him, and he dawdled, kicking at small stones and kneeling to pick up and then discard twigs, throwing them toward the forest that bordered the property. What, really, did he mean to say? He was about to turn back, to retreat toward a particular tree on the north edge of the grounds in whose cleft of roots he had dug a hole and begun a new collection of things—though these things were only objects he had discovered in the woods and were safely nobody’s: little rocks; a branch that was shaped a bit like a lean dog in mid-leap—and where he spent most of his free time, unearthing his possessions and holding them in his hands, when he heard someone say his name and turned and saw it was Luke, holding his hand up in greeting and walking toward him.

“I thought it was you,” Brother Luke said as he neared him

(disingenuously, it would occur to him much later, for who else would it have been? He was the only child at the monastery), and although he tried, he was unable to find the words to apologize to Luke, unable in truth to find the words for anything, and instead he found himself crying. He was never embarrassed when he cried, but in this moment he was, and he turned away from Brother Luke and held the back of his scarred hand before his eyes. He was suddenly aware of how hungry he was, and how it was only Thursday afternoon, and he wouldn’t have anything to eat until the next day.

“Well,” said Luke, and he could feel the brother kneeling, very close to him. “Don’t cry; don’t cry.” But his voice was so gentle, and he cried harder.

Then Brother Luke stood, and when he spoke next, his voice was jollier. “Jude, listen,” he said. “I have something to show you. Come with me,” and he started walking toward the greenhouse, turning around to make sure he was following. “Jude,” he called again, “come with me,” and he, curious despite himself, began to follow him, walking toward the greenhouse he knew so well with the beginnings of an unfamiliar eagerness, as if he had never seen it before.

As an adult, he became obsessed in spells with trying to identify the exact moment in which things had started going so wrong, as if he could freeze it, preserve it in agar, hold it up and teach it before a

class: This is when it happened. This is where it started. He’d think: Was it when I stole the crackers? Was it when I ruined Luke’s daffodils? Was it when I had my first tantrum? And, more impossibly, was it when I did whatever I did that made her leave me behind that drugstore? And what had that been?

But really, he would know: it was when he walked into the greenhouse that afternoon. It was when he allowed himself to be escorted in, when he gave up everything to follow Brother Luke. That had been the moment. And after that, it had never been right again.



There are five more steps and then he is at their front door, where he can’t fit the key into the lock because his hands are shaking, and he curses, nearly dropping it. And then he is in the apartment, and there are only fifteen steps from the front door to his bed, but he still has to stop halfway and bring himself down slowly to the ground, and pull himself the final feet to his room on his elbows. For a while he lies there, everything shifting around him, until he is strong enough to pull the blanket down over him. He will lie there until the sun leaves the sky and the apartment grows dark, and then, finally, he will hoist himself onto his bed with his arms, where he will fall asleep without eating or washing his face or changing, his teeth clacking against themselves from the pain. He will be alone, because Willem will go out with his girlfriend after the show, and by the time he gets home, it will be very late.

When he wakes, it will be very early, and he will feel better, but his

wound will have wept during the night, and pus will have soaked through the gauze he had applied on Sunday morning before he left for his walk, his disastrous walk, and his pants will be stuck to his skin with its ooze. He will send a message to Andy, and then leave another with his exchange, and then he will shower, carefully removing the bandage, which will bring scraps of rotten flesh and clots of blackened mucus-thick blood with it. He will pant and gasp to keep from shouting. He will remember the conversation he had with Andy the last time this happened, when Andy suggested he get a wheelchair to keep on reserve, and although he hates the thought of using a wheelchair again, he will wish he had one now. He will think that Andy is right, that his walks are a sign of his inexcusable hubris, that his pretending that everything is fine, that he is not in fact disabled, is selfish, for the consequences it means for other people,

people who have been inexplicably, unreasonably generous and good to him for years, for almost decades now.

He will turn off the shower and lower himself into the tub and lean his cheek against the tile and wait to feel better. He will be reminded of how trapped he is, trapped in a body he hates, with a past he hates, and how he will never be able to change either. He will want to cry, from frustration and hatred and pain, but he hasn’t cried since what happened with Brother Luke, after which he told himself he would never cry again. He will be reminded that he is a nothing, a scooped-out husk in which the fruit has long since mummified and shrunk, and now rattles uselessly. He will experience that prickle, that shiver of disgust that afflicts him in both his happiest and his most wretched moments, the one that asks him who he thinks he is to inconvenience so many people, to think he has the right to keep going when even his own body tells him he should stop.

He will sit and wait and breathe and he will be grateful that it is so

early, that there is no chance of Willem discovering him and having to save him once again. He will (though he won’t be able to remember how later) somehow work himself into a standing position, get himself out of the tub, take some aspirin, go to work. At work, the words will blur and dance on the page, and by the time Andy calls, it will only be seven a.m., and he will tell Marshall he’s sick, refuse Marshall’s offer of a car, but let him—this is how bad he feels—help him into a cab. He will make the ride uptown that he had stupidly walked just the previous day. And when Andy opens the door, he will try to remain composed.

“Judy,” Andy will say, and he will be in his gentle mode, there will be no lectures from him today, and he will allow Andy to lead him past his empty waiting room, his office not yet open for the day, and help him onto the table where he has spent hours, days of hours, will let Andy help undress him even, as he closes his eyes and waits for the small bright hurt of Andy easing the tape off his leg, and pulling away from the raw skin the sodden gauze beneath.

My life, he will think, my life. But he won’t be able to think beyond this, and he will keep repeating the words to himself—part chant, part curse, part reassurance—as he slips into that other world that he visits when he is in such pain, that world he knows is never far from his own but that he can never remember after: My life.

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