Chapter no 36

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

The first time Sam saw Marx die was in October of 1993. Marx had been cast as Banquo in a black box production of Macbeth. “So, here’s the setup,” Marx explained. “Fleance and I are on our way to a dinner party at Macbeth’s. We dismount our horses, though I highly doubt there will be horses, this being college theater. I light a torch—how else will the murderers see me? The three murderers approach! They attack. I die spectacularly, cursing all responsible: O treachery! Etcetera, etcetera.” Marx lowered his voice, “I can already tell the director’s an idiot. I’m going to have to work out the blocking entirely on my own, or the whole thing will end up looking shoddy. Sam, you’ll play the murderers, okay? I’ll come in from the bathroom, and then you’ll surprise me.” Marx handed Sam his paperback Macbeth, open to act 3, scene 3.

Sam had only lived with Marx for twenty-three days, and he didn’t feel he knew Marx well enough to pretend to murder him, or even run lines with him. He did not wish to be entangled in someone else’s drama, someone else’s life. The less he knew about his roommate and the less his roommate knew about him, the better.

The main thing Sam did not wish Marx to know about him was that he had a disability, though Sam did not think of it as a disability—other people had disabilities; Sam had “the thing with my foot.” Sam experienced his body as an antiquated joystick that could reliably move only in cardinal directions. The way to avoid appearing disabled was to avoid situations in which one looked disabled: uneven terrain, unfamiliar staircases, and most analog forms of frolic. Sam demurred, “I’m not much of an actor.”

“It’s not acting,” Marx said. “It’s pretend murdering.”

“And I’ve got so much reading to do. And a problem set due on Wednesday.”

Marx rolled his eyes. He picked up a couch cushion. “This pillow will be Fleance.”

“Who’s Fleance?”

“My young son. He escapes.” Marx flung the pillow toward the door.

“Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly!”

“Never a good idea to let the son of the man you’ve murdered escape,” Sam said. “Is he Fleance because he flees?”

“Am I Banquo because I die on the way to a banquet? These are solid questions, Sam.”

“What am I murdering you with?”

“A knife? A sword? I don’t think it says. He—or they, whatever Shakespeare is—writes vaguely, unhelpfully, ‘They attack.’ ”

“Well, I think the weapon makes a difference.” “I’ll leave the selection of a weapon to you.”

“Why don’t you counterattack? Aren’t you a warrior, or some such?” “Because I’m not expecting to be attacked. That’s where you come in.

Surprise me.” Marx smiled at Sam conspiratorially. “Help me. It’s my big scene, so, you know, I want it to look cool.”

“Your last scene, too, right? You die.”

“No, I come back as a ghost, but I don’t have any lines. I just show up at the banquet,” Marx said. “I’m not even sure if they’ll have me in the scene, or if it’ll be an empty chair. It depends on how much we’re in Macbeth’s point of view.”

“Is Banquo a good role?” Sam asked. “I’m not particularly familiar with Macbeth.”

“It’s the best friend. It’s not Macbeth. It’s not ‘A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.’ But it has its moments. I have a name! I get to die! I have a ghost! And I’m only a freshman, so there’s plenty of time for me to be the lead. The shame of it is, I’ve always wanted to play Macbeth, and I doubt anyone’ll stage it again before I graduate.”

For the next hour, Marx died a variety of ways. He fell back on the couch; he dropped to his knees; he staggered around the common room, clutching various parts of his body—his throat, his forearm, his wrist, his magnificent hair. He whispered his lines, and once, he yelled them so loudly, a prefect came by to make sure Marx wasn’t actually being murdered. Sam found that he barely thought about his foot. He enjoyed saying the murderers’ lines; hiding behind the door, then attacking Marx with a pillow from behind; pretending to put his hands around Marx’s neck. If Marx noticed that Sam’s attacks were always weighted toward the right, he did not say.

“You’re not that bad. Have you done any acting before?” Marx asked. “No,” Sam said. He thought he would leave it at that, but then, scant of

breath, flattered, and indiscreet, he found himself continuing, “My mom was a professional actress, so I used to run lines with her sometimes.”

“What does she do now?” “She…Well, she’s dead.” “I’m sorry.”

“A long time ago,” Sam said. It was one thing to concede having had a mother, but to tell the story of her death to a fantastic-looking person you barely knew…“By the way,” Sam said, “live animals are a bad idea for theater in general.”


“Not just college theater. You mentioned before—”

“I’m right there with you, Sam,” Marx said. “Maybe you should audition next semester?”

Sam shook his head. “Why not?”

“I’ve got a thing…Maybe you’ve…” Sam began. “In here. This is fine, but I don’t like being onstage. Shall we run it again?”

Sam had never been sure when he had become friends with Marx, but he supposed that night could reasonably be considered the beginning.

He had needed a starting data point in order to calculate the total number of days of their friendship. Once he settled on the night they

rehearsed Marx’s death, he determined the number to be 4,873 days, give or take. Sam normally took comfort in numbers, but he was disturbed by how paltry this particular number was, considering the presence Marx had maintained in his life. He performed the calculation twice to confirm. Yes, it was 4,873. This was the kind of baby math Sam did when he couldn’t sleep.

Four thousand eight hundred seventy-three, Sam thought, the dollars in a seventeen-year-old’s bank account when he’s flush, twice the number of passengers on the Titanic, the population of a town where everyone knows each other, the inflation-adjusted cost of a laptop in 1990, the weight of a teenage elephant, six months or so more than the number of days I knew my mother.

Once, when he was fifteen—just old enough to acknowledge the inner lives of others beyond himself; not yet old enough to have a driver’s license

—Sam had asked his grandmother how she’d gotten through the time after his mother’s death. She’d had a business to run, a sick grandson to care for, presumably her own grief to work through, though she was deeply unsentimental and never mentioned it. They were in her car on the way back from a math competition in San Diego, and Sam was giddy with the feeling of being better than everyone else at something that he didn’t care about at all.

Despite having almost died in a car accident, Sam relished these car trips. He had his best conversations with his grandmother in the car, at night, and though Bong Cha and Dong Hyun alternated chauffeur duties, he preferred when his grandmother drove. She was fast, and the trips took two- thirds of the time if Bong Cha was behind the wheel.

“How did we get through?” Bong Cha had been baffled by Sam’s question. “We got up in the morning,” she said finally. “We went to work. We went to the hospital. We came home. We went to sleep. We did it again.”

“But it must have been hard,” Sam persisted.

“The beginning was the hardest, but then days passed, and months, and years, and you got better, and it was not quite so hard,” Bong Cha said.

Sam thought she was finished entertaining the subject when she added, “Sometimes, I spoke to Anna anyway, and this helped a little.”

“Do you mean like a ghost?” His grandmother was the least likely person in the world to see ghosts.

“Sam, don’t be ridiculous. There are no ghosts.”

“Okay, so you spoke to her. She was definitely not a ghost. Did she ever reply?”

Bong Cha narrowed her eyes at Sam, deciding if her grandson was trying to trick her into appearing foolish. “Yes, in my mind, she did. I knew your mother so well I could play her part. The same with my own mother and my grandmother and my childhood best friend, Euna, who drowned in the lake by her cousin’s house. There are no ghosts, but up here”—she gestured toward her head—“it’s a haunted house.” She squeezed Sam’s hand and inelegantly changed the subject. “It’s time you learned how to drive.”

Concealed by darkness, Sam felt comfortable admitting to Bong Cha that he was more than a little scared to begin driving himself.

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