I have friends who are capable of writing a very rough draft and then going back and embroidering - they're sort of the cathedral builders of fiction. I never really know what I'm doing, and all my pleasure's on the level of the line. It's a weird way to move forward. It's kind of like a way to caterpillar your way through these great woods. The best ones, whatever I feel like I'm writing about, some other secret thing will begin to come into focus.
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Heaven, Kiwi thought, would be the reading room of a great library. But it would be private. Cozy. You wouldn't have to worry about some squeaky-shoed librarian turning the lights off on you or gauging your literacy by reading the names on your book spines, and there wouldn't be a single other patron. The whole place would hum with a library's peace, filtering softly over you like white bars of light...
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There were many deficits in our swamp education, but Grandpa Sawtooth, to his credit, taught us the names of whole townships that had been forgotten underwater. Black pioneers, Creek Indians, moonshiners, women, 'disappeared' boy soldiers who deserted their army camps. From Grandpa we learned how to peer beneath the sea-glare of the 'official, historical' Florida records we found in books. "Prejudice, " as defined by Sawtooth Bigtree, was a kind of prehistoric arithmetic-a "damn, fool math"-in which some people counted and others did not. It meant white names on white headstones in the big cemetery in Cypress Point, and black and brown bodies buried in swamp water. At ten, I couldn't articulate much but I got the message: to be a true historian, you had to mourn amply and well.
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There is a rustle of dead leaves. Dried sap, a branch crack, the whirring teeth of Mr. Omaru's saw. My father-my real father-is a limb that got axed off the family tree a long time ago now. My mother coughs and cleans phantom juices off her silver with a cloth doily. My sisters clench their knives.
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As a kid I heard the word malignancy as "Malig-Nancy" like an evil woman's name, no matter how many times Kiwi and the Chief and Dr. Gautman himself corrected me. Our mother had mistaken her first symptoms for a pregnancy, and so I still pictured the Malig-Nancy as a baby, a tiny, eyeless fist of a sister, killing her.
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Wait, that's your idea? That's your expert advice? You're going to tell these novelists to just keep going? You're going to tell these honest, earnest writers: You gotta have faith? Those are George Michael lyrics, asshole. If they wanted that pep talk, they could just hang out inside a mall elevator.
I look for my sister but it's hopeless. The goggles are all fogged up. Every fish burns lantern-bright, and I can't tell the living from the dead. It's all just blurry light, light smeared like some celestial fingerprint all over the rocks and the reef and the sunken garbage. Olivia could be everywhere.
My fingers curl through the holes in the wicker, through the wet grass beneath it, trying to hold tight to the sharp blades of the present. Somewhere in my brain a sinkhole is bubbling over, and each bubble contains a scene from a tiny sunken world ... I have never been the prophet of my own past before. It makes me wonder how the healthy dreamers can bear to sleep at all, if sleep means that you have to peer into that sinkhole by yourself. ... I had almost forgotten this occipital sorrow, the way you are so alone with the things you see in dreams.
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Granana doesn't understand what the big deal is. She didn't cry at Olivia's funeral, and I doubt she even remembers Olivia's name. Granana lost, like, ninety-two million kids in childbirth. All of her brothers died in the war. She survived the Depression by stealing radish bulbs from her neighbors' garden, and fishing the elms for pigeons. Dad likes to remind us of this in a grave voice, as if it explained her jaundiced pitilessness: "Boys. Your grandmother ate pigeons.
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A single note, held in an amber suspension of time, like a charcoal drawing of Icarus falling. It was sad and fierce all at once, alive with a lonely purity. It went on and on, until my own lungs were burning. "What bird are you calling?" I asked finally, when I couldn't stand it any longer. The Bird Man stopped whistling. He grinned, so that I could see all his pebbly teeth. "You.
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