Read To Paradise Online

Authors: Hanya Yanagihara

To Paradise (83 page)

BOOK: To Paradise
2.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

That was the end of the story. I had always assumed it was a Hawaiian folktale, but it wasn’t, and when I asked her who had told her that fable, she would say, “My grandmother.” When I was in college, and taking an ethnography class, I asked her to write it down for me. She scoffed. “Why?” she asked. “You already know it.” Yes, I told her, but it was important for me to hear it as she would tell it, not as I remembered it. But she never did, and I was too proud to ask her again, and then the class ended.

Then, several years later—we were barely communicating by then, pulled apart by mutual lack of interest and disappointment—she sent me an email, and in the email was the story. This was during my Wanderjahr, and I remember getting it while I was at a café in Kamakura with friends, although it wasn’t until the next week, when I was on Jeju, that I read it. There it was, the familiar old inexplicable story, just as I’d remembered it. The lizard died, as he always did; the earth restored itself, as it always did; the moon glowed in the sky, as it always would. But this time, there was a difference: After everything had grown back, my grandmother wrote, the lizard returned, although this time he was not a lizard, but
he mea helek
—a thing that goes upright. And this creature behaved in exactly the same way as his long-deceased ancestor had: He ate and ate and ate, until one day he looked about him and realized there was nothing left, and he too was forced to swallow the moon.

You know of course what I’m thinking. For a long time, I
assumed that it would be a virus that would destroy us all in the end, that humans would be felled by something both greater and much smaller than ourselves. Now I realize that that is not the case. We are the lizard, but we are also the moon. Some of us will die, but others of us will keep doing what we always have, continuing on our own oblivious way, doing what our nature compels us to, silent and unknowable and unstoppable in our rhythms.

Love, Charles

Dear P,
April 2, 2085

Thanks for your note, and for the information. Let’s hope it’s true. I have everything ready just in case. Thinking about it makes me squirrelly, and so I won’t discuss it here. I know you said not to say thank you, but I’m saying it just the same. But I really do need it to happen, more than before, which I’ll explain.

Charlie’s been fine, or at least as fine as can be expected. I explained the Enemies Act to her, and while I know she understands it, I don’t know that she fully comprehends the effect it will have on her life. She just knows that it’s the reason she’s been expelled from college, three months before she was to have graduated, and why we had to visit the zone registrar to have her identity document stamped. But she doesn’t seem particularly troubled or shaken or depressed, for which I’m relieved. “I’m sorry, little cat, I’m sorry,” I kept telling her, and she shook her head. “It isn’t your fault, Grandfather,” she said, and I wanted to cry. She’s being punished for parents she never knew—isn’t that punishment enough? How much more must she endure? It’s also ludicrous—this act won’t stop the insurgents. Nothing will. In the meantime, there are Charlie and her new tribe of the extralegal: the children and brothers and sisters of enemies of the state, most of them long since dead or disappeared. In the last Committee meeting, we were told that if the insurgents can’t be
quelled, or at least controlled, then “more severe restrictions” will have to be implemented. No one clarified what that meant.

As you can probably see, I’ve been in a far worse state than she has. I keep turning her future, which has at times—as I don’t need to tell you—filled me with dread, over and over in my head. She had been doing well at school—she had even enjoyed it. I had dreamed of her earning her master’s, maybe even her doctorate, of her finding a position in a small lab somewhere: nowhere fancy, nowhere flashy, nowhere prestigious. She could go to a research facility in a smaller municipality, have a good, quiet life.

But now she is prohibited from ever earning her degree. I had immediately gone to my acquaintance at Interior, whom I begged for an exception. “Come on, Mark,” I told him. He had met Charlie once, years ago; after she’d come home from the hospital, he had brought her a stuffed rabbit. His own son had died. “Enough of this. Let her have another chance.”

He had sighed. “If the mood were different, I would, Charles, I promise you,” he said. “But my hands are tied—even for you.” Then he said that Charlie was “one of the lucky ones,” that he’d already “pulled some strings” for her. What that means, I don’t know, and I suddenly didn’t want to know. But what
clear is that I’m being pushed aside. I’ve known it for a while, but this was proof. It won’t happen immediately, but it will happen. I’ve seen it before. You don’t lose your influence at once—you lose it by degrees, over months and years. If you’re lucky, you just become insignificant, assigned a meaningless job where you can do no harm. If you’re unlucky, you become a scapegoat, and although it sounds like a perverse sort of bragging, I know that, given what I’ve implemented, what I’ve planned, what I’ve overseen, I am a candidate for some kind of public disavowal.

So I have to act quickly, just in case. The first thing is that I have to find her a job at a state institution. It’ll be difficult to do, but she would be safe, and she would have it for life. I’ll go to Wesley, who won’t dare say no to me, even now. And then, as absurd as it sounds, I have to find her a husband. I don’t know how long I have—I want
to make sure I’ve placed her in a good situation, and if it’s not, I want to be able to fix it for her. That at least I can do.

I’ll wait to hear from you.

Love to you and Olivier, C.

My dear Peter,
January 15, 2086

Yesterday we had a bit of relief from the heat wave, which is expected to move north tomorrow. The past few days have been agony: more deaths, and then I had to use some of my coupons to replace the air conditioner. I’d been saving them to buy Charlie something nice, something to wear for our appointments. You know I don’t like asking you for these things, but would you mind sending me something for her? A dress, or a blouse and a skirt? The drought means there’s very little fabric coming into the city, and when it does, it’s prohibitive. I’m attaching a picture of her here, and her sizes. Normally, of course, I’d have the money, but I’m trying to save as much as I can to give to her when she gets married, especially as I’m still getting paid in gold.

Certain expenses, however, can’t be avoided. It was A. who introduced me to this new marriage broker, the same person he used to arrange his own marriage, to a widowed lesbian. If I needed proof of how diminished my reputation is, it’s that I couldn’t immediately get an appointment with this broker, although he’s known to help anyone who’s affiliated with a state ministry at a senior level. Yet it took A., whom I rarely see anymore, to secure a meeting with him.

I hadn’t liked him from the start. He was tall and bony and unable to make eye contact, and he made it clear in every way he could that he was seeing me as a favor.

“Where do you live?” he asked, although I knew he already knew the basic information of my life.

“Zone Eight,” I said, playing along.

“I usually only see applicants from Zone Fourteen,” he said,
which I also already knew, for he had told me this by letter before we even met.

“Yes, and I’m very grateful,” I said, as blandly as I could. For a moment, there was silence. I said nothing. He said nothing. But finally, he sighed—what more could he do, really?—and took out his pad of paper to begin our interview. It was stiflingly hot in his office, even with the air-conditioning. I asked for a glass of water, and he looked affronted, as if I’d asked for something impossible, like brandy or scotch, and then called for his secretary to fetch me some.

And then the real humiliation began. Age? Occupation? What rank? Where exactly did I live in Zone Eight? Assets? Ethnicity? Where had I been born? When had I been naturalized? How long had I been at RU? Was I married? Had I ever been married? To whom? When did he die? How? How many children had we had? Was he my biological child? What had been his father’s ethnicity? His mother’s? Was my son living? When did he die? How? I was here on behalf of my granddaughter, was that correct? Who was her mother? Why, where was she? Was she living? Was my granddaughter my son’s biological child? Had she or my son had any health problems or conditions? With each answer, I could feel the air around me change and change and change, getting dimmer and dimmer and dimmer, the years crashing and colliding into one another.

Then came the questions about Charlie, although he had already seen her papers, the scarlet “Enemy Relation” stamp x-ed across her face: How old was she? How much education had she had? What was her height and weight? What were her interests? When had she become sterile, and how? For how long had she taken Xychor? And, finally, what was she like?

It had been a long time since I had had to describe so precisely what Charlie was and wasn’t, what she could and couldn’t do, what she excelled at and what she struggled with: I think I last had to do this when I was trying to secure her a place at her high school. But after I told him the fundamentals, as best I could, I found myself still talking—about how attentive she had been to Little Cat, how, when he was dying, she would follow him from room to room until she
had understood that he didn’t want to be followed, that he wanted to be alone; about how, when she slept, her forehead furrowed in a way that made her look not angry but inquisitive and thoughtful; about how, although she could not give me a hug or kiss, she knew, always, when I was sad or worried, and would bring me a cup of water or, when we’d had it, a cup of tea; about how, as a child, just home from the hospital, she would sometimes slump against me after her seizures and let me stroke her head, her hair light and thin and as soft as down; about how the one thing that remained from her pre-sickness life was her scent, something warm and animal, like hot, clean fur after it’s been in the sun; about how she could be resourceful in ways you wouldn’t expect—she was rarely defeated, she would always try. After a while, some part of me realized that the broker had stopped taking notes, that the room was quiet except for my voice, and yet still I talked, even though it felt with every sentence like I was ripping my heart from my chest and then replacing it, again and again—that terrible, awful pain, that overwhelming joy and sorrow I felt whenever I spoke about Charlie.

Finally, I stopped, and into the silence, which was now so complete it vibrated, he said, “And what does she want in a husband?” And here again, I felt that anguish, because the very fact that it was I having this appointment, I and not her, was really all the broker needed to know: Everything else I said about Charlie, everything else she was, would be eclipsed by this fact.

But I told him. Someone kind, I said. Someone protective, someone decent, someone patient. Someone wise. He didn’t have to be rich, or educated, or clever, or good-looking. He just had to promise me that he would protect her forever.

“What do you have to offer him in return?” the broker asked. A dowry, he meant. I had been told that, given Charlie’s “condition,” I would likely have to offer a dowry.

I told him my offer with as much confidence as I could, and his pen paused over the paper, and then he wrote it down.

“I’ll need to meet her,” he said, at last, “and then I’ll know how to direct my search.”

And so, yesterday, we went back. I had debated about whether I
should try to coach Charlie, and then had decided not to, because it would be both pointless and anxious-making for her. Consequently, I was much more nervous than she was.

She did well, as well as she could. I have lived with her, and loved her, for so long that it sometimes takes me aback when I watch other people meeting her, when I understand anew that they don’t see her as I do. I know this, of course, but I allow myself the luxury of incomprehension. And then I look at their faces, and there it is again: my heart being ripped from its veins and arteries; my heart being replaced, sucking back into my chest.

The broker told her that he and I were going to talk and that she could wait in the reception area, and I had smiled and nodded at her before following him inside, almost shuffling, as if I were back in school again and had been summoned by the headmaster for causing trouble. I had wished I might faint, or tumble to the floor, something to upset the moment, to garner some sympathy, some sign of humanity. But my body, as always, performed as it ought to, and I sat and stared at this man who could secure my child’s safety.

For a moment, there was silence, each of us staring at the other, before I broke it: I was tired of this theatricality, of how this man understood our vulnerability and how he seemed to enjoy it. I didn’t want to hear him say what I knew he would, but I also wanted him to say it, because then this moment would be over, would be becoming the past. “Do you have anyone in mind?” I asked him.

Another silence. “Dr. Griffith,” he said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’m the broker for you.”

Another heart rip. “Why not?” I asked, even as I didn’t want to ask, because I didn’t want to hear the answer.
Say it,
I thought.
I dare you to say it.

“With respect, Doctor,” he said, next, though there was no respect in his voice, “with
—I think you have to be realistic.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.

“Doctor, forgive me,” he said, “but your granddaughter is—”

“My granddaughter is what?” I snapped, and there was another silence.

He paused. I could see him recognizing how angry I was; I could
see him realizing I wanted to have a reason to fight with him; I could see him preparing to be careful.

“Special,” he said.

“That’s right,” I said. “She
special, she is very special, and she will need a husband who understands how special she is.”

I must have sounded as livid as I was, because his voice, until then devoid of compassion, changed somewhat. “I want to show you something,” he said, and tugged a thin envelope from the bottom of a stack on his desk. “Here are the matches I found for your granddaughter,” he said.

BOOK: To Paradise
2.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Sefarad by Antonio Muñoz Molina
The Pages by Murray Bail
The Song of the Flea by Gerald Kersh
Mystical Mayhem by Kiki Howell
This Blackened Night by L.K. Below
Cassandra Austin by Callyand the Sheriff
Blacklist by Sara Paretsky