Mosquitoes hovered around me in such numbers that the tiny noise of their rubbing wings sounded cacophonous. And then I decided to smoke.
Now, I did think, the smoke will drive the bugs away. And, to some degree, it did. I'd be lying, though, if I claimed I became a smoker to ward off insects. I became a smoker because 1. I was on an Adirondack swing by myself, and 2. I had cigarettes, and 3. I figured that if everyone else could smoke a cigarette without coughing, I could damn well, too. In short, I didn't have a very good reason. So yeah, let's just say that 4. it was the bugs.
I made it through three entire drags before I felt nauseous and dizzy and only semi pleasantly buzzed. I got up to leave. As I stood, a voice behind me said:
"So do you really memorize last words?"
She ran up beside me and grabbed my shoulder and pushed me back onto the porch swing.
"Yeah," I said. And then hesitantly, I added, "You want to quiz me?"
"JFK," she said.
"That's obvious," I answered.
"Oh, is it now?" she asked.
"No. Those were his last words. Someone said, `Mr. President, you can't say Dallas doesn't love you,' and then he said, 'That's obvious,' and then he got shot."
She laughed. "God, that's awful. I shouldn't laugh. But I will," and then she laughed again. "Okay, Mr. Famous Last Words Boy. I have one for you." She reached into her overstuffed backpack and pulled out a book. "Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The General in His Labyrinth. Absolutely one of my favorites. It's about Simon Bolivar." I didn't know who Simon Bolivar was, but she didn't give me time to ask. "It's a historical novel, so I don't know if this is true, but in the book, do you know what his last words are? No, you don't. But I am about to tell you, Senor Parting Remarks."
And then she lit a cigarette and sucked on it so hard for so long that I thought the entire thing might burn off in one drag. She exhaled and read to me:
"'He--that's Simon Bolivar--was shaken by the overwhelming revelation that the headlong race between his misfortunes and his dreams was at that moment reaching the finish line. The rest was darkness. "'Damn it,' he sighed. 'How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!'"
I knew great last words when I heard them, and I made a mental note to get ahold of a biography of this Simon Bolivar fellow. Beautiful last words, but I didn't quite understand. "So what's the labyrinth?" I asked her.
And now is as good a time as any to say that she was beautiful. In the dark beside me, she smelled of sweat and sunshine and vanilla, and on that thin-mooned night I could see little more than her silhouette except for when she smoked, when the burning cherry of the cigarette washed her face in pale red light. But even in the dark, I could see her eyes--fierce emeralds. She had the kind of eyes that predisposed you to supporting her every endeavor. And not just beautiful, but hot, too, with her breasts straining against her tight tank top, her curved legs swinging back and forth beneath the swing, flip-flops dangling from her electric-blue-painted toes. It was right then, between when I asked about the labyrinth and when she answered me, that I realized the importance of curves, of the thousand places where girls' bodies ease from one place to another, from arc of the foot to ankle to calf, from calf to hip to waist to breast to neck to ski-slope nose to forehead to shoulder to the concave arch of the back to the butt to the etc. I'd noticed curves before, of course, but I had never quite apprehended their significance.
Her mouth close enough to me that I could feel her breath warmer than the air, she said, "That's the mystery, isn't it? Is the labyrinth living or dying? Which is he trying to escape--the world or the end of it?"
About the book:
Before. Miles "Pudge" Halter heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School to seek "a great perhaps", and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.
Snippet from We Are Not Ourselves
- Matthew Thomas
Snippet from The Shadow Lines
- Amitav Ghosh