FOER, Jonathan Safran
Extremely loud and incredibly close
Even though Dad’s coffin was empty, his closet was full. And even after more than a year, it still smelled like shaving. I touched all of his white T-shirts. I touched his fancy watch that he never wore and the extra laces for his sneakers that would never run around the reservoir again. I put my hands into the pockets of all his jackets (I found a receipt for a cab, a wrapper for a miniature Krackle, and the business card of a diamond supplier). I put my feet into his slippers. I looked at myself in his metal shoehorn. The average person falls asleep in seven minutes, but I couldn’t sleep, not after hours, and it made my boots lighter to be around his things, and to touch stuff that he had touched, and to make the hangers hang a little straighter, even though I knew it didn’t matter.
His tuxedo was over the chair he used to sit on when he tied his shoes, and I thought, Weird. Why wasn’t it hung up with his suits? Had he come from a fancy party the night before he died? But then why would he have taken off his tuxedo without hanging it up? Maybe it needed to be cleaned? But I didn’t remember a fancy party. I remembered him tucking me in, and us listening to a person speaking Greek on the shortwave radio, and him telling me a story about New York’s sixth borough. If I hadn’t noticed anything else weird, I wouldn’t have thought about the tuxedo again. But I started to notice a lot.
There was a pretty blue vase on the highest shelf. What was a pretty blue vase doing way up there? I couldn’t reach it, obviously, so I moved over the chair with the tuxedo still on it, and then I went to my room to get the Collected Shakespeare set that Grandma bought for me when she found out that I was going to be Yorick, and I brought those over, four tragedies at a time, until I had a stack that was tall enough. I stood on all of that and it worked for a second. But then I had the tips of my fingers on the vase, and the tragedies started to wobble, and the tuxedo was incredibly distracting, and the next thing was that everything was on the floor, including me, and including the vase, which had shattered. “I didn’t do it!” I hollered, but they didn’t even hear me, because they were playing music too loud and cracking up too much. I zipped myself all the way into the sleeping bag of myself, not because I was hurt, and not because I had broken something, but because they were cracking up. Even though I knew I shouldn’t, I gave myself a bruise.
I started to clean everything up, and that was when I noticed something else weird. In the middle of all that glass was a little envelope, about the size of a wireless Internet card. What the? I opened it up, and inside there was a key. What the, what the? It was a weird-looking key, obviously to something extremely important, because it was fatter and shorter than a normal key. I couldn’t explain it: a fat and short key, in a little envelope, in a blue vase, on the highest shelf in his closet.
“Could you tell me a story?”
“A good one?”
“As opposed to all the boring ones I tell?”
“And you won’t interrupt me?”
“I’ll try not to.”
“Because it makes it hard to tell a story.”
“And it’s annoying.”
“Once upon a time, New York City had a sixth borough.”
“What’s a borough?”
“That’s what I call an interruption.”
“I know, but the story won’t make any sense to me if I don’t know what a borough is.”
“It’s like a neighborhood.”
“So if there was once a sixth borough, then what are the five boroughs?”
“Manhattan, obviously, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx.”
“Have I ever been to any of the other boroughs?”
“Here we go.”
“I just want to know.”
“We went to the Bronx Zoo once, a few years ago. Remember that?”
“And we’ve been to Brooklyn to see the roses at the Botanic Gardens.”
“Have I been to Queens?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Have I been to Staten Island?”
“Was there really a sixth borough?”
“I’ve been trying to tell you.”
“No more interruptions. I promise.”
When the story finished, we turned the radio back on and found someone speaking French. That was especially nice, because it reminded me of the vacation we just came back from, which I wish never ended. After a while, Dad asked me if I was awake. I told him no, because I knew that he didn’t like to leave until I had fallen asleep, and I didn’t want him to be tired for work in the morning. He kissed my forehead and said good night, and then he was at the door.