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Forest Dark
Author:Nicole Krauss

“So do plenty of others, and they’re all waiting. Have some patience.”

But Epstein was all out of patience, and when the woman glanced back at the creaking hearse now starting up behind the horses, he sidestepped her and, with a last burst of strength, began to sprint toward the building. He could see Haaroon, the doorman, peering out at the action on the street. He was always there, face to the glass. When there was no excitement, he liked to scan the sky for a sighting of the red-tailed hawk that nested on a ledge down the block. At the last moment Haaroon caught sight of Epstein barreling toward him, and with a look of surprise pulled open the door just before the tenant of Penthouse B could smack into it. Epstein sailed smoothly in, and the doorman bolted the door shut again, spun around, and flattened his back against it.

“It’s a movie, Haaroon, not a revolution,” Epstein said, breathing hard.

Ever amazed at the new ways of his adopted country, the doorman nodded and straightened the heavy green cape with golden buttons that was his uniform in the cold months. Even confined indoors, he had refused to remove it.

“You know what’s wrong with this city?” Epstein said.

“What, sir?” Haaroon asked.

But, catching the doorman’s earnest eyes, still filled with wonder after five years of watching Fifth Avenue go past, Epstein thought better of it and let it go. The doorman’s hands were bare, and suddenly Epstein wished to ask him what he had done with the signet ring. But here, too, he swallowed his words.

When the wood-paneled elevator opened to the familiar colored rug from Isfahan in his foyer, Epstein sighed with relief. Once inside, he turned on the lamp, hung the wrong coat in the closet, and put on his slippers. He had lived here for ten months since he and Lianne had divorced, and there were still nights when he missed his wife’s body in the bed beside him. He had slept next to her for thirty-six years, and the mattress felt different without her weight, however slight, and without the rhythm of her breath the dark had no measure. There were times he woke feeling cold from the lack of the heat that once came from between her thighs and behind her knees. He might have even called her, if he could have momentarily forgotten that he already knew everything she could possibly say. In truth, if he was touched by longing, it was not for what he’d had and given up.

The apartment wasn’t large, but its main rooms overlooked Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum to the south, where the Temple of Dendur was housed under glass. This nearness to the ancient world meant something to him; though the Roman copy of an Egyptian temple had itself never impressed him, catching sight of it at night, he sometimes felt his lungs inflate, as if his body were remembering what it had forgotten about the vastness of time. What it had been necessary to forget, in order to believe in the grandness and the uniqueness of the things that happened to one, which could mark life the way a new combination of letters could be impressed on the ribbon of a typewriter. But he was no longer young. He was made of matter more ancient than any temple, and lately something was returning to him. Was coming back into him, as water comes back into a dry riverbed it formed long ago.

Now that the walls of the apartment were rid of paintings, and he had given away the expensive furniture, he needed only stand in the middle of the empty living room, looking out at the darkly moving treetops, to feel goose bumps rise on his arms. For what? Simply the fact that he was still there. That he had been alive long enough to arrive at a point where the circle was drawing to a close, that it had almost been too late, he had very nearly missed it, but in the nick of time he had become aware of it. Of what? Of time as a shaft of light moving across the floor, and how at the end of its long tail was the light falling across the parquet in the house where he had been a child, in Long Beach. Or the sky over his head, which was the same sky he had walked under since he was a boy. No, it was more than that. He had rarely lifted his head above the powerful currents of his life, being too busy plunging through them. But there were moments now when he saw the whole view, all the way to the horizon. And it filled him equally with joy and with yearning.

Still here. Stripped of furnishings, of cash, of phone, of the coat on his back, but not yet, after all, ethereal, Epstein felt a gnawing in the pit of his stomach. He’d barely eaten at the Plaza, and the doughnut had whetted his appetite. Poking in the refrigerator, he discovered a chicken leg that the chef who cooked for him three times a week had left, and ate it standing at the window. A great-great-great-great-great-grandrelative of David. The boy shepherd who slung a stone at the head of Goliath, of whom the women used to say “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands,” but whom, so that he should not remain a cold and calculating brute, so that he be given Jewish softness, Jewish intelligence, Jewish depth, they later made author of the most beautiful poetry ever written. Epstein smiled. What else was there still to learn about himself? The chicken was good, but before he got to the bone he tossed the rest in the trash. Reaching up to open the cabinet for a glass, he thought better of it, ducked his head under the tap, and drank thirstily.