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- Yiyun Li Reads “On the Street Where You Live”
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Another man approached Becky. Even a banal conversation was a relief from a masterpiece staring back in silence, and she was ready to be saved. The man, wearing a plaid hat and a plaid jacket, appeared out of place among the dark suits and festive dresses. He asked Becky if she liked the painter, and she shook her head noncommittally. Becky noticed his accent, the kind its owner would not hide, each word hanging on to the lips with a demure graciousness. Years ago, when Becky had been a work-study student in a research lab, she had overheard her manager tell a visiting foreign scholar that people in the Midwest did not have any accent.
Mainstream American English, she said, which made Becky feel bland and transparent. Recently, while Becky was waiting for jury duty, a woman had told her that she was originally from Spain and was a linguistics professor but that at a summer party she had gone to with her sister and brother-in-law no one would talk to her: she had walked in with a nephew in her arms and a niece clutching her sleeve.
They thought I was the nanny, the woman said. My sister, of course, my gorgeous sister with her handsome husband, she was in no hurry to correct the misunderstanding. The man looked at Becky. Or even destroy it? Jude could have been a suitable conversation partner for this man. She was the second one they had consulted; the first had been unable to get Jude to speak. Perhaps there was hope still.
This man in front of her, after all, with his odd demeanor that might appear as affectation to unsympathetic eyes, had been invited to the gala. He asked her if she was an artist. No, she said. A patron of the arts? Not at all, she said, and you? He took a pipe out of his pocket and said he had dallied in a few things here and there but nothing too special.
Becky was about to point out that smoking was not allowed when he put the pipe back. Oh, Becky thought.
Perhaps others would have recognized him right away from his outfit. Watson here, too? The man smiled. He took the pipe out again and toyed with it. There are a few other people like me out there. But give it a try—you may be able to spot de Kooning or Joseph Cornell. Matisse is under the weather, so he may not look himself tonight.
Yiyun Li Reads “On the Street Where You Live”
We leave our clients to form their own conclusion as to whether we do a good job or not. When Becky looked up, Ossie Gulliver was sidling up to another guest, to reveal his secret and perhaps to find the right person who would become a future client. Later that night, Becky wrote the man with the red tie into her journal but not the man in the Sherlock Holmes costume. She suspected that Ossie Gulliver was a made-up name. Still, a named man would claim more personal space than a man in a red tie.
It could become an affair. Becky still had his business card, and with the pretense of hiring him for an event she could make a call. Becky was a good woman, and it required little talent to be good. Before she and Max moved to California, she had worked in a hospital in Sioux City as a float-pool nurse, a well-liked colleague. She was close to her three brothers, who still lived in Correctionville. Becky, the only one who had left, returned twice a year, for a family reunion in the first week of August and at Thanksgiving.
Make new friends , but keep the old; one is silver , and the other gold. Becky thought of herself as one of those folktale misers, never letting a person slip out of her life. No parent could do that for a child, Max reminded her. He believed in science, intervention, and his will power as a father. Max did not ask, as Becky did, what had gone wrong with her pregnancy; nor did he waste his energy, whenever there was a mass shooting, worrying that it would be linked to a young man on the autism spectrum.
But how could he be so certain that they had not failed Jude by simply giving him a life? Max was the brave one, and bravery made questioning unnecessary. Perhaps that was the talent Becky was missing: she wanted a comprehensible life, but she did not comprehend her life. She could not begin an affair because it required imagination. She could not understand Jude because her mind was too commonplace.
Becky had to Google to get the sentence right. She remembered Mr.
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Hagen, her English teacher, talking at length about that Vonnegut line in high school. Read it ten, twenty years from now, he had told the class. Hagen said that. Lance was the tallest boy in her junior year, and she imagined that Harrison Bergeron would look like Lance. Becky wished she had been a ballerina.
It was not fair that Jude would never become a child who played goalie for a soccer team or pulled pranks on his friends—but, no, that was the wrong way to think. What was not fair was that Jude had Becky, who was so normal, as his mother. A woman capable of having an affair with Ossie Gulliver would be a better choice, a mother who would rearrange the world for Jude. Becky would be better off being a wet nurse: providing was enough, understanding uncalled for.
Ossie Gulliver, a stranger she refused to put in her journal, stayed on in her memory. People around her were like lights in a house: the more, the merrier; the more, the less space left unlit. Ossie Gulliver was a street lamp, a reminder that one house, however well lit, was the same as any other house, all of them living in the indifferent darkness. Have you guys considered music lessons?
Another way to fail, Becky thought, while taking down the information. Vivien, the musician, had been trained as a pianist and vocalist; she did not have any background working with special-needs children but had discovered her gift while teaching an autistic child—all this she explained to Becky on the phone, and the fact that she would be on tour at times and could not guarantee regular lessons year-round. Becky decided to visit Vivien by herself first. She needed all the evidence to show that they did what they could for Jude. People in the same boat, she noticed, often found more reasons to judge and to denounce.
Vivien lived on a street lined with one-story, boxy houses, battered pickup trucks, older-model cars, and several dogs that barked from behind metal fences. Becky was not familiar with this part of Oakland, and she felt that she should reproach herself for noticing these things. Roads in Correctionville were wider, houses larger, but people in her current neighborhood, a picturesque suburb overlooking the Bay, would find Correctionville strange, too.
An old woman opened the door before Becky rang the bell. The living room was small, with two armchairs and a sofa around a coffee table. A picture window showed a patch of front yard large enough to accommodate a single agave plant. Another woman was sitting on the sofa, so Becky took an armchair. Becky was going to decline, but the old woman said that they were sweet, and she and Vivien had more than they could eat.
The thought of letting the plums rot made Becky feel guilty. She chose a medium-sized one. She had a lunch pail of dollar bills next to her. Becky watched her fold the bills into intricate patterns. Money leis, she said when she noticed Becky watching, and explained that she sold them at graduations.
Becky had never seen a money lei and did not know if this was a California tradition. What do I do? I asked the doctor, and she said perhaps I should let him run bare-bottom in the house so he can feel it when he goes. Becky could not tell if she was black or Native American or Latina—perhaps she was all three. All she knew was that the old woman had raised a musician. Perhaps she would not question herself all the time about failing at motherhood. Suddenly, piano music came from speakers, which Becky only then noticed. They were set in the corners of the living room. But the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before.
And , oh , the towering feeling just to know somehow you are near. The overpowering feeling that any second you may suddenly appear. People stop and stare. Had Becky been a sentimental woman she would have wept. For Jude and William and children like them, love songs were another measure of their apartness from the world. How could William understand the dignity of his voice when his mother discussed his bodily functions freely with strangers?
Karaoke On The Street Where You Live - Video with Lyrics - Dean Martin
A month earlier, Jude and his classmates had been asked to write about their fears. It was not fair that her son did not live with only some minor fears. Still, always, forever. That a person who expressed no interest in people could live with such a yearning for them; that a paramount fear of being alone could drive him away from the world. Becky could have empathized if this fear came from traumas, the kinds that she read about in magazines and saw on movie screens.
But Jude had been born to a pair of dedicated parents. Neither Becky nor Max had any hidden history of unspeakable suffering; neither harbored darkness in their soul or inflicted pain on others. William, finishing one song, moved on to the next: Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little boy at play? Can you hear a lark in any other part of town? Does enchantment pour out of every door? No it's just on the street where you live. And oh the towering feeling Just to know somehow you are near The overpowering feeling That any second you may suddenly appear.
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People stop and stare, they don't bother me For there's nowhere else on earth that I would rather be Let the time go by, I won't care If I can be here on the street where you live. People stop and stare, they don't bother me For there's nowhere else on earth that I would rather be Let the time go by, I won't care If I can be here on the street where you live
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