"We came to Berlin in the fall of 2012, and at first everything was fine. We lived on Vogelstrasse, next to a park. Across the road was an Apotheke, and next to that a retirement home, and next to that a residential school for orphans. The school was once a home for single mothers, but eventually the mothers moved on and only the children were left. The school is made up of two cheerless structures—one noticeably newer than the other—behind waist-high cinderblock walls and giant fir trees. In the evenings the children ran in the park, jumping on trampolines and kicking around balls, their voices cutting through the frigid air clear as the bell ringing. In the mornings they sat in the courtyard behind the short fence to craft wooden animals and osier baskets under the watchful eyes of their minders."
"He went out in the morning to look at a painting. It was early, so he had set his alarm, but he didn’t even need it—ten minutes before it was supposed to ring, his eyes came open, both at once. Was that usually the way? Did some people open one eye and then, after a while, the other? How many people woke but kept their eyes closed, trying to stay inside the cylinder of sleep? These were all good questions, but he needed to be out of the house to see the painting."
"Through a gap in the curtain, made by one stained finger, and if parted wide enough for a spider to slide through, Berg could watch the illuminated palace across the road lighting up the solid Victorian blocks, surrounded by parked vehicles. On the right a triangular patch of churchyard; perhaps that’s what accounted for the burnt smell that invaded his room every night, if some paper was stuffed in the cracks, and he remembered to close the window, then the smell might be kept out. He pulled the window right down, and remained gloating over the couples that entered the dance hall. Once he had ventured across, and brought back a giggling piece of fluff, that flapped and flustered, until he was incapable, apologetic, a dry fig held by sticky hands. Well I must say you’re a fine one, bringing me all the way up here, what do you want then, here are you blubbering, oh go back to Mum. Lor’ wait until I tell them all what I got tonight, laugh, they’ll die. Longing to be castrated; shaving pubic hairs. Like playing with a doll, rising out of the bath, a pink jujube, a lighthouse, outside the rocks rose in body, later forming into maggots that invaded the long nights, crawled out of sealed walls, and tumbled between the creases in the sheets."
"They call us revenants, those who return. Restless for this world, we pass each other in mute recognition, for to be silent and solitary is our essential condition. But death doesn’t end our thirst for a human touch, a human voice calling our name."
"They enter the city proper at Cripplegate and walk south down Little Wood Street. It seems to George like any other London day. The Walloons are sitting in a semicircle waiting to be shaved at the sign of the Pheasant. A dirty ragamuffin with a tame squirrel sitting on his shoulder is begging for money. At the corner of Silver Street a woman throws water over a vagrant lying beside her front door. He seems untroubled so she hits him with the bucket and still gets no reaction. It is entirely possible that he is dead."
"I wore red capris on the plane. After I’d resolved to go to you, I couldn’t imagine wearing anything else. The red made me feel bold, like a matador. I hadn’t been able to sleep the night before, and it was still dark when I’d risen from bed and stuffed my suitcase with summer clothing. Despite my fevered state, I’d had the presence of mind to fill my backpack with old photographs, graphite and ink, and the best of my drawings."
"Here is my impression of a play: Okay, so first you gotta imagine it’s a hotel room, right? Just a normal, boring-looking hotel room, on the nice end of things, as far as hotel rooms go. And the audience is coming in, and they’re taking their seats in this dinky little theater in lower Manhattan, barely bigger than a Winnebago, this theater, with seats that feel like someone just glued down some thin fabric over a block of hard metal. The main thing of a theater—like the whole point of it—is that there’s going to be a lot of sitting in it, so you’d think they would at least consider investing in some comfortable chairs. Word to the wise: if they can’t even get that part right, which absolutely most of the time they cannot, then buckle the fuck up, because I can tell you right now you are in for an ordeal of an evening."
"I was born in this city. Amsterdam, of course, is not a real city, except in the eyes of people from outside. We, the ones who were born here, immediately recognize the provincial from the way he moves, the way he walks, the way he holds his head. The man from the provinces who thinks he’s ended up in a real city. He walks as though he were in Paris or Rome. He admires his reflection in the store windows and congratulates himself on his decision to exchange his provincial life for a stay in this city, which is not a real city at all."
"Friday to Monday was an Oval-shaped binge. Their pupils were Ovals, their kidneys elongated themselves into Ovals, all the loose change in their pockets melted into Ovals and spent itself, serotonin molecules morphed into large and bubbly Ovals, Oval sperm jetted from Oval testicles through vaginal canal toward ovarian Ovals. Anja dubbed Louis “The Giver” and together they spent a thousand euros, at least, in forty-eight hours. Most surprising of all, Anja thought, was that her knowledge of the artificial nature of her instincts to spend, to give, and to love during those hours in no way dampened the urges to do those things. Far from detracting from their validity, her knowledge that her feelings were chemically induced by Oval even lent a certain righteousness to her acting upon them, a feeling of fully justified liberation."
"We call them Bunnies because that is what they call each other. Seriously. Bunny. Example: Hi, Bunny! Hi, Bunny! What did you do last night, Bunny? I hung out with you, Bunny. Remember, Bunny? That’s right, Bunny, you hung out with me and it was the best time I ever had. Bunny, I love you. I love you, Bunny."
"There are villages that smell of misfortune. You just have to breathe in their air to recognize them, air that is murky and thin and defeated, like all things that have failed."
"I’ve taken a job at a little clothing store downtown. Just a couple of day shifts during the week. If the art class at Ed’s institution actually happens, I can easily work around it.He doesn’t know I’m working, and I see no reason to tell him. He would see it as lowly, as he did my job at Sally’s back home, and I don’t want to have to defend what I love about working in a shop. I tried to explain it for two full years, and he never saw my work as anything more than a waste of time. “We don’t need the money,” he’d argue. “You should be home painting.”"
"Otis Lee had tried to steer Knot, just as he had tried to steer his older sister, Essie, who had left home to go north. She was in New York passing for white. Who Essie’s white father was, Otis Lee never knew, and he didn’t care. He had known his own father and he still missed him dearly. He’d drowned in the canal when Otis Lee was a child."
"It seems to me now, as I look back, that my sister was never entirely tame. When we were children, Robin often disappeared for an hour, an afternoon, a day. Our mother, who was rarely home, didn’t notice, but I was bothered by these absences. I nursed a passion for regularity; I craved fixed mealtimes and weekday routines. Every Wednesday I went to the pizza parlor down the block from our apartment and, using the crinkled bills our mother left scattered on the counter, bought a pizza, carried it home in a white box loose-bottomed with grease, and waited. I only did this on Wednesdays. On Tuesdays my class had library time and on Thursdays we had art. I liked the library and art, but I loved knowing what was coming next."
"Guys at our high school baited gator. Brynn didn’t like it, but she usually tagged along, which meant that I’d go too. They brought cases of cheap beer and built bonfires out of old Christmas trees down at the river, which ran about forty minutes away from our neighborhood. We’d carpool out in all the boys’ shitty cars with no air-conditioning, struggling souped-up engines, windows rolled down until we were nearly coated in condensation."
"Just two years shy of 30, Patsy has nothing to show for it besides the flimsy brown envelope that she uses to shade herself from the white-hot glare of the sun. The envelope contains all her papers—from birth certificate to vaccination records. But most importantly, it carries her dream, a dream every Jamaican of a certain social ranking shares: boarding an airplane to America. For the destination, and for the ability to fly."
"At an abandoned building’s fence, we sat on old ashes and traded banter. we gathered supplies on torn glossy pages between our splayed legs. The pages were brochures from American colleges mailed free of charge upon request. The brochures showed students smiling and holding folders close to their chests or sitting with legs crossed on stone benches, lecture halls with semicircular tiers, beautiful young ladies playing handball on well-manicured turf."
"Preamble (draft) How can I write what happened? (This “how” kept me up at night for many years.) And how can what I write escape the traps of distortion and domination of official history? I realize there’s something paradoxical and ironic about it. Is it reasonable to worry about the fate of what I write before my pen even begins to bleed ink onto paper?"