"After sex that night, she curled against him and asked how much he thought she could sell her story for: a night with the next top director. It depended on fluctuations in the market, he said, and it was a tough market to speculate. Hold onto a vintage bottle of wine, maybe the price skyrockets, maybe it goes to vinegar. Oh, she said, this vintage was sure to increase in value. It was all anyone in town could talk about. She didn't understand, he said. Almost famous was more famous than famous-famous. There was still an impossibility of expectation. Trajectories had been sketched and all that was left were limits."
"There are so many versions of this ride tonight. There is the truck I see, Rick's old truck, Rick's self as I last saw him, Shasta as I last saw her. There is the truck of reality, which might not even be a truck. There is a truck ride in which Shasta doesn't make it to the hospital. There is the a truck ride in which she does. There is a ride that ends with him and me saying we'll talk again soon, and meaning it. There are many roads to the the other possibility. There's the ride he's on and the ride I'm on, his side of the phone and mine."
"By the time I’ve finished my pedantry, it’s taken effect. We set upon the lemon tree. We bite into them without peeling them. The insides taste like lemonade. The white pith tastes like meringue. We eat whole lemons this way, not bothering to spit out the seeds. I yank other things out of the garden: arugula, which now tastes like some kind of crazy herb sorbet; rhubarb like raspberry jam; radishes like sweetened ice. But we go back to the lemon tree. It seems to be what this was made for—ambrosia, jellied light bulbs. The miracle doesn’t keep our bellies from feeling full, from growing hot with acid, but we keep going."
"She blew out all the candles and touched a knuckle, not a fingertip, to a little gleam at the top of one of them, and she felt it turn into a thicker skin inside the little folds. The antidote. The antidote to the antidote. What could she do but alternate? She did not want sweetness only. She did not want roughness only. She especially did not want anything in the middle."
"But now that each pair is wrapped in a cruiser, some doing doughnuts or fishtailing out of figure eights, the lot is a rave of red and blue lights. They roll past Whit and Vargas flashing three fingers in the air, expecting to see them flashed back. Whit does not. Though he knows he’s always had the tendency to be carved by the expectations of others, he won’t celebrate this. He remembers this mood. High school. Homecoming. The radio says stay safe out there, but the body politic says be aggressive, B-E aggressive."
"He put the scalpel to the artery. The scrub nurse was yakking about his lunch. Apparently it was incumbent upon the doctor to try the chicken salad at the Mediterranean place down the street. Nick said to let him focus. 'Everything okay, boss?' the nurse asked. Imagine your bread knife against the crust of a dinner roll, Nick said, your index finger pressing into the back of the blade. One quick vertical movement, one ounce of pressure, and the roll splits open. 'That’s where I was, and I was waiting for a moment of moral clarity, to reaffirm the decision I’d already made, and all I could think was ‘chicken salad, chicken salad, chicken salad.'"
"Because he’s laughing along, because he makes it effortless, because it’s not about them, people think it’s easy standing up there deconstructing himself for an hour. They’re right only to the extent that telling comedy is like a sport, no time to dwell on anything while the clock runs, just enough mindspace free to do quick assessments and make minor adjustments. When you walk off the stage it feels like you just went on a minute earlier. What gets him is the rest of the night, the bar or the hotel, where he replays the jokes in his mind and is now just the butt of them, rather than the teller. His second hard lesson: The thrill of the laughter only lasts as long as the laughter."
"Rounding the corner into his living room I was confronted with a kind of optical mystery: the condo, which from its little brick façade should have been cozy if not cramped, was as spacious as the house I grew up in. That’s the type of magic money can make. A part of me hated coming to Beacon Hill, because I started to see price tags on everything: on the Durant, on Deckinger’s artisan dinner table and matching leather couches and the beveled lowball glass out of which he drank a spirit I didn’t want to know the price of. He had poured a glass for me as well."
"The sun was just inches above the ocean. She wanted to take another picture—a revisionist history, she said, of this walk—so we put the water at our backs and our faces together and held the Polaroid in front of us. While we watched it develop I took the previous photo and tossed it into the wind. It turned out that the sun was right in the crack between our cheeks and the illumination overwhelmed half of our faces. It was the perfect picture, as if the parts of us we put closest together would glow."
"Me, I'm no genius, but I got more common sense than a professor who orders a pizza and gets mad when it shows up with cheese on it. You'd expect the real messed up kids to come from other blue-collar parents like me, who smoked while they changed diapers and used a whiskey thumb to soothe the colic. But its the professors who get all the droolers."
" 'Tell me, Scott. Do your friends still call you Scotty? Where did you get my number, some chat room?' She did not ask to investigate. She wanted the image, the lonely man on the computer, ignored by his wife or ridiculed by his female coworkers, looking online for a strip of text that would offer hope to a beggar. She goaded him, calling him Scotty, when he didn’t answer. A McDonald’s bathroom, he said, in town a few miles up the highway from her rental. "
"Sure, the buzzing proximity of her Hundredth Birthday Bash should have been enough to keep her heart chirping happily away in harmony with the whippoorwill at her birdfeeder. But the sudden territory annexed in her attention by a personal plea for help, shot halfway around the world in a tube called the Internet, by a man with such a story that the whole world should have cocked its ear, interrupted the small intentions she had of buying the flowers herself, of taping up some purple streamers, of shaving some Scharffenberger over her black forest cake. Who shaves Scharffenberger over cake, she thought, when a deposed African monarch has requested your individual assistance?"
"For fifteen days they were reported nationally as 27 probable dead, assumed, though the reporters did not put things so brashly, to have been crushed into ketchup. Twenty-seven closed casket funerals were planned and executed, delegates from the government attending each, their pictures in the paper with their hands on the shoulders of the family members, their saddest faces. The drill team worked perhaps even faster than they would have if survivors had been expected, eager to wrap up a hopeless search, to confirm the tragedy and no longer live and work in the midst of it."
"When he lets his eyes defocus, though, he can hear a hint of it, of their laughter sneaking through the small gap beneath their closed door, bouncing off the far wall, sneaking in through the gap beneath his own closed door. The sound, so much of it eaten by the walls and doors, seems as if it’s issuing from very far away, but he knows in the next room over it rings clear and bright. He wishes, as bad as he’d wished earlier to be in that room with the dancing girl, that he could join them. But he’s looked through the wall already. Now, he knows, he can never use the door."
"When Tabitha was four, possessed by the unknowable whim of a child, she drew a car upside down. She had drawn cars right-side up before, as well as the rest of her still limited artistic arsenal: cows, dogs, houses, cat faces, mountains, waves, all properly oriented. Tabitha's mother Denise, sitting next to her, flipped the picture so that the car's wheels faced toward them, and Tabitha very seriously, her hands framing the picture like a Ouija board, turned it upside down again."