Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 929
Half a million people are on the streets of New York protesting the war, the President, and government policies. Lianne and Justin walk the entire route amid the burning paper mâché floats, people distributing leaflets for all kinds of causes, and hovering police helicopters. She would rather not be here, but she wants Justin to feel as if he is part of a movement, a dissent. Since the event three years ago, all of life has become public, and Lianne wishes she were anywhere but here.
Justin has collected leaflets all along the route. They tell him to mourn the dead, heal the wounded, end the war, and seek Allah, among other things. He leans against a wall, squatting, to read the pamphlets, asking her to pronounce or explain the words he does not know. As she stands still in the middle of this crowd, Lianne remembers her long-ago trip to Cairo, a graduation gift for her and a friend. She remembers being among thousands of people, “orderly but all-enclosing.” To them, she was a white stereotype: educated, scared, naïve, detached, self-involved, privileged. Now she feels as if she is in both places at once and needs to flee from both crowds. Lianne and Justin rejoin the crowd and work their way to a bookstore.
Keith will be coming home in eight or nine days, and Lianne is acting as both mother and father until then. When she asks her son the best thing he has ever learned, he is quick to answer her: the sun is a star. As Lianne ponders Justin’s statement, she is struck by the vastness of this truth. There is neither up nor down, just here or there. The sun is out there, and mankind is out here.
Lianne is forty-one years old and healthy. After reviewing all her tests, the doctor tells her she is unremarkable in every way. She passed all the tests, including the ability to count backwards from one hundred by sevens. Now she counts like that all the time; it has become a kind of poetry she recites while walking or preparing to sleep. It is one of the tests for the condition the doctor euphemistically calls retrogenesis.
The casino is a lonely place, observes Keith. There are horse races on the screens, “acres of neon slots,” and cigarette smoke wafting nearby. He is entered in a poker tournament taking place on three tables. When they are seventy-seven games into the tourney, Keith is finally aware of the same horses replaying on the screens around him.
Lianne misses nights spent with friends, when the food runs out but the wine does not, when they talk about everything. This is not something Keith is good at or enjoys. He is uncomfortable in social settings, and people do not connect with him on the simplest level. What she really misses is her mother. The memorial service was held four months ago. In a gathering afterward, Martin and two of Nina’s former colleagues—a female biographer and a male art and architecture librarian—sat at a table and told stories about their friend. Then Martin said Europeans were all “sick of America and Americans. The subject nauseates” them. He continued his tirade by stating that America will soon become irrelevant, despite its power and the trouble it causes around the world. In the past two and a half years, Nina and Martin only saw each other rarely; now Lianne wondered why she has stayed in touch with him. Because of what she knows about his past and because of what...
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