Doc had taught me the value of being the odd man out. The man assumes the role of the loner, the thinker and the searching spirit who calls the privileged and the powerful to task. The power of one was the courage to remain separate, to think through to the truth and not to be beguiled by convention or the plausible arguments of those who expect to maintain power, whatever the cost. Why does anyone care about sports? There’s a woman in the stands who cares because they’re the last thing she’s got that gives her straight answers. She used to be a cross-country skier at the elite level. She sacrificed all her teenage years to skiing long-distance trails, evening after evening with a headlamp and tears streaming from cold and exhaustion, and all the pain and all the losses, and all the things other high school kids were doing with their free time that she could never be part of. But if you were to ask her now if she regrets anything, she’d shake her head. If you were to ask what she would have done if she could go back in time, she’d answer without hesitation: “Train harder.” She can’t explain why she cares about sports, because she’s learned that if you have to ask the question, you simply wouldn’t understand her answer. In a lifetime, maybe there is only one true experience of bliss, and maybe this was Wave’s. The peyote came forward in a surge and she heard herself say, “Oh!”—the way an actress would portray a sudden realization. “Oh,” she said, and then she wasn’t altogether in her body. In retrospect, Dustin couldn’t remember much that was significant about that particular morning when they discovered the body. The day was clear and cold and sunny, and he woke up and felt fairly happy—happy in that bland, daily way that doesn’t even recognize itself as happiness, waking into a day that shouldn’t expect anything more than a series of rote actions: showering and pouring coffee into a cup and dressing and turning a key in the ignition and driving down streets that are so familiar that you don’t even recall making certain turns and stops; though the mind must have consciously carried out the procedure of braking at the corner and rolling the steering wheel beneath your palms and making a left onto the highway, there is no memory of these actions. Ever since that late September afternoon in 1954, the never to be forgotten afternoon he had spent with Cassie watching Mays and Rhodes defeat the Indians, baseball had been a core obsession, and once he began playing in earnest the next year, he had proved to be surprisingly good at it, as good as the best players around him, strong in the field, strong at bat, with an innate feel for the nuances of any given situation during the course of a game, and when a person discovers he can do something well, he tends to want to keep doing it, to do it as often as he possibly can. She laid claim to the past—her version of the past—aggressively, as if retrieving misdirected mail. So this was where she came from. This all belonged to her, her birthright, like a pair of pearl earrings or a post office bond. X marks the spot, and Irie put an X on everything she found, collecting bits and pieces (birth certificates, maps, army reports, news articles) and storing them under the sofa, so that as if by osmosis the richness of them would pass through the fabric while she was sleeping and seep right into her. Of course he knew beauty doesn’t exist. He hadn’t known then but he knew now. Beauty is a matter of perspective, subjectivity. Cultural prejudice. You require a human eye, a human brain, a human vocabulary. In nature, there’s nothing. Still beauty gives comfort. Who knows why? The purple wildflowers, the grey dirt, the smell of the pine needles cooling. The tall trees halved by lightning. The waning sun on the hills in the distance, bright blue and white. Whose bike was she riding anyway? A log-hewn fence. The wail of a far-away truck slowing. The monotony of an unburned forest on the sun-drenched hillside. Why did she have to be tipsy before she could notice anything? He understood that she'd spent the day wondering why she hadn't had happiness like this, Jesus Christ why had she made all the wrong decisions, these stupid teenagers getting married knew how to have a beautiful and humble wedding by this Alaskan river, goddamnit, why did she make it all so difficult when it could be so simple? There is proud happiness, happiness born of doing good work in the light of day, years of worthwhile labor, and afterwards being tired, and content, and surrounded by family and friends, bathed in satisfaction and ready for a deserved rest—sleep or death, it would not matter. Then there is the happiness of one's personal slum. The happiness of being alone, and tipsy on red wine, in the passenger seat of an ancient recreational vehicle parked somewhere in Alaska's deep south, staring into a scribble of black trees, afraid to go to sleep for fear that at any moment someone will get past the toy lock on the RV door and murder you and your two small children sleeping above. José Palacios, his oldest servant, found him floating naked with his eyes open in the purifying waters of his bath and thought he’d drowned. He knew this was one of the many ways the General meditated, but the ecstasy in which he lay drifting seemed that of a man no longer of this world. “The Lord upholdeth all that fall and raiseth up all those that be bowed down” (they join in wild laughter). Just cling to me and all will be well. My birthday? Don’t you remember? I wished you your happy returns in the bathroom. A collision! Oh that would be wonderful! No coughing or spitting or bleeding or vomiting, just drifting gently down into the higher life. In spite of all it is a blessed thing to be alive in such weather, and out of hospital. It is suicide to be abroad. But what is it to be at home? A lingering dissolution. Broad and open like a summer waitress who says there you go when she deposits the food in front of you.
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