Romesh steps into late light and heads for the market. He and
Beatrice are mostly vegetarians, gardening in patio pots— good
because exposure to dirt raises serotonin levels, which makes
people happier. But Beatrice once in a while likes salmon. We’re
eating the last 10 percent of the ocean, but the market o=
ers net-loads laid out in rows. He remembers his dream, all those fish
spilling onto the pier, the beauty of abundance, and points to a
fillet. The attendant wraps it, hands it over the counter.
Outside in approaching dusk, Romesh remembers the baby
damselfish— high acidity warps their ears so they can’t find the
reefs where they’re supposed to grow up. Who can bear such
tragedy? He imagines a memorial service for all extinct species.
A great hall filled, and on the stage a Greek chorus intoning the
names of the disappeared.
He remembers the tiger that leapt from its enclosure at the
zoo, injured a man, then sat down beside him. When a police
o;cer appeared with a gun, the tiger attacked the bleeding man
again. Afterward the o;cer said it felt like the tiger was asking
him to finish o= the wounded man and kill the tiger. As though
the tiger sensed the pressure civilization exerts on the planet,
and opted to go with the man into oblivion.
But wait! Here’s upward evidence—sparrows zoom over in
exuberant flight! And this: in a sidewalk crack a single weed
perseveres, inspiring him. He feels his minute insignificance,
which reminds him to conduct himself with humility. Though
in a crisis one insignificant person can make the di=erence. His
contribution to the commonweal has been small, but he hopes
sometime he’ll be the one who averts disaster. It could be a very
small gesture, he thinks, but at just the right moment.
EDDIE SLIPS THE SMITH & WESSON into his camou-flage pants’ right-hand pocket and walks into the street. I know
what you’re thinking — I should be satisfied, I wanted a plot, and
I agreed to be the word gods’ aperture, so I have to accept what
those gods deliver.
But I want the plot to spare Romesh. I feel like shouting: Is it
right to knock o= visionary sweetie pies?! No, it is not!
SUN INSTANT BY INSTANT sinks lower. Ahead Romesh
sees the woman who sits every day at that same spot on the side-walk—her left knee a stub—
holding out a cracked cup. Bea-trice almost always gives her something, and with her long hair
swishing from side to side here Beatrice comes. He sees her and
remembers that when that first atom of hydrogen released light
into the world, idle protons pushed against this light and sent
the first sound waves zipping through space. Imagine if those
first sound waves had spoken her name: Beatrice!
He watches her crouch and place a bill in the woman’s cup.
The woman puts her palms together and bows. Beatrice returns
the gesture. It’s as though the two swear a vow, one to give, the
other to receive. Beatrice sees him and waves, then gives him her hi
sweetie quick kiss. Because she always gives the woman something,
he usually doesn’t. Today, though, he feels expansive, and a thought
scrolls across his mind-screen: before you die give something away.
Is this a quote from someone famous? An idle thought? It
doesn’t matter. Yes, he decides, he too will give—in honor of
Beatrice, in honor of the salmon they’ll devour together, and in
honor of everyone in the vicinity, including that guy in camouflage
pants and a tee that reads Shut Up and Fish.
That’s a chip-on-the-shoulder logo, Romesh thinks. At the same time, though, it sug-gests proud defiance — don’t pity me, and don’t mess with me!
WHY WOULD BEATRICE seem so marvelous if she were
not destined for sacrifice? Why would Romesh persist in taking
an upbeat attitude if he were not going to su=er? Eddie Harper
has no conscious plan, and can be blown hither and yon by the
wind of whim. We’ve finally got something resembling a plot,
and it’s going to be hell out there any minute now.
ROMESH WATCHES Shut Up and Fish crouch in front of
the woman. The guy puts a couple of bills in her cup, and she
gazes at him, his one ear gone, with utter confidence, as though
she sees a person who will be voted Man of the Year for making
peace between Palestinians and Israelis, or delivering definitive
proof of the origin of the universe.
Where, Romesh wonders, did the woman get that amazing
confidence in this stranger with the belligerent logo? Then he
gets it—she with the missing leg, Shut Up and Fish missing
an ear. They are the wounded, and the wounded recognize each
other. He watches these two, and thinks that if only he could get
those prisoners out into evening air — and then it comes to him.
He’ll suggest that he and Beatrice spend their vacation this year
actually visiting prisoners! Easy enough to click, sign, and do-nate, but you ought to be there and look into each prisoner’s eyes.
Romesh feels the weight of the fillet in his hand, the heft
of a life giving itself to another mouth, and he makes a deci-sion. He and Beatrice are among the blessed — and as a way of
honoring their good luck, tonight he will give the whole fillet to
Beatrice. He will sit across the table from her, and he will not
be hungry. He will sit across the table and watch her eat, and
he will be filled. Now he hands her the wrapped fillet, and she
smiles. She knows he bought it for her, in honor of her. Lucky
THIS IS NOT BEATRICE’S STORY. Beatrice is impor-tant only because Romesh is obsessed with her, so obsessed