In the Country of Last Things

Free In the Country of Last Things by Paul Auster

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Authors: Paul Auster
as an artist. “Some day I’ll make a ship so small that no one can see it. Then you’ll know who you’re dealing with, my smart-ass little tramp. A ship so small that no one can see it! They’ll write a book about me, I’ll be so famous. Then you’ll see what’s what, my vicious little slut. You’ll never know what hit you. Ha, ha! you won’t even have a clue!”
    We lived in one medium-sized room, about fifteen feet by twenty. There was a sink, a small camp stove, a table, two chairs—later a third—and a chamber pot in one corner, separated from the rest of the room by a flimsy sheet. Ferdinand and Isabel slept apart, each in a different corner, and I slept in a third. There were no beds, but with a blanket folded under me to cushion the floor, I was not uncomfortable. Compared to the months I had spent in the open, I was very comfortable.

    My presence made things easier for Isabel, and for a time she seemed to regain some of her strength. She had been doing all the work herself—object hunting in the streets, trips to the Resurrection Agents, buying food at the municipal market, cooking dinner at home, emptying the slops in the morning—and at least now there was someone to share the burden with her. For the first few weeks, we did everything together. Looking back on it now, I would say those were the best days we had: the two of us out in the street before the sun was up, roaming through the quiet dawns, the deserted alleyways, the broad boulevards all around. It was spring then, the latter part of April, I think, and the weather was deceptively good, so good that you felt it would never rain again, that the cold and the wind had vanished forever. We would take only one cart with us, leaving the other one back at the house, and I would push it along slowly, moving at Isabel’s pace, waiting for her to get her bearings, to size up the prospects around us. Everything she had said about herself was true. She had an extraordinary talent for this kind of work, and even in her weakened state she was as good as anyone I had ever watched. At times I felt she was a demon, an out and out witch who found things by magic. I kept asking her to explain how she did it, but she was never able to say much. She would pause, think seriously for several moments, and then make some general comment about sticking to it or not giving up hope—in terms so vague that they were of no help to me at all. Whatever I finally learned from her came from watching, not listening, and I absorbed it by a kind of osmosis, in the same way you learn a new language. We would take off blindly, wandering more or less at random until Isabel had an intuition about where we shouldlook, and then I would go trotting off to the spot, leaving her behind to protect the cart. Considering the shortages in the streets at the time, our hauls were quite good, enough to keep us going in any case, and there was no question that we worked well together. We didn’t do much talking in the streets, however. That was a danger Isabel warned me against many times. Never think about anything, she said. Just melt into the street and pretend your body doesn’t exist. No musings; no sadness or happiness; no anything but the street, all empty inside, concentrating only on the next step you are about to take. Of all the advice she gave me, it was the one thing I ever understood.
    Even with my help, however, and the many fewer miles she had to walk every day, Isabel’s strength began to fail her. Bit by bit, it came harder for her to manage the outdoors, to negotiate the long hours spent on her feet, and one morning, inevitably, she just couldn’t get up anymore, the pains in her legs were so bad, and I went out alone. And from that day on, I did all the work myself.
    These are the facts, and one by one I am telling them to you. I took over the day-to-day affairs of the household. I was the one in charge, the one who did everything. I’m sure that will make you laugh.

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