In the Country of Last Things

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Authors: Paul Auster
handed me a small mirror and told me to take a look. The first few moments were frightening. I looked so ugly that I didn’t recognize myself anymore. It was as though I had been turnedinto someone else. What’s happened to me? I thought. Where am I? Then, at just that moment, Ferdinand broke out laughing again, a real bellyful of spite, and that was too much for me. I flung the mirror across the room and nearly hit him in the face with it. It flew past his shoulder, smacked against the wall, and clattered to the floor in fragments. For a moment or two Ferdinand just gaped, not quite believing I had done it, and then he turned to Isabel, all shaking with anger, totally beside himself, and said, “Did you see that? She tried to kill me! The fucking bitch tried to kill me!” But Isabel was not about to sympathize with him, and a few minutes later he finally shut up. From then on, he never said another word about it, did not mention the subject of my hair again.
    Eventually, I learned to live with it. It was the idea of the thing that bothered me, but when you got right down to it, I don’t think I looked too bad. Isabel wasn’t intending to make me look like a boy, after all—no disguises, no false moustaches—but only to make the feminine things about me less apparent, my protruberances, as she called them. I was never much of a tomboy anyway, and pretending to be one now wouldn’t have worked. You remember my lipsticks and outrageous earrings, my tight skirts and skimpy hems. I always loved to dress up and play the vamp, even when we were kids. What Isabel wanted was for me to call as little attention to myself as possible, to make sure that heads did not turn when I walked by. So, after my hair was gone, she gave me a cap, a loose-fitting jacket, woolen trousers, and a pair of sensible shoes—which she had bought only recently for herself. The shoes were a size too big, but an extra pair of socks seemed to eliminate the problem of blisters. With my body now enveloped in this outfit, mybreasts and hips were fairly well hidden, which left precious little for anyone to lust after. It would have taken a strong imagination to see what was really there, and if anything is in short supply in the city, it’s imagination.
    That was how I lived. Up early in the morning and out, the long days in the streets, and then home again at night. I was too busy to think about much of anything, too exhausted to step back from myself and look ahead, and each night after supper I only wanted to collapse in my corner and go to sleep. Unfortunately, the incident with the mirror had caused a change in Ferdinand, and a tension grew up between us that became nearly intolerable. Coupled with the fact that he now had to spend his days at home with Isabel—which deprived him of his freedom and solitude—I became the focus of his attention whenever I was around. I am not just talking about his grumbling, nor the constant little digs he would make about how much money I earned or the food I brought home for our meals. No, all that was to be expected from him. The problem was more pernicious than that, more devastating in the fury that lay behind it. I had suddenly become Ferdinand’s only relief, his only avenue of escape from Isabel, and because he despised me, because my very presence was a torment to him, he went out of his way to make things as difficult for me as possible. He literally sabotaged my life, pestering me at every opportunity, assailing me with a thousand tiny attacks I had no way of warding off. Early on, I had a sense of where it was all going to lead, but nothing had ever prepared me for this kind of thing, and I didn’t know how to defend myself.
    You know all about me. You know what my body needs and does not, what squalls and hungers lurk inside it. Thosethings do not disappear, even in a place like this. Granted, there are fewer opportunities to indulge your thoughts here, and when you walk through the streets you must

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