Only the last page was different. It said: THE DEATH OF LEOPOLD GURSKY. Litvinoff felt a gust of cold in his heart. He glanced at his friend, who was breathing heavily. He started to read. When he got to the end he shook his head and read it again. And again after that. He read it over and over, mouthing the words as if they were not an announcement of death, but a prayer for life. As if just by saying them, he could keep his friend safe from the angel of death, the force of his breath alone keeping its wings pinned for a moment more, a moment more — until it gave up and left his friend alone. All night, Litvinoff watched over his friend, and all night he moved his lips. And for the first time in as long as he could remember, he did not feel useless.
As morning broke, Litvinoff saw with relief that the color had returned to his friend’s face. He was sleeping the restful sleep of recovery. When the sun had climbed to the position of eight o’clock, he stood. His legs were stiff. His insides felt scraped out. But hew as filled with happiness. He folded THE DEATH OF LEOPOLD GURSKY in half. And here is another thing no one knows about Zvi Litvinoff: for the rest of his life he carried in his breast pocket the page he’d protected all night from becoming real, so that he could buy a little more time — for his friend, for life.
from “my mother’s sadness” in the history of love:
2. WHAT I AM NOT
My brother and I used to play a game. I’d point to a chair. ”THIS IS NOT A CHAIR,” I’d say. Bird would point to the table. ”THIS IS NOT A TABLE.” ”THIS IS NOT A WALL,” I’d say. ”THAT IS NOT A CEILING.” We’d go on like that. ”IT IS NOT RAINING OUT.” ”MY SHOE IS NOT UNTIED!” Bird would yell. I’d point to my elbow. ”THIS IS NOT A SCRAPE.” Bird would lift his knee. ”THIS IS ALSO NOT A SCRAPE!” ”THAT IS NOT A KETTLE!” ”NOT A CUP!” ”NOT A SPOON!” ”NOT DIRTY DISHES!” We denied whole rooms, years, weathers. Once, at the peak of our shouting, Bird took a deep breath. At the top of his lungs, he shrieked: ”I! HAVE NOT! BEEN! UNHAPPY! MY WHOLE! LIFE!” ”But you’re only seven,” I said.
18. MY MOTHER NEVER FELL OUT OF LOVE WITH MY FATHER
She’s kept her love for him as alive as the summer they first met. In order to do this, she’s turned life away. Sometimes she subsists for days on water and air. Being the only known complex life-form to do this, she should have a species named after her. Once Uncle Julian told me how the sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti said that sometimes just to paint a head you have to give up the whole figure. To paint a leaf, you have to sacrifice the whole landscape. It might seem like you’re limiting yourself at first, but after a while you realize that having a quarter-of-an-inch of something you have a better chance of holding on to a certain feeling of the universe than if you pretended to be doing the whole sky.
My mother did not choose a leaf or a head. She chose my father, and to hold on to a certain feeling, she sacrificed the world.
19. THE WALL OF DICTIONARIES BETWEEN MY MOTHER AND THE WORLD GETS TALLER EVERY YEAR
Sometimes pages of the dictionaries come loose and gather at her feet, shallon, shallop, shallot, shallow, shalom, sham, shaman, shamble, like the petals of an immense flower. When I was little, I thought that the pages on the floor were words she would never be able to use again, and I tried to tape them back in where they belonged, out of fear that one day she would be left silent.