Sample text for About Grace : a novel / Anthony Doerr.


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Chapter 1

He made his way through the concourse and stopped by a window to watch a man with two orange wands wave a jet into its gate. Above the tarmac the sky was faultless, that relentless tropic blue he had never quite gotten used to. At the horizon, clouds had piled up: cumulus congestus, a sign of some disturbance traveling along out there, over the sea.

The slim frame of a metal detector awaited its line of tourists. In the lounge: duty-free rum, birds of paradise sleeved in cellophane, necklaces made from shells. From his shirt pocket he produced a notepad and a pen.

The human brain, he wrote, is seventy-five percent water. Our cells are little more than sacs in which to carry water. When we die it spills from us into the ground and air and into the stomachs of animals and is contained again in something else. The properties of liquid water are this: it holds its temperature longer than air; it is adhering and elastic; it is perpetually in motion. These are the tenets of hydrology; these are the things one should know if one is to know oneself.

He passed through the gate. On the boarding stairs, almost to the jet, a feeling like choking rose in his throat. He clenched his duffel and clung to the rail. A line of birds -- ground doves, perhaps -- were landing one by one in a patch of mown grass on the far side of the runway. The passengers behind him shifted restlessly. A flight attendant wrung her hands, reached for him, and escorted him into the cabin.

The sensation of the plane accelerating and rising was like entering a vivid and perilous dream. He braced his forehead against the window. The ocean widened below the wing; the horizon tilted, then plunged. The plane banked and the island reemerged, lush and sudden, fringed by reef. For an instant, in the crater of Soufrière, he could see a pearly green sheet of water. Then the clouds closed, and the island was gone.

The woman in the seat next to him had produced a novel and was beginning to read. The airplane climbed the troposphere. Tiny fronds of frost were growing on the inner pane of the window. Behind them the sky was dazzling and cold. He blinked and wiped his glasses with his sleeve. They were climbing into the sun.

Copyright © 2004 by Anthony Doerr

Chapter 2

His name was David Winkler and he was fifty-nine years old. This would be his first trip home in twenty-five years -- if home was what he could still call it. He had been a father, a husband, and a hydrologist. He was not sure if he was any of those things now.

His ticket was from Kingstown, St. Vincent, to Cleveland, Ohio, with a stopover in Miami. The first officer was relaying airspeed and altitude through loudspeakers in the ceiling. Weather over Puerto Rico. The captain would keep the seat belt sign illuminated.

From his window seat, Winkler glanced around the cabin. Passengers -- Americans, mostly -- were reading, sleeping, speaking quietly to one another. The woman beside Winkler held the hand of a blond man in the aisle seat.

He closed his eyes, rested his head against the window, and gradually slipped into something like sleep. He woke sweating. The woman in the seat beside him was shaking his shoulder. "You were dreaming," she said. "Your legs were shaking. And your hands. You pressed them against the window."

"I'm all right." Far below the wing scrolled reefs of cumuli. He mopped his face with a cuff.

Her gaze lingered on him before she took up her novel again. He sat awhile and studied the clouds. Finally, with a resigned voice, he said, "The compartment above you isn't latched properly. In the turbulence it'll open and the bag inside will fall out."

She looked up. "What?"

"The compartment. The bin." He motioned with his eyes toward the space above them. "It must not be completely closed."

She leaned across the blond man beside her, into the aisle. "Really?" She nudged the blond man and said something and he looked over and up and said the bin was fine and latched tight.

"Are you sure?"

"Quite."

The woman turned to Winkler. "It's fine. Thank you." She went back to her book. Two or three minutes later the plane began to buck, and the entire cabin plunged for a long second. The bin above them rattled, the door clicked open, and a bag dropped into the aisle. From inside came the muffled crunch of breaking glass.

The blond man lifted the bag and peered inside and swore. The plane leveled off. The bag was straw and printed with an image of a sailboat. The man began taking out pieces of what looked like souvenir martini glasses and shaking his head at them. A flight attendant squatted in the aisle and collected fragments in an airsickness bag.

The woman in the middle seat stared at Winkler with a hand over her mouth.

He kept his gaze out the window. The frost between the panes was growing, making tiny connections, a square inch of delicate feathers, a two-dimensional wonderland of ice.

Copyright © 2004 by Anthony Doerr

Chapter 3

He called them dreams. Not auguries or visions exactly, or presentiments or premonitions. Calling them dreams let him edge as close as he could to what they were: sensations -- experiences, even -- that visited him as he slept and faded after he woke, only to reemerge in the minutes or hours or days to come.

It had taken years before he was able to recognize the moment as it approached -- something in the odor of a room (a smell like cedar shingles, or smoke, or hot milk and rice), or the sound of a diesel bus shaking along below an apartment, and he would realize this was an event he had experienced before, that what was about to happen -- his father slicing his finger on a can of sardines, a gull alighting on the sill -- was something that had already happened, in the past, in a dream.

He had standard dreams, too, of course, the types of dreams everyone has, the film reels of paradoxical sleep, all the improbable narratives concocted by a cerebral cortex working to organize its memories. But occasionally, rarely, what he saw when he slept (rain overwhelmed the gutters; the plumber offered half his turkey sandwich; a coin disappeared, inexplicably, from his pocket) was different -- sharper, truer, and premonitory.

All his life it had been like this. His dreams predicted crazy, impossible things: stalactites grew out of the ceiling; he opened a door to find the bathroom stuffed with melting ice. And they predicted everyday things: a woman dropped a magazine; a cat delivered a broken sparrow to the back door; a bag fell from an overhead bin and its contents broke in the aisle. Like dreams these apparitions ambushed him in the troubled fringes of sleep, and once they were finished, they were almost always lost, disbanding into fragments he could not reassemble later.

But a few times in his life he had fuller visions: the experience of them fine-edged and hyperreal -- like waking to find himself atop a barely frozen lake, the deep cracking sounding beneath his feet -- and those dreams remained long after he woke, reminding themselves to him throughout the days to come, as if the imminent could not wait to become the past, or the present lunged at the future, eager for what would be. Here most of all the word failed: These were dreams deeper than dreaming, beyond remembering. These dreams were knowing.

He shifted in his seat and watched phalanxes of clouds pass below the wing. Memories scudded toward him, as distinct as the fibers in the seat-back in front of him: he saw the blue glow of a welding arc flicker in a window; he saw rain washing over the windshield of his old Chrysler. He was seven and his mother bought him his first pair of eyeglasses; he hurried through the apartment examining everything: the structure of frost in the icebox, a spattering of rain on the parlor window. What a marvel it had been to see the particulars of the world -- rainbows of oil floating in puddles; columns of gnats spiraling over Ship Creek; the crisp, scalloped edges of clouds.

Copyright © 2004 by Anthony Doerr




Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Separation (Psychology) -- Fiction.
Fathers and daughters -- Fiction.
Runaway husbands -- Fiction.
Caribbean Area -- Fiction.
Precognition -- Fiction.
Alaska -- Fiction.
Dreams -- Fiction.