Authors: Hanya Yanagihara
I knew that I would need to talk to my husband tonight, and so, rather than changing into my sleep clothes, I lay down on my bed fully dressed, thinking that if I was less comfortable I’d not fall asleep. But I fell asleep anyway, and when I woke, I could tell that it was very late, and when I checked the clock, it was 23:20.
Immediately, I was frightened. Where was he? He had never stayed out so late, not ever.
I didn’t know what to do. I paced the main room, clapping my hands together and asking myself aloud where he was again and again. Then I realized that I knew where he was: He was at the house on Bethune Street.
Before I could get scared again, I put my papers in my pocket, in case I was stopped. I got the flashlight from under my pillow. I put on my shoes. And then I left the apartment and walked downstairs.
Outside, everything was very quiet and, without the light from the fire in the Square, very dark. There was only the occasional spotlight, swooping in slow circles, illuminating the side of a building, a tree, a parked wagon, for a moment, before they were again left in darkness.
I had never been out so late before, and although it wasn’t illegal to be out at this hour, it also wasn’t typical. You just had to look like you knew where you were going, and I did know where I was going. I walked west, through Little Eight, looking up at the apartments and wondering which one was David’s, and then crossed Seventh Avenue, and then Hudson. As I was crossing Hudson, a troop of
soldiers walked by, and turned to look at me, but when they saw who I was, just a short, plain, dark-skinned Asian woman, they continued on without even stopping me. On Greenwich Street, I turned right and began walking north, and soon I was turning left on Bethune and walking to number 27.
As I was about to climb the stairs, I stopped, overtaken by fear, and for a while I rocked myself, and I could hear myself whimpering. But then I walked up, stumbling on the missing stone in the second step, and knocked out the rhythm I had memorized from months ago:
At first, there was silence. And then I heard someone coming down a flight of stairs, and the little window slid open, and a sliver of a man’s face, a reddish face with blue eyes, was looking out at me. He looked at me, and I at him. There was a brief silence. Then he said, “There was never any more inception than there is now; nor any more youth or age than there is now,” and, when I didn’t answer him, he repeated it.
“I don’t know what to say in response,” I said, and before he could slide the window shut, I added, “Wait—wait. My name is Charlie Griffith. My husband hasn’t come home, and I believe he’s in your house. His name’s Edward Bishop.”
At this, the man’s eyes widened. “You’re Edward’s wife?” he asked. “What did you say your name was, again?”
“Charlie,” I said. “Charlie Griffith.”
The little window slammed closed then, and the door opened, just a few inches, and the man on the other side, a tall, white, middle-aged man with thin, pale-blond hair, beckoned me inside and locked the door behind us. “Upstairs,” he said, and as I followed him, I looked to my left and saw a door that was ajar a few inches, through which I could see the glow of a lamp.
The staircase had been laid with a carpet in a dark red-and-blue pattern of swirling shapes and lines, and creaked as we moved up it. On the second landing, there was another door, and I realized that the house had been converted into a series of apartments, one per floor, and yet it was still being used as a single house, the way it
had originally been built: The staircase wall had been painted with roses, and the painting extended past the second story, all the way up. Drying laundry—socks and shirts and men’s underwear—had been draped over the banister.
The man knocked on the door and turned its handle at the same time, and I followed him inside.
The first thing I thought was that I had somehow returned to Grandfather’s study, or at least the version of it I could remember from just before I got sick. Every wall was covered with bookcases, and in them were what looked like thousands of books. There was a rug on the floor, a bigger, more intricately patterned version of the one that covered the staircase, and there were soft chairs and an easel in one corner with a half-completed painting of a man’s face. The large windows were hidden with dark-gray curtains, and there was a low table on which were stacked more books, as well as a radio and a chessboard. And, in the far corner, opposite the easel, was a television, which I hadn’t seen since I was a child.
Just in front of me was a sofa, not the kind we had at home but something deep and comfortable-looking, and on that sofa was a man, and that man was my husband.
I ran over to him and knelt by his head. His eyes were shut, and he was sweating, and his mouth was partly open because he was gasping for breath. “Mongoose,” I whispered to him, and I took one of his hands, which were crossed over his chest, and which was sticky and cold. “It’s me,” I said. “Cobra.” He made a faint moaning noise, but nothing else.
Then I heard someone say my name, and I looked up. It was a man I’d not noticed before, with dark-blond hair and green eyes, about my age, who was also kneeling by my husband, and who I then saw was cupping my husband’s head in one hand and stroking his hair with the other. “Charlie,” the man repeated, and I was surprised to see that there were tears in his eyes. “Charlie, it’s good to finally meet you.”
“You have to get him out of here,” someone else said, and I turned and saw it was the man who had let me in.
“Jesus, Harry,” said another voice, and I looked up and saw that there were three other men in the room, all of whom were standing a few feet away from the sofa and looking at my husband. “Don’t be so heartless.”
“Don’t you lecture me,” said the man from the door. “This is
house. He’s putting us all at risk by being here. He has to get out.”
Another of the men started to protest, but the man who had been stroking my husband’s hair stopped them. “It’s okay,” he said. “Harry’s right; it’s too risky.”
“But where will you go?” asked one of the men, and the blond man looked back at me.
“Home,” he said. “Charlie, will you help me?” and I nodded that I would.
Harry left the room, and two of the other men helped the blond man stand my husband up, even though he groaned as he did. “It’s all right, Edward,” said the blond man, who had his arm around my husband’s waist. “It’s all right, sweetheart. It’s going to be okay.” Together, they began to move him slowly down the stairs, my husband groaning and panting with each step, the blond man soothing him and stroking his face. At the base of the staircase, the door to the ground-floor apartment was now fully ajar, and the blond man said he had to get his and my husband’s bags, and entered.
I followed him, though I wasn’t aware that I had until I found myself in the room, and all of the men within it staring at me. There were six, though I was unable to register any of their faces, only the room itself, which was decorated like the room upstairs but grander, the furnishings fancier, the fabrics richer. Then I noticed that everything was frayed: the edge of the carpet, the seams on the sofa, the spines of the books. Here, too, there was a television, though it was also silent, just a black screen. Here, too, the walls had been removed, transforming what could have been a one-bedroom apartment into a single large space.
Then the men were gathering near the doorway, and one of them was holding the blond man against him. “Fritz, I know someone who can help,” he was saying, “let me tell him,” but the blond man shook his head. “I can’t do that to you,” he said. “You’ll be hanged
or stoned for sure, and so will your friend,” and the other man, as if admitting he was correct, nodded and stepped away from him.
I was looking at them when I felt someone watching me, and I turned to the left and saw one of the Ph.D.s, the one who always rolled his eyes at the interior minister’s deputy’s nephew.
He stepped closer to me. “Charlie, right?” he asked, quietly, and I nodded. He looked toward the foyer, where the two men were still holding my husband upright, surrounded by other men. “Edward’s your husband?” he asked.
I nodded. I could not speak, could barely even nod, could barely even breathe. “What’s wrong with him?” I asked.
He shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said, and he looked worried. “I don’t know. It seems like heart failure to me. But I know it’s not—it’s not the illness.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
“We’ve seen some of the affected,” he said. “And it’s not that—I know it. He’d be oozing blood from his nose and mouth if it were. But, Charlie: Don’t take him to the hospital, whatever you do.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because. They’ll assume it’s the illness—they don’t know as much as we do—and he’ll be sent straight to one of the containment centers.”
“There are no more containment centers,” I reminded him.
But he shook his head again. “There are,” he said. “They just don’t call them that anymore. But it’s where they’re taking early cases, to—to study them.” He looked back at my husband, and then at me once more. “Take him home,” he said. “Let him die at home.”
“Die?” I asked. “He’s going to die?”
But then the blond man was approaching me again, this time with both his and my husband’s bags slung over his shoulder. “Charlie, we have to go,” he said, and I followed him, again without my knowing it.
Some of the men kissed the blond man on the cheek; others kissed my husband. “Goodbye, Edward,” one said, and then they all said it: “Goodbye, Edward—goodbye.” “We love you, Edward.”
“Goodbye, Edward.” And then the door opened, and the three of us stepped into the night.
We walked east. The blond man was on my husband’s right, I on his left. My husband’s arms were looped around our necks, and we each had an arm around his waist. He could barely walk, and his feet dragged behind him much of the time. He wasn’t heavy, but because the blond man and I were both shorter than he was, he was difficult to guide.
At Hudson Street, the blond man looked around us. “We’ll cut across Christopher, and then go past Little Eight and east on Ninth Street before turning south on Fifth,” he said. “If we’re stopped, we’ll say he’s your husband and I’m his friend and he—he got drunk, all right?” It was illegal to be publicly drunk, but I knew that, in this circumstance, it was better to say my husband was drunk than sick.
“All right,” I said.
We were silent as we walked east on Christopher Street. The streets were so empty and dark that I could barely see where we were going, but the blond man moved quickly and surely, and I tried to keep up. Eventually, we reached Waverly Place, which formed the westernmost border of Little Eight, which was well-lit with spotlights, and we flattened ourselves against a nearby building to avoid being seen.
The blond man looked at me. “Just a little longer,” he said to me, and then again, softly, to my husband, who coughed and groaned. “I know, Edward,” he said to my husband. “Almost there, I promise—we’re almost there.”
We moved as quickly as we could. To my left, I could see the towers of Little Eight, their windows now mostly black. I wondered what time it was. Ahead of us, I could see the large building that had been built several centuries ago as a prison. Then it became a library. Then it became a prison again. Now it was an apartment building. Behind it was a cement playground, but it was usually too hot for the children to use.
It was just as we were approaching this building that we were stopped. “Halt,” we heard, and we did, abruptly, almost dropping my husband. A guard, dressed all in black, which meant he was a municipal officer, not a soldier, had stepped in front of us, holding his weapon at our faces. “Where are you going at this time of night?”
“Officer, I have my papers,” the blond man began, reaching for his bag, and the guard snapped, “I didn’t ask for your papers. I asked where you were going.”
“Back to her apartment,” said the blond man. I could tell he was afraid but trying not to be. “Her husband—her husband had a little too much to drink, and—”
“Where?” asked the officer, and I thought he sounded eager. Officers got extra points for arresting people for quality-of-life crimes.
But before we could answer, we heard another voice, one saying, “
you are!” as if he were greeting someone, a friend who was late to meet him for a concert or a walk, and the blond man and the officer and I turned and saw David. He was approaching us from the west, not in his gray jumpsuit but in a blue cotton shirt and pants, similar to what the blond man was wearing, and although he was moving quickly, he also wasn’t hurrying, and he was smiling and shaking his head. In one hand he carried a thermos, in the other, a small leather case. “I
you to stay put—I’ve been looking all over the complex for you,” he said, still smiling, to the blond man, who had opened his mouth in surprise but now shut it and nodded.
“I’m sorry, officer,” David said to the man in black. “This is my foolish big brother, and his wife, and our friend”—he nodded at the blond man—“and I’m afraid my brother had a little too much fun tonight. I went to get him some water from our flat, and when I came back, these three”—he smiled at us, fondly—“decided to take off without me.” And here he smiled at the officer, and shook his head a little, and rolled his eyes upward. “Here, I have all three of our papers,” he said, and handed the case to the officer, who had still not lowered his weapon, and who had been looking at each of us in turn as David spoke, but who accepted the case and unzipped it. As the officer pulled out the cards, I saw a flash of silver.
The officer read the papers, and as he read the final one, he suddenly straightened, and saluted. “Apologies,” he said to David. “I didn’t know, sir.”
“No apologies necessary, officer,” David said. “You’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to.”
“Thank you, sir,” said the officer. “Do you need help getting him back home?”
“That’s very generous of you, officer, but no,” David said. “You’re doing a fine job here.”