David Gilmour: Extraordinary

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David Gilmour Extraordinary
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Extraordinary: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Over the course of one Saturday night, a man and his half-sister meet at her request to spend the evening preparing for her assisted death. They drink and reminisce fondly, sadly, amusingly about their lives and especially her children, both of whom have led dramatic and profoundly different lives. Extraordinary

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David Gilmour


For Stephanie Saunders

For as the dead exist only in ourselves, it is ourselves that we strike without ceasing when we persist in recalling the blows we have dealt them.

—Marcel Proust


What? You didn’t know I had a sister? Yes, Sally, a half-sister really. She was fifteen years older than me, my mother’s daughter from a turbulent first marriage. I saw her now and again when I was growing up, but probably the difference in our ages, a generation, and the fact that she never lived with us, made her seem more like a sympathetic aunt. She swatted me once, just an impatient cuff on the back of the head, when I was eight or nine—I’d knocked over a flower jar in her kitchen—and I thought, You can’t do that, you’re not my mother. And yet it wasn’t quite like a quarrel with my brother, not on the same level, so to speak, as with a peer. How you feel about someone when you’re very young, their stature in the world compared with yours, sometimes never changes. Which made certain moments between Sally and me confusing. Especially later on.

By the time I was conscious enough to wonder why things were the way they were, she was already married. How such a lovely creature (long face, dark hair) ended up with a blockhead like Bruce Sanders, I’ll never understand. But I suppose that’s the nature of people, even family: you never really get to know anyone that well, even when they try to explain themselves.

Anyway. For sixteen years, she endured sulks, punishing silences and God knows what kind of lonely moments, until one night she didn’t; and the next day, Bruce Sanders woke up in the guest room of his own house, the evening’s final words thudding between his small ears: “I’m leaving you.”

It may have taken her a while to get there, but when she did, my goodness, she acted with the efficiency of a guillotine. The straightest line between two points. I was only a teenager, but it felt as though I had just had my first glimpse into affairs of the heart: when a woman’s finished with you, she’s really finished.

With Chloe, her twelve-year-old daughter, in tow (her son stayed at home with Bruce), she took a studio apartment in San Miguel de Allende, a sun-baked town in the mountains north of Mexico City, and resumed her career as a painter—something for which she was gifted but the execution of which had been discouraged by a husband who thought the whole business “unrealistic.” A few weeks later, Sally attended an afternoon cocktail party at a house on the Callejón de los Muertos, tripped on the carpet, smacked her head against the fireplace and broke her neck. Returning to Toronto on a gurney, she spent six months in rehab and the rest of her life in a wheelchair.

Nice deal, eh? But she was a hearty soul, and even with the wheelchair, the crutches, the falling down here and there, she raised her preteen daughter all but single-handedly. Her ex-husband, Bruce, in a state of ill-disguised pleasure at the hand life had dealt her, said, “Move back in with me,” the implication being, Now that you’re not in the game anymore, now that no one else will take you, you might as well come back.

But no handouts, thank you. Sally and Chloe found a way to live and be happy. As for me, I wasn’t around much, to say the least. Sometimes I’d go up to her apartment in the northern part of the city and drink too much and get her to drink too much and then leave for another year or two. The truth is, I was so distracted with the failure of my own life that it felt as though I didn’t have the time to go out of my way, even momentarily, for anyone else. Although God knows what I was doing instead. Still, it makes me queasy with regret, even after all these years, to think about it. Because I loved her, I really did. But I was under the assumption that she would always be there, this not-quite-mother, not-quite-sister, that there was no need to tend to it, to look after it like a garden. And then, suddenly, it was too late by years. Simply too late.

Looking back on things, I suppose it’s the reason I did what I did that night, to make up for all those times I glanced toward the top of the city and said fuck it and went about my own business instead.

Do the dead forgive us? I wonder. I hope so. But I suspect not. I suspect they do nothing at all, like a spark flying from a burning campfire: they just go psssst and that’s it. How they felt about you in that last second is where you remain, at least in your thoughts, for eternity. Or rather, until you go psssst too.

* * *

Years went by. Chloe graduated from high school with green hair and a dagger tattoo on her right arm, went to university in Montreal and then left town to do a graduate degree in the States. Several months later, Sally telephoned me out of the blue one night and asked me to come over to her apartment. To bring a bottle of Russian vodka.

By the end of the evening, I’d agreed to help her kill herself.

Over the next five weeks, I raided second-floor medicine cabinets at dinners and parties until I found what I was looking for in the attic of a sweet but doddery aunt. I don’t need to mention the name of the drug here. It was a sleeping pill yanked off the market only a few months after its appearance. Quite the scandal. You mixed it with a couple of stiff belts before bed and you didn’t get up in the morning. End of story. Yours anyway.

So one June evening, I climbed the eighteen flights of stairs that ran up the back of her apartment building, hurried along the flowered carpeting in the hallway and let myself in. It was important that no one see me.

Candles were burning. I could see she had made herself up a bit, had on a green silk dressing gown.

“I had a nap this afternoon. I’m as fresh as a daisy,” she said.

I said, “You look wonderful tonight.” I went into the kitchen, cracked open the ice tray, made a brace of burnt martinis, poured a round into two tulip glasses and sat down beside her.

Taking the glass in her hand, partly crabbed, she said, “Cheers.”

“Cheers indeed.”

We talked about all sorts of things—the city’s mayor, a stolen Cézanne that had recently turned up in a Chicago attic, mentholated cigarettes, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Marlon Brando, the arrest of Klaus Barbie, the final episode of M.A.S.H. I didn’t mention the pills, nor the purpose of the evening; neither did she. It was, for a while there, like a Saturday night between two old friends, a forty-nine-year-old woman and her thirty-four-year-old brother. Half-brother, I know, but you wouldn’t have guessed it that night.

“Let’s put on some music,” she said, and I did, a collection of snazzy Mexican folk songs, which, I don’t know why, reminded me of an incident that had happened years before; how, when I was fourteen, in secret and against the wishes of my parents, she had smuggled me out of the house and driven me to see a girl at a small-town dance fifty miles away, returning hours later to fetch me. (The girl being, in the parlance of my mother, “a cunning little tramp.”) It may sound like a small thing for Sally to have done, this drive down a dark country highway, but I was so hungry for that young girl, for her small face and for the mysterious smell that lay under her jeans, that it was—or seemed to be at the moment—a matter of life and death. And Sally, as though she had maintained one foot still in childhood, understood the degree of it. The urgency of it. It took me years to put words to it, but I intuited something crucial that night: that the doing of something you don’t need to do for someone whose approval you don’t need is an extraordinarily reliable test of character. As the years have gone by—I recently celebrated my fifty-eighth birthday—I think more and more that the course of one’s life and the loyalties which colour it are the flowers that have grown in such unnoticed gardens.

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