Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

by Jonathan Safran Foer

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Paperback, 326 pages, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, List Price: $14.95 | purchase


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  • Jonathan Safran Foer

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Book Summary

Oskar Schell, the 9-year-old son of a man killed in the World Trade Center attacks, searches the five boroughs of New York City for a lock that fits a black key his father left behind.

Read an excerpt of this book

Awards and Recognition

12 weeks on NPR Paperback Fiction Bestseller List

NPR stories about Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

What The?

What about a teakettle? What if the
spout opened and closed when the
steam came out, so it would become a
mouth, and it could whistle pretty
melodies, or do Shakespeare, or just
crack up with me? I could invent a
teakettle that reads in Dad's voice, so
I could fall asleep, or maybe a set of
kettles that sings the chorus of "Yellow
Submarine," which is a song by the
Beatles, who I love, because entomology
is one of my raisons d'être, which
is a French expression that I know.
Another good thing is that I could train
my anus to talk when I farted. If I
wanted to be extremely hilarious, I'd
train it
to say, "Wasn't me!" every time I made
an incredibly bad fart. And if I ever
made an incredibly bad fart in the Hall
of Mirrors, which is in Versailles,
which is outside of Paris, which is in
France, obviously, my anus would
say, "Ce n'étais pas moi!"
What about little microphones? What if
everyone swallowed them,
and they played the sounds of our hearts
through little speakers, which could
be in the pouches of our overalls? When
you skateboarded down the street at
night you could hear everyone's
heartbeat, and they could hear yours,
sort of
like sonar. One weird thing is, I wonder
if everyone's hearts would start to
beat at the same time, like how women
who live together have their
menstrual periods at the same time,
which I know about, but don't really
want to know about. That would be so
weird, except that the place in the
hospital where babies are born would
sound like a crystal chandelier in a
houseboat, because the babies wouldn't
have had time to match up their
heartbeats yet. And at the finish line
at the end of the New York City
Marathon it would sound like war.
And also, there are so many times when
you need to make a
quick escape, but humans don't have
their own wings, or not yet, anyway, so
what about a birdseed shirt?
My first jujitsu class was three and a
half months ago. Self-
defense was something that I was
extremely curious about, for obvious
reasons, and Mom thought it would be
good for me to have a physical activity
besides tambourining, so my first
jujitsu class was three and a half months
ago. There were fourteen kids in the
class, and we all had on neat white
robes. We practiced bowing, and then we
were all sitting down Native
American style, and then Sensei Mark
asked me to go over to him. "Kick my
privates," he told me. That made me feel
self-conscious. "Excusez-moi?" I
told him. He spread his legs and told
me, "I want you to kick my privates as
hard as you can." He put his hands at
his sides, and took a breath in, and
closed his eyes, and that's how I knew
that actually he meant
business. "Jose," I told him, and inside
I was thinking, What the? He told
me, "Go on, guy. Destroy my privates."
"Destroy your privates?" With his
eyes still closed he cracked up a lot
and said, "You couldn't destroy my
privates if you tried. That's what's
going on here. This is a demonstration of
the well-trained body's ability to
absorb a direct blow. Now destroy my
privates." I told him, "I'm a pacifist,"
and since most people my age don't
know what that means, I turned around
and told the others, "I don't think it's
right to destroy people's privates.
Ever." Sensei Mark said, "Can I ask you
something?" I turned back around and
told him, " 'Can I ask you something?'
is asking me something." He said, "Do
you have dreams of becoming a
jujitsu master?" "No," I told him, even
though I don't have dreams of running
the family jewelry business anymore. He
said, "Do you want to know how a
jujitsu student becomes a jujitsu
master?" "I want to know everything," I
him, but that isn't true anymore either.
He told me, "A jujitsu student
becomes a jujitsu master by destroying
his master's privates." I told
him, "That's fascinating." My last
jujitsu class was three and a half months
I desperately wish I had my tambourine
with me now, because
even after everything I'm still wearing
heavy boots, and sometimes it helps to
play a good beat. My most impressive
song that I can play on my tambourine
is "The Flight of the Bumblebee," by
Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, which is also
the ring tone I downloaded for the cell
phone I got after Dad died. It's pretty
amazing that I can play "The Flight of
the Bumblebee," because you have to
hit incredibly fast in parts, and that's
extremely hard for me, because I don't
really have wrists yet. Ron offered to
buy me a five-piece drum set. Money
can't buy me love, obviously, but I
asked if it would have Zildjian cymbals. He
said, "Whatever you want," and then he
took my yo-yo off my desk and
started to walk the dog with it. I know
he just wanted to be friendly, but it
made me incredibly angry. "Yo-yo moi!" I
told him, grabbing it back. What I
really wanted to tell him was "You're
not my dad, and you never will be."
Isn't it so weird how the number of
dead people is increasing even
though the earth stays the same size, so
that one day there isn't going to be
room to bury anyone anymore? For my
ninth birthday last year, Grandma
gave me a subscription to National
Geographic, which she calls "the National
Geographic." She also gave me a white
blazer, because I only wear white
clothes, and it's too big to wear so it
will last me a long time. She also gave
me Grandpa's camera, which I loved for
two reasons. I asked why he didn't
take it with him when he left her. She
said, "Maybe he wanted you to have it."
I said, "But I was negative-thirty years
old." She said, "Still." Anyway, the
fascinating thing was that I read in
National Geographic that there are more
people alive now than have died in all
of human history. In other words, if
everyone wanted to play Hamlet at once,
they couldn't, because there aren't
enough skulls!
So what about skyscrapers for dead
people that were built down?
They could be underneath the skyscrapers
for living people that are built up.
You could bury people one hundred floors
down, and a whole dead world
could be underneath the living one.
Sometimes I think it would be weird if
there were a skyscraper that moved up
and down while its elevator stayed in
place. So if you wanted to go to the
ninety-fifth floor, you'd just press the 95
button and the ninety-fifth floor would
come to you. Also, that could be
extremely useful, because if you're on
the ninety-fifth floor, and a plane hits
below you, the building could take you
to the ground, and everyone could be
safe, even if you left your birdseed
shirt at home that day.
I've only been in a limousine twice
ever. The first time was terrible,
even though the limousine was wonderful.
I'm not allowed to watch TV at
home, and I'm not allowed to watch TV in
limousines either, but it was still
neat that there was a TV there. I asked
if we could go by school, so
Toothpaste and The Minch could see me in
a limousine. Mom said that
school wasn't on the way, and we
couldn't be late to the cemetery. "Why
not?" I asked, which I actually thought
was a good question, because if you
think about it, why not? Even though I'm
not anymore, I used to be an
atheist, which means I didn't believe in
things that couldn't be observed. I
believed that once you're dead, you're
dead forever, and you don't feel
anything, and you don't even dream. It's
not that I believe in things that can't
be observed now, because I don't. It's
that I believe that things are extremely
complicated. And anyway, it's not like
we were actually burying him, anyway.
Even though I was trying hard for it
not to, it was annoying me
how Grandma kept touching me, so I
climbed into the front seat and poked
the driver's shoulder until he gave me
some attention. "What. Is. Your.
Designation." I asked in Stephen Hawking
voice. "Say what?" "He wants to
know your name," Grandma said from the
back seat. He handed me his card.

Sunshine Limousine
serving the five boroughs
(212) 570-7249

I handed him my card and told him,
"Greetings. Gerald. I. Am.
Oskar." He asked me why I was talking
like that. I told him, "Oskar's CPU is
a neural-net processor. A learning
computer. The more contact he has with
humans, the more he learns." Gerald
said, "O" and then he said "K." I
couldn't tell if he liked me or not, so
I told him, "Your sunglasses are one
hundred dollars." He said, "One
seventy-five." "Do you know a lot of curse
words?" "I know a couple." "I'm not
allowed to use curse
words." "Bummer." "What's 'bummer'? "
"It's a bad thing." "Do you
know 'shit'?" "That's a curse, isn't
it?" "Not if you say 'shiitake.' " "Guess
not." "Succotash my Balzac,
dipshiitake." Gerald shook his head and
cracked up a little, but not in the bad
way, which is at me. "I can't even
say 'hair pie,' " I told him, "unless
I'm talking about an actual pie made out of
rabbits. Cool driving gloves." "Thanks."
And then I thought of something, so I
said it. "Actually, if limousines were
extremely long, they wouldn't need
drivers. You could just get in the back
seat, walk through the limousine, and
then get out of the front seat, which
would be where you wanted to go. So in
this situation, the front seat would be
at the cemetery." "And I would be
watching the game right now." I patted
his shoulder and told him, "When you
look up 'hilarious' in the dictionary,
there's a picture of you."
In the back seat, Mom was holding
something in her purse. I
could tell that she was squeezing it,
because I could see her arm muscles.
Grandma was knitting white mittens, so I
knew they were for me, even
though it wasn't cold out. I wanted to
ask Mom what she was squeezing and
why she had to keep it hidden. I
remember thinking that even if I were
suffering hypothermia, I would never,
ever put on those mittens.
"Now that I'm thinking about it," I
told Gerald, "they could make an
incredibly long limousine that had its
back seat at your mom's VJ and its
front seat at your mausoleum, and it
would be as long as your life." Gerald
said, "Yeah, but if everyone lived like
that, no one would ever meet anyone,
right?" I said, "So?"
Mom squeezed, and Grandma knitted, and
I told Gerald, "I kicked
a French chicken in the stomach once,"
because I wanted to make him
crack up, because if I could make him
crack up, my boots could be a little
lighter. He didn't say anything,
probably because he didn't hear me, so I
said, "I said I kicked a French chicken
in the stomach once." "Huh?" "It
said, 'Oeuf.' " "What is that?" "It's a
joke. Do you want to hear another, or
have you already had un oeuf?" He looked
at Grandma in the mirror and
said, "What's he saying?" She said, "His
grandfather loved animals more than
he loved people." I said, "Get it? Oeuf?"
I crawled back, because it's dangerous
to drive and talk at the
same time, especially on the highway,
which is what we were on. Grandma
started touching me again, which was
annoying, even though I didn't want it
to be. Mom said, "Honey," and I said,
"Oui," and she said, "Did you give a
copy of our apartment key to the
mailman?" I thought it was so weird that
she would mention that then, because it
didn't have to do with anything, but I
think she was looking for something to
talk about that wasn't the obvious
thing. I said, "The mailperson is a
mailwoman." She nodded, but not exactly
at me, and she asked if I'd given the
mailwoman a key. I nodded yes,
because I never used to lie to her
before everything happened. I didn't have a
reason to. "Why did you do that?" she
asked. So I told her, "Stan—" And she
said, "Who?" And I said, "Stan the
doorman. Sometimes he runs around the
corner for coffee, and I want to be sure
all of my packages get to me, so I
thought, if Alicia —" "Who?" "The
mailwoman. If she had a key, she could
leave things inside our door." "But you
can't give a key to a
stranger." "Fortunately Alicia isn't a
stranger." "We have lots of valuable
things in our apartment." "I know. We
have really great things." "Sometimes
people who seem good end up being not as
good as you might have hoped,
you know? What if she had stolen your
things?" "She wouldn't." "But what
if?" "But she wouldn't." "Well, did she
give you a key to her apartment?" She
was obviously mad at me, but I didn't
know why. I hadn't done anything
wrong. Or if I had, I didn't know what
it was. And I definitely didn't mean to do
I moved over to Grandma's side of the
limousine and told
Mom, "Why would I need a key to her
apartment?" She could tell that I was
zipping up the sleeping bag of myself,
and I could tell that she didn't really
love me. I knew the truth, which was
that if she could have chosen, it would
have been my funeral we were driving to.
I looked up at the limousine's
sunroof, and I imagined the world before
there were ceilings, which made me
wonder: Does a cave have no ceiling, or
is a cave all ceiling? "Maybe you
could check with me next time, OK?"
"Don't be mad at me," I said, and I
reached over Grandma and opened and
closed the door's lock a couple of
times. "I'm not mad at you," she said.
"Not even a little?" "No." "Do you still
love me?" It didn't seem like the
perfect time to mention that I had already
made copies of the key for the deliverer
from Pizza Hut, and the UPS person,
and also the nice guys from Greenpeace,
so they could leave me articles on
manatees and other animals that are
going extinct when Stan is getting
coffee. "I've never loved you more."
"Mom?" "Yes?" "I have a question."
"OK." "What are you
squeezing in your purse?" She pulled out
her hand and opened it, and it was
empty. "Just squeezing," she said.
Even though it was an incredibly sad
day, she looked so, so
beautiful. I kept trying to figure out a
way to tell her that, but all of the ways I
thought of were weird and wrong. She was
wearing the bracelet that I made
for her, and that made me feel like one
hundred dollars. I love making jewelry
for her, because it makes her happy, and
making her happy is another one of
my raisons d'être.
It isn't anymore, but for a really long
time it was my dream to take
over the family jewelry business. Dad
constantly used to tell me I was too
smart for retail. That never made sense
to me, because he was smarter than
me, so if I was too smart for retail,
then he really must have been too smart
for retail. I told him that. "First of
all," he told me, "I'm not smarter than
I'm more knowledgeable than you, and
that's only because I'm older than
you. Parents are always more
knowledgeable than their children, and
children are always smarter than their
parents." "Unless the child is a mental
retard," I told him. He didn't have
anything to say about that. "You said
of all,' so what's second of all?"
"Second of all, if I'm so smart, then
why am I
in retail?" "That's true," I said. And
then I thought of something: "But wait a
minute, it won't be the family jewelry
business if no one in the family is
running it." He told me, "Sure it will.
It'll just be someone else's family." I
asked, "Well, what about our family?
Will we open a new business?" He
said, "We'll open something." I thought
about that my second time in a
limousine, when the renter and I were on
our way to dig up Dad's empty
A great game that Dad and I would
sometimes play on Sundays
was Reconnaissance Expedition. Sometimes
the Reconnaissance
Expeditions were extremely simple, like
when he told me to bring back
something from every decade in the
twentieth century—I was clever and
brought back a rock—and sometimes they
were incredibly complicated and
would go on for a couple of weeks. For
the last one we ever did, which never
finished, he gave me a map of Central
Park. I said, "And?" And he said, "And
what?" I said, "What are the clues?" He
said, "Who said there had to be
clues?" "There are always clues." "That
doesn't, in itself, suggest
anything." "Not a single clue?" He said,
"Unless no clues is a clue." "Is no
clues a clue?" He shrugged his
shoulders, like he had no idea what I was
talking about. I loved that.
I spent all day walking around the
park, looking for something that
might tell me something, but the problem
was that I didn't know what I was
looking for. I went up to people and
asked if they knew anything that I should
know, because sometimes Dad would design
Reconnaissance Expeditions
so I would have to talk to people. But
everyone I went up to was just like,
What the? I looked for clues around the
reservoir. I read every poster on every
lamppost and tree. I inspected the
descriptions of the animals at the zoo. I
even made kite-fliers reel in their
kites so I could examine them, although I
knew it was improbable. But that's how
tricky Dad could be. There was
nothing, which would have been
unfortunate, unless nothing was a clue. Was
nothing a clue?
That night we ordered General Tso's
Gluten for dinner and I
noticed that Dad was using a fork, even
though he was perfect with
chopsticks. "Wait a minute!" I said, and
stood up. I pointed at his fork. "Is
that fork a clue?" He shrugged his
shoulders, which to me meant it was a
major clue. I thought: Fork, fork. I ran
to my laboratory and got my metal
detector out of its box in the closet.
Because I'm not allowed to be in the
park alone at night, Grandma went with
me. I started at the Eighty-sixth
Street entrance and walked in extremely
precise lines, like I was one of the
Mexican guys who mow the lawn, so I
wouldn't miss anything. I knew the
insects were loud because it was summer,
but I didn't hear them because
my earphones covered my ears. It was
just me and the metal underground.
Every time the beeps would get close
together, I'd tell Grandma to
shine the flashlight on the spot. Then
I'd put on my white gloves, take the
hand shovel from my kit, and dig
extremely gently. When I saw something, I
used a paintbrush to get rid of the
dirt, just like a real archeologist. Even
though I only searched a small area of
the park that night, I dug up a quarter,
and a handful of paper clips, and what I
thought was the chain from a lamp
that you pull to make the light go on,
and a refrigerator magnet for sushi,
which I know about, but wish I didn't. I
put all of the evidence in a bag and
marked on a map where I found it.
When I got home, I examined the
evidence in my laboratory under
my microscope, one piece at a time: a
bent spoon, some screws, a pair of
rusty scissors, a toy car, a pen, a key
ring, broken glasses for someone with
incredibly bad eyes . . .
I brought them to Dad, who was reading
the New York Times at
the kitchen table, marking the mistakes
with his red pen. "Here's what I've
found," I said, pushing my pussy off the
table with the tray of evidence. Dad
looked at it and nodded. I asked, "So?"
He shrugged his shoulders like he
had no idea what I was talking about,
and he went back to the paper. "Can't
you even tell me if I'm on the right
track?" Buckminster purred, and Dad
shrugged his shoulders again. "But if
you don't tell me anything, how can I
ever be right?" He circled something in
an article and said, "Another way of
looking at it would be, how could you
ever be wrong?"
He got up to get a drink of water, and
I examined what he'd circled
on the page, because that's how tricky
he could be. It was in an article about
the girl who had disappeared, and how
everyone thought the congressman
who was humping her had killed her. A
few months later they found her body
in Rock Creek Park, which is in
Washington, D.C., but by then everything
was different, and no one cared anymore,
except for her parents.

statement, read to the hundreds of
gathered press from a makeshift media
center off the back of the family home,
Levy's father adamantly restated his
confidence that his daughter would be
found. "We will not stop looking until
we are given a definitive reason to stop
looking, namely, Chandra's return."
During the brief question and answer
period that followed, a reporter from El
Pais asked Mr. Levy if by "return" he
meant "safe return." Overcome with
emotion, Mr. Levy was unable to speak,
and his lawyer took the
microphone. "We continue to hope and
pray for Chandra's safety, and will do
everything within

It wasn't a mistake! It was a message
to me!
I went back to the park every night for
the next three nights. I dug
up a hair clip, and a roll of pennies,
and a thumbtack, and a coat hanger, and
a 9V battery, and a Swiss Army knife,
and a tiny picture frame, and a tag for
a dog named Turbo, and a square of
aluminum foil, and a ring, and a razor,
and an extremely old pocket watch that
was stopped at 5:37, although I
didn't know if it was a.m. or p.m. But I
still couldn't figure out what it all
meant. The more I found, the less I
I spread the map out on the dining room
table, and I held down the
corners with cans of V8. The dots from
where I'd found things looked like the
stars in the universe. I connected them,
like an astrologer, and if you
squinted your eyes like a Chinese
person, it kind of looked like the
word "fragile." Fragile. What was
fragile? Was Central Park fragile? Was
nature fragile? Were the things I found
fragile? A thumbtack isn't fragile. Is a
bent spoon fragile? I erased, and
connected the dots in a different way, to
make "door." Fragile? Door? Then I
thought of porte, which is French for door,
obviously. I erased and connected the
dots to make "porte." I had the
revelation that I could connect the dots
to make "cyborg," and "platypus,"
and "boobs," and even "Oskar," if you
were extremely Chinese. I could
connect them to make almost anything I
wanted, which meant I wasn't
getting closer to anything. And now I'll
never know what I was supposed to
find. And that's another reason I can't
I'm not allowed to watch TV, although I
am allowed to rent
documentaries that are approved for me,
and I can read anything I want. My
favorite book is A Brief History of
Time, even though I haven't actually
it, because the math is incredibly hard
and Mom isn't good at helping me.
One of my favorite parts is the
beginning of the first chapter, where
Hawking tells about a famous scientist
who was giving a lecture about how
the earth orbits the sun, and the sun
orbits the solar system, and whatever.
Then a woman in the back of the room
raised her hand and said, "What you
have told us is rubbish. The world is
really a flat plate supported on the back
of a giant tortoise." So the scientist
asked her what the tortoise was standing
on. And she said, "But it's turtles all
the way down!"
I love that story, because it shows how
ignorant people can be.
And also because I love tortoises.
A few weeks after the worst day, I
started writing lots of letters. I
don't know why, but it was one of the
only things that made my boots lighter.
One weird thing is that instead of using
normal stamps, I used stamps from
my collection, including valuable ones,
which sometimes made me wonder if
what I was really doing was trying to
get rid of things. The first letter I wrote
was to Stephen Hawking. I used a stamp
of Alexander Graham Bell.

Dear Stephen Hawking,
Can I please be your protégé?
Oskar Schell

I thought he wasn't going to respond,
because he was such an
amazing person and I was so normal. But
then one day I came home from
school and Stan handed me an envelope
and said, "You've got mail!" in the
AOL voice I taught him. I ran up the 105
stairs to our apartment, and ran to
my laboratory, and went into my closet,
and turned on my flashlight, and
opened it. The letter inside was typed,
obviously, because Stephen Hawking
can't use his hands, because he has
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which I
know about, unfortunately.

Thank you for your letter. Because of
the large volume of mail I receive, I am
unable to write personal responses.
Nevertheless, know that I read and save
every letter, with the hope of one day
being able to give each the proper
response it deserves. Until that day,
Most sincerely,
Stephen Hawking

I called Mom's cell. "Oskar?" "You
picked up before it rang." "Is
everything OK?" "I'm gonna need a
laminator." "A laminator?" "There's
something incredibly wonderful that I
want to preserve."
Dad always used to tuck me in, and he'd
tell the greatest stories,
and we'd read the New York Times
together, and sometimes he'd whistle "I
Am the Walrus," because that was his
favorite song, even though he couldn't
explain what it meant, which frustrated
me. One thing that was so great was
how he could find a mistake in every
single article we looked at. Sometimes
they were grammar mistakes, sometimes
they were mistakes with
geography or facts, and sometimes the
article just didn't tell the whole story.
I loved having a dad who was smarter
than the New York Times, and I loved
how my cheek could feel the hairs on his
chest through his T-shirt, and how
he always smelled like shaving, even at
the end of the day. Being with him
made my brain quiet. I didn't have to
invent a thing.
When Dad was tucking me in that night,
the night before the worst
day, I asked if the world was a flat
plate supported on the back of a giant
tortoise. "Excuse me?" "It's just that
why does the earth stay in place instead
of falling through the universe?" "Is
this Oskar I'm tucking in? Has an alien
stolen his brain for experimentation?" I
said, "We don't believe in aliens." He
said, "The earth does fall through the
universe. You know that, buddy. It's
constantly falling toward the sun.
That's what it means to orbit." So I
said, "Obviously, but why is there
gravity?" He said, "What do you mean why
is there gravity?" "What's the reason?"
"Who said there had to be a
reason?" "No one did, exactly." "My
question was rhetorical." "What's that
mean?" "It means I wasn't asking it for
an answer, but to make a
point." "What point?" "That there
doesn't have to be a reason." "But if there
isn't a reason, then why does the
universe exist at all?" "Because of
sympathetic conditions." "So then why am
I your son?" "Because Mom and I
made love, and one of my sperm
fertilized one of her eggs." "Excuse me
while I regurgitate." "Don't act your
age." "Well, what I don't get is why do we
exist? I don't mean how, but why." I
watched the fireflies of his thoughts orbit
his head. He said, "We exist because we
exist." "What the?" "We could
imagine all sorts of universes unlike
this one, but this is the one that
I understood what he meant, and I
didn't disagree with him, but I
didn't agree with him either. Just
because you're an atheist, that doesn't
mean you wouldn't love for things to
have reasons for why they are.
I turned on my shortwave radio, and
with Dad's help I was able to
pick up someone speaking Greek, which
was nice. We couldn't understand
what he was saying, but we lay there,
looking at the glow-in-the-dark
constellations on my ceiling, and
listened for a while. "Your grandfather
spoke Greek," he said. "You mean he
speaks Greek," I said. "That's right. He
just doesn't speak it here." "Maybe
that's him we're listening to." The front
page was spread over us like a blanket.
There was a picture of a tennis
player on his back, who I guess was the
winner, but I couldn't really tell if he
was happy or sad.
"Dad?" "Yeah?" "Could you tell me a
story?" "Sure." "A good
one?" "As opposed to all the boring ones
I tell." "Right." I tucked my body
incredibly close into his, so my nose
pushed into his armpit. "And you won't
interrupt me?" "I'll try not to."
"Because it makes it hard to tell a
story." "And
it's annoying." "And it's annoying."
The moment before he started was my
favorite moment.
"Once upon a time, New York City had a
sixth borough." "What's
a borough?" "That's what I call an
interruption." "I know, but the story won't
make any sense to me if I don't know
what a borough is." "It's like a
neighborhood. Or a collection of
neighborhoods." "So if there was once a
sixth borough, then what are the five
boroughs?" "Manhattan, obviously,
Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the
Bronx." "Have I ever been to any of
the other boroughs?" "Here we go." "I
just want to know." "We went to the
Bronx Zoo once, a few years ago.
Remember that?" "No." "And we've been to
Brooklyn to see the roses at the Botanic
Garden." "Have I been to
Queens?" "I don't think so." "Have I
been to Staten Island?" "No." "Was there
really a sixth borough?" "I've been
trying to tell you." "No more
interruptions. I
When the story finished, we turned the
radio back on and found
someone speaking French. That was
especially nice, because it reminded
me of the vacation we just came back
from, which I wish never ended. After a
while, Dad asked me if I was awake. I
told him no, because I knew that he
didn't like to leave until I had fallen
asleep, and I didn't want him to be
tired for
work in the morning. He kissed my
forehead and said good night, and then
he was at the door.
"Dad?" "Yeah, buddy?" "Nothing."
The next time I heard his voice was
when I came home from
school the next day. We were let out
early, because of what happened. I
wasn't even a little bit panicky,
because both Mom and Dad worked in
midtown, and Grandma didn't work,
obviously, so everyone I loved was safe.
I know that it was 10:18 when I got
home, because I look at my
watch a lot. The apartment was so empty
and so quiet. As I walked to the
kitchen, I invented a lever that could
be on the front door, which would trigger
a huge spoked wheel in the living room
to turn against metal teeth that would
hang down from the ceiling, so that it
would play beautiful music, like
maybe "Fixing a Hole" or "I Want to Tell
You," and the apartment would be
one huge music box.
After I petted Buckminster for a few
seconds, to show him I loved
him, I checked the phone messages. I
didn't have a cell phone yet, and when
we were leaving school, Toothpaste told
me he'd call to let me know whether
I was going to watch him attempt
skateboarding tricks in the park, or if we
were going to go look at Playboy
magazines in the drugstore with the aisles
where no one can see what you're looking
at, which I didn't feel like doing,
but still.

Message one. Tuesday, 8:52 a.m. Is
anybody there? Hello? It's Dad. If you're
there, pick up. I just tried the office,
but no one was picking up. Listen,
something's happened. I'm OK. They're
telling us to stay where we are and
wait for the firemen. I'm sure it's
fine. I'll give you another call when I
have a
better idea of what's going on. Just
wanted to let you know that I'm OK, and
not to worry. I'll call again soon.

There were four more messages from him:
one at 9:12, one at
9:31, one at 9:46, and one at 10:04. I
listened to them, and listened to them
again, and then before I had time to
figure out what to do, or even what to
think or feel, the phone started ringing.
It was 10:22:27.
I looked at the caller ID and saw that
it was him.

Copyright © 2005 by Jonathan Safran
Foer. Reprinted by permission of
Houghton Mifflin Company.

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