We had been staying at our grandparents’ house in London while our parents were abroad in Russia, and one afternoon my brother and I were overcome with the desire for the chocolate sold in a nearby shop. I don’t know why we didn’t ask my grandmother for the money: we must have thought she’d refuse, or maybe we were thrilled by the idea of laying hold of the chocolate surreptitiously. In the garden in front of their semidetached house, my grandfather grew roses that remain, for me, the archetype of a rose; I can’t think or say the word without summoning those delicate, fragrant English flowers. We found my grandmother’s heavy metal shears in the kitchen, and squeezed the stems between the blades, high up under the flowers’ sepals, until the large heads rolled. Coolly, we wrapped the stumps in aluminum foil, and decided that a lie would be necessary to convince people to buy them. We stood out on the street, and began to sing: “Roses for sale, roses for sale, roses for children’s charity!” A woman stopped. I remember her as lovely, with tidy, dark hair beneath her woolen hat. She set down the bags she was carrying. “Are you sure it’s for charity?” she asked us. Later it was her question that undid us. She had given us the chance to reconsider and come clean, but instead of taking it, we dug ourselves more deeply in. We nodded: quite sure, yes. She took out her wallet and unburdened us of our handfuls of roses—six or eight of them. My brother took the coins, and we began to walk quickly in silence. But as we made our way toward the shop, a crushing black guilt descended on us. We had done something we couldn’t undo: beheaded our grandfather’s roses, sold them off, lied to a stranger, all to serve our appetite. The sense of the permanence of our wrongdoing, our inability to ever correct it, was immensely heavy. I don’t remember whether I turned to my brother and finally spoke, or whether it was he who turned to me, but I remember the words clearly: Are you feeling what I’m feeling? There was nothing more to be said. We bent down in the earth alongside the sidewalk, dug a hole, and buried the coins. That we would never breathe a word of what we had done to anyone was implicit. One day, I told my children the story. They were crazy for it, and wanted to hear it again and again. For days, they continued to bring it up. But why did you bury the money? my younger son kept asking. To be rid of it, I told him. But it’s still there, he said, shaking his head. To this day, if you go to that spot and dig, the coins will still be there. Nicole Krauss, Dark House
Tag Archives: Nicole Krauss
[Every year the children play for hours in a hotel swimming pool on holidays with their parents in Israel. One year ] . . . my brother and I discovered that the pool was full of money—shekels everywhere, shimmering mutely on the floor of the pool, as if the drain were hooked up to Bank Hapoalim. Whatever lingering fears I had about swimming were shunted aside by the steady flow of cash we could turn up. As in any well-run operation, we soon divided and specialized: my brother, two years older, became the diver, and I, with a smaller lung capacity and keener eyes, became the spotter. At my direction, he would plunge down and grope around at the blurry bottom. If I had been right, as I was about sixty-five percent of the time, he would burst excitedly to the surface, clutching the coin.
One afternoon after a string of false calls I began to feel desperate. The day was wearing on, and our time in the pool was almost up. My brother was wading morosely along the wall of the shallow end. I couldn’t help myself, and from the middle of the pool shouted: “There!” I was lying—I’d seen nothing—but I couldn’t resist the chance to make my brother happy again. He came splashing toward me. “Right there!” I yelled.
He went below. I knew there was nothing at the bottom, and now, treading water at the top, I waited miserably for my brother to find out, too. The crushing guilt I felt in those few moments comes vividly back even more than thirty years later. It was one thing to lie to my parents, but to so blatantly betray my brother was something else again.
As for what happened next, I have no explanation for it. Or none beyond the possibility that the laws we cling to in order to assure ourselves that all is as it seems have occluded a more complex view of the universe, one that forgoes the comfort of squeezing the world to fit the limited reach of our comprehension. Otherwise, how else to explain that when my brother surfaced and uncurled his fingers, lying in his palm was an earring with three diamonds and, beneath them, hanging from a gold loop at the bottom, a ruby heart?
Nicole Krauss, Forest Dark
Following the publication of his first autobiography, “Uncle Tungsten,” [Oliver] Sacks came to understand that his memories were not as reliable as he’d thought: After describing in high detail the memory of a thermite bomb that fell behind the family’s house in the winter of 1940-41, he was informed by his brother that he had not in fact been present for it, having been sent away to the relative safety of boarding school. The “memory” had been lifted whole from a letter their older brother wrote to them both, describing the dramatic event in a way that had deeply impressed Sacks at the time. And yet even after accepting the correction, Sacks found that the recollection lost none of its vivid power, having long been embedded as if it were a genuine primary memory. Neither psychoanalysis nor brain imaging can tell the difference between a true and false memory. And more than that, Sacks writes, “There is, it seems, no mechanism in the mind or the brain for ensuring the truth…. We have no direct access to historical truth … no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way…. Our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other and ourselves — the stories we continually recategorize and refine.”
Nicole Krauss, A Last Glimpse Into the Mind of Oliver Sacks The New York Times, December 4, 2017 (from here)
By the time you were born I understood, in a way that I could not have with Uri, just what the birth of a child means. How he grows, and how his innocence is slowly ruined, how his features change forever the first time he feels shame, how he comes to learn the meaning of disappointment, of disgust. How a whole world is contained inside of him, and it was mine to lose. I felt powerless against these things. And of course you were a different kind of child than Uri. From the beginning you seemed to know things and to hold them against me. As if you somehow understood that built into raising a child are inevitable acts of violence against him. Looking down into the crib at your tiny face contorted by screams of grief — there is nothing else to call it, I’ve never heard any baby cry like you —I was guilty before I’d even begun. I know how this sounds; after all you were only a baby. But something about you attacked the weakest part of me, and I backed away. Nicole Krauss, Great House,