The following extract is taken from the novel “Invisible” by Paul Auster (London 2009, pp. 62-65).
Here the narrator, a young student of literature, is walking home through New York City with his
professor, Born, a respectable man of about 50, who has just asked the narrator to become the editor
of a literary magazine.
We crossed over to the eastern sidewalk of Riverside Drive and began
walking downtown. Several streetlamps had burned out, and as we
approached the corner of West 112th, we found ourselves entering a blocklong
stretch of murk and darkness. Night had fallen in earnest by then, and it
was difficult to see anything more than a
yard or two in front of us. I lit up a
cigarette, and through the glow of the match burning near my mouth, I
glimpsed the shadowy outline of a figure emerging from a blackened
doorway. A second later, Born grabbed my arm and told me to stop. Just that one word: Stop. I let the match fall from my hand and tossed the cigarette
into the gutter. The figure was coming toward us, unmistakably walking in
direction, and after a few more steps I saw that it was a black kid dressed
in dark clothes. He was rather short, probably no more than sixteen or
seventeen, but after another three or four steps, I finally understood why
Born had grabbed my arm, finally saw what he had already seen. The kid
was holding a gun in his left hand. The gun was pointed at us, and just like
that, with a single tick of the clock, the entire
universe had changed. The kid
wasn’t a person anymore. He was that gun and nothing else, the nightmare
gun that lived in every New Yorker’s imagination, the heartless, inhuman
gun that was destined to find you alone one night on a darkened street and
send you to an early grave.
Fork it over
. Empty your pockets. Shut up. A
moment earlier, I had been on top of
the world, and now, suddenly, I was
more afraid than I had ever been in my life.
The kid stopped about two feet in front of us, pointed the gun at my chest,
He was close enough now for me to see his face, and as far as I could tell he
looked scared, not at all confident about what he was doing. How could I
have known this?
Perhaps it was something in his eyes, or perhaps I had
detected a slight tremor in his lower lip – I can’t be sure. Fear made me blind, and whatever sense I had
of him must have come to me through my
pores, a subliminal osmosis
, so to speak, knowledge without consciousness,
but I was almost certain that he was a beginner, a novice thug out on his first
or second job.
Born was standing to my left, and after a moment I heard him say: What do
you want from us? There was a small quiver in his voice, but at least he had
speak, which was more than I was capable of doing just then.
Your money, the kid said. Your money and your watch. Both of you. Wallets
first. And be quick about it. I ain’t got all night.
I reached into my pocket for my billfold,
but Born chose to
unexpectedly make a stand. A stupid move, I thought, an act of defiance that could wind
up getting us both killed, but there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.
And what if I don’t want to give you my money? he asked.
Then I’ll shoot you, mister, the kid said. I’ll shoot you and take your wallet
Born let out a long, histrionic
sigh. You’re going to regret this, little man, he
Why don’t you just run along now and leave us alone?
Why don’t you just shut your fucking mouth and give me your wallet? the
kid answered, thrusting the gun into the
air a couple of times for emphasis.
As you wish, Born replied. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I was still looking at the kid, which meant that I had only a vague, peripheral
view of Born, but at the last second I turned my head slightly to the left and
saw him reach into the inside breast pocket of his jacket. I assumed he was
going for his billfold, but
when his hand emerged from the pocket it was bunched up into a fist, as if he was hiding something, concealing some
object in his closed palm. I couldn’t begin to
guess what that thing might
have been. An instant later, I heard a click, and the
blade of a knife jumped out of its sheath. With a hard, upward thrust, Born immediately stabbed the
kid with the switchblade – straight in the stomach, a dead-center hit. The boy
grunted as the steel tore through his flesh, grabbed his stomach with his right
hand, and slowly sank to the ground.
Shit, man, he said. It ain’t even loaded.
l. 19 Fork it over
. here: Give me your money.
l. 27 osmosis
the gradual process of liquid passing through a membrane
l. 39 histrionic