Whores in brothels snored, happier in sleep than ever when awake, and amidst this clamor, a one-eyed man with pock-marked face stood holding a box in hands whose dirt had become the grain of their flesh … The box
in those hands gave forth the most delicate, exquisite melody my ears
had ever sung. … This ringing quiet melody overpowered all other
sounds of that afternoon, all misery, all appetite, all paused
in the gentle, delicate shelter of that sound. I, Gaspirini, was born.

—From “Gaspirini’s Organ,” in Unreal City

Book Excerpts

Excerpts: A Passion in the Desert

You lay there and stare at the wall, the puckered plaster, a variety of odd faces watching you. A woman with a pan-shaped head and flat eyes, a blade-faced man with two black glittering eyeballs trapped in the surface of the wall. Maybe you do not believe that, but why not? It could be. There could be dead souls, spirits, everywhere, staring at you, wanting something. What? That the price be paid.

—From A Passion in the Desert

You never knew if the others would come. The custodian with the flat nose let them, for a price, and he listened, everyone knew he stood outside and listened, holding his own meat in his greasy hand. Sometimes you were asleep and then you woke, and it was the same dark but now you knew someone was there, three, four of them, in the dark, and you opened your mouth to scream, but it was covered so all you heard was your own muffled groaning and their breath, the muttered words.

—From A Passion in the Desert

Excerpts: Cast Upon the Day

He paused, felt the blood in his face, eyes bulging, saw their faces, their eyes watching him, suspended. He took a decision. They must see this. They must know. That it was not for lack of love or passion or fear of pain. He slammed the flat of his hand down onto the table. The cups jumped in their saucers, and he bellowed out: “I do not want this to happen to us!”

—From “Years in Kaldar”

Sometimes after they make love, Donna weeps and smolders. Brighton holds her as her babies sleep in the next room, and she curses her life, the fate she has brought upon herself and her bastards, calls herself a welfare slut, blames her putana mother, a topless dancer who killed herself driving drunk. Brighton shushes her, runs his palm down the silken skin of her back trying not to imagine her mother’s body burning in the wreckage of her Impala convertible; he tells her she should be proud of her children, three healthy beautiful girls, even if one of them is not so healthy and another not so nice.

—From “The Pleasure of Man & Woman Together on Earth”

Excerpts: Crossing Borders

He thought now of the way his son sometimes touched him as they spoke together, unconsciously picking at the hair on his arm or stroking his shirt or tugging at his earlobe, running a finger across his lips. He thought of how his little girl’s body clung to him when she was tired or frightened, the fragrance of sunshine in her auburn hair. This is the only complete love, the only real crossing of the borders of isolation. He was connected to his children in a way, as sure as if there were an umbilical cord between them, the same cord that had connected him to his parents — but with time it deteriorated. That was just the way things were. Till then, though, the privilege of connection was there — with the children. Not with Evelyn. With Evelyn it was not joining, but clash, and penetration. And anger. He tried to remember how it had been to make love with Evelyn, closed his eyes, but smelt Cindy and saw her smiling mouth, lips, teeth, blue-green eyes hovering over him in the dusky light, careening rhythmically, endlessly, shifting to the side, to the side, groaning inarticulate questions of pleasure.

—From Crossing Borders

Excerpts: The Book of Angels

Slowly, she raised the shade, expecting a face to be there, at the window. The fire escape was empty, the courtyard below empty, the iron platform above empty. Then she thought, What if they already came in? Slipped in while she was checking the rooms of the apartment? What if they were there always, jumping from place to place behind her, smiling into their fists, swallowing their laughter behind her as she moved from place to place, taking their time before they decided to grab her?

—From The Book of Angels

Excerpts: Unreal City (Stories)

Walker looked into the darkness. He looked at the darkness. It was not easy to see, darkness, to find the focus. There were levels, layers which existed on many different planes at once, and it was not mere blackness, no, not even in the deep darkness of this room. There was a, for want of a better word, screen of mottled lightlessness, unstable, in movement. He studied ths “screen” for a time, relaxing his body, letting his arms lay gently on the chair arms. At the corner of the screen, in the periphery of the dark, almost imperceptibly at first, but with an increasing insistence, a movement began. A sort of juggling movement, he would call it, a juggler with a thousand objects, a juggler working with tiny shards of black light. The movement steepened, became a presence …

The faceless man stood now on this side of the furnace. Walker’s mouth was dry. He sat in the chair in the dark, eyes shut, watching. Behind the figure, behind the network of pipes, beside the red-brown door stood his son, Robert, glowing, his face concealed behind the shoulder and hat of the faceless man.

—From “To the Western Wall, Luke Havergal”