Reading 1

The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies. The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went on to Madrid.
“What should we drink?” the girl asked. She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.
“It’s pretty hot,” the man said. “Let’s drink beer.”
“Dos cervezas,” the man said into the curtain. “Big ones?” a woman asked from the doorway. “Yes. Two big ones.”
The woman brought two glasses of beer and two felt pads. She put the felt pads and the beer glasses on the table and looked at the man and the
girl. The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry.
“They look like white elephants,” she said.
“I’ve never seen one,” the man drank his beer.
“No, you wouldn’t have.”
“I might have,” the man said. “Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything.”
The girl looked at the bead curtain. “They’ve painted something on it,” she said. “What does it say?”
“Anis del Toro. It’s a drink.”
“Could we try it?”
The man called “Listen” through the curtain. The woman came out from the bar.
“Four reales.”
“We want two Anis del Toro.” “With water?”
“Do you want it with water?”
“I don’t know,” the girl said. “Is it good with water?” “It’s all right.”
“You want them with water?” asked the woman. “Yes, with water.”
“It tastes like licorice,” the girl said and put the glass down.
“That’s the way with everything.”
“Yes,” said the girl. “Everything tastes of licorice. Especially all the things you’ve waited so long for, like absinthe.”
“Oh, cut it out.”
“You started it,” the girl said. “I was being amused. I was having a fine time.”
“Well, let’s try and have a fine time.”
“All right. I was trying. I said the mountains looked like white elephants. Wasn’t that bright?”
“That was bright.”
“I wanted to try this new drink: that’s all we do, isn’t it—look at things and try new drinks?”
“I guess so.”
The girl looked across at the hills.
“They’re lovely hills,” she said. “They don’t really look like white elephants. I just meant the coloring of their skin through the trees.”
“Should we have another drink?”
“All right.”
The warm wind blew the bead curtain against the table.
“The beer’s nice and cool,” the man said.
“It’s lovely,” the girl said.
“It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,” the man said. “It’s not really an operation at all.”
The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.
“I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let the air in.”
The girl did not say anything.
“I’ll go with you and I’ll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in and then it’s all perfectly natural.”
“Then what will we do afterward?”
“We’ll be fine afterward. Just like we were before.”
“What makes you think so?”
“That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy.”
The girl looked at the bead curtain, put her hand out, and took hold of two of the strings of beads.
“And you think then we’ll be all right and be happy.”
“I know we will. You don’t have to be afraid. I’ve known lots of people that have done it.”
“So have I,” said the girl. “And afterward they were all so happy.”
“Well,” the man said, “if you don’t want to you don’t have to. I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple.”
“And you really want to?”
“I think it’s the best thing to do. But I don’t want you to do it if you don’t really want to.”
“And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?”
“I love you now. You know I love you.”
“I know. But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you’ll like it?”
“I’ll love it. I love it now but I just can’t think about it. You know how I get when I worry.”
“If I do it you won’t ever worry?”
“I won’t worry about that because it’s perfectly simple.”
“Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t care about me.”
“Well, I care about you.”
“Oh, yes. But I don’t care about me. And I’ll do it and then everything will be fine.”
“I don’t want you to do it if you feel that way.”
The girl stood up and walked to the end of the station. Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro. Far away, beyond the river, were mountains. The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain and she saw the river through the trees.
“And we could have all this,” she said. “And we could have everything and every day we make it more impossible.”
“What did you say?”
“I said we could have everything.”
“We can have everything.”
“No, we can’t.”
“We can have the whole world.”
“No, we can’t.”
“We can go everywhere.”
“No, we can’t. It isn’t ours any more.”
“It’s ours.”
“No, it isn’t. And once they take it away, you never get it back.” “But they haven’t taken it away.”
“We’ll wait and see.”
“Come on back in the shade,” he said. “You mustn’t feel that way.”
“I don’t feel any way,” the girl said. “I just know things.”
“I don’t want you to do anything that you don’t want to do—”
“Nor that isn’t good for me,” she said. “I know. Could we have another beer?”
“All right. But you’ve got to realize—”
“I realize,” the girl said. “Can’t we maybe stop talking?”
They sat down at the table and the girl looked across at the hills on the dry side of the valley and the man looked at her and at the table.
“You’ve got to realize,” he said, “that I don’t want you to do it if you don’t want to. I’m perfectly willing to go through with it if it means anything to you.”
“Doesn’t it mean anything to you? We could get along.”
“Of course it does. But I don’t want anybody but you. I don’t want any one else. And I know it’s perfectly simple.”
“Yes, you know it’s perfectly simple.”
“It’s all right for you to say that, but I do know it.”
“Would you do something for me now?”
“I’d do anything for you.”
“Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?”
He did not say anything but looked at the bags against the wall of the station. There were labels on them from all the hotels where they had spent nights.
“But I don’t want you to,” he said, “I don’t care anything about it.”
“I’ll scream,” the girl said.
The woman came out through the curtains with two glasses of beer and put them down on the damp felt pads. “The train comes in five minutes,” she said.
“What did she say?” asked the girl.
“That the train is coming in five minutes.”
The girl smiled brightly at the woman, to thank her.
“I’d better take the bags over to the other side of the station,” the man said. She smiled at him.
“All right. Then come back and we’ll finish the beer.”
He picked up the two heavy bags and carried them around the station to the other tracks. He looked up the tracks but could not see the train. Coming back, he walked through the barroom, where people waiting for the train were drinking. He drank an Anis at the bar and looked at the people. They were all waiting reasonably for the train. He went out through the bead curtain. She was sitting at the table and smiled at him.
“Do you feel better?” he asked.
“I feel fine,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.”


  1. What is a “white elephant”?
  2. What do you think the couple is arguing about? Is it more than one thing?

Reading 2

JUNOT DÍAZ (B. 1968)
DROWN 1996
My mother tells me Beto’s home, waits for me to say something, but I keep watching the TV. Only when she’s in bed do I put on my jacket and swing through the neighborhood to see. He’s a pato now but two years ago we were friends and he would walk into the apartment without knocking, his heavy voice rousing my mother from the Spanish of her room and drawing me up from the basement, a voice that crackled and made you think of uncles or grandfathers.
We were raging then, crazy the way we stole, broke windows, the way we pissed on people’s steps and then challenged them to come out and stop us. Beto was leaving for college at the end of the summer and was delirious from the thought of it—he hated everything about the neighborhood, the break-apart buildings, the little strips of grass, the piles of garbage around the cans, and the dump, especially the dump.
I don’t know how you can do it, he said to me. I would just find me a job anywhere and go.
Yeah, I said. I wasn’t like him. I had another year to go in high school, no promises elsewhere.
Days we spent in the mall or out in the parking lot playing stickball, but nights were what we waited for. The heat in the apartments was like something heavy that had come inside to die. Families arranged on their
porches, the glow from their TVs washing blue against the brick. From my family apartment you could smell the pear trees that had been planted years ago, four to a court, probably to save us all from asphyxiation. Nothing moved fast, even the daylight was slow to fade, but as soon as night settled Beto and I headed down to the community center and sprang the fence into the pool. We were never alone, every kid with legs was there. We lunged from the boards and swam out of the deep end, wrestling and farting around. At around midnight abuelas, with their night hair swirled around spiky rollers, shouted at us from their apartment windows. ¡Sinvergüenzas! Go home!
I pass his apartment but the windows are dark; I put my ear to the busted-up door and hear only the familiar hum of the air conditioner. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll talk to him. I can go back to my dinner and two years will become three.
Even from four blocks off I can hear the racket from the pool—radios too—and wonder if we were ever that loud. Little has changed, not the stink of chlorine, not the bottles exploding against the lifeguard station. I hook my fingers through the plastic-coated hurricane fence. Something tells me that he will be here; I hop the fence, feeling stupid when I sprawl on the dandelions and the grass.
Nice one, somebody calls out.
Fuck me, I say. I’m not the oldest motherfucker in the place, but it’s close. I take off my shirt and my shoes and then knife in. Many of the
kids here are younger brothers of the people I used to go to school with. Two of them swim past, black and Latino, and they pause when they see me, recognizing the guy who sells them their shitty dope. The crackheads have their own man, Lucero, and some other guy who drives in from Paterson, the only full-time commuter in the area.
The water feels good. Starting at the deep end I glide over the slick- tiled bottom without kicking up a spume or making a splash. Sometimes another swimmer churns past me, more a disturbance of water than a body. I can still go far without coming up. While everything above is loud and bright, everything below is whispers. And always the risk of coming up to find the cops stabbing their searchlights out across the water. And then everyone running, wet feet slapping against the concrete, yelling, Fuck you, officers, you puto sucios, fuck you.
When I’m tired I wade through to the shallow end, past some kid who’s kissing his girlfriend, watching me as though I’m going to try to cut in, and I sit near the sign that runs the pool during the day. No Horseplay, No Running, No Defecating, No Urinating, No Expectorating. At the bottom someone has scrawled in No Whites, No Fat Chiks and someone else has provided the missing c. I laugh. Beto hadn’t known what expectorating meant though he was the one leaving for college. I told him, spitting a greener by the side of the pool.
Shit, he said. Where did you learn that? I shrugged.
Tell me. He hated when I knew something he didn’t. He put his hands on my shoulders and pushed me under. He was wearing a cross and cutoff jeans. He was stronger than me and held me down until water flooded my nose and throat. Even then I didn’t tell him; he thought I didn’t read, not even dictionaries.
We live alone. My mother has enough for the rent and groceries and I cover the phone bill, sometimes the cable. She’s so quiet that most of the time I’m startled to find her in the apartment. I’ll enter a room and she’ll stir, detaching herself from the cracking plaster walls, from the stained cabinets, and fright will pass through me like a wire. She has discovered the secret to silence: pouring café without a splash, walking between rooms as if gliding on a cushion of felt, crying without a sound. You have traveled to the East and learned many secret things, I’ve told her. You’re like a shadow warrior.
And you’re like a crazy, she says. Like a big crazy.
When I come in she’s still awake, her hands picking clots of lint from her skirt. I put a towel down on the sofa and we watch television together. We settle on the Spanish-language news: drama for her, violence for me. Today a child has survived a seven-story fall, busting nothing but his diaper. The hysterical baby-sitter, about three hundred pounds of her, is head-butting the microphone.
It’s a goddamn miraclevilla, she cries.
My mother asks me if I found Beto. I tell her that I didn’t look.
That’s too bad. He was telling me that he might be starting at a school for business.
So what?
She’s never understood why we don’t speak anymore. I’ve tried to explain, all wise-like, that everything changes, but she thinks that sort of saying is only around so you can prove it wrong.
He asked me what you were doing. What did you say?
I told him you were fine.
You should have told him I moved. And what if he ran into you?
I’m not allowed to visit my mother?
She notices the tightening of my arms. You should be more like me and your father.
Can’t you see I’m watching television?
I was angry at him, wasn’t I? But now we can talk to each other. Am I watching television here or what?
Saturdays she asks me to take her to the mall. As a son I feel I owe her that much, even though neither of us has a car and we have to walk two miles through redneck territory to catch the M15.
Before we head out she drags us through the apartment to make sure the windows are locked. She can’t reach the latches so she has me test them. With the air conditioner on we never open windows but I go through the routine anyway. Putting my hand on the latch is not enough —she wants to hear it rattle. This place just isn’t safe, she tells me. Lorena got lazy and look what they did to her. They punched her and kept her locked up in her place. Those morenos ate all her food and even made phone calls. Phone calls!
That’s why we don’t have long-distance, I tell her but she shakes her head. That’s not funny, she says.
She doesn’t go out much, so when she does it’s a big deal. She dresses up, even puts on makeup. Which is why I don’t give her lip about taking her to the mall even though I usually make a fortune on Saturdays, selling to those kids going down to Belmar or out to Spruce Run.
I recognize like half the kids on the bus. I keep my head buried in my cap, praying that nobody tries to score. She watches the traffic, her hands somewhere inside her purse, doesn’t say a word.
When we arrive at the mall I give her fifty dollars. Buy something, I say, hating the image I have of her, picking through the sale bins, wrinkling everything. Back in the day, my father would give her a
hundred dollars at the end of each summer for my new clothes and she would take nearly a week to spend it, even though it never amounted to more than a couple of t-shirts and two pairs of jeans. She folds the bills into a square. I’ll see you at three, she says.
I wander through the stores, staying in sight of the cashiers so they won’t have reason to follow me. The circuit I make has not changed since my looting days. Bookstore, record store, comic-book shop, Macy’s. Me and Beto used to steal like mad from these places, two, three hundred dollars of shit in an outing. Our system was simple—we walked into a store with a shopping bag and came out loaded. Back then security wasn’t tight. The only trick was in the exit. We stopped right at the entrance of the store and checked out some worthless piece of junk to stop people from getting suspicious. What do you think? we asked each other. Would she like it? Both of us had seen bad shoplifters at work. All grab and run, nothing smooth about them. Not us. We idled out of the stores slow, like a fat seventies car. At this, Beto was the best. He even talked to mall security, asked them for directions, his bag all loaded up, and me, standing ten feet away, shitting my pants. When he finished he smiled, swinging his shopping bag up to hit me.
You got to stop that messing around, I told him. I’m not going to jail for bullshit like that.
You don’t go to jail for shoplifting. They just turn you over to your old man.
I don’t know about you, but my pops hits like a motherfucker.
He laughed. You know my dad. He flexed his hands. The nigger’s got arthritis.
My mother never suspected, even when my clothes couldn’t all fit in my closet, but my father wasn’t that easy. He knew what things cost and knew that I didn’t have a regular job.
You’re going to get caught, he told me one day. Just you wait. When you do I’ll show them everything you’ve taken and then they’ll throw your stupid ass away like a bad piece of meat.
He was a charmer, my pop, a real asshole, but he was right. Nobody can stay smooth forever, especially kids like us. One day at the bookstore, we didn’t even hide the drops. Four issues of the same Playboy for kicks, enough audio books to start our own library. No last minute juke either. The lady who stepped in front of us didn’t look old, even with her white hair. Her silk shirt was half unbuttoned and a silver horn necklace sat on the freckled top of her chest. I’m sorry fellows, but I have to check your bag, she said. I kept moving, and looked back all annoyed, like she was asking us for a quarter or something. Beto got polite and stopped. No problem, he said, slamming the heavy bag into her face. She hit the cold tile with a squawk, her palms slapping the ground. There you go, Beto said.
Security found us across from the bus stop, under a Jeep Cherokee. A bus had come and gone, both of us too scared to take it, imagining a
plainclothes waiting to clap the cuffs on. I remember that when the rent- a-cop tapped his nightstick against the fender and said, You little shits better come out here real slow, I started to cry. Beto didn’t say a word, his face stretched out and gray, his hand squeezing mine, the bones in our fingers pressing together.
Nights I drink with Alex and Danny. The Malibou Bar is no good, just washouts and the sucias we can con into joining us. We drink too much, roar at each other and make the skinny bartender move closer to the phone. On the wall hangs a cork dartboard and a Brunswick Gold Crown blocks the bathroom, its bumpers squashed, the felt pulled like old skin.
When the bar begins to shake back and forth like a rumba, I call it a night and go home, through the fields that surround the apartments. In the distance you can see the Raritan, as shiny as an earthworm, the same river my homeboy goes to school on. The dump has long since shut down, and grass has spread over it like a sickly fuzz, and from where I stand, my right hand directing a colorless stream of piss downward, the landfill might be the top of a blond head, square and old.
In the mornings I run. My mother is already up, dressing for her housecleaning job. She says nothing to me, would rather point to the mangú she has prepared than speak.
I run three miles easily, could have pushed a fourth if I were in the mood. I keep an eye out for the recruiter who prowls around our neighborhood in his dark K-car. We’ve spoken before. He was out of
uniform and called me over, jovial, and I thought I was helping some white dude with directions. Would you mind if I asked you a question?
Do you have a job?
Not right now.
Would you like one? A real career, more than you’ll get around here?
I remember stepping back. Depends on what it is, I said.
Son, I know somebody who’s hiring. It’s the United States government.
Well. Sorry, but I ain’t Army material.
That’s exactly what I used to think, he said, his ten piggy fingers buried in his carpeted steering wheel. But now I have a house, a car, a gun and a wife. Discipline. Loyalty. Can you say that you have those things? Even one?
He’s a southerner, red-haired, his drawl so out of place that the people around here laugh just hearing him. I take to the bushes when I see his car on the road. These days my guts feel loose and cold and I want to be away from here. He won’t have to show me his Desert Eagle or flash the
photos of the skinny Filipino girls sucking dick. He’ll only have to smile and name the places and I’ll listen.
When I reach the apartment, I lean against my door, waiting for my heart to slow, for the pain to lose its edge. I hear my mother’s voice, a whisper from the kitchen. She sounds hurt or nervous, maybe both. At first I’m terrified that Beto’s inside with her but then I look and see the phone cord, swinging lazily. She’s talking to my father, something she knows I disapprove of. He’s in Florida now, a sad guy who calls her and begs for money. He swears that if she moves down there he’ll leave the woman he’s living with. These are lies, I’ve told her, but she still calls him. His words coil inside of her, wrecking her sleep for days. She opens the refrigerator door slightly so that the whir of the compressor masks their conversation. I walk in on her and hang up the phone. That’s enough, I say.
She’s startled, her hand squeezing the loose folds of her neck. That was him, she says quietly.
On school days Beto and I chilled at the stop together but as soon as that bus came over the Parkwood hill I got to thinking about how I was failing gym and screwing up math and how I hated every single living teacher on the planet.
I’ll see you in the p.m., I said.
He was already standing on line. I just stood back and grinned, my hands in my pockets. With our bus drivers you didn’t have to hide. Two
of them didn’t give a rat fuck and the third one, the Brazilian preacher, was too busy talking Bible to notice anything but the traffic in front of him.
Being truant without a car was no easy job but I managed. I watched a lot of TV and when it got boring I trooped down to the mall or the Sayreville library, where you could watch old documentaries for free. I always came back to the neighborhood late, so the bus wouldn’t pass me on Ernston and nobody could yell Asshole! out the windows. Beto would usually be home or down by the swings, but other times he wouldn’t be around at all. Out visiting other neighborhoods. He knew a lot of folks I didn’t—a messed-up black kid from Madison Park, two brothers who were into that N.Y. club scene, who spent money on platform shoes and leather backpacks. I’d leave a message with his parents and then watch some more TV. The next day he’d be out at the bus stop, too busy smoking a cigarette to say much about the day before.
You need to learn how to walk the world, he told me. There’s a lot out there.
Some nights me and the boys drive to New Brunswick. A nice city, the Raritan so low and silty that you don’t have to be Jesus to walk over it. We hit the Melody and the Roxy, stare at the college girls. We drink a lot and then spin out onto the dance floor. None of the chicas ever dance with us, but a glance or a touch can keep us talking shit for hours.
Once the clubs close we go to the Franklin Diner, gorge ourselves on pancakes, and then, after we’ve smoked our pack, head home. Danny passes out in the back seat and Alex cranks the window down to keep the wind in his eyes. He’s fallen asleep in the past, wrecked two cars before this one. The streets have been picked clean of students and townies and we blow through every light, red or green. At the Old Bridge Turnpike we pass the fag bar, which never seems to close. Patos are all over the parking lot, drinking and talking.
Sometimes Alex will stop by the side of the road and say, Excuse me. When somebody comes over from the bar he’ll point his plastic pistol at them, just to see if they’ll run or shit their pants. Tonight he just puts his head out the window. Fuck you! he shouts and then settles back in his seat, laughing.
That’s original, I say.
He puts his head out the window again. Eat me, then! Yeah, Danny mumbles from the back. Eat me.
Twice. That’s it.
The first time was at the end of that summer. We had just come back from the pool and were watching a porn video at his parents’ apartment. His father was a nut for these tapes, ordering them from wholesalers in California and Grand Rapids. Beto used to tell me how his pop would watch them in the middle of the day, not caring a lick about his moms,
who spent the time in the kitchen, taking hours to cook a pot of rice and gandules. Beto would sit down with his pop and neither of them would say a word, except to laugh when somebody caught it in the eye or the face.
We were an hour into the new movie, some vaina that looked like it had been filmed in the apartment next door, when he reached into my shorts. What the fuck are you doing? I asked, but he didn’t stop. His hand was dry. I kept my eyes on the television, too scared to watch. I came right away, smearing the plastic sofa covers. My legs started shaking and suddenly I wanted out. He didn’t say anything to me as I left, just sat there watching the screen.
The next day he called and when I heard his voice I was cool but I wouldn’t go to the mall or anywhere else. My mother sensed that something was wrong and pestered me about it, but I told her to leave me the fuck alone, and my pops, who was home on a visit, stirred himself from the couch to slap me down. Mostly I stayed in the basement, terrified that I would end up abnormal, a fucking pato, but he was my best friend and back then that mattered to me more than anything. This alone got me out of the apartment and over to the pool that night. He was already there, his body pale and flabby under the water. Hey, he said. I was beginning to worry about you.
Nothing to worry about, I said.
We swam and didn’t talk much and later we watched a Skytop crew pull a bikini top from a girl stupid enough to hang out alone. Give it, she said, covering herself, but these kids howled, holding it up over her head, the shiny laces flopping just out of reach. When they began to pluck at her arms, she walked away, leaving them to try the top on over their flat pecs.
He put his hand on my shoulder, my pulse a code under his palm. Let’s go, he said. Unless of course you’re not feeling good.
I’m feeling fine, I said.
Since his parents worked nights we pretty much owned the place until six the next morning. We sat in front of his television, in our towels, his hands bracing against my abdomen and thighs. I’ll stop if you want, he said and I didn’t respond. After I was done, he laid his head in my lap. I wasn’t asleep or awake, but caught somewhere in between, rocked slowly back and forth the way surf holds junk against the shore, rolling it over and over. In three weeks he was leaving. Nobody can touch me, he kept saying. We’d visited the school and I’d seen how beautiful the campus was, with all the students drifting from dorm to class. I thought of how in high school our teachers loved to crowd us into their lounge every time a space shuttle took off from Florida. One teacher, whose family had two grammar schools named after it, compared us to the shuttles. A few of you are going to make it. Those are the orbiters. But the majority of you are just going to burn out. Going nowhere. He dropped his hand onto his
desk. I could already see myself losing altitude, fading, the earth spread out beneath me, hard and bright.
I had my eyes closed and the television was on and when the hallway door crashed open, he jumped up and I nearly cut my dick off struggling with my shorts. It’s just the neighbor, he said, laughing. He was laughing, but I was saying, Fuck this, and getting my clothes on.
I believe I see him in his father’s bottomed-out Cadillac, heading towards the turnpike, but I can’t be sure. He’s probably back in school already. I deal close to home, trooping up and down the same dead-end street where the kids drink and smoke. These punks joke with me, pat me down for taps, sometimes too hard. Now that strip malls line Route 9, a lot of folks have part-time jobs; the kids stand around smoking in their aprons, name tags dangling heavily from pockets.
When I get home, my sneakers are filthy so I take an old toothbrush to their soles, scraping the crap into the tub. My mother has thrown open the windows and propped open the door. It’s cool enough, she explains. She has prepared dinner—rice and beans, fried cheese, tostones. Look what I bought, she says, showing me two blue t-shirts. They were two for one so I bought you one. Try it on.
It fits tight but I don’t mind. She cranks up the television. A movie dubbed into Spanish, a classic, one that everyone knows. The actors throw themselves around, passionate, but their words are plain and deliberate. It’s hard to imagine anybody going through life this way. I
pull out the plug of bills from my pockets. She takes it from me, her fingers soothing the creases. A man who treats his plata like this doesn’t deserve to spend it, she says.
We watch the movie and the two hours together makes us friendly. She puts her hand on mine. Near the end of the film, just as our heroes are about to fall apart under a hail of bullets, she takes off her glasses and kneads her temples, the light of the television flickering across her face. She watches another minute and then her chin lists to her chest. Almost immediately her eyelashes begin to tremble, a quiet semaphore. She is dreaming, dreaming of Boca Raton, of strolling under the jacarandas with my father. You can’t be anywhere forever, was what Beto used to say, what he said to me the day I went to see him off. He handed me a gift, a book, and after he was gone I threw it away, didn’t even bother to open it and read what he’d written.
I let her sleep until the end of the movie and when I wake her she shakes her head, grimacing. You better check those windows, she says. I promise her I will.



  1. Díaz peppers “Drown” with Spanish words and phrases. What is the effect of his doing so? Do you think the effect depends on the individual reader? Why do you think he does it? Why do you think he doesn’t offer translations?
  2. Why is the narrator steering clear of Beto?
  3. Why do you think the narrator’s academic career has gone the way it has? How do you think he feels about it?

Sample Solution