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"...ragged and smelling of liquor, wearing his two suits one over the other..."

In this passage from "Chopin in Winter" by Stuart Dybek, the narrator remembers his wayward grandfather:

Dzia-Dzia hadn't been at Grandma's funeral. He had disappeared again, and no one had known where to find him. For years Dzia-Dzia would simply vanish without telling anyone, then suddenly show up out of nowhere to hang around for a while, ragged and smelling of liquor, wearing his two suits one over the other, only to disappear yet again.
   "Want to find him? Go ask the bums on skid row," Uncle Roman would say.
   My uncles said he lived in boxcars, basements and abandoned buildings. And when, from the window of a bus, I'd see old men standing around trash fires behind billboards, I'd wonder if he was among them.
   Now that he was very old and failing he sat in our kitchen, his feet aching and numb as if he had been out walking down Eighteenth Street barefoot in the snow.

"Chopin in Winter" is a lovely family story that revolves around how the narrator Michael and his grandfather are improbably (but only momentarily) drawn together by the piano music that wafts downward from the apartment upstairs. Dybek is one of my favorite writers, and "Chopin in Winter" (collected in The Coast of Chicago) is one of my favorite stories of his. I wish he published more often, but I guess his focus has been more on teaching young writers.

January 1, 2014 in Books | Permalink