It was sunset, and windy; the house was on the top of a hill. They were lighting fires and heaping rubbish into piles, throwing furniture out of the front door. They were intoxicated with leaving.
From: The Ghostwriter’s Notebook
Copyright © Chris Keil 2015
“Disgusting old man, that porrnographer. I met him Stephen you know, in Petersburg in 2005; he dribbles. I think he pisses pants also.”
Fabienne was pouring herself a drink, her back to the room.
“You’re so rude, darling,” she said. She turned to look at me. “He can’t help it, I suppose. He’s just so Russian. Uncouth, darling, that’s what you are. There’s a new word for you. Un.” She sipped her drink. “Couth.”
“We are working here baby,” Dubinsky said. “Trying to work here. Where do we get to, Stephen?”
“Tell me more about Murdoch,” I said. “I like the sound of that.”
“Don’t encourage him,” Fabienne told me. “He’s bad enough.”
“There’s pictures of the three of us,” Dubinsky said. “Putin, Murdoch, and me. The Murderer, the Dribbler and the Handsome One.” He paddled his fingers at my phone on the table between us. “It’s getting that, right? The Murderer, the Dribbler and the Handsome One. I want that.”
From The Ghostwriter’s Notebook Copyright © Chris Keil 2015
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena couldn’t tell me much about the asteroid 3408 Shalamov that I didn’t already know. They knew, obviously, that it had been discovered in 1977 by the Soviet astronomer Nikolai Chernykh, and is named after the author of Kolyma Tales. They’ve plotted its orbit, but they say that nothing is known about its size, shape, mass, or composition. I find this frustrating. Is it the size of a potato or a grain of sand? A cathedral, or a kitchen table? I wanted to form an image of this object, circling the sun in the main belt between Jupiter and Mars; I wanted to know if it was cratered by impacts or worn smooth by time and distance, like a piece of glass in the sea. I could have written a postscript to the book, picturing an exile more cold and terrible than Kolyma, where the ruins of the camps are choking in snow, the wooden huts scoured as white as bones. Today, the space-ship Dawn is orbiting the pocked and blobby face of the dwarf planet Ceres, but nobody at JPL would even speculate about Shalamov. Sorry we can’t be more helpful, they said. Good luck with the book.