“Getting Closer” — Steven Millhauser

The New Yorker publishes Steven Millhauser’s “Getting Closer.” First paragraph–

He’s nine going on ten, skinny-tall, shoulder blades pushing out like things inside a paper bag, new blue bathing suit too tight here, too loose there, but what’s all that got to do with anything? What’s important is that he’s here, standing by the picnic table, the sun shining on the river, the smell of pine needles and river water sharp in the air, somewhere a shout, laughter, music from a radio. His father’s cleaning ashes out of the grill, his mother and sister are laying down blankets on the sunny grass not far from the table, Grandma’s carrying one of the aluminum folding chairs toward the high pine near the edge of the drop to the river, and he’s doing what he likes to do best, what he’s really good at: standing around doing nothing. Everyone’s forgotten about him for a few seconds, the way it happens sometimes. You try not to remind anybody you’re there. He loves this place. On the table’s the fat thermos jug with the white spout near the bottom. After his swim he’ll push the button on the spout and fill up a paper cup with pink lemonade. It’s a good sound: fsshhpsshh. In the picnic basket he can see two packages of hot dogs, jars of relish and mustard, some bun ends showing, a box of Oreo cookies, a bag of marshmallows which are marshmellows so why the “a,” paper plates sticking up sideways, a brown folded-over paper bag of maybe cherries. All week long he’s looked forward to this day. Nothing’s better than setting off on an all-day outing, in summer, to the park by the river—the familiar houses and vacant lots no longer sitting there with nothing to do but drifting toward you through the car window, the heat of the sun-warmed seat burning you through your jeans, the bottoms of your feet already feeling the pebbly ground pushing up on them as you walk from the parking lot to the picnic grounds above the riverbank. But now he’s here, right here, his jeans tossed in the back seat of the car and his T-shirt stuffed into his mother’s straw bag, the sun on one edge of the table and the piney shade covering the rest of it, Grandma already setting up the chair. And so the day’s about to get going at last, the day he’s been looking forward to in the hot nights while watching bars of light slide across his wall from passing cars, he’s here, he’s arrived, he’s ready to begin.

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