an uninhabited wilderness that is worthless for cultivation
pass gradually or leak or as if through small openings
The language of outside the house had
seeped well inside—Cadillac, Pyrex, subway, Coney Island, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
a semiconductor device capable of amplification
mental infirmity as a consequence of old age
They might or might not have counted themselves happy, though; happiness as they conceived it then was a thing attained, a grand state, involving a fiefdom to survey from the plump comfort of their
worry unnecessarily or excessively
For if they had been able to nod and smile and say, How unruffled we are, then too, they might have been able to
fret, We fear it all ending.
not clear to the understanding
Helen and Ralph had agreed that they would have a second family in a few years, another two, who with luck would be boys; but in the meantime, Mona and Callie were as soft as their brothers would be, as
enigmatic, bullheaded, goofy.
capable of withstanding wear and tear and decay
They were a lively,
durable luxury, to be “love-loved!” as Helen would say, tweaking their feet.
mentally quick and resourceful
This was how Callie knew herself to be
clever, like Theresa.
with the mouth wide open as in wonder or awe
release from entanglement or difficulty
Still Mona pulled, giggling, until finally Ralph
extricated her wet fingers and closed his mouth firmly and bounced her on his knee to distract her.
bark in a high-pitched tone
give life-time employment to
No one seemed to mind that Old Chao had not only been granted
tenure but was now acting chairman of Ralph’s department.
with extreme care or delicacy
gingerly placed his steaming bowl in front of it.
characterized by exceptionally early development
precocious master of the helpful disturbance, knocked her chopsticks to the floor.
move or swing back and forth
Ralph’s tone was teasing; still Helen held her breath until Theresa surfaced,
brandishing the retrieved chopsticks.
the act of making a noisy disturbance
Also, one grabby little boy had, in an ensuing
ruckus, lost some teeth.
dignified and somber in manner or character
And not long after that—mirror adjusted, brake off, blinker on, traffic clear—Ralph was pulling away from the curb, as
solemn as a boy leaving home.
walk leisurely and with no apparent aim
Too bright, too warm, and too stuffy, but the street garbage did not seem to be emanating gases the way it sometimes did, and most people were wearing clothes; only a few men
sauntered around in their potbellies.
pleasing to the sense of taste
Zongzi were lotus leaf-wrapped bundles of sticky rice—the girls liked the
savory ones, which came tied up in pairs.
in a state of decay, ruin, or deterioration
He drove on quickly, up through Harlem, slowing a third time in front of some
dilapidated old buildings.
a person employed to keep watch for some anticipated event
But so breathtaking were the streets that late afternoon, with their
sentinel trees and tender gardens, that the sun itself seemed to waver, unsetting, reluctant to leave; it was the onlooker whose presence weighted everything.
pause or hold back in uncertainty or unwillingness
But so breathtaking were the streets that late afternoon, with their sentinel trees and tender gardens, that the sun itself seemed to
waver, unsetting, reluctant to leave; it was the onlooker whose presence weighted everything.
a small house with a single story
bungalows, A-frames, she explained.
proceed or issue forth, as from a source
Resignation crossed her face; it was not so much an expression as something that appeared to
emanate from her pores.
a conveyance of property as security for repaying a loan
“Well, I hope I can chip in on the
make jokes or witty remarks
“Once a Chang-kee, always a Chang-kee,” she
an elderly unmarried woman
The meekness of the wire hangers, with their twisted throats and bent heads—they waited too patiently, too neatly, every one a
warn strongly; put on guard
When she first came to America, her English teacher had
admonished her, not for speaking too much, but too little.
an advanced student or graduate in medicine
What was hardest about training, for Theresa, was having to sleep in that dank, little room the
interns all shared, with men.
“We should have tried there first,” Theresa
a quality that arouses emotions, especially pity or sorrow
All she knew was that, crossed with shadow, their family life took on a
poignancy sharper than she could stand.
in a joyous, carefree, or unconcerned manner
blithely pointing at a red turtle.
a complete and impressive array
Theresa came home to find Helen lost in a
panoply of analytical tools, all laid out on the kitchen table.
shaped to fit by altering the contours of a pliable mass
The stairs had a black
wrought iron railing on one side that Mona and Callie at first wouldn’t use, the wall seeming more familiar; but this being their wall now, and not everybody-in-the-entry’s, when Helen showed them how even hands that looked clean left prints, they stopped, and took to running up their five steps without touching anything.
Then he let her
rummage through his desk drawers, rearranging them however she liked.
attractive especially by means of smallness or prettiness
The next February, they had an extra-elaborate Chinese New Year’s dinner, with
cunning little dumplings, and balls, and buns, in addition to the usual hot pot with gold-chain bean threads.
surface on which celestial bodies appear to be projected
For the gatekeepers of heaven were to review him in state, that they might make their decision: Would this man be a credit to the
be incomprehensible to
It was years before Ralph even knew to ask himself those questions; and then it was only to find that he didn’t know their answers—that his own nature
eluded his grasp, like a solid sublimating straightaway, from between his fingers, to gas.
conformity to reality or actuality
verities; up above, mist.
correct by punishment or discipline
chastened man, an older man, he remembered:
Everyone knows this much about faith: that it is
preceded by doubt the way day is
preceded by night.
Ralph hesitated; it seemed to him that his head was
ensconced in smoke too.