This chapter is delivered in the form of a PowerPoint presentation created by Sasha’s 12-year-old daughter, Alison. It describes the events of May 14th and 15th of some year in the 2020s. There are four sections, titled “After Lincoln’s Game,” “in Alison’s room,” “one night later,” and “the desert.” Alison’s family consists of herself, her brother Lincoln, who is 13, her father Drew, and her mother Sasha.
This story is set in the near future, and the presence of the PowerPoint depicts the advancement of technology and the way in which younger generations engage with it. Sasha and Drew also reappear in this story, emphasizing the connections across the novel.
The first section begins immediately after Lincoln plays a Little League game. Lincoln and Alison walk to the car together where their mother is waiting. Alison walks with her arm around Lincoln’s shoulder. When kids say “good game” to Lincoln, Alison answers for him. Sasha yells at Alison, which she notes is an annoying habit. She rolls her eyes at her mother. The air is cool, but Alison feels the heat from the earth like heat coming from a person’s body. She can’t tell if she can feel it through her shoes, but she crouches and touches it. It is warm.
Lincoln and Sasha’s connection is depicted in their closeness to one another, but the fact that Sasha answers for Lincoln suggests that he is distanced from his peers. The heat from the earth in connection to the body (which is often the symbolic site of aging and decay in the novel) speaks to the human effect on the environment at this point in the near future.
Alison is annoyed by her mother’s habit of repeating what other people say before they part ways. A friend of hers says, “Adios, Sasha.” Sasha responds, “Adios, Christine.” In the car ride home, Alison asks her why she has to do that. Sasha gets offended, and asks Alison to ease up on the scrutiny, but Alison says it’s not possible. They arrive home and Alison’s father, Drew, is still at work. This piece of information appears alone on its own slide. The family lives in the desert, and when Sasha was little, there were lawns, but now you need energy credits for a lawn or a turbine. Alison, Sasha, and Lincoln sit at the picnic table looking up at the stars. Alison mentions her mother’s sculptures, which she makes out of trash and old toys. Eventually, the sculptures will fall apart, which Sasha claims is part of the process.
As in most of the other stories, the family here experiences various levels of disconnection from each other. The fact that Drew’s absence is alone on the slide suggests Drew’s isolation from the family, and how important her father’s presence is to Alison. The mention of the energy credits and lack of lawns marks a change in the environment as a result of human overconsumption. Sasha has found redemption from her addiction to stealing through her found object art. The sculptures fall apart over time, which is a comment on time and ruin, and Sasha’s acceptance of this fact of life.
The next slide describes Lincoln. He looks like his father, Drew, but is skinnier. He is obsessed with pauses in great rock and roll songs. Alison states that Lincoln knows more than grownups about a certain things. One of those things is that a full rest is four beats long, and a half rest is two beats. Lincoln makes astute comments about certain songs, noting the length of pauses and their effects. Their father, if he were with them at the picnic table, would say he was proud of Lincoln for analyzing the songs so closely, and then ask Lincoln if he spent time with other kids today. Sasha, who is there, enjoys the songs Lincoln talks about.
The description of Lincoln’s body nods to the younger Drew as he appears in “Out of Body,” and Lincoln is later suggested to be on the autism spectrum. Lincoln’s obsession with pauses takes on meaning for Alison as the story progresses. Alison has the feeling that her family’s situation is unstable and ending, but just as a pause gives way to a new beginning, so too do people, relationships, and time continue to move forward.
Lincoln loops the pause in each song so it sounds like it lasts for minutes. When Alison’s friends are around, she ignores this, but when she is alone with Lincoln, she enjoys the pauses. The slide depicts the pauses with an empty square. Sasha responds again to Lincoln’s project. She knows the song “Bernadette” sounds “smoky” because it was recorded on an 8-track, and she doesn’t think the pause on Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” is a true pause, because Hendrix is snickering. She notes that it is a beautiful night, and wishes their father were there with them instead of working.
As a pre-teen, Alison’s identity shifts when her friends are around, but with Lincoln she can be authentic and excited about his music projects. Sasha’s love of music and experience in the industry allows her to connect with Lincoln in a way that Drew can’t. Sasha comment about Drew suggests she feels disconnected from him in their relationship’s present state.
Drew isn’t there because earlier that day he operated on the heart of a girl whose parents are undocumented immigrants. Everyone says he is a good man because he runs a clinic. He is the boss, but in his free time he tries to check in with Alison. He struggles to connect with Lincoln. Alison believes that Lincoln wants to tell his father he loves him, but he must find a roundabout way to do it. His logic reflects his developmental disability. Instead of saying, “I love you,” he reasons that because his dad is from Wisconsin, and Lincoln loves music, and his father loves him, and Steve Miller is from Wisconsin, and the Steve Miller Band was popular fifty years ago, and one of their biggest hits was “Fly Like An Eagle,” then if he talks about the song with his father it will be the same as saying, “I love you.” The following slide shows just their father’s response, telling Lincoln that what he says about the pause in “Fly Like an Eagle” is good to know.
Drew’s presence in the community is different than the way he is perceived by his family. Though he connects well with others socially, he struggles to find real closeness in his own family. Lincoln, who is autistic, struggles to connect with others and must find a roundabout way to express his love for Drew. His strange logic fails to register for Drew, however, and Drew’s comment that it is “good to know” suggests he totally misses the point. The pause in this moment is packed with meaning, holding the emotion that Lincoln tries, but ultimately fails, to express.
The next slide brings the reader to Section 2, which describes Alison in her room. Another one of Sasha’s annoying habits is giving Alison a hard time for not keeping a typical journal on paper. Mention of the word “paper” insults Alison, and she notes that she doesn’t even know anyone who uses the word anymore. Alison gives her mom a bunch of slogans from school about not wasting paper, and Sasha replies by laughing and asking Alison to have mercy.
Sasha’s comments about Alison’s PowerPoint journal speaks to a generational disconnection between them as time has shifted their experiences of the world. Alison’s environmental consciousness is reflected in her feeling toward paper. She recognizes the ruin already unleashed upon the world through human consumption.
Sasha looks at a toy horse in Alison’s room. She got the horse in Pakistan after reconnecting with Drew on Facebook and moving there with him. Sasha never looked back after that. Alison still plays with the horse sometimes, even though she is twelve. Sasha tells Alison she loves seeing the horse. Alison changes the subject, asking her mother about a book called “Conduit: A Rock-and-Roll Suicide,” by Jules Jones. The book is about Bosco, who wanted to die on stage, but who ended up recovering and owning a dairy farm. There is a picture of Sasha on page 28 outside the Pyramid club in the early 1990s.
The horse serves as an object of memory for Sasha that links her to her love for Drew. Their mode of reconnecting through Facebook shows how technology has shifted the way people find connection. In this moment, it also becomes clear that both Jules and Bosco found a kind of redemption, despite their ruined states earlier in the novel.
Alison notes that her mother is pretty and smiling with red hair, though her eyes look sad. She looks like someone Alison wants to know, or a person that Alison might become someday. Sasha doesn’t want to talk about the picture because it feels like it comes from another life and seems to reflect all of her past struggles. Alison asks what struggles her mother is talking about, but Sasha tells her it is nothing she needs to think about. Sasha sits on the edge of her bed, and Alison asks her mother to tell her everything bad she has done, including the embarrassing and dangerous things. Sasha looks away, and tells her she can’t. Alison suddenly realizes that her job is to make people uncomfortable, and she will do this all of her life. Her mother is her first victim.
Alison’s comment about her mother’s smile alongside her sad eyes speaks to the struggles Sasha experienced in finding her authentic identity. Sasha has come so far to find redemption that the past feels like it belongs to another person. Memory is painful for her, so she prefers to avoid it, which is why she refuses to talk to Alison about it. In this moment, we see Alison recognizing a component of her own identity that connects her to her mother. As a young woman, Sasha was a delinquent, and we see a thread of this in Alison.
When Alison is almost asleep, Lincoln comes into her room with a pair of headphones. He clamps them over her ears. The music stops, and Alison waits through a long pause for it to start again. After a minute, she asks if that is the end of the song. Lincoln laughs, and she laughs too, thinking Lincoln has a sweet giggle. She asks how long a pause can go, and Lincoln tells her one minute and fourteen seconds. Just then, Sasha appears in the doorway and asks what is going on. She is holding a handful of papers, which she makes into collages while she waits for Drew to come home. Alison does not understand why Sasha loves junk so much. Sasha tells Alison that the collages are not junk, but tiny pieces of their lives. Sasha tells them it is time for bed.
Lincoln and Alison share a moment of connection through the sharing of Lincoln’s music projects. Alison’s anticipates when the song will start again, as she feels that things in her life are ending, and hopes that they will become good once more. Sasha’s collages, like her found object art, speaks to the idea of redemption—that people can pick up the broken pieces of their lives and glue them back together. Alison, who lacks her mother’s perspective, struggles to understand this idea.
The next slide describes how it can be when Drew comes home. The shapes on the slide depict a seesaw. On one side, Drew is depicted kissing Sasha, telling stories, laughing, and popping wine bottles. On the other side, Drew is sitting in his car before coming inside, coming in silent and angry, and pouring gin. The side with the boxes describing negative attributes is darker in color, and outweighs the other side. The front door wakes Alison, and she peeks through the crack to where her parents are. They hug, but don’t say anything.
Drew’s identity is explored in the layout of this slide. He has two aspects to his person (in Alison’s eyes)—one that is loving and light, and another that is angry and dark. The angry and dark side is the aspect of his identity that Alison perceives as stronger than the loving and light side.
The next slide begins Section 3, titled, “One Night Later.” Drew barbecues chicken on the deck, and they eat together at the picnic table. Alison thinks his dinners are better than Sasha’s, even when they cook the same thing. Drew asks Alison and Lincoln about school, and Sasha keeps his arm around him and kisses his cheek, which Alison finds annoying. Alison wants to ask about the girl who had heart surgery, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t understand why Drew loves Sasha. It is difficult to make him laugh, but when he does it comes out like a bark or a roar, which she notes may be surprise at his own laughing. Sasha has told Alison that he used to laugh more, but everyone laughs more when they are younger.
Alison’s affection and connection to Drew is depicted in her comment about his cooking being superior to Sasha’s. Sasha’s arm around Drew suggests connection, though Alison reads the kiss as overcompensation—she knows there is tension in the relationship, so the affection feels inauthentic. Alison’s desire to know whether Drew saved the girl shows her desire to believe that Drew will redeem the family and relieve the tensions between them—but Alison doesn’t ask, suggesting that she doesn’t believe he can.
Alison knows the story of Rob’s drowning. After Rob drowned, Drew decided to become a doctor. When he told her this, Alison asked why he didn’t become a lifeguard, and Drew jokingly asks if he still can. She knows that before this, he wanted to be president, but also notes everyone does at the age of 18. He tells everyone these things because keeping secrets can kill you, he says, which is one of his favorite sayings. Sasha keeps a picture of Rob in her wallet. Alison thinks he is cute, but her father is more handsome. Alison has asked her mother about Rob, whether she loved him, what he was like, and why her father didn’t save him. Sasha says she loved him as a friend, that he was sweet and confused, and that her father tried to save him.
Alison, though she is naïve in some ways, is aware of her parents’ experiences with ruin and loss. Drew’s decision to become a doctor speaks to a desire for redemption in light of the guilt he feels about Rob’s death. Though Alison knows about Rob, her comments about Rob and Sasha’s responses do not illuminate who Rob truly was, of course. The truth of that time in Sasha and Drew’s life is much more complicated than Sasha reveals to Alison, again showing how memory obscures meaning.
Drew asks Lincoln a lot of questions about his sports game and school. Lincoln responds in one-word answers, and tells him he’d rather play music. Drew’s questions are on one side of a seesaw image, and outweigh Lincoln’s responses in the slide. Sasha can sense that Drew isn’t happy. He’s finished two gin and tonics and is smiling, but his face is tired. He agrees to let Lincoln play some music. Lincoln plays some music, and analyzes the pauses. Drew whispers to Sasha, asking if they should encourage Lincoln’s obsession, and whether it will help him connect with other kids. Sasha says they should because it helps him connect with the world. She says they shouldn’t try to divert him into another activity because this is what he cares about. Drew doesn’t understand.
Drew does not accept Lincoln’s authentic identity, and continues to push him towards sports and social interactions. The image depicts the imbalance in the relationship and the power Drew holds. The two aspects of his face—smiling and tired—speak to the two conflicting parts of his personality mentioned earlier. Sasha and Drew’s disagreement depicts a divide in their personalities and parenting styles. Because of her own experience establishing her identity and connecting to others, Sasha understands how art (in Lincoln’s case, the pauses in music) can do this.
Drew tries to ask Lincoln why the pauses matter so much to him, but Lincoln continues analyzing different songs. Eventually, Drew yells at Lincoln to stop. Lincoln starts to cry, and Alison begins to cry, too. Drew tries to hug Lincoln, but he hunches into a ball. Sasha is so furious her face is pale. She tells Drew the songs make you think the song will end, but then the song isn’t over so you’re relieved. But then the song ends, because every song ends, and that time it is for real. There is a pause as they stand on the deck. Drew picks Lincoln up, and as he struggles, Alison notes that Lincoln looks like a younger version of Drew. It looks as if Drew is hugging his younger self. Lincoln escapes his father and runs inside. Sasha follows, leaving Alison alone with Drew.
The pauses matter so much to Lincoln and Alison because they offer hope that the music will continue, which in a larger sense, speaks to their hope that their family will stay i tact. Drew does not understand this, again showing his disconnection from his kids and their circumstances. Sasha’s comment, then, operates as a subtle threat that their relationship could end. The image of Drew hugging his younger self (who is struggling) seems to depict the trauma Drew is dealing with from his past.
The final section, Number 4, is titled, “The Desert.” Drew asks Alison to go for a walk with him. Drew tells her to be careful of snakes, but Alison says it’s too cold for them, that they are sleeping. Alison hears the silence in the desert like the pauses in Lincoln’s songs. She says the whole desert is a pause. Drew admits that he needs to do better with Lincoln. Alison suggests he could help Lincoln graph his pauses, but when Drew agrees to do this, Alison is doubtful.
Drew’s request is an attempt to connect with his daughter after ruining the night. The pause of the desert reflects the tone of the night, one of emptiness but also the possibility of wholeness. Drew recognizes the damage he has caused, and desires to make it right, though Alison does not believe he will take action to do so.
They stop at an old golf course with a collapsing clubhouse. Drew stands in a shallow hole and asks Alison if she remembers playing there. She notes that her father doesn’t have any friends, but he says his family members are the only friends he needs. They continue on, and during a long stretch of empty space, Alison asks if her mom is mad. Drew says yes, but she will forgive him. Alison then asks if she forgave him when Rob drowned. Drew asks Alison what made her think of Rob. Alison says sometimes she just thinks about him, and Drew says he does too.
The collapsing clubhouse speaks not only to the ruin within the family that evening, but also to the ruin humans have caused on the earth. A golf course in the desert requires a tremendous amount of resources to maintain, which has contributed to environmental destruction. Clearly Rob’s memory is something that haunts both Drew and Sasha and remains a source of pain and tension between them.
They arrive at a field of solar panels that stretches on for miles. They look evil to Alison, but she knows they are mending the earth. They were built years ago after protests, but their shade has made a lot of desert creatures homeless. Alison notes that the creatures can now live where the lawns and golf courses used to be. Alison returns to discussing Rob, and asks Drew if Rob’s death was his fault. Drew says no, but tells her that the little girl he operated on the day before died. Suddenly, the solar panels begin to tilt all at the same time. Alison grabs onto her father and asks what is going on. Drew tells her they are collecting the moonlight.
The solar panels provide hope for the earth, but their relationship to the earth is complicated, as they also make other creatures homeless. This idea speaks to the complex relationship between ruin and redemption, and the way in which they co-exist. The fact that Drew couldn’t save the girl startles Alison—she wants to believe that her father has the power to save lives and redeem the family, but the failure with the young girl’s surgery shows his limits.
They stand a long time, and Alison thinks she never wants to go back home, that she wants to stay there with her father forever. Alison asks if he has ever heard of a band called the Frames that have a pause of more than a minute in one of their songs. Drew says Sasha used to listen to them. He grows frustrated that Alison is paying attention to pauses like Lincoln, but when Alison asks him to admit that it is a long pause, he laughs and agrees. They begin walking, and Alison wishes she could curl up and close her eyes. They walk for what feels like several years, and Alison feels as if they won’t make it, that she will never see her mother or brother again.
Alison’s desire to stay in the desert is related to the idea of pauses. If she can stay here (in this pause) she can hold onto the hope that her family will resolve their conflicts, but by returning she must face the fact that things might fall apart. It becomes clear that Drew feels left out of the family’s musical interests, but Alison gives him the opportunity to connect through asking him to admit the pause is long. The attention to the passage of time in this moment shows Alison’s concern with the future and the feeling that things are falling apart.
When the house comes into view, the windows are dark. Drew points out a snake on one of Sasha’s sculptures. He lifts Alison onto his shoulder, and she thinks he is the strongest man in the world. The house looks abandoned to Alison. She asks if her mother and brother are inside, but her father doesn’t answer. She feels suddenly afraid that the solar panels were a time machine, and she is now a grown woman returning after many years. Alison imagines her parents are gone, and realizes that living there together was so sweet, even though they fought.
Alison feels afraid of the unknown inherent in the future, but her fear is then eased by the perspective she gets imagining what it would be like to look back from the future. This imagined perspective, and her new desire to treasure the memory of the present, is an echo of the way time often works in the novel itself, looking backward and forward in time and judging certain events in relation to the past or present.
Drew sets Alison down on the porch, and she runs inside. There is a light, and the familiar things inside feel to her like the softest, oldest blanket. She begins to cry. In bed, she listens to her father talk to Lincoln. Drew asks Lincoln if he hears anything. Lincoln says he doesn’t, but Drew brings him to the window. He asks if the silence sounds familiar to him. A completely black slide appears next in the PowerPoint, and in the following slide, Lincoln tells his father that he understands. The final slides of the story depict a set of graphs that Drew and Lincoln made, illustrating different effects of pauses in rock and roll music.
The walk with her father and the moment of imagining the future gives Alison a new and more mature perspective on her family’s situation. Despite the fact there is tension, she feels a newfound appreciation for her home and family, and for the present moment. Drew’s interaction with Lincoln is then an attempt at connecting with his son through Lincoln’s interest in pauses. The dark slide depicts the experience they share, and the final slides suggest that Drew and Lincoln have redeemed their relationship in some small but crucial way.