For the First Sentence series, we have asked authors to revisit the opening sentences of their stories or poems. Here, Louise Erdrich writes about the beginning lines of ‘Domain’.

Seven corporations control the afterlife now, and many people spend their lives amassing the money to upload into the best. Others, like me, assume they will need a scholarship and pile up experiences. I piled up one too many.

As I was again lost in the vast sprawl of exurban Minneapolis (our waste of land here is prodigal) where my daughter’s volleyball team would play again what always seemed the same team of perky, pony-tailed, Catholic schoolgirl opponents, an alternate first line of this story came to me: There are no suburbs in the afterlife.

The afterlife that I’ve created in this Granta story is fully and humanly imagined, over and over. Layer by layer it is created out of our attachment to place, to the earth, all of the beings on the earth. Why would I leave out suburbs: the uniformly tan townhouses, the cul-de-sacs, the names that sadly commemorate the farmed land, pasture, or wild world that preceded development. Cedarwood, Coldstream Manors, Shady Oak Court. That we call these places developments instead of neighbourhoods says everything.

We live in these places out of necessity, lucky to have them out of the terrible explosion of humanity. But we visit and remember lakes, forests, architecture, cities of wonder, unruly temples, oceans, islands, the ecstasy of nature. We remember nature intimately and forcefully, and we recall lovely or powerful cities with delight at their art. That is why they become the focus of meaning in the afterlife. That is why they are wholly remembered.

My daughter’s team lost the game and we drove home, lost again, through miles and miles of mall-spoiled creation. Why did I feel as the road darkened that she and I were the only two people left on earth? She must have read my mind. ‘The lights are going out, everywhere,’ she said, ‘no animals are left, and the cars don’t have drivers anymore. That’s how I feel.’

Exactly. That’s why there are no suburbs in the afterlife.


Photo courtesy of Scorpions and Centaurs

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