Summary: Chapter 5

Oskar reads the first chapter of A Brief History of Time while his dad is still alive. The chapter makes Oskar sad about how insignificant he is in the universe. His dad tells him that if he moved a single grain of sand in the Sahara, he would change the entire desert and therefore change human history. Oskar remembers this moment as he prepares to meet everyone named Black in New York City. He decides to visit people in alphabetical order. He promises that he won’t be discriminatory and will only lie when necessary. 

To meet Aaron Black in Queens, Oskar walks across the 59th Street Bridge because he’s afraid of public transit. Halfway across, he realizes he’s in a space that’s neither Manhattan nor Queens and wonders what places that don’t fall in any borough are called. He shakes his tambourine to remind himself that he’s still him no matter where he is. 

Aaron’s apartment has no doorman, unlike Oskar’s. Oskar pushes the call button for Aaron’s unit until Aaron finally answers. Oskar describes the key, but Aaron retorts that Black is a common last name. Oskar wonders why Aaron appears upset with him. Aaron asks how old Oskar is, and Oskar says he’s seven and that his dad is dead in order to elicit sympathy. Aaron invites Oskar up, but Oskar won’t go to the ninth floor. Aaron explains that he can’t go downstairs because he’s ill. Panicked, Oskar flees.

Oskar knocks on Abby Black’s door until she answers. She’s a beautiful epidemiologist in her forties. Oskar wants her to like him and tells her she’s beautiful. Although Abby insists she doesn’t know Thomas Schell, Oskar asks if he can come in, claiming he’s diabetic and needs food. Oskar feels bad about lying and promises himself that he’ll donate his next allowance to a diabetes organization. 

As Oskar follows Abby into the kitchen, he hears a man speaking loudly in the next room, but Abby ignores the man. The only photo on the wall is of an elephant, so Oskar mentions elephant facts, such as that scientist once played recordings of the call of an elephant’s dead loved one to an elephant, and the elephant approached the speaker. Abby asks if the elephant cried, but Oskar says that only humans cry. Abby starts crying, confusing Oskar because he’s supposed to be the one crying. 

The man from the other room pokes his head in, then leaves. Oskar asks who he is and why Abby ignored him. Abby explains he’s her husband. Oskar asks why she’s ignoring him when he clearly needs something. Abby starts crying again. She asks Oskar his age. He pretends to be twelve because he wants Abby to love him. When he shows Abby the envelope, she appears to recognize the writing. She says she knows nothing.