Heavy, thick pages cut with a certain intentional irregularity. A bold, firm typeface that would be considered avante-garde by the publisher. Wide spacing, three blank pages in both the front and back of the volume, and a modern, glossy hardcover jacket. The book itself is a pleasing, easy-to-read shape: slightly larger in height than a standard trade-paper, a little wider, and quite thin. A book that’s meant to be held open with one hand, reading in a park, or by the fireside. That’s all I can glean, though. Of the words themselves, I can read nothing at all. Nothing.
I furrow my brows, trying to make some
sense of any of it. At first, there’s no effect at all, and then, the words blur and swim upon the page. They disintegrate and reappear, but it’s useless. I can’t. Pinching the bridge of my nose, rubbing between my eyes, I set the book down. My fingers drift down to the bones of my cheeks, which twinge numbly, and my palms slide roughly across the hollow of my jaw. Two days’ stubble, maybe three. Any more, and it would start to become soft, the foundation of a beard, but it is still rough, scratchy. My hands feel like a finer grit of sandpaper. My hands. I look down at them, and a brief, rising panic tears through me as I cannot find them with my eyes. I blink, slowly, gummy, the lids arising as though from a dream. The hands are there. The book rests on a heavy, oaken desk, the thick lacquer gently reflecting the soft lamplight. Did I turn the lamp on?
The book sits there on the desk, of course, and beside it, a leather-bound ledger. The ledger terrifies me. I pick it up, fingers creaking the tendons in my hands, my forearms. I flip the little clasp open, tilting my head at the , muffled clicking sound. It is a familiar sound. The terror returns as I look down at the pages. I study them, and my fear is confirmed. Tingling, anticipatory fright becomes a sinking sense of reality that consciousness struggles to beat back. I blink again, and the ink on the pages becomes recognizable. The first half or so are filled in a deep blue ink, rolling across the sheets like a soft spring rain. Stars ring in my vision as I consider this reflection. A soft spring rain. Where has this phrase sprung from? It recalls something, something. But it is buried.
Opening the narrow, shallow drawer in the center of the desk, I find the smooth barrel of my pen – yes, my
pen – and the little glass inkwell, just where they ought to be. The light is too pale to make out which dark color fills the inkwell, but I am certain it is a deep, midnight blue. I flick the cap off of the pen, and it clatters, rolls into the drawer with a startling echo. I raise the pen in my hand, study it as an historian might study an artifact of a bygone age. As well it may be, I think. I lift the little lever on the cylinder, open the inkwell with aching fingers. I still marvel
at the fingers. Marvel.
I tap them, one by one, against the slick, smooth wood. Thud-thud-thump, thud-thud-thump. I think to take a deep breath, to allow a sigh to escape my lips, but none is coming. My hands begin to tremble helplessly, and I quickly set the inkwell down. Against the roof of my mouth, I cluck my tongue – thock! – and somehow this pacifies the hands, for a moment. All right, then. All right. The sigh still won’t come, so I let it be and pick up the pen again. It greedily sucks up the ink. There is no blotter, so I roll the nib along the back of my hand, and the veins and tendons light up blue, the little red liver spots staining a darker shade. I squint balefully at the wrinkled creation before me, the curving nails with long, curving nail beds, the hairs that are just visible in the low light. It makes me angry, all of a sudden. Angry.
Again, I cluck my tongue, firmly, appreciating the resonating sound it makes between my ears. “Now, just stop
that,” I say, firmly. I think I may have said that aloud. I think. I flip open the ledger once more, trying to keep their long, now blue-stained fingers from shaking. “This should not be such a challenge,” I say. This time I am sure I did not speak aloud. I place the pen on the first fully blank page, letting the previous author some space to finish his thought. Then I write. It takes three tries to get started. The first time, I need to stop prematurely and set down the pen. Really, I drop it, splattering little droplets of ink (blue, remember? ) across the thirsty page, to spread slightly and be absorbed. The second time, I have to stop what I am writing and instead scribe a row of little circles, as the ink languishes in the nib, refusing now to descend as bidden. As last, the torpid old stuff flows smoothly enough to form words. Words. Just like these.
I have no sense of how long I have written for, but when I look up, the pen has emptied. I am writing now only in ghostly impressions with a dry pen, scoring empty troughs and furrows along the dappled, thick paper. Another angry cluck of my tongue. Then, the world swims before my eyes, my chest tightens, and I hastily recap the pen. Replace it in the drawer. My hands. Where
are my hands? Then, gradually, the gripping sensation subsides, and I lift the ledger to examine what I have written. “Well, that figures,
” I shout in a hoarse whisper. When I peruse the sheets, from the start, I readily find the place where the previous author left off, where I began. The blank half-page. Beyond that, there is no distinguishing between the two sections: the words are written in the same blue, the same flowing, falling hand (across the pages like a soft spring rain). I blink my stinging eyes, squint them closed, as the inevitable dawns. What I have just written is as alien as what the previous owner (what I
. What I.) laid down. I can read none of it. Keeping them fully closed a few moments longer, I allow my fingers, magically, to brush across these final pages I have just completed. I can feel
where the ink stops, feel where blue becomes a trickle becomes nothing at all. What’s more, I can feel the last space, the last word, the last punctuation mark, on that page. A period. To its left, I can recognize the letter. An “e.” It’s an “e.” Then, a “y.”
I know where this leads.