Last week I found a card in my wallet. A white business card, stiff paper, blank on one side, blue ink on the other, lined up in curves to form a phrase. A sentence. Eight words that spoke a simple concept.
I have tried for the past nine days to memorize these words, in this order, this idea expanded in my head.
It is impossible. I’ve sat in my room for hours and stared at that damned card. I’ve read it over and over a thousand times, ten thousand. The idea makes sense and for a while I understand the message, the concept, the whole damn thing.
And then in fifteen minutes it is gone, puff, disappeared from my mind as if it were ashes, on a windy day, blown away, out, into the ocean, towards the infinite horizon.
I haven’t been able to work, to eat, to sleep. Not much, anyway. I’m a walking zombie, one hand wrapped around a bottle, the other heavy with the wrinkled parchment. I am lost.
Called the office and told them I needed to deal with a family emergency. That old fallback. Said that it involved my parents in Chicago, they bought it, mentioned the usual bullshit about filing the timesheets on Friday.
When friends started asking, when I’d missed a few lunches, when the questions had piled up, I responded with the same Chicago line. “Gonna be out of town for a while. Yeah, yeah, exactly. Sixty one and sixty two. Oh, yeah, you also had parents? Wow, color me surprised.”
Looked up the phrase online and nothing. “Do you have anything yet on the bolide” was a line from a sci-fi book. I read a lot about asteroids that first couple of days.
I also drank, a lot.
This morning I found another white business card. It is in my hand when I wake up, in my bed, the white linens soft against my body.
I hadn’t slept in my bed since I’d found that first damned card. Hadn’t showered in as long.
Was this the first good night’s sleep I had in all this time?
I blinked and sat up, the sunlight hitting my eyes at a familiar angle, falling into the room past the rows of sailboats outside my bedroom window.
The card in my hand was new, stiff, like virgin snow on a winter’s first morning. The same curves in blue were written upon this one. An address, south of the city.
I walked into my kitchen, then backed up and stood at the dresser in the hallway, stood just outside the kitchen and pondered. Re-read the card, then put it down.
My apartment was a sty. I had hit a bout of heavy depression, it seemed, and let it all go to hell.
Took a few minutes and tossed most of the garbage into a black plastic bag. There was a container of them on the counter, one that I don’t recall putting there.
Eventually got back to the kitchen and in between the cleaning I took a few minutes and started the coffeemaker. It was probably the cleanest appliance. I don’t remember doing that, either.
Finished the quick clean, prepared my cup of coffee how I liked it, and finally, for the first time, faced the card.
It lay face-down on the hallway dresser.
“415 West Highborn,” I spoke aloud. I repeated it, again, then walked over to the card. Flipped it over. 415 West Highborn was written on it, in that familiar script, the same color ink.
The coffee was already in a to-go thermos – I suspected that I’d be able to recall this one – so I left my place, locked up, headed to the basement, got in my car and started driving.
I don’t remember doing much of that, was still in a daze. May have still been hungover. But this wasn’t a choice for me.
I drove through the concrete jungle, below it and above, under actual green vines and between close walls of vegetation, the car rounding the familiar corners and me the passenger. I held onto the thermos of coffee, long depleted, and saw it as some medieval armor around me, protecting me from a mystery that has been haunting my every waking hour for the past week and a half.
The address was a library, surrounded by a sparse forest, but enough of it to throw the whole building into shade. Angled wooden roof sat on top of lacquered wooden walls. Modern, made to look homey.
I walked into the building, through the two sets of double doors. There was an information desk in front of the doorway. I started to cross over in that direction, then glanced around, to the left, toward the row of desks, then to the right, in the direction of two sets of shelves of holds.
Holds. Something about this seemed familiar. I stood and stared at the shelves for a good minute. A short man walked up to me and asked if I needed help.
“Lost in my own world, sorry,” I said, then stepped tentatively towards the shelves.
White pieces of paper stuck out of every book, in the same orientation and at the same general level, all of which stood between 26 large plastic partitions with the letters of the alphabet in thick white curves.
I found the section for my name and approached, cautiously. One of the slips caught my eye. Then another. One more.
Finally started taking the books, stacking them up on top of eachother. Eight by the end.
The short man looked at me incredulously as I asked to get a library card.
“You put those books on hold,” he said, nodding at my stack, “you’ve already got a library card.”
There was one in my wallet. I looked up sheepishly, and proceeded to the self-checkout.
The books were about philosophy, dreams, languages, and espionage. That last one was the biggest surprise, I think.