Posts Tagged ‘mystery’


Owe Me Nothing

I have attached love notes to helium balloons, sent them into the sky. Folded into paper airplanes, they will find their way somewhere. I am a realist, and I know the messages will not carry the weight of their burst carriers. But where they land, it will at least look like they did.

Too many people ask, do you love me? The question is not an invitation, not even a dare. It demands so much: either be kind but be claimed, or be cruel but be free.

A valentine should ask for nothing except the impossible. It should not ask for an answer. It should not ask for a favour. It should not ask for the reciprocation of love, it should not be obliging. It should simply ask the recipient to love. It is, at its best, anonymous, but without the suggestion that the author is watching. The saint sought nothing from the jailer’s daughter when he slipped notes through the bars, not even for clemency. The next day his head was on the block.

You owe me nothing, you have already given me so much. Your note is in the air somewhere, and I wonder how much snow can land on its balloon before it stops rising. I wonder where it will fall; into the Danube? Into the grounds of a palace built for the administration of an empire, now abandoned? The least likely of all is that you will find it.

This city is two things. One is a living thing, one is a ghost. I hate how the heart is written up as if it were the avatar of love. Doesn’t the whole being feel love? The heart is just an organ, like a capital city. It does one thing, then another, and it has never stopped beating.

Fortresses into museums, graveyards into parks, factories into lofts, walls into gardens, records written over the partially erased records that came before. In love, also, what came before co-exists with what inhabits you now, though one is a voice and the other is an echo.

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The Notes You Hide

I don’t know who you are, but I have seen the notes you hide. The first of those I’ve read I found stuffed between the rubber and the window of a city bus. I saw that it was a page torn from a larger work, and when I looked into the matter, I discovered that my finding was part of a more widely established phenomenon. The page was numbered 27. It begins mid-quote, in the middle of a conversation. No need to copy the passage over. It concerns simultaneity and special relativity, travellers and signals and the paths they take. A fitting way to meet you. Don’t we all meet mid-journey, in the middle of our conversation with fate?

Keeping with convention, I refer to the found pages as notes, not as excerpts. All notes to date have been on single, isolated pages. None of them are otherwise marked. We may presume the notes are intended to be found by non-specific, unrelated people, and further, that many of them may never be found. Therefore, notes may be lost without significant loss to the overall message. This message, therefore, will not be discerned in the wholeness of the original work, but will arise, rather, out of the very entropy of the scattering—it will relate to the dissipation, the non-recoverability of the ensemble.

Certain things are known. It is written in an English prose that never deviates from the Chicago Manual of Style, that never betrays an origin through the appearance of local usages, neologisms or historical reference. Based on references to scientific knowledge, however, we may infer that it must have been written after 1951. No copy of any passage has ever been located in any database or library in the world. A popular hypothesis has been made that the work was translated, but no linguistic analysis to date can support or refute that claim. A second hypothesis, also unsupported by evidence, holds that the work was written by committee. A third holds that the work was written by machine, using unknown technology.

The highest page number on the notes recovered to date is 3,392. As to the total length of the source work, there are two credible but competing bases for estimation. Each uses a combination of statistical analysis and human-machine collaboration as a means to estimate the distance from a given passage in a large work to its conclusion. Both have proven remarkably successful against previously-known texts. The first, developed at the University of Tokyo, estimates the work at 13,995 pages, plus or minus 313. The other, developed at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, estimates the work at 5,112 pages, plus or minus 117.

If the notes to date have been removed from the source work at random, then neither estimate is statistically probable. So far, 212 pages have been documented, and the distribution of page numbers on them shows no bias whatsoever. This fact has been a source of considerable hand wringing and controversy. It has been conjectured that either the work is still being written, or that it is being sampled slowly, from start to finish. Neither conjecture is testable.

The source work has a preface, also of unknown length. Only page xvii of this has been recovered. The main part of the work appears to be narrative. It is divided into chapters: Thunderstorm, Tokyo at Night, Broken Chair, as well as many others that take the names of characters. No four consecutive pages have been found. Only one character name has come up twice, but it is such a common name that it could easily refer to two different characters. The topics, metaphors, analogies, and images leap jaggedly from paragraph to paragraph. The content of my note, for example, references the ink of an octopus, a brother and sister racing cars, the stairwell of a downtown mall, the conversation a young woman overhears, and of course the conversation referenced earlier. No one knows whether the notes are meant to be read in the order of their page numbers, or in the order that they are being recovered, or in some order to be revealed or discovered later.

I know, after studying any mathematical issue long enough, that the mind plays tricks, finds patterns that have no basis in objective reality. So, perhaps I am imagining this, in fact I almost assuredly am, for my calculations fail more often than they succeed. But it seems to me, it just makes so much sense, that there are hints to be deduced in the notes, pointing to the locations of the other notes. I have put this intuitive leap to the test. Page 73 described a pavilion in a park. I spent an afternoon in various parks, and I found page 1,219 in the second one I searched. But then, I was so certain that the chapter heading of page 813, Sunken Ship, was a clue pointing to the Naval Memorial. I worked my fingernails into every crack of the it to no avail, except that the warden thought I was crazy.

I often think about how so many of us are out there, gathering up these notes of yours, these messages we do not understand, these disjointed pieces of you. I think about how deeply we have looked into it, about how deeply I have. And I wonder why all that I ever seem to locate in these depths is just me, looking back.


Forget the Facts We Know

For just this night, I want us to forget the facts we know. I want the night to widen, leave sleeping those who sleep, but stretch out an extra hour on our clock, from twelve to thirteen, the space for living dreams, for accelerated experiencing, for that phenomenon of the brain that sometimes seems to make the moment still. I want the wind to blow from directions our compass and our plumb line cannot find, for us to chase the scents it carries to a story made in parallel.

This night, they say, used to connect the timelines of every soul. Who knows the effect such believing once had; it has not endured. Halloween was delivered to us extinguished, a relic in a box of ashes. We burned the witches to fill it.

So we close our eyes and open them again. This is not necessary, but it seems intuitive. And now there is smoke on the wind. It may be chimneys, it may be sacrificial pyres, it may be the forest burning. There is a pile of leaves, a smell called fresh but that comes from their decay. I toss an armful over your head and they sing like chimes as they descend. There is the smell of mercury, of amnesia. The wind has shifted over a forgetful lake—it has brought the mist to our nostrils. This carries away many details from our memories, but we are promised that they will be returned. I do not know whether to trust the promises of the spirits. In the meantime, I am happy to forget the ones I can.

There are the signs we must draw meaning from, and the signs we must ignore. Who can say which are which? There is a rainbow around the moon, the part we can see, and the part we can merely feel. There are the songs that summon ghosts, and the songs that send them away. You can play the flute here, as if you always could. It is made of bone. Its music alters the perfume of your sweat. I catch a bottom tone of death, just enough to intrigue but not disgust, and a top of apricots and sage. It does not matter what happens in an hour that does not exist, and it matters more than anything what happens in an hour that does not exist.

Here, if we take laurel or peyote, and swap coins or tokens, we can share the hallucination. Here, we can gaze back at the world. Here, a kiss is a ceremony the spirits invented in order to feel mortal.

And if the night is over and the rest of my memory has not come back, that hour is all I’ll need to keep.


We Passed Each Other Notes

The first time I saw you, you were tossing origami flowers, doves, cranes and boats from your bedroom window. The alley between our apartments used to be a canal—the Austrians, during their rule here, paved it over. So once, the tides and the winds would have carried your creations away, like the galleys that once made this city rich and strong. Instead, the tourists did, the few they did not ignore or trample.

Your window, facing mine, was not quite close enough that our hands could have touched. But it was not far off, and the effect was tantalizing. The arch that spanned from my side to yours had been built long after the original structures, probably to keep them from collapsing into each other.

I smiled, you smiled back. I started to speak, you put a finger to your lips. I wrote a note, scrunched it into a ball, and tossed it over. You spread it back out, wrote “lazy” on the blank side, folded it into a paper airplane, and flew it back to me. From then on, I left my notes in your mailbox. Your notes to me always wound up on my pillow, always neatly folded into birds, always arriving when I was not home, as if to suggest your foldings have the power of flight when unobserved.

Your first note came folded as a pigeon. It was a drawing in India ink of our alley, built much higher, perhaps a vision of the future, a disordered stacking of architectural ideas rising into the clouds, a medieval post-modern collision populated by people, their pets, and their flying robots. Perhaps you expected me to answer in kind, but how can two people connect with each other by speaking in wild images? So my notes were straight-forward. I talked about what I did during a given day, about my plans, about my opinions, about my observations, and, naturally, about my reactions to your work. Your notes were relentlessly imaginative. You wrote for seven unpunctuated pages about what a needle could never be, and it appeared on my pillow as a flower of seven parts. You wrote in technical detail, with complete (but fake) archeological references about how an obscure civilization (also, it turns out, a fake one) made bricks differently, and included a touching trail of correspondence between two hod carriers, father and son. This arrived in instalments.

I asked you questions you would not answer. What was your name? In your next note I read a couple of lines on the power of making names up. What was your school? This didn’t engender any response at all. I asked you to come out and meet me. You drew the two of us meeting in a square with nine clocks and watches shown, each set to a different time. As I went about my ordinary life in the city, many times, I was sure I saw you at the end of some alley, at a table across some café, on a bridge looking my way, but by the time I could reach the spot in question, you were gone. In a city of masks, who can be sure.

I know you used my notes to make those paper cranes you left for strangers. What did the tourists make of them, I wonder? Glimpses into my world, visions naked but incomplete, exposed but unaware, a perfect stream for voyeurism.

The following season, I came back to the alley. It is always the same, but now a new visitor was in the window across. Yet, walking along a canal not far from the apartment, on a ledge where you often left your treasures, was a book. Open it to any page and it is clear the writing and the drawing can only be yours. The ISBN and the publisher are fake. So are the reviews and even the names in the acknowledgements: the diligent editor, the spouse who stood by you all those years. I looked it up, and still, there is not so much as a hint as to who you are or where.