Valley View Shopping Mall.
Food Court . . .
I found myself almost in a daze. I don’t remember if I rode a bus here, walked, or hitchhiked. I’m sitting in a white plastic chair that is designed to only be comfortable for seven minutes—so that you get up and make space for somebody else who just paid way too much for fast-food.
The chair groans when I lean in on my Chinese food. I ordered Beef-n-broccoli, two egg rolls, and a Double Quarter-pounder with cheese. The people at the Hang-Wong China looked a little confused when I ordered the burger, but a younger kid pointed me towards the McDonald’s that was two counters to the left.
I made the mistake of ordering food when I was hungry. The result is that I purchased way more than can possibly be consumed. So, I’m basically surrounded by food. Enough for at least two good-sized adults . . . or 17 supermodels. And in the middle of my linoleum covered table is the book.
My mouth full of cheeseburger, bits of rice and cabbage still hiding among my teeth, I take a deep breath, my eyes closed, and place my hand on the cover. With a delicate and deliberate motion I open the book, feeling for the first page. If people are watching me, the words, lunatic, retard, and moron, are probably being thrown around.
Slowly exhaling, trying to relax as much as I can in this chair that wants to cripple my lower back, I open my eyes. And guess what?
Because the damn book was upside down. I’m looking at the last page. Upside down.
With a flip of my wrist I spin the book around and close the other flap, sending all the pages flopping to the other side. There is an audible ‘thud’ sound and some yuppie couple is staring at me like I’m a serial killer. And I can’t be sure I wasn’t.
I shrug them off and glance down at the book, which is now open to the first page. My eyes lazily find themselves at the bottom right side of the page. And what do I see?
Big, fat, nothing . . . again.
I close the book, reach for what’s left of my cheeseburger, and out of the corner of my eyes I see something on the cover that looks like a mustard stain. Oh, I’m a real dunce, now.
I reach for a napkin, to clean up my desecration of a priceless antique, and notice that it’s not mustard. It’s an inscription of some sort. And something behind my chest starts to pound. Like a drummer. Like those rap songs.
Bump, bump, bump!
And I slide the book in front of me, knocking off a small carton of rice onto the floor. And, squinting, there seems to be more to the inscription than at first glance.
Bump, bump, bump!
Now, I can’t explain exactly how it happened, but I felt the words. I didn’t read them. I didn’t hear them. I just felt them. Like they were tapped, beat, into me. Into my chest. Right along the huge invisible gash that those Gatherers ripped into my body.
And I felt it clearly.
“. . . The Book . . . of Sighs . . .”
I realized I was shaking again, and colder than I can ever remember being.