The wizard who lives in the pine cabin next to the tumble-down on Old Smoky Road contemplates the amber bottom of his tumbler and says: The aleph that will complete your story is one of three marbles, two of which are compelling decoys. One marble is under the stone hearth of the fireplace in the fallen down house. Its location in the eye socket of the skull of the third (and heretofore missing) robber may cause you to mistake it for a glass eye, but don’t be fooled. If you press the glass against your eye and squint hard enough to hold it in place, leer around the room, then pluck the glass away, wave your hand and make the marble eye disappear, you may briefly hold other people’s attention with your grotesque misdirection, then a little longer as everyone searches for the marble. But, in the end, when it is discovered in the teakettle as soon as the water boils, you’ll all know this was just the magician’s glass, and not an aleph.

The second marble is delivered when you are vacationing near a body of water, carried by a young boy astride what you think is a large floating portabella mushroom but, as the boy draws closer, you see that it’s a giant stingray. The boy carries a large nautilus shell–you’re very excited by this, knowing that the nautilus is the embodiment of one the perfect and magical symbols provided in nature. He hands you the shell, makes rocking motions with his hands, smiles and floats away. You understand, rocking the shell and hearing the marble spiral outward from the core (like the beebee in a small plastic maze found in a box of Crackerjacks or won as a carnival prize). But this glass, when it rolls into your hand, has an opaque, almost oily surface that when held up reflects and, like a carnival mirror, ogles your face and the rest of the world in glistening concave splendor, revealing nothing of itself. You want to throw this glass far into the water, but somehow it finds its way into your pocket. Unnerved, you rock it back into the center of the nautilus shell, then take the shell home and push it into a corner of your bookshelf next to the Arabian Nights, hoping the 1002 charms of the shell and Sherazade will protect you.

The third marble you spy accidentally in a mirror a long time (but not so long) from now. You see that it is organic, not glass, made of clear tissue and colored with wood and ice and stone and moss and ocean. It is the aleph that the physics of this world make possible: it is the eyes of your lover, of your children, of your friends, and your enemies; the eyes of people in photos and films, and of people you imagine. In brave moments, it is you. In all these eyes you see every act of creation and destruction and love, every transaction that is taking place at that moment, or that may have taken place, or that may take place. You see the magician’s glass, and the glass trapped in the nautilus. You see all the food that’s expired in your refrigerator, and that lost library book with its perilous love note (never delivered) to Deborah Lee in seventh grade. There’s not enough time to write down everything you see, but you start anyway. The work may drive you mad, but the alternative is far worse–an indescribable, hollow and toxic sadness, and a fixation on the glass trapped in the nautilus.

You may try to squirm away with liters of wine and repeat viewings of Veronica Lake’s famous silhouette shower scene in Sullivan’s Travels till lust and boredom create their own abscess–so you move on to that Zulu movie where Stanley Baker and Michael Caine bravely and systematically hold off the repeated charges of fierce and enigmatic spear thumping painted warriors, who themselves eventually remind you of the horde of untold stories that may recognize your straight backed courage and briefly give you quarter, but eventually will take their country back. After that there isn’t a classic film in the world (not even The Big Sleep or To Have And Have Not or the Bicycle Thief or The Third Man) or a stringed instrument (not even the zither) or a slice of soft porn or a socially relevant cause in the house that will provide sufficient long term distraction. The stories find their way into your pockets, then your cupboards, the tub, the car glovebox, the bubbles in your ancient sourdough starter, in the white space between lines of other people’s stories; but each time you take inventory the number has changed–like Borges’ blue tigers, some have slipped away, sometimes to be replaced with others, as if they were observing you (instead of the other way round), then crossing into another dimension to write their reports, or, more likely, are just tourists whose entertainment budgets keep their visits brief).

When your friends ask, you don’t deny any of this. When a shaggy old man comes to your door and offers to assume the burden, you give him the magician’s glass instead (which was its purpose all along).

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