I leave the house with no particular plan. I walk through crowded streets. All the people look the same, like shadows, or ants. I cross a stone bridge so old that it is entirely worn smooth. I walk under an arch with words written in a language no people can read. I reach a large building with double doors twice my height, made of marble and trimmed with gold. I pull on the door on the left; it opens smoothly and silently.
I nod to the clerk. I wash my hands in the first bowl, rinse my hands in the second bowl, and dry my hands on the towel. The clerk nods to me, then she opens the smaller, inner door.
Sunlight shines through large colored windows and bathes the whole room in shades of blue, red, and yellow. I look around at shelves full of books and rows full of shelves and floors full of rows. I am struck, this time as always, by how carefully people save their history, by how much they honor their stories. So many stories to read. So many life times it would take to read them all. But none of them hers.
I take the time to breathe in the books—smell the dust, and paper, and death. I go to a section I have not been to yet, far away in a corner where the sun can’t quite reach through those large windows. I run my hand over the tops of the books, feeling the peaks of leather and the valleys of paper, each book the same height, each cover a different shade of rich brown.
My hand stops on something different: a cover of a soft light brown, the color of a dusty sheep. I take the book down and admire the exotic color and rough texture. I turn to a page at random and inhale deeply of must and ink and iron. And then I start at the beginning, and I read.
I read the story of a man born in another place, one far away, but under the same Sun. He traveled the world. He found adventure and misfortune and also a wife, which turned out to be both. They moved here when their son was born. But they both died, the wife and the son, before the man wrote his story. I sit with the story, my hand on the cover letting it sink in through my skin. There’s no rush.
I replace that book and choose another. It has a very dark, but fine leather cover, unworn by time or use. A woman–she wrote her story very young. She was born to a wealthy family. She had many things growing up, but no friends. Her parents mostly ignored her, left her for the servants to deal with. She doesn’t say, but I think she wrote her story to shock her parents. Maybe it worked. Maybe one of them is even in here somewhere. Regardless, she is among equals now.
Claire was sitting on the ground under a tree on the edge of campus. She had books all around her and a gray slate in her lap. She was writing equations in a neat, small script on the board; the rasp and scratching of the chalk mixed with the birds’ chirps above her and the pecks of birds around her. The birds didn’t bother her, but nor did they please her, they were just background noise as she looked carefully through her books and did her calculations.
“What are you up to?” The voice that asked was low, but sweet, like syrup.
Claire looked up, startled. There was a man standing looking at her. He was tall, and dark, the darkest man she had ever seen, the cool black of rich soil. He stood with his hands on his hips and a smirk on his face. Claire turned back to her work and said tersely, “I’m working.”
“I figured that out on my own,” he responded. He crouched down next to her and picked up a book, closing it in the process. “On Physics,” he said, “That covers a lot.”
Claire stopped pretending that this problem would go away on its own. She put her slate to the side and closed up her books. “I’m trying to work here, and you are being very distracting.”
He looked her in the eyes, he had beautiful brown eyes. “Am I distracting you? I’m sure many people have said the same to you. What’s your name?”
“Is that your game? You bother women into telling you their name? That’s rather rude,” she said. “Besides, you initiated all this, it stands to reason that you should introduce yourself first.”
He chuckled, flashing beautiful white teeth between large puffy lips. “Fair enough. I am normally called Mitzlek in this place.”
Claire laughed. “Mitzlek. Really? Were your parents that ambitious or is your ego that big?”
“Well,” he said, sitting down, stretching out his long, muscular legs, “I did just walk up to the most interesting woman in this school and introduce myself. While, I might add, she was otherwise engaged. So perhaps I’m not overflowing with humility..” He leaned back on his broad hands. “So, name for name, what’s yours?”
Claire smiled and held out her hand. “Well, my parents just called me Claire.”
Mitzlek took her right hand in his and with his left hand he gently stroked the back of it. “Claire. I like it.”
I have to hold the book very close to the lantern while sitting on the floor. The dim light is barely enough for me to keep reading. The sun has gone down and my body is becoming insistent. I need to eat, sleep, move, live.
I open another book. It’s a big book. The cover is weathered, thin, delicate; the brown is almost gray. But inside the writing is vibrant, beautiful. It has loops and whorls. Every line of ink is a statement to the world, announcing its strength and presence, shouting for everyone to read it. I am so mesmerized by the writing I barely even take in the words.
The writer lived a happy life. She worked hard. She accomplished much. She lived, she loved, she rarely lost. She had five children, twenty-three grandchildren, and at the end, when she felt she had experienced everything she wanted to, she told the world.
The book was long, despite its simplicity, and elegance. By the end I can’t ignore the demands of my flesh any more. I leave the books and the shelves. I nod goodbye to the clerk. I open the right half of the double doors. I pass under the arch, which has no meaning. I cross the bridge, which bears no marks. I walk the streets, which have only shadow. I reach my empty house.
Nobody greets me at the door. No one is upset that I am getting home so late. Dinner is bare. The bed is cold. I sit in the dark, thinking nothing, before laying down and sleeping.
Claire was sitting in Mitzlek’s lap. She placed a small piece of cheese in his mouth. His lips closed on the tips of her fingers. His teeth scraped very gently along them when she withdrew them. He smiled at her, and leaned over, his chest to hers, to a small plate with cheese and bits of fruit. He delicately selected half a fig, perfectly ripe and exceptionally moist. When he popped it in her mouth, juice squirted on his fingers. Claire laughed, mouth half full of fig. She slowly licked his fingers clean, one finger at a time.
But then Claire stilled, and looked at her lap. “I’m going to graduate soon.”
Mitzlek picked up her chin. “That’s great.”
“But I’ll have to move. To find work.”
“But I don’t want to leave you.”
Mitzlek laughed. A big laugh, but a friendly laugh. “It would take more than that to get rid of me I’m not actually sure what it would take.” He caressed her cheek. “Let’s not find out, okay?”
He used the smile she couldn’t resist. The smile that promised the world. The smile that promised eternity.
Claire smiled back. “Okay, let’s not find out.”
In the morning I head back to the Hall. Through the streets, over the bridge, under the arch. But I don’t go to the big double doors. I don’t greet the clerk. I don’t wash my hands. I don’t open a book, or feel its cover, or taste its life.
Instead I go to a small door on the side, with no writing, and no gilding. Inside there are no books, just a clerk sitting behind a desk, an empty chair by the wall, and a single glass lantern hanging from the ceiling. The clerk looks at me expectantly.
“I’m ready” I say.
The clerk nods and gestures to the chair by the wall. I sit down to wait while the clerk leaves. I do not know how long she waits, but when she returns I follow her into the depths. We walk through branching hallways and past closed doors. We pass people, but we don’t stop or greet them. We come to a hall that ends in a door just like all the others, inside is a bare room, just three people and a table.
The first person steps forward and offers me a pill in one hand and a cup full of water in the other. I hold my hand up and shake my head.
“It will be harder,” she say.
“I’m ready,” I say.
She bows and leaves the room. The second person steps to the side. There is a simple wooden chair behind her. I sit down and raise my right arm. The needle pinche as it slides into my arm. Blood fills the tube and mixes with a thick black ink before flowing into a small ink pot. She steps back from the table, bowd, and leaves.
The third person steps forward. She places a single sheet of pure white paper in front of me, and steps back, holding more paper in her arms. I pick up the pen, dip it in the red-black ink and begin.
In the beginning there was everything. And it was me. My awareness extended to all things because all things were me. It was crowded and so I created space where there was none before. And in that space I made things. I pushed up, strained against the sky, and where I pushed, that became the land. And as I worked I sweated and I cried and the tears mingled with the sweat and became the ocean. I worked up a great thirst while working and when I slaked that thirst I pissed, and those became the rivers. And now I had much space but I was alone. And so I made more things to accompany me and to each of these things I gave them parts of myself. To the plants I gave some of my patience, so they would be still. And to the animals I gave some of my restlessness, so they would move. But some of the animals complained. They could not hide with light being everywhere. They could not rest, even when they were tired. And so I gathered the light and I created the Sun and set it moving around the world. But I held a little light back and with it made the stars and the moon, so it wouldn’t be too dark, even at night.
And it was good. And I spent much time exploring this world that I created from myself. But as I explored, a great loneliness grew within me. And so I created man, from my seed and from my blood. And I placed within man my desire to create, and I gave them my wisdom so they could use it to build, and I put within each of them a small piece of my loneliness, so that we might share it and thus make ourselves less lonely. And when I was finished it was hard to tell myself from them, but I said to them “I am Mitzlek, the Creator,” and they knew me.