In this city, there is a bookstore that only has books about you. No one knows how they do it. The bookstore is well-hidden, in the center of the city, among winding city streets. On the street where the bookstore resides — on that street, all the stores look like they are shrinking back from the street itself, hiding in appallment. The stones of the buildings on that street are all old and black, and on a rainy day, and it is almost always a rainy day, petals from nearby magnolia blossoms plaster onto the dark rock, thinned out and made translucent by rain, pinned to the rock by rain, looking like Japanese kimonos, apparitions of faces, petals on a wet black bough.
It is hard to find the store; find it at your own risk.
You find it one day. Whispers lead to tips lead to a scribbled address on the corner of a matchbook, folded twice and then stuffed into your pocket.
You enter the store. There is no one manning the till, the cash register. A bell jingles as you open the door.
In the store there are books, many books, some haphazardly piled in towers on the floor, and then books piled regularly in bookcases, heavy bookcases that take up so much space as to hugely impinge on the aisle-ways, which are narrow, shrunken, Dungeons and Dragons cavern-esque.
“Hello?” you say. You cup your hands to your mouth, just for effect.
No answer. You open a book. It is a copy of Hamlet.
It is Hamlet, but with all the relevant parts X-ed out. Or, not the relevant parts, per se, and not X-ed out, per se. Blanked out. It is a book that is now full of blanks, and then over the blanks is inserted all the relevant information about you: your likes, your loves, your hates, your dislikes. And then tinier, weirder details, like about how sometimes you make weird speeches to yourself when you are alone and standing by yourself in an elevator. The way that your ex-girlfriend used to curl her brown hair around her index finger, then curl that already-curled hair around her ear. Weird. These things are filled in, so that Hamlet does them, Ophelia does them, Polonius does them. Weird.
You open up another book at random. Then you turn your head. The bell jangles. Another guy in the store. A man wearing a duffle coat. He is overweight or out of breath or has asthma or all three, for he is breathing heavily. He flicks his head around the corners of the bookshelves, scanning the bookstore warily.
You look at the random book in your hands. A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Again, it is filled with all these little details about you, your fear of pigeons, your habit of repetitively gnawing at one thumbnail. Who makes these books? Does the owner of the store make them? But what if someone other than you had picked up this book? Would the book then be about him instead?
“How does the book know?” you hear yourself say aloud.
The fat man in the duffle coat pokes his head around the corner of a bookshelf. “Oh!” he says “I thought that maybe you worked here?”
“No,” you say.
The man gazes up and down the aisle with irritation. “Shouldn’t there be like an owner or a manager here or something.”
“Search me.” You shrug your shoulders, again for effect.
You see that the fat man is holding a book in his left hand, but his left hand obscures the title — you cannot make it out. You want to ask him if the book is about him, but then you are scared, embarrassed to ask such a dumb question, and anyway you do not ask it.
“Hello!” the two of you say. “Hello!”
Nothing much happens.
No one answers.
You peer around.
Nothing. No one there.
So you wait. In time, it is time to give up, for how long can you wait without something happening. And so you do, you give up, but not without buying the book, in a sense… On the counter-top you leave the fourteen dollars for your copy of Hamlet, carefully adding thirty-five cents in change, so that you are paying the exact price. The other man does not buy his book. The two of you leave the bookstore, go your separate ways.
You think of waving over your shoulder at the man as you leave, but then you do not.
You leave the bookstore, your parcel carried under your arm. You walk down city blocks, then enter the subway station, then sit on the subway. You read from the book about yourself. And then you leave the subway, and are lost in the crowd, the sea that is a city, the people’s faces anonymous, unreadable as blank pages, and so you vanish into the city; and are lost, gone.