The notebook that burned, then. People who make a study of old documents have a name for this very kind of thing, a missing piece. lacuna, it’s called.
More memories bubble up every day. The sea cave in Isla Pixol, cold water on prickly boy-skin. Images, conversations, warnings. The first time seeing Frida in the market with Candelaria: What was she wearing? Mother in the little apartment on the alley off the Insurgentes. Billy Boorzai. The first days in Mexico City Isla Pixol, the names of villages and of trees. Recipes and rules for life from Leandro: What were they? Whom did Mother love, and what made her so happy that day in the rainstorm? The reef full of fishes, what were their colors? What lay at the bottom of the cave? How long did it take, exactly, to swim through it without drowning?
The notebooks are gone. It must have been like this for Lev at the end, with his past entirely stolen. A lifetime of people, unconfirmed by their living presences, or photographs or descriptions in a notebook, can only skulk in corners like ghosts. They shift like chimeras. Careful words of warning reverse themselves like truth and newspaper stories, becoming their own opposites. An imperfectly remembered life is a useless treachery. Every day, more fragments f the past roll around heavily in the chambers of an empty brain, shedding bits of color, a sentence or a fragrance, something that changes and then disappears. It drops like a stone to the bottom of the cave.
There will not be another notebook after this one. No need. No more pages piling up. Oh, the childish hope of that. As if a stack of pages could someday grow high enough that a boy could stand on top of it and be as tall as Jack London or Dos Passos. That is one of the sorest embarrassment: those hopefull hours of typing through the night shift while Lorenzo’s boots tapped overhead on the roof, all of our hearts bursting with the certainty of our own purposes. No more of that, never another typewriter. Accumulating words is a charlatan’s career. How important is anything that could burn to ash in a few minutes? Stuffed into an incineration barrel at the police station, set on fire on a chilly August evening – maybe an officer warmed his hands, and that is the use of that. Better to roam free like a chicken with no future and no past. Searching only to satisfy the hunger of the present: a beetle or lizard snapped up, or perhaps one day, a snake.
So he was right about something alive in the crate, wanting out. Mrs. Kahlo did that for him. He’d about given up on life as a whole, going away on a train to the next world. if he didn’t take one other thing, she wanted him carrying his words.
She paused on the stone step, shading her eyes with one flat hand, her hair blowing back like the mermaid on the prow of a ship. She had removed her gloves to use both hands for the climb, the steps were that monstrous. “Of course we do,” she said, sighing as deeply as if to say, “Men do this.” And that is a fact, men do, unable the same impulse that built the thing in the first place: senseless ambition.
Suddenly he looked weary. “You force people to stop asking questions, and before you know it they have auctioned off the question mark, or sold it for scrap. No boldness. No good ideas for fixing what’s broken in the land. Because if you happen to mention it’s broken, you are automatically disqualified.
My review of The Lacuna