Whenever I find myself growing sick of this world and of its people, whenever the emotional tribute life demands for my continued existence seems too great a weight for my shoulders, whenever what’s taken from me with each breath feels greater than what’s being given, I step away in despair from whatever I happen to be doing, wherever I happen to be doing it, hop into my car, and drive until the city is far behind me.
I drive until I end up in some small town, and then, to forget all those thoughts which sent me fleeing...I find a bookstore.
I never stop in the same town twice, and never at a cookie cutter chain outpost. I want to believe humanity isn’t being gobbled up by corporations, that somewhere out there are people who’ve yet to be compressed into cogs, individuals who still have the power of choice, and if that’s a foolish belief in these times of ours, well...so be it. It’s a thing I need to convince myself is true, or else...or else I might do something I regret.
Those whom I loved, those whom I still love, those who somehow, against all odds, still love me, deserve the me who believes.
And yet...I tell no one where I’m going, or even that I’m going, I just go, and when I return, they for the most part ask me nothing about where I’ve been. Not even Barbara, who deserves better. Their reticence is because they believe I’ve become a person whom questions might break. What they don’t realize is—I’ve already broken. Sometimes, when I drive, and sometimes, after I arrive, I can forget that.
And so I drove again, aware that the frequency of my trips was increasing, keeping pace with the rising frequency of my foul moods. I let my mind wander as the highways narrowed and the towers shrunk in the rearview mirror. Not for the first time, it occurred to me the day wasn’t so far off when these impulsive treks of mine might be impossible, for no more of my desired destinations would remain. Cities would swell to touch cities, each alike, sterile, indistinguishable, populated by a coast to coast collection of carbon copy stores, with no space left for the oases I needed.
Nowhere left to pause, to reflect, to forget what I’ve lost so I can remember what I haven’t. Because doing that becomes a little more difficult each day.
That last trip was coming. For all I knew, this one might be it.
And what would I do then?
I suddenly noticed I was cruising through a town square, and so lost in thought had I been, I was unsure which town exactly, or just how I’d gotten there. In a park at its center stood the statue of some man beloved to those who lived there, but I didn’t recognize him, and doubted anyone not a native would know his name. I slowed as I passed a movie theater, the marquee of which touted a showing of the latest comic book blockbuster, then realized—no, not the latest, as this was not a town large enough that its theater ever got to screen first-run films—and pulled into a parking space in front of the appliance shop next door. As I glanced at the refrigerators and washing machines inside, I could also see a few televisions turned toward the street, each tuned to a different channel. My eyes were drawn to one which showed cartoon animals chasing each other with pies, a scene which brought back in a burst all I’d left behind that day.
Because, for a moment, it also brought back Andy. And then, by making me remember what I’d temporarily forgotten, took him from me.
I quickly looked away.

There, across the street, was the bookstore I’d sought, a place where I could distract myself, if only for an afternoon. I was pleased to see there was no coffee chain logo in the window, no displays of knickknacks which had nothing to do with what I’d come for. No hats, no toys, no keychains, no stuffed animals. Only books, and nothing more.
As I walked over, I could see the owner through the glass, his back to the street. I made out the beginning of a bald spot as he rearranged books on a shelf. I pushed the door open, which rang a tinny bell, and when he turned, his eyes appearing extremely large through the thick lenses of his glasses, the effect made him seem almost surprised at the arrival of a potential customer.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
He gave a slight bow along with his question, but—no—I then realized it was only something I’d mistakenly read into the hunching of his shoulders from a lifetime in the book trade.
I took a deep breath, and knew from the smell, even without looking around at his stock, that what I’d found was a used bookstore. Anyone who knew books, needed books, would know. I smiled.
“You already have helped me,” I said. “After all, you’re open today.”
“Are you looking for anything special?”
“Just browsing,” I said. “I’m not after anything in particular.”
“Then you’ll probably find it,” he said. He smiled then, too, amused by a joke I imagined he’d made many times before. “If you need anything, let me know.”
He turned away and continued puttering with the books closest to him. I couldn’t make out the sense of it as he moved one volume slightly to the left, another up two shelves, but then—it was his bookstore, not mine. Collections rarely make sense to anyone but their owners. And sometimes not even then.
I looked around, studying the shelving which extended in all directions into the distance. I barely knew where to begin. The store seemed bigger inside than its frontage had me expecting, a square footage perhaps attained because it extended behind some of the other shops on the street. I couldn’t make out any signage indicating what sorts of books were shelved where, so it was hard at first to decide which way to turn. But then I simply headed down the aisle which seemed by its length to lead the furthest away from the entrance, hoping, if I could locate a nook that few other customers had reached, I might find some hidden treasures there.
I moved left, then right, then left again through what felt like a labyrinth—how he kept track of it all, I can’t imagine—losing count of the twists and turns until I rounded a corner which felt as if it was way in the back—though perhaps, as in a maze, I was closer to the front than I knew, and it lay just beyond that wall—to find the science fiction section, though without labels, only the books themselves gave that away.
I tilted my head and started checking out the spines, which based on the author names I could see had no alphabetical order to them—surprising considering how meticulously the owner seemed to be curating the locations of books up front. At first, I couldn’t find much of anything I hadn’t read before, until I spotted a Philip K. Dick novel the title of which I didn’t recognize, and I’d thought I’d read them all—A Time for George Stavros. I slipped the copy from the shelf and discovered it to be a well-worn paperback, one obviously read many times. It was about a Greek immigrant and his family. Nothing obviously weird about the story at first glance, which seemed weird in itself, considering the content of everything else I’d ever read by that author.
I was intrigued, but unlike the other books, no price was penciled inside its cover. I thought I’d better find out how much this was going to cost me before falling in love with something I couldn’t afford, so I headed back to check with the owner. Making my way to the front of the shop took longer than getting to the back, though it seemed that was supposed to have been the other way around, since my path should have been familiar, only...it wasn’t.
There, across the street, was the bookstore I’d sought, a place where I could distract myself, if only for an afternoon. I was pleased to see there was no coffee chain logo in the window, no displays of knickknacks which had nothing to do with what I’d come for. 
Once I was there, standing by the counter on the surface of which there was only a bowl of mints and a cash register, I couldn’t spot the owner anywhere, and heard no movement but my own. I felt strangely alone.
“Hello?” I called, loud enough I was sure he’d be able to hear me in whatever recess he was working.
“Yes?” came a voice at my ear, and I turned to find the man immediately by my shoulder. I almost jumped, but ever since...ever since what happened...surprises didn’t surprise me much any more.
I held out the paperback toward him, gently slid the cover open, and pointed to where the price should have been.
“How much for this one?” I asked. “You forgot to mark it.”
“Oh, that’s not for sale,” he said, and snatched it from me. And yet...when I looked at his hands, the book wasn’t there either, nor on the counter beside us. I looked to his vest pockets, but they were too shallow to have hidden the book. For a moment, I was stunned into silence by his action.
“This is a bookstore, right?” I finally said, once the shock faded from what had just happened. “You sell books?”
“Oh, we sell books, yes. Just not that one.”
“But...it was out on the shelves.”
“My mistake. With this many books, it happens sometimes. I’m so sorry. But I’m sure you’ll find something else suitable.”
The man once more seemed to bow, and I once more told myself, no, that’s only what the years had made of him.
I grumbled and started back to where I’d found the book he’d taken from me, in the hopes of finding something else which would give me a few moments of forgetfulness, but I couldn’t seem to return to the same set of shelves. I tried to remember my previous twists and turns, but nothing worked, and I occasionally ended up at the front of the store again, where the owner would turn and look at me over his glasses. But once I gave up and simply wandered aimlessly, as I’d done the first time, I found a new alcove which appeared inviting.
I stood before another unmarked bookcase, and ran a finger along row after row of familiar titles, looking for something which would erase my morning’s moods. One book stood out, thicker than all the others—a doorstopper of a volume by Thomas M. Disch, with a title—The Pressure of Time—which stirred a vague memory.
I knew that title for some reason, and then—I suddenly knew that book.
It shouldn’t exist. It had never been published. It had never even been finished.
I raced to the front of the store, where once again the owner was nowhere to be seen. This time, though, when I called his name, and he once more whispered much too closely in my ear, I was ready. As I turned, I took a step back, and hugged the book tight to my chest.
“I’m sorry, sir—” he began.
I took another step back as he started walking toward me.
“So this one’s not for sale either? No. Don’t give me that. I don’t accept it.”
He lunged forward and grabbed hold of the book, but I wouldn’t let go. I couldn’t. He tugged, but I held it so close he couldn’t pull it free.
I wasn’t going to let him make it disappear like the first one.
He sighed and stepped away.
“How much?” I asked.
He looked at me intently. He removed his glasses and slid them into a vest pocket.
“You couldn’t afford it,” he said.
“How much?” I repeated.
He named a price. A very high price. It was a lot of money, more than I’d ever paid for a book before. But...something had happened here, was happening here, and I had to know what it was. The rules of the universe were bending, and I needed to bend with them, so I pulled out a credit card. I held it toward him, but he wouldn’t take it from me.
“Oh, I’m sorry, sir,” he said, smiling. Unlike his earliest smiles, though, this wasn't one I liked. “But you see, we’re a cash only establishment.”
“Is there an ATM nearby?”
“You’ll find one just around the corner.”
I nodded and moved to the front door, where I discovered the knob would not turn.
“Sorry,” he called out. “Until a book is paid for, it must remain in the store. Besides, we’re getting ready to close. You’d never make it back in time. Why don’t you come back tomorrow?”
“I will,” I said, one hand still on the knob as I looked down at the book. “What time do you open?”
I lifted the book to my nose, took a whiff, and then found myself whispering, “Never mind.”
“What’s that?” he said.
“I said, ‘Never mind.’ I won’t be coming back tomorrow.”
“I’m so sorry, sir, but that’s entirely up to you. Now if you’d hand over the book—”
“I won’t be coming back tomorrow because I won’t need to come back tomorrow. I’m not leaving.”
“Oh, no, oh, no, oh, no,” he said over and over, his face growing pale. “I’m afraid that’s not possible, not at all. That’s not how this works.”
“I know how this works,” I told him. “I’ve read too many stories about shops like these. Anyone who's read as much as I have has. If I were to leave tonight, by the time I returned tomorrow, you’d be gone. And not just you. All of this. Even if I could find this town again, this space would be an empty lot. Or even worse, a Starbuck’s. And no one inside would have a memory that you or your books were ever here. No, I’m not leaving. I’m not letting you trick me. Not when this is here. Not when—”
Over the man’s shoulder, on one of the shelves he’d spent so much time reorganizing, I spotted a copy of Truman Capote’s Answered Prayers. Before he could stop me, I went behind the counter, took it down, and flipped through its pages. It wasn’t the collection someone had cobbled together from bits and pieces of the novel left unfinished at the time of Capote’s death. It was complete. I gripped it tight against The Pressure of Time.
“Not when these are here.”
“You can’t do that,” he said, stammering. “You can’t stay. No one has ever stayed.”
“Well, then. Let me be the first.”
He made as if to reach for me, and for a moment, I had the eerie feeling he was going to make me disappear the way he had that Philip K. Dick novel. But then his shoulders slumped even further, and he let his hands drop to his sides.
“As you wish,” he said. “But the store is now closed.”
He pushed past me to lock the front door, and then went back to his puttering at the shelves, to what end I could not tell.
“But what about you?” I asked. “Won’t you be going home?”
“No, sir, I will not,” he said, not bothering to turn toward me as he spoke.
I looked around at the store’s spare interior, and suddenly its decor seemed far less pleasing than when I’d arrived. This was no modern bookshop, which meant that in addition to there being no coffee kiosk, there were no tables and chairs, and certainly no comfortable couches on which browsers and laptop users could park themselves. If I was determined to spend the night there, I’d have to find another way.
I studied the bookcases nearest me, where it didn’t appear any magical titles had been shelved. I hoped I was right, that the odder titles were only to be found as the aisles wound more deeply into the store. I removed the ones that seemed familiar—familiar in a right way, that is—and formed them on the floor into a rough rectangle to make what could possibly pass for a bed. I then got down on top of them, considered for a moment putting those two lost but found books beneath my head so he couldn’t steal them, but then thought...no. Not good enough. I tucked them inside my jacket and zipped it up to my neck, hoping that would be enough to keep them safe, at the same time realizing—if the man wanted them, he could take them, and there was nothing I could do about it.
Nothing, apparently, except refuse to leave.
I thought of what I’d left behind that night, of those who’d wonder where I was, and why I hadn’t come home, but nothing seemed quite so important in that moment as what I was hugging to my chest.
I put my head down, uncertain whether when I woke I’d still be in a bookshop. Maybe all would proceed as I’d told the owner it might were I to slip out the front door. Maybe I didn’t need to leave the store for it to vanish. Maybe the store would leave me. I’d be on the floor of the chain coffee shop, its employees wondering why they found me asleep there when they opened that day. Or I’d find myself in a field, surrounded by the rubble of a building tumbled down long ago. It didn’t matter. I couldn’t leave.
Not yet.
And I didn’t—for when I woke with the sun coming in through the shop’s front window hitting my eyes, the shelves still towered above me. I felt inside the jacket, then looked, making sure the man hadn’t fooled me in a different way, replacing them with ordinary books as I slept. But no. They were still there. I was relieved.
I stood, and saw the man was still there, too, still puttering at the shelves in the same incomprehensible way, still wearing the same clothes. He’d stayed with me all night. And I wondered...did he, unlike me, have nowhere else to go?
I cleared my throat. The man turned as I got back to my feet.
“Ah, still with us, I see,” he said. He nodded at the book in my hand, and returned to a shelf behind him the books he’d been holding. “Are you ready to pay? We still don’t take credit cards, though. It’s just a short walk to the ATM.”
I knew better than to believe him. It was surely a far longer walk than he’d promised, in more ways than one. Was it even possible to pay? I knew too well what would happen if I left to get the funds. And even though I was tempted for the first time in my life to become a shoplifter, even though an urge rose within me to act the thief, even though in the world outside these walls I knew I could have easily won out over the slight owner...I knew there was no way I was getting out that door. Not with anything he didn’t want me to take.
“Where’s your rest room?” I asked.
“Need I remind you again that this is not how this is supposed to go?” he said, managing to sound both stern and exasperated at once. “The facilities are for customers only, and you, technically, are not yet a customer. You haven’t bought anything.”
When I explained to him what would happen next if he refused to point me in the right direction and how neither of us would like the result, he relented. But after that need was taken care of, I suddenly realized how hungry I was. I regretted in that moment this was not a modern bookstore, one which wasn’t sure whether it wouldn’t rather be a cafe, for here there was nothing I could eat save the mints by the cash register. I popped them in my mouth and sucked them to slivers until my stomach hurt more than when I’d begun. There was no water fountain either, so I returned to the restroom and drank from the faucet. That would have to do, to hold me until...until what exactly? I had no idea. I dried my hands, walked past the owner, and dove back into the shelves, delving as deeply into the winding narrow paths as I could, staying as far from the man as possible.
I foraged, and found mixed in with books I knew too well, books I’d never gotten a chance to know at all, and neither had you. Books that shouldn’t be. There was The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens, all of it, with the true ending, the one known only to Queen Victoria, whom Dickens had told of it before he died without having written it down. And there as well were Our Married Life, by L. Frank Baum, The Last Dangerous Visions from Harlan Ellison, and Thomas Hardy’s The Poor Man and the Lady, never published, never read, until I was being given a chance to do so. I tried using my phone to get more information about them, because I couldn’t remember which had been left unfinished, which had been completed but lost, which destroyed by time or burned by an uncaring relative. But I could pick up no signal, no matter where I stood in the shop. Whenever I happened to move near the owner as I wandered vainly, he looked at me as if I was foolish to even try.
And there was Jane Austen’s Sanditon, and there was Kurt Vonnegut’s If God Were Alive Today. And Herman Melville’s The Isle of the Cross. And Sylvia Plath’s Double Exposure.
The day passed quickly, for I was dizzy with excitement. And, unfortunately, somewhat dizzy with hunger, too. I piled each treasure I’d found by the front door, knowing I couldn’t take them (yet), knowing I couldn’t stay forever (yet), under the watchful eyes of the owner, who made no move to stop me from my task. At one point, as I looked at the mound that grew by his front door, I became puzzled.
“You haven’t had any other customers today,” I said. “Or yesterday either.”
“Oh, there have been customers,” he replied. “Do not think yourself unique.”
“But what about the bell?” I said, pointing to where it hung above the door. “I would have heard it ring, as it rang for me. And I would have heard their voices.”
 “You were simply much too far in the back to have heard any of it,” he said, nonchalantly, his back to me. “My customers came. They did their business. But unlike you, they did what they were supposed to do. They came...and then they went.”
He turned then and moved from behind his counter. He nodded toward the door.
“Are you about ready to pay?” he asked. “It’s getting on to closing time again. And you should really go.”
I shook my head. I was getting a headache, so it hurt for me to do so. As he locked the door on us once more, I dropped to the floor for a second night of sleeping on a block of books. I wanted to stay awake to see what he would do then, what he ate (for surely he ate), where he slept (for certainly he slept), but instead, weary from hunger, and from inhaling the centuries as I sifted through the books no one remembered or cared about in a search for those which had been truly lost, which had never been born, I fell asleep, this time more quickly than the night before.
On the third day, I woke, the sun once more in my eyes, and I went through the same morning routine as the day before. I ate mints from a bowl—a bowl whose level never seemed to diminish even as it never seemed to be refilled—until my stomach ached, whether from the hunger itself or from too many mints I could no longer tell. I drank from the faucet, ran damp fingers through my hair. And then, after making sure my hands were entirely dry, I once more walked aisles which twisted and turned and took me such distances the store could not possibly have contained them, and each time somehow led me to shelves I’d never seen during my earlier wanderings in the shop. Had those alcoves even existed until I searched for them?
There I continued to discover the impossible. I found Plato’s Hermocrates, The Scented Garden by Sir Richard Francis Burton, August Strindberg’s The Bleeding Hand, Malcolm Lowry’s In Ballast to the White Sea, and Frederik Pohl’s For Some We Loved. As the day passed, I’d carefully bring them to the front of the store and pile them with the others, a pile the owner, to my relief, left untouched. When I had no energy to continue, and paused there, gathering my strength, he looked at what I had done, and then looked at me sadly. And I believed that sadness was genuine.
“Even if you left, and even if you came back, there’s no way you could afford all of those,” he said. “No one could. They are beyond price.”
“I know that,” I said. But I’m not sure that I did. I sat down on the bed and gazed at the stack made up of what I had found, a stack which had now grown several feet high. He sat beside me.
“You can’t stay here forever, you know,” he said. “Because I can’t stay here forever.”
“Maybe you’re right,” I said. “But in this moment, I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.”
“How about...there?”
He waved toward the front glass, and I turned and looked out a window I hadn’t bothered looking through since I’d arrived and had begun finding books which existed nowhere else in the universe.
Across the way, I saw the movie marquee I’d passed—was it only two days earlier?—by which a man atop a ladder was changing the title of the film playing there. I watched as down came the large black letters for the theater’s recently completed run of SUPERMAN LIVES starring NICOLAS CAGE, and up went the announcement of that day’s new movie, FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA’S MEGALOPOLIS with WARREN BEATTY.
The appliance store across the way, in front of which I’d parked, now seemed to be selling only electronics, and on one of the huge televisions in the window I spotted the opening to an episode of the Twilight Zone, only when Rod Serling stepped out, he was far older than I’d ever seen him, older than any of us ever had. And my car was gone, replaced by a three-wheeled vehicle which would surely not have been roadworthy in my world. Behind it was what appeared to be little more than a giant glass bubble, and to the front, something that still had the basic structure of a car, but no wheels at all, and huge fins. In fact, none of the cars looked like any I’d ever seen, except maybe in dream.
And the buildings! I saw towers higher than any that had ever existed except in unrealized blueprints, with bridges way above my head that connected the upper floors. A dirigible was moored to the top of an immensely tall skyscraper.
There were people, too, and I tried to make out their faces through the glass, to learn who would walk such streets, but with night falling, they became little more than smudges. Would I have recognized them if I could have made them out? Were they, too, a completion of something lost? Was Stephen Crane out there? Christopher Marlowe? Keats? Shelley?
I yearned to go out and see them, see it all, and almost reached forward and touched the doorknob again, but knew that if I did, and if the door should open, once I passed outside, none of it might be there. All might be as I’d left it days before. And even if it were changed, even if the promise of my vision was fulfilled, I might then not be able to get back in. Though...would I even want to?
But I was tempted, almost beyond resisting. And so I slept again, only in part because of my fatigue. Mostly, I needed to avoid that temptation. If I slept, perhaps it would sleep as well.
For the first time, when I woke, the owner wasn’t at work endlessly reorganizing his books, but standing over me. I stared into his upside down face, sat up, rubbed my eyes. I tried to see whether the outside world was still as he had shown it to me the night before, but the sun was too bright.
“Is it so bad, where you come from?” he asked as he looked down at me.
It was an unexpected question, one I couldn’t bear to answer directly.
“There’s a hole in my world,” I said. “These are the only things I know which will plug it up.”
“But you can’t stay here like this. You won’t survive. And I have to go. There’s a schedule I must keep.”
“Then go,” I said. 
I turned from him and wound my way to the back again, where on unlabeled shelves which could not possibly exist, I found Hunter S. Thompson’s Prince Jellyfish. And James Joyce's A Brilliant Career, Stephen King’s The House on Value Street, and Richard Brautigan’s The God of the Martians, too. Books that couldn’t be, but in that place, were.
I yearned to go out and see them, see it all, and almost reached forward and touched the doorknob again, but knew that if I did, and if the door should open, once I passed outside, none of it might be there. 
While deeper in the back than I’d ever been before, I heard the ringing of the store’s doorbell, the first time it rang since I’d arrived four days before. With no other customers ever having shown, I at first thought the sound meant the owner had left, perhaps hoping to have snuck out while I was beyond his hearing, but then I heard the murmur of voices, two voices, and realized a customer had indeed arrived—the first to arrive since I had, regardless of the line the owner had been trying to sell me.
Curious, I put down my books, and headed to the front of the shop, a trip which this time seemed nearly instantaneous, and had me wondering how I’d never found that combination of twists and turns before. When I rounded the final corner and found myself in the front area, I was confused—partially by the speed with which I’d gotten there, but also because of what I took at first to be my own reflection on the glass, rather than an actual third person there with us. As I struggled to comprehend why the face before me seemed so familiar, how it could be both like and unlike my own, I froze. Then something broke within me, and I could speak again.
“Andy?” I said, my voice cracking, splintering the name as I realized who and what I was facing. “Is that really...you?”
It couldn’t be, but it was. My son, once a child, and fated never to be anything more, now as large as me, as large, as they say, as life. My son—who I’d once found broken beneath his shattered bicycle, by the side of the road, abandoned by the driver who’d hit him and could possibly have saved him, now—an adult.
My son—alive.
I ran to him, half afraid that when I hugged him, he’d vanish. But he was solid, and only the return of his embrace kept me from falling to my knees. I cried as I’d been unable to cry for a long time.
“It’s OK, Dad,” he said, with a voice impossibly deep, the voice of a man decades older than he’d ever been. “I’m here.”
“But you can’t be here,” I said. “You’re dead. I lost you.”
Even as I said this, I realized the foolishness of those words. Of course, he could be here. All stories would find their endings in this place. Why not his?
“Nothing is ever dead,” said the owner, echoing my thoughts. “Nothing is ever lost.”
“You’ve got to leave here, Dad,” said my son. “You can’t stay in this place. You’ll only die.”
“I already died out there,” I said, looking into eyes that were mine, that were his...that were hers. “I died when you died. Does what happens next really matter?”
“It matters to me.”
“Then come with me. Leave with me and let’s go there together.”
“Dad, that’s not the way this works—”
“That’s what he claimed.” I tilted my head toward the owner, not pointing, because I couldn’t bear to take my hands off Andy. “He said there were rules to places like this, rules I had to follow. But I don’t care. The only way this is going to go is the way I want it to go. The only way I’ll leave is if we leave together. I’m not losing you again.”
By my son’s look, I could tell he believed my threat. No, not threat. My promise. But whichever it was, he saw it was real. Andy had always been able to tell when I was telling the truth and when I was merely trying to put one over on him, even when he was a kid. So he knew. He knew I wasn’t going anywhere. Not without him.
He nodded at me and the owner in turn, then spun and started walking toward the door. I followed, pausing briefly by stacks of books I’d so carefully collected over the previous days. The titles and authors called out to me, promising endings previously unknown, endings I alone could get to read. But there wasn’t anything here I needed. Not any more. Of all the lost endings the universe had to offer, there was only one I needed.
I walked after my son, ready to resume the truncated story that was my life.
But as I stepped over the threshold, though Andy had been mere feet ahead of me, outside, once I was on the other side of the doorway, I was alone.
He was gone.
The scene on the street was as it had been four days before—the movie theater with its superhero cinema, the appliance store with its teasing cartoons, even my car—save for the tickets which had apparently been slid under the windshield each of my days away. But as for my son...he was once more lost.
I turned back to see an empty shop, a handwritten FOR RENT sign in the window, and nothing on the other side of the glass but a few empty shelves.
The counter, with its bowl of mints—gone.
My pile of books unwritten by the authors meant to write them—gone.
And the owner of the store—gone, of course, as well.
But where—where had Andy gone?
I didn’t trust that what I saw inside was actually there (or not there, considering what I’d once been led to believe when looking out), and must have blanked out for a moment, because the next thing I knew, I was inside, broken glass at my feet, my voice echoing in the large empty room—though not so large as it once had seemed—as I called out Andy’s name.
There was no answer.
I returned to my car, used the parking tickets to wipe the blood from my fingers. And drove. I don’t know how long and how far, but I eventually made it home to Barbara, who I told, well, not quite the truth, and who accepted the last tortured explanation I hoped I’d ever have to give her.
But still—where was my son?
I only knew that he was out there somewhere, no longer crumpled by the side of the road. I had to believe that when we stepped through the door, we each returned to our own separate worlds, and he was now where he was meant to be, where no books are lost, no dreams unbuilt, no lives unfinished. It’s a world I can’t reach. But it’s there.
As for me, I no longer take long drives in search of small towns and their hidden treasures, and no longer have to explain to Barbara for having taken them. Knowing those towns, those treasures, are out there is enough.
It has to be.