The man who was interrupted [ ]. Living in the lost [ ] century, he worked as a librarian [ ], until [ ] drove him into the monastery for a [ ]. After the great [ ], he traveled and taught [ ]. Shadows haunted him, shadows of centuries to be buried in oblivion and centuries yet to dig their graves. They haunted him, and told him that he did not exist. Manuscripts [ ], and thus many conclude that [ ] because of the strange markings. Nevertheless, history relates that he was often [ ] by idiots, clerics, and thieves. The first incident involved [ ], when he attempted to explain the motion of [ ], but they began to [ ]. In the second incident, he spoke of tests, namely those that have [ ]. Then he spoke to them of [ ], but this did not [ ]. The last time anyone saw him was at [ ] in the year [ ]. There was a great eclipse. And [ ] was present, but every time he [ ], somebody [ ]. Alone, in the twilight of the winter labyrinth, he found [ ], who reportedly [ ] in the last codex. There he is said to have [ ]. There are thirteen ways of looking at straw, he said to her. It is light, golden, burnable, mystical, [ ] insubstantial, poor, [ ], [ ], [ ] for twining, for kindling, [ ] and [ ]. And she answered, I love [ ].
To read the book of time is to be inspired to write other books, and thus every planet and every world has become a library. On a machine planet a shepherd read the great book of time while tending to his sheep of cast iron and lead. Only one in a hundred sheep would provide steel wool; only half would survive the galactic winters. Through dusted concrete pastures, down tunnels of naked light bulbs and across railroads and scrapyards and mounds of coal and slag, he faithfully led the sheep, resting now and then to smoke or search for straw and stray tools. When he had finished reading the book of time by the light of an old train signal, burning like a tiger’s eye in the darkness, his heart burned with a thousand books, tens of thousands of thoughts, hundreds of thousands of words. At the same time, he hungered for more books, more words, more thoughts to devour. Not a single new codex turned up on his nomadic searches, but he did find a book of blank pages, a book that rather resembled the book of time. The only thing left was to read and write as time permitted, and this is what he did. A word or two by matchsmoke, one page here and there in the company of growling and purring metallic sheep. One day, in the graveyard of rubber tires, the censors arrived with gendarmes and arrested him for reading a forbidden book, for plagiarism and for crimes against truth. They seized the two codices—one bone-white and the other gray like steel wool. The interrogations began at once while the bailiffs and sergeants built a ready-to-wear gallows in a matter of seconds, anchoring it on a mound of coal dust. The censor read out the charges again and demanded the reason for the shepherd’s activities and his refusal to strip for his execution, which was a crime of resistance. The shepherd claimed not to have known that the book of time had been banned. Great books were difficult to come by, and he had found his copy in an abandoned kiln, where books turned up now and then, most of them half-burnt as kindling. Since he had so little time to read or write, he had been forced to choose. And thus he chose both—he copied words from books, especially the book of time, which was the only reading material still in his possession—so that he could immerse himself in the joys of both impression and expression. The censor shook his head in disgust. The shepherd said that from time to time he would slip into a daydream or trance, and during those minutes or hours his pen would not follow what was printed in the book but what randomly appeared in his mind. Thus, in the thousand pages of his bone-white codex that still had some blank spaces left, at least one hundred had not been copied, but had come from the pain in his heart and head. For this reason, the shepherd requested that he be allowed to wear his coat and hold his codex as he hanged. It is a strange thing to hang a legend. And the poor sheep were left alone.
After the autopsy, the coroner taught the young anatomist how to read the dead, and handed him a pair of nondescript, round rimless spectacles of smoked, black glass, the type one would wear to view an eclipse. They both put on their smoked glasses and gazed upon the sewn-up corpse, pale blue in the light of the gas lamps. To read the dead was like looking into a kaleidoscope, and then into a codex or palimpsest seen through a stereoscopic slide viewer. After this, one passed through the perspectives and experiences of a cheiroscope, a microscope, a telescope, and then finally a starry heaven exploding into an infinity of word nebulae and galaxies. Breathless, the anatomist thanked the old coroner for the lesson. Do not read the living, the coroner warned, when they had removed their smoked glasses. Do not read the living. The young anatomist rode the subway home, bursting with excitement. On seeing a blind man board the train, he remembered his glasses. Forgetting or ignoring the warning, he put the glasses on and started to read the living. What he saw was a different sort of galaxy, full of cello and violin music, black holes, screams, dancing stars, retrograde films in monochrome and exploding eclipses in positive and negative monochrome—all bleeding through an endless typewriter ribbon filled with scripts. The young anatomist got off at the end of the line and started the long walk home, almost shaking with euphoria and curiosity. As he passed through a park of conspiring spruces, some subway passengers who had followed him ambushed him and beat him without mercy, robbed him and cursed and threatened him in inarticulate hisses before running off into the night. Not long after, the coroner arrived, helped him to his feet, and gave him a new pair of smoked glasses to replace the broken pair. They smoked a cigarette in the darkness of the evergreens. The coroner shook his head and whispered both severely and gently. They do not like to be read.
The one played. A burning page flickered here. Another one smoked
there. Smoking and burning pages came at rare intervals, for stars must die and books must burn, but not everything explodes. Between them lay all of the other pages–hundreds and thousands. A codex had been gutted, its many pages randomly or purposefully scattered upon the sand. The one played the game; it was always different and forever the same. It was not a mere library, not an index, not chess, not a book of changes, not pick up sticks, not the tarot, not a board game of 8 or 10 rows, not an imaginary board game, not rayuela, not elephants or horses in splashed iodine or ink, not petanque or pelota, not blowing meditation, not the twirling of flowers and pinwheels to imitate whirlpools and windmills, not plowing, not test driving, not war, not guessing imaginary letters or numbers, not clairvoyance, and not mimes that mirror the deformity of life and the universe. All and none of the games threw shadows that smoked and crackled through the purity of the pages of their one game. It was the one that never made it into lists or lexicons.
Once, a scholar received an inheritance of five keys and a codex of the highway to the abandoned city. The codex was an almanac and a map. Not long after he set out, the codex fell into a well and half of it was drowned and blurred. Some nights later, the wind was blowing, and sparks from the campfire landed on the remaining half of the codex, burning it. Nevertheless, the man resolved to be the codex and find his inheritance of which he vividly dreamed. When he arrived at the abandoned city, he wandered the streets, trying his keys in every lock of the gates to its houses and gardens. At long last, one key finally turned, and he entered into his estate, but there were ghosts there who asked him to leave. They had their own keys and deeds to the estate, and they had already summoned the oligarchs, knowing this day would come. The sergeants and men of law came to arrest him, but after hearing his tale, they allowed him to stay in the empty city, as long as he never entered a house or garden. And for this reason, the scholar became an arsonist, a veritable pyrrhomaniac, burning down the city one house each night, while hiding in the water of the wells by day. The abandoned city thus became a great and enduring smoke signal for wayfarers who might be walking the endless highways.