Story-time with Aaron: Part 3
Sunday April 4, 2010
Death is the only black man in an all white town. He would leave, probably, if he didn't have to take care of his white mother. She can't take care of herself. She named him Death. She never understood why his father left her.
Death's mother's name is Guinevere. She says she has a ball of yarn that changes the shape of the universe to any shape she thinks of. She doesn't need the yarn.
"Let's go to the library," says Death. "It's a nice day."
There is no reason not to go. Death tosses the remaining chunk of white bread into the river, where it lands gently, floats, hydrates, and floats.
Walk back along the river road, under the trees, past decent houses. The library is on the other side of the river. Walk across the drawbridge, to the joint. The blue metal is raised for a sailboat to pass through, under power.
"If it wasn't a sailboat, it could pass under the bridge without stopping traffic. Do you think they even sail it, out on the lake?"
Aaron seems to have been thinking of something else. "No way we can know from here, is there?" he says, "Why do you talk so much, anyway?"
Walk on down the bridge, cross the street, go into the library. It is a medium-size town library, better than it would be if it wasn't competing with the medium-size town library in the next town.
"What did you want to do at the library anyway, John?"
"Oh, nothing in particular," says Death. "I just like it here."
The library has two halves. The children's section has picture books and puppets. The adult section has word books and videos.
"You know, the first time I went into the adult section as a kid was with my friend Jim from school. Maybe the only bigger bookworm than me in our school. He just about threw a fit because he thought I was making too much noise in the stacks talking to him."
"I remember Jim," says Aaron. "He's lost a lot of weight, I hear."
Walk through the library like a park planted with shelving. Meander.
"There sure are a lot of books."
Death agrees. "Even if you did nothing else, you could never read them all. It's ridiculous, isn't it? Just making books like sandcastles on an infinite beach."
"I've read them all," says Aaron.
"Just a joke. You know how jokes work, don't you? The teller says something ridiculous, and the receiver is momentarily confused. Then the receiver realizes it's ridiculous, and it's funny." Aaron is satisfied with this explanation.
"Do you really think that's how comedy works?"
He does. "Take the classic example. 'Why did the chicken cross the road?' The listener searches for some clever answer that would make this a question worth asking. When the answer comes, it turns out it was just a ridiculous question. The listener can stop trying to understand it and just smile."
"It's really not a very funny joke though, is it?" says Death.
"But what if the listener and the speaker don't agree on what's ridiculous? There isn't always a punchline like that."
Aaron's answer. "You know, I read a book here once, in this very library. It was the first book I ever read on quantum mechanics. It was called 'Taking the Quantum Leap.' The book suggested that I had written it."
"What are you talking about?"
"The book said," Aaron continues, "that according to the scientific theory of quantum mechanics, I could be the only person in the universe, with everything in the universe the creative product of my own subconscious. Including every book I read. Including 'Taking the Quantum Leap'."
"So I've had a hard time, ever since then, taking anything particularly seriously." Aaron comes to the point. "But to answer your question, if the other person doesn't know that you think what you're saying is ridiculous, there are two options. Either they'll think you think something they think, or they'll think you think something they don't think."
Death goes back to the joke. "And how are they then, all the books?"
Aaron is quick to answer. "You know, they're really all about the same. It seems like all the new books that come out are just reworkings of old books into the current language."
Can exhasperation be mild? "Wherefor art thou Romeo?"
"Quite so." Death changes the subject. "What do you think there are more of, people or books?"
"Do you mean copies, or titles?" asks Aaron.
"There must be more individual volumes, right? There must be a hundred thousand books in this library alone. Some titles sell millions of copies, just think of that." Death gazes around the library. The ceiling is a good deal higher than it really needs to be.
"Some people write a lot of books, but then, most people don't write any, I suppose. None that are published, anyway."
Aaron asks another question. "People that are alive now, or all people in history? Same question with books."
"Books don't die like people though..." says Death.
"Well sure, John, but Alexandria burned, didn't it?Anyway, let's just say people and titles you can find on Earth today. I think it's got to be people. Hardly anybody writes books, really, but it seems like everybody's trying to make more people." Aaron considers the issue settled.
Death seems convinced too. "Speaking of which, take a look at that." Death is looking at a pretty girl standing with an open book about twenty meters away. "Aaron, go talk to her."
"What? If you're interested, why don't you go talk to her?" says Aaron.
Death smiles. "Didn't I tell you? I've got a girlfriend now. You don't, do you? So go talk to her. What have you got to lose?"
"What have I got to gain, though?" says Aaron. "Whatever. Will it make you happy?"
Aaron strides away. Stand with Death. Pretend to flip through pages in the audiobook section. Wait a bit. Aaron comes back.
"I asked her if she thought there were more books or people in the world," says Aaron.
Death laughs. "And?"
"She said she doesn't speak English," says Aaron.
"There sure are a lot of people in the world."
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