forgot how I
came to possess this book--whether I bought it or whether it was a gift or even
how long it had remained within the room. I came
across it beneath a pile of papers in a drawer. A
thin book with a dark cover, smooth like the surface
of a playing card sliding beneath my fingers. The
book of numerology.
Flipping through the pages, I noticed that some
of the numbers were discussed together in the same
chapter--four and six, for example--while others
had the sole devotion of two or three entire chapters.
This seemed to me a bit arbitrary, especially since
nine, my favorite number, occupied only one page--a
few lines actually--at the end of the book. This
explained the book's thinness, I decided: the
insufficiency of discussion. It was a beautiful book,
nonetheless, with its starry cover, and if I held the
book at the right slant, a sliver of moon appeared
near the center.
Opening the book to read, I passed through the
chapter on one, resplendent in its solitude, and
three, the number of unevenness and of divinity. Soon
I found myself reading a passage on red and yellow
with an illustration of categories of the squash
vegetable, an addendum to the chapter on the numbers
four and six. Then there was seven (two chapters on
magic) and the hermetical eight (a chapter of pranks).
By now it was the end of the day and I realized that
I had not cleaned out the drawer and had instead spent
my time reading.
Still, there had been passages of extreme
loveliness--the book had passed too quickly and I
found myself reflecting on that ridiculous digression
on squash and the colors red and yellow. I had
enjoyed that passage the most even though I was still
uncertain of its meaning and whether the subject had
been at all appropriate to the greater nature of the
Perhaps that was the secret of numerology: the
sudden and incomprehensible appearance of squash. I
turned again to the illustration of different
varieties, but as I thumbed through the chapter on
four and six, this illustration no longer appeared.
Carefully I turned the pages where the addendum had
occurred, but there was only a rigorous discussion of
quadratic equations followed by an interpretation of
the sixth Major Arcana (The Lovers) in the deck of
tarot. Whatever meaning the discussion on squash had
revealed, the words and the illustration had vanished.
I found myself feeling oddly satisfied, however, and
for the first time, I was no longer critical of the
book's insufficiency of discussion.
There remained the lines on the number nine to
read, a brief paragraph before the back cover. With
the approach of evening, the light had grown too dim
to identify the words clearly, the letters blurring
into dark shapes, so I reflected on the shape of the
paragraph itself, the beauty of those few lines
bordered by empty space.
Lillian Howan has worked as a journalist for the
Tahitian newspaper La Depeche. She has also been
published in Calyx and The New England Review and in
the anthology Under Western Eyes. She lives in
Back to the Top
Issue 9 |
story copyright by author 2003 all rights reserved