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Issue number nine




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The Book of Numerology by Lillian Howan

I 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 book.

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 Berkeley, California.

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