Now his guest looked up, observed without comment his young host circling the room restlessly, and looked down at the package again when Edan picked up the remote control and began flipping blindly through channels. "I want to go home," Edan said. "I keep calling, but no one ever picks up, and I don't know what's wrong." He let an image resolve itself firmly on the screen, and then impatiently stabbed the Channel Up button. "Look at that Mexican soap opera," he said, although the channels he was now flashing through were composed mostly of static, "you can tell a soap opera anywhere in the world, even if you don't know the language. They all look alike."
The guest did not offer an observation on this.
"And look," Edan said in triumph, settling on another channel. "Guatemalan station commeercials are epic bikini fests. You watch every girl in the country paraded across the screen, and then five minutes later you find out they just want you to know it's Channel 9. But you already know it's Channel 9, because it's on channel 9."
The guest did not speak. Edan was annoyed. He switched off the TV and made it very obvious that he was not glaring at his guest, as he was polite. The man was there waiting to be picked up, a favor for a friend, and he did not say much. Edan wondered if the man was there for a drug deal. A lot of drugs went to the US through Central America. He critiqued the man's Brooks Brothers slacks, cotton shirt, and closely-cut black hair suspiciously.
"If you're hungry," Edan said, deciding to impose his presence, "there's chicken and rice and beans." He tossed the remote onto the couch, which was a wooden bench draped with blankets. He was so sick of chicken and rice and beans.
The guest's hands, slender and smooth, touched the package lightly.
"How come I've failed?" Edan burst out. "I came down here with all my money and dreams and I'm going back home broke--what happened, what did I do wrong?"
The guest folded his legs. "Do you enjoy reading, Mr Dane?"
What was in the package? Why was the man holding it so tightly? Edan started to steal longer, more lingering glances at it.
"Some things," he answered.
What did he enjoy reading? Most of the books which had once impressed him now no longer struck him as being very appealing. Edan shrugged.
"What do you do for a living, Mr. Dane?"
"I'm a guitarist, I played for some groups in L.A. Love, Death, & Anarchy; have you ever heard of them?"
The guest had not.
"I had a project to record local music from all over the world," Edan explained, not having to think about the subject, "compile it, make a score incorporating it. But now that I'm already here the other producers backed out, and now I have to go back Stateside and scrounge for funds."
"There are other ways to make money."
His guest now struck Edan as a cross between a cunning dope dealer and a modern Mephistopheles, who would try to buy his soul for stock options.
"I'm sure there are," Edan said, "but not all of them are safe."
"No, not all of them are." Then both of them were silent, the rain kept drumming on the roof, and the air was so thick and humid that Edan's shirt was wet.
"Would you like something to drink, Mr.--? I'm afraid all I have is Milo. But it feels good in this weather. There's Milo, and water. Lots of water."
"Why does the rain disturb you, Mr. Dane?"
"I just want to see the sun." When was the person who was supposed to take the package going to get there? All the highways into town were probably flooded; the man could be there until tomorrow morning.
"I've recently been in the desert," Edan's guest supplied: "if you had been with me, you'd relish a little moisture now."
What a condescending thing to say, Edan decided. "Where I'm from, it's a lot drier, too; I miss it. It doesn't rain a lot in the Southwest, or in L.A." Then, in an effort to be conciliatory, since he was stuck with this guy, "Where are you from?"
"I travel a lot. I don't consider a particular place home. But I guess I have a certain affinity for western culture."
"So--you're a salesman?"
The salesman smiled. "Yes, I suppose you could say that."
"What do you sell?"
The man tapped his package.
"Mm." Edan nodded. He wasn't interested in being strung along, playing this guy's game. But he was curious. "What's in the package? What do you sell?"
The man's smile broadened. "A book."
Edan laughed. "Just one?"
"Well, it's a very good book."
"It can't be that great," Edan pointed out, "if you've been selling it all this time and you still have it."
"Well, it's an interesting thing. I don't sell the book itself, I sell pages."
He wants me to buy somehting, I knew it. That's the problem with salesmen, they have to turn every genuine attempt at friendship into a marketing scheme. And if you need a salesman to tell you about it, it's probably not worth getting; like those women Nestle dressed as nurses and sent into third world countries to get mothers to give their kids baby formula instead of breast milk. Salesmen can sell anything.
Is that why I have Milo? he wondered suddenly. That's from Nestle too.
But he had to be polite, so--"You sell pages, huh?" Then he decided maybe he didn't have to be polite after all. "Is that like those poetry books where the poets are supposed to pay for the honor of being published, so that they can feed their egos, and then only they end up reading it?"
"Yes, rather like that," the salesman admitted, "but no one reads my book."
"What do you mean?" Yes, that last statement had been a setup, and he had walked right into it. But this was better than a Mexcian soap opera, right? And why not humor his guest? He was broke, so there was no chance of being tricked into a foolish deal. And if this guy was Mephistopheles, and he was willing to pay for Edan's tarnished soul, he was welcome to it.
"It's a book of ideas."
Edan frowned. "You mean, like, if I was stuck for an idea, I'd look at your book? And it would give me words that rhymed, or common chord progressions?"
"Well, no. No one reads this book."
"Then--" it couldn't be helped. "What do you mean?"
"It's all the ideas people don't want."
Edan considered this. Was he missing something? Nope. The concept was stupid. "Why would people pay for bad ideas?"
"Oh, they're good ideas," the man said irritatingly, "but they're all the ideas people don't want." People shouldn't have to state the obvious, but if they were driven to it, Edan was as good a man as any. "Why wouldn't people want good ideas?"
"Let's say that you had been Pandora, and opened the box you were no supposed to open. Wouldn't you want to put the things back, close it again?"
Edan shrugged. "I'm not sure I follow you."
Morham tapped the covered book almost caressingly. "An Arabian astrologer, Ibrahim Abu Ayub, son of the last companion of Muhammad, followed the conquering army of Amru into Egypt. He remained there many years, studying the dark sciences, and particularly magic, with the Egyptian priests. He found this ancient book in the sepulchural chamber of the center of the central pyramid, on the breast of the mummy of the high priest, underneath many of its bandages. "This book, he found from reading it, was given to Adam after his fall, was used by Solomon's architect, and then was used by the architect of the pyramids."
Edan turned toward the window in disgust. At least with the soap operas he would have had a chance to practice his Spanish; he had thought UFO fanatics were over the edge, looking for unidentified flying objects over US Air Force testing grounds, but this--"I'm 22 years old, and an American. I don't believe in magic."
"Of course not," his guest said assuringly, "and neither do I. It's absurd; it doesn't exist."
"Then what was that story you were just telling me?"
"Magic did exist, but now it's part of this book. All of the ideas people don't want, or they're afraid of...when they call me, or Ibrahim before me, I take them away. I take the real and put it back on the page, make it unreal, make it as if it never happened."
"Really. And how did you get this job?"
"It's not one that I wanted. There are fantastic things in these pages...the Neanderthals were once the master race. The Earth was once the center of the universe. But each time one of those ideas is put down on these pages, it's like it never happened, and all the things it caused never happened...all that are left are the edges, the fringes, vague longings in our dreams, things we almost remember but don't, the restless idea that things aren't the way they should be. Little by little, page by page, the universe is uncreated."
"Well, if you don't like your job, can't you just leave the book?" Edan was always interested in ths easiest solution to a problem.
"But what if it's found? Anything can be uncreated. And what if it's read out loud? All the things which aren't could return. Are you ready to give up this world?"
"How can you believe in this?" Edan was going to say "this nonsense," but if he had to point out that it was nonsense, then his battle was already lost.
"I've answered a lot of questions," his guest replied. "You still haven't told me why you still dislike the rain."
Immediately Edan thought of her, which meant that he was still holding on to her, and the more he loved her the more he loathed himself. She had once said the Hopis believed that when it rained it meant all the angels in heaven were praying for a good person who had died, and she had often wondered if it would rain for her. But she had died in New Mexico, dring the summer, when the sun baked the ground into cracked red clay and the creek ran sluggish over its bed of stones and the sky shimmered hot and turquoise and cloudless. "Whenever it rains I htink of a girl I used to know."
"What is she like?"
"Was she like. She's gone now."
"Is she like; you still remember her."
Edan almost smiled, despite himself; if this man really believed in what he had said, was he trying to open up old wounds, get Edan to write Acea's name into his book? "She used to him this melody, it was so beautiful; and I can't remember it now. It's always just at the edge of my mind, like a word you're about to say that you just can't reach, and it always bugs. I can't even picture her humming it. It's like something caught between your teeth that you spend all day picking at and can't get free."
"You're a musician. Do you try to replay the melody, find its key, its notes, experiment until you capture it?"
"Yes!" Edan exploded, suddenly angry. "Of course! Why do you think I'm out here? Why do you think I'm travelling the whole fricking world? Do you think I WANT to be in Central America? I'm looking for everything I can, from every culture I can, until I find that melody again."
His guest was reasonable. "Hearing that song, even playing it, won't make her come back from the dead."
"Oh, fuck you. She's all I ever loved. Just shut up until the person you're supposed to meet comes, and then get out."
The man said, "You're the person I was supposed to meet."
I knew it, I knew it. The whole thing was a setup, a ply, trying to soften me up for a sale. He wasted my whole afternoon. I could have been--well, I could have been not talking to HIM.
"As soon as the rain stops, I want you to get out."
"I will leave now, if you wish. But that song no longer exists. My last customer wrote it into this book. I knew its loss must haunt you. So I'm giving you the opportunity to rid yourself of the memory."
"Your book can give me the song back?"
"It can erase your memory that there was a song."
A plan formed in Edan's mind. "It was such a brilliant plan that he wished the book was real. Anyway, it would make a great joke, codify his frustration. It was immature, of course, but when you're twenty-two you grab for every chance at immaturity you're still allowed. "All I have to do is--I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name."
"Morham, Mr. Dane. My name is Morham."
"Uh-huh. All I have to do is write the memory down, and it will disappear?"
Morham nodded. "I anticipated your enthusiasm, and have a pen right here."
"Right. And how much would this cost?"
"Oh, your hospitality has been sufficient. I won't need anything else."
That instantly aroused Edan's suspicion. Of course he wanted something. But what did Edan have to lose? "Okay, just show me where to write it."
Morham unwrapped the package, lifting veils as shimmering and insubstantial as visions from a tome that had must have been rebound just a century ago in now greyin gleather. He opened the book to a blank and brittle page, the dried translucent skin of an animal that now, it was possible, did not any longer even exist. He handed the pen to Edan.
It was a ball boint pen, a plastic Bic, and blue ink was already starting to leak near the metal part. It wasn't the kind of pen you'd use to change the course of the world.
Edan looked up and felt, for an instant, sheepish and guilty that he was about to make fun of the man. Morham had been pleasant enough, hand't complained or anything. Of course, he was a salesman, so he had to be on his best behavior. Edan wrote Morham's name down on the page. Then he looked up, realizing it was actually a stupid joke, but no one was there.
"Morham? Morham?" A chill raced through him. But no, it must be a trick. He rushed to each room of the house, looked outside the windows, but no rain had come in, so the doors hand't been opened. There was the book. Wondering, afraid, uncertain, Edan wrote something else beneath Morham's name. Then he put down the pen. The noise of the rain had stopped.
At first Edan was stunned, and then he started to smile. He walked to the door, opened it, and went outside.
The sky was starting to clear, the sun was visible, already water seemed to be disappearing from the muddy lane. He went to the line under the house and discovered that his clothes were dry. Fianlly he allowed himself to grin. It was a beautiful day.
He walked back inside. He knew what the book was for. He remembered, vaguely, what had happened. But the word he had written, "Morham," was unfamiliar to him, as was the other words, "Acea," which he had written beneath it.
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