PUBLISHED JUNE 2019 TO SAMAARONMORGAN.COM
My first thought was he lied in every word, that bulky cashier.
“That’s the nicest card in the store. You want it?”
With a smiling eye, he glanced askance to watch his lies work on me.
“I think not,” I replied.
I had turned aside into one of those ominous greeting card stores which, all agree, hides the downfall of civilization. The year’s cycle of Halloween cards bled over into every other section. One card, in the middle of that dreck, caught the afternoon sun. I slid my glasses down my nose to examine it. It read: Thy gift, thy tables, are within my brain, Full charactered with lasting memory. Shakespeare, of course. She would appreciate that. Literary enough to not be Hallmark; obscure enough to seem heartfelt.
The cashier leaned on an upright vacuum cleaner. He was quite unhealthful in his appearance. “You sure? It’s a nice choice,” he remarked. “I think it’s always really nice when anyone buys a card for anyone else, you know?” His mouth was scarcely able to suppress his glee, that little smirk at the edge of his face. One more victim.
I considered telling the cashier the etymological history of the word nice, the Latin nescius, meaning quite ignorant.
“Yeah, I always think it is nice when anyone buys a card,” the cashier repeated. “I guess that’s why I still work here. Is it for your wife or something?”
“I would advise you not to be too curious about the affairs of others,” I replied.
The cashier frowned.
Perhaps I was a tad harsh, but often educating the young involves violating the simple niceties of their pampered presuppositions. He may well thank me in the future.
I slipped the card into my jacket pocket and walked out of the store under the protecting sound of the famished vacuum.
My dog, Möbius–his leash tied to a parking meter–slept on the sidewalk. He raised his eyes but not his head as I approached. I untied him and we both headed across the street toward our original destination: Boston Commons.
Möbius and I enjoyed the lingering autumn. Crispy red, yellow and brown leaves encrusted the grassy expanses. I’m sure the cashier would have said it was “nice” out.
I took the freshly purchased card from my pocket but I found I had been given the wrong item. This card had nothing but a vapid picture with the words, “Have a nice day!” That bumbling cashier must have made an error.
I left Möbius and reentered the store only to find an elderly man at the cashier.
“Sir,” I demanded. “Where is the young man who was just here?”
The man shrugged. “It hasn’t been but me the whole day.”
“Very well, if you want to play games, then I will not indulge you,” I said. “However, you ought to know that I will never patronize this store again.”
The old man nodded. “Have a nice day.”
I would not be anyone’s object of ridicule. So, quiet as despair, I turned from him, that hateful cashier, and left his store and went out into the paths outside.
Upon exiting, I removed the offending card from my pocket, intending on tearing the silly thing to pieces, but the inanity had disappeared. In its place I discovered an entirely different card. In fact, card is a misnomer. The object could be more correctly called a chapbook of one page. The front of the card was titled, Schaltjahr, supposedly the title of a poem by Robert Browning. Inside the card was a poem too dense and small for me to decipher without my reading glasses. And yet, I was certain that I had read all the works of Robert Browning. What was this blatant forgery doing in my pocket?
I reopened the card only to discover that it now showed a partial train schedule for Ypsilanti. Judging by the typeface it must date from around the turn of the century.
Who was playing a prank on me?
I shook the cardboard card hoping to discover what mechanism allowed it to perform such a trick. Möbius, interested no doubt because of my shaking, came over and bit at the card.
“No! Bad dog!”
He looked down, duly chastised, and began to chase his tail again. But then a quite odd thing occurred–Möbius bolted straight toward nothing.
I raced after him, as much as a man of my years can race toward anything. He darted straight across the street. Thankfully, traffic was stopped for a light.
I pursued Möbius all through the Commons. I struggled to catch my breath by the curb. People were beginning to stare. Bright points of light buzzed around my eyes.
“Come here right now!” But the damned dog rushed around the corner into the Granary Burying Ground.
I had not visited recently. It was always filled with tourists, the types who never stop complaining about how confusing our streets are. Entering into the cemetery it was empty but I could not locate Möbius anywhere. There was only a tall Mastiff resting incongruously by Mother Goose’s grave. It perked up its ears and jumped from the grave, trotting easily towards me.
No other dogs appeared, but this Mastiff sat beside me panting faithfully. “Good dog,” I said absent-mindedly as I turned my back to the mastiff while looking behind individual gravestones. “Möbius! Come here now!”
I ought to have been able to hear Möbius rustling through the leaves. But there was no sound. Where could he have gone? I sincerely hoped his bad habit of digging holes would not now come back to haunt me.
A small and wrinkled Bassett Hound wobbled up next to me. Its baggy ears swayed as it panted. What was this third dog doing here? This was a hallowed graveyard, not some kind of dog park. However, I soon realized that there was no more Mastiff, just this Bassett Hound. The dog sat pleasantly panting beside me.
“Möbius, shake,” I said.
The Bassett Hound offered up his paw and held it there. I should have been more shocked, perhaps I should have fainted dead away, yet somehow I’d known it since I saw the mastiff lying there. I simply couldn’t believe it.
It was the card that did it, of course.
I deliberately turned in a circle. Möbius was now a hulking Bernese Mountain Dog. I grabbed his leash and stared upward. As we rushed home, I passed the place where the greeting card store had been, but it was now a Starbucks.
Clearly, chaos had broken free.
When we finally rounded the corner to our house, I glanced at Möbius once more and he was a Great Dane. Entering in the door, I let him off the leash and he ran in circles. I climbed the stairs to my office and locked the door, which perhaps was unnecessary, as no dog could turn a doorknob regardless of its breed
I closed and reopened the card repeatedly. It changed each time. But I photocopied each iteration. I would strip away each possibility. You must understand why I did this, for we must tame chaos, or be broken by it in return.
Some think order is a mere nicety. But without it, look at what happens.
Then she called. I didn’t answer; she would leave a message. I listened to it as I photocopied: “Roland, I’ve just heard from Peter that you were out walking a giant Great Dane. I thought you were ill! Regardless, I win the wager. You did indeed forget my birthday again this year. Not even a card in the mail!” The message clicked as it ended.
I stood up and walked to the window. The dying sunlight kindled through a cleft in the brownstones. The whole neighborhood sat there like giants watching TV, chin on hand, content to watch the game all day. How could they not see when chaos was everywhere? It rang like a doorbell for many forgotten guests, each pressing the glowing light to announce their departure forever.
Staring down I noticed that one page held the message: “To keep an adjunct to remember thee, were to import forgetfulness in me.”
Möbius whimpered and scratched the door. Finally, he shouted, “Look at what you’re doing, you old fool!”
He was quite correct. I was making definite progress. I would not stop. I would copy all through the night. One teetering hillside of paper would turn into many, and I would replace the copy machine’s ink cartridges repeatedly.
By Halloween morning, the mountains of paper would meet and view the last of me, a living page for one more copy. In one empty sheet, I would suddenly see them and know them all. All would gently place their corners to their lips and shush in one accord.
“Old Roland to the Greeting Card Came”