And so, when she’d woken up, and had showered and dressed and had her coffee, she went down to the park. There, the grass had been freshly shaved, and the air smelled of its clippings. Children laughed and ran all around her, and threw things, and then fell down. The parents stood around looking bemused but happy. One sensed that they would have looked appalled, had this been going on anywhere other than at the park. Lauren, on the other hand, could barely take it all in, as was often the case when she came here. The snickering children, and the things they threw, appeared to her as a series of blurred motions, like very fast bugs that she could never lay her eyes on for very long. This was due not to a problem with her eyesight but, she believed, rather with her whole self. And it was nothing to do with the fact that they were children, specifically. In truth, she didn’t know what it had to do with.
She sat on a bench and began eating a granola bar she’d brought with her for breakfast. It was dry in her mouth; it felt almost dusty. But she finished eating it, as it was all she’d brought with her, not just to eat, but to do: she’d brought no book, no newspaper, no crossword puzzle, nothing to occupy her mind or hands. As a result, she was beginning to feel a little hopeless. She tried to remind herself why she’d bothered coming to the park in the first place, since her current state of mind was one she often fell into while there, but she was unsuccessful.
Then a man sat down on the bench beside her. He was in his thirties, probably in the middle somewhere, and he wore a suit, a gray one that was very neat and slick, with a plain white shirt and a soft blue tie, the kind you think you might be able to swim in. He wore glasses with thin frames, and when she looked at his eyes, which were green, from a certain angle, the distortion in the lenses was negligible.
He said, “Good morning. Boy, it’s nice out today.”
“Yes, it’s nice,” she said. “The air is very nice.”
“Because of the grass?” he asked. “Because of the grass they just mowed?”
“That’s nice, too. But also it’s fresh.”
He nodded. “Well, that’s the time of year it is.”
She thought that was a strange way of putting it. It was supposed to get cold tonight, and it was supposed to rain, as well.
“My name’s Ben,” the man said. He held out his hand.
“I’m Lauren,” she replied, holding out her own. They shook, and he grinned.
“Do you mind if I ask you a question?” he said.
“No, I guess not. I guess it depends. No, maybe not.”
“It’s nothing bad,” he said, laughing. “Or weird. I just wondered why you came here. This park makes you miserable.”
She looked at him quickly, and then away. Then back. She realized she’d just done a double-take, and felt stupid.
“No it doesn’t,” she said. “I like the park. Maybe I’m just having a bad morning. But anyway, I’m fine. Plus, how do you know? What do you know about how I am?”
“I’m observant,” he said. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a little booklet. He handed it to her. “Here.”
Lauren didn’t take the booklet right away, but she did look at the cover. It was a soft blue again, like Ben’s tie, but a paler shade. Written across the top, in black letters, were the words THIS MUST END. Below that, it said BY DR. RICHARD SEABRIGHT. Below that, there was a picture of a millipede.
“What’s this?” Lauren asked. “Is this something religious?”
“No,” said Ben. “Just the opposite, actually, although not even related in that way. All it is, is something I think you should read.”
He made her take it by placing it on her knee.
“I don’t want it,” she said.
“But it’s yours now. And anyway, after you’ve read it, you can do whatever you want with it. Throw it away, burn it, tear it into a hundred strips and eat it. Once it’s been read, nothing else matters.”
“I’m not going to read it,” she said, and she brushed it off her knee, into the grass, as though it were a crumb or a dead leaf.
Ben smiled and said, “Of course you’ll read it. You’ll see. You’ll read it, and you’ll see.”
“And then I’ll want to thank you, I suppose?” Lauren said, not looking at him, but instead out across the park where children still zoomed by, now with dogs here and there, snapping their jaws at dragonflies.
Ben laughed a small laugh. “Well, I don’t know that I’d go that far,” he said. Then he stood up and stretched his back, squinting at the sun. “All right, well, I hope your day improves. I sincerely do.”
After one last grin, he turned away from her and walked towards the park exit.
It was happening down the slope, at the top of which grew
The boys were too far away for
They’re going to the lake, Lauren thought, before catching herself wondering why anyone would want to do such a thing. It was really this thought, more than her strange encounter with Ben, that drove her home at a quickened pace.
By then I thought it would never work that no one would ever listen to me. I had thought that by then if no one would listen to me then I should be dead. There are only two options I thought which were that I should die or my teachings should sweep over you all. So I took to carrying a gun around with me everywhere for whenever I thought the mood would strike me or if I saw nothing changing anywhere then I would take out the gun wherever I was at the time that I was thinking of it and I would place the barrel of the gun against my left eyeball and would pull the trigger into sunlight and shade. But then one day at night I was out walking. It was maybe 7 or . I was near
This from a young man with bristly black hair who now hovered grinning over Ben with a pad and pen. Ben slowly closed THIS MUST END and looked up at his waiter. The smile that drifted across Ben’s face was rather dreamy.
“Sure. I’m sorry, do you have silverware?”
Todd’s eyes widened a bit at the realization that the question appeared to have nothing to do with his job. But he turned his body and bent his neck so he could read the title. “’This Must End,’” he read aloud. “No, I don’t know it. Is that a book?”
“No, that’s fine,” Todd said, smiling. “Are you Dr. Richard Seabright?”
“Oh, no,” Todd said, his smile turning panicked. “No, is it a – no, I can’t take gifts.”
“That’s not a tip.”
“Well,” Todd said. “When you’re done eating, if you’d like to leave that for me I’ll take a look at it later, I promise. Hey, have you had a chance to look at our menu yet?”
Ben stood up, THIS MUST END still on the table.
Lauren, I really think you should read this. It is an important book of our time. It can help you understand yourself.
She closed THIS MUST END and pushed it away, across the table. Perhaps she wanted some tea or something. Outside, the sky was trying to turn black as the rain now seemed to collapse down, as if a bladder hanging high above the city had been slit open. There was lightning, crashing for someone somewhere, but for Lauren just a series of silent, shuddering flickers – it was like sharing a room with a dying lightbulb.
Looking through the rain, down one floor into the street below, she saw a broken multicolored thread of umbrellas along both sidewalks, some snapping open in a panic as she watched. The rain came off awnings in sheets and the gutters appeared to already be flooding. As the umbrellas all fled, she could see along the sidewalks under the awnings of restaurants she rarely went to even though she’d lived in this apartment for years, and she thought about what it would be like, or what she would think, if suddenly she caught the eye of a figure draped in cloth wearing a plastic or rubber or papier maché mask of disfigurement, which is how she imagined the masks so briefly described by Dr. Seabright – worn so that the wearer might present themselves to the world as deformed, or twisted. As, she supposed, was the purpose behind any mask. She imagined the figure standing in the shadow of the blue and white-striped awning that jutted out from Lana’s Café, barely visible and somehow gigantic but still easy to miss, and staring up at her window, through the rain. There was no such figure, but she stood there looking, imagining what it would be like if there was, for a long time.
The moron’s teeth grinned wider and he shrugged.
Why do we? Who are you? Is that why? How is this? What are you? What is this? This is what? Why is that? Can you hear me? Did you hear that? Do you hear that? What is that? That is what? How could you? How can we? How can we what? Did I hear what? What can you hear? Why can’t you hear it? You can hear it, can’t you? Hear what? Hear who? Where are we? Where were we? Why now? Now what? What now? Who says? Why can’t we? Who says so? Says who? Why is that? Can’t you hear it? What was that? Who is that? Where is that? Where is this? Who is this? Why? Why not? Why not now? Why not what? How did you do that? Who did that? What was what? In what way? Can you say it? Can you hear me? Can you hear this? Who am I? What am I hearing? What are you hearing? Why don’t they hear it? Who are they? Are you crazy? Is that what this is? What is this? When will we know? What will we know? Know what? Why are you here? Who asked you here? Who asked you? Why do you care? Who cares? Why are you screaming? What is that sound? Who is making that sound? Where is that sound coming from? What sound? What sound? What sound? That sound? What is that sound? Can you hear this? What is this? Are you okay? Are you feeling okay? How does it feel? How does this feel? Is this bad? Can you see their faces? What faces? What are they saying? Can they speak? Do they speak? What do they mean? What does this mean? Is this too loud? Is this ever going to stop? Will this ever stop? Will this end? This is what? Will this what? Can I hear what? Do you hear what? What is what? Why is what? When is what? This is this. That is so. They are here. This must end.
“Why does he always need rest?” Stephen asked. Stephen was sitting under the dry-erase board on which was a massive drawing of a millipede. He wore a light-blue button-up shirt, no tie, cuffs folded up as though he was about to get to work on something he hadn’t dressed for.