It began at the reading room in the Boston Public Library. Much has changed these past three months, and I struggle to imagine my life before. But I was there, in that vaulted room, studiously ignoring the other patrons as I scribbled my doggerel into a thin moleskin notebook, freshly acquired for this outing. I was there early under the pretense of “getting some work done” on the collection of poems I intended to publish in Clean Your Stanza, the literary journal I had founded at Suffolk. I needed to get away from the hubbub and olfactory assault created by the bros in my dormitory, but I also knew that this was the best place off campus to meet the kind of naively pseudo-intelligent young ladies who were so inexorably drawn to me.
My mustache was freshly waxed and raised into a curl that would have made Salvador Dali melt with envy. My faded purple Keffiyeh was bunched around my neck to bring my ivory-pale skin and perfectly unkempt curls into stark contrast with my checkered trilby and black, horn-rimmed glasses. The American flag T-shirt I wore under my cardigan made me the picture of irony, and I could feel the eyes of lusty young coeds trying desperately to unravel the knot of mystery visibly twisting through my being.
I didn’t notice him at first. He was just some unfortunate urban mid-lifer probably here in hopes of bettering his life by reading the literature of my forefathers. Clearly not worthy of my attention. I am still unsure whether he was actually reading the words or just flipping the pages back and forth to absorb what culture he could through osmosis. He sat across from me nearly obscured by the six or seven hardbound books stacked neatly before him. Once he caught my attention, however, I could think of little else.
I remember nothing of his appearance save the stygian shade of his skin, but his mannerisms were unforgettable. He rocked back and forth in his chair, smiling inwardly and muttering to himself subvocally. His eyes darted about as though searching for some unseen adversary. He never made eye contact even once I began staring at him unapologetically. At first I thought he may be schizophrenic, or afflicted with one of countless other maladies of the mind so common to our modern society. Upon closer inspection I saw what seemed to be a calculated fear in his eyes. He was fully aware of his surroundings, but whatever the rest of us were unaware of was a far greater concern for the poor man.
Thinking he would make an excellent subject to write about, or at least worthy of a hearty chuckle later, I pulled out my iPhone and captured a quick video. Only then did I notice the titles of what he had gathered. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, The Dictionary of Demons, The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology, The Black Arts: A Concise History of of Witchcraft, Demonology, Astrology, and Other Mystical Practices. What was really going on here? I had to know more. I stopped recording and cleared my throat to inquire into the nature of his studies. The moment I put my phone away the man blinked several times, shook his head to clear it, and stood up from our table. He smiled at me in the friendly way one does to a passersby on the street, and swiftly walked away. He grabbed only the newspaper and left the books without a second glance.