Barkeep (40). He greets every face with a shrug or a glass, or both, and if his mind wanders from the conversation it is without ill intent.
Colleague (17). She stood there for what seemed forever. No one came by. Then a phone rang.
Glassblower (11). She was known for her signature hourglasses, filled with sand she stole from the shore, or so she was once charged. When brought to court, her defense attorney cited principles of natural erosion.
Hannah’s Friend (37). She had always wondered what happened to Hannah, where they took her after that day. She, at her parents’ insistence, would go on to make new friends. But even now, all these years later, she, before walking away from a mirror, checks for traces of her first, true friend.
Laborers (38). They’d spend a lifetime plucking names from the pages of holy books.
Lean-eyed Student (17). He later became a revered funambulist and a mediocre reverend in turn. Suspended high above his congregation, he’d preach that if you put a man too close to earth, he will undoubtedly fall.
Leaf-Blower (17) He lived to the side of things. It was how he preferred it. A home on the far side of town. A seat on the side of the theater. A hand on the lower side of his back. Even at dinner, it was the sides he savored most. There were, of course, exceptions, whole hours of them, when he could be seen coming down the center of a path, or a street—the leaves parting before him like the sea.
Lucas’s Attorney (5). A descendent of the glassblower’s attorney and as honest by all accounts, though often distracted.
Ill-blooded Lover (9) He was shot dead with his own hunting rifle. They found the body at the bottom of a rockslide, drained of its blood and piss.
Man of Some Authority (12). Uncertain of how much authority he held, so much of his life seemed arbitrary. Some days he felt arrested by what to enforce, other days by what not to.
Man whose Cap is at an Obtuse Angle (34): No one talks of what was his first folly, committed before the six that would soon follow: to put on his hat in such a ridiculous manner and approach the logician before dawn!
Man with Aron’s Towel (29). When Aron stood up from his bath—shivering, all wet and in terror of them—the man could not help but feel badly for him. He would have wrapped the towel around Aron himself if not for what the others there would think.
Members of the Committee (44, The Muraled City). The minutes from their last meeting reads like a meandering suicide note, left not by any one member but by the committee as a whole. And without saying so the minutes manage to say something of where life puts you when it’s finished with you.
Men and Women of the Town (49). After the flooding, they went around the streets picking up their names, or whatever was left to say of them. They threw the names over fences, over the backs of lawn chairs, over the low walls lining the park, drying them out like the skins of animals. And the sun, when it finally did come back, passed through the names with both its indifference and warmth in equal splendor.
One of the Dinner Guests (34). Had he again overstayed his welcome? Had he helped himself to too much wine, again to too much good cheer? Look at him: sweating through his unbuttoned shirt, a leg over an arm of the reupholstered chair, his eyes skating around the ceiling. Look at him there, about to pass out, the once great tragedian.
Our Unshaved Bookseller (12). Nothing interested him less than his own past—not because he wished for some other past he might have had, but precisely because it was his past.
Painter in the Tavern (36). To the barkeep, he’d say that “’Each day the world loses a color, faces become colder, more alike, and the people blinder. There goes a man, his face briefly lost in a fog, a mere feature of the gestures and vapor around him. There goes another, a woman this time, her eyes washed over with a stinging mist. They borrow words from each other, return them without a touch of warmth. They listen with water stopped up in their ears, every sigh they hear soaked through with a polluted sea.
(He swallows a bit of his spit.)
I know you know I’ve watched that sea from where I sat in a seven-sided room, a room like a week walled in, the same week everyone has at one time or another, in which each day is the same as any other with a bit of light shifting from one side of the face to another. I took comfort in this sameness, all was agreeable, equaled—just the right amount of space and length it takes to fill it with living. I’d spend the nights there painting animals nobody likes. Their lives appeared collectable under my brush, and thus cared for, in my way. I’d paint their insides first, heart and all, and then work from the head down, putting on fur or feathers, the softest you ever felt with your fingers.
But then someone, it could have been my brother, my own mother maybe, came in while I was out saluting the weather with a walk. And when I returned, gone was the heart of a grackle.
(He swallows his last word.)
Now why do I keep telling you this each time I come into your bar, why do I lay it down like this, before I've even had a drink? As I’ve said before, because it doesn't matter, one way or every other—one way or every other.”
Paolo’s Lover (20): As an older man graying at the temples, he would, at every turn, continue to say “I will carry forth.”
Reader Who Eventually Closes the Book: She is seen at times taking the place of one of its characters.
The Next Wayfarer (39). There he is, under many pages of the book, his face nearly crushed by them. He is trying to claw his way out, his nails scratching at every question mark, picking at another period. He breaks off a sentence, gives himself some room, a little leverage between letters, a space to regain strength. He squirms and muscles through some meanings, the ones hardened over time into names of places he once knew, of people he once cared for. His calf caught on a comma, it digs at the symbols inked down his leg. On his other side, the language of a greater fiction scrapes against his ribs.
When a furnace rattles through the dialogue, his breath warms the page you turn to. When a door shuts in a chapter, his ears close up and then it is the silence of a missing character. When a child falls asleep at the edge of a line, the thoughts of youth tuck themselves into the margins. When a woman reaches out from the description of her hands and grips tight a knife, his life opens slightly, bleeding into a stream of consciousness.
There now, at the far end of the book, he can be seen closing up a wound on the bottom of his foot. Perhaps he has, finally, stepped on every point, except the final one—the point to no story we can tell, or want to.
Those who Found Lucas within the Hour (16). Lucas was their first foster child. The neighbors came to them just three weeks after his arrival. They believed Lucas had entered their basement window while they were at work, had gone through the boxes stacked against the wall, had climbed the stairs into the kitchen, opened the drawers, the refrigerator even, had moved on then to the dining room, passing his greasy hands over the shelves of the hutch and inside the vases placed there, and finally then had made his way into the bedroom, where they knew something more must have been taken, as to what they would find out soon. For the wife’s pants and tops were spread across the floor, some of her underwear tossed on a chair, a tangle of bras on the bed, her tights scattered to the corners of the room, and everything that was shoved under the bed pulled out and rummaged through. There were fingerprints all over the edges of the photographs in the carton, and they were pretty sure the dial to the safe-box had been tampered with. When the foster parents approached Lucas about this, he was in the room they threw together for him, strumming a guitar he’d brought with him from the last home.
Those who Told Lucas about his Mother (43). They were not relatives. They were not friends. They were not teachers, nor professionals of any kind. They were voices that would one day burst from a requiem he sung for himself in a fit of madness he might never know again.
Train Attendant (47). To her surprise, she had somewhat taken to this life of movement, the to and fro of it, the familiar shifts her body made as the train jostled her around. And around her, mostly the same faces, put on each day for the same conversations, moving along with her own expressions and the stops and starts of it. Yes, an unruly passenger now and then, but a kind word and smile then and now. Yet after dark, after walking back from her own stop, she’d shut the apartment door behind her and flick on the lights, only to find it all so still, as it was, not a thing moving with her.
Unmoustached Man (29, The Fifth Day). It was true. He had shaved it off earlier that morning. She didn’t approve. To her, he was a different man now, end of story.
Wealthy Senator (13). Records show that he was at once the institute’s founder and its first ever patient, having one day woken up in the middle of his life adamant that he had himself died. He would not leave his villa, not for anything, but instead hired help to witness him haunt its premises, until one day they found him out back in the ground. He had buried himself inside a corpse, his soul all but rotted away.
Woman in the Shower (38). She’d think of herself as a baroness, robbed of more than a diamond—how thrilling, was what she’d also think.
Woman who Drew (42). Anonymity suited her, better than any name ever could.
Woman who Helped Raise Whittle III (23). She was raised to believe in lesser evils and tried to raise this oversized boy to believe in lesser evils. But time and again he had misunderstood what she meant, thinking that lesser evils were only for lesser boys to commit. His father would laugh at this but his laughter was not the sound of a father’s laughter, for it was the sound of a lesser man, choking down the thought of his own evils.
Woman who Stuck a Knife in the Kitchen Floor (39). When he was out late at night, she would slip her small hands into each one of his work gloves. He left them lying on the counter always. And with both of them on, she’d walk in circles and beat herself up over letting him touch their daughter that way.
“Mom, what are you doing with dad’s gloves on?” asked the daughter coming into the kitchen, catching her by surprise. She pulled them off at once, throwing them to the floor in a fright, her hands as white as the walls, as cold as two hands can be.
Writer of Fictions (49): From the work she left behind, we know she shared Lucas’s last name: Lagan. We know too it was only attached to her later in life, after marrying a sailor whose ship went down shortly after, its goods—and there were many—yet to be recovered.
Young Beggar (49). He had two little girls. They lived with their mother, who, he swore, could not be trusted. After his death, the girls discovered he had written two worldess songs, one for each of them. Even now, so long after, they continue to argue over which song was meant for whom.
Young Caregiver (13). He would return home from the institute on the weekends, when he’d see his girlfriend. Was it the perfume? The way she did her hair now? How her eyes looked beyond whatever they fell on? More and more she reminded him of Mae, the patient who passed away, so suddenly and in his arms.