I finished my favorite book today in a park near the River Thames. I watched a child run in circles around his parents and thought, that’s what a good book should be like. I reread the last page a hundred times. I cried inside. I teared up outside in public for only the second time in my life. The first time was after I left you in the airport and sat in a terminal chair with teardrops falling over my cheeks and on to the telephone in my lap that would never be able to reach you in the air. I looked at the cover of the book, at the purple stain near the top from the night I fell asleep and kicked over the bottle of wine I had not finished.
I closed the book and kept thinking how sad it was over. I watched a man blow bubbles into the air and secretly wished the book was like those bubbles, and would never pop; like the breath inside those bubbles would last forever- dripping in all of Jonathan Safran Foer’s words- and would liquidate the parts of the story that were the best, so they would keep on floating, over the Thames and over London and across the Atlantic Ocean, caught in zephyrs and gales that could lift Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close over mountains and states so it could fly into my California window and would be there waiting for me when I got home.
This booked changed me. It changed the way I think of writing. Maybe Jonathan cried when he wrote all these words. How could he have imagined such a beautiful way to drip his emotions? Did he sit in a park, like I am now- with all the noises of all these people- and think, I can capture this moment in words? Or did he write just to write? Could he ever say enough? Could he ever write enough? Did he look at the same child running around his parents and think that’s my novel, right there?
I skipped back to the beginning. I reread the first paragraph, the one I read in a bookstore in Los Angeles months ago. I remember paying for the book. I would pay $15 more to relive the magic of this book. I would pay $15 to forget how it began and how it ends so I could ignorantly open its cover once more.
I watch the sun crest to its peak in this park. The empty beer bottle next to me collects a few cigarettes I have smoked. There’s still some liquid left at the bottom; the parts of the ale I can’t finish drown these dirty cigarettes in yellowness.
My attention falls back to the park. So many people and things. Will I ever be able to write of them all? A man taking photos of his wife. A girl holding her skirt so the wind doesn’t reveal her. Food that goes in and the napkin that wipes the food away. A sundress, remembering the line to a song that says every girl looks better in a sundress. A stroller and sunglasses and the lotion that keeps the people from burning. A group of friends in a circle of conversation. A tree that shadows us momentarily. Someone asleep, on his back. Trash that brushes my shoes. A ball thrown into the air knowing it will have hands to ease its descent. Beer spilled over the top of its lid. A sweater used as a pillow. Grass used as a bed. The carousel that spins everyone around. The bridge taking them from one bank to the other. The boat rides that cost more money than they really should. The conversations I hear a bit of…we should go to Jerusalem…a pub around the corner…a proper place…a barber cut my hair…should we play dress up…you only live one life…
I pass out from the ale and wake sometime later to the smell of a man’s foot near my face.
“Sorry,” he says. “Do you mind the smell of feet?”
I pull out the next book and lose myself in 40 pages. Then a girl sits next to me. She asks me if I have a light. I light her cigarette and we talk for a time. Her accent holds me to the conversation. By the time we’re done the sun has moved down a bit. I can’t remember what we’ve talked about.
Then I’m in the market. It smells of steak and onions and bread and wine and people who have spent the day walking in the sun. I pay a few quid for a sandwich and take it to the river. It flows by freely. I find a toilet, refuse to pay 50 pence for a piss, find another toilet and wash my hands in a sink that looks like it’s been rubbed in turmoil. I leave and the sun sinks lower.
I buy two more pints of ale and find a soft place in the grass to finish my writing. At this point, my imagination spins around me. I try to write a short story but stall at the beginning so instead write this journal entry. I see a girl across from me. She has on big, thick sunglasses. I think she’s looking at me. I go to talk to her. Turn out she’s not looking at me. The next empty bottle of ale has two cigarettes in it.
The sun is behind the clouds. I pull on my jacket and lay down and read to p. 113. I’m in a writing mood, the kind of writing mood that plays out better in your head. I sit and think of all the things I am going to write. Most of the things are rubbish. But sometimes those are the best.
The sun never comes out from behind the clouds. Most of the people have left the grassy hillside. I finish the last of my drink and walk back to the train station and get off at Notting Hill Gate. I order a pizza and a bottle of wine at the corner store. The man asks me where I’m from. I want to tell him anywhere. Does it matter? But I’m polite, I say from California. He says I brought the good weather with me. I leave the store and think how nice it would be to always bring sunshine.
I walk home and think of the park and the ale and the market. I think how great to have lived this day, reading and writing and forgetting to care about sightseeing. I think I should stop drinking so much. I think that maybe I should drink a little more. I open the door to my flat and wash my face in the small sink. I take off my sunclothes and put on my nightclothes. I read a few letters from home and think how much I miss all the people back in California. I think how I need to stay in this London town for a while longer, until I can come home properly outfitted in the tan lines of a well-traveled man.