The Unknown: The Red Line.
  I’m sitting in my room, my computer’s humming, and I’m looking at this picture my mom gave me of these cows and men walking through a lake in France. So what happens? The doorbell rings, it’s the FedEx guy, and he hands me a little package that I open (not before taking a sip of my beer) to find an airplane ticket to Paris. It’s business class, but so what. This is the kind of luck a guy like me has: just when I’m about to sit down at my computer to write a real book, not a goddamn short story, somebody hand-delivers a bottle of whiskey, or I get a call that my literary pack is fucked up in Paris and London, or I get a FedEx with tickets to Paris in it. Fuck all.

Now, the last time I saw Scott and crew, I was thinking and so were they and it was a damn good peyote trip, we were telepathic together. Now they’re still on their book tour, which is epic, and they’re wasted, just wasted. They’ve got readings everywhere, at Shakespeare & Co., at Left Bank Books, in Berlin outside the train station, on the train. These are major events and my buds are too drunk to deal. So I figure, cool, a chance to promote my collections of short stories and miscellania—100 words 100 ways, The Language of Cereal Boxes: Short Stories from Your Supermarket Shelves, and The Fortune Cookie Guide to Living. The guys are sleeping in the train on the way to Berlin while I conduct their trainboard reading to an audience of French and Germans and international travelers. There I am, reading things like, “You will soon have good luck” (excerpt from The Fortune Cookie Guide to Living) and everybody’s applauding. It helps that I’m dressed like Scott and they think I’m him—helps in more ways than one (so what if it’s my name on the book; I just cross it out and write his in if they ask). People buy me drinks, ladies say to me “Parlez-vous français?” (I say back, you’re sweet too). That’s how it goes I guess, being a literary American. You’re kind of famous. Not big famous, but there’s ten people at your friend’s reading and they don’t care if you read, as long as you answer to his name.

We get through the tour dates in this way and I take the boys to the Swiss Alps: good air, clean living, and women who speak four or five languages that I don’t understand. There’s a chalet I know about, more like an abandoned building in Bern, where I take my friends. Of course, other people live there, and they happened to be having a party when we arrive. The room is filled, knee deep, in leaves. Jazz plays, Bill Evans. The only lights are candles on candelabra attached to the walls. A pretty girl with red hair stands alone in the corner. Dirk, William, and Scott sort of revive a little for the party, end up talking to some of the various guests about nonsense. They were expecting beds, but end up passing out in piles of leaves and seem happy enough with it. I walk over to the redhead. Turns out she’s American, from somewhere around Los Angeles.

We talk about writing. Why do you care to do it, she asks me, it seems silly to write, there are so many books already, so much that’s been said. I’d rather do something really well, help people learn something. I don’t want my name all over. Why do you like it? I don’t know, I say. Perhaps because it helps me chew the hugeness of the subject: what do I know? That’s what I’m in it for, I want to know things. I don’t speak all that well, I don’t think all that well, except sometimes when I write something. Mostly I want to be left alone. Too much has been written, I continue, there’s tons of books, but still. Some of the things I’ve read meant things to me, big things, they helped me feel I wasn’t alone in particular, localized, inimitable ways. I want to do that for someone. And I can’t not do it, I say, or I think I can’t not—I don’t want to necessarily, but, again, it’s how I think. She says, What do you mean they helped you? Wouldn’t something else have helped you? Do you see yourself as some kind of savior? No, I say. I feel bewildered, I say. She’s looking at me, I have a half-smile on my face and I realize this is it, this is it. I don’t know what it is. I say I don’t know what it is because I don’t know, or I know, but what do I know? In any case we kiss, or I lean over to kiss her but she turns just at the last minute and I kiss her cheek. She brings her hand up and caresses my head. I don’t know what happens.

The next morning we all wake up groggy and alone and it’s quiet, except the redhead’s still sleeping next to me. I still don’t know her name. I buy some chocolate cake and milk and a couple of loaves of good heavy bread and some fruit and we all play Scrabble, me, her, Dirk, and Scott. William sleeps through it, sleeps for twenty-six straight hours, by my reckoning. During the game, there’s some debate whether French and German words count (we are, after all, on the Continent), but I point out it was an American-bought game and we play by the rules of English. The redhead wins on the strength of “quim” and “π” and “zapateo.” Dirk tries to recruit her into his cult but she gets annoyed and sticks her tongue out at him; he falls immediately to sleep. Scott takes a walk and falls asleep in a park. I won’t tell you what I do. But the next day, everybody’s dry. Really, truly. That doesn’t happen much. Can I go home now, I say to the guys? Please?

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The Unknown at Spineless Books.