One July day, Henry wandered through the cobblestone streets of his hometown, looking for work. He wasn’t exactly sure what kind of work he wanted to do, but he knew it had to do with the words and ideas rummaging around in his head, keeping him up nights, pestering him with their unanswerable questions about the state of the world, about dichotomies and how things could be and how they should be.
It was a beautiful summer day in the south. The sky was wide open, salted with occasional clouds, looking for all the world like a heavenly sea strewn with cotton balls. He made a note of it. Henry sat down at a picnic table and chewed the cud of his thoughts. Nearby, a river made laughing noises, sending goosepimples over the grass, making the Earth blush. He exercised his mind in times like these by writing poetry that made little sense. The poems were just automatic streams of linked thoughts, associated words. This, according to Henry, was how the world was created: it was not premeditated, not ordered together like unto a carpenter god, but it bubbled up from nowhere, or more precisely, from under the fingernails, from under the running brook, from the madness of clouds it fell, and it grew, and then it grew again after it had died once for the season, and it kept building, not according to plan, but simply for the sake of building. He was on to something, he told himself.
He wrote his name on the cover of the notebook, in all caps: HENRY MULLWILER, and on the inside front cover, he wrote his name again, and his address, and his phone number, and his e-mail address, and then he wrote: “If found, please return this notebook to:” right over his name and address and everything else, and concluded the whole advertisement with “because its contents are important to me. Thanks a bunch,” and under that, he signed his name, Henry, except it was more like a capital H and some inarticulate, unpracticed squiggles. He had seen how some important people signed their names that way, and thought he would try it today, but it didn’t really work out for him, and the signature ended up looking like barf, or so he told himself.
Here he was, in his 16th year, sweet 16, spending his long summer morning down by the river, and really, did it get any sweeter than that? The day was warm and hot, both, and the water was pouring by, replenished by so many afternoon thunderstorms that had come before. By mid-day, those cotton ball clouds would have amassed into something more foreboding, armies of thunderstorms waiting to happen. Henry frowned at the predictability of it all. That was the problem, he thought, with summer days. As awesome as they were, they held onto their archetypal patterns too well, and rarely strayed from the mold. He found himself feeling disappointed in them, and surly, and dissatisfied. Henry chewed on the end of his pen, then sighed the beleaguered sigh of a poet who had already seen too much in his 16 years on the cruel Earth, and he put everything of his away with a flourish, shoving the pen and the notebook into his backpack, which he dramatically donned, strapping it over both shoulders as if it were his own particular, earned burden, which it was, and he took off madly towards the river, leaving the civility and tameness of the picnic table behind him. He shot off into the wild, intent on finding an antidote to the staid and encrusted patterns that surrounded him on all sides, smothering his intellect and wisdom and curiosity with their damned fool routines.