Francis Nenik

translated by Amanda DeMarco

This is for you.

Utopia isn’t just a question of time,
but also a question of space.


On October 31, 1963, William Croswell entered Amanda Hollis’s life. In a cardboard box. In 234 pieces.

He was a gift of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and Amanda Hollis had been selected to put him back together again, to make a man of him. The fact that William Croswell had already been dead for 129 years was unproblematic. To the contrary, it was practically a precondition for falling into Amanda Hollis’s ever-sweaty hands.

Amanda Susan Marie Hollis had studied library science at Drexel University in Philadelphia, receiving her diploma at precisely 6 p.m. on March 28, 1956 — and that’s really all there is to be said about her studies, and basically about the entirety of her youth. Two hours after receiving the diploma, a granary directly next to the university exploded. The fireball that raced down Market Street damaged the dorm, and the attendant shock wave shattered all of the glass within a radius of an eighth of a mile. Amanda Hollis had stepped into adult life with a bang, and there was no going back.

And so she went to Harvard, even before summer had begun, and laid her diploma on the desk of the head of personnel at the university library. She didn’t do it to start a career or to serve a renowned institution, it wasn’t a qualitative question at all, but rather a quantitative one; a simple calculation in which she, Amanda Hollis, was the single unknown quantity.

The university library at Harvard, she was aware, was the largest research library in the country, in the world, even. Therefore, Amanda Hollis thought, it would be the most likely to have a position available for her. Besides — thanks to a course on peripheral library history with Professor Orscube — she knew she bore the name of an English eccentric who had donated thousands of books to Harvard two hundred years earlier, and had bequeathed a nice little sum on top of it after the library there had burned to the ground. And who knows, maybe the head of personnel would link it to her name and think to continue a great tradition as discreet as it was impressive. He would nod silently in reverent recognition, and — precisely because of this reverence — abstain from those inquiries that would make it clear she was not only unrelated to Thomas Hollis V but also the exact opposite of an English eccentric.

And so Amanda Hollis drove to Harvard on a rainy May day in 1956, laid her diploma on the head of personnel’s desk, and waited for something to happen. But the head of personnel didn’t say a word. He simply looked at her as if something were missing.

But there was nothing more to Amanda Hollis’s life than her diploma and her person. And both were here, present in the room, as one can only be present in a room, though in Amanda Hollis’s case, she would have preferred her presence take on a less voluminous form.

“My diploma is lying lonely and forlorn on the head of personnel’s desk while I sit here on a chair that’s far too narrow for my rear,” she thought, as the silence on the other side took on the dimensions of the entire Harvard library. But the library was not under discussion. Nothing was under discussion, and therefore there must be a third element besides her and her diploma. But what?

Amanda Hollis considered. She was about to recount how it was back then when Thomas Hollis selected the books for the Harvard library in England, adorned their exteriors with expensive bindings and obscure insignia, furnished the interiors with markings and commentary, and then packed the books into enormous wooden boxes that he sent across the ocean by the shipload, gaining the title of Harvard’s greatest book donor ever. He suddenly died on New Year’s Day, 1774, and was buried in a meadow on his estate, ten feet deep and without a single book down in his tomb but with a horse up above in the field, which the creature was made to plow almost immediately after Thomas Hollis V was buried, simply because he was an English eccentric and that’s what he wanted, and besides, he had neither a wife nor children who might have visited his grave. This admittedly severed any possibility of a connection to her, which is why Amanda Hollis — whose head was in the endless annals of library science and whose rear was in a chair that was too narrow for it — changed course and told the head of personnel at the Harvard library about the diploma that Professor Orscube had placed in her hand on March 28, and about what had happened afterward.

She did it because she hoped it would connect the past that lay behind her with the man who sat in front of her. Besides, it seemed to her to be the only way to strike this unknown from her ledger.

And so she began to tell of the people who kneeled and prayed in the streets of Philadelphia on the evening of March 28, 1956, while she stood at her bed in the dorm, holding her diploma in her hands and looking out the window whose pane lay before her on the floor like a puzzle waiting to finally be put together.

But outside everything was in disarray. All of Philadelphia was bathed in a deep orange light; the office building opposite had lost its shell and was bent out of shape, and wherever you looked were blazing fires, the cries of sirens, screaming mouths, and gaping walls. She was in the middle of it and yet separate from it, up on the fifth floor of the dorm, at whose feet people on the street were kneeling and praying between the bent steel girders and the sagging buildings, on that off-kilter Wednesday, this unhappy day on which the Lord was sold and betrayed. She stood at her bed, its cover drawn back as if the shock wave had tunneled underneath it, though she knew that she was the one who had drawn it back, simply to go to sleep because she was tired and had to go to church early in the morning to celebrate the Tenebrae.

But now, with the world around her exploding, any celebration was unthinkable, and as Amanda Hollis asked herself what was left to her in view of the catastrophe, her gaze fell on the diploma in her hands. And so she got into bed, buried her still-clothed body under the blanket, laid the diploma on top of herself, and waited for someone to come get the both of them.

And when they did, she let everything wash over her, allowed herself to be led out of the dorm and into the gymnasium, and in the days that followed she was told the entire story again and again. She had to produce everything again two months later, her self, the diploma, and the story behind it, along with all those numbers she’d learned by heart in Philadelphia: three dead, eighty wounded, and the explosive force of 1,100 pounds of dynamite, the result of a heavy accumulation of dust in the granary.

When Amanda Hollis had finished her story, she looked expectantly at the head of personnel, but he returned her gaze with utter dispassion, if it could really be called returning, because in actuality he was simply staring through her, as if the right candidate had just appeared in the doorway behind her. So Amanda Hollis turned around, saw that the door was closed and no one else was in the room — and turned back, to be stared through and ignored once again.

“He must see me, but he’s looking through me as if I weren’t even in the room,” Amanda Hollis thought. “On the other hand, maybe I’m just imagining it, maybe he’s not looking through me at all, maybe his gaze can’t reach me. Because it collides with something on the way from his side of the desk to mine. Something I can’t see.” But what could it be? The spirit of Harvard? A dense concentration of thoughts in the air? The fiction of a horse standing on the desk instead of in a field?

Amanda Hollis didn’t have a clue, and yet the idea of a collision didn’t seem wrong to her, for as soon as she thought it, the head of personnel’s gaze slammed into something that evaded Amanda Hollis’s eyes even as it hovered above the tabletop. His gaze fell precipitously downward — and crashed down onto the diploma.

Unfortunately, the inspection of the paper that followed wasn’t what Amanda Hollis had imagined. Instead of considering her qualifications, it looked as if the head of personnel were examining the diploma for evidence of the explosion, as if he believed he would find traces of its debris there.

But there was nothing there, nothing besides a seal, two signatures, and three lines of text, and Amanda Hollis knew that that was the greatest possible distillation of a life whose largest conceivable dimensions she had just described.

That was the moment she realized that it didn’t make any sense to keep trying here. The Harvard library was way out of her league. In any case, they probably didn’t have a position available anyway.

And so she stood up and extended her hand to the head of personnel. That meant that she actually extended both hands — she wanted to say good-bye with the one and take her diploma back with the other. But her intention and its effects were a little at odds, as it had the appearance of a clumsy gesture toward intimacy rather than a confident one of farewell, an impression doubtlessly heightened by the fact that not only had Amanda Hollis stood up but her chair had stood up along with her, like an outsize milking stool stuck to her rear.

So it was that Amanda Hollis retracted her hands, laid them on the armrests of the chair, pushed the chair to the ground, and let her rear follow it, which is to say pushing it — squeak, squeak — back down between the armrests onto the seat, at which point the head of personnel — perhaps alarmed, perhaps astonished, or perhaps just running late — broke his silence.

“Amanda Susan Marie Hollis,” he said, and it sounded as if he were reading the names from the diploma, a result of the fact that this is what he was actually doing. Then he lifted his gaze and looked at her as if he had just noticed that she was sitting in front of him, in the flesh and not just on paper, and asked, “Are you ready to smell Henry the Admonisher’s undershirt?”

Amanda Hollis believed she had heard wrong.

Amanda Hollis believed she’d lost her mind.

But the head of personnel repeated his question.

“Amanda Susan Marie Hollis, are you ready to smell Henry the Admonisher’s undershirt?”

How was she supposed to answer to that? She’d never heard of any Henry the Admonisher, and the entire proposal seemed to have a rather dubious character. Which didn’t keep the head of personnel from asking another question of the same genre.

“Any interest in President Chauncey’s cane?”

“This man isn’t the head of personnel, he’s a pervert,” it occurred to Amanda Hollis. But she didn’t say it aloud because in the meantime, the polymorphous pervert was posing the third and evidently all-decisive question, for he stood up and leaned over the desk and Amanda Hollis’s diploma, as she tried to scoot back and forth in her chair but didn’t manage, cursing the width of her rear. A thought popped into her head “The way my ass is acting toward this chair is how Harvard is being to me,” but the man who was nearly nose-to-nose with her had other thoughts.

“Want to work underground?”

Now, that sounded suspiciously like a job offer, but it was probably just one in a string of depravities, more cryptic than the previous two but otherwise cut from the same cloth and garnished with the eager face of a middle-aged personnel-office pencil pusher, which was reason enough to call the whole thing off right here. But Amanda Hollis didn’t know how to do that, how to say no . And so she said “Yes,” and then “Of course,” and there weren’t any more questions after that.

Shortly thereafter, the diploma on the desk was traded for a new piece of paper. After Amanda Hollis watched the head of personnel silently record her name on it, stamp it with his official seal, and sign the sheet, he gave it to her. At this point she stood up, as was proper, and tried to shake a hand that wasn’t offered to her. So she sat back down, surprised that the chair hadn’t stood up with her, looked at her sweaty fingers because she didn’t know what else to do, and waited for a granary to explode somewhere nearby.

But nothing happened, for the head of personnel had gone back to staring silently again, and it seemed as if she, Amanda Susan Marie Hollis, had already left the room and only existed on paper. So she inspected the sheet in her hands, read her name, did no harm, saw “Pussy Library” written as her future job location, looked aghast at the head of personnel, got neither a reaction nor a word in response, looked again at the sheet, read “Pusey Library,” and left the office in great haste.

The path she took was not the result of following an inner voice, but rather a map. It was stapled to the piece of paper she had received, and it piloted Amanda Hollis across a rain-soaked meadow, under dripping magnolia trees, and into Nathan Pusey’s subterranean library, a forty-foot-deep hole in the ground clad in concrete on the outside and crammed full of books and files on the inside. It was a place where no ray of sunlight fell on the departed and no fireball burned the living. And there she remained. And lost her innocence. On top of a pile of the dead, whose stature was measured in feet of shelf.

That was seven and a half years ago, and when Amanda Hollis unpacked William Croswell’s life on October 31, 1963, she sensed more than ever that her own was slipping away — without a trace and past her. The fact that she would be thirty years old in twenty days, having spent a quarter of her life at a depth of thirty feet under the Harvard campus in the university archive, was just a way of expressing the dilemma numerically.

“The days are like grains of sand in an hourglass,” thought Amanda Hollis as she disrobed the newly arrived William Croswell sheet by sheet. “Nothing can hold them back, and they trickle away without a sound. If you turn the hourglass over, it doesn’t change a thing. You’d have to turn it sideways and catch a grain of sand in the neck, just as it was about to fall.”

A grain of sand caught in the neck of an hourglass — that was the freedom Amanda Hollis dreamed of.


All the evidence that could be gleaned from the genealogists’ box suggested that William Croswell entered this world in 1760 and left it in 1834. Amanda Hollis rifled through the letters, diary entries, certifications, recommendations, leases, and receipts that composed the life in between.

It seemed to have been an extremely boring seventy-four years. At least at first glance. A second glance, however, made matters worse, for once Amanda Hollis had taken William Croswell from the box and spread him across the table, she was confronted with the story of his student life at Harvard, by another person whose dreams were silently trickling away in another part of the archive. Classifying exam results, course schedules, sick notes, more letters, more bills, more certificates. But in any case, on April 21, 1780, William Croswell tried his hand at an ode to astronomy in Latin.

The rest of the day was nothing but vile unpacking and tedious sorting, and when Amanda Hollis finished the task in late afternoon, William Croswell lay before her in what were now 526 pieces on her desk. He reminded her of the windowpane lying on the floor of her dorm room all those years ago. With one major difference: this time the goal was actually to put the puzzle together again — and it was her job to do it.

And what else was she supposed to do? The room she’d been assigned didn’t have any windows, and the world around her was made of paper. Those were her prospects, and had been for seven and a half years. And in all likelihood, nothing about her situation would change in the next thirty.

When Amanda Hollis clambered up out of the hole in the ground and onto the meadow that formed the roof of the subterranean library just after 6 p.m., for a moment she hoped for a catastrophe; for fire, people praying, screams. But all she saw were two students arguing about something incomprehensible in the rain, and a bus that she boarded to head back to her apartment, where she was welcomed by a fat, fleshy pumpkin grinning at her from the doorstep, as if he wanted to show her that there was just one thing glowing a deep orange here today.

Just before eight on the following day — it was a Friday, and it had rained the whole night through — Amanda Hollis crept back into the concrete bunker, which was the keystone of all of the ambitions she’d never had, and when she opened the door to her office, she discovered another box on her desk.

It didn’t look any different from the two that she’d received yesterday, except that there was a label stuck to this one with the words “William Croswell, book-title cataloger, Harvard College Library.”

He must really have had a frightfully boring life.

But that didn’t change anything, in fact it confirmed things, since that’s what she, Amanda Susan Marie Hollis, was there for: to furnish even the most boring life with grandiose keywords, to write them neatly on the notecards known as catalog cards here in Pusey, which were always exactly three by five inches in size.

That was the space that Amanda Hollis had to fill. The space where she could run riot. The keywords themselves helped to ensure that she didn’t get carried away — and the fact that the goal was to generate an index not only with which the glorious history of Harvard and its library could be researched and recounted but with which the advances in book-title cataloging could be commemorated, together with the corresponding heroic acts achieved with the pen.

But even if no one cared and William Croswell was just an insignificant building block in the hallowed halls of Harvard, it was her duty to expand the university’s registry, and to index any life that had served Harvard’s greatness. Even if it was 129 years ago, utterly devoid of interest, and pulled from the paper crypt of some genealogical society in the form of a cardboard urn.

Furthermore, the head of the archive — a short, parchment-colored man who answered to the name Heath Cover Evil and never slept and rustled like crêpe paper as he roamed through his empire at night — had gotten access to her office in her absence and placed a challenge in the form of box number three on her desk. And he didn’t leave it at that but also took the opportunity to put a note on the genealogical society box that read: “Re. WC IA ur ur ur!” which undoubtedly meant “Require William Croswell index for an article, urgent, urgent, urgent!”

Amanda Hollis took the sticky note, put it on her forehead — whether out of protest or as a sign of resignation, she herself didn’t know — and turned her attention to the newly arrived box number three. Besides the label, it was identical to the others, a 10 by 15 by 4.5 – inch cardboard box in mouse gray with a flap at the front, absolutely rectangular, and according to the inscription: acid-free and alkaline-buffered.

Amanda Hollis opened the flap and brought the remains of William Croswell, book-title cataloger, to light. Then she counted how much of his librarian existence had been preserved. There were 388 files amounting to a life’s work of 914 sheets of paper. All the way at the bottom of the box, Amanda Hollis found a banknote in the sum of one hundred British pounds, issued by the Bank of England.

Maybe, she thought, just maybe William Croswell didn’t have such a boring life after all.

When she was finished sorting and had paginated all of the sheets — that is, counted them through and written the number in pencil in the upper right corner — Amanda Hollis remembered the note that was still stuck to her forehead.

For a moment she considered leaving it there so that later at home she could stand in front of the mirror with it to show herself what she really did down here, how she was spending her life. But then she thought that that wasn’t a good idea, pulled the note off, crumpled it together, opened the lids of the two other boxes in front of her on the desk, closed her eyes, made a waving motion with her hand — and threw. Then she closed the lids and opened her eyes. The note had disappeared.

And so Heath Cover Evil’s instructions to write keywords and create an index met their end; deciphered, crumpled, and transformed into the invisible lucky charm in a shell game without shells. While Amanda Hollis sat on her stool, staring at the world map above her desk instead of focusing on the paper before her, it became clear to her that Heath Cover Evil not only had no desire to personally sail the shallows of William Croswell’s paper life; he also had no reason to. After all, he had her, Amanda Susan Marie Hollis — which was also the reason he could pressure her.

“I’m the perfect justification for Heath Cover Evil,” thought Amanda Hollis, “a catalog crone who functions as a stooge.”

Since she was criticizing herself through the eyes of others anyway, she added: “With William Croswell, my fate is complete. Because what is a trained library scientist with experience in keyword-writing good for in an underground archive, if not to outline the works of a man whose mission in life apparently consisted in providing a complete index of books in the Harvard library?!”

And since that still wasn’t enough (and Amanda Hollis believed she could hear the rain running down the outside of the bunker walls):

“Heath Cover Evil doesn’t just want me to set down William Croswell’s life in writing, I’m also supposed to help him find the two or three documents in the entire heap of banalities that reveal the special achievements in the life of this book-title cataloger. However, these special achievements didn’t actually exist, and if they did, then as nothing more than the highlights to be found in every librarian’s existence, just as depressing as they are dry.

“But that doesn’t matter to Heath Cover Evil. He’ll use the documents to turn the life of a paper tiger into an exciting epic, to show everyone that even people whose life’s purpose is catalog-card inscription can be vitalized by the spirit of Harvard.”

Amanda Hollis considered this trick to be as surreptitious as it was clearly destined for her, and — do what she would — she collided with it head-on. Maybe, she thought, doing nothing at all was the best thing she could do. That is, to nurture her ignorance while making the most of her own special talent (which is to say, her own irrelevance).

In any case, Heath Cover Evil’s intentions were clear, and even his petty insults couldn’t elude Amanda Hollis’s decryption skills. The one thing that remained undisclosed was the planned publication venue, but Amanda Hollis would soon figure that out too, because she remembered that the note she threw into the box had “The Register” printed on it — a title that she recognized as an abbreviation and a presumption at once. It stood for a journal whose full name was The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and it could only be concluded that Heath Cover Evil’s article would be published in that very journal, as a sort of payback for the gift from the genealogical society, the quid pro quo of ancestry researchers, which completed the circuit and gave Amanda Hollis the sneaking sense of being part of a story that arrived in cardboard boxes, and consisted of nothing more than a pile of paper bound by nothing more than a coterie of old men.

“Nine hundred fourteen sheets and a hundred pounds from the Bank of England, and the best I can do is leave the damn paper be and go have breakfast,” she said and left the room to wolf down a few sloppy joes in the archive’s archive.


The path to the archive’s archive, or, as Amanda Hollis referred to it, “the basement,” led from her office to the left, down a long hallway behind whose thin walls a host of archivists sat in windowless rooms before mountains of paper, through a squat lead-gray door behind which a spiral staircase drilled down into the depths.

When Amanda Hollis opened the door, a spotlight ignited above her. It was located directly above the lintel and cast its circle of light down into the depths, as if it weren’t merely illuminating the way but commanding her to follow.

The staircase that twisted down into the basement before her consisted of coarse mesh steps that fanned before her feet, turning her step for step around their axis. At their center, the steps were welded to a thick beam, and they grew wider toward their exterior edge. Instead of the usual zinc gray, they glowed a deep honey yellow, and had Amanda Hollis taken a closer look, she would have noticed that the steps looked like the wings of a species of insect from far in the future.

But Amanda Hollis didn’t have an eye for the futuristic features of ferrous fabrications, she only had eyes for the three sloppy joes that she carried down into the basement day for day wrapped in aluminum foil, as if they were prisoners in the catacombs of some secret prison, delinquents on their final journey back into the dust, condemned, biding out their final day. Here the executioner awaited them, eager to do his work, far from any official version of history, illuminated only by the glittering light of a noonday sun in the rear courtyard of the order-and-obedience-steeped School of the Americas.

And yet, as little as Amanda Hollis had an eye for what lay at her feet did she have any thoughts in her head, at least none that didn’t concern food, which is why, day for day when she arrived at the bottom, she sat on the second-to-last step, and began, without further ado, to unwrap sloppy joe number one.

What followed was usually a full-throated “Mmm!” accompanied by one last glimpse at the denuded sloppy joe in her hands, a mouth opening wide in anticipation, and two eyes closing in readiness.

Then Amanda Hollis took a bite. And another and another, until it was over. She had twenty minutes. She needed only nine. Three for each sloppy joe she gobbled down. With her mouth. In the basement. In the underground library. A hole in a hole in a hole.

Yet this was the only space that kept her grounded, the place she had retreated for her breakfast each day now for nearly seven years, and, moreover, the only place in Nathan Pusey’s entire damned subterranean library where she didn’t have to deal with files. They were all safely locked in big iron cabinets lined up on the wall like gigantic, silent watchmen whose task was to gather all of the files for the purpose of their ultimate destruction.

But while she was eating breakfast, Amanda Hollis wasn’t interested in the cabinets and what was inside them. Instead, she concentrated wholly on her sloppy joes, and in such a moment of anticipation and rapture, she would never have thought, never could have thought that the thing laying warm and soft in her hands was perfectly analogous to the prisoners of the cabinets. Her sloppy joes weren’t made of paper, after all, but ground beef, tomatoes, and onions, with watchmen made of white bread instead of iron.

In other words, for Amanda Hollis, the basement was home to her stomach, not her head, which belonged in the room above her, in the room of cardboard boxes, paper, and ink. That was the room of keywords, this was the room where she could stuff herself unimpeded. Which was another reason why she came here every day. She simply didn’t want anyone to watch how she gobbled down one sloppy joe after the next. Not even the woman she was fifteen feet overhead could see her. So she had to become someone else down here. In the basement. And be that person for at least twenty minutes.

And why not? The basement was Amanda Hollis’s alternate universe, her fleeting empire, and even if she had bitten into an apple instead of a sloppy joe, she still wouldn’t have gone outside like the other archivists up above to eat her breakfast on the benches that stood on the roof of the subterranean library. Not least because the hurried scrambling out of the concrete bunker for the purpose of food intake always seemed so depressing to her, even more so the subsequent return to their windowless rooms.

So Amanda Hollis went down to the basement to be alone with her three sloppy joes. The fact that she ate them all immediately and at the end of her feast, that is, after nine minutes, was not only alone but also lonely; well, that’s also part of the story. She always had eleven minutes left during which she could collect the discarded foil wrappers and listen to her stomach digesting — then take the spiral staircase upward, which had something liberating to it after her binge.

Rather than anything out of the ordinary, then, it was a part of a nearly seven-year-old tradition that on November 1, 1963, Amanda Hollis descended the staircase to sit on the second-to-last step, stretch out her legs, and set about biting the head off the first of her three sloppy joes. Or the tail, you really couldn’t tell. It also didn’t matter, because right at the moment in which sloppy joe number one was supposed to be beheaded (or betailed), someone said “Hello” and asked if she knew that America was in great danger.

“No,” said Amanda Hollis with her mouth wide-open, her teeth about to sink deeply into the bun and tomato – onion – ground beef mush in front of them.

But she didn’t make it that far. At least not at that moment, for Amanda Hollis pulled the trembling sloppy joe from her mouth and looked around to see who was speaking to her.

All alone, no one was to be seen, just the pipe that traversed the room at hip height from the opposite wall, as big around as a tire. It didn't look like there was anyone sitting on it or crouching on it today, either. All Amanda Hollis could do was stare at the fiberglass insulation wrapped around the pipe and its thin quilted coat of aluminum foil. The texture was only interrupted at one point on the underside of the pipe, where a little ventilation grate had been installed.

Luckily the voice was so polite as to pause without asking any more questions, and only when Amanda Hollis stood up and pressed her ear to the pipe to make sure that she was hallucinating did she learn that America was endangered by a horde of Mongolian worms who threatened to rob it of its history in order to write it anew.

“Oh,” said Amanda Hollis, listening to the fiberglass-aluminum surface begin to crackle under her ear. “I’m hallucinating.”

“No,” said the voice in the pipe.

“Oh,” said Amanda Hollis for the second time. And then: “I have to get to William Croswell, it’s urgent.”

And just like that, she turned on her heel, spiraled up the stairs, and slammed the squat lead-gray door behind her.


“Nine hundred fourteen sheets of paper and a hundred British pounds — that’ll get me back to normal again,” Amanda Hollis swore as she sat down at her desk and tried to get a grip on a clear thought. But all she could get a grip on was sloppy joe number one, which had already imagined itself pardoned, and whose left flank Amanda Hollis now bit away with a grunt. And then the right — and then it was all over.

Chewing calmed Amanda Hollis, and soon she was sure what had happened in the basement was a hallucination, and the voice’s “No” was a hallucination within the hallucination.

And if that’s not what it was, then it was just an unhappy coincidence, and someone had crept into the neighboring basement room and shouted into the pipe. Which of course brought up the question of who would do something like that and why.

Amanda Hollis thought about it. She knew that the only access to the other basement rooms was via the door at the other end of the hallway, which was just as squat and lead gray as the one she marched through day after day to have her breakfast. But there was a difference: the other door was locked, and besides Heath Cover Evil and the janitor, no one had a key. On the other hand, even if someone had gotten access in some way or another to the other basement rooms of the subterranean library, there was still the question of why he would take advantage of the space to shout into a pipe.

Of course, the basement wasn’t exactly the most intuitive choice for breakfast either, but the more obvious course of action is to open your mouth in order to fill it, rather than to spout strange communiqués about Mongolian worms without warning. Aside from the question of how the person who crept inside knew that the pipe was down there, and that it was available and technically capable of transmitting such nonsense — by means of an open end or some other mechanism. Amanda Hollis wanted to eat her three sloppy joes in peace, she wasn’t in the mood to grapple with any Mongolian hordes, whether they posed a threat to America or not.

Though that business about a threat must have been a joke. Or better said: a joke within a joke, which was rather close to the notion that this was all actually a hallucination that wouldn’t disappear from her head for some reason, and so it had said “No.”

Anyway, even if the whole thing wasn’t a delusion, that meant someone had actually made their way into the basement rooms on the other side and found the pipe — but why in the world would you speak into it? And then say such complete nonsense? Why? Because he wanted to play a joke? Then it could only be a student. The subterranean library’s reading room two floors above was swarming with them, and even in William Croswell’s days, they’d already amused themselves driving the librarians to distraction. For example, by taking a skeleton from the Prehistoric Institute into the reading room, and putting it on a chair during one of their many breaks. And at the end of the day, no studying accomplished, they hung it from the ceiling, certain that during his nightly forays through the library William Croswell would stumble across it, gleaming and glistening in the light of his lantern …

Even if now, 129 years later, the Prehistoric Institute no longer existed at Harvard, history determined the course of things in the university archive. The basement door on the other side may have been locked, but new and entirely different doors were open to the students’ shenanigans. In fact, Nathan Pusey’s subterranean library was directly connected to three adjacent libraries — Widener, Houghton, and Lamont — via a series of tunnels, which, especially for freshmen, their snub noses stuck in thick introductory textbooks in the neighboring Lamont Library, must have seemed like an invitation to set their reading aside and wander over to Pusey to scare some of the “mole people” there.

And even if they didn’t make it that far, there was still the possibility that the little idiots could shout into the pipe directly from Lamont, in the well-founded hope that someone would hear them.

In fact, no library was required to deliver such ridiculous messages and conjure up America’s downfall. Nearly all of the university buildings at Harvard were connected by a branching three-mile-long system of tunnels and hubs, traversed not only by heat ducts, telephone cables, and electrical wires but once also by a Nazi spy.

At least that was the story heard sooner or later by everyone who worked underground at Harvard. And its ending wasn’t exactly heartening, because even the FBI agents who pursued the spy back in 1939 didn’t manage to catch him.Aware that they were at his heels, he simply ran into one of the university buildings on the Charles River, climbed into one of the subterranean tunnels, and never appeared again. All attempts to locate him were fruitless.

A quarter century had elapsed in the meantime and the war had been won despite the escaped spy, but the story preyed on Amanda Hollis’s mind. It showed her that for someone who was neither a Nazi spy nor pursued by the FBI, but simply a little idiot driven by preposterous ideas, it would be easy to cause trouble and confusion underground. All the more because the libraries at Harvard weren’t just connected by a series of tunnels but also by a clandestine tangle of tubes, some for the purpose of heating, others for delivering books, to say nothing of those that were intended (or at least used) for talking to each other, or sending pneumatic letter deliveries, though many of these possibilities were irrelevant to Amanda Hollis’s basement and elsewhere in Pusey due to a lack of egress options. Really, the customary functions of a pipe were not germane here: only the rain mattered, which had to be transported away. Not into someone’s mouth, but into the sewer system.

On the other hand, even if the whole thing was just the work of an undergraduate prankster — who besides her would have been the target? Who besides her could have heard something about the Mongolian worms?

From that perspective, maybe it wasn’t a joke at all, but rather the product of an overflowing brain, a heap of excess information that someone poured down the drain via their mouth. In which case, the pipe retained its function as an outlet for inundation, which in this instance wasn’t liquid but rather gaseous, or at least something like gaseous; it was really impossible to tell which phase of matter the spirit of Harvard occupied.

In short: if what happened down there wasn’t simply an illusion that had grown into an illusion within an illusion, then it was the work of an individual, probably a student who had abandoned Harvard’s lofty intellectual heights for a while to relieve a little of the pressure on their high-strung brain. And there was nothing better suited to the purpose than a basement or some other room where a thick pipe ended or began, a pipe you could shout into, an activity that wasn’t taken kindly to up above in the hallowed halls of Harvard.

Under the given conditions, and assuming she hadn’t hallucinated, that sounded rather plausible, but it also meant that whoever had said “Hello” and lectured on Mongolian worms had been speaking to anyone, and not to her, and answering had been a mistake. What started as a belch into the void became a dialog along a conduit, one whose earthly sender and receiver wasn’t her, but rather the ventilation grate built into the bottom of the pipe where she sat every day and massacred three sloppy joes with her mouth.

But there was something else that spoke against an entire series of coincidences and impersonal eventualities, for she had been having her breakfast in the basement for nearly seven years, since November 20, 1956, to be exact, her twenty-third birthday. So there had been more than enough opportunities to say “Hello,” or at least “Happy birthday.”

In one of the boxes sitting in front of Amanda Hollis, Heath Cover Evil’s note was waiting to finally be attended to.

Amanda Hollis took William Croswell’s hundred-pound banknote and contemplated which box she should wager on. The one on the left? Or the right? Or the box in the middle? There was nothing to suggest one over the other; her eyes had been closed when she threw the note. So she laid her ear on the boxes. But nothing stirred inside, and no one told her a story.

“It’s time to put an end to this nonsense,” Amanda Hollis opined. “I’m making a fool of myself in front of myself.” She guessed the box on the right — and voilà, the note was inside. Lonely and forlorn, as if it had been lying there for years.

Amanda Hollis took it out, unfolded it, read “Re. WC IA ur ur ur!,” and took it as an opportunity to sharpen her deciphering skills. “Reality-check wanted currently in the archive’s archive,” Amanda Hollis deciphered, and she climbed down into the basement mumbling “ur ur ur” to herself to bring the matter to an end.


“Hello,” called Amanda Hollis, standing in the circle of blazing light just beyond the door, “I wanted to ask you something.” Then, halfway down the stairs: “Can you hear me?” And finally, directly into the pipe: “Do you hear me?”

But the pipe didn’t hear anything. Or it wasn’t really listening. In any case, it didn’t say anything, even if Amanda Hollis had the feeling that that was also an answer. “Okay, then I guess I hallucinated it,” she said and tried to be happy about it, although she had secretly been hoping for the opposite. But the pipe didn’t make a sound, and when Amanda Hollis stroked her sweaty fingers along it, she left smears on the aluminum membrane.

Then she turned around and left. And stopped halfway up the stairs. Because she heard how the pipe began to crackle behind her. Like a record that’s just about to play its first song.

“The ventilation grate is a loudspeaker,” it occurred to Amanda Hollis in her usual deciphering fashion, as her feet went into reverse gear, taking her backward down the stairs, as if that were the only true method for climbing down from an archive into the archive’s archive, from the story into the prologue.

Once she got to the bottom, her feet turned her around as if of their own volition, her knees did what they were made for — and Amanda Hollis’s rear set itself in its usual place on the second-to-last step.

Meanwhile, the crackling in the pipe had become louder. Amanda Hollis had just begun to concentrate on it in order to glean a secret message from it when it fell silent. What followed were the first chords of a song, a folksy acoustic-guitar intro that was soon joined by a voice whose twang reverberated through the strophe as if someone had plunged it deep into the huskiness of an early November day.

The words that the voice sang were clear, though they were more spoken than sung, and things got a bit scratchy here and there. But that fit right in: it was part of a story about vocal chords spiraling across vinyl.

Amanda Hollis recognized the voice, in any case, as well as the words, which began recounting how it felt to be sad and blue.

“Bob Dylan is singing ‘John Birch Society Blues,’” it occurred to her with such astonishment that her upper and lower jaw snapped apart as if of their own free will. In her gullet there was now room for an entire sloppy joe. Unfortunately, she’d already swallowed them all.

Her jaws snapped fruitlessly back together and — through the simple mechanics of the act — pressed an airy thought into Amanda Hollis’s head.

“Bob Dylan will drive out the Mongolians with his singing, and their worms too. And yet,” she’d hit on the crux of the matter, the moment to unlatch her jaw again, “and yet ‘John Birch Society Blues’ isn’t on any album …”

At which point both jaws snapped shut again and fed on the nothingness of memory.

“I know what happened with the song,” Amanda Hollis said so loudly that an internal monolog was unthinkable. “Everyone knows the story, the newspapers were full of it over the summer. Dylan received an invitation to present his second album on The Ed Sullivan Show. But then he played ‘John Birch Society Blues’ in the rehearsal, and although Ed Sullivan liked the song, the people running the station didn’t want it to be broadcast on television. They requested that Dylan play a different song on the show. But he refused and canceled his appearance. When the album was published, the song wasn’t on it anymore, and it’s not anywhere else either.”

Which inevitably led Amanda Hollis to the question of how “John Birch Society Blues” made its way into the pipe. But she then she noticed that the song was over and the voice was speaking to her again, asking her something.

“We were talking about the Mongolian worms, weren’t we?”

“Yes,” said Amanda Hollis, who really wanted to say something else entirely, or at least give a monolog against the Mongolians.

“The Mongolian worms are a threat to America,” said the voice.

“I know,” said Amanda Hollis, even if she was of another opinion entirely, didn’t understand a word of what she was hearing, and also didn’t believe a word of it.

“The worms are in the process of hollowing America out like a pumpkin,” said the voice, as if it were self-evident.

“Uh-uh,” said Amanda Hollis, who had grown certain that what she was hearing still had to be deciphered. But then she remembered that in the evening of the day before yesterday, she had sunk her hands deep into the orange flesh of a pumpkin — and fell silent.

“Before I tell you what’s happening, that is, before I explain exactly what these Mongolian worms are doing and why they want to bring America to its knees, along with its history, it’s important that you understand how things got to this point,” said the voice, a bit convolutedly.

“But I don’t understand a word of what you’re saying,” said Amanda Hollis, who truly didn’t understand a word.

“That’s why you should listen to me. So that you’ll understand how things could have gotten to this point, that a horde of Mongolian worms is attacking America.”

And because Amanda Hollis didn’t say anything, couldn’t say anything:

“Now don’t be surprised, I’m about to switch into storytelling mode. I hope you’ll forgive me,” it said and got started.

“The story of the attack on the freedom-loving land of America by the Mongolians and their worms begins in the year 1245 on a French donkey.”

“What?!” asked Amanda Hollis.

“Listen!” said the voice and continued unruffled.

“It was a scruffy, aging animal, and the Franciscan monk Giovanni da Pian del Carpine was heaved onto its back in order to ride six thousand miles from Lyon to Karakorum — on the orders of Pope Innocent IV — and negotiate there with the Mongolians, who were pushing ever farther west.”

And then after something that sounded like a deep breath:

“Brother Carpine was short, old, and fat, and could hardly propel himself forward without the donkey. He was basically the antithesis of the Mongolian horde’s fleet horsemen who were pushing westward. When he set out on Easter Day 1245, he looked more like a joke than an envoy. No wonder the three stable boys who heaved Carpine onto the donkey with the help of a ladder and the enticement of one-and-a-half roasted doves remembered his short, fat legs months later, straddling the donkey’s midsection like two gigantic, bulging sausages, while the legs of the poor animal under him were bowed at approximately the same angle.

“That’s how they set out from Lyon, the Franciscan monk on a mission from the pope, and the donkey with the aching joints. The last thing that the three stable boys saw that morning were the laborious steps of the one and the fleshy body of the other, lurching and swaying together in the same cadence toward the east, blocking more and more of the rising sun.”

“Stop!” cried Amanda Hollis. She stood, tottered over to the pipe, saw her face mirrored in the foil, saw that it was distorted — and got down on her knees.

It wasn’t long before she felt a gentle puff of air on her face. It came from the ventilation grate directly in front of her.

Amanda Hollis took her hand, touched the metal, felt how her fingers slowly began to dry … but then she remembered what the voice had told her, held her lips very close to it, and said: “What you’re telling is an allegory that limps along like an old, overburdened donkey.”

She had grown certain that a student was actually crouching on the other side, at the other end of the conduit, be it in the subterranean library or in the nearby Lamont Library, playing a joke — or genuinely concerned, which she could hardly imagine. She said (a little gruffly, but that was only right): “Now listen, you overeducated fellow, I may not be one of those emaciated creatures who normally populate Harvard, who prefer devouring books to sandwiches. And it may also be that I traveled eastward from Philadelphia a few years ago, with nothing but a stamped and signed diploma in my hand in order to negotiate my future. But that’s the end of it! Professor Orscube isn’t the pope and I don’t need three boys to heave me up the steps into the bus, and if I turn back to look at someone now and again, there are other reasons for that. Besides, it’s only three hundred miles from Philadelphia to Harvard, and the train I took didn’t lurch or sway. Furthermore, the conductor knew to travel as far north as eastward, along the coast via New York and New Haven. And even if I don’t know exactly where Karakorum is, I have a map in my room, and I know that beyond Mongolia there’s plenty of land to set foot on, whereas things drop off pretty fast after Harvard. At least to the east. After Harvard comes the Atlantic, and I can’t walk on water at my weight.”

Since the verdict had been spoken and it was time for a conclusion, Amanda Hollis asked in a voice that was more puzzled than truly outraged: “Why in the world would you tell that stupid story?”

But there was no answer, just silence and a bit of quilted aluminum foil that trailed around the ventilation grate and grew foggy under Amanda Hollis’s words. So she turned around, conscious of having achieved a peculiar sort of victory.


When Amanda Hollis entered her office, William Croswell seemed infinitely far away on her desk. But then it became clear to her that she had a task at hand, and that she had to fulfill Heath Cover Evil’s request.

So she sat at the desk, grabbed the first file, any file, and read that William Croswell had been appointed an assistant lecturer at Harvard in 1780, and shortly after that was beaten up by a milliner.

Less than two minutes later, Amanda Hollis was back in the archive’s archive.

“Listen,” she said to the pipe that lay before her like a giant petrified worm that someone had packed in reflective foil for the purpose of preservation, “if you’ll refrain from telling lame allegories and describing body parts, I’d be willing to keep listening to the story.”

But the pipe didn’t answer. It was a secretive rather than a communicative vessel, it seemed, and it was only when Amanda Hollis was standing in front of the squat lead-gray door again on her way back to her office that it began to crackle down below her — and so for the second time that day, she descended backward into the archive’s archive, while the voice continued its story about the monk Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, though not where it had left off, but rather at another point, later in time. In any case, Amanda Hollis encountered Giovanni da Pian del Carpine two thousand miles from Lyon. In Russia. On the frozen Dnieper. Where he was being pulled downstream in a sled toward the Sea of Azov.

She caught herself waiting for the thick-paunched monk to break through the ice, but it didn’t happen. Carpine not only reached the Sea of Azov safe and sound; a thick layer of ice allowed him to travel to the other side.

“The voice seems to be honoring our agreement,” thought Amanda Hollis. “I have no idea why he’s telling me this story, but it’s always better to hear a story than to go up to my office and make poor downtrodden William Croswell into a hero of Harvard.”

Meanwhile, in the pipe, it was February 23, 1246, and Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, strapped to a Mongolian horse, had arrived at the first Mongolian outpost 3,500 miles west of Karakorum.

As soon as Amanda Hollis heard that, she wanted to protest and remind the voice in the pipe of the donkey that Carpine had begun his journey on. But then she realized that continuity wasn’t part of the agreement and — as far as the donkey went — probably wasn’t even desirable.

And so its fate remained unresolved while Amanda Hollis, caught up in the epic story and carried along by the sonorous voice, traveled ever deeper into the Mongolian empire. When Giovanni da Pian del Carpine finally reached the summer residence of the Mongolian court, which was constructed on an endless steppe half a day’s journey south of Karakorum (“It was June 28, 1246,” said the voice), Amanda Hollis learned that Carpine would never lay eyes on Karakorum. The knowledge came in one of those glimpses of the future that doesn’t reduce the suspense because it preserves a secret.

“Karakorum is just a fiction, a whisper across the distances of some Mongolian plain,” thought Amanda Hollis, but then she had to stop trying to retrace and decipher the story because the voice was informing her that Carpine may not have seen Karakorum, but he found something else, something he hadn’t expected. On the day he arrived, among all of the Mongolian dignitaries there lay a dead Russian prince.

“He died just before his arrival,” said the voice, “and when Carpine paid him his last respects in the evening of that day, he noticed that the Russian had turned green from head to toe. And he knew that that color revealed the presence of Mongolian poison.”


Amanda Hollis had just stepped back in her office when she had an idea. Actually, it was an analogy of the sort that popped into her head rather often, from somewhere in the upper right, in fact, and so she cried out (only in thought, of course, because she didn’t want anyone to hear her): “Mongolian poison strikes down a Russian prince like an American milliner dispatching an adjunct professor at Harvard!”

And so she picked up her fountain pen (a ’56 Sheaffer Snorkel in pastel blue that she’d bought on her first day at Harvard) and wrote on a catalog card intended for William Croswell’s index:

Mongolian poison † Russian prince

American milliner † William Croswell

That done, it became clear to her that William Croswell had gotten back on his feet while the Russian prince was down for the count.

And so Amanda Hollis threw the card into the wastepaper basket, took another, and wrote:

William Croswell: downfall resurrection Harvard

She was satisfied; it wasn’t just a beginning, but rather the blueprints of a story, a trinity perfectly in keeping with Heath Cover Evil’s taste. The only thing missing was a few corresponding files. But she would find them. After all, yesterday while unpacking and sorting the first two boxes, she came across two bundles with the titles “William Croswell, Noted Project Maker” and “William Croswell, Famed Project Maker.”

These titles were clearly penned by William Croswell himself and were themselves part of one of his projects. While she found them somewhat narcissistic and they had only wrung a tired smile from her yesterday, now they nearly put her in a conciliatory mood; in fact, she almost felt sympathy for him.

Once she had organized everything, read it through, and — she assumed — had found nothing further of any significance, she would shuffle the two bundles under the great mountain of banalities and pass the files to Heath Cover Evil, who was skilled in the art of arranging papers in such a way that the gaps were concealed, allowing the grand scheme to emerge even more clearly.

And even if William Croswell hadn’t implemented a single one of his grand projects, which, after everything she had read, was more than possible, her task was taken care of — and the rest was Heath Cover Evil’s problem.

But then Amanda Hollis heard the water running behind the wall of her room again, as if mother nature had decided to wash the subterranean concrete bunker from the outside, and from the upper right, a new thought popped into her head: “An archive is a crease in time, a dam in the great river of vanishing history.”

The clock above her read 5:58, and time was ticking.

“Weekend!” cried Amanda Hollis, pushing the ink-dispensing snorkel into its cap. She packed her belongings and locked the door securely behind her.


That Saturday morning passed like most of the other 387 Saturday mornings since her arrival at Harvard. Amanda Hollis sat on the balcony of her small apartment on the McGrath Highway, brooding over what her life had been and what it had become.

“I really should be satisfied, and in some sense I am, but also not,” she said (for the 388th time) and tried to put her feelings into words after she had dismissed the necessity of white bread and spooned the tomato – onion – ground beef mush straight out of the bowl. For lack of alternatives, she compared her life in the archive with the time she had spent living on the highway, since those were the only two options.

“Really I can count myself lucky that the rain stopped right before the weekend, and I can sit on the balcony and have breakfast, even if it’s hardly fifty degrees out, but that keeps the neighbors from watching me eating, and it’s a reason to bundle up and act like I’m only this big because of all the padding. And even if it starts to rain again or the temperature drops twenty degrees, I can go back inside and I’m still two floors above ground instead of two floors below it. Besides, there are plenty of windows in my apartment that I can look out of and watch the cars drive by instead of staring at concrete walls covered in files, some of which haven’t moved an inch during the seven and a half years I’ve been there. Besides, I don’t have to share my apartment with dead old men and waste my time on them. The fact that I don’t have anyone young and alive here is a disadvantage, but at least no one comes rustling into my room and sticks notes onto my face. But the best part is that I can sit out here in peace and eat breakfast, and don’t have to go down into the basement, since there’s just old junk down there and washing machines with mothers sitting between them waiting on the laundry and screaming at their children playing hide-and-go-seek in the junk, incessantly producing more dirty laundry.”

On the other hand, if she were being honest with herself (and when else should she be honest with herself, if not now?), she already missed the stories from the pipe, and whoever was telling them. But what could she do?

Since she was so accustomed to talking to herself, and as usual, there was nobody else to talk to, so Amanda Hollis said: “I could tell myself a few exciting stories.” And then after a few seconds’ consideration: “Except I’ve never lived through any.”

Just after that it began to rain, and Amanda Hollis decided it was time to wash the sloppy-joe innards out from between her teeth.


The bathroom had the height, area, and shape of five telephone booths in a row, and was tiled from the floor to the ceiling (and across the ceiling, too) in baby blue. Way at the back, at the end of the fifth booth, a shower head protruded from the wall. But all the way at the front of the room, in the first booth, there were two full-length mirrors anchored to the wall right next to each other, which inspected anyone who walked through the door. The fact that no one besides Amanda Hollis had entered in the past seven and a half years didn’t bother them, nor did the fact that she called them “File 1” and “File 2,” because their size reminded her of filing cabinets and day after day they swallowed her mirror image, just as the cabinets swallowed the files, which led Amanda Hollis to conclude that the mirrors were responsible for the fact that she looked a little wider every day.

“The files in the cabinets get thicker and thicker, and the same thing is happening to me. It won’t stop until I’ve been withdrawn from circulation.”

But this time Amanda Hollis didn’t allow herself to be vexed by the mirrors. Instead, as soon as she entered the bathroom, she stood first in front of the one and then in front of the other, opened her mouth, and showed them what she’d done to the sloppy joe.

But the mirrors didn’t say anything or give any answer, and Amanda Hollis tried again, this time aloud: “I haven’t got anything in my pockets,” but that didn’t do any good either, and so she continued on, passing through the second booth with the sink and the third booth with the toilet, said “William Croswell,” and took off all of her clothing in the fourth booth. Then she got into the shower, opened her mouth, and rinsed the rest of the sloppy joe out of her teeth.

As she watched the culinary refuse disappear down the drain, it reminded her of the Mongolian worms, and that the food she rinsed out of her mouth would be juicy tidbits for them. And who knows, maybe the worms would come creeping out of the drain at the next instant to squirm between her feet on the floor, black and a foot long.

But nothing happened, and all that remained for Amanda Hollis was the water flowing down the drain and her hair lying in it.

And so she leaned her head back, closed her eyes, and let herself be spattered, and was suddenly reminded — but why? — of the big chandelier that had hung in the entry hall of the main building at Drexel and then disappeared without a trace after the granary exploded. Because the water was running down her? Because the shower head was hanging over her? Because she was missing something?

“If I recall correctly, the chandelier was still there when I came out of the gym,” Amanda Hollis thought as she turned the hot water down and the cold water up. “But the shock wave had burst the glass roof over the chandelier, and when it started to rain, the water spattered down it for hours.”

As she stepped, chilled and shivering, out of the shower, stepped over her mound of clothing, and sat on the toilet, she said: “That sounds like an exciting story.”

And so she stood up, flushed the toilet, and reached for a towel, not to wrap around herself, but to wipe the foggy mirrors in order to show them that she was the one who had said it.

But the mirrors weren’t expecting anyone else and fogged over again right away. While Amanda Hollis wondered whether they covered themselves out of shame, that is, if they obstructed the view not for her but for themselves, memory drove a stake into her brain — with a note stuck to it, which read that they had taken the chandelier at Drexel down while it was still raining, packed it up, put it in a storage depot, and later couldn’t find it.


The Widener Library, where Amanda Hollis had driven in order to figure out the whereabouts of the chandelier, was a classical block-shaped structure that the rain ran down in thick strands. Amanda Hollis was glad she had an umbrella because it not only held the rain at bay but also kept Pusey out of sight. The concrete bunker had been sunk into the earth directly next to the block, and as she climbed the steps to Widener, Amanda Hollis felt strangely elated at the fact that if all of Harvard were a shower left running over the weekend, Nathan Pusey’s subterranean library would be its drain.

“There are three diagrams hanging in the subterranean library,” thought Amanda Hollis and cast a glance toward Pusey from the Widener Library cloakroom. “‘WaprAsph’ is printed on the first one, and to make things clear, there’s a cross section of the meadow, which is really the roof of the subterranean library, and an arrow pointing to a thick black line underneath the scar in the grass, with ‘Waterproof Asphalt’ written next to it. But not even Heath Cover Evil seems to trust this layer of asphalt poured right over the library roof. In any case, an overview hangs right next to it depicting all drainage pipes and pumps that are distributed around the library. But in case they fail, there’s also an emergency plan. It says that during prolonged heavy rain or sudden snowmelt, minor flooding might occur, which is why the plan notes precisely which rooms would have to be emptied first and which archival records must be saved before the others” — at which point, Amanda Hollis shoved her umbrella in between a dozen others in a stand and brought her sopping thoughts to their conclusion:

“President Henry Dunster’s undershirt is at the top of the evacuation list, though it could use a washing. But it’s not going to get one, because Heath Cover Evil would grab President Chauncey’s cane and personally ensure that the undershirt was saved.”

That completed the arc for Amanda Hollis, who had handed in everything except a notepad and her pen, and before she could look twice, a group of students emerged from the cloakroom and she was washed with them into the interior of the library.

The reading room she entered a moment later was much larger than the entry hall of the main building at Drexel, and Amanda Hollis was lost inside it like a chandelier that someone had hung in the boundlessness of outer space.

She ordered a handful of newspapers from the days and weeks after the explosion. These made it clear to her that the newsrooms in Philadelphia had gotten wind of the missing chandelier by April 8, which was just eleven days after the accident. They deployed their reporters, but by the end of the month, the whole matter had already been filed away and forgotten, since neither the chandelier nor any hint of its whereabouts was to be found. All that Amanda Hollis discovered was that a certain Mr. Martin had been hired to lead the cleanup work after the explosion, and that he had been the last person to see the chandelier.

Back in her apartment, Saturday was just an anthracite remainder in a percolating sea of lights, and when Amanda Hollis peeled herself out of bed the next day just before eleven, all that was left of the weekend was a Sunday that lay spilled across the floor and a few speculations racing out across the highway.


At eight on the dot that Monday, when Amanda Hollis stepped into the archive where the duty-bound portion of her life took place, William Croswell hadn’t moved an inch on her desk over the weekend. Considering everything that she could glean from his library journal, that had less to do with the fact that he met his downfall here than with the fact that not moving was the thing William Croswell liked to do best at Harvard.

And so she took the catalog cards that she’d written on Friday, looked at the ink-blue trinity of downfall, resurrection, and Harvard, said, “That just doesn’t make sense,” and threw them in the trash can under her desk, where they joined a poisoned Russian prince, a quick-at-the-draw American milliner, and the blissfully slumbering William Croswell.

A bit higher up, in Amanda Hollis’s head, the peace had been broken, as she noticed (and it was clear that that was what she had been meant to do) that Heath Cover Evil had been in her office again over the weekend, found his own note labeled “Re. WC IA ur ur ur!,” pulled it out, smoothed it out, and stuck it for a second time, not on the genealogical society’s cardboard urn, but on box number three, that is, the one with the file on William Croswell’s work as a book-title cataloger at Harvard. It was only then that it occurred to Amanda Hollis that on Friday she had laid the Croswellian library journal aside, but now, three days later, it lay at the top of the pile on her desk, open and ready to be read — and she accepted the invitation.

But what did it mean?

First of all, it meant that her hypothesis that William Croswell had filled his days at Harvard with not moving might be correct, but it was just as certain that Heath Cover Evil spent his (which, in truth, were nights, though it basically amounts to the same thing) setting the lethargic librarian in motion, even if it were only via the files in which his spirit was preserved.

In other words, it seemed to Amanda Hollis that in this case, there was a sort of double-entry bookkeeping at play in the archive, one that sought to balance the liabilities of the past with the assets of the present.

On the other hand, “balance” was the wrong word, as that would imply that history’s end result was zero, and though Amanda Hollis found this idea attractive (and as plausible as it was to her in a certain sense), it became very clear to her that the entire business was dedicated not to balancing but to obliterating, and that writing down such a life was the annihilation of a seemingly different life, though in fact the two lives were but one.

But there was more; Heath Cover Evil hadn’t just shoved a challenge under her nose in the form of William Croswell’s library journal, but also the files from box number three, which she had pulled out on Friday to count them, spreading them neatly across the desktop, which is why they now covered all the rest and made it look as if William Croswell had been nothing more than a book-title cataloger all his life.

“It’s as if Heath Cover Evil read my thoughts,” whispered Amanda Hollis, since neither silent thought nor full-throated speech seemed appropriate to her. “On Friday I was speculating that Heath Cover Evil knew just how to manipulate the documents, and now he’s gone and done it. But not in some scholarly essay, but rather on my desk, where I’m supposed to write the keyword index that will form the basis for his scholarly essay.”

And then, since it was yet again time for an analogy and Amanda Hollis generally didn’t give a damn if they were totally lame or hobbled: “Heath Cover Evil is half of a big golden-yellow bun and I’m the tomato – onion – ground beef mush. He provides the space where I can spread out, only to cover it again with what was the foundation — the other half of a big golden-yellow bun.”

That was completely logical in Amanda Hollis’s head, practiced as she was in allegories, and the little hint of fatalism was part of the story, which is to say the unwritten part of her work contract — and yet, one question remained: why, of all things, did Heath Cover Evil want to highlight William Croswell’s library career? What was it he wanted to obliterate, and what did he want to appear in its place? In other words: what on earth had William Croswell done that was remarkable?

Amanda Hollis didn’t know, and when she followed a spontaneous intuition and looked him up in Alfred Claghorn Potter and Charles Bolton’s The Librarians of Harvard College (1677 – 1877), it didn’t make her any the wiser, as William Croswell’s name wasn’t even mentioned there.

But even if that were an oversight and not intention (although that would be extremely strange, if not absolutely unprecedented, considering Potter’s erudition and the meticulousness for which his associate Bolton was known in library circles), the lack of a biographical entry and the fact that William Croswell wasn’t mentioned anywhere else either certainly didn’t point to any outstanding library achievements, and even outside the history books, there was nothing to be found concerning William Croswell.

In any case, no matter how much she thought about it, Amanda Hollis couldn’t recall hearing his name before, and Professor Orscube hadn’t spoken about him at all in his course on peripheral library history, even though the Harvard library was Professor Orscube’s hobby horse, which he rode around the auditorium half a semester long, to the point that Amanda Hollis worried he would ride his hobby horse (or himself) to death.

What on earth had William Croswell done?

Amanda Hollis briefly considered whether he might have bought the horse with whose help Thomas Hollis V had written his headstoneless singularity into the memory of posterity, while the nag made the earth over his master’s tomb just like all other earth, but then she saw in the files that William Croswell first visited England in 1791, seventeen years after Thomas Hollis’s death, and that by that time the horse had certainly departed from this world. In brief: the whole construct wasn’t even theoretically possible, to say nothing of the fact that it made no sense in practice that a book-title cataloger from Harvard would buy a horse in England — and in the files there wasn’t anything to be found earlier either.

So Amanda Hollis started looking for traces other than hoof prints, but all that she found was evidence of William Croswell’s work on his substanceless projects, which mostly consisted in drawing star charts that no one wanted to use and writing books that no one wanted to read, which is why at some point William Croswell began offering shipping companies star charts that he hadn’t yet drawn, noting that they could be custom made, but it didn’t work out, and the books he planned all remained mostly unwritten, which is why William Croswell eventually turned away from the material world and toward mathematics, but even there his insights remained unprinted or came too late, and the one thing he managed to publish was the depiction of some “oblique spherics” in the form of two exceedingly rectilinear tables stuffed full of so many terms, abbreviations, and mathematical symbols that Amanda Hollis didn’t understand their meaning. This obscure treatise was published in 1809 in Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences but existed only in the form of Croswell’s original manuscript in the files, and Amanda Hollis also didn’t understand why anyone had bothered to make a copy of it. After all, photocopies weren’t just expensive but also rare among archival documents, so rare that Amanda Hollis couldn’t remember seeing one in her seven and a half years there.

Be that as it may, William Croswell had definitely described an oblique spheric that wasn’t just invisible but that probably no one understood besides him, which is why it was no wonder that, after his further publication attempts were first politely declined by the academy, then not even answered, he tried to found his own school but also failed at that endeavor, simply because he had too few students and sometimes none at all. It was then that he gave up his duties as a teacher, and applied to the Harvard library, which finally hired the fifty-two-year-old on August 4, 1812, with the task of creating a complete catalog for the entire university book collection.

The fact that William Croswell had neither training as a librarian nor any experience in cataloging books was evident in the files, as well as the fact that he only got the job because he knew the Harvard treasurer, and he assured the president of Harvard, who hired him, that he “wrote a fair hand.”

And so, completely lacking any library experience, William Croswell set about his work, but he was surprised to learn that Harvard University only employed one other librarian besides him. However, this person decided to become a pastor in Boston in 1813, while his successor traded his library post for a theology professorship just three days after officially taking office and was present only as a formality after that.

Left so utterly alone, William Croswell soon lost all zeal for his work, and after a few months it had reached a nadir.

Unhappily, William Croswell bothered to write, and Amanda Hollis had to read, “Monday — 23. At the Lib — do nothing.”

But what could she do? She was supposed to polish up a life gone by for the future greatness of the university, and as quickly as possible. In cardboard boxes all around her, hundreds of others were also waiting for a glamorous ending to their story. And a bit farther up above, there where roots of concrete penetrated the soil, Heath Cover Evil never slept.

“Nothing,” Amanda Hollis knew (and she saw for herself in the keyword index that she’d prepared over the course of seven and a half years and that contained all of the possible terms), “nothing” was not a keyword, even if it was William Croswell’s favorite piece of vocabulary. After all, he had summed up entire months of his career with it and — for the sake of feigning false appearances — copied it into his library journal in Latin. Amanda Hollis read it with unbelieving eyes. “September 1816: Nihil. October 1816: Nihil. December 1816: Nihil.”

What in the world was she supposed to write in the index?! William Croswell was nothing, a nobody, a nihilist in his own words, someone it was impossible to index. That meant that Heath Cover Evil had been wrong. He was waiting on a clod, a do-nothing, a lazy layman, and although, in the face of her own situation, she was quite sympathetic to this fact, that didn’t mean that Heath Cover Evil would be understanding when she explained to him that it would be impossible to write an essay glorifying Harvard from the nothingness of the lore that had been transmitted.

And despite it all, she somehow had to write something on her catalog cards. But what?

Amanda Hollis didn’t know, she hadn’t a clue or a notion. But then she observed her left hand reaching for the card as the right one whipped out the fountain pen and began to write: “Monday, November 3rd. In the archive. Don’t know what I’m to make out of this life.”Then her hand laid the pen down again and the other reached for the card and held it up, directly in front of Amanda Hollis’s face, as if it were a mirror — and she saw that it was a diploma that she had written for herself.


A squat lead-gray door at her back, an illuminated flood lamp overhead, and three sloppy joes in her hands, not two minutes after giving herself her diploma, Amanda Hollis stood at the top of the stairs and looked down into the deep and at the pipe that shot clear through the room. Its exterior gleamed in the light and its interior would surely tell her another story soon, about Brother Carpine, who was probably in the middle of finding out who had killed the Russian prince.

“The pipe,” thought Amanda Hollis as she climbed down the steps, “is an extension in space-time of Professor Orscube’s course on peripheral library history from the Drexel auditorium into a Harvard basement, and the only difference is that the pipe is telling me one of those stories that delivers the material for books that, taken together, don’t just produce entire libraries but also the need for systems of internal order that become so complicated over time that they require their own school of study, which was actually created with the help of a decimal dunderhead named Dewey, and which is so complicated to study that no time is left to actually cast a glance in the books themselves. In that sense, I’m not loafing down here, but rather taking advantage of a continuing-education opportunity, since I’m making up for what I’d been missing up to now with the help of the pipe, and after all, Professor Orscube said: ‘The stories in the books are the meat on the skeleton of library theory.’”

At which point, Amanda Hollis had arrived at the bottom of the stairs, sat down, and waited for the voice in the pipe to start talking.

But the pipe didn’t say a word, even on request and not even when Amanda Hollis held one of her sloppy joes directly in front of the ventilation grate, hoping that the smell of a fresh sandwich would make the pipe voice’s mouth water.

And something did actually begin to water, but it didn’t sound like spit and saliva, but rather like a murmuring river, and as the Mongolian steppe disappeared under the water streaming in, the thought popped into Amanda Hollis’s head that the pipe couldn’t be anything other than a normal part of the drainage system that kept the library from flooding.

And so Amanda Hollis retracted her sloppy joe from the ventilation grate, walked back to the steps, and ate it at a velocity that didn’t give her mouth time to water. Then she did the same with the second one, then immediately wolfed down number three, because she felt sorry for it and wanted to deliver it from its suffering. Then she gathered the metal garments lying all over the floor, and since there was nothing more to hear about Brother Carpine and the murmuring in the pipe wasn’t to be interpreted as anything other than the lowly practicality of drainage, she went back to her office. Once there, since her breakfast break wasn’t over and she didn’t know what to do with the remaining time, she started memorizing the outlines of America from the world map over her desk. Then she drew them freehanded on tracing paper without looking at the map, and then compared each of her versions of America with the original.

Around eleven, the entire course of the West Coast had passed from head to hand to pen, and less than an hour later, the border with Canada (up to North Dakota) and Mexico (up to Texas) were proportionally and nearly identically represented on the paper with the exception of small outcroppings and indentations. The hollows of the Great Lakes proved more difficult to reproduce, as did those of the Gulf of Mexico, and it wasn’t until around 3:30 p.m. that they were integrated into the picture.

Just before 6 p.m., Amanda Hollis inserted the East Coast, seamlessly, up to the peak of Maine, and when she pinned the tracing paper to the map and took a step back to observe her work, she saw that she had forgotten not only Alaska but also Hawaii, and that there wasn’t room for either on the paper.


That evening after her shower, Amanda Hollis stood in front of her two mirrors and said to the one, “You’re Alaska,” and to the other, “You’re Hawaii,” and watched how they both fogged over at the same time.

“Cold,” thought Amanda Hollis, “and heat.”

Then she left the bathroom, lay in bed in a peculiar at-attention position, and buried her body under the blanket as if her flesh were wood, as if she herself were a coffin, and on top of her was the pall.

And so she laid there. And fell asleep at some point, while outside it began to drip slowly, then harder and harder, and when she awoke in the middle of the night, the rain was making a racket.


The next morning she awoke to the dull fear of having left behind a piece of evidence the day before. To be precise, it was seventeen pieces, all tracing paper with an incorrect America on them, whose outlines were too big or too small, the borders in the south too straight or too crooked, and the same in the north, to say nothing of both oceans to the east and west, which annihilated entire states or created previously unknown territory, which is why it was no wonder that Amanda Hollis didn’t complete a single one of these Americas. She had left them all unfinished and open on the paper, and that morning it occurred to her as she lay in bed that it would be easy for a hoard of Mongolians to invade.

Unimaginable, what Heath Cover Evil would do with such an America. And with seventeen of them.

Easy. Amanda Hollis had just entered the subterranean archive at one minute after eight o’clock, which was only in part open to the public, and otherwise was a site of the systematic and invisible documentation, preservation, and production of the remains of a past that arrived unbound, and that the present was to render imperishable for the future. She set about transforming her fear into certainty of some sort or another, though really it didn’t take much more than setting foot in her office, going to her desk, and grabbing the wastepaper basket, which was torn from sleep on this occasion just like William Croswell. Then she made her way down into the basement and the sanctuary of the archive’s archive.


The way she descended the stairs, forward and without a single sloppy joe in her hands, but with a wastepaper basket in her arm as if it were a trophy, Amanda Hollis seemed strangely relieved. The way things looked, last night Heath Cover Evil had forgotten his forays, because not only had everything on her desk remained untouched, including the files, but everything she had thrown into the wastepaper basket was also still in it: an incorrectly indexed catalog card that said that the Russian prince bit the dust because of Mongolian poison, while an American milliner was capable of precipitating the downfall of a librarian; on top of that, the insipid trinity at the end of which William Croswell’s resurrection at Harvard was written, along with Amanda Hollis’s Don’t-know-what-I’m-to-make-out-of-this-life card; and finally, filling the wastepaper basket to its rim, her seventeen badly drawn Americas whose tracing-paper existence had something transcendental, if not dream-like to it.

But Amanda Hollis had no eye for that at the moment, and she only cast a short, leery glance at the pipe before turning sharply to the left at the bottom of the stairs to hide the contents of her wastepaper basket in a big iron cabinet, to conceal them, since it had become open knowledge that Heath Cover Evil had a weakness for sticking his head into strange wastepaper baskets during his nightly forays.

Thus the fate of Amanda Hollis’s own archival documents was sealed, they were destined to disappear behind a gigantic door, into a cabinet that was completely filled with discarded files that had been declared worthless and were waiting only to be withdrawn from circulation, that is to say, to be destroyed.

“This is my poison cabinet,” Amanda Hollis prophesied. “This is where I hide myself, along with my Americans, Mongolians, and Russians.”

Then she took the key and turned it, click-click, in the lock — and the door swung open. Behind it were shelves full of paper bound together in bundles weighing many pounds and stuffed in as tightly as possible. As Amanda Hollis picked her seventeen Americas out of the wastepaper basket, unfolded them, and shoved the entire project into one of the file bundles lying before her on the shelf, she asked herself whether all of this paper was really just useless overgrowth that could and had to be trimmed back in order to smooth the path for more fruitful endeavors, or if everything awaiting its annihilation in the enormous iron coffins wasn’t really perhaps the root of the entire structure of the archive.

“… and a story can be told about every file that is disposed of,” someone suddenly said behind her.

Amanda Hollis turned around. Which actually means that she watched herself turning around from the outside — and didn’t see anyone behind her or in front of her. No one besides the pipe.

“What’s wrong? Should I tell you those kinds of stories? The story of the end of a noble file?”

Well, what was she supposed to say? Yes? No? Maybe?

Amanda Hollis didn’t know. On the other hand, if the voice was so eager to tell her a story, she could set a condition. And so she did.

“Okay, you can tell me a story like that,” said Amanda Hollis, “if you promise to never tell anyone about my secret papers.”

“What secret papers?”

“The ones that I hid in the cabinet.”

“I didn’t see any secret papers.”

“Oh,” said Amanda Hollis, who didn’t know whether she had just given herself away, or if the voice in the pipe was being particularly discreet.

“What was on the secret papers, then?” asked the voice.

“That doesn’t concern you,” said Amanda Hollis.

“And why did you hide them?”

“Because I wanted to get rid of them.”

“You could have thrown them away.”

“I did that, but then I gathered them up again, because some people are in the habit of sticking their heads into the wastepaper baskets here at night.”

“Why didn’t you tear up the secret papers and flush them down the toilet?”

“I thought of that too. But it’s been raining all the time, and who knows if everything we’ve flushed down will come back up again.”

“That makes sense,” said the voice.

“It does,” said Amanda Hollis. “No one is going to haul the files upstairs again. They’re going to be destroyed together with my secret papers without anyone looking at them.”

“It sounds like you’ve really thought this through.”

“I don’t know,” Amanda Hollis expressed her uncertainty a little louder than she would have liked. And since she had the feeling that she had already said enough … “He-e-ey, didn’t you want to tell me a story?”

“And how!” cried the voice and set in, as if he had only been waiting for the cue.

“I assume you remember our papal envoy by the name of Carpine, and that he was traveling toward Karakorum to negotiate with the Mongolians and persuade them to halt their conquest toward the West.”

“Yes,” said Amanda Hollis, “and I’d like to know how the story continues.”

“Well,” said the voice, “it doesn’t exactly continue right away, because although Carpine reached the summer palace of the Mongolian court in June 1246, he wasn’t able to negotiate with the Mongolians about a peace treaty because the one person who could make a decision was the Great Khan and they didn’t let him see him, because the Great Khan was dead.”

“Poison?” asked Amanda Hollis.

“Old age,” said the voice.

“Oh,” said Amanda Hollis, and it almost sounded as if she regretted the cause of death’s banality. “Does that mean that Carpine made his whole trip for nothing?”

“Not quite,” said the voice. “But he did have to wait until a new Great Khan was chosen. And that takes a while with the Mongolians, they don’t elect their leaders just like that, instead they invited representatives of all of their conquered peoples to come so that they could see who would be subjugating them in the future, that is, who would be governing them. So delegates came from all of Asia and Eastern Europe, and soon three thousand of them were sitting around in the Mongolian summer palace, which means that Brother Carpine was no longer the only person there with matters to discuss. Besides, he thought to himself, wouldn’t it be a good idea to present the new Great Khan with a letter — as a sort of gift on the occasion of his accession to the throne — prompting him to eschew all conquests in the west, since the request would either incense him or — with a view to all of the delegates, who mainly lived west of Mongolia — amuse him.”

“And what did Carpine do?”

“When the festival was over and the vassals had returned to play the masters in their own lands, he asked the Great Khan if he wouldn’t like to convert to Christianity.”

“So that he would bring the words of the Savior to the West?”

“So that he would recognize that the people in the West were his friends and that he had no reason to march farther in that direction.”

“And what happened then?”

“Well, Carpine didn’t directly express his invitation to convert to Christianity, but rather presented it to the leader of the Mongolians in writing, actually it was the pope himself who formulated it. Unfortunately, the Great Khan was unaccustomed to people coming to him with requests, especially after the recent visit from his subjects, which is why he didn’t interpret the visit from the papal envoy as an invitation to peace and repentance, but rather as an offer of submission, threw the letter away, and dictated his own, summoning the pope to come by personally and throw himself in the dust at his feet.”

“And Carpine?”

“He had to travel back with the new letter. And that, after the beautiful gelded edict that he had brought had been thrown away.”

“Gilded,” corrected Amanda Hollis.

“Oh,” said the voice. “Gilded, of course.”

“No problem,” said Amanda Hollis, “just tell me how the story continues.”

“Well, as I said, Carpine had to travel back the whole way, though the Great Khan was so friendly as to not release him from the palace before November, which meant that the return trip was sheer torture for Carpine, because he had to sleep in the snow at night and hardly found a thing to eat during the day. He lost more and more weight and sometimes didn’t know what to do or how to go on.”

“Careful!” cried out Amanda Hollis. “Dangerous territory!”

“It’s true,” said the pipe. “Carpine really did travel all the way across Asia.”

“That’s not what I meant,” hissed Amanda Hollis, but she had the feeling that the pipe hadn’t meant it that way and certainly hadn’t wanted to be hurtful, and so she asked, nearly anxious: “Did Carpine make it?”

“Yes,” said the voice. “He did.”

“And the donkey?”

“He … um … got it back.”


“Back where he left it.”

“And where was that?”

“With the Cumans, a strange people who normally lived in central Asia, but were forced farther and farther westward by the onward-charging Mongolians, which didn’t prevent the Cumans from continuing to practice their extremely singular customs.”

“What sorts of customs?”

“Cutting dogs in half.”

“Cutting? Dogs? In half?”

“At least that’s what Carpine reported. He wrote about it in his notes from a wedding where a Hungarian prince married a copper-skinned Cuman woman, after which the copper-skinned Cuman men took a dog that wasn’t made of copper but of flesh and fur, and cut it in half with their swords, just to show that they would defend two peoples from now on: themselves and the Hungarians.”

“And Carpine’s donkey?”

“It was in luck. It was an early riser, and each morning the Cumans prayed to the animal that they saw first.”

“That donkey was really lucky,” said Amanda Hollis and felt relieved.

“Yes, but not just because he was an early riser but also because he wasn’t a horse. When an influential man died among the Cumans, or a king like Kotyan Khan, then he wasn’t just buried but set on a throne and left in the tomb with it. But he wasn’t alone there for long, because they placed his dearest companion next to him, and his favorite horse — alive, both of them.”

“Good gracious!” escaped Amanda Hollis’s lips. And then, after a moment of consideration, murmuring quietly to herself, since she didn’t want the voice in the pipe to hear what she was saying. “With Thomas Hollis it was just the other way around. The horse wasn’t put into the tomb, but on it, making what was under it not bigger but invisible. And as far as dearest companions go, in Thomas Hollis’s case, that was a certain Thomas Brand, who — at least according to Professor Orscube — was Hollis’s best friend and inherited his estate, though under the condition that Brand changed his last name and took Hollis’s, which he did, with the result that the two remained linked beyond death — at least by name — and both of them would live on as one in Thomas Brand Hollis.”

With that, the facts were resolved, but the motivation behind the story remained in the shadows, that is, in the dark interior of the pipe.

“The voice wants to tell me something with this story,” it occurred to Amanda Hollis from the upper right, as usual. “The parallels can’t be a coincidence. It has to mean something. But what?”

Amanda Hollis didn’t know. Not yet. But she sensed that the voice wasn’t simply telling her a story, but rather was weaving a parable from both ends. She, Amanda Susan Marie Hollis, stood at its center, though it wasn’t exactly clear to her why she had been selected, or by whom, to say nothing of the question of whether the center in which she stood marked the highest or lowest point in the story, that is to say, whether the parable opened up or caved in …

“Are you still there?” asked the voice.

“Yes,” chirped Amanda Hollis, who sounded as if she were pining in some distant memory.

“That’s good,” said the voice, “because the story isn’t finished yet, and the decisive point is yet to come.”

“What is the decisive point?” asked Amanda Hollis, hoping to learn something about the role someone or other had assigned her in this story, as well as something about the place she occupied within it. And as she brooded over these questions, she hoped that her place was outside the archive — that is, as far as possible from her Don’t-know-what-I’m-to-make -out-of-this-life diploma.

But Amanda Hollis didn’t say anything about that. Which is why the voice in the pipe couldn’t hear it. Which didn’t mean that he would have told her something else. In any case, it continued speaking, not about Amanda Hollis’s future, but about the life of Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, who reached Kiev on June 10, 1247. There, according to the voice, “the people greeted him as if he were risen from the dead, which is why they hardly let him out of their sight, and accompanied him across hundreds of miles, up to Poland, where Carpine found a monastery to rest at.

“However, the monks there had already heard of his adventures and immediately invited the church leaders from half of Poland, so that they could come and listen to Carpine’s story, and although Carpine told them that his mission had been without success and the Mongolians weren’t ready to refrain from their conquests, the monks held him there and made him tell his story for eight days straight.”

“What sort of stories?” asked Amanda Hollis, trying to focus on the story again.

“For example, about the Mongolian custom of punishing cities that resisted their progress. They did it like this: as soon as the Mongolians had managed to enter a besieged city, they took a few prisoners, as was only fitting. Then they carried them away, giving the people in the city the impression that the matter was settled. After a few days, the Mongolians came back without the prisoners, but with buckets of liquid human fat, which they poured over the houses. Then they set them alight …”

“And then?” asked Amanda Hollis, who couldn’t resist the fascination of horror.

“Then they burned the city down to its foundations, completely and without a single exception, because the human fat simply couldn’t be extinguished.”

“It’s really inextinguishable?” asked Amanda Hollis, whose curiosity was stronger than her shuddering.

“Well, not completely,” said the voice. “Supposedly pouring large quantities of beer or wine on it helped. But I wouldn’t bet my life on it, if you know what I mean.”

“Yes,” whispered Amanda Hollis, though she felt as if she weren’t the one who had answered. As if her mouth had answered separately from her thoughts.

But since she wanted to contribute something, or at least to rid her spine of its chills … “In Thomas Hollis’s days, the Harvard library burned to its foundations. But today here in Pusey, there are big tanks of liquid halon, so fire doesn’t have a chance.”

But no sooner than she had said it, Amanda Hollis regretted her contemptible detour into the depths of the present-day concrete bunker, and since she didn’t want the voice to stop, she asked him about the envoy’s adventures: “What happened to Carpine after the eight days in the monastery?”

“He went back to the pope in Lyon, and drew up a report for him with the title Ystoria Mongalorum quos nos Tartaros appellamus, which roughly means History of the Mongols, Whom We Call Tartars.”

“That’s all?”

“Not quite. While Carpine was lingering in the Polish monastery and was forced to report on his adventures, the superior there had an idea. He would have preferred to keep Carpine there until the end of his life telling stories, especially since they became more interesting from day to day and new details were always coming to light. But he knew that that wouldn’t work because the pope was waiting on Carpine. And so he ordered a monk to come to him, sat him directly next to Carpine, and bellowed at him to write down everything that he said. And so in addition to the version by Carpine, there’s also a second version of the story. It’s called Historia Tartarorum, and its author is a certain de Bridia whom nobody knows anything about. Not even his first name, and the only thing that can be said about him is that he was a monk in that Polish monastery.”

“And his book?”

“It’s concerned less with Carpine’s travels than with the story of the Mongolians, their customs and traditions — and especially their art of warfare. However, it’s composed in really lousy Latin, badly written, and also pretty boring, probably because de Bridia had absolutely no experience with writing, which he admits right at the beginning of his book, in which he explains that the task imposed on him simply exceeds his capacities.”

“Stop!” cried Amanda Hollis. “I let it slip by once, but this time I’ve had enough. If you suggest moronic analogies, you’re out!”

“But — ”

“No buts! I already have a boring story up on my desk, that’s plenty! If I count my own story, then it’s two. I certainly don’t have any use for a third, either in my catalog cards or in my ears. The same goes for men who do something they don’t have the slightest clue about, which is why I don’t care whether they’re in over their heads writing books or writing down books.” She said and suddenly she felt Heath Cover Evil’s gaze on her neck, sensed how he jabbed his way down the circular staircase, and when she turned around, slowly, frozen by her own fear and the mounting certainty of his presence. But there was no one there, not even a fleeting shadow. All Amanda Hollis had was a gaze searching for answers and a question that shot into her head from the upper right, exactly the point where Heath Cover Evil must have stood.

“What if Heath Cover Evil is behind all of this? What if he wants to test me? If he wants to see if I let myself be co-opted by William Croswell’s laziness?”

At which point, Amanda Hollis jumped to her feet, hurried up a few steps, turned around once more, took a deep breath, and called out in the direction of the pipe:

“William Croswell is resting above me. And over him sits Heath Cover Evil. The one is breathing down my neck and the other is sitting in my head. So why are you telling me this damned story?”

“De Bridia’s writings went missing,” said the voice, and it sounded like the most normal thing in the world, as if that had to be the answer.

“What?” asked Amanda Hollis.

“De Bridia’s writings went missing,” repeated the voice.

“Well, and?” said Amanda Hollis, one hand on the banister, strangely composed. “At Drexel, the chandelier disappeared.”

“That may be,” replied the voice. “But de Bridia’s writings were rediscovered. Someone copied them in the fifteenth century.”

But of course that wasn’t any reason for Amanda Hollis to back down.

“And so what, the chandelier at Drexel is still missing. It was an antique from 1906. You can’t just copy something like that.”

At which point all thought of what lay above her was irrelevant and the verbal slugfest opened. The scrimmage went like this:

“No one knows who copied de Bridia’s work!” cried the voice.

“No one knows who stole the chandelier!” Amanda Hollis replied.

“And even if they did! We can’t even say when exactly de Bridia’s work was copied!”

“Just like at Drexel, since the time of the disappearance is also unknown!”

“Well, so? With de Bridia there isn’t even a reason why anyone would want to copy such a strange document!”

“There’s also no reason to steal a wet chandelier!”

“The scribe didn’t even sign his name!”

“The thief didn’t leave one either,” said Amanda Hollis. “Besides, you mentioned the namelessness once already.” After saying it, she had the feeling it that the scales of unenlightenment had tipped to her favor.

“When exactly did the chandelier disappear?” asked the voice, and it sounded like an peace offering.

“1956,” said Amanda Hollis. “Sometime between March 28 and April 8.” And then: “I’ve studied the case extensively, and it doesn’t look like it can be extinguished.”

“Extinguished?” asked the voice.

“Explained,” said Amanda Hollis, while the fat of Mongolian prisoners still oozed inside her head. It felt as if it were running down behind her forehead and collecting at an indeterminate point behind her nose, then dripping into her mouth, threatening to glue it shut. It was high time to take action …

“There aren’t any Mongolians at Drexel,” said Amanda Hollis, as if she needed to confirm the fact to herself. But that was only half the truth and — as usual — the other half was in Professor Orscube’s lecture on peripheral library history.

“The only Mongolian I know anything about was called Akbar and he wasn’t just a warrior but a cataloger. In the sixteenth century, he created a complete catalog of the twenty-four thousand volumes in the Imperial Library, classifying all of the texts, organizing them, and even writing most of the entries himself. With ink instead of blood. Not on catalog cards, though, on cowhides!”

“Interesting!” said the voice.

“Yes,” said Amanda Hollis, who was actually interested in things like that.

“And are you sure it was really cowhides that he wrote on?” asked the voice. “I mean, the Mongolians took the fat from the people’s flesh, but the skin was left over …”

“It was cowhides,” repeated Amanda Hollis, a little too assuredly to be entirely convincing. “According to Professor Orscube, you could still feel the traces of the animal’s brands on those cow cards.”

But the voice had apparently had no more beef with the cows, and seemed to be driving at something else.

“You know what’s odd? There’s a whole century between your Akbar and de Bridia, but there are only a few months between the day that that strange chandelier disappeared and the day that de Bridia’s history resurfaced.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Amanda Hollis.

“It means that according to you, the chandelier at Drexel disappeared in March or April of 1956, and shortly thereafter, in early 1957 to be exact, the copy of de Bridia’s history about the Mongolians resurfaced.”

“Was de Bridia’s story found at Drexel?” asked Amanda Hollis, trying to find the connection between Mongolia and America.

“No,” said the voice, “in Europe.”

“In Poland?” asked Amanda Hollis.

“Not quite,” said the voice. “The correct answer is Spain.”

“Spain?” asked Amanda Hollis. “What in the world does Spain have to do with this?”

“Well, let’s just say that the history of the Mongolians will lead us to America via Poland and Spain!”

“I’m already in America,” said Amanda Hollis defiantly.

“I know,” said the voice, “but you can’t forget where we came from and what I’ve said. I said that it’s Mongolian worms that pose a danger to America.”

“But there aren’t worms in your story,” said Amanda Hollis, and it sounded almost like a complaint.

“Not yet,” said the voice, “but soon.” And then: “The Mongolians and their worms didn’t just become a threat to America, they’ve been one for a long time. They’ve been here for centuries. Actually, they were already in America before Columbus.”

“That can’t be!” shot out of Amanda Hollis’s mouth, aimed directly at the pipe. “Everyone knows that Columbus discovered America. And so whoever came with some worms can’t have been here before him.”

“Now, if my information is correct, it was the sailor Rodrigo de Triana who discovered America,” said the voice, who apparently was well versed in seafaring lore. “He was covering the night watch on one of the ships, and on October 12 of that well-known year recognized something hazily jutting out of the water before him; there was no going back.”

“And so what,” replied Amanda Hollis, unimpressed by this show of erudition. “Columbus was still the first to discover America with his ship.”

“That remains to be seen,” said the voice in the pipe, and it sounded as though it had only been the first act.

“That we will!” said Amanda Hollis. She would make sure of it. She trudged up the stairs and slammed the door shut behind her, extinguishing the light on the other side.


Back in her office, Amanda Hollis sat at her desk, took one of the catalog cards intended for William Croswell’s index, cast a brief glance at the world map in front of her, said “America,” and wrote down the story up to this point. In keyword form, as she was accustomed:

Date and Event

March/April 1956: The chandelier at Drexel disappears

Early 1957: De Bridia’s Historia Tartarorum reappears

Names and Places

a donkey: Lyon

Giovanni da Pian del Carpine (monk): Mongolia

de Bridia (monk): Poland

Rodrigo de Triana (sailor): America

That finished, Amanda Hollis tried to recognize a pattern in what she had written, but the only two overlapping elements she could find were the “de”s in the names of the two monks and the sailor, and the fact that de Bridia’s history of the Tartars resurfaced just a few months after the disappearance of the chandelier at Drexel. But the latter happened in America and the former in Europe, and otherwise the names, events, and places didn’t have the slightest thing to do with each other.

In short, Amanda Hollis was stuck in a double dilemma (or the dilemma was in her), because she neither knew what to do with herself (and had notice of that in writing) nor had any idea what to do with her catalog cards (a fact that would also eventually be written down, put on record), which meant that in truth it wasn’t a dilemma, but a disaster, and a triple one at that, since she couldn’t say which of these two was the cause and which the effect. In other words: Amanda Hollis was losing the last shreds her belief in herself and in what she did — and in the point of it all.

But then, just like the day before, her hands came to the rescue, and after the left one grabbed up the freshly completed catalog card and tucked it into the waist of her skirt, the right one reached for the fountain pen — half consciously, half out of habit — and held it at a right angle to the cap. Amanda Hollis recognized that the two formed a cross and that it was her duty to march down into the basement and perhaps not perform an exorcism, but at least contrive a little crusade against the Mongolians, even if perhaps it was already too late and history had come to her, which is to say that the past had entered the present.

But it didn’t matter.

Amanda Hollis marched.


“There aren’t any Mongolians at Drexel, and if there are, then they’re all yellowed and faded and don’t pose any threat!” she cried as she wended her way downward under the glaring light of the corkscrew staircase, hands and arms folded behind her back, as if for improved aerodynamics. “And the only Pole I knew lived next to me in the dorm, was a Jew, and had fled to Philadelphia from Warsaw for fear of the Nazis.” And then, pausing on the final step: “So why don’t you bring a couple more Nazis into the mix?”

“I just have some superannuated fascists on hand,” came the answer from the pipe.

“What?!” cried Amanda Hollis, and her arms loosed themselves from behind her back as if a knot were being untied. They lifted the pen — capless and with its nib angled toward the floor — causing it to spray ink like blood across the steps.

“His name is Enzo Ferrajoli de Ry. He was one of the two hundred thousand Italian soldiers who invaded Ethiopia in 1935 without a declaration of war to experiment a little with mustard gas and claim new territory for their native spaghetti. When the war was over, he went to Spain to fight for General Franco.”

“I really can’t take any more of this!” sighed Amanda Hollis and dropped to the ground without a trace of self-consciousness. Her rear hit the second-to-last step, and the staircase vibrated briefly. The voice continued, its delivery becoming dramatic:

“Ferrajoli is a shady figure, even if he comes from a prominent aristocratic Italian family. Maybe he’s a shady figure because he comes from a prominent aristocratic Italian family, I can’t exactly say. What’s clear is that he came from a distinguished background and enjoyed a classical education. He wrote poems in his youth, not in Italian, but in French, Spanish, Latin, and ancient Greek — as was only fitting for the scion of a noble house. But at some point he’d had enough of education and the endless piles of paper, and he was gripped by a fever for adventure so strong that it pulled him first to Ethiopia and then to the war in Spain. In both countries, he threw himself wholeheartedly into combat, as he had once thrown words onto paper, and who knows, maybe he believed that he, Ferrajoli, was nothing but a word himself, and the war a blank sheet of paper that had to be filled, with blood instead of ink. In any case, he was wounded in Spain in ’37, which was actually lucky for him because not only did he receive a medal for every kind of foolishness that they call valor in the military but he was also cared for by a local nurse who came from a noble family just like him and was also there as a volunteer. Of course they got married and Ferrajoli moved to Spain for her sake, but he kept his Italian passport. He never shook his love of his homeland or his love for adventure, which is why he was soon engaged as a courier for Italy’s former queen, who was living in exile in Switzerland, delivering confidential messages to her. And so it was no wonder that in March 1955 he was present in Geneva at an auction of incunabula organized by a Swiss antiques dealer by the name of Nicolas Rauch.”

“Incunabula?” asked Amanda Hollis, who only partially understood what the voice was telling her, but then she remembered that Professor Orscube had once lectured on incunabula, which he declared with great solemnity to be “the cradles of our science. Incunabulum, Latin for ‘cradle.’”

On the other hand, the voice in the pipe obviously wasn’t talking about baby stuff, and questions of library science also didn’t seem to interest him.

But maybe that wasn’t of any significance, at least not for Amanda Hollis. After all, it was her task to find keywords that would assist in labeling events from the past and linking them together so that when the need arose, they could be retold — which is to say rewritten.

And if that were so (and after seven and a half years, it was), then all of these uncertainties, this entire incoherent story, weren’t just not a problem, but rather a prerequisite for what she did. The prerequisite for her doing anything at all. And that also meant: it wasn’t important at all what the voice said, but rather that he said something. Or to put it better: that he said something. He, the student from the Lamont Library, who might actually be sitting next door in the Houghton Library, since that was where the university stores its old manuscripts and rare books.

But wherever he was sitting (and whoever he was), it was clear that he needed someone to listen to him, someone who heard him and his stories.

And why not? She was all ears. He was welcome to lay his head in the cradle of her lap and simply talk away, free from pressure or the impulse to explain. She would listen to him, and all the more because she sensed that she had been right all along. He, who was speaking, didn’t want to bewilder her, but rather to unwilder himself. He did it by abandoning Harvard’s lofty intellectual heights for a while to achieve a bit of peace for his high-strung brain in the depths of some basement. But for some reason, he stayed there, simply didn’t come back up or didn’t want to, and as long as that was so, it was her responsibility to keep him company.

And that was the moment the parable turned into an allegory, and Amanda Hollis understood that he had only told her the story of this Ferrajoli, who was first an overeducated paper tiger and then an adventurer, because he wished he could be one too. But he wasn’t. On the contrary. The way things looked, he was just a kid in the adult library, a big boy in the world of the overeducated. And he couldn’t go to war, since America didn’t seem to be conducting any at the moment. And they’d never had a queen here. So he had to stay at Harvard and make her, Amanda Susan Marie Hollis, his queen. She was his queen and he had to deliver her secret messages from a world that she neither knew nor understood.

But she didn’t care about that and in a certain sense it also seemed right, because she knew that it was his world, which is to say the world in his head.

Which raised the question — at least in Amanda Hollis’s head — of whether all of Harvard weren’t a figment of the imagination: one that, besides the buildings, meadows, and the rain that fell on them, consisted of nothing other than ideas and wasn’t supposed to consist of anything else, which is why at some point they had started sinking the libraries forty feet deep into the ground.

Be that as it may, there was certainly more to be heard that she, Amanda Susan Marie Hollis, could puzzle together based on what the voice had told her up to that point. After all, she had spent so many years in the archive learning to encode entire existences into keywords, which is why it wasn’t difficult for her to reverse direction, decode his statements, and integrate them into the great index of life.

To all appearances, he studied history or a similar subject at the other end of the line and undoubtedly he had an interest in geography, even if he couldn’t really pursue it here, that is, he couldn’t study it, since the establishment of a department of geography had failed. The financing had fallen through because James Conant, then president of Harvard, had declared geography an insufficiently academic subject and struck it from the curriculum.

Which didn’t do away with the two decisive limitations, space and time — and it seemed that the two had become jumbled for whoever was talking to her. He was in over his overeducated head, so far in that he could no longer make all of the information coalesce, the places and names and numbers, the events and their significance. That’s why he climbed down as deep as he could at Harvard — into the basement of the subterranean library, the catacombs of Lamont or Houghton — to avoid being driven crazy by the monstrosity of history.

From that point of view, her boring life was practically a stroke of luck.

But there was still more, because what had happened to them, or, better, what bound them, wasn’t just a matter of coincidence but also one of fate, and Amanda Hollis was sure that at the end of the story, there was an answer, one that would give him (and therefore also her) clarity and restore the severed links. After all, she wasn’t just listening to him, she was also in the possession of something that could assuage the chaos in the space-time known as history: catalog cards. With keywords on them.

And she would write them. For the person who was speaking to her. To give them to him when everything was over and they had reached the end of the story. And she knew just how she would do it.

As soon as she had written the last keyword, all she would have to do is stand up, walk to the pipe, and hold her hand against the ventilation grate. When the story was over, there would be a slight inhalation to be felt where the air — and the voice with it — currently streamed into the room. That would be her signal to take the cards and slip them into the slits in the grill, where they would transported just as in a pneumatic tube, one after the next, to this person sitting so close to her, who nevertheless knew nothing about the order of things that she, Amanda Susan Marie Hollis, had already begun to arrange.

It was all just a question of diligence and method. The point was to note down all relevant information, organize it, and combine it correctly. Really no one knew better than she did that every piece of information could only be assessed in connection with other information, with a reference or, better, an entire referencing system.

So it wasn’t just the beginning or middle of the story but also the end that depended on questions of space and time, or rather the correct combination of both on a three-inch by five-inch catalog card, a series of catalog cards that, when everything was written down, could be linked. Then — and only then — would the story being told to her be decoded, the written would subsequently explain the spoken, lending it clarity and continuity.

But until that point, her task was to collect all of the information and write it down on her catalog cards in the form of names, numbers, events, and places. That sounded complicated, but all she really had to do was listen to the voice and write down anything of note. The story that he told might be incoherent, muddled, full of lacunae and discontinuities, but she, Amanda Hollis, would organize it and create a complete overview, that is, a complete catalog.

All at once it became clear to Amanda Hollis that they had reached a level far beyond basic information, or even its interconnectedness, no matter how extensive or complex or significant it might be. Because if it were true that her task was to create a complete catalog — and why shouldn’t it be? — then the fact that the voice in the pipe had mentioned incunabula wasn’t a coincidence, but rather a direct reference, a finger pointed at the fateful nature of their encounter. Ultimately — by dint of the course on peripheral library history with Professor Orscube and her own excellent memory — the incunabula were the direct reference. People were working on a complete catalog of them, though it had been in progress for nearly sixty years and still wasn’t finished, but it would be someday, with an index of all incunabula ever created, while she, Amanda would be done with her work much sooner.

On the other hand, she couldn’t really say that the two enterprises were linked without qualification. Amanda Hollis knew that her complete catalog would just consist of a few catalog cards and not millions of pages, some of them loose, some attached to mammoth leather books whose covers often consisted of heavy wooden boards weighing several pounds. As if they weren’t heavy enough, they had thick iron clasps and chains for fastening them to the lectern, less out of fear that bibliophiles would steal them (the incunabula were simply too heavy for that, and the average bookworm too weak) than because they wanted to safeguard the order in which they were arranged.

“Are you still there?” asked the voice in the pipe.

“Yes,” said Amanda Hollis, who was imagining how it would have looked if, instead of books, the lazy William Croswell himself had been chained to a lectern in the library, while all of the incunabula that Harvard possessed fluttered back and forth all around him — paper doves with leather wings spiraling upward, and the eye of the storm snoring in the middle of it all.

“Where did I leave off?” asked the voice.

“I don’t know,” said Amanda Hollis in all honesty. But then she remembered the keyword and her given task, and said “Incunabula,” and then “Just keep talking.”

“Whatever you want,” said the voice. “We were in Switzerland, weren’t we? In Geneva, with an antique dealer named Nicolas Rauch. In 1955 he wanted to auction off a couple of old incunabula.”

“Did he?” asked Amanda Hollis, and it sounded as if she weren’t yet entirely on the same page as him.

“Yes. But really that’s no big deal, Rauch is a respected businessman whose family has dealt in books since the eighteenth century, though Rauch himself specializes in high-value maps and manuscripts, earning his living from those auctions. But there’s someone else with an interest in old books — Enzo Ferrajoli.”

“The fascist!” cried Amanda Hollis, happy to have caught a keyword.

“The bookseller,” corrected the voice. “After all, by then the war is over and there isn’t a new one in sight, at least not in Europe.”

“But what about the Cold War?” asked Amanda Hollis. In her indexing, Cold War was a top contender for Keyword of the Year.

“For someone like Ferrajoli, there is no such thing as a cold war,” said the voice, “and if there were, it wouldn’t interest him.” And as if the voice had to justify this to her: “Ferrajoli wants to have adventures, he doesn’t care about technology. For him, war is something between two bodies. Or between a body and nature. But in the Cold War, the only action is in people’s minds. The men who once stood on the battlefield now sit in think tanks, and series of statistics now spool inside the heads that once rolled. From his point of view, the Cold War has sucked the last romance out of the great bloodshed and obliterated all of the poetry they once contained. Which is why Ferrajoli forswears the whole thing and turns back to his life among paper, which is to say that he relocates his area of business from world politics, adventure, and revanchism to manuscripts, atlases, and parchment tomes.”

“From WAR to MAP,” said Amanda Hollis, who had a knack for acronyms, even when they weren’t exactly what the situation called for.

Which is why the voice immediately asked “What?” but Amanda Hollis didn’t feel like having a discussion about the principles of organization. After all, she was the one with knowledge on the subject, and she also carried the responsibility for it, which is why she replied tersely, “Oh, nothing,” and then, “Just go on.”

“Now,” said the voice, making an effort to continue on as usual, “in the years following the war, Ferrajoli’s work consisted in roving through ravaged Europe in his Fiat Topolino, buying old manuscripts and maps from the ruins at bargain-basement prices. The marketing of the materials then began on the road, as Ferrajoli preferred to sell the items directly from the trunk of his Topolino, though his business was actually based in Barcelona.

“So it only makes sense that when he hears about Rauch’s auction, he heads to Geneva. When he arrives in March 1955, he meets not only Nicolas Rauch but also a young American named Laurence Claiborne Witten. It’s the first time that the two met, and Ferrajoli learns that Witten specializes in medieval manuscripts. He opened the first branch of his enterprise in 1951 at Yale and …”

“Yale?” asked Amanda Hollis, happy to hear a familiar name.

“New Haven, actually, but really it’s the same thing,” said the voice.

“Of course,” said Amanda Hollis, pulling the catalog card from her skirt (she’d been sure she’d need it). She straightened a dog-ear and unceremoniously struck out what stood there and wrote three new lines:

Date and Event

March/April 1956: The chandelier at Drexel disappears

Early 1957: De Bridia’s Historia Tartarorum reappears

Names and Places

a donkey: Lyon

Giovanni da Pian del Carpine (monk): Mongolia

de Bridia (monk): Poland

Rodrigo de Triana (sailor): America

Nicolas Rauch (bookseller): Geneva

Enzo Ferrajoli (bookseller): Barcelona/Geneva

Laurence Claiborne Witten (bookseller): Yale/Geneva

Things seemed to be starting out a bit more homogeneously. And booksellers were more familiar to her than monks. (Sailors, however, were still up for discussion.)

“The booksellers are to the monks as Yale is to Mongolia,” thought Amanda Hollis. But then a feeling of sadness overcame her when she glanced at the card and realized that she missed the donkey.


Amanda Hollis went up to her office to get more catalog cards, and when she got back to the archive’s archive and sat down on the second-to-last step to listen to the voice, it had already resumed its narration, jumped through space and time once again, leaping through both.

“It’s February 18, 1957,” said the voice, and it sounded as if it were beginning to tell a new story. “On this day, a young scholar is searching through the library of the La Seo Cathedral in Saragossa, Spain, for old manuscripts that he needs for his studies.”

Amanda Hollis looked up briefly, saw the pipe, saw how the words wafted up from the ventilation grate — and began to write. Names, times, events, places. An attempt at a topological chronology. Still unorganized and raw, but at some point an organizational pattern would emerge, the index of the entire story. And the voice helped her to do it, flowing forth like ink onto the paper.

“The young scholar, who had consulted the manuscripts a few days earlier, wants to continue his research, but he can no longer find them in their time-honored location. And so he goes to the librarian and asks him if he knows anything about the whereabouts of the works. The librarian, a man with strangely lustrous green eyes, explains that he has never heard of said works but offers to take a look in the card catalog to determine their location. The young scholar is pleased and hopes he’ll soon hold the manuscripts in his hands again, but after looking through the catalog, the librarian informs him that the works aren’t available in the library at all and never were, since no corresponding catalog cards exist.”

Amanda Hollis took a moment’s pause. Had the voice just said “catalog cards”? Then she really hadn’t been imagining things. Like the incunabula, it was another hint, another piece of the puzzle that would reveal the fateful nature of their encounter, the code word that compelled her to write keywords.

“And what happens next?” asked Amanda Hollis, eager to know everything.

“Well, since the young scholar had held the works in his hands, he isn’t satisfied with the librarian’s conclusion. He goes to the police and files a report. Normally, he knows that he would have no chance, since the police can’t search for books that the library doesn’t officially possess. But he was in luck, because while looking through the library archive, which was also in the cathedral, it turns out that three years earlier a group of learned clerics, in fact a commission created by the pope himself, had visited the library in order to photograph some old manuscripts located in the cathedral, and they happened to have documented the ones that disappeared. In other words: the books that didn’t exist — based on the librarian’s statement and the missing catalog cards — actually did exist and must then have gone missing. The only questions were: who stole them? And when? And why?

“To find out, the Spanish police ask around in the library, and discover, with the help of eyewitnesses, that not just the young scholar’s books but more than one hundred manuscripts of nearly inestimable value have disappeared, and that only one man could be the thief.”

“The librarian with the luminous green eyes!” cried Amanda Hollis, as if she were answering a trivia question. But none had been posed and the answer was wrong anyway.

“Wrong,” the voice replied correctly, and before Amanda Hollis could guess a second time, he named the thief himself. “It was Enzo Ferrajoli who stole the manuscripts.”

“The shady figure?” asked Amanda Hollis, and it sounded as if she didn’t think shady figures were capable of stealing books.

“He’s the one,” said the voice, to give Amanda Hollis the feeling of at least having gotten a half point. And then: “Ferrajoli was arrested, and it turned out that he had duplicitously gained the confidence of the librarians and borrowed a series of books that he never returned. Others, in turn, he stole directly from the library, easily covering his tracks by also pilfering the catalog card corresponding to the book, which he would then destroy. In other words: Ferrajoli destroyed the copies in order to conceal the traces of the originals, which got him eight years in prison.”

“That means Ferrajoli is out of the game,” said Amanda Hollis, and it sounded as if she knew which game it was.

“Not entirely,” said the voice. “For some incomprehensible reason, Ferrajoli was only arrested in 1961, and before that he not only did business in Saragossa but also elsewhere.

“Dealing in books?” asked Amanda Hollis, and it still sounded as if the shady figures didn’t have anything to do with it.

“A map,” said the voice.

“What kind of map?”

“It’s called the Vinland Map,” said the voice. And then, almost solemn: “It’s the first map in the history of humanity that shows America!”

“I’ve never heard of any Vinland Map,” said Amanda Hollis, as truthful as she was dumbfounded.

“Of course you haven’t,” said the voice. “The map doesn’t officially exist yet.”

“I don’t understand a word of this!” cried Amanda Hollis. But then it occurred to her that for someone who was supposed to write keywords, that wasn’t a particularly confidence-inspiring statement, which is why she said, “You’ll have to explain the part about the map to me.”

“The map will change the course of history,” said the voice, and it sounded as if he meant it seriously.

“I’m all ears,” answered Amanda Hollis, holding her fountain pen poised over the paper.

“The map I’m referring to only shows a small piece of the eastern coast, but that’s enough to completely change our view of America.”

“Why just a small piece?” asked Amanda Hollis.

“Because the Vikings had only set their big, hairy feet on that little piece of America. On the other hand, it looks as if the mapmaker didn’t have much room on the left side after he’d drawn the then-known world on the parchment, so it’s almost lucky that the Vikings had only surveyed that part of America, otherwise the mapmaker would have had to forgo some of the territory on his map.”

Amanda Hollis pricked her ears.

A map with something missing. She’d seen that before.

“The little piece of eastern coast on the Vinland Map is the big piece of America on my tracing-paper map, and the big missing piece of America on the parchment is the little missing part on my paper.”

And to round things out: “Vinland. Like ‘vineyard.’ My wine country is Alaska. It’s the land of white wine. And the land of red wine is Hawaii.”

But of course she couldn’t say that to the voice in the pipe. And so she acted as if it were nothing, and asked him to keep telling his story. Which the voice did. “Well,” he said, after briefly clearing its throat, “as is usual in the course of history, it began with a mistake, in this case a ship that had drifted off course with a couple of Vikings in it who had actually wanted to sail from Iceland to Greenland, but for some reason — supposedly the wind came from the wrong direction, but probably they were just drunk — they landed on the eastern coast of America.”

“When was that?” asked Amanda Hollis, anxious to take down everything of note.

“In the year 986 A.D.,” said the voice.

“And then?” asked Amanda Hollis.

“Then they named the territory they landed in Vinland, and if you ask me, that suggests that it wasn’t the winds that brought them there.”

“And where are the Vikings now?”

“Dead,” said the voice.

“Drank themselves to death?” asked Amanda Hollis, strangely exhilarated.

“Extinct,” said the voice. “But not in America, because they couldn’t endure it long there. That’s why, once they were sober again, they sailed back to Greenland.”

“How long were they in America?”

“Three years,” said the voice.

“They must have been pretty drunk,” said Amanda Hollis, nearly intoxicated on all of the information.

“Yes,” said the voice. “So drunk that it was more than two hundred years before they could write anything down about their travels, which they finally did in the Sagas, published in the thirteenth century. The soberest among them also drew a map, as a sort of proof that they had really been in Vinland, and hadn’t just drunkenly sailed around Greenland three times. And on it were all of the known parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia, along with — for the first time ever in history — a piece of America.”

“And that’s the Vinland Map,” said Amanda Hollis, as if it were necessary to sum up what had been said.

“Not entirely,” clarified the voice. “Based on everything we know, the actual Vinland Map was lost, but a copy of the map was saved. It’s from the fifteenth century.”

“History is dominated by copies,” thought Amanda Hollis, and suddenly felt very levelheaded again. But then she remembered the chandelier in Drexel, which had been an original, and said: “And where is the map now?”

“At Yale,” explained the voice.

“In the archive?” asked Amanda Hollis. “Or in some storage depot?”

“Maybe,” said the voice, “but really no one can say, because everything related to the map is strictly secret.”

“Just like my transparent Americas,” thought Amanda Hollis. But the voice wasn’t supposed to know anything about that, and so Amanda Hollis kept quiet about it and instead she just said “Oh!” and “A secret map!” and then nothing more, since the voice had continued on before she could call out: “How exciting!”

“If it’s true that the copy is real, that would mean that not just America’s existence but also its location was known in Europe at least half a century before Columbus, and if you figure in the lost original, then much longer.”

“That definitely changes some things,” said Amanda Hollis, who really wanted to ask how you can recognize a real copy.

But the voice in the pipe couldn’t be stopped, and Amanda Hollis was afraid she wouldn’t be able to keep pace with her catalog-card writing. And so she kept silent. And kept writing, though she would have liked to know where the voice got its information about the Vinland Map if it were so secret. But she could still ask that later, now the important thing was to note down everything of significance, even if it was hardly more than an assertion whose validity couldn’t be checked for the time being. Which also applied to what the voice told her next.

“That means that Columbus himself held the Vinland Map in his hands to convince the Spanish king that his voyage to America was necessary.”

“But how did the map end up at Yale?” asked Amanda Hollis.

“That’s a long story,” said the voice.

“How long?” asked Amanda Hollis.

“A few centuries long,” said the voice.

“Then I’ll have to go get my sloppy joes,” said Amanda Hollis. “I haven’t had my breakfast yet, you know,” and disappeared up the stairs.


The squat lead-gray door swung shut behind Amanda Hollis and a dozen archivists suddenly stepped out of their offices as if they all had an appointment and scurried down the hall before her eyes.

For a moment, she thought that something had happened, that the rush might even be the result of her disappearance into the depths of the building. But then she noticed that the archivists held apples and sandwiches in their hands and that they were going out to the meadow to eat their breakfast together in the first rays of sunshine in weeks.


“Wait a minute,” thought Amanda Hollis as soon as the archivists had disappeared and the hall was empty again. “It’s much too late for their morning break,” and peered through one of the archivists’ open doors, as if looking for evidence. Then she saw the clock, which hung at the same point on the wall in all of the rooms. And it showed nine o’clock.

“It must be stopped,” thought Amanda Hollis, pulled her head back from that door, and stuck it in the next one.

Nine o’clock there too.

Another door, another clock.

Nine o’clock.

The next door.


The next door.


The next door.


The next door.

Nine. No, stop, nine-oh-one.

“It’s not stopped,” thought Amanda Hollis, who wasn’t quite ready to believe what was in front of her, and therefore kept stretching her neck through the other doors to check the time, and everywhere the clock hung at the same place on the wall, and everywhere it was nine-oh-one, and when she opened her own door, it was nine-oh-two.

“There’s still eighteen minutes official morning break left” was all that Amanda Hollis could think at that moment, though that meant that she had six minutes for each of her three sloppy joes — which was still twice as long as she really needed.

But then another thought occurred to her, one that was less about breakfast than about time itself, and Amanda Hollis sensed (or at least had the feeling) that time down in the basement passed more slowly.

However, she immediately concluded that that was completely illogical. It would mean that time passed more quickly up here. But just the opposite was true, which meant that time in the basement didn’t pass more slowly, but rather more quickly, and the fact that she had the feeling of having been down below for a long time stood only seemingly in contradiction to that fact. Actually, it was proof that down below, time passed more quickly; that in truth — which is to say, when observed from here up above — it passed more slowly than felt and perceived.

Which brought Amanda Hollis back to the starting point of her thoughts, though only the way she felt had changed, from an “ah” to an “oh.” Viewed in that light, it was honestly nothing more than a thought — one that must be expressed:

“It doesn’t take much to throw time into disarray,” thought Amanda Hollis. “And” — glancing at William Croswell — “space too.”

And look, there he lay. William Croswell. On her desk. As only William Croswell could lie on a desk. Motionless. In 914 parts. Like a puzzle that was happy never to be completed.

“Who knows what they stole from you over the course of time,” it occurred to Amanda Hollis as she looked for her sloppy joes. “Your laziness must have been an invitation for shady figures to steal the best parts of your story. I mean, maybe they even stole the decisive pieces, and you didn’t even notice. No wonder that you were never inducted into the great book of librarians. They probably just didn’t know any better. But things aren’t going any differently for me. And now, now you lay before me like a sandwich missing all of the important ingredients,” she said and reached for her three sloppy joes, which had taken shelter behind the cardboard boxes and which she now fumbled out into the open.

But William Croswell didn’t care. And Amanda Hollis had found what she was looking for.

So she left the room, looked one last time at the clock before closing the door, saw that time must have leaped forward, saw that it was now nine-fourteen, said “Nine-fourteen,” as if her mouth had to confirm what her eyes had seen, and then, “Nine hundred fourteen pieces,” and climbed (“It must mean something!”) down the steps (“But what? What?”) into the archive’s archive.

It had come to feel completely natural. Which means it didn’t feel like anything at all. It was easy, as if she were going to work instead of breakfast.


“Here I am again!” cried Amanda Hollis, who didn’t intend to let the voice in the pipe notice any change in her demeanor, which is why she immediately took her habitual seat, grabbed one of the three sloppy joes, and began undressing it.

But the pipe lay silent before her.

And so Amanda Hollis looked to the left, saw how the pipe ran through the wall toward the outside, looked to the right, saw how it came in, asked herself if such a pipe couldn’t come in from the left and go out toward the right, didn’t arrive at a conclusion, and bit — in the hope of getting a reaction out of someone — into sloppy joe number one.

But nothing happened. Twice. And when Amanda Hollis bit into sloppy joe number one for the third time, it was over for him, and she had no choice but to chew him up and swallow him down.

Once that was done, she had the feeling that the pipe was looking at her. “What is it?” asked Amanda Hollis. And since the pipe didn’t say anything: “I didn’t do anything.”

But then she noticed that the gaze coming from the pipe wasn’t directed at her, but rather aimed past her, it passed her, so to speak, and tried to point out something standing along the wall behind her.

“Heath Cover Evil!” shot through Amanda Hollis’s mind, but when she turned around, there was once again no one to be seen, just the massive metal cabinets that were lined up one next to the other against the wall like prisoners waiting to be executed, onetime iron guards who, disgusted by their own actions, at some point went soft and fell off the wagon, and therefore had to fall themselves — far below, in the catacombs of the very Americas that they had once served.

But Amanda Hollis’s thoughts weren’t on what was inside the cabinets, be they erstwhile guards or not. Her attention was focused only on the exterior. The exterior, which was now different from before.

Someone had stuck big sheets of paper to the doors.

The sheets were covered in writing from top to bottom, and in such a small script that it was impossible to recognize what they said from where she was on the stairs. So Amanda Hollis stood and walked over to take a better look.

She chose a sheet hanging on her cabinet (as if each one had an individual copy, a customized version of the original), but it became clear to her after a few scrutinizing glances to the left and right that the same text was written on all of the sheets and, since there were no traces of carbon paper, each one must have been typed individually.

But there was more (or rather, less), because it didn’t look as if the Xerox reproduction behemoth had been deployed. Its existence was regarded as an established fact not just in Amanda Hollis’s eyes but by all of Pusey, which in all honesty had less to do with the two copied sheets in William Croswell’s archive than the visit they had received from a certain Rolland E. Stevens. Stevens traveled throughout the land and its libraries with the copy-spewing monstrosity, publishing his experiences in an essay titled “Library Experiment with the Xerox 914 Copier” (published in Library Resources & Technical Services, 1962) — experiences that were just as monstrous as the monster itself. Indeed, it was said, his copies had not infrequently exceeded the quality of the originals!

Of course, no one in Pusey had ever actually laid eyes on the leviathan, but at that moment Amanda was thinking less about the copier itself and more about the number assigned to it, which — and it couldn’t be a coincidence! — was the same as the number of William Croswell’s paper-based literary remains: 914.

To say nothing of the time — “Nine-fourteen!”

What in the world was going on here?!

Amanda Hollis didn’t know. And even if she did, she couldn’t say, because the line from Job 9:14 suddenly popped into her head. It was supposed to have been the theme of that Tenebrae she’d wanted to go to before the grain elevator had put on its own Tenebrae for the city, sweeping away all others: “How much less shall I answer him, and choose out my words to reason with him?”

Who on earth was “him”? Who was the person she had to answer? The Almighty? But he went by the name of Heath Cover Evil around here! And Amanda Hollis was supposed to find words for and not against him.

And even if she had known who he was — what should she say? That a copy monster lived behind one of the big iron doors?

But that was completely wrong; after all, the monster certainly wouldn’t fit in a cabinet like that, to say nothing of the fact that what was stored inside wasn’t waiting to be reproduced, but rather destroyed.

Amanda Hollis knew that her cabinet, at least, was filled to the top with paper, and she was sure that the others were too. Besides, the sheets hanging on the doors had been written on a typewriter, and what was printed on them wasn’t just the confirmation of the drive toward annihilation, but rather an incitement to its immediate realization.

“The archive’s archive is going to be liquidated,” said Amanda Hollis, as soon as she’d read the directive, and her voice sounded muffled, it was as if there were a film wrapped around her tongue. “In the future, the superfluous files will be removed from circulation immediately.”

But who was she saying that to? And above all: who had written what was printed there?

Amanda Hollis had a suspicion, though she couldn’t be sure, and there was no signature to be seen.

So she turned back to the pipe. After all, it had given her that gaze, which meant that it knew about what happened down here during her absence.

“Who did it?” asked Amanda Hollis. And because that was perhaps a little vague, “Who stuck the papers to the cabinets?”

“How would I know that?” asked the voice in the pipe.

Now that wasn’t the answer that Amanda Hollis had been expecting, but she didn’t allow herself to become discouraged.

“You were here,” she said, and it wasn’t a question.

“Yes,” said the voice, “I was.”

“So you must have seen something,” Amanda Hollis surmised, and it sounded like a solution, an answer, triumph. But it was neither the one nor the other, and certainly not the third.

“Who do you think I am?” asked the voice with the inflection of an answer. “I’m a voice in a pipe. I can’t see anything, I only respond to sound.”

“But …” said Amanda Hollis.

“No buts,” said the voice. “Or do you think that just because I’m entrusting you with a few secrets that I know about everything?”

“Yes,” said Amanda Hollis.

“No,” said the voice.

And with that, the matter was closed.

But only for a brief moment. Amanda Hollis had hardly sat back down on the step and removed sloppy joe number two from its aluminum garment when she had an idea. An idea that would help her force the voice to tell her what he knew — and what she had long suspected. But she had to be careful, because the voice was forewarned and it would only evade a full-frontal attack or fall completely silent.

So Amanda Hollis decided to bring forth the insight from the belly of the pipe with two or three suitable questions, and asked (after taking a mighty bite into sloppy joe number two): “Did you hear something rustle?”


“Did you hear something rustling while I was gone?”

“No,” said the voice.

“Good,” said Amanda Hollis.

“Good?” asked the voice.

“No,” said Amanda Hollis.

In other words: Heath Cover Evil was out of the game as a possible perpetrator, and all Amanda Hollis had left was sloppy joe number three, which lay quivering in her lap.

“Where did we leave off?” she asked as soon as she’d disrobed it and wrapped her hands around its white-bread neck.

“With the question of how the Vinland Map came to Yale,” said the voice. “But wait, I just heard something rustling.”

“Mmm … tha’s not th … mmm … rustling I’s … mmm … talking ’bout” came tumbling out of Amanda Hollis’s mouth, while big saucy crumbs flew in futile parabolas toward the pipe.

“Just a couple of feet more and I would have spit on the pipe,” it occurred to Amanda Hollis as she observed the crumbs she’d sprayed. “Then the aluminum foil would have been covered in the sloppy joe’s remains, and you could have mistaken it for the inside of a gigantic sandwich wrapper instead of the outside of a pipe.”

Luckily, the voice hadn’t noticed the volley of crumbs, or if he did, he ignored it. And as sloppy joe number three began its final journey in Amanda Hollis’s hands, the voice began to tell of the one who brought the Vinland Map to Yale.

“Now, we’d said that the Vikings — or actually the Icelanders, because the Vinland Sagas were actually written in Iceland — these Icelandic Vikings drew the Vinland Map sometime in the thirteenth century, only to lose it again. Of course no one knows exactly what happened.”

“Because they were drunk,” said Amanda Hollis, and it sounded as if she were really certain.

“Because the thirteenth century is seven hundred years ago, and most Viking sources from that era have disappeared,” said the voice, and it sounded as if he had a good grasp on history. “Though I honestly don’t mean to imply that they didn’t get plastered and set the Vinland Map down somewhere and not find it again. Or they chewed it up.”

“Chewed it up?” asked Amanda Hollis.

“The famed Icelandic chewing maps,” said the voice. “The Vikings drew all of the countries on them that they’d conquered, and then they chomped on them to show that they were the victors.”

And since Amanda Hollis was silent, trying to remember whether Professor Orscube had ever said anything about Icelandic chewing maps in his lectures, or at least about catalog cards that had been gnawed on (but she didn’t come up with anything), the voice cheerfully continued: “For that reason, it’s sometimes called crispy parchment. Though it’s more like a sort of chewing tobacco. But harder. And considering the Icelandic climate, it was probably also frozen.”

“I can’t imagine that anyone would enjoy chomping on a piece of frozen parchment,” said Amanda Hollis. To her, a meal like that represented the polar opposite of her sloppy joes. “Besides, the Vikings didn’t conquer America. You said it yourself, they were only there for three years.”

“That’s true,” said the voice.

“So it doesn’t make any sense to believe that they chewed up the Vinland Map. Because if they had, it wouldn’t have been passed down to us.”

“At least not if they munched it away before someone could make a copy of it. But that’s exactly what happened. Someone copied the map.”

“And who was that?”

“No one can say. There’s no name on it. Which means that neither the author nor the copyist is known. The only thing that can be said with certainty is that the parchment is from the fifteenth century. Around 1440, to be exact, at least if you take the watermark on de Bridia’s work as an indication. You see, the Vinland Map and his Historia Tartarorum were bound together. The Vinland Map was in front, with de Bridia’s Mongolian history behind it, but since Tartarorum is so hard to pronounce, in common parlance it was called the Tartar Relation.

“At any rate, what’s clear is that someone combined the two works at some point. But it’s totally unclear who did it and when and why, and the only thing we can say for sure is that the Vinland Map itself doesn’t have a watermark.”

“That’s an awful lot of holes in a story,” said Amanda Hollis.

“That may be,” said the voice, “but America did end up on our maps.”

“And how did the Vinland Map end up at Yale?”

“Well, at first it didn’t end up anyplace at all. In fact, for a full five hundred years, the Vinland Map went missing, or at least it didn’t show up anywhere and wasn’t mentioned in any other sources.”

“Sounds strange.”

“It is,” said the voice. “But in 1957, the map suddenly cropped up. And guess where?”

“In Europe,” said Amanda Hollis, remembering what had happened to this de Bridia’s history of Mongolia.

“And where in Europe?” asked the voice, which evidently was in the mood for a little game.

“It definitely wasn’t Poland,” said Amanda Hollis.

“No,” said the voice, “you’re right about that.”

“And we were already in France.”

“We were.”

“Then I’ll go with Spain,” said Amanda Hollis, who was beginning to get the gist of things.

“Hundred points,” came from the pipe.

“And Ferrajoli was behind it, wasn’t he?!” asked Amanda Hollis, though it didn’t sound like a question at all.

“Absolutely correct,” said the voice. “And you know where he got the Vinland Map?”

“Sure do, he stole it in Saragossa!” cried Amanda Hollis, and it sounded a little like “Stop, thief!”

“No,” said the voice, “even if it’s tempting to assume that Ferrajoli stole the map in Saragossa. But considering all that we know, the Vinland Map was never there.”

“I get it. Books that were supposedly never in the library were actually there but stolen. And books that you’d think were stolen were never there.”

“You could put it that way,” said the voice.

“So where did Ferrajoli get the map?” asked Amanda Hollis, who had the feeling that she was on the correct path, even if she had to ask the way now and again.

“I don’t know,” said the voice. “Supposedly he got it from a European private collection, but no one has been able to verify that yet.”

“Because you’re stuck in a pipe and can’t go to Europe,” said Amanda Hollis in a rather provocative tone.

“Because in comparison with a European private collection, a voice in a pipe is an open book,” said the voice. “But as long as we’re on the topic of ‘open things,’ it was in Ferrajoli’s Fiat Topolino, or rather its open trunk, where the Vinland Map suddenly popped up again in 1957.”

“He wasn’t trying to use it as a map?” asked Amanda Hollis.

“No,” said the voice. “Though that would explain why he drove his car aimlessly through half of Europe.”

“What happened?” asked Amanda Hollis, who was on top of things again, and also eager to tackle all of this aimlessness with her fountain pen and notecards.

“Well, let’s just say that there was a little ‘conversion problem.’ After Ferrajoli buys the map at the beginning of 1957 from the unknown European collector, he tries to convert the parchment into pesos as quickly as possible, traveling through half of Europe in the process. He starts in Spain, but no one there wants to have the map. So he drives on to France, but apparently no one was interested in it there either, at which point Ferrajoli leaves the Continent and offers the Vinland Map to an Englishman named Joseph Irving Davis. Davis owns a bookshop in London called Davis and Orioli that mainly deals in old manuscripts.”

“And he bought it then?”

“No,” said the voice. “Davis had been in the business for far too long to buy a map without proper proof of origin. And he also makes it clear to Ferrajoli that no one else will buy a map like that either. And so Ferrajoli tries to get that proof — and Davis has the necessary contacts, because he knows a few people at the only institution that can provide such proof: the British Museum.”

“The British Museum,” whispered Amanda Hollis reverently. But the voice had other concerns.

“The first person Ferrajoli and Davis meet with is a man named George Duncan Painter, who is responsible for incunabula at the museum.”

“Incunabula?” asked Amanda Hollis. “Interesting!” And she threw the pipe a conspiring glance, followed by a smile that betrayed knowledge of a silent agreement.

The voice had continued on in the meantime.

“Based on everything we can glean from the copy of the protocol that was drafted at that point, Painter receives Ferrajoli and Davis in March 1957 at the British Museum. They show him the Vinland Map together with the attached Tartar Relation, and then he brings the two of them into a big, round room, a map room where the head of the handwriting department, Bertram Schofield, is waiting with flock of employees.”

“And then? What happened then?” asked Amanda Hollis, who felt like she was reading one of those old English crime novels, except in this case it was being read aloud to her, which actually had its advantages, as if she were present in person, witnessing the action directly, as if she herself were part of the story.

“Now, basically nothing happens. Schofield and Painter examine the map, and later a man named Skelton comes in his capacity as the head of the museum’s cartographic department.”

“Skelton?” asked Amanda Hollis, amazed. “Raleigh Ashlin Skelton?”

“Yes,” said the voice. “You know him?”

“Not personally,” said Amanda Hollis, which wasn’t a lie but also wasn’t the whole truth. Actually, said Skelton had recently made a lengthy visit to Harvard, during which he mainly demonstrated an interest in the map collection at the Widener Library but had also stuck his neck into Pusey, but only on the first floor, since there was a collection of maps there that were old enough to attract an Englishman’s attention.

Skelton had remained for half a year and only returned to London in the spring, though not before he gave the Harvard librarians a few suggestions that were really orders. After all, he hadn’t come to absentmindedly rummage through a few old cards, but rather to take the entire collection to task, to assess the complete catalog.

His verdict was unequivocal. In his opinion, the catalog was completely outdated, which made the maps in the library nearly impossible to find. And so Skelton started making suggestions, and because it wasn’t enough for him to impose order — or what he considered to be order — soon all of Pusey knew that next door in the Widener Library things were being shaken up, and also shaken down and from side to side. And it was all on account of an old British rooster who strutted through the cataloging department like a commander and saw it as his responsibility to round up the old ladies who worked there like spring chickens and chase them down the halls.

However — as Amanda Hollis was also aware, since the rumors about it ran through Pusey like rain through the library pipes — Skelton’s zeal was far from exhausted, as was demonstrated by the fact that he didn’t just spend his time rounding up the librarians but also writing. It was said that he was working on a text about a map — a map that no one had laid eyes on and that, it was said, wasn’t even in the library. And he chased off anyone who wanted to talk to him about the map or even his text, so that it was soon said that for this English map whiz, writing and playing the barnyard cock were one and the same, and he spent his days shooing the chickens through the halls with one hand and writing his text about the mysterious map with the other.

Now, that may be a bit of an exaggeration. But it was more than hearsay that at the end of his stay at Harvard, Skelton wrote a report in which he emphasized the importance of a fundamental change in the classification and storage of the maps and, moreover, suggested that the first and last map catalog was from 1831, a fact that led Amanda Hollis to a thought — one she didn’t dare say aloud:

“In William Croswell’s day, there was also a firebrand named Kirkland instead of Skelton. Instead of being a peculiar cartographile, he was the highly powerful Harvard president.”

But that was another topic, an analogy that originated with her and therefore — her hand seemed to be dabbling in the thought independent of and parallel to her head — was promptly written down on a catalog card.

“Maybe the voice only directed my attention to this Skelton to clue me into the fact that history is a conglomeration of incidents that all could have turned out completely differently. After all, a year after my arrival, the Institute of Geographic Exploration was shut down, and the map collection located there was brought to the Widener Library. So if I had come to Harvard just one year later, instead of bygone lives, I would have been writing the fates of bygone countries on the notecards.”

Which didn’t exactly sound like an exciting day’s work either, unless you managed to travel through a map as you would through the real world. Which would raise questions about one’s work ethic — and actually did raise them, in Amanda Hollis’s case …

“It’s quite possible that the story about the laggardly ladies in the cataloging department was just an overelaborate analogy, the kind that I’ve told myself after the voice gives me the necessary keyword, and all of it only to confront myself with my own work habits.”

And while she was at it … “Then my behavior toward William Croswell up to this point would be roughly equivalent to what his journey through Europe with the Vinland Map must have been for Ferrajoli, including the rejection of the map in London.

“But that would basically have just been the prelude, which would make sense, because it’s only logical that if a story were told to you in an archive that the prelude to this story would be told in the archive’s archive. From that point of view, the files on William Croswell were exactly what the Vinland Map is, something whose actual significance no one has yet grasped. If the voice managed to recognize the true meaning of this map, I would probably also understand which role William Croswell plays, and not just for Heath Cover Evil and Harvard but also for all of library science. And who knows whether William Croswell did actually have something to do with the Vinland Map.

“One thing was clear in any case: the voice in the pipe feels exactly as I do. He has all of the information about the Vinland Map but can’t manage to piece it together, while I have all available files on William Croswell but can’t manage to piece them together.”

Which raised a whole series of questions that Amanda Hollis immediately posed to herself, even if they were the kind of questions that tended to grip her, ones that long ago had taken hold of her — questions that came from the upper right and crept through her being, down below in the basement …

“Did Heath Cover Evil know something about the Vinland Map? Maybe that’s why he gave me the files on William Croswell. So that I create the connection he needs to let his genealogical root system thrive, so that it originates in American soil, prospers and multiplies there. Heath Cover Evil, who paces his office in broad strides two floors above me, longing for the night, when he can creep undisturbed into bowels of his concrete bunker and rustle into the offices where we prime the present with a coating of the past …”

But were those really her thoughts? Or had the voice just insinuated all of that to her, steered her in this direction with the help of words — and she followed this inspiration, this stipulation, just as she did with the library journal lying open on her desk.

Now, the fact that the voice in the pipe didn’t and couldn’t know anything about the situation on her desk did speak against this. On the other hand, perhaps the voice had assigned her the same role as Heath Cover Evil had given her? In other words, was it perhaps her “secret task” to establish connections?

That was certainly a possibility, but hadn’t she already taken on this task of her own accord? For her own sake, after being alone down here for seven years? And for the sake of the person speaking to her from the pipe? But above all, what did the pipe know about William Croswell? And what did Heath Cover Evil know about the voice in the pipe?

Well, whatever the case, one thing was clear: she had once again become the unknown in an equation, except that this time she wasn’t the only unknown, and besides, she was having a story told to her instead of writing one in keyword form, which at the same time meant that the solution to the puzzle wasn’t in her hands alone, and she was reliant on the voice telling her more.

And yet, as different as the points of departure may have been, one thing hadn’t changed: though the story was bigger, more convoluted, and more jumbled; though it extended far beyond her, Amanda Hollis — nonetheless, it fell to her to tie everything together.

In other words: this story hinged on her, she was the X that marked the spot, the point where all forces joined — and simultaneously the point from which everything began to diverge. Which nearly cried out for an analogy of the sort that Amanda Hollis so loved.

“I’m the filling in the sandwich, the tomato – onion – ground beef mush, the stuff that tries to keep the two pieces of bread stuck together, because I’m what stands between Heath Cover Evil and the voice in the pipe, and when I’m back up in my office, I even sit between them.”

At which point Amanda Hollis rose hastily, dashed up the stairs, and tore open the squat lead-gray door as if the sea lay behind it.



Back in the hallway that connected the basement to her office, Amanda Hollis stood alone for a second. Then the archivists stepped through their doors as if they all had a second appointment that day (and actually, they did), and Amanda Hollis realized that just as for her, for the archivists the hallway was a way station, and that the only difference was that her path to freedom didn’t lead up to the library roof but down into the basement — and sometimes up out of it into her office.

But the sun had doubtless already disappeared behind the clouds over the concrete bunker, and the people who had just been sitting in their chambers of paper were now walking outside in long columns to feel the year’s first snowflakes on their cracked lips.

“The archivists are the teeth of a zipper that someone is pulling on,” thought Amanda Hollis as she glided to the right into her office and saw that both hands on the clock were pointing straight up.

“Twelve o’clock,” she said, and then “Lunch time,” and “Snow morsels,” and “The end of history.”

But then the big hand edged a tick farther and the hinge opened, creating a gap, the premonition of another X, as if it wanted to show Amanda Hollis the sort of task she had undertaken — the task of bringing the two hands together at twelve o’clock and uniting them at a point, in a single space. At least that’s what it was when you viewed it as an analogy.

And so it was that Amanda Hollis looked through her freshly written notecards, cleanly recorded a few things from the voice’s most recent statements, and tried to make it yield up a little system.

William Croswell (book cataloger):


Raleigh Ashlin Skelton (map cataloger):

London / Harvard

Ferrajoli (catalog-card destroyer):

Saragossa / London / Harvard?

Did all of them end up at Harvard?

“Hogwash,” said Amanda Hollis and stuck the cap back on her pen. “Skelton is back in London, and Ferrajoli is sitting in prison somewhere in Spain.”

And yet the case was still open in Amanda Hollis’s eyes.

“Here at Harvard, they don’t have any sympathy for people who commit violence against maps and books,” she said, and looked around as if accepting applause for her statement.

But there was no one there to applaud, and in Amanda Hollis’s mind a realization bubbled up to the surface: that the library where she found herself was basically nothing but a prison. As was all of Harvard around it.

And as far as the violence went, her attempt to turn the defeated William Croswell into a hero wasn’t exactly what you would call an exemplary approach to historiography.

But since this realization wasn’t one she could live with, Amanda Hollis stood up, stepped out into the hallway, saw that she had left the squat lead-gray door open, walked to it, stuck her head into the stairwell, and called out toward the pipe (from above, since that seemed safer): “Ferrajoli is sitting in prison. He’s out of the game for good!”

Then she smoothed her blouse, turned around, and went back to her room to write keywords.

“Ferrajoli was released a few months ago,” said the voice in the pipe quietly, in the shrugging tone you speak in when you know that no one is there to listen. “Good behavior, poor health, it’s always the same …”


Amanda Hollis sat in her room picking keyword after keyword to unlock William Croswell, but although her fingers flew across the paper as if of their own volition (or perhaps for this very reason), nothing turned out right, and as soon as she’d written down a few words, she threw them into the wastepaper basket. Meanwhile, just feet below, in the room where the archive met with its own history, mighty cabinets were being opened, and with each movement of their heavy, metallic doors dust was brushed from the floor, swirling upward and circling through the space around the pipe like an armada of mad planets. And if Amanda Hollis hadn’t been sitting in her office, and instead had climbed downstairs into the basement, she would have noticed that there was more dust than was preferable in view of the delicate files, whether they were sentenced to death or not.

But Amanda Hollis didn’t go downstairs. Nor did she look down. Now she only had eyes for William Croswell. Or for what remained of him. But how, she asked herself, could someone like William Croswell balance out a find of such significance as the Vinland map? What was a useless book-title cataloger from Harvard against the first mapping of a piece of America?

Amanda Hollis didn’t know. But it didn’t even matter to her at that point. Let Heath Cover Evil and the readers of The Register rack their erudite brains over it. For the time being, she would only stick her nose in matters that were laid out on the table for her, regardless of how old and inane they were.

The hourglass in Amanda Hollis’s head stood upright and sand trickled through. Not even William Croswell’s Latin ode was big enough to catch in the neck.


The next day — Amanda Hollis had made no progress with her keyword writing and, instead of unifying the remains of William Croswell into a system, had only swept some words up into a pile that lay in the wastepaper basket and amounted to the same nothing — a Remington coin-operated typewriter suddenly stepped into her life. That is to say, rolled in. Decommissioned. From the library. A catastrophe for a Remington.

It was a standard Type-O-Meter, painted black, with a large red coin-slot box on the right side and the words made at ilion on a narrow metal strip below the keys. Printed on the casing was a pointing hand below the words “30 minutes service 10¢” in a shimmering gold font. Finger pointing right

“No one uses it anymore,” said Dick Walrus, the custodian, who had been commissioned with the device’s disposal. “Best-case scenario, I find some buttons in the coin case. That is, if the slot isn’t stuffed full with prophylactics,” at which point he removed the wheels screwed onto the base of the machine, patted the casing of the Remington with his fleshy hands, and disappeared from the room without another word.

But there was a catalog card stuck in the Remington’s roller, and “REDS” was written on it.

“Room exhausted in depot storage,” deciphered Amanda Hollis, and was certain that Heath Cover Evil was behind the matter, though she didn’t know what he was trying to tell her with it apart from the word itself.

Was she in danger of being decommissioned? Was there no longer room for her in the archive, history’s depot? Because she cost money but hadn’t delivered any keywords for a week? Or was she simply being told to write her keywords using the machine from now on? But why?

Amanda Hollis didn’t know, and all she could do was try to deal with the situation at hand.

So it stood there, the Remington, like a meal left half-eaten in a cafeteria. And Amanda Hollis stood in front of it. She may not have had a single sloppy joe in her hands, but she had a head on her shoulders whose innermost thoughts were consumed with desires, memories, and unsolved riddles …

What, wondered Amanda Hollis as she prowled around the machine like a cat around a pond full of fish, what if the depot at Drexel was also full back then? After all, the chandelier wasn’t the only piece of art that needed to be saved from the driving rain after the explosion. There were also a number of classical statues in the main hall of the university. They were replicas, copies, that is, composed entirely of plaster, which threatened to warp quite unclassically if they came into contact with water.

As far as the chandelier was concerned, it would also have been removed then and brought into one of Philadelphia’s many basements, and who knows, maybe was simply never found again in the endless corners and passageways, and now, now it was still hanging below the earth, imagining itself the sun at the center of a hollow earth to come.

“Nonsense!” thought Amanda Hollis, but something shot her into the head from the upper right.

“Beer cellars! There are beer cellars everywhere in Philadelphia! The breweries set up dozens of them under the city!”

And because she had seen them with her own eyes, the memory of the day underground in Philly was suddenly at the fore of her mind again: “Some of the breweries had carved out proper arches in the cliffs. Tens of thousands of square feet, forty feet deep. A subterranean library for alcohol instead of files. A beer bookstore where you could borrow whatever you wanted, bottle or jug.”

And then, a little more soberly: “Maybe Professor Orscube really did have the motivations proper to a librarian when he showed us the beer cellars on our field trip. Anyway, most of them were already empty back then and were rented out by the breweries to anyone who had something to store. Very possible that someone also brought the chandelier into one of the beer cellars. Especially if you consider the fact that it had to be taken away because a granary exploded — a granary that probably belonged to a brewery, like most in the city …”

Amanda Hollis shook herself and attempted, if not to drain the fermenting brew of desires, memories, and unsolved riddles swirling in her skull, then at least to block it out and attend to the catalog card in the typewriter. But her eyes immediately slid away again (like sweaty fingers trying to hold on to the top of a pipe wrapped in aluminum foil), her gaze careened unsteadily and fell (ting-ting) down into the chasm under the type bars, then climbed (don’t stay down! Get up! We’re off!) onto one of the long bars toward the front, got stuck on the “O” on the key, and tipped (oh dear!) over the edge as if in slow motion, only to land below on a row of keys in the next moment. They were elevated (but why? What for?) above the actual keyboard and consisted of five red buttons with no markings (the goddamned Reds!). Her gaze fled to the row below (2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 — backspace — 0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2, but where was the 1?), then — nonchalantly — the small round steps (W-A-X) sashayed up and down (Fred Astaire on the show staircase! “Swing Time.” It’s not in the cards! It’s not in the cards!!!) to then finally land on the space key, which (for what reason? Who had split it asunder?) was divided in the middle and (the Cumans! The dogs!) featured four copper-colored rivets.

What followed (oh eyes, marled eyes …) was the frame on which the machine had rolled in on. It (evil intent, innuendo, treason!) looked like one of those walkers that had been in general use for some time and reminded Amanda Hollis of what was in store for her if she spent the next thirty years in the library with her fat behind, watching the grains of her life silently falling.

“Well, so what!” called Amanda Hollis, who lifted her gaze, pulling her eyes from the machine and sticking them back in her head. “Then so be it. It was all the same for William Croswell.”

And after a moment’s contemplation: “The files say he was so timid that he was lost for the world from the hour of his birth,” she said and went back to the writing desk to stroll through William Croswell’s library journal with her eyes a little bit longer.

Two hours later, Amanda Hollis found a piece of typewriter in it. More precisely, it was a symbol, a hand, the same one printed on the casing of the Remington and pointing to the right at the slot promising thirty minutes of service for ten cents. Finger pointing right

However, in William Croswell’s library journal, the hand was drawn on the inner margin of one of the journal’s pages, a declaration of his idleness. And even this was a promise of a service, though one of quite a different character.


It appeared that William Croswell’s world had shifted on a Saturday. It was June 14, 1817, and according to everything that Amanda Hollis could glean from the journal, William Croswell had spent the last five years roaming the library corridors, opening cases of books, sleeping at his writing desk, and swimming in the nearby Charles River for relaxation. In between he made obscure notes; heard creaking doors, which gave him a headache; cursed the students who came to the library; and called in sick for sixteen months.

However, on June 14, 1817, William Croswell drew a hand in his journal pointing to the right and wrote: “In the library. Working.” And then: “Cutting my manuscripts into Slips.”

Something had gotten into him, as the Remington had gotten into Amanda Hollis’s office.

“Well, great,” thought Amanda Hollis, trying to make sense of the issue. “So here’s a typewriter that gives you thirty minutes to write down what you want or need to write down, and when time is up and even a single word is missing, requests another ten cents for its services. And there’s William Croswell, who took five years to write down what he was supposed to write down but for some reason didn’t want to write down, and when he could no longer avoid doing anything, cut everything apart.”

But both here and there was a hand — and as Amanda Hollis stroked hers along the Remington, her sweaty fingers left behind smears on the lacquer.

In the name of Holy Wiborada, what did it all mean?

Was William Croswell perhaps a typewriter? One in which President Kirkland had stuck a couple of thousands of dollars in the hope of getting a library catalog in return? Or had time simply slipped away for William Croswell, had he — like her — waited far too long to act? And when it couldn’t be avoided any longer, had he noticed that in all those years, it wasn’t just him but also the money that hadn’t been doing anything useful?

But even if that was the case, why in the world had he then cut up his manuscripts? And what had actually happened to the chandelier in Drexel? And what about the voice in the shiny pipe?

At least she could look into the latter, and no sooner had Amanda marched down the stairs into the cellar and sat down than the voice continued, as if it had simply been waiting for her, and it didn’t sound as if it were insulted that Amanda Hollis had shouted a few sharp words at it yesterday and then walked off.

At any rate, the voice continued where it had left off, and Amanda Hollis also sat down exactly where she had sat every morning for nearly seven years.

“We’re still in the British Museum,” commenced the voice, “in March of 1957, and the Vinland Map is lying in the map room, surrounded by English scholars examining the parchment, and the whole scene looks like an autopsy. As if someone had died.”

“So no one died this time?” asked Amanda Hollis, who realized that there had been astonishingly few deaths in the story since the Russian prince. To be exact, there hadn’t been any more, besides the poor dog that had been split in half, but Amanda Hollis was sure it was only a question of the time before …

“Well, nobody died per se,” said the voice. “On the other hand, for Bertram Schofield, the head of the handwriting department of the British Museum, the Vinland Map is dead after just a couple of minutes, dead as a doornail, even, since he doesn’t believe the map is real because the handwriting in the legend of the Vinland Map reminds him of maps produced by German forgers in the nineteenth century, and according to him, an acquisition cannot be made, nor can a certificate of authenticity be issued.”

“The Vinland map is a fake?” asked Amanda Hollis, sounding extremely disappointed. At least now the Germans were also at play, not just a superannuated Italian fascist with a predilection for Spanish nurses and bald dictators …

“Now, I don’t want to claim that the Vinland map is a forgery,” continued the voice, taking care to minimize disappointment and preserve the dramatic potential of the story. “Especially since not all those present at the British Museum share this view. At least, there are indications that the Mr. Painter and Mr. Skelton were of a different opinion even then, which is why it is no accident that they now support publication of the Vinland Map. However, they have to bow to their supervisor Schofield’s verdict anno ’57, whereupon Ferrajoli and Davis depart with their tails between their legs.”

“They failed,” posited Amanda Hollis, obviously caught up in thoughts about William Croswell.

“I wouldn’t say that,” explained the voice. “Davis had nothing to lose, and as soon as Ferrajoli was out of the British Museum, he hopped into his Topolino, threw the map into the trunk, and shot off toward Gevena.”

“To Nicolas Rauch!” cried Amanda Hollis, sounding as if she had found two fitting pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

“Completely correct, to good old discreet Nicolas Rauch. And now guess who’s also in Geneva at just this moment?”

“It couldn’t be …”

“Exactly, him. Laurence Claiborne Witten. Our man from Yale.”

“For Americans, Europe is like a village,” said Amanda Hollis, who actually only wanted to think it.

“And Switzerland is its market square,” assented the voice. “Or perhaps better said: the backroom of the bar where they end up. But in any case, no one knows why Witten is in Geneva on this exact day, but as Ferrajoli arrives and sees him next to Rauch in front of the door, he immediately opens the trunk and out comes — “

“The Vinland map!”

“Along with the corresponding Tartar Relation …”

And then, as if the voice had been there in person, “Of course, Rauch also casts a glance in Ferrajoli’s trunk, but for reasons known only to him, he lets Witten have the first claim — and he goes for it.”

“Meaning Witten buys the Vinland Map?”

“The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation. But of course only after he inspects them and comes to the conclusion that both are real.”

“Well, how did he figure that out?” Amanda Hollis wanted to know.

“No idea,” says the voice. “Maybe he bit the parchment, or maybe he just sniffed it or discovered some secret embossing on the cowhide. I don’t know. Anyway, we know that Witten bought both documents for a total of $3,500.”

“And what about this Davis?” asks Amanda Hollis, who had sucked up the content of her cards like the saucy remains of a sloppy joe.

“Davis is out of the game for now. But Ferrajoli also doesn’t tell Witten anything about his failed mission in England.”

“William Croswell also went to England,” remembered Amanda Hollis, glad she hadn’t said it aloud, “He also wanted to publish a map and hoped to get support for its publication in London, just like Ferrajoli. But just like Ferrajoli, William Croswell also didn’t get any support for his map and so he failed there.”

But since “failure” wasn’t a keyword, at least not on Harvard’s list, Amanda Hollis saw the vanishing point before her that infinity requires to unite parallel lines, even if they’re only the strands of two stories. And what’s more, she remembered that William Croswell later, like Ferrajoli, had found two other advocates in London for his map project (though they were named Bonnycastle and Nicholson rather than Skelton and Painter). In short, because everything was the way it was and Amanda Hollis could only sense the immense correlations but not — not yet! — put them into words, she kept things to herself for now. And wrote down what there was to be written down while the voice continued, unmoved.

“Now, to get to the point. Davis isn’t out of the game for long, since just two days after Witten buys the Vinland Map from Ferrajoli, Davis travels from London to Milan. And now guess who also appears in Milan at just this moment?”

“It can’t be …”

“It is! Laurence Claiborne Witten.”

“Europe really is a village,” said Amanda Hollis, who had the feeling that the story was increasingly circling around itself. On the other hand, if what the voice was saying was true and Switzerland really was the back room of this village pub called Europe, what was Italy?

“Quite simple,” said the voice, which would have had to have been a mind reader if Amanda Hollis hadn’t been thinking out loud. “Italy is the pub itself, the front room. Or it’s also the marketplace, for all I care. Anyway, Witten doesn’t meet Davis just anywhere, but at an auction for old manuscripts, and everyone knows that for book dealers these auctions are what the pub is for normal people — a place where you order something that has no practical use yet possesses a distinctive beauty value that can only be found in a pint for some and in tidbits of parchment for others.”

“Beer doesn’t appreciate in value,” said Amanda Hollis. “If you keep it for a while the price doesn’t increase, just the pressure.”

“That’s one argument,” said the voice, “but we can go into it later.”

“And what about the Vinland Map?” Amanda Hollis wanted to know. She had the feeling that the story was turning into an epic, as if what she listened to and attempted to write down was the inverse of Heath Cover Evil’s plan of action — the boiling down of a gigantic, indeed eerily gigantic, story to the size of an index card while he sat above her, attempting to make something great out of nothing and a hero out of a nobody.

“Where were we?” asked Amanda Hollis, setting aside her thoughts like a book with many pages left to read …

“Now, I’d said that Witten meets Davis in Milan and shows him the Vinland Map. But I don’t know why and for what purpose.”

“Maybe he wanted to boast about his purchase.”

“Very possible, but that would mean that Davis, just like Ferrajoli before him, also hadn’t told Witten anything about the journey that they took with the map to the British Museum, and Witten had also kept silent about the fact that Ferrajoli had already offered to sell him the Vinland Map before, but that he didn’t want it due to its unclear provenance.”

“You mean, Davis and Ferrajoli pulled a fast one on Witten?”

“Difficult to say. Witten may have known about the circumstances in Europe, which makes it unlikely, and anyway he had been active in the market for a couple of years and often traveled to Europe. However, if he was given the role of a dumb Yankee — by whomever — there still remains the question of whether selling a map with attached Tartar Relation for a total of $3,500 is worth it when you’re traveling lucklessly around half of Europe and also have to be humiliated by some experts at the British Museum.”

“That’s one argument,” said Amanda Hollis. “And that also explains how the map gets to America. Witten buys it and, after he shows it around Milan, flies back to Yale with it.”

“Yes,” says the voice. “But the story is only just beginning here. And I’m also afraid we’ve arrived at the problem.”

“There are problems?’ asks Amanda Hollis, who didn’t exactly know whether she meant it ironically.

“Indeed,” said the voice. “The worms, do you remember … ?”

“Yes,” mumbled Amanda Hollis, who had already forgotten the worms again. “What happened with the worms?”

“At first, nothing, or at least nothing that would bother anyone. Then Laurence Witten offers to sell the Vinland Map to Yale as soon as he’s back in New Haven.”

“When was that exactly?” Amanda Hollis wanted to know, in order to make note of it.

“In October 1957,” said the voice, “and Witten naturally wants to use the opportunity to sell the Tartar Relation at the same time, which is why he contacts the map department of the library, two men, to be exact, by the names of Thomas Marston and Alexander Vietor.”

“And the Yale boys jump on it, of course,” added Amanda Hollis, who was happy that the voice had not only listed the date and all relevant names but also created a connection to her and traced a line back to Harvard. Because pouncing on opportunities, that was what was they could do here, both the milliners and the scholars.

“Now Marston and Victor would indeed like to jump on it,” said the voice, “because the Vinland Map is completely unknown in America at this point and the map of a part of God’s Own Land before Columbus would have been an absolute sensation.”

“And the history of the Mongolians?”

“It’s also still unknown, at least as far as de Bridia’s version of Carpini’s trip goes, and on top of that, the cowhide in which the Tartar Relation has been placed is still in very good condition. However, something is on the back of the Vinland Map that makes it appear as if something is missing, as if map and text, Vinland and Mongolia, don’t fit together, because it’s written there — of course in Latin — ‘Description of First, Second, and Third Part of the Mirror.’”

“What kind of mirror?” asked Amanda Hollis, the tip of her pen poised against the paper.

“Soon,” reassured the voice, “there is yet another indication that they want to say yes at Yale, but can’t say yes, since both the Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation are filled with holes made by worms, and unfortunately in such a way that the wormholes don’t fit with each another, that is, are incongruent.”

“What, so American history is threatened by some worm munchings?” This shot into Amanda Hollis’s head from the upper right, although in this case it felt more like someone tipping a large bucket of disappointment over her, and then another bucket of disillusionment after that.

“Is that all? Are these the dangerous Mongolian hordes we were talking about at the beginning? A couple of worms that crawled through two old manuscripts? America the Great is nothing more than a lousy stack of parchment?”

And then, because Amanda Hollis needed to somehow give expression to the cold shower that had just fallen down on her (and nothing better came to mind instantly), “That really gets under my skin!”

Now, the question of what gets under, on, or around the skin of a human or a cow would also be worthy of discussion with regard to the scope of the Vinland Map and attached Tartar Relation, but it doesn’t change the fact that what the voice had told her was obviously a joke, even more so because the thing about the worms didn’t even seem to be of interest to the voice anymore. In any case, in the next moment it noted that at Yale they recused themselves from the purchase of the Vinland Map. Period. End. Finished.

Everything was quiet, frozen, still. Amanda Hollis on the staircase. The fountain pen in her hand. The voice in the pipe. One story higher up, in Amanda Hollis’s office, the clock continued to tick. It was 12:15 p.m. History formed a right angle to the present, and down in the cellar, the voice suddenly continued as if nothing had happened.

“Now, after Yale turned down the manuscripts, they fell back into obscurity, but this time it lasted only one year rather than five hundred, since on April 8, 1958, something strange happened. According to his own information, on this day Thomas Marston receives an advanced copy of the catalog of a London book dealer called — perhaps coincidentally, but also perhaps not — Davis and Orioli. In this catalog there is a manuscript of Leonardo Bruni’s translation of Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. Because this book still isn’t in Marston’s collection, he makes his way to a book dealer by the name C. A. Stonehill at Yale in order to ask his supervisor, a certain Mr. Barry, to order Bruni’s translation for him.

“On the way there, Marston pages through the catalog a bit more, and then notices another manuscript. This one includes the Speculum historiale, or The Mirror of History, by Vincent of Beauvais, a thirteenth-century French scholar. It is part of an ambitious encyclopedia that covers not only history but also nature, ethics, and all of theology. However, the manuscript in the catalog only contains a part of the mirror story, and is therefore only part of a part of the encyclopedia. Also, the work is only a copy from the fifteenth century, and not of great value from a purely textual perspective. But formally considered, The Mirror of History certainly has its significance, since it is one of the first works — and among historical works, the first at all — that uses an index.”

Amanda Hollis’s ears perked up.

“The index of The Mirror of History is strictly alphabetical. It is a so-called cross index, meaning it brings together both people and content.”

“And places,” interjected Amanda Hollis. But the voice didn’t hear her and that was just as well — and so he continued to talk.

“However, Vincent did not index his entire book, only the chapter titles of the individual volumes, which is why this index is essentially just a mirroring of a mirror of The Mirror of History.”

The tip of the pen in Amanda Hollis’s hand began to glow blue, perhaps even to smolder, while in her head little bubbles rose up that she attempted to catch with her hands.

But she didn’t have any hands free, since one was holding the pen and the other the cards, while the story slowly began to exceed the limits of comprehension and what it was possible to write down.

But that didn’t interest the voice at all; it briskly continued its lecture. And Amanda Hollis listened. And wrote in the hope that she had enough blank cards — and a pen with enough ink.

“Now with regard to the index of Vincent’s Mirror of History, it was revised in the fourteenth century by a man who was named John of Hautfuney, but otherwise remains in obscurity.”

“Just like this de Bridia and the chandelier thief from Drexel,” thought Amanda Hollis. But then another one of those thoughts from the upper right came to her …

“I also essentially remain in obscurity, and my work even more so. If I’m lucky, Heath Cover Evil will mention me in a footnote in his essay, if he ever creates one, and the fact that I’m sitting down here under the spotlight is essentially nothing more than an especially brightly shining example of the irony of history.”

And then, as if even that, i.e., her own life, still had to be summarized: “Posterity weaves no garlands for the index writer — and the present likewise has no designs on her.”

Which in all honesty didn’t give the voice any reason to display empathy. Particularly since it didn’t hear a whisper of Amanda Hollis’s dark premonition, her deep-blue resignation to fate. So it continued. Names, places, figures, facts … so many that at some point Amanda Hollis was overcome by the feeling that she was being spit on by the voice. But it was merely the jet of ink produced by her hand flying across the paper as if of its own will.

“Now as far as this John of Hautfuney goes,” said the voice, “he would have been completely unknown to us, were it not for the fact that in the same era, that is, in the fourteenth century in France, there is a bishop named Jean de Hautfune who might be the exact same person.”

“The same person?” asked Amanda Hollis.

Might,” said the voice. “But they probably really were two different people.”

A few seconds passed that seemed, at least to Amanda Hollis, as if they only existed to create space for a new disappointment to grow within her:

“It basically doesn’t matter who this John was, since what counts is that the index of The Mirror of History got bigger and the number of entries had multiplied. But he did even more. Namely, he began to use one keyword to refer to others in the index. For example, in front of abstinentia (abstinence), see also: alimentum (foodstuffs), cibus (meal, feed), comedere (to eat, to feast, to consume; figuratively: to ruin), as well as continentia (moderation), gula (throat, pharynx, and palate, as well as gluttony, gormandizing, and epicurism), ieiunium (hunger or fasting) and temperantia (self-control).”

“Stop!” yelled Amanda Hollis, who had stopped writing, unscrewed the long, steel snorkel under the tip of her fountain pen, and was pointing at the pipe with its tip. “We already said no more spiteful analogies!”

“Those are the facts!”

“That doesn’t matter to me!”

“I have even more.”

“I have no desire to listen to your cruelty any longer.”

And then, as if the voice in the pipe had demanded an explanation: “I didn’t choose that thing with abstinence, and as far as gluttony, it’s simply a result of it. If Trimteed Vandal shows up at my door some day, I’ll end the thing with the sloppy joes immediately and only inflict my self-indulgence on him.”

“Who is Trimteed Vandal?” the voice wanted to know.

“No one,” said Amanda Hollis, a little faster than she wanted to. But then she saw that the snorkel of her pen that had been unscrewed was still pointing toward the pipe, and she pulled it back in order to place the tip on the paper again and thought, no, not Trimteed Vandal, but William Croswell.

“William Croswell invented the ‘pen on a stick’ in 1827 and then sought people who wanted to learn how to write with it via an ad in the newspaper. But it looks like no one signed up, which isn’t that astonishing if you consider that it doesn’t necessarily make anything easier when your pen is mounted to the bottom end of a cane, which you hold at the top, and then try to write. And that’s completely disregarding the question of what skills of that nature are even good for.

“On the other hand, if William Croswell’s extra-long fountain pen had prevailed, I wouldn’t have pointed at the pipe with my pen, but rather poked into it, and who knows what all would have come out.”

And because a summary was still lacking here: “Sometimes it’s good when things don’t work, when someone fails at something they want to do.”

But that was obviously just an excuse, a way of not blaming herself, and Amanda Hollis knew it. But what she no longer knew was what the voice was last talking about and, for this reason — and because the voice remained silent — she asked (once again): “Where were we?”

“The facts about The Mirror of History,” said the voice.

“And which facts might those be?” asked Amanda Hollis, who no longer had the faintest idea.

“Now, I had said that The Mirror of History by Vincent of Beauvais had an excellent index, which wasn’t to his credit, however, but rather the work of a man by the name of John of Hautfuney, which is also no longer important, which isn’t to say it’s just as unimportant as the question of whether this index creator John of Hautfuney is one and the same as Bishop Jean du Hautfune, since Vincent’s Mirror of History only interested us because Thomas Marston from Yale buys a copy of it or, better said, a part of this copy originating from the fifteenth century, which is not really useful to anyone, which is why he gets it for seventy-five pounds sterling.”

“Is that all?” asked Amanda Hollis, who couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a gap between the voice and her, that is, between the said and the written.

“Not exactly,” explained the voice. “I said after all that there was a hint about The Mirror of History on the back of the Vinland Map. Certainly, I had also said that this hint gave the appearance that something wasn’t quite right with the Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation, as if something were missing.”

“History is a sequence of gaps,” said Amanda Hollis in her characteristic summarizing fashion.

“Perhaps,” said the voice. “But not for much longer.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Let’s just assume that it was this Mirror of History that was missing. And let’s also assume that someone discovers it and buys The Mirror of History and then the Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation and makes a big, thick scholarly book out of all three. What do you believe such a book would require?”

“An index,” said Amanda Hollis as if it were obvious. “A list of keywords!”

“Exactly,” agreed the voice, even though Amanda Hollis felt as if it was she who had been asked to agree — and that she had given it. But the voice had already continued.

“And now imagine that this book in fact exists and has not just one but three indexes: one general. One with the translation of all Latin terms. And one for the Mongolian and other names. Twenty large-format pages in total full of smaller references to what can be found in the book and where.”

“Interesting,” says Amanda Hollis.

“Yes,” said the voice. “Interesting, but not critical. What is critical is what is not detailed in this extremely detailed index. And that would be three names: Enzo Ferrajoli de Ry, Joseph Irving Davis, and Nicolas Rauch. And that despite the fact that the history of the Vinland Map and its purchase is described in detail in the book. And believe me, I checked for Ferrajoli under e, f, d, and r, tried every possibility for Davis, and in Rauch’s case found four other Nicolases I don’t even know.”

“Oh,” said Amanda Hollis, and it suddenly occurred to her that William Croswell was also not listed in The Librarians of Harvard College.

So there they were, the next parallels, the next nail in the coffin of coincidence, another hint at the hidden correlations of a story that Amanda Hollis was responsible for finding and writing down.

But it hadn’t gotten there yet — she hadn’t gotten there yet — and the voice clearly hadn’t either. And so it was that Amanda Hollis — instead of asking where the voice got its information from, how it came across this supposedly secret map and the book connected to it, and why it had looked through all the indexes — decided to play the index writer herself for a little longer. After all, that’s who she really was.

She may not have been riveted by the idea of indexing all of life and packing it into index words, but it was the task she had been given, a small gray mouse among great vibrant men, luminaries who weren’t interested in her — nor she in them, since her love was solely for the accuracy of the index and the comprehensiveness of its references and for this (and only this) reason she said: “If three important names are missing from an index, then it doesn’t fulfill its function.”

“Why?” asked the voice.

“Because then the index doesn’t reference what’s in the book and what’s significant.”

“Now, you can think that, but in this case, Ferrajoli, Davis, and Rauch aren’t even mentioned in the book.”

“Then not only is the index not any good, but the whole book as well,” said Amanda Hollis, “since both the reference and the source of the story are negated.”

“And what if not mentioning the three names was intentional?”

“That would be disingenuous,” said Amanda Hollis, sounding small and gray and sober as only an archive mouse can sound.

“Maybe someone wants to keep the origins of the Vinland Map in the dark.”

“There’s already enough in the story that’s been left in the dark,” said Amanda Hollis. “I only remember this de Bridia, or your John.”

“My John?!” asked the voice indignantly.

“John of Hautfuney,” Amanda Hollis placated him, taking effort not to give any false impressions or otherwise let him boil over, “the index writer.”

But the voice didn’t seem to make much of being enlightened in this way, at least not as regards illuminating the darkness. Instead, it homed in on the name, turned as if it were a mole and the pipe was the path into the earthy depths of history, and without further ado came to a halt and began to dig up new problems that it presented to Amanda Hollis in the form of questions — questions that recalled the spirit of Harvard, that rang of a special consciousness, an excess of paper knowledge, in short: like snobbery cultivated over the course of history.

“Did you know that at the time of the blessed John of Hautfuney, index-making was a kind of game for fighting boredom?” asked the voice, if it was even a question.

“Today, it is boredom,” said Amanda Hollis, a bit louder than she wanted to, but clearly not loud enough to be heard since the voice didn’t react at all but continued on, kept going as if nothing had happened and Amanda Hollis felt as if he were inebriated by his own ability to draw lines from the past into the present.

“Has anybody ever told you that indexes in books are the precursors to modern-day library catalogs?”

“No,” said Amanda Hollis, who had in fact never heard anything of the like, not even in Professor Orscube’s lectures — which the voice used as an opportunity to dive deeper into the history of book-making, index-making, and entire library-making, while Amanda Hollis couldn’t shake the feeling that the things being said were aimed directly at her, as if someone had opened a door in front of her and was now closing it again very slowly, while she sat on the second-to-last step of the spiral staircase and the only door far and away behind her, fifteen feet above her head, stuck in the wall as only a squat, lead-gray door can be stuck in a wall.

It was enough to make you crazy. Amanda Hollis hadn’t heard of anything the voice was telling her even though it was her own, her very own specialty.

“When John of Hautfuney created the huge index for The Mirror of History, he probably did it using little cards,” the voice continued unmoved. “He wrote down all terms of note. A total of nearly thirteen thousand. And do you know why he did it?”

“No,” said Amanda Hollis, who actually no longer wanted to say anything at all.

“He did it because his card system was the Ariadne’s thread that lead him through the labyrinth of The Mirror of History. It was like a map for him, the only way not only to get in to this huge encyclopedia but also to come out of it again.”

“Oh,” plopped out of Amanda Hollis’s mouth. And then, more to herself than to the voice in the pipe, “I also got a map once. It was stuck to the piece of paper given to me in exchange for my diploma from Drexel. The map led me here, but I don’t know if I’ll ever get out again. If I even want to get out. I always thought that it was my responsibility to distill the lives of strangers and banish them to catalog cards, but maybe I’m actually doing nothing other than writing the catalog of my own life, a life that I never had.”

But that didn’t seem to interest the voice either. It simply continued where it left off. And maybe Amanda Hollis hadn’t even said anything, maybe memories were just reverberating in her head and she’d had the impression she’d said something, generated the fantasy of a voice that may or may not have been her own.

Regardless, the voice continued: “You know this John of Hautfuney created the index of The Mirror of History not only to save himself but also for his readers. He wanted to spare them the task of reading the entire work.”

And because Amanda Hollis didn’t say anything: “Essentially, this John guy understood the purpose of a index perfectly — especially his own. An index maker is a servant who creates other servants. As many as he believes necessary in order to fulfill all the desires of every heart, to give directions to anyone who asks for them. And this also applies to the catalog in a library and the catalog makers. There is only one possible conclusion: both the index in a book and the catalog in a library help to guide people into the books they are interested in reading.”

“In which others are interested,” corrected Amanda Hollis tacitly, thinking of Heath Cover Evil, at which point she got the feeling that maybe he was the one behind the voice after all.

But why would Heath Cover Evil do something like that? There was absolutely no reason for it; anyway, he was interested in creating connections, not dissolving them. And he also wanted keywords.

On the other hand, even if she was wrong and was actually being put under surveillance — she, Amanda Susan Marie Hollis, nonetheless wouldn’t give up listening to the voice in the pipe, as long as it took the story to be resolved, until she had resolved it herself with the help of her catalog cards, and so she said, to confirm what the voice in the pipe had already explained at length:

“The catalog card shows the path to the book, but the index shows the path into the book. So if you’re looking for something in a book, you have to put the card before the horse.”

“You could put it that way,” said the voice, “but it’s too easy to forget those references directly in the book, inscribed on the page itself, for example, the finger of a hand that points to a particularly important part. The Mirror of History is one of the first books that uses such a finger and …”

“Stop!!!” cried Amanda Hollis. Really, she screamed it.

“But I didn’t even say anything bad,” the voice said in astonishment.

“But I suspect something bad is afoot,” said Amanda Hollis, stood up, circled up the steps without any further explanation, and then disappeared through the door.


Her suspicion, which was murky rather than clear, was a sign, a symbol, a hand — existing in triplicate, an earthly trinity made up of a mark on a typewriter, a journal entry, and the reference in an old manuscript, withdrawn from circulation, robbed of its meaning and only of historical value — and perhaps this descending and sliding, the whole slippery condition that it was ultimately boiling down to, was a secret that was no secret at all but a clue, a finger pointing to her fate in this forty-foot hole in the ground that swallowed her, day for day, while the years passed by her life.

But what could she do? Amanda Hollis didn’t know — and at 6 p.m. on the dot, when history and the present formed a perfect line with ends pointing in each direction, she went home and placed herself first in front of one and then the other of her two mirrors in the bathroom, and stretched her arm out, then her hand, and finally her finger. The finger pointed at her image in the mirror. But the finger in the mirror pointed at her. Then, Amanda Hollis stepped to the side — and both fingers pointed into emptiness.


The next day it snowed and Amanda Hollis slipped down the stairs leading to the subterranean library, plopped down the steps with her bottom, and struck the door — feet first.

Dick Walrus, the custodian, heard the banging and opened the door, and when he saw Amanda Hollis lying before him, he wanted to help her up, but she left him standing there with his arms stretched out over her, as she crept backward in a crab walk, and sat first on the last and then on the second-to-last step of this toboggan run of Canadian granite. Then she stood up, shook the snow off her things, and went past Dick Walrus into the library where she, without even turning around, immediately took the stairs to the second level, disappeared into her office, and dropped herself on the chair like a snowflake that was too heavy to fly.

It didn’t look as if Heath Cover Evil had been there during the night (or he hadn’t left any traces, though since he took care to mark his presence as a rule, apparently he hadn’t popped his head into her office or into her wastebasket), and Amanda took the opportunity to think about things in peace.

What, she asked herself while removing her coat and — something she had never done before — taking off her shoes under the table, what on earth was going on here? Was it really just a matter of listening to some confused being and helping him get his story in order, giving it sense and a system? Or was she herself the object of the entire exercise? Then the index fingers were indeed references, and they were directed at her or rather at what she called her life. They were index fingers of a somewhat more direct sort and not just symbols for money that one could insert, words that one could look up, and manuscripts that one could cut up.

After all, she had discovered two of these references herself, even if one came from Heath Cover Evil via Dick Walrus. But the third had been given to her by the voice. Now what did that mean? That the voice wanted to do something good for her? Because he knew (but how?) that life was rushing past her like a stranger on the street. So he described a world to her that was large and full of secrets, adventure, and entanglements, so that she, Amanda Susan Marie Hollis, saw that there was something more than the boring William Croswell and his paper life? And especially something more than her own?

Or what if it wasn’t a student who had gone crazy or a shady private philanthropist, but rather the calculating Heath Cover Evil who was behind the voice? Heath Cover Evil who had sent her the typewriter. Who also had access to all the basement rooms of the subterranean library. And who had, on top of everything else, laid the good-for-nothing William Croswell on her desk, perhaps not just to see what she would make out of this nullity but also to see what the nullity made of her.

Now, if that were the case, the facts were obvious, she had fulfilled his expectations and failed, hadn’t written any keywords, and had inherited William Croswell’s laziness — and the story in the pipe was a fitting allegory for all this. That assumed, however, that it was her story that the voice was telling. And above all: that it was only hers.

But all things considered, it didn’t look so simple, anyway the story had gigantic dimensions in space and time while she, Amanda Hollis, was just a small light — needless to say, a light that was too small. Why would the voice tell her such a story? Because sometimes all of history also wants to be illuminated by a small light? How did it feel to slip into that kind of life, that kind of library, that kind of archive, and the archive of that kind of archive? What’s it like to see nothing and to grope eyes open in the darkness day by day in a room without windows and sunlight, in a room full of paper people and the dead?

Or was her small light exactly what the voice in the pipe needed for that bit of clarity that it itself could not provide, and thus it had chosen her, because she was small enough not to be observed but big enough to get as much light into the story as necessary?

But necessary for what?

Amanda Hollis didn’t know.

But perhaps the voice — whoever was behind it — had discovered something on its way through the space-time called history, by coincidence or otherwise, obscure references, gaps, and irregularities, and in doing so it had discovered a conspiracy of the kind that could only arise here in America, a vast conspiracy infiltrating the entire nation like … worms in a bundle of parchment … ?

If this were the case, then the Vinland Map was a symbol, an allegory, a warning lurking in the past that had infiltrated the present. And that meant the voice was right, America really was in danger.

But it was even more significant than that, because it meant that neither she nor the voice in the pipe was the center of this story. Maybe they weren’t even a part of it, or if they were, then only a very small one, one that was insignificant enough to be disregarded, which was exactly why they could unearth this conspiracy.

That would mean that the voice was a witness to this conspiracy — and it was her task to document the evidence, to collect it and organize it, and in that way to make its extent visible.

Which ultimately meant nothing other than creating an index of the conspiracy, a cross-register of all listed names, times, events, and places, a system of references and sub-references that were all related to one another and had to be connected with one another until the story could no longer avoid decrypting itself and exposing the meaning of the conspiracy, which is to say: the true threat to America.

Nevertheless, one question remained: why her? She didn’t have any knowledge of all the things the voice had been telling her, wasn’t familiar with the context, nor was she in a position to fact-check what was being said. And how, anyway? She was a keyword compiler for dead men, an index writer who built on the future of the past, who helped allow the greatness of Harvard to grow parallel with time, and even if she still didn’t know which role William Croswell was accorded in this, she did know that what she had done for the past seven and a half years stood in the greatest possible contrast to what apparently was now her task, which was creating the index of a conspiracy, or better said: the index to a book whose words she understood only in part and whose authors didn’t even have a name, or at least was unnamed, which after all wasn’t the greatest difficulty in creating this list of terms. The greatest difficulty was that this someone (or someone else entirely) was still constantly writing the great book of this conspiracy.

So how could she then create a useful index, one that would allow an overview of the story and reveal the dimensions of the conspiracy? She didn’t even know whether this ominous Vinland Map even existed.

And if it did, how was she to decide whether the map was genuine or not? The voice had even said itself that it could be a forgery. So how should she know? She didn’t have a clue about old maps or even about new ones, had neither assessed nor cataloged them since that was the responsibility of the women in the Widener Library next door. Or of those who worked here in the map room in Pusey, but their office weren’t in the basement but up there on the first floor.

So it was very possible that the voice had made an error in selecting its “helper” and incorrectly believed that she was one of the map ladies, meanwhile she had never indexed any maps but only catalogers. But that meant that it had nothing to do with representation, but with the representation of representers, with referencing words with words that themselves referred to nothing other than words, which in the final analysis meant it didn’t have anything to do with anything, it was simply writing catalog cards about a cataloger and finding keywords for a keyword writer who himself was a nothing and a nobody and beaten up to boot — by a milliner, who, according to the files, hadn’t even been wearing a hat when he put his fist in William Croswell’s face.

As soon as Amanda Hollis starting having these thoughts and muttered a loud “Arrghhh!” at the inanity of where they led her, she let her head flop down as if it were suddenly too heavy to hold upright — and once again William Croswell was being assaulted, but this time it wasn’t the cold fist of a milliner but Amanda Hollis’s sweaty forehead that smacked into him, or rather into whatever of him remained in paper form.

What followed was another torrent of nihilistic thoughts that poured out over the paper from her forehead — or crept up from the paper into her forehead, it’s hard to say which. The only certain thing in Amanda Hollis’s mind was: writing the index of an unfinished book that she only partly understood bordered on impossible and, regardless of how meticulously she worked, could only deliver preliminary results for the time being. But the attempt to create an index without having the corresponding work meant transcending those limitations once and for all.

In other words: Amanda Hollis remained on familiar territory and thus at least kept her feet on the ground, unsteady as it was, if she continued to follow the story in the pipe, wrote down the most important keywords, and attempted to organize them. Doing the same thing with William Croswell, on the other hand, meant exploring truly unknown territory, though it meant looking not adventure but emptiness in the eye. But she already had enough of that in her life.

So why should she keep worrying about William Croswell? Because Heath Cover Evil had requested it of her? But he had stipulated that she note down index words, not disregard them before even writing them down. But that was exactly what would happen in William Croswell’s case, and had in fact been happening over the past few days, quite simply since nothing happened. In William Croswell’s life there was no opus, and he himself didn’t constitute one; ultimately his life was one single disaster, a succession of defeats and disappointments, of illnesses and pain, and his laziness was all he had made of his talents in all the failed years, the only thing he could toss in the scales of life, to try to balance out the weight of disappointment.

And yet, though William Coswell’s apathy was so sympathetic to her in many senses, it was impossible to write an index for him. All that could be noted for his time here in the library was “laziness,” “nothing,” and “defeat” — all terms unknown in that the great book of history of Harvard, filled with more than three hundred years of meticulous work. Nor did they appear in the relatively small library index that Amanda Hollis had now maintained for seven and a half years in the university archive. How could they also be a part of this? The spirit of Harvard was one of accomplishment, of work, of success. William Croswell’s entire work, however, had consisted in cutting up his own manuscripts — along with the library’s bound title catalog that had existed up to that point. But cutting something up, Amanda Hollis knew, wasn’t work, especially not for her, whose task it was to piece together fragments of history for the glory of Harvard. So what did the world need to know about William Croswell? And what did it need to know about an old map that was the first of its kind to show America?

“William Croswell also drew a map,” the sheet of paper that lay directly under Amanda Hollis’s sweaty forehead suddenly said, sounding as if it wanted to use the information to purchase its freedom. “It was the first map of the stars and constellations that was ever produced in America.”

“When was that?” asked Amanda Hollis, a little surprised, as it seemed as if the sheet on the table was another manifestation of the voice in the pipe.

So she lifted her head. But the sheet followed her, stuck firmly like the stool in the personnel office was once to her rear end.

No wonder that instead of her ears it was now her eyes directing things while her mouth continued to speak …

“So when did William Croswell draw the map?”

“1810,” said her eyes, who saw the number directly in front of them.

“And was it really the first map?” asked Amanda Hollis, who would have loved to believe it but just couldn’t.

“The very first,” said her eyes. “It included the sky 66.6 degrees north to 66.6 degrees south.”

“Stop!” said Amanda Hollis.

“We belong to you,” said her eyes. “It’s up to you whether you stop or not.”

“I understand,” said Amanda Hollis, tearing the paper from her forehead — and saw America appear on the wall in front of her, large and green and in the middle of the world, and three digits were written in her head: six, six, six.

“Heath Cover Evil!” cried her mouth. Or did it come from somewhere else inside her?

Either way, Amanda Hollis ran off, hurrying down to the archive’s archive.



“I know who you are,” Amanda Hollis called out as she dashed down the stairs.

“Oh,” said the pipe, and it sounded as if the two of them had switched roles.

“Your name is” — Amanda Hollis paused for a moment in order to savor her triumph and lend the situation the appropriate sense of drama — “Heath Cover Evil!”

“No,” said the voice. “He’s sitting upstairs in his room.”

“Prove it!” called Amanda Hollis.

“It’s hard for me to stand up and go to him,” said the voice. “But you can.”

“All right,” said Amanda Hollis. “But you wait here,” and it sounded as if the pipe had really planned to leave the room while Amanda Hollis in fact did so herself and ran up not just one set of stairs but two sets of stairs and knocked on a door that wasn’t hers and got a response, which permitted her to enter but actually caused her to leave, at which point she trotted back down the two sets of stairs and said, a little disillusioned, “Proof provided!” and then “Now it’s time for your move,” which she naturally only meant figuratively and was a prompt to continue the story. Which the voice then did.

However, it didn’t begin where it had ended yesterday, at The Mirror of History and the finger of some John from France, but with a man by the name of Chester Kerr, who, according to the voice, “is the director of the Yale University Press and is preparing a book for publication to be called The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation.”

“Is that that big, thick scholarly book you were talking about yesterday?” Amanda Hollis wanted to know. “The one with the defective index?”

“Exactly the one,” said the voice.

“And this Chester Kerr is responsible for the book?”

“Well, let’s say he’s responsible for making the book into a sensation, which actually shouldn’t be too difficult. After all, it might be the most important cartographic discovery in all of history. Those who hold the book in their hands will see a pre-Columbian map that nonetheless depicts America.’”

“The Vinland Map,” peeped Amanda Hollis’s mouth. And then, because she still didn’t know who was behind the voice, yet nevertheless had the feeling she would figure it out, or at least had to guess: “Are you perhaps a soothsewer?”

“Yes,” said the voice.

“Oh,” said Amanda Hollis.

And that was that.

“I assume we can continue now,” came from inside the pipe after a little while.

“Yes,” said Amanda Hollis and let her bottom sink onto the stairs (she hadn’t noticed at all that she had been standing the entire time, not to say, in limbo), though this time her rear end landed not on the second-to-last but on the (lower level! basement!) last step, where (surprise!) a sloppy Joe was resting just next to her. But its peace was interrupted, since as soon as Amanda Hollis’s rear landed, her left hand felt the surprise guest (found it blind), her right mindlessly turned it from one side to the other (at least it was something she could hold on to), and her mouth bit into it. And marveled at the peculiar taste on her tongue. At the scraping of her teeth. And the feeling of chewing on aluminum foil.

So Amanda Hollis pulled the sloppy Joe out again, stripped it (it looked better naked anyway), and suddenly saw (where did it come from?) her fountain pen lying on the floor in front of the steps, found (she must have somehow stuck all of that in her dress) yet another couple of catalog cards, and was (day-to-day. Work. Tra-la-la) ready to write.

“Do you remember where we were?” asked the voice.

“Yes,” asked Amanda Hollis, the fountain pen firmly in her right hand, “the hand in The Mirror of History.”

“Now, it was actually the index finger of a hand and the thing with The Mirror of History was just a digression, a small change of flow in the shallows of history, since we were in fact talking about two men from Yale, Alexander Vietor and Thomas Marston, who are offered the Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation but don’t buy them. A couple of months later, in April 1958, this Marston then went on a grand shopping tour and ordered, as we’ve seen, the Parallel Lives by Plutarch from Davis and Orioli in London with the help of a book dealer in Yale as well as a version of The Mirror of History by Vincent of Beauvais. Though I indicated that the latter was not complete and, what’s more, that it was a copy from the fifteenth century that was of little value when considered from a purely textual standpoint.”

“And why does Marston order it, then? I mean, if it wasn’t the index that interested him, nor the finger?”

“Now, allegedly Marston had a corresponding collection and a gap in the collection that it would fit.”

“That’s not the first gap in your story,” said Amanda Hollis, though this time the words sounded familiar, and instead of an accusatory tone there vibrated something like anticipation (or kindness) in her voice. And so she continued:

“So, I’ll summarize again. This Marston has a collection of old manuscripts from the fifteenth century And there is a gap in this collection. And to make it a little smaller, he orders a piece of The Mirror of History, which is just a copy in this case but also originates from the fifteenth century.”

“Exactly,” said the voice.

“And what happened next?” Amanda Hollis wanted to know.

“Then a little time went by, which I can only describe with ‘Then a little time went by,’ and when it had passed, Marston receives a call from his book dealer, who tells him that the manuscripts ordered from London have arrived.

“Marston heads to the bookshop, takes the manuscripts, and then goes back to his office and thinks about what he should make of all of these stories full of mirrors and parallels. However, he finds nothing suitable in the collection besides the gap, which is to say he had no idea and many other things to do, which is why he decided to call Laurence Witten, the book dealer who had offered him the Vinland Map and Tarter Relation half a year earlier.”

“And then?”

“Then he offered to investigate both manuscripts for him, and a little later Witten stood in Marston’s office regarding the purchases, took them for additional inspections, and left.”

“And Marston?”

“He stayed in his office, since he really had a lot to do that day. He didn’t go home until 10 p.m., and as he started to go and wanted to open the door, he heard the telephone ring in the hall.

“He thought nothing more of it and calmly opened the door and laid his bag to the side. But the ringing didn’t stop, and as Marston removed his jacket and closed the door again, he finally answered. Laurence Witten was on the line, who told him in great excitement that The Mirror of History was the key to both the Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation.”

“How so?”

“Well, the important thing was the wormholes. You remember that they hadn’t fit together until that point, quite simply because the wormholes in the Vinland Map didn’t match up with those in the Tartar Relation. But now, Witten had taken the freshly acquired Mirror of History and, perhaps because he had a hunch or maybe just for fun, tucked it between the Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation — and what do you know, the wormholes suddenly weren’t dead ends anymore.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that the worm exit holes in the Vinland map now perfectly matched with the worm entry holes in The Mirror of History, whose exit holes in turn precisely matched the entry holes in the Tartar Relation.”

“The three manuscripts were once one?”

“A nice deduction,” said the voice. “Someone had obviously bound them together a long time ago but hadn’t done anything to stop the worms, which then ate their way right through the entire package of parchment. But at some point The Mirror of History part tucked in the middle found its way out of the collection and was sold elsewhere, leaving behind just the Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation. When Witten offered to sell both to Marston in 1957, the worm trails couldn’t fit together at all very simply because the critical part, the connection between the both of them, was missing. Yet Marston had just coincidentally acquired them in London. And Witten had confirmed that the three parts belonged together, or better said: had recognized them at all.”

“Wow!” said Amanda Hollis. And then: “I’ve filled up all my index cards.”

At which point she stood up to go into her room and get some more.

When she placed her hand on the stair next to her to push herself upward, she saw that there was nothing left of the sloppy Joe besides the foil wrapping and noted that the sandwich she had polished off was the exact antithesis of the cards that she had filled with ink.

“My stomach is my index,” thought Amanda Hollis as she hoisted herself up the bannister, “but my head is completely empty.”

Then she trudged upward, the steps trembling under her as Europe once did before the Mongolians.



She had written that all down chaotically and it was time to organize it and try not to forget anything.

Time line

986: Vikings discover America.

989: Vikings leave America.

13th century: Vinland Map created (if it’s real).

13th century: Vincent of Beauvais drafts The Mirror of History.

13th century: Carpine’s journey to the Mongolians (1245 – 47)

13th century: De Bridia’s report on the Mongolians (1247)

14th century: John of Hautfuney expands and refines the index of The Mirror of History.

14th century: Jean de Hautfune (bishop)

15th century: Copy of the Vinland Map + Tartar Relation (1440)

15th century: Copy of The Mirror of History (1440?)

1492: Columbus/Rodrigo de Triana discover America.

16th century: Akhbar creates the first catalog of the royal Mongolian library.

1809: William Croswell publishes essay on “oblique spherics.”

1810: William Croswell produces the first American star map.

August 4, 1812: William Croswell hired at Harvard to create library catalog.

June 14, 1817: William Croswell draws a hand in his library journal, begins to cut up his manuscripts.

1827: William Croswell invents the “pen on a stick.”

1831: Production of the last map catalog in the Harvard library to date

1906: Drexel chandelier manufactured.

1933: I am born.

1951: Witten opens a shop in New Haven.

1954: Monks photograph manuscripts in Saragossa.

1955: Nicolas Rauch auctions off incunabula in Geneva.

1955: Professor Orscube’s lecture on incunabula at Drexel

March/April 1956: Chandelier at Drexel disappears.

May 1956: I come to Harvard.

Early 1957: Ferrajoli steals old manuscripts in Saragossa.

Early 1957: De Bridia’s Historia Tartarorum (Tartar Relation) resurfaces.

Early 1957: Vinland Map resurfaces.

February/March 1957: Ferrajoli treks across Spain and France with the Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation.

March 1957: Ferrajoli offers the Vinland Map and Tartar Relation for sale to Davis in London. Davis declines.

March 1957: Vinland Map and Tartar Relation examined at the British Museum in London. Declined.

March 1957: Witten buys the Vinland Map and Tartar Relation from Ferrajoli (from the trunk of his Fiat, in Geneva).

March 1957: Witten shows Davis the Vinland Map in Milan. Then he flies to Yale with it.

October 1957: Marston/Vietor (Yale) decline to purchase the Vinland Map and Tartar Relation.

April 8, 1958: Marston receives an advance copy of a catalog of old manuscripts from Davis.

Mid-/late April 1958: Marston buys a piece of The Mirror of History from Davis.

Mid-/late April 1958: Witten recognizes that The Mirror of History, the Vinland Map, and the Tartar Relation belong together.

1961: Ferrajoli arrested.

Late 1962/early 1963: Skelton at Harvard

October 1963: Chester Kerr (Yale) prepares the Vinland Map book for publication.

October 1963: Heath Cover Evil discovers William Croswell.

November 1963: I discover that something’s not right here.

Name, Function, and Place

Enzo Ferrajoli (book and map dealer):

Barcelona / Saragossa / Geneva

Nicolas Rauch (book and map dealer):


Joseph Irving Davis (book and map dealer):


Raleigh Ashlin Skelton (map expert):


Laurence Witten (book and map dealer):

New Haven/Yale

Mr. Barry/Stonehill (book and map dealer):

New Haven/Yale

Thomas Marston (map expert):

Yale (University)

Alexander Vietor (map expert):

Yale (University)

Chester Kerr (publisher):

Yale (University)

Original and Status

Tartar Relation: disappeared

Vinland Map: disappeared

The Mirror of History: ???

Ystoria Mongalorum: ???

old manuscripts (Saragossa): stolen

Copy and Status

Tartar Relation: resurfaced

Vinland Map: resurfaced

The Mirror of History: extant

Ystoria Mongalorum: ???

catalog cards of the manuscripts (Saragossa): destroyed

William Croswell: “Two Tables of the Varieties in the First and Second Cases of Oblique Spherics” (1809)

Read in the files, available as original and photocopy (Xerox 914?)

Rolland E. Stevens: “Library Experiment with the Xerox 914 Copier” (1962)

Read in Library Resources, no original but also not a copy, at least not in the sense of Xerox 914.

Author and Work

Plutarch: Parallel Lives

Vincent of Beauvais: The Mirror of History

Carpine: Ystoria Mongalorum quos nos Tartaros appellamus (History of the Mongols, Whom We call Call Tartars)

De Bridia: Historia Tartarorum/Tartar Relation

Correlations and parallels

The hand in Croswell’s diary is identical to the hand on the Remington and in The Mirror of History.

worm entry/exit holes congruent

Vinland Map / The Mirror of History / Tartar Relation → one unit

Laurence Claiborne Witten aligns the manuscripts so that they match (wormholes) → the readers of the Vinland Map book get a false impression or no impression of the map’s origins

Heath Cover Evil (working in a hole in the ground) arranges the paper so that it fits → the readers of The Register get a false impression of William Croswell

I receive instructions, try nonetheless (or for that reason?) not to let a false impression of William Croswell arise.

Professor Orscube: never mentioned William Croswell

Potter Bolton: The Librarians of Harvard College (1677 – 1877) — never mentioned William Croswell

Painter/Skelton/???: The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation — never mentioned Ferrajoli, Davis, or Rauch

Bonnycastle and Nicholson (London) support the publication of Croswell’s star map.

Painter and Skelton (London) support Ferrajoli and Witten/Yale’s publication of the Vinland Map.

William Croswell was urged on by President Kirkland.

The ladies in Widener were urged on by Skelton.

I am urged on by Heath Cover Evil.

(Harvard is a hothouse of urges.)

Kotyan Khan (king of the Cumans):

dead → horse in tomb, friend as well → joined in death

Thomas Hollis (king of book donations):

dead → horse on tomb, friend as well → joined in name

Secret papal files: removed from circulation (Mongolia)

My secret files: to be removed from circulation (Harvard)

Carpine → monastery (Poland) → tells story → has someone writing down his travels through Asia, but makes something else out of it (a book about the history and customs of Mongolia, but not about Carpine’s adventures) = de Bridia

Me → monastery (Pusey) → stories are told to me → I have someone who’s supposed to write down my travels through William Croswell’s paper life, but wants to make something else out of it (an essay about Croswell’s boring book-cataloging life, not about his adventurous projects) = Heath Cover Evil

Evil, Heath Cover: 666

Star map, William Croswell: 666

My own Vinland Map (tracing paper): transparent, missing parts

The “real” Vinland Map (parchment): full of holes, missing parts

The donkey: got up early, had good luck

Me: got up early, slid and fell

… and while Amanda Hollis filled notecard after notecard, Heath Cover Evil sat one floor above her at a desk as big as the entire office that Amanda Hollis shared with the Remington, William Croswell, and her files. His fingers were entwined as if in prayer, and his legs were stretched out under the desk like a couple of stilts. But the legs of the desk were staked several feet in the earth, while the big, gleaming empty desktop lay just above the scar in the grass that wrapped around the entire archival building like a huge fluffy towel. But it was November and melting snow had made the towel dripping wet.

The grass in front of Heath Cover Evil’s window was sludgy and brown. It looked as if someone had mowed down an entire army of sloppy joes.



Back in the archive’s archive, the voice had picked up the story again, and Amanda Hollis listened to it attentively, happy to have found an initial organizational strategy.

“The year is 1958,” said the voice, “and there’s a problem. These three manuscripts may have the same wormholes, but unfortunately they don’t have the same owners. Which is to say that the Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation belong to Witten, since he’d bought them from Ferrajoli, while the piece of The Mirror of History belongs to Marston, since he’d bought it from Davis.”

“Why doesn’t Marston buy the other two manuscripts, then?” asked Amanda Hollis, her eyes locked on the paper like the tip of her pen, ready to note everything down that seemed important. “I mean, Witten himself had already offered Marston the manuscripts.”

“It’s simple: Marston didn’t have enough money.”

“But Witten only paid $3,500 for them. It’s not as if he’d suddenly ask ten times as much.”

“No,” said the voice. “Three hundred times as much.”

“What?!” shouted Amanda Hollis. And then, after a few seconds of calculation: “That’s $3,500 per mile!” At which point it was the voice’s turn to shout, “What?!”

“Forget it,” said Amanda Hollis, who really didn’t want to talk about it — but then did anyway for some reason. “It’s just that a few years ago I traveled on a train from Philadelphia to Harvard. That’s three hundred miles, and I was just imagining what it would be like if you got into the train with a $3,500 map and its value increased that much for every mile that you traveled. If you got out at Harvard and someone bought it, you’d be a millionaire.”

“It’s true,” said the voice. “That is, if you didn’t give the map away during the journey.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“Only that, according to what I know, Witten had already given the Vinland Map to his wife at the point when it became clear that the three manuscripts belonged together. And he gave her the Tartar Relation along with it.”

“Why did he do that?” asked Amanda Hollis.

“No idea,” said. “If Witten were British, I would say their typical spleen was behind it. But Witten is an American, and we’re at Yale.”

“Harvard,” said Amanda Hollis, but then she noticed that was wrong and fell silent. And the voice continued.

“Of course, you could make a whole series of conjectures. For example, you might think that Witten developed a bad feeling about it or got some hint that the Vinland Map actually was counterfeit, and gave it to his wife for that reasons. But that suspicion wouldn’t cast Witten in a good light — and especially not his appreciation for his wife. That’s why I suggest that we set the question of why he gave it to her aside, and worry about the piece of The Mirror of History, which we know belongs to Marston.”

“And what does this Marston do with it?”

“Well, basically nothing. Nothing but hope that if he gives, then he’ll receive in return.”

“I get it,” said Amanda Hollis. “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” And then quietly, nearly whispered: “That works at Harvard just like at Yale.”

But the voice didn’t respond to it.

“In any case, Marston gave his part of The Mirror of History to Witten’s wife in 1958, restoring the original unity of the three manuscripts. But his gesture isn’t as selfless as it seems, because Marston hopes that his gift will bring him — or the Yale University Library — a measure of control, should Mrs. Witten one day decide to divest herself of the three manuscripts. But Marston’s interest mainly lies with the Vinland Map, of course.”

“And does Mrs. Witten sell the map?”

“Hold on. First you should know that the piece of The Mirror of History that Marston ordered from Davis in London didn’t originally come from Davis, but rather was in Ferrajoli’s possession, and of course he once again isn’t saying where he got it. But it’s clear that the same people were involved in the acquisition of The Mirror of History as were involved in the sale of the Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation. And just as in the case of the two other manuscripts, in this case, the investigation into its origins ends at the doors of some Spanish private collection.”

“I understand,” said Amanda Hollis — and she put it down in her records.

Vinland Map and Tartar Relation

??? → Ferrajoli (purchased → offered to Davis) → Davis (declined) → Rauch (middleman) → Witten (purchased → offered to Marston/Vietor) → Marson/Vietor (declined) → Mrs. Witten (gift)

Piece of The Mirror of History

??? → Ferrajoli (purchased → offered to Davis) → Davis (purchased → offered to Marston) → Marston (purchased → gift to Mrs. Witten)

Maybe it was because she saw that she could summarize this history that had long ago become the present. But maybe it was also because suddenly everything was coming together and seemed to unite here in America — in any case, as soon as the voice had finished his explanations of the people involved in the purchases and sales, Amanda Hollis said, “And where is the problem?”

But that was clearly the wrong answer — and in the next moment, Amanda Hollis was the recipient of a volley of keywords that sounded as if someone were reading the content of catalog cards to her.

“August 18, 1904: Thomas Ewart Marston is born in Chicago.

“June 27, 1927: Thomas Ewart Marston receives a bachelor’s degree at Yale, then studies Egyptology but soon abandons the pursuit.

“May 14, 1936: Thomas Ewart Marston completes his master’s degree in European history at Harvard. At that time, he had already begun to accumulate a collection of old manuscripts and maps at Yale.

“August 6, 1936: Thomas Ewart Marston gives the Yale University Library a collection of old Latin documents and incunabula.

“September 1, 1939, to May 8, 1945: during the Second World War, Thomas Ewart Marston works for the news agency of the US Army. Then he takes part in the Korean War. He reaches the rank of colonel.

“October 7, 1953: Thomas Ewart Marston returns to Yale and continues collecting old manuscripts. The focal point of the collection is the twelfth to fifteenth centuries. Shortly thereafter, the Yale University Library appoints Thomas Ewart Marston as curator of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts.

“January 1, 1954, to December 31, 1960: Thomas Ewart Marston builds one of the largest American private collections of medieval manuscripts. He obtains nearly half of his manuscripts from Laurence Claiborne Witten, whom he simply calls Larry.

“December 6, 1961: At an auction in London, Larry Witten buys two medieval manuscripts. They both come from the collection of Thomas Ewart Marston. Marston himself bought them from Witten three years before.

“April 3, 1962: Thomas Ewart Marston sells the large part of his collection to the Yale University Library. He himself has been active there as a curator for nearly ten years. Some of the manuscripts verifiably come from the Library of the La Seo cathedral in Saragossa.

“December 12, 1962: Larry Witten organizes an auction at Sotheby’s in London for five medieval manuscripts from Marston’s collection. The prices fetched are exceedingly high.”

“Wait!” cried Amanda Hollis. “You’re trying to tell me something with all of this fact-slinging.”

“As if!” said the voice. “For example, you might come to the conclusion that the high prices Marston received for his manuscripts weren’t a coincidence, but rather the result of a targeted method that he and Witten had perfected over the years, and which consisted in buying manuscripts back and forth from each other, that is to say selling them and buying them again, creating — from a price point of view — an upward spiral that always ended with a third party willing to pay a little bit more.”

“I see,” said Amanda Hollis, who was now sure that the Vinland Map was also part of this game of ping-pong, though there was still the question of whether someone existed who would be willing to pay three hundred times the original price for the map, and if so, who.

But maybe the voice in the pipe had an answer to this question. No, he definitely had it. And so Amanda Hollis said (bluntly, because that seemed best to her in the current conditions):

“Why don’t you tell me a little bit more about the world of these manuscript auctioneers?”

Which the voice was all too happy to do.

“According to all of the information we can gather, Marston didn’t just do business with Witten but also contacted Ferrajoli, his partner in Spain, again and again, long before auctioning off the cream of the Saragossa collection. Whatever the case, Marston became an influential collector over the years, which is why giving The Mirror of History to Witten’s wife wouldn’t have been a big deal for him. And yet there’s something strange about it, because if it’s true that Marston only gave Witten’s wife The Mirror of History to gain control over the resale of the three manuscripts to Yale, and especially the Vinland Map, then a few questions arise.

“For example, how do you get more control by giving a gift? By creating a sense of indebtedness? Maybe even pressure? But wouldn’t it have been better for Marston to keep the piece of The Mirror of History, especially since he claimed that it was a gap in his collection? And wouldn’t Witten have been much more likely to sell the Vinland Map and Tartar Relation without that piece of The Mirror of History? Really, he would have had to sell it, because it was The Mirror of History that first confirmed that they belonged together, which is to say their authenticity. And wouldn’t that pressure to sell also automatically lower the price that Yale would have to pay for the manuscript? To put it differently: wasn’t Marston the one holding the decisive piece of the puzzle? And hadn’t Witten himself described The Mirror of History as the key manuscript when he called Marston and told him about the wormholes that suddenly matched? And if so, why did Marston give him his piece of The Mirror of History?

“Stop!” cried Amanda Hollis. “It’s too much for me. I need answers, not questions!”

And because she wanted at least one answer, because she needed to fathom something in this fathomless paper world (and with an eye to William Croswell and the ink dripping from her lap), she said: “The connections on the cards have to become connections between the cards. I would have to cut everything apart to make sense of it.”

But she didn’t have a pair of scissors. And even if she had, she wouldn’t have created anything but worthless scraps. Besides, Amanda Hollis already had plenty of useless scraps upstairs on her desk, she didn’t need any more down here in her lap.

Which caused her to summarize the story as follows (silently, in her thoughts, because she didn’t want the pipe to hear it):

“William Croswell took five years to write down what he was supposed to, but for some reason he didn’t want to, and when at some point he couldn’t avoid it, he cut everything apart. I, on the other hand, have hardly had five days to hear what I’m supposed to hear, and even if I’ve already written down a bit, nonetheless, I feel tempted to cut everything up.”

Which could only lead to one conclusion:

“You have to be able to wait. You have to take your time in this epoch of copy monsters and orders to remove things from circulation. You have to take your time, just as William Croswell took his time.”

And so Amanda Hollis stood up (taking her sweet time) turned slowly around (as if her time were twice as sweet), saw her two remaining sloppy-joes laying on the step (how did they get there?), and saw that they were not only unwrapped but full of holes (who had crawled through them?). She thought of worms (ground-beef worms?), stuffed them (who cares) double-decker into her mouth, and climbed (chomp, chomp, chomp) back up to her kingdom.



Back in her office, Amanda Hollis sat at her desk, regarded all of the yellowed paper, the library journals, letters, and other files, then looked over at the typewriter, saw that it was empty except for a small catalog card (“REDS”), and said either to herself or to the Remington: “William Croswell is a 914-piece puzzle. But I think the crucial pieces are missing.”

And then, as if the value of an analogy were measured by reality: “Maybe William Croswell consisted of a thousand pieces, most puzzles do.”

But she still had more questions about it: “Isn’t it my job to complete William Croswell’s life regardless of its number of pieces? Aren’t I there to round out his existence, even if its number is anything but round? Isn’t the point to give his cheerless life meaning and hand Harvard another brick to shore up its own greatness?”

Which, of course, raised more questions.

“Is that why William Croswell cut up his manuscripts? Because he was tired of everyone giving him a piece of their mind, when he could hardly keep his own pieces in order? Didn’t he want to be part of that hall of fame? Maybe he was even avoiding being inducted there at all costs? Is that why he cut up his manuscripts and then had himself thrown out?”

And more and more and more …

“What if William Croswell is part of the conspiracy that the voice told me about?”

And since the point was answering and not heaping up questions: “In any case, just like those Icelandic Vikings, William Croswell was at the forefront of the mapping of America, well, not the mapping of, but rather he was the first to make a certain map in America, one that didn’t depict the country but its skies and stars, from one infernal end to the other.”

But that wasn’t all, because while the seafaring Vikings had discovered this country that now hung great and green over her desk, Amanda Hollis also saw land before her rising from the depths of a paper sea. Once she’d laid aside William Croswell’s library journal and picked up the documents relating to his star map, she discovered a constellation that she wasn’t familiar with and couldn’t be familiar with because it was no longer current, and even in William Croswell’s day it hardly had been. It was just an attempt at a heavenly transfiguration of earthly acts, as obscure as it was late, as had been common among stargazers of the previous century.

And yet, while this constellation on William Croswell’s star map may have been erratic and obsolete, it was also uncanny, because its designation was none other than “The bust of Columbus.”

That was when it happened, or rather when it was accomplished; the fathomless pit had been fathomed and the connection between William Croswell and the Vinland Map had become visible. It had appeared before Amanda Hollis as America had once appeared before a sailor’s eyes.

“I’m Rodrigo de Tirana, and Heath Cover Evil is playing Columbus” shot through Amanda Hollis’s head. “He’ll pocket all of the fame that I’ve earned for myself.”

But there was more, much more, because now that the lines had converged, Amanda Hollis noted that in William Croswell’s case, it wasn’t just a library or Harvard that was at stake, but all of America, and that the conspiracy associated with it went much further than she’d previously thought, that its roots grew deep into the continent.

But that meant that the voice in the pipe had been right from the beginning. America had been threatened for centuries, and everything she had found out about William Croswell only made that clearer, turning suspicions into certainties. In this case, the story — and also the conspiracy — went further back than just to 1760, the year William Croswell had been born, and it was also clear, based on all that she now knew, that it hadn’t ended with his death, but continued on to the present day — and apparently would continue on further.

In other words, William Croswell may have seemed like a little brick in the hallowed halls of Harvard, but actually — in William Croswell’s story, and in the one that the voice in the pipe was telling her — it was Harvard that was just a little brick, hardly more than a sideshow. Yes, really it wasn’t a show at all, but a refuge, the ideal site for a game of hide-and-seek among thousands of books that wouldn’t give up all of their secrets even when it was over, but rather would emerge in the form of a library catalog — a diversionary tactic that would last many years, melancholy turned paper, the perfect cover for a conspiracy continually progressing in the meantime.

From that perspective, it was no wonder that Amanda Hollis hadn’t been able to find anything about William Croswell in the history of Harvard library.

But now, 129 years after his death, William Croswell was giving himself away. And she, Amanda Hollis, would take advantage of these circumstances to decrypt the history behind it, until all of its connections were exposed and the entire extent of the conspiracy had been revealed.

Certainly, she had only a few dozen keywords, names, and numbers, but a multitude of connections had already grown out of them, and that’s why it wasn’t a problem but actually part of the solution that a few questions were raised. They were no longer about William Croswell and Harvard, but rather the Vinland Map and all of America, in fact, those were the only things the questions could be about.

In any case, Amanda Hollis knew that her questions formed the basis for all later answers, which meant that they were the precondition for the complete decryption of the plot.

To put it differently: weren’t the worms eating the Vinland Map and William Croswell cutting up America’s very own library catalog one and the same? Also: in both cases, wasn’t it old, venerable manuscript pages being dismembered? And didn’t that amount to the destruction of history, if only symbolically (but then that’s how it always started)? The destruction of America as it once was and still is? Or, for William Croswell (as for the Vikings, only they didn’t know any better and couldn’t do any differently), was it less about destruction and more about rewriting American history? Ultimately, there was no other choice — if what the voice in the pipe had told her was true, then American history had to be rewritten. From the ground up. And could there be a better place to begin this rewriting than at the oldest research library in the country?

Amanda Hollis knew the answer, though she was far from having all of the evidence in a form that she could put down on paper once and for all. And yet she sensed that her catalog-card-filled lap would soon give birth to the meaning of the story. One thing was for certain: between all of the points, the correspondences, and parallels that she had noted so far, there was one connection, a secret center where everything flowed together — and Harvard was the center of this conspiracy.

But Amanda Hollis realized that would mean that she had to correct herself on one crucial point.

Her assumption that Harvard was just a side stage might be true for William Croswell, and it might also have a certain justification, but it was also possible that its appearance as a sideshow was part of the story to cover it up, and that even back then, Harvard had already been the secret center of the conspiracy, and if not, then in the interceding 129 years after William Croswell’s death, it had developed into it — but with one difference. The cover that was once part of the conspiracy was now part of its resolution.

But there was something else, another correction — this one had to do with herself. If the information from the pipe formed the basis for what she did, and if she was bound by what was left of William Croswell in file form, then she, Amanda Susan Marie Hollis, had to admit that a little light like her was there after all to illuminate a gigantic conspiracy.



That day, Amanda Hollis left her office just before 6 p.m., ran up to the first floor, opened the door of the subterranean library with uncustomary vigor, turned the matter over in her mind as the door swung open, said “Exit” — and climbed the steps she had fallen down that morning.

Behind the swinging door, in one corner of the steps, stood Dick Walrus. He held a shovel in his hands, and his feet were planted in a big pile of snow.

When he saw how Amanda Hollis walked out he door, he paused, but then regretted it, because as he was watching how she climbed the steps, she turned, gave him a glance that made him feel as if he were following her, as if he had climbed into the pile of snow for the purpose of watching her — which made him want to disappear into it.

But the pile of snow was too small for that (or Dick Walrus was too big), which is why he could only smile sheepishly and stamp his feet, which wasn’t just an imbecile reaction, though it certainly looked that way, and also not a stopgap, but rather a job the custodian had deliberately chosen for himself. After all, the snow could be better shoveled under the steps if it was compacted, and besides, then the wind couldn’t blow it up again.

Of course Amanda Hollis didn’t see all that. She just saw Dick Walrus standing in the pile of snow, stamping his feet — which reminded her of Rumpelstiltskin, lost in time and space.

But what could she do? It was his world, his pile of snow, his damned problem.

And so she left him to his business, turned around, and stepped onto the sugarcoated Harvard campus, which lay before her like a meaningless revelation.



In the evening something peculiar happened, because although it got colder, the snow turned into rain, and soon the sugarcoated Harvard campus had a thick layer of icing that left dents in heads and broke arms and legs like hopes.

But Amanda Hollis didn’t notice any of it. She was lying in bed, watching an episode of Gunsmoke on television and spooning the innards of half a dozen sloppy joes directly out of a bowl.

When Gunsmoke was finally over, Red Skelton took the stage and delivered his show like every Thursday, this time with musical accompaniment from a trio by the name of the Lettermen, who sang about “Graduation Day” — a day we’ll treasure through the years, according to the three, which was absolutely untrue in Amanda Hollis’s case, nor were the ivy-covered walls far behind her, as they claimed in the fourth verse. Amanda Hollis had them before her every day, and could even see how the ivy grew down from the walls into the earth.

And yet these lyrical inconsistencies weren’t the reason that Amanda Hollis suddenly dropped the spoon back into the bowl and let her mouth hang open. The true reason was the second Letterman song, called “If I Had a Hammer.”

Normally Amanda Hollis wouldn’t have given the song a second thought, if a newspaper article hadn’t popped into her head that she’d read months before, which not just traced the history of Dylan’s “John Birch Society Blues” but also mentioned “If I Had a Hammer.”

Archivist that she was, Amanda Hollis had cut out the article, folded it neatly, and stuck it in the jacket of Dylan’s record, which is how she soon learned that “If I Had a Hammer” was a communist protest song that was originally sung and recorded by the Weavers but never released by the band’s record company because of its supposedly subversive content, which is why the song was later supposed to be released by a small label as a single but also wasn’t released there because the label went bankrupt under mysterious circumstances. When the Weavers finally did manage to put “If I Had a Hammer” on vinyl, the record company that did it soon became insolvent (or was, as the author implied, driven into it), at which point the song remained unavailable, and its true career began years later when Peter, Paul, and Mary recorded the song and performed it on August 28, 1963, at the March on Washington.

But now the song was on Skelton’s show, and Amanda Hollis had the feeling that not just the song but the whole show had communist underpinnings, which is why it didn’t take any great powers of decryption to recognize why the man moderating it, whose real name was Richard Bernard Skelton, simply called himself Red Skelton.

But there was more, because it wasn’t just the communists, their songs, and propagandists but also the Vinland Map, America, and its history, and based on all that Amanda Hollis knew, it was no coincidence that there was also a man named Skelton here. It was through him that it was possible to draw a line — with an eye to the Vinland Map — reaching from libraries at Harvard to England and the British Museum all the way to the communists in the Soviet Union.

But as Amanda Hollis sat in front of her television with open newspaper articles and an open jaw, she saw how a thick red line suddenly grew out of her mouth, like a long, thin, meaty sausage that progressed toward the screen, and the only thing Amanda Hollis could do was grab the spoon she’d used for her sloppy joes and jab at the off button with it, which she hit — and the wildly expanding sausage disappeared.

“I have to be careful,” thought Amanda Hollis. “Otherwise I’ll go crazy,” she said, shook her head, and turned off the light with the spoon.

Suddenly William Croswell stepped toward her out of the darkness. He simply appeared at the end of her bed, colorless somehow and so large that Amanda Hollis couldn’t see his edges. Maybe there weren’t any, maybe what she saw wasn’t an image, but rather just the lowest common denominator of all of her impressions up to now, a special kind of sensation, ultra-condensed inside her or someplace else. But William Croswell stared at her in silence, and it seemed as if he were shaking his head too, as if he wanted to show her that she didn’t need to be afraid, that the path she was following was the right one.

Then he glided back into the darkness as if on rails, vanished, and went out like the white point on the television she’d just turned off.

That night, Amanda Hollis dreamed that she opened squat lead-gray underground doors behind which archivists sat silently at their tables, their lips sewed shut, a world of stolen glances and tiny chambers where dreams trickled down like rain and seeped into the earth, deep down into a hole that someone else had dug.

“Has anyone seen William Croswell? Is there really not a picture of him?”



The next morning — it was still raining and the archivists ran down the steps like water into the building where history went on file — Amanda Hollis glanced briefly into her room, saw that Heath Cover Evil hadn’t been there for the third night in a row, took her catalog cards, grabbed her fountain pen as she walked by, and climbed down into what had become her life, even if she no longer understood it completely or didn’t understand it yet. But what did it matter? She had something to write and three sloppy joes. Enough to raise her voice for a while and create some clarity with the help of her cards.

“So,” said Amanda Hollis, as if the pipe were a friend who just needed a prompt to start talking.

“Do you know where we were?” asked the voice, sounding rather intimate.

“You asked me questions about the Vinland Map,” said Amanda Hollis, “and said that Marston gave his piece of The Mirror of History as a gift, although it was the crucial piece to prove that the three manuscripts belonged together. But you didn’t know why he did that and you nearly bored a hole in me with your rhetorical questions.”

“And you could feel it?”

“No,” said Amanda Hollis. “All I feel is my sloppy joes.”

“Well,” said the voice. “How about a little music? That’s good when you’re down and alone.”

“I’m not down,” said Amanda Hollis, “and I’m also not alone.” And then, after a second or two: “You’re here.”

But the voice didn’t answer. Instead, music came out of the pipe. Bob Dylan was singing his “John Birch Society Blues” again, but this time Amanda Hollis had the feeling that he wasn’t singing about John Birch’s organization, which tried to defend America from being subverted by communists, but rather about her and how she “most hurriedly” descended into the archive’s archive to hear the voice and the continuation of the story. And though the voice was now silent and the story had halted, Bob Dylan played and there were still the files lying behind her in big iron cabinets waiting for their destruction.

“I investigated all the books in the library. Ninety percent of ’em gotta be burned away,” sang Bob Dylan.

But Amanda Hollis didn’t allow herself to get flustered; after all, she had already deciphered completely different things. This was definitely nothing more than a diversionary tactic, an exceedingly transparent one at that, one that was intended to cast her back on herself and make her superimpose herself on the circumstances and secret connections she’d learned of.

And Amanda Hollis knew why: the song that was being played for her was a test, an attempt to see if she was really in service of the great history of all of America, and not just of her own, small history, because that was a requirement for recognizing connections and grasping the true extent of the conspiracy.

“I fin’ly started thinkin’ straight,” cried Amanda Hollis before Bob Dylan could, stood up, and ran up the steps.



Once she was upstairs, Amanda Hollis rested her head on what was left of William Croswell, in the hopes of seeing the image from yesterday once more, but nothing appeared, not even a shade of black, and her two open eyes gazed inward and spied a crooked analogy in her head.

“I’m resting on William Croswell’s remains, while William Croswell slept on the shoulders of giants.”

But that was really no reason to let her imagination carry her away. Despite his laziness as a librarian, William Croswell had been a scholar, and as such he was predestined for an oil painting with a gilded frame.

And so Amanda Hollis lifted her head from the desktop (or rather from the flattened William Croswell), saw the map in front of her (America!) and the Remington standing behind her, in her thoughts. (Was it casting leery glances at her the whole time?) She turned to it (ha!), stood up (just wait!), walked to it (the keys were already chattering), and asked (cautiously, because you never knew):

“Is there something you want to say to me, typewriter?”

But apparently the Remington didn’t want to say anything.

And so Amanda Hollis asked differently, more directly, bluntly.

“Have you seen a picture of William Croswell? In the library where you stood until a few days ago?”

But the Remington didn’t say a word.

And so Amanda Hollis stuck a sheet into the roller, dug ten cents out of her pocket, put it in the slit, turned around, and started typing. Backward. Blind. With both hands at once.

“dskbnigm,” said the typewriter.

“I understand,” said Amanda Hollis, who didn’t understand anything at all, waddled back to her desk, sat down, and smacked her forehead three times against the desktop.

When she had finished and sat upright again, America had disappeared before her, and it took a moment before she realized that a piece of William Croswell was stuck to her forehead and was blocking her view of the map.

“This damned sweaty forehead,” said Amanda Hollis, pulling the paper from her skin.

Three hours later, following numerous attempts at formulating her request, it was time for lunch, but this time Amanda Hollis didn’t go down into the basement, but rather walked one level up instead of down. She looked around, saw that everyone had gone to lunch — and pinned a sheet of paper to the underground library’s bulletin board.

Wanted: A picture of William Croswell (1760 – 1834).

William is 5'8" with gray hair, light skin, and dark eyes.

He was a book cataloger here at Harvard.

Have you seen him?

Please call: 625-8914

Thanks in advance for your he

She knew she wouldn’t hear anything. The bulletin board was plastered with paper on all sides. It looked like an archive gone wild.



Amanda Hollis spent the next hour looking through what she had written on her cards in the past days and taking inventory of what she had noted thus far. Although she had established a preliminary order and sorted all of the information, the events and places, the names and numbers — despite all of the connections, it didn’t create a whole, it didn’t result in a picture, and so Amanda Hollis began mixing the cards, to read them in a different order in the hopes of getting some new ideas.

But there weren’t any, just the feeling that it would have been a possibility that hadn’t yet been exhausted, but that must have been because the voice in the pipe hadn’t yet told her everything, that her index was not yet complete.

On the other hand, maybe the voice didn’t even intend to tell her everything, or at least not flat-out. Maybe he wanted her, Amanda Hollis, to do something as well, something that went beyond simple listening and following up.

And so she went down into the basement to continue filling her index — and to tell the voice what she already knew.

It was time to make a few connections clear and to draw lines, that is, to trace them, in order to move ahead.

“Listen, I’ve been thinking about it,” called Amanda Hollis as she hurried down the stairs. “We have Ferrajoli, so we have a fascist. And we have Bob Dylan, so we must also have communists.”

“Dylan isn’t a communist,” said the voice. He said it calmly, in a tone reserved for certainties.

“Some people see that differently,” replied Amanda Hollis, who didn’t want to let herself be led astray. Instead of sitting, she remained standing on the last step. “It’s no coincidence and also a widely known fact that the Communist Party even likes Bob Dylan.”

“The communists like everyone who’s useful to them,” said the voice almost casually. “But unfortunately, in this case, the functionaries have forgotten that Mr. Dylan doesn’t behave any differently than they do.”

“Do you mean that Dylan uses the communists to advance his career?”

“I mean that Mr. Dylan isn’t particularly interested in the communists. Maybe in Miss Susan Rotolo.”

“The one on the cover of Freewheelin’?

“That’s the one. Miss Rotolo may be extremely politically active and her parents are members of the American Communist Party, but that doesn’t necessarily make Mr. Dylan a communist. You could say it absolutely doesn’t make him one.”

“But in ‘John Birch Society Blues,’ he sings about some.”

“He sings about the paranoia that we have here in America on account of the Reds.”

“And while we’re talking about it,” replied Amanda Hollis, who didn’t want to give up or back down. “The song should never been allowed to play. It was a clue that the communists are behind things.”

“Behind what things?” asked the voice.

“The whole thing,” said Amanda Hollis. And because that was maybe a little too vague and incomprehensible for anyone who wasn’t herself: “Vinland was invented by the communists!”

“Aha,” said the voice, which really wanted to say “Oh.”

“Yes,” said Amanda Hollis, “the communists created the Vinland Map to falsify American history.”

“Interesting theory,” said the voice.

“Yes, but that’s far from all of it,” said Amanda Hollis. “The communists even managed to smuggle their Red song onto television and to get Red Skelton to tow the line.”

“Red Skelton is a communist?”

“A communist and apparently also involved in the business with the Vinland Map.”

“Oh,” said the voice, who really wanted to say “Aha.”

“Yes, and as if that weren’t enough, the Reds have also managed to get ‘John Birch Society Blues’ printed on vinyl, although it doesn’t exist on vinyl.”

“Stop!” cried the voice. “‘John Birch Society Blues’ was originally on Dylan’s Freewheelin’. But the bosses at his record company took it off again and had new records made once it became clear that he wouldn’t be allowed to play the song on television. But at that point, a few advance copies of the record had already been sent out, and not all of them that were recalled were sent back …”

And then, after the sound of a vibration that doubtlessly originated on the second-to-last step: “I presume we can continue.”

“Tomorrow,” said Amanda Hollis. “Today I don’t feel well.”



Back in her office, Amanda Hollis wandered over to the Remington, saw the catalog card she’d taken out of the typewriter in order to type her want ad regarding the picture of William Croswell, read — once again — “REDS,” deciphered “Reds, Entertainment executives, Dylan, Skelton,” and then, because it only seemed distant but was actually also part of the same story, “Registers, Edible parchment, Dovetailing wormhole Solution,” and had the feeling that those were two threads that still had to be tied. She shuffled (because the week was draining, everything was too much for her at the moment, and besides it was Friday) over to William Croswell, said “Good night,” and turned off the light to go to the doctor — for a migraine, of course — and not come back for the rest of the day.



Amanda Hollis spent the weekend in bed, had a good time with a dozen sloppy joes, watched television, forgot to shower, and didn’t think of anything in particular. When she returned on Monday, she discovered that her announcement in the library had been deluged with paper.

For a moment, she considered sticking her sheet on top again, but then she saw Dick Walrus standing at the end of the hallway. He put his hands deep in the thicket of notes and tore all of the announcements down, revealing the black background beneath them. It was his duty. He didn’t care. Behind him, students were already rearing to go, new sheets of paper in their hands.

“The bulletin board is a palimpsest,” thought Amanda Hollis, “but its text is always the same.”

Then she turned on her heel and disappeared into her office.

William Croswell and the Remington were already waiting for her.

“Listen,” said Amanda Hollis to the typewriter when she entered, “ten cents for a few clever keywords on William Croswell’s life, what do you think?” And she put money in the box, inserted a catalog card in the roller, and sat down.

But the Remington wasn’t interested in that at all. In the past years it had already produced enough clever words.

So Amanda Hollis took her hands, shook out her fingers over the keys, and concealed this loosening-up exercise in the cloak of a secret ceremony. But then it was just a reference to filthy lucre that slipped out of her.

“Did you know that William Croswell suggested to our then president, John Quincy Adams, to mint fifteen- and twenty-cent coins?”

The Remington hadn’t known.

Amanda Hollis started typing anyway.

“lp,” said the Remington.

“These damned sweaty fingers!” cried Amanda Hollis, immersing them in the upholstery under her bottom.

William Croswell was silent.

The card vibrated out of the roller.

Amanda Hollis didn’t let herself be pulled off course.

The Remington listened whether it wanted to or not.

“Did you know that William Croswell also tried to write in vain? All of his books remained unprinted, with two exceptions, because his subscribers could be counted on one hand — and sometimes on none at all. The biggest failure was his Collection of the Most Approved Systems of Bibliography. Four hundred preorders were required to print the book, and as far as I know, there wasn’t a single one. And when he paid for it out of his own pocket, it was a guaranteed disaster. He didn’t even sell ten copies of Tables for Readily Computing the Longitude by the Lunar Observations. Only two of his friends wanted to read his edition of the works of Horace. So it was almost a stroke of luck that the book wasn’t even published.”

The Remington was silent.

Amanda Hollis was sweating.

The catalog card was reverberating.

William Croswell was seething.



The rest of the day consisted of bouts of migraine that came at such short intervals and were so painful that Amanda Hollis didn’t even manage to go down into the basement to listen to the story. Even her sloppy joes remained untouched that day, and when Dick Walrus saw a figure creeping out of the concrete bunker at 6 p.m., he felt as if the people down there were being smothered by paper.



That night, Amanda Hollis dreamed once more about the archivists sitting in their paper chambers, but this time the lead-gray doors were all standing wide-open, and as she walked by them toward her office, glances flanked her from the left and right and collected in the hallway in the form of prying eyes.

But Amanda Hollis didn’t pay them any attention and walked unflinchingly onward, but the very moment she entered her office, she saw Dick Walrus appear at the end of the hallway.

He swept up the eyes lying around on the floor with his shovel and deposited them directly in front of her door.

Inside, a large piece of paper lay across the Croswellian files on Amanda Hollis’s desk, black and thick as cardboard, with white script: “V. i a f! Haha!”

At first she read “V. is a forgery,” but then she realized that V. stood for Vinland and that it could only be in reference to the map.

“No,” said Amanda Hollis and picked up the cardboard to throw it away, but the wastepaper basket under her desk was no longer there. She looked for it and finally found it hanging on the wall, up high like a basketball hoop, and when she threw the paper in, the ceiling opened above her, and Amanda Hollis saw Heath Cover Evil sitting at his desk, and his fingers lay on the desktop like broken twigs.

Then he stood up and pierced the cloud trusses with his skull, while the ceiling slid back shut over Amanda Hollis, and outside in the hallway someone began to press eyeballs through the keyhole, one after the other, until they popped out on the other side and burst on the floor of her office like water balloons. Amanda Hollis stood there motionless and saw how the rivulet of eyes inched closer to her and more and more eyes plopped out of the keyhole and shattered on the rock-hard floor. Behind her, the thick black cardboard still lay in the wastepaper basket, at Heath Cover Evil’s feet, and everything was wrong and the crumpled piece of writing was just a symbol, because the almighty, oh God!, had stomped on outer space.



Amanda Hollis awoke with the feeling that something wasn’t right. When she looked out the window, it became clear to her that the rain had turned to snow in the night and the only reason it wasn’t falling from the sky anymore is that everything already lay down below.

But that wasn’t so bad, a stroke of luck even, because although on days when the weather waffled, she usually didn’t know whether she should pull something down over her head or her shoes, this time the matter was clear, and when Amanda Hollis left the house, with her first step she sensed the slippery icing under the snow — and was happy in the knowledge that her ice cleats were under her soles, with those little metal bits that prevented slipping and simultaneously made her hope for a romantic rendezvous.

And why not; she’d only just purchased the practical little helpers after she’d read a report in an edition of The Postal Record, the journal of the National Association of Letter Carriers, which informed its members about workers’ rights but also sought to protect them against the rigors of winter — and which she, Amanda Hollis had received monthly free of charge for seven and a half years. She’d discovered that this was because a certain Trimteed Vandal, a postman, had lived in the apartment before she did.

When he moved, he’d not only failed to remove his name from the mailbox but also apparently hadn’t managed to give the union his new address — and after Amanda Hollis had initially asked herself whether what she was doing was right, in the meantime she now no longer saw any reason to change anything about this condition, this history constantly taking place in the present.

To the contrary, she hoped that Trimteed Vandal — his face tanned by the elements and his bags filled with the new special-edition stamp for the patron saint of libraries, Andrew Carnegie — would personally stand at her door one day to pick up his ninety-four copies of The Postal Record — and maybe a little more.

But that morning, except for a few snowmen, there was no one to be seen, and when, thirty minutes after leaving the house, Amanda Hollis stood on the staircase she’d slipped down a few days before, she wished she hadn’t just strapped the ice guards to her feet but also pulled something down over her head, or at least taken an umbrella, because as she carefully began to descend the steps, she saw something shoot up at her from below, something that was the size and shape of a paving stone …

It was Dick Walrus, shoveling snow out of the stairwell again.

When he saw Amanda Hollis, he instantly stopped, but she cast a glance at him that made him feel as if he had only been waiting to let a few heavy pieces of sleet-rock crash at her feet, with one or two maybe landing on them.

So he took his shovel, rammed it into the pile of snow as if the hole that he stood in were a strange island and he its conqueror, and stomped to the door to open it so that Amanda Hollis could walk inside. And while Amanda Hollis disappeared wordlessly into the interior and Dick Walrus closed the door again, he suddenly saw the snowmelt come running down the concrete walls of the library — and had the feeling of actually being on an island, and she, Amanda Hollis, was his queen. He had conquered the isle for her, laid it at her feet, and begged her to take possession of it, and she had accepted his invitation.



It was cool in the archive’s archive, and Amanda Hollis enjoyed stepping down into its depths. Her sweaty hands were nearly dry, and the voice didn’t seem to have taken her precipitous departure the wrong way. He simply began from the point he’d left off. Amanda Hollis didn’t even have to recite her “Where were we?” line.

“Now, as we saw, there was a whole series of connections between Witten and Marston,” said the voice, “and in their circles, they gave each other choice slices of parchment at seventy-five pounds sterling per piece, the way other people give flowers. For someone like Marston that was certainly no financial problem, but the value of the piece of The Mirror of History was significantly higher, if not invaluable, which is why we were asking ourselves why Marston gave it at all if he would have had much better cards keeping it. But we didn’t come up with an answer.”

“But now you have one?”

“No, why would you think that?” asked the voice.

“You had four days’ time to think about it,” said Amanda Hollis.

“But I only slept on it one night” was the answer.


“Because you said you’d come back the next day.”


“You didn’t come.”

“It was the weekend.”

“And yesterday?”

“That was Monday and I wasn’t well.”

“And now?”

“It’s Tuesday. And I’m at my wits’ end.”

“Wednesday,” said the voice. “Wednesday is one option.”

“Yes,” said Amanda Hollis. She stood up and left.



On Wednesday, October 8, 1817, William Croswell declared his task completed. All of his manuscripts had been cut up. Amanda Hollis looked in her index for a suitable keyword but didn’t find one.

And so the next day, she went down to the basement to hear the next installment of the story. But the voice didn’t say a word, and since he also did react to questioning, Amanda Hollis laid her ear on the pipe. It was warm and its insides were filled with little hiccups; she imagined they looked like a swarm of air bubbles rising to the surface from the mouth of a diver. Except that in this case, they ran horizontally.

“The hiccups in the pipe are the grains of sand in an hourglass,” thought Amanda Hollis. “I catch them with my ear and set them free.”

Then she went back to her office and tried in vain for the rest of the day to make a coherent image of William Croswell for herself.



When Amanda Hollis opened the door to her apartment just after six-thirty, the phone was already ringing. Who in the world could that be? Maybe, she thought, it was Larry Witten. but she hadn’t ordered any manuscripts, or given him any. Besides, her phone number wasn’t one of those that antique-book dealers wrote on their Rolodex cards.

But what if it were Trimteed Vandal? Though she hadn’t asked for his magazines, she had kept them. And he had her phone number, after all, as it had been his own. But even if it was him, how would he know when she came home?

Amanda Hollis shut the door quietly (who knows, maybe they could hear her on the other end of the line), noiselessly peeled off her jacket (you never knew), and picked up the phone.

A young man was on the line. He had never heard of a Trimteed Vandal, but he had found a picture of William Croswell.

“Oh!” Amanda Hollis yelped into the receiver, recited a handful of senseless keywords, finally said “Yes!” (in answer to the suggestion they meet the next day), and hung up.



He was very pale, very dapper, had a very French-sounding name, and studied art history. He’d seen the picture in a store that was filled from top to bottom with old junk, as he put it, remembered her note, and bought it.

It was a somewhat oily canvas, but that may have been due to William Croswell. His face was large and round and his brown eyes lay in it like raisins in gooey dough.

“William Croswell looks as if his mother baked him out of lard,” thought Amanda Hollis. But she didn’t care. William Croswell’s hair was gray, just as described, but his skull was already bare except for around the edges, and Amanda Hollis thought that “flesh-toned” would have been a better description. But what did that matter? William Croswell finally stood before her in all of his glory. He was one big clump of coziness.

“And you paid ten dollars for that?” asked Amanda Hollis.

“I did,” said the student with the French-sounding name.

“I’ll give you eleven.”

“But …”

“No buts or you’ll get twelve.”

“But …”

“Well, fine, twelve — but no more.”

That was an entire day’s wage for Amanda Hollis.

It was worth it to her.

She would never put another cent into the Remington.

Two days later, while searching for clues about the whereabouts of the Drexel chandelier, she found the picture that she had bought and hung over her bed in the National Encyclopedia under the letter d. The caption read: “William Croswell Doane. First Bishop of Albany. 1832 – 1913.”

Amanda Hollis crept out of the library, rode home, took the picture from the wall, wrapped her arms around William Croswell’s oily head, and as she attempted to whisper something in his ear, she noticed that his last name had been scratched off and painted over.



On the following Monday — sleet had been slopping down for hours, immersing all of Harvard in a slithery white-gray light — Amanda Hollis was swallowed up by the archive building like a praline falling into rich milk. The diatribe she held in her office, however, wasn’t in response to the weather, nor was it addressed to anyone else.

“We must be capable of putting an end to things! And end to these damned scholars, to this damned Harvard, to this whole damned university where they consider the archivists to be a lower order, and drive the librarians to distraction, today as in William Croswell’s time, when the students tried to paper over the depravity of their own brains with childish games. These damned students and this damned Harvard, joining forces in a damned library where the doors have never stopped squeaking, driving the sensitive William Croswell to the edge of a nervous breakdown again and again.

“He used to work on his projects, fearing nothing and nobody, but at Harvard he grew more sensitive day by day, and at some point he was even bothered by the fruit sellers at the market and the fishermen’s foghorns, to say nothing of Harvard’s frequent gunfire. Oh William Croswell, what became of you?! And what of me?! I sit in a subterranean library, yellowing like old paper and expanding like a wet book. In a few years, I’ll drag myself down the steps into the earth, flop in my chair like a great clod of taking it too easy, and in the afternoons I’ll clamber back up to the surface as if it were Mount McKinley. Oh William Croswell, the people above me are free and they grow to the most noxious heights, but down here below, everything is cramped and full, and soon they’ll convert the archive’s archive into an archive, considering all of the paper that they produce up there.”

“Yes,” said Dick Walrus, who had come in to put up some new shelves. “It’s really a lot.”

Amanda Hollis fell silent, bit into one of her sloppy joes, and said nothing.

Meanwhile, Dick Walrus nailed a handful of boards together, as though he had to prevent them from being turned into more paper on the spot.

When he was finished and had left again, lacking anyone to talk to and because she had to let her thoughts out, Amanda Hollis turned to the Remington.

“Listen, there are two William Croswells, but I can’t seem to gather up the right one. Do you understand? All I ever had was words. They were all correct — keywords, if you get my drift. But there was never any feeling. And now I have a picture, and it’s the wrong one but it gives me a feeling. What do you think I should do?” she said and put ten cents into the Remington, which had somehow imagined its retirement differently.

Its answer read as follows:

“What ended up happening to the chandelier at Drexel?”

“Not you too!” cried Amanda Hollis. She stood up and left.

Not two minutes later, the question was stuck at the very top of the wild archive of announcements.



When Amanda Hollis descended into the basement at nine o’clock, it occurred to her that she hadn’t been down there in nearly a week.

“Where were you?” asked the voice, who had evidently also noticed.

“I was at confession,” said Amanda Hollis

“The whole time?”

“Yes,” said Amanda Hollis, “He was a bishop, and I had a lot to tell him.”

But then the lie opened her eyes, and her statement became an inspiration.

“There’s a bishop who’s called William Croswell, but he isn’t the William Croswell I mean. And there’s a bishop named Jean de Hautfune, but who apparently isn’t John of Hautfuney, the voice talked about that. But I’m standing in the middle, along with some mirrored stories and another two men who are writing keywords and have extended their indexes within and outside of their books, and to such an extent that for the one it became confounding and for the other it became infinite.”

And then: “It means something! But what? What?!”

Amanda Hollis didn’t know, but maybe the voice could help her.

And lo and behold, it apparently could read thoughts after all:

“You came to see if I’d come up with an answer to the question about The Mirror of History and the Vinland Map in the meantime,” said the voice.

“No,” Amanda Hollis lied for a second time. “I don’t care about the story, but you can keep telling it to me if you want.”

And then, because the voice was silent and Amanda Hollis was afraid that she’d overdone it with the fibbing and lied away the intricate thread of the story laying before her, she said: “Now where did we leave off?”

“Well, if we leave away the questions, we’re still by the observation that Thomas Marston didn’t just do business with Larry Witten but also with Enzo Ferrajoli. However, and this will be news to you, Marston became a little more cautious after Ferrajoli’s imprisonment. Or at least, in the past years he’s undertaken small, let’s call them repairs on his manuscripts.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Amanda Hollis.

“It means that Marston removed a few proofs of ownership.”

“You mean he did it like Ferrajoli and destroyed the corresponding catalog card?”

“Not quite. In this case there isn’t a catalog card. In medieval parchments, the copy is part of the original.”

“I don’t understand,” said Amanda Hollis, who couldn’t make heads or tails of half-copied originals. “I’m afraid you’ll have to explain it to me.”

“Good, I’d like to give you an example,” said the voice and happily set out exemplifying. “There was a codex from the thirteenth century that ended up in Marston’s hands in 1959 with the help of the usual suspects, that is, Ferrajoli, Rauch, and Witten. It’s clear to all involved that the codex was stolen in Saragossa, but Marston is of the opinion that it would be better if generations to come, or shall we say: a later buyer doesn’t know anything about that, at which point he removes the proof of origin from the codex.”

“Are you trying to tell me that Marston scratched the proof of ownership off of the parchment?!”

“That’s exactly what I’m trying to tell you,” said the voice. “But there’s more, because the piece of The Mirror of History that Marston bought was, based on all that I know, modified. At least someone tried to remove a library stamp and also undertook other small improvements. However, all that happened before Marston bought the manuscript, and in this case I can’t say when it happened or who did it. Maybe it was Ferrajoli. Or Davis. Or someone else from their parchment world. Then it would have been a bit of prep work for Davis’s catalog. Advance payment for an advance edition, so to speak. But that seems to me like a little too much work for a piece of parchment that was billed at seventy-five pounds.”

“Seventy-five pounds or not, there are people who scratch out names for much less!” shouted Amanda Hollis and stood up.

“I don’t think I can follow you,” said the voice.

“You shouldn’t,” said Amanda Hollis. “I have to go.”

“What?” asked the voice. “Where?”

“Confession.” And then, already halfway up the steps: “The bishop and I, we didn’t finish up last time.”



That was it, then: the next track, the next point at which two strands intertwined. Sure, a few names and stamps scratched out didn’t a conspiracy make, nor was there a path forward that would lead her clearly and comfortably to her goal, where a big sign that read “Resolution and End of the Story” would be waiting for Amanda Hollis. Rather, it seemed that what lay before her was a series of serpentine paths, a disordered tangle of larger and smaller lines that would have to be tied together. But Amanda Hollis didn’t care, because one thing was now clear: there was a group of people who were adept at scratching off and destroying names and origins. At first glance, it seemed that they did it for the money, but that wasn’t a sufficient motive. In any case, it was clear that those involved were active at different locations — apparently to better conceal themselves. The shady Ferrajoli in Spain, influential Marston at Yale, and then Davis in London, and the student with the filthy French name here at Harvard. But it wasn’t just the locations that differed but also the professions that these people pursued, and really the record-label bosses were part of it, whether they scratched “John Birch Society Blues” or “If I Had a Hammer” from the vinyl.

But there was even more, there were others who were skilled at scratching out and concealing. Movie producers, for example. In any case, Amanda Hollis remembered that in her newspaper article there wasn’t just information on the suspicious Bob Dylan and other protest singers but also something about the completely inconspicuous Fred Astaire. To be more precise, it was about the dance number to the song with the distinctive title “It’s Not in the Cards,” which Astaire was supposed to perform together with Ginger Rogers right at the beginning of his film Swing Time, but, as Amanda Hollis knew, not only the song but also the whole performance was nixed by the producers just after the premiere — that is, cut out.

But only now did it become clear to her that that meant two things.

For one, it was just like Bob Dylan’s album; according to the voice in the pipe, not all of the recalled copies were sent back. And in the case of the film, a few people got wind of it, which means they had seen or heard the uncensored version.

The other thing was that as far as record-label bosses and film producers went, the group of suspicious characters had grown significantly larger and the items that they scratched up, cut off, or otherwise altered were things that stepped out of the past and into the present — a present that was much better illuminated than the secret private collections and dark centuries that the pipe had talked about.

But there was even more, which Amanda Hollis was only just beginning to understand, because the fact that this group, this apparently secret league of people in the farthest-flung cities and countries, was active, and the potential for them to intervene in space as well as time was nearly without limit. It made all the clearer to her both the power they possessed and the truly vast extent of the entire conspiracy.

And even if Amanda Hollis didn’t know the real reason, that is to say the motive, behind all these attempts at erasure and alteration, or couldn’t specify it beyond the usual lust for money and power — reasons that doubtlessly fell short in this case, if not to say only scratched the surface — there was one thing she did know: she couldn’t rush anything. And in no case should she cut up her cards. On the contrary, she had to continuously expand on them, always create new ones, and try to organize all of the information. Once she had noted everything down, the connections and circumstances of this conspiracy would crystalize all by themselves.

But for the time being, it was important to take note of the one whose task was the methodical concealment and destruction of origins.

The Destroyers of Origins

Name, Profession, and Country

Enzo Ferrajoli:

Bookseller/businessman (Spain)

Thomas Marston:

Map expert/collector (America)

Joseph Davis:

Bookseller (England)


Student/scumbag/swindler (America)

Record-label bosses:

Record-label bosses (America)

Film producers:

Film producers (America)

Those involved with the Vinland Map book:

Authors / publishers / indexers (England / America)

But didn’t Heath Cover Evil also belong among the Destroyers of Origins, wasn’t he also someone who concealed and warped what was there to suit a purpose only he knew? In any case, he wanted to take someone building castles in the air by the name of William Croswell and turn him into a serious librarian, turning his utterly meaningless life into a heroic tale.

And what about William Croswell himself? Wasn’t cutting things up also a way of reorganizing things, one that only seemed to destroy at first glance but whose goal was actually something completely different, something she wasn’t yet aware of?

On the other hand, even if William Croswell was counted in this group, that was only half the truth. After all, he had been robbed of his past when Mr. Potter and Mr. Bolton struck him from the index of Librarians of Harvard College.

From that point of view, they were also Destroyers of Origins. They were scholars who caused something to be forgotten even as they wrote.

But why? Had William Croswell perhaps become a renegade? One whose name had to be erased so that the conspiracy he had once helped to build would never come to light?

Well, the question couldn’t be answered at the moment, but it looked as if William Croswell, this nothing, this nobody, was a key figure in the conspiracy. Yes, even more, several things pointed to the fact that he was even the unifying piece, the point at which the legs of an X crossed, a piece of mirrored history that, though not a complete picture, had fragments on either side that it united and divided. After all, William Croswell hadn’t just sat around idly in the library, he’d cut up his manuscripts and, what was worse, the library’s old bound title catalog, doing his part to annihilate a piece of history and to conceal its original form.

Which led Amanda Hollis to the question of what goal this annihilation and concealment served. Was the point simply to rewrite history in the service of the present, as people have done in all eras and all over the world? But why? To obtain money and power? Surely that could have been a motivation, and yet it meant only scratching the surface, replacing a handful of names with a handful of others, changing a few locations and the years — and otherwise simply spinning in a circle.

No, the desire to rewrite history in order to attain riches and power was far too general an explanation and therefore unsuitable. Besides, they didn’t do anything different here in the archive. Would she have to include herself in this group?

On the other hand: who cared about catalog cards? A few archivists? Two or three library employees? People who read the Register?

But those were all people on the margins. People of the past. Lovers of relics from a world of paper that had never really existed.

And the ones who were a bit different, who lived in the present and reached the masses — the record-label bosses, for example — they didn’t benefit from excluding a song from a record, except maybe having one less lawsuit on their hands and a little fun seeing the small labels that did publish it go bankrupt over a handful of protest songs then disappear from the scene. But that wasn’t nearly reason enough — and the film people didn’t care anyway.

On the other hand, what was being rewritten here and therefore destroyed? History? But why? To deprive it of its own origins, its historicity?

“That would at least be an option,” it occurred to Amanda Hollis, at which point a thought shot into her head from the upper right that seemed to exude the spirit of Harvard: “The paradox of history is that the longer it lasts, the more it resists the concept of eternity,” came from her mouth, although she had the feeling she was just a medium for the thought.

But who had thought it? Who sat in the upper right? Heath Cover Evil? William Croswell? God?

Amanda Hollis didn’t know, but she immediately asked herself what this thought meant for her own story.

“Once I’ve solved the mystery of this conspiracy, will I be freed from this concrete bunker? But what if I don’t want that? Is eternity my goal?”

Amanda Hollis really didn’t have the slightest inkling. And so she closed her eyes, shook her head, and waited for time to leap forward.



During her lunch break, Amanda Hollis went to check on the note she had posted inquiring about the whereabouts of the Drexel chandelier, but it had disappeared and in its place was another. On it was written with a typewriter: “Do you mean the chandelier in the big hall of Drexel’s main building?”

“Yes,” whispered Amanda Hollis, as if the person who had posed the question could hear her.

But then she realized that she was hallucinating and her vision blurred and her eyes sank to the ground, where all that she saw were her shoes — and Dick Walrus’s next to her.

He was standing in front of the bulletin board inspecting the notes. It was his duty. Anything old or objectionable he tore down. Then he turned and left to dispose of the paper he’d collected.

As soon as his shoes had flopped out of her field of vision, Amanda Hollis lifted her head to see if he had also taken “her” note. But it was still there, still asking, “Do you mean the chandelier in the big hall of Drexel’s main building?”

This time Amanda Hollis didn’t reply, but rather she watched how her right hand grabbed the note and tore it down — exposing the next one. It asked: “The chandelier with the Venus de Milo beneath it?”

Amanda Hollis stood there face to face with an archive steeped in its own wild memory and tried to form clear thoughts as the notes flared and fluttered in the wind, as if someone had left the library door open.

It took a moment for Amanda Hollis to notice that it was Dick Walrus who had propped open the door to sweep out the snow that the students had tracked into the library with their shoes.

But Amanda Hollis wasn’t interested in the snow on the ground, she only had eyes for the paper in front of her nose, and in her head was the desire to take action. And that meant also tearing off the next sheet and finding out what lay beneath it. And that’s what she did. And underneath it she found — a request from a student wondering whether someone could lend him an Uyghur grammar book.


Just before the end of her lunch break, Amanda Hollis left the archive, climbed the steps to the campus, and walked briskly into the big almond-colored library across the way to once again examine the newspapers covering the catastrophe at Drexel.

It was only when she was sitting there in the big reading room, waiting for her requests, that it became clear to her that she hadn’t just gone from the archive across the campus to this book repository, but also from A across C to B, and that maybe that was her life.



There was just one image of the catastrophe at Drexel, and all of the newspapers used it. Amanda Hollis regarded it as if she were retracing the sequence of events with her eyes, as if her gaze were also subject to the law of gravity.

And so she watched how the water ran through the shattered glass roof of the main hall, poured over the chandelier, flowed down its long, bell-shaped tubes, and dropped below — onto the Venus de Milo.

“The Venus at Drexel is just a copy,” whispered Amanda Hollis as she read it in the newspaper.

But it wasn’t the information in the text, but rather the picture of the statue printed next to her that made her stop short: wide hips, small breasts … didn’t she have a very similar figure?

“Maybe I’m just a copy too?” wondered Amanda Hollis and looked around.

The way it looked, all of the people sitting here were asking themselves questions, thinking about and trying to understand what was in front of them. And even if she wasn’t the only one not finding any answers, at least she was the only one who looked like herself.

But because she didn’t want to draw attention to herself or to sit around idly like William Croswell, Amanda Hollis soon returned to her examination of the Venus de Drexel, which had a cloth draped around its hips. She looked as if she’d just climbed out of the bath. Or stepped out of the shower …

But where was the bath? And where was the shower?

The answer was simple. At least for someone proficient in analogies.

“The great hall at Drexel is the bath that I climbed out of,” it occurred to Amanda Hollis, and she grew flushed. “It’s the shower stall where my mind freshened up. And that’s why it’s no wonder that when viewed from below, the chandelier looks like a big showerhead and” — she closed her eyes — “maybe it’s also no coincidence that the glass roof burst over it and that the rain streamed in after the explosion.”

Amanda Hollis felt herself sweating. Her entire body seemed to be overflowing.

She rubbed her sleeve across her forehead and tried to dry her hands on the waist of her skirt.

It didn’t do any good; she was soaked to the skin.



Back in the archive, Amanda Hollis didn’t know what to do with herself, with the Venus de Milo and the chandelier at Drexel, and the only thing she could think of was to turn to the typewriter.

“Listen up,” she said, and sat at the Remington. “Ten cents for a tip that leads to the identification of the note poster.”

“Fifteen,” said the Remington.

“There are no fifteen-cent coins,” said Amanda Hollis.

“Then give me twenty,” said the Remington.

William Croswell sneered.

“But …”

“That’s two times ten,” said the Remington.

William Croswell was silent.

Amanda Hollis put the money in, closed her eyes, and started to type.

“hwiktpwwtn,” said the typewriter.

“I’ll have to think about that,” said Amanda Hollis. She stood up and headed down into the archive’s archive.



“I know where we left off,” said Amanda Hollis and remained standing (on the bottom step). “We’d said that the fragment of The Mirror of History was the key to the Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation, and that Witten’s wife came to possess all three manuscripts, which were given to her as gifts. But then you posed some questions that no one could answer instead of telling me whether Mrs. Witten sold the manuscripts or not.”

“Yes,” said the voice in the pipe. “She sold them. For a million dollars.”

“Oh!” said Amanda Hollis, who really didn’t want to say “Oh” anymore. “And now?”

“I’m going to start confessing myself,” said the voice and was silent.

“Well,” said Amanda Hollis. She turned around and went back to her office.



“Today the voice wasn’t very communicative,” thought Amanda Hollis. “On the other hand, maybe it’s for the best that way, maybe he would have told me about the showering Venus de Milo,” she said and bit her first sloppy joe in its left flank. Then in the right. Then an attack from behind, and she could wolf the rest down in one bite.

When the sloppy joe lay quartered in Amanda Hollis’s stomach, she turned again to William Croswell, who lingered about on her desk — in many more pieces, a bit of a jumble.

“So much paper,” moaned Amanda Hollis. “Bills, leases, teaching materials, travel diaries, letters … And you didn’t address a single one of them to me.”

And then after that moment that every accusation requires before it will cross the vocal cords: “You certainly had enough time in the library. And before too. Unlike me, you had a life before the library.”

Was that a poem?

Amanda Hollis didn’t know.

And William Croswell was still silent.

But the Remington purred. The twenty cents hadn’t run out. So Amanda Hollis sat at the keyboard a second time — and the machine typed.

Ode to William Croswell

You traveled to England twice on a ship

And you got little and lost much on your New York trip.

You walked from London to Liverpool

And made a map of the stars while still teaching school.

You rented a room from a certain Mrs. Carter

But your lessons there were a nonstarter.

You returned to America three hundred dollars in debt

But finally, your star map would be typeset.

You taught astronomy, mathematics, and bookkeeping,

But your true expertise was always sleeping.

Oh William Croswell, why didn’t you stay

in England until the end of your days?


“Done,” said Amanda Hollis.

But the Remington was still purring.

So Amanda Hollis took another sheet, rolled it in, and pounded her joy through the keys and into the page.


An hour later, the sheet was hanging on the library’s bulletin board.



As Amanda Hollis stood under the shower the next morning, it occurred to her that that Wednesday was the twentieth of November, and that today the day of her birth had its thirtieth anniversary. But since she didn’t know what to make of this fact, this number, this whole life (and it couldn’t be changed anyway), she wrote “30” with her index finger on the fogged tiles in front of her and as the hot water ran down her, she watched how the number clouded and expired bit by bit in a wash of steam.

“The shower is an inverse palimpsest,” thought Amanda Hollis. She turned off the water and stepped into the day.

When she arrived at the library and looked at the wild archive, she was disappointed to see that her notice had disappeared under a thick layer of new paper, and when Amanda Hollis finally found it, it was untouched.

She briefly considered tearing it down, but then she remembered that a few days earlier in the basement she had promised herself to take her time and wait. Which is to say: to follow one’s own instructions to remove neither files from circulation, nor anyone else’s.

And so she left the paper hanging there and started to roam through the depths of the note forest (it was her birthday, after all, and before she got down to work, she wanted to enjoy herself a little), and although all of the Uyghur-grammar scholars had disappeared, at least she found a guy who was brave enough to risk his ass (and two dollars) betting that Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor would get married in the next year, while the note presented next to his was seeking a ride-share to Dallas.

As Amanda Hollis was reading the note (and asking herself who could be so crazy to get into a complete stranger’s car and drive halfway across the country with them when you could just take the train), a gust of wind lifted the paper — and beneath it stood: “At Drexel the chandelier disappeared, and the Venus de Milo lost its base.”

It was one minute after eight.

Dick Walrus stamped into the library with a big shovel.

Amanda Hollis saw only paper, reached for the Venus and tore the chandelier down. Then she fell to her knees.

When Dick Walrus saw Amanda Hollis cowering on the floor, he wanted to give her his hand. But then it occurred to him that the last time she had rebuffed him, and so he took his shovel and laid the handle between her hands on the floor.

He looked as if he were giving her a tissue.

But Amanda Hollis didn’t want to have it.

She didn’t want anyone to help her.

Amanda Hollis wanted to stand up on her own two legs.

Yes, she was on her knees, squatting on a foundation of facts that she didn’t understand, while Nathan Pusey’s entire damned underground library was in the process of flooding, bit by bit.

But that didn’t matter. It wouldn’t do any good to reach for the handle of a shovel in a situation like that, to pull oneself upward on it like someone drowning who is saved at the last second. And it really didn’t make any sense to take a tissue to wipe away the water that was streaming in.

The chandelier at Drexel was completely wet. And the Venus de Milo too. And the only question now was what had happened to the statue’s base and what role it played in the conspiracy, which is to say, whether this group of people who were adept at the scratching away and cutting up of everything and everybody had gone a step further and not just destroyed the history of things, but the things themselves.

In other words: it was high time to get to the bottom of things. Which in Amanda Hollis’s case meant first of all simply standing up and walking down a floor to ask the Remington some questions. The way things looked, it knew more than it had let on. Much more!



“What happened to the base of the Venus de Milo?” Amanda Hollis called out as soon as she came through the door.

“Good morning,” said the Remington, who was accustomed to certain niceties and not just on account of her age.

But Amanda Hollis didn’t seem interested in a good morning. In any case, she planted herself before the Remington and repeated the question.

“I want to know what happened to the base of the Venus de Milo!”

The Remington charged ten cents to enlighten her.

“The base of the Venus de Milo disappeared,” it said.

“I know,” repeated Amanda Hollis, panting. “But what exactly happened?”

“The usual mysterious circumstances.”

“I have enough of those elsewhere!” cried Amanda Hollis.

But the Remington seemed unimpressed and just asked, “Where?”

“Everywhere,” said Amanda Hollis.

“Can you tell me more concretely?”


“As you like it,” said the Remington — and made one very general sentence out of two concrete ones. “The base of the Venus de Milo disappeared under mysterious circumstances.”

And since it was such a beautiful sentence (and Amanda Hollis didn’t say anything for a moment, simply because she was occupied with digging her three sloppy joes out of her bag and placing them within reach near the typewriter), it said it again the other way around: “It was under mysterious circumstances that the base of the Venus de Milo disappeared.”

Which was the truth. Unfortunately not the truth that Amanda Hollis wanted to hear.

“So you don’t know,” Amanda Hollis barked. She stood up and set to work on the coin box to get her ten cents back.

“Nobody knows!” shouted the Remington, taking fright. “The only one who knows is the person who stole the base. The original base, not the one at Drexel.”

At which point Amanda Hollis let go of the coin box.

“Why on earth would someone steal a base, when the statue on top is worth a thousand times more?!” she cried, and as if that had been her cue, all of the pores on her hands opened up.

Cold sweat emerged, flowed down her fingers, and formed little puddles in the shallow depressions on the Remington’s keys.

“The Remington is the Venus de Milo from Drexel,” it occurred to Amanda Hollis. “And my sweaty fingers are the tubes of the chandelier that the rainwater runs down. But who will play the shattered ceiling?”

The answer wasn’t difficult, and Amanda Hollis was clever enough to figure it out herself.

“The shattered ceiling is the Harvard campus, the ground through which I descend each day into this paper hell, although I know that it’s flooding, that the pumps and drainage pipes can’t manage all the rain and snow anymore. The Acheron has flooded its banks. Hell will be flooded. And the last one turns out the light.”

But that was still a little way off. Besides, it was her birthday, and the fact that she was thirty years old already gave her a feeling of impending doom.

And so Amanda Hollis took a step back, wiped her sweaty fingers on the waist of her skirt, and said “Pull yourself together!” loud enough that the Remington thought it was the addressee. And so it did.

“Maybe the base of the Venus de Milo wasn’t stolen at all,” the typewriter said the next moment.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Amanda Hollis.

“That’s no sort of question for someone who’s supposedly playing detective all day long,” said the Remington, who apparently thought nothing of taking longer than necessary to pull itself together. “Maybe it was the archaeologists themselves who got rid of the base.”

“What archaeologists?”

“The French ones, of course.”

“Of course,” Amanda Hollis echoed, sounding resigned. But then she thought of the voice in the pipe and the fact that he had told her everything of significance, expanding the index of the conspiracy. That was the point then: she had to learn about everything. That was the only way she could weave the net of references tighter and tighter, connecting all of the clues until there was no longer an outside, until all entries and subentries referred to one another, which is to say: to themselves.

An index like that, she knew, lived or died based on the names it contained. After all, it was people who were the driving force behind the conspiracy, as varied as the times and places of their activities were, the objects of their desire differed to the point of irreconcilability.

And so it was that Amanda Hollis briefly cleared her throat, turned to the Remington, and asked flat-out:

“What are their names?”


“The Frenchmen. The ones involved in the business with the Venus de Milo.”

“Fauvel and Forbin,” said the typewriter.

“What?” asked Amanda Hollis, unsure whether she should really write down the names. “Sounds like two comic-book characters.”

“They were,” said the Remington, “but in their own special way. Louis-François-Sébastien Fauvel was the French vice consul in Athens, and Louis Nicolas Philippe Auguste de Forbin was the head of the Louvre.”

“I understand,” said Amanda Hollis, though all she really understood was “Louis-Louis,” but she noted the names down anyway and summarized everything again to be sure.

“So Fauvel and Forbin stole the base.”

“Fauvel and Forbin didn’t steal anything,” said the Remington.

“What?! But I thought …”

“You wanted to know who was involved in the business with the Venus de Milo, and so I said Fauvel and Forbin, they’re involved.”

“And the part about the stolen base?”

“Forget about the base.”

“But you said yourself that it was the French archaeologists who got rid of the base.”

“I said ‘maybe.’ Besides, the thing with the base isn’t important for you.”

“And how do you know that?”

“Because a problem in the original isn’t necessarily a problem in the copy.”

“What?!” asked Amanda Hollis. “You’re keeping me in the dark!”

“You’d have to change the ink ribbon for that,” replied the Remington. But then it felt the caps-lock key engaging.

“I DON’T UNDERSTAND ANY OF THIS!!!” shouted Amanda Hollis, hammering at the machine as if her fingers were Japanese kamikaze bombers and the Remington’s keys were an armada of ships at Pearl Harbor.

The Remington saw sweaty yellowish fountains exploding from the sea of its keys.

Amanda Hollis saw herself as a child jumping in puddles.

William Croswell didn’t see anything. He was sleeping.

“STOP IT!!!” cried the Remington.

And since Amanda Hollis actually did pause and disengaged the caps-lock key: “You’ll understand soon. We’ll go through it chronologically. That is, if you’ll pay.”


“Ten cents.”


“You pay me ten cents.”

“But …”

“Your half hour is over.”

“But I …”

“First the ten cents, then the chronology.”

Amanda Hollis pushed the money into the box, by the sweat of her brow.

“All right,” said the Remington. “The Venus statue we’re discussing was found on April 8, 1820, on the Greek island of Milos.”

“Stop!” cried Amanda Hollis.

“There is no stop,” said the Remington. “Time is running down. You still have twenty-nine minutes and fifty-four seconds.”

“The date …” whispered Amanda Hollis, “April eighth …”

“What about it?” asked the Remington.

“Wait,” said Amanda Hollis, standing up and walking over to her desk.

“With pleasure,” said the Remington. “Time is ticking, whether you type on me or not. Though of course I prefer that you don’t.”

“Please continue,” said Amanda Hollis after a few seconds spent deeply bowed over her desk, her back to the typewriter.

“As you like,” said the Remington, and did as it was told. “The Venus was found on April 8, 1820, on the Greek island of Milos by a farmer who didn’t know what to do with it because he wasn’t looking for works of art, just stones to build a wall. But he was in luck because a little way away, a young Frenchman named Olivier Voutier happened to be digging, and …”

“Oy vey …” Amanda Hollis suddenly moaned.

“Olivier!” the typewriter corrected.

“Oy vey …” Amanda Hollis moaned again.

“Voutier!” the typewriter corrected again.

“Oy vey …” Amanda Hollis said for the third time. Then she stood up and staggered over to the Remington, who, in the face of what was approaching, found it best to acquiesce on the question of names.

“Good,” said the typewriter. “In any case, this Oyvey Oyvey was interested in all that ancient Greek stuff, and since he’s been hanging around with his ship just off of Melos, he thinks, ‘I’ll just head over to the island, dig around a bit, and maybe I’ll find something.’

“But he only finds old stones, and he’s about to give up when he spies the farmer I just mentioned. And what do you know, he seems to have found something.

“As Oyvey Oyvey approached, he realized that the farmer had found a statue. But the farmer had no interest in statues because you can’t build a decent wall out of them, which is why he just wants to bury it again. But Oyvey Oyvey keeps him from doing it, because what’s lying there looks just like the ancient Greek stuff that he’s always looking for. And so he gives the farmer a little bit of money to uncover the thing instead of recovering it. But the statue is very big and the farmer’s enthusiasm very small, which is why he eventually sets his shovel aside and demands more money. And what does the Frenchman do? He pays, of course.”

“Of course,” said Amanda Hollis for the second time. But then she thought better of it (though in truth it wasn’t better at all) and mumbled: “Sometimes the Frenchmen are the ones who get paid …”

But the typewriter didn’t notice her mumblings. Or didn’t want to. In any case, it just continued.

“In any case, it was money well spent, because at the end of the day, the farmer didn’t have a wall, but he did have a tidy stack of cash in his pocket — and our Oyvey Oyvey had his statue. However, he has no idea of its value and can’t move the thing so easily because it weighs several hundred pounds.

“Luckily, an officer works on his ship who, by coincidence and by grace of French educational fads of that era, is well versed in antique statues and is also happy to have a chance to go on land, and he attests to our Oyvey Oyvey that he’s found a classical work of great significance.”

“The Venus de Milo is the Vinland Map among statues,” thought Amanda Hollis. But then something came from the upper right again, but this time the impact was stronger than usual, not just in her head, but throughout her whole body: “Venus Milo Vinland Map VM VM!!!” shot through her, and for a moment, Amanda Hollis saw how two parallels met and united before her.

Then the image was lost in the depths of her mind and what was left was a feeling, a premonition, another track.

Unfortunately, the Remington was on a completely different one, or at least it suddenly began, for some incomprehensible reason, to talk about the many goats that grazed all over Melos who mistook the Venus de Milo for a salt lick, since it was just lying out in the open, and who tried to chew off one of her ears.

“Or lick it off,” said the Remington. “That isn’t totally clear.”

But this time it was Amanda Hollis who was someplace else.

“In all likelihood, there aren’t just people who want to scratch away or cut off a little bit of the past, but also creatures who try to gnaw away at history as such,” thought Amanda Hollis. “First those Icelandic Vikings ate the maps of their conquered lands, then the worms chomped through the parchment of the Vinland Map, and then the Greek goats ate the ear of a statue lying in the grass.”

On the other hand, maybe the story with the goats was just a test. In fact, it probably was. Except that unlike the voice in the pipe, the Remington wasn’t trying to cast her back on herself, but onto a herd of goats.

But the intention was clear and basically the same: to see whether she could differentiate the important from the unimportant, and to see whether she was capable of reading the traces that led deep into the interior of the story. Because there was no other way, Amanda Hollis knew, this conspiracy could be deciphered — and pursuing this path also meant truly putting herself in its service; that is, in America’s service.

From that point of view, the machine had to have mentioned the Frenchman, along with all of the Greeks and their goats, because a hint was hidden even within this diversionary tactic; everyone knew that it was the French who gave the Americans the Statue of Liberty.

In other words, what the Remington had told her didn’t just make sense but also had its proper place: it belonged in the index, and should be considered another step toward resolving the story — and when the typewriter then told Amanda Hollis that after the Venus de Milo’s significance became clear, the ship’s crew put everything they had into bringing the statue to France, Amanda Hollis realized that there was an analogy in the story, and that Greece was to France as France was to America, and that the Venus de Milo was a prefiguration of the Statue of Liberty.

But there was more, because now — finally — Amanda Hollis recognized her place in the story, she could define it beyond the general task of indexing a conspiracy, and at least she could for this part of the story, because it required nothing more than extending the line — the line whose starting point was the Venus de Milo, which led past the Statue of Liberty and continued through the copy of the Venus at Drexel, ultimately leading directly to her, Amanda Susan Marie Hollis, who sat at the Remington and didn’t dare move or breathe for joyous amazement.

But then she felt the Remington shudder, and before she knew it, the machine told her that the Greeks didn’t intend to give the French the Venus de Milo.

“But why not?” asked Amanda Hollis, sounding a little disappointed.

“It’s simple,” said the Remington. “Melos is small, and it didn’t take long before even the Greek authorities — who are normally infamous for their idleness — had heard of the find and reclaimed the Venus de Milo for themselves.”

“And then?”

“Then the Frenchmen did what they thought the Greek authorities should do in this case, which is to say nothing, but that really got the Greek bureaucratic machinery going, and their head wrote the Frenchmen a nice note, and then since they didn’t like the answer they received, they sent over a troop of Greek soldiers, at which point it came to a small skirmish with a bit of blood spilled.”

“That’s what the pope should have done with the Mongolians,” thought Amanda Hollis. “He writes them a nice letter, receives an answer that he certainly doesn’t like, and does — nothing. At least the voice in the pipe didn’t mention anything about an attack by the papal army on the Mongolians.”

At which point, Amanda Hollis laid the Mongolian story aside in her head and turned back to the Venus de Milo, over whom some Greeks and Frenchmen were tussling.

“Who won?” asked Amanda Hollis, hoping that between all of the names and numbers, the connections and parallels, she would also be able to jot down something like a victor. But unfortunately, she’d reckoned without the Remington.

“No one won,” said the typewriter, in a serious tone. “There are no victors in this story. Or there are two, if you will. In any case, the Greeks soon realized that l’amour among the French ran so deep that the men were willing to die for the statue of the woman, at which point the Greeks decided to let them pay generously for their madness, and shortly thereafter, they waved the ship off with a bundle of cash in their hands. On board was not only the Venus de Milo but also our friend ‘Fauvel the Marvel,’ who hadn’t only been the vice consul in Athens for nearly forty years but was also a major collector of antique works of art. The thing about collecting in his case was that when he assumed his post, Fauvel had received the order from Paris to gain possession of as many antique works as possible for himself, which is to say for France, though those responsible in Paris didn’t care whether the stuff had just been dug out of the ground or whether it was standing around in some crumbling temple — it was plundering in either case, and from the French point of view, it was just part of doing business, and the one difference was that in the one case you needed a spade and shovel and in the other a hammer and chisel.

“In any case, when Fauvel sees the Venus de Milo on the ship, he’s giddy with excitement and tells everyone who will listen — and everyone who won’t — that this is the most beautiful Greek statue he’s ever seen and that its value can’t be estimated — but if it could, it would be a million.”

“A million?!” cried Amanda Hollis. “Interesting!”

“Yes, especially when you consider that the French only gave the Greeks a thousand for it.”

“And you call that generous?”

“That was a lot of money for the Greeks. At least it was enough to buy a new herd of goats for themselves, and believe me, it’s better to lie on a meadow in a herd of goats than on a battlefield in a heap of corpses.”

“And the Frenchmen. The ones who survived?”

“They really just wanted to take their ship on the most direct course home, but before that they had to go to the Ottomans at Smyrna and invite the French ambassador to join them, because he wanted to be there when the statue was presented to the fat French king at home in Paris.”

“Stop!” cried Amanda Hollis. “That was mean!”

“What? Why?” asked the Remington, unaware of any wrongdoing.

“Because you only said that to remind me that I’m coming apart at the seams! Getting fat! Bulging!”

“I said it because it’s a historical fact,” said the Remington. “The king didn’t get to see the Venus de Milo until months after its arrival, simply because he was too fat to be brought to the Louvre.”

“He didn’t have a donkey?”


“Nothing, forget it.”

And then after a few seconds of silence:

“It’s because of the sloppy joes, isn’t it?”

“My sloppy joes have nothing to do with you.”

“Indeed they do. Or at least you laid them next to me when you came in.”

“I laid them on your base, that’s all.”

“That’s not all. You want to gobble them down.”

“Certainly not,” Amanda Hollis grew more animated. “I laid them there because your base looks like a serving cart. I actually wanted to give them to another woman, but it didn’t work out; someone had taken the wheels off of the cart.”

“Why don’t you just take your sloppy joes and lay them on your desk?”

“Why should I do that?”

“Because it’s easier to keep your hands off of them. Then you could just stay here by me and nothing would happen. Three times.”

“But I can keep my hands off of them just like this,” explained Amanda Hollis.

“No, you can’t,” said the Remington, and as Amanda Hollis was about to reply, her gaze fell on the narrow metal strip under the keys, and she read “MADE AT ILION ” and then “MAD EAT I LION,” and she knew that the machine was right and that her mad stomach had given birth to the hunger of a lion.

And so, with a heavy heart, she took her sloppy joes over to her desk and laid one in each of William Croswell’s mouse-gray cardboard boxes, so that she didn’t have to see the temptation that emanated from them. She closed the lids tightly and then sat at the Remington again.

“Very good,” said the typewriter.

“Yes,” said Amanda Hollis, who felt she had suffered a defeat. “But I didn’t only do it for me, I did it for you. If I had left my sloppy joes lying here, you could have eaten them just as easily.”

“Me?!” answered the Remington, incensed.

“Yes, you,” said Amanda Hollis.

“Never!” cried the Remington. “I’m trying to lose weight!”

“I see,” said Amanda Hollis.

“No, you don’t,” replied the typewriter. “Unlike you, I don’t have a chance. Someone screwed a big coin box onto my right hip and there’s nothing to be done about it.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yes, because all of your money is in it. Not to my detriment.” And then: “So, where did we leave off?”

“The Venus de Milo,” said Amanda Hollis, “and the French king.”

“Oh right, the king who was so fat that his servants couldn’t move him, to say nothing of donkeys or moving under his own steam. But whatever the case, even without the king, things would have been very complicated, because when the Venus de Milo arrived in Paris in 1821 after a long and exciting sea voyage across the Mediterranean, it was wrapped in thick lengths of canvas, completely packed up form top to bottom.”

“Because they didn’t want the French sailors to fall in love with her on the way,” said Amanda Hollis.

“Exactly,” said the Remington. “Fall in love with her and do unseemly things with her.”

“Swine, all of them, these Frenchmen!” cried Amanda Hollis, though she really only meant to think it. But the Remington agreed with her.

“Yes, the French are sly old dogs,” it said. “And that’s really putting it nicely.”

“It is,” said Amanda Hollis and suddenly felt understood.

“And in case anyone thinks that it’s just sailors who do such things to works of art, they’d be wrong.”

“Absolutely!” cried Amanda Hollis. “Dead wrong!”

“These guys from the Louvre aren’t an ounce better.”

“Not an ounce!” Amanda Hollis confirmed. But then she noticed that she’d gone too far. She didn’t know anything about guys at the Louvre and couldn’t imagine the kinds of things they’d do to works of art. So she asked: “What did these Louvre people do?”

“Not-nice things,” said the Remington. “Immoral things, pure and simple.”

And after a second that seemed to Amanda Hollis like a silent summary: “Basically, they continued the plundering they’d committed in Athens, but in Paris. But this time it wasn’t digging and discovering but throwing away and hiding.”

“You’ll have to explain that to me,” said Amanda Hollis.

“I will,” said the Remington and started right away.

“After the Venus de Milo arrived at the Louvre and was unpacked, they saw that it consisted of two big pieces, and the dividing line passed right behind the garment that the Venus had wrapped around its hips. So the experts put the two parts on top of one another and thought they had the full statue in front of them. But then they noticed that something wasn’t right and that the Venus must have stood on a base, because part of it was still stuck to her feet.”

“Was the base broken?” asked Amanda Hollis.

“Exactly,” said the Remington.

“I gather that it wasn’t well packaged,” said Amanda Hollis. “Because they could be sure that no one would fall in love with a base.”

“That’s a plausible theory,” said the Remington. “But the base was already broken off in antique times, and in February 1821, they searched in the Louvre for the missing base piece and they found it, in a third package that was rather small and laying unassumingly in a corner. But it did contain the missing fragment.”

The Mirror of History” shot through Amanda Hollis’s mind. And then: “Three pieces that result in one.”

But the Remington was apparently somewhere else.

“So the base was unpacked and held up to the statue, and it fit perfectly. At least the stone itself did. But as far as the inscription on the base went, the experts at the Louvre and especially our friend Forbin were anything but happy, because it listed the name of a sculptor they’d never heard of and named a city that had been founded long after the classical period — not in good old Greece, but in squalid, godforsaken Syria.

“In other words, what Forbin and his people saw was an unknown name, a name from a period of cultural decline, a name in which they didn’t want to see themselves and their great nation reflected.”

“Stop!” cried Amanda Hollis. “Did you just say ‘reflected’?”

“Yes,” said the Remington. “But I also said a lot more, that they disposed of the broken piece, and with it the name, the decline, their own negation.”

“You mean …”

“A nearly classic example of historic archival work, it’s true, even if the crucial evidence for it is missing, unfortunately. Be that as it may, the piece of the base also disappeared under mysterious conditions, and all later copies are based on the remaining pieces.”

“The base is the catalog card and the Venus de Milo is the work,” it occurred to Amanda Hollis. And then: “The experts from the Louvre also belong among the Destroyers of Origins!”

But the Remington had quietly continued.

“Now, there are reasons for the disappearance of the Venus de Milo’s base, and it didn’t happen just like that, because that would have raised questions — questions that the people at the Louvre might not have been able to answer. So what to do?”

Amanda Hollis started thinking, but the Remington answered its own question right away. As if it hadn’t asked. At least not her …

“Really, it’s very simple. Forbin and his people did what all powerful people do when it becomes apparent that the pieces of a thing that they control no longer fit together: they don’t change anything themselves or concern themselves with the individual parts, oh no, instead they construct questions whose answers they needn’t fear. And it doesn’t matter whether others answer them or they do it themselves. Though of course it looks better if others give the ‘right’ answers and they only have to confirm them.”

“I don’t entirely understand,” said Amanda Hollis, who felt as if the story was beginning to slip away from her, or at least she couldn’t manage to gather all the information, although she wrote at a breathtaking pace and filled catalog card after catalog card.

“Now,” said the Remington, which apparently had realized something, or had at least taken a sudden interest in summarizing, “let’s put it this way: when a very small number of people succeed in convincing a very large number of people to focus on the wrong questions, this small number of people don’t need to fear the answer of the many. On the contrary, with their help, they can rule all the better.”

“And what does that have to do with the Venus de Milo?”

“Quite simple. In the case of the Venus, Forbin and his people found out that the broken part of the base extended far wider than the statue, which means that the base was so big that something else must have stood on it. And so they took a closer look at the base and noticed a sort of impression in the stone. But what caused that impression?”

“I don’t know” shot out of Amanda Hollis’s mouth.

“But you can imagine what it might be,” said the Remington. And before Amanda Hollis could say “No”: “It’s basically a question of making the right connections between what you see. Or hear. Or know. In any case, after Forbin had compared the Venus de Milo with other statues, he was sure that originally there had been a little column next to the Venus — a column that was no longer there, but that must have been there once.

“But since the inscription was chiseled into the side of the base where the column stood, Forbin and his people reasoned, the column may have been a later addition, especially because no one could create such a tall, classical beauty like the Venus de Milo, and at the same time put a fat little column next to the graceful leg, a column that, on top of everything, was probably crowned with an ugly bust of Hermes.

“In short, for the experts at the Louvre, the column was a late, failed reconstruction and the questions it entailed were clear: must one really display such rubbish next to the comely Venus de Milo? Could one, really?

“Of course the answer was ‘No,’” and so of course the base disappeared and with it the inscription and all possibility of seeing things differently. The Venus de Milo was supposed to be the epitome of classical beauty — and she still is, to this day.”

“Wow,” said Amanda Hollis, “that’s really helpful.”

And as she took the next catalog card: “But what I still don’t completely understand is why this Venus was so important to the French.”

“Well,” said the Remington, who had apparently been expecting the question, “that’s just because at that time the French didn’t have anything else. At least not in their beloved Louvre. The famed Apollo Belvedere, which they’d ‘borrowed’ from the Vatican a few years earlier, was returned in 1815, which is to say that the Italians took it back as soon as they’d heard that Napoleon, who used to always pose next to Apollo, showboating, was now sitting on St. Helena and wouldn’t be getting away.

“And then of course there were the English and their Lord Elgin, who for years tore the ornate marble tiles out of the Parthenon’s roof and made off with a great many sculptures, which the British Parliament saw as such a great cultural service that they bought the things in 1816 and put them in the British Museum.”

“The British Museum?” asked Amanda Hollis.

“Yes,” said the Remington.

“Interesting!” And then: “What about the Spaniards?”

“What about the Spaniards?” asked the Remington.

“Didn’t they steal anything? Or at least take something back?”

“Not that I know of,” said the Remington frankly.

But Amanda Hollis didn’t allow herself to be discouraged. After all, Ferrajoli wasn’t a Spaniard at all, he was an Italian, and the Italians were already at play. Only the Germans were missing.

“And the Germans? What about the Germans?” asked Amanda Hollis, logically and straightforwardly.

“Well,” said the typewriter and it sounded as if it were clearing its throat, “based on all that I know, the land where the Venus de Milo was found didn’t belong to the French at all, and also not to the Greeks, but rather to the Germans, or to one of their kings, to be more precise, who bought it in 1817, and no one would have been surprised if the Germans had started a war on account of the statue. Just as Frenchmen can fall in love with a piece of marble, Germans can start a war because of a piece of marble, and a real one, not just a little skirmishing around like the Greeks.”

“And when did the Germans attack the French?” asked Amanda Hollis, who was sure it had resulted in a war.

“They didn’t,” said the Remington. “The Germans soon found out that the Venus de Milo isn’t a classical work at all. And the Germans don’t start classical wars for nonclassical artworks.”

“But how did the Germans find that out?”

“Oh, just through their mania for reading even the farthest-flung scholarly works — the German form of an educational fad.”

“You’ll have to explain that to me,” said Amanda Hollis, who was somehow happy that the Germans weren’t out of the game, that they were in on the game from the start.

“Here’s how it went,” the Remington began its explanation. “When the Venus de Milo was inspected after its arrival at the Louvre, not all of the experts were of the opinion that the inscription on the base was from a later era. One man was of a different opinion entirely. His name was Charles Othon Frédéric Jean Baptiste de Clarac, and — ”

“Stop!” said Amanda Hollis.

“What is it?”

“I can’t write that fast. What was the name again?”

“Charles Othon Frédéric Jean Baptiste de Clarac,” repeated the Remington. “Also known as Le Comte de Clarac in noble circles, Frédéric to his friends.”

“Thank you,” said Amanda Hollis. And then, in her head: “Memo to self: I’ll put him in the index under ‘Clarac, Frédéric de,’ since no one knows whether they should look for him under c, o, f, j, b, or d, and I don’t want my index to turn out like the Vinland Map, where four Nicolases are named, and in the end no one can find the right one.

“On the other hand, who knew, maybe the right Nicolas is in the index and the voice in the pipe simply hadn’t found him because he’s listed under a different name. I have to pay attention and include all of the variants in the case of my Frédéric, which means making Frédéric de Clarac the main entry, and noting all other possibilities after it. Or I’ll simply list him multiple times, under the letters c, o, f, j, b, and d, and then refer to the other possibilities. Indexes are ordered by last name today, but that wasn’t always the case. As Professor Orscube taught us, members of the European nobility are usually listed by their first names in certain books — and who knows whether this tradition is still maintained somewhere.”

And since that was a little bit long for a memo: “I have to write everything down in a way that others can search for it.”

At which point Amanda Hollis wrote the sentence on her catalog card and, while she was at it, she added another: “This Clarac is to the Venus de Milo what Skelton and Painter are for the Vinland Map — and what Bonnycastle and Nicholson were for William Croswell’s star map.”

Then she turned with a smile, which wasn’t to be expected, considering how the day had started, and said to the Remington: “Thank you, you can continue now.”

“Unfortunately, I don’t know where I left off,” said the typewriter frankly.

“With Monsieur de Clarac,” said Amanda Hollis, “First name Charles Othon Frédéric Jean Baptiste. In noble circles also — ”

“Thank you,” said the Remington. “I remember now. Monsieur Clarac was the curator responsible for classical antiquity at the Louvre, and he didn’t beat around the bush regarding his opinion of the Venus de Milo. In any case, when he noticed that no one shared his view of things, he wrote the king a letter informing him that the statue was anything other than a classical work. But the letter never reached the king, because Clarac’s superior, Monsieur de Forbin, made it disappear.”

“I knew it!” cried Amanda Hollis.

“What?” asked the Remington.

“These Frenchmen always go a step too far.”

But she didn’t go on, she didn’t want to divulge anything more, and only in her head did the story continue, the lines lengthening and growing over the borders of what was already suspicion into the territory of certainty, and Amanda Hollis recognized that she had reached a point where not just the history of things but the things themselves were being destroyed.

“In any case,” said the Remington, feeling the need to bring its story to an end, “when the Venus de Milo was first publicly displayed, all of France celebrated it as a great classical work — which is what it was supposed to be, according to the will of Forbin and his faithful.”

“And Clarac?” asked Amanda Hollis.

“He knew that it wasn’t,” said the Remington. “But he didn’t write the king any more letters — he hadn’t received an answer to his first one — instead proclaiming his opinion of the Venus in an essay, though to support his thesis, he insisted on including a picture, or actually a drawing that a young French art student had completed and that showed the Venus de Milo with the missing base.”

“A young French art student?” asked Amanda Hollis. “Pale and very dapper?”

“No idea,” said the Remington. “All I know is that Clarac’s essay was basically ignored in France, which is to say that officially no one read it, while the Germans ate it up and called off the war on account of it.”

“Well, if you ask me, that doesn’t sound very plausible,” said Amanda Hollis. “I mean, I just can’t imagine that the Germans wouldn’t go to war because of some essay.”

“But they did.”

“And the French king?”

“He was oblivious to all of it because he was basically the last one to see the Venus de Milo. He was so fat that he could only propel himself forward in a wheelchair, and physically no longer mobile, which is why at some point the Venus de Milo was rolled into a room that they could also roll the king into.”

“It was the same way at Harvard,” said Amanda Hollis, “except that the king there was called President Kirkland and the statue William Croswell. And after William Croswell lazed around in the library for years and basically didn’t lift a finger, President Kirkland moved and came to William Croswell to tell him he was fired. However, he didn’t come in a wheelchair, but rather with a sleigh. It was winter and President Kirkland couldn’t walk so well anymore. But in both cases it was 1821 when it happened.”

“Who is William Croswell?” asked the Remington.

“Nobody,” said Amanda Hollis, who suddenly felt exhausted and cursed her careless babbling. “William Croswell is nobody.”

“So in 1821 at Harvard they fired nobody?”

“Yes,” said Amanda Hollis, “they did.”

“And at the Louvre in 1821 nobody saw a base with an inscription.”

“Yes, one person,” said Amanda Hollis.

“You’re right,” said the Remington. “You’ve been paying attention. One person saw the base with the inscription and even made a copy of it on paper and published it, but unfortunately he later became invisible on his own. Just like the base with the inscription — and his copy with him.”

“History is full of counterfeit originals and true copies,” thought Amanda Hollis — and then something occurred to her.

Hadn’t the voice in the pipe also called the Vinland Map a “true copy”? And back then, she hadn’t known what to make of it and had also forgotten to ask what it meant.

That's definitely what had happened — and now, now she had found an answer, now she knew what was behind a “true copy.” It simply contained what was no longer visible about the original. In this case it was a missing base and in the case of the Vinland Map … had something disappeared from it? Had anything disappeared? In any case, America was depicted on the map for the first time. Did that mean that America wasn’t on the original version of the map at all?

That couldn’t be. After all, the Vikings had set foot on that land, if not to say conquered it.

And this was the prompt Amanda Hollis needed, the missing keyword that was the solution to the little puzzle of real copies and counterfeit originals — and she was happy to have given it to herself.

Probably, she reasoned as her hand hurried over the paper below her as if by itself, making connections, drawing lines, and making words out of the pictures in her head, probably America wasn’t actually on the original map, especially since the conquered part was rather small and the Vikings had to give the land up after three years. At least if what the voice in the pipe had told her was true.

Then again, everything had been true up to now, and whatever the voice said, it hadn’t been difficult for her to weave a net of references out of it. A net into which all further information that the voice gave her could be integrated, with a bit of skill (and a follow-up question or two). But there was more, because the voice’s story didn’t just form a whole, no, it could also be connected to the one that the Remington was telling her, and in such a way that the one linked to the other flawlessly, which mean the two could be united , even though some of the events that the Remington was telling her about happened more than a hundred years before the ones that the voice in the pipe had told her about — and at the same time, other events happened hundreds of years later.

But regarding real copies and counterfeit originals, it could mean only one thing. Although the Vikings liked to eat maps of the countries that they’d conquered, in order to crush the defeated parties a second time with their teeth, thus doubling their victory, they had apparently encountered a problem with America, since their victory lasted only a short while and was limited to only part of the land.

To only be able to nibble away at a part of the East Coast surely wouldn’t have satisfied the Vikings, but only made them hungrier. However, this hunger couldn’t be assuaged, because they couldn’t conquer more land in America, and they soon sailed back home to Iceland.

And so it was that the Icelandic Vikings neglected to draw America in on the big map of their conquests, and the whole thing would have been lost to oblivion, which is to say it would have arrived from the opposite direction at the same unhappy fate shared by all of those lands and peoples that were chewed up by the Vikings, had the Vikings not written two sagas sometime later, and had they not drawn a map of the land that they had set foot on long ago but never chewed up.

“And so a true copy emerges from a missing or counterfeit original,” Amanda Hollis completed the arc of her thoughts — and had the feeling of having arrived, or at least having won a partial victory.

But the Remington already seemed to be heading down a different path through history. Or it wanted to test her a second time.

“You know what’s interesting?” asked the machine, and since Amanda Hollis was occupied with taking notes, it answered the question itself: “The chandelier at Drexel disappeared exactly 135 years after the base of the Venus de Milo. Though officially no one knows what happened to the chandelier, which isn’t such a problem, since in 1821 no one at the Louvre had officially seen a base with an inscription either, just as — in the same year — at Harvard no one was fired.”

And then, directly addressed to Amanda Hollis: “Maybe you should look a little in no-man’s-land.”

“I don’t understand,” said Amanda Hollis who had just gotten done writing and was waiting for the next clue. “What does ‘no-man’s-land’ mean?”

“It means that someone here is mixing a few things together that have nothing to do with one another in reality,” said the typewriter.

“Nothing?” asked Amanda Hollis. “What is ‘nothing’ supposed to mean?”

“‘Nothing’ means that there’s no connection between the chandelier at Drexel on the one hand and the Venus de Milo on the other,” said the typewriter. “However, someone is trying to create one using the note that you brought with that says, ‘At Drexel the chandelier disappeared, and the Venus de Milo lost its base.’”

“Stop!” said Amanda Hollis, who had had enough of such diversionary tactics and ambiguities. “I asked you yesterday who wrote the note, and all that you said was ‘hwiktpwwtn.’”

“And now?”

“I want an answer. A real one!”

“Well, then I’ll give you one,” said the Remington.

“Looking forward to it,” said Amanda Hollis.

“hwiktpwwtn” slipped out of the Remington for the second time.

“Knock it off!” cried Amanda Hollis, jumping up and pounding on the Remington. “Who on earth is hwiktpwwtn?”

“How should I know?! Someone. No one. Everyone!” shouted the Remington in the hope that Amanda Hollis heard it through her rage. “‘hwiktpwwtn’ means ‘how would I know the person who wrote the note?’ Or the notes, if you will.”

“What?!” And then there came something that sounded like a slumping or even a flopping down. “Why didn’t you just tell me that?”

“Because you wanted to think about it.”

“I did think about it!” (This apparently spoken from below, from the ground.)



“Nothing? What is ‘nothing’ supposed to mean?” (This clearly from above, directed downward.)

“Stop it!” cried Amanda Hollis, trying to pull herself together again. “Today is my birthday.”

“Oh, and so you’re allowed to storm in with some idiotic question about the Venus de Milo without even saying good morning?”

“The question was justified,” said Amanda Hollis, who was now standing. “Besides, I didn’t have time.”

“But I’m supposed to?! And I’m also supposed to know all about the Venus de Milo …”

“Well, I paid for your time, and you can’t deny the fact that you know about the Venus de Milo.”

“Of course, I’m a library typewriter. My roller is nothing but a scratched-up palimpsest.”

“And only you can read it?”

“I can’t read anything that isn’t there. But in case you’re looking for someone to do it, ask an archaeologist. But if you want to know what sort of typewriter wrote the note, ask me.”

“All right then. Fire away.”

“Ten cents?”


“No money, no time, and especially no shooting.”

“These are my last ten cents,” said Amanda Hollis and stuffed the money into the slot.

“Okay,” said the Remington. “The note was written on an Underwood No. 4 Standard typewriter. A good worker, but far less renowned than the No. 5. It seems to me that this specific typewriter is one of the first models. I would say manufactured in 1911. It really shouldn’t be in service anymore. It has abackspace key, an indent        key and a two-colored ribbon with automatic reverse mechanism. Also has a shift lock FOR THE CONTINUOUS USE OF CAPITAL LETTERS and stays precisely within bounds on lined paper. A bit leggy for a typewriter, but nonetheless fits in a clean seventy-six characters per line. Which is true of the Underwood that wrote this note, while the slightly fuzzy letter profiles indicate that it stood on the frame that Harry Bates patented on April 1, 1909. Patent number 1081198 — no joke.”

And then: “Maybe I should also mention that the Underwood No. 4 requires ten cents for thirty minutes. When you factor in inflation, that means that I’m significantly more economical.”

“And now?” asked Amanda Hollis.

“Let’s summarize everything again,” said the Remington and hummed on. “On Monday you hang a note on the bulletin board — for reasons I’d rather not mention — which reads ‘What ended up happening to the chandelier at Drexel?’

“Then on Tuesday someone asked in note form: ‘Do you mean the chandelier in the big hall of Drexel’s main building? The chandelier with the Venus de Milo beneath it?’

“Which you answered on the afternoon of the same day with ‘YES!’ and on Wednesday morning this person announced — again, in writing — ‘At Drexel the chandelier disappeared, and the Venus de Milo lost its base.’ All correct so far?”

“I think so.”

“Good, then I would say that the thing about the Venus de Milo doesn’t count.”


“It was a digression, a detour, nothing more. Though I take that, unlike me, it wasn’t purely a money-making maneuver. To express it with a different key combination: in my opinion, that sheet of paper was someone’s attempt to convince themselves of the gravity of your intentions, and at the same time to show off their own knowledge.”

“But why?” asked Amanda Hollis. “What for?”

“Clearly the wrong questions,” said the Remington. “At least not the kind I can answer for you.”

“And what do you suggest?”

“You type, I write,” said the Remington — and wrote, while Amanda Hollis typed carefully.

“Who are you?”

“Is that all?” asked the Remington.

“Yes,” said Amanda Hollis and pulled the sheet of paper from the typewriter. “I think so.” And her gaze alone, which skirted longingly over to the desk, betrayed that there was something more.



That evening, Amanda Hollis pulled the painting of the counterfeit William Croswell out from under her bed. Its surface was already coated in a thin layer of dust, and as Amanda Hollis tried to blow it away, she felt as if the dust were glued to the big moon-like face of the first bishop of Albany — a patina of all things earthly, remains of the pulverized drift of history.

And why not? His mother baked him from lard, and she, Amanda Hollis, had buried him under her bed. An entire life lay between, one she knew nothing about except that it stood in the service of the almighty and had a name: William Croswell, Doane wiped out.

From that point of view, it was only logical, if not a stroke of luck, that the picture hadn’t made an impression on the wall over her bed, and even the nail where the picture had hung and now jutted out of the wall didn’t attract any special attention, because it had already been stuck in the wall on the day she moved in. While Amanda Hollis shoved the painting back under her bed and looked up at the nail, she imagined that it had been Trimteed Vandal who had pounded it in, with his bare hand on a lousy day in November.

But Trimteed Vandal wasn’t there anymore, and William Croswell basically never had been, and that meant that she was alone, that there was no one who could lie in bed with her between a nail and a painting, and as much as she wished that it would someday be otherwise, there was so little to be done about it in the here and now, and it didn’t help anything that it was her birthday.

“Thirty,” said Amanda Hollis and turned on the television.

She immediately sees an office building, a big dark building located in Philadelphia, to be sure.

Strictly speaking, it’s across from the dorm, not 150 feet from her room, but the building has been given a new shell and the windowpanes are whole again.

But behind them, the blinds in the offices are shut.

When the camera zooms in, Amanda Hollis can read the word “TELEPHONE” over the entryway.

Then there’s a cut in the images, and Amanda Hollis is inside the building, which she’d never entered …

A businessman appears. Winning appearance, suit, tie, you buy it that he puts in his work here. He sits at a desk holding a sheet of paper in his hands, maybe a message from another office, a report, an invoice, something of significance. Then he turns to the left and says: “Debbie, please make a copy of this.”

As he says it, the camera zooms out, the field of vision becomes larger, and Debbie appears. She can’t be ten years old.

She calls him “Daddy.”

He calls her “my secretary.”

Then cut.

Debbie is on the way to the copier.

She has the piece of paper in her left hand.

She holds a doll in her right.

She’s a secretary playing a daughter.

Debbie walks behind a row of empty chairs.

The room around her is white, and there’s really nothing to see.

It all seems to be backdrop.

Then cut.

A new white room. In the middle a water cooler.

Debbie walks up to it, holds her doll under the tap, lets her drink.

Then she walks on, walks up to the camera and past it and out of the frame.


Now you can see Debbie from behind. The room she finds herself in is once again completely white, and the only thing to be seen is a door.

It looks as if it isn’t real at all, as if it’s just painted on the wall.

Debbie walks up to it, in order to disappear into it.

New cut. A new white room. A big white copier in it.

“The Xerox 914,” someone whispers.

Debbie copies the sheet she’s been entrusted with. Then she turns around and walks toward the camera again. Now she’s on the way back from the copier.

Back to her father. The businessman. Who calls her “his secretary.”

Suddenly she stops in her tracks. There’s a noise to be heard, a high-pitched bing, and Debbie’s eyes grow very large. It looks as if something has come to her from the upper right. In any case, her eyes wander in that direction, while her mouth hangs open.

Debbie turns around, goes back to the copier, and lays her doll on it with its face on the glass. Then she presses “Print.”

Cut. The doll’s face appears on the paper.

Debbie is happy. So happy.

She prances out of the room, through the painted door, past the water cooler and the chairs.

Debbie goes up to her father and brings him the paper he wanted.

She’s a daughter playing a secretary.

Cut to the paper. Two sheets densely filled with writing. What’s there can’t be read. But it doesn’t matter, because the father, the businessman, asks, “Which of these two is the original?”

Debbie looks at him — and says, “I forget.”

And you really can’t tell.

So, cut.

The camera returns to the copier without Debbie.

The copier standing in a big white room.

Doing its work all alone.

Pushing sheet after sheet out of its interior.

It looks as if it never wants to stop.

Then the camera glides back. It’s seen everything. Everything has been shown.

One last cut: the company logo appears. And then a voice says, “For the name and number of your nearest Xerox office, look in your telephone book.”

And out.

And she also turns the television off. Amanda Hollis wants to sleep, dream, flee reality. Then the telephone rings. Somebody rang up 914 in the end.



Encrusted in snow and with tangled hair, Amanda Hollis entered her office the next morning, stalled for time by walking around the room, stuck ten cents in the Remington while passing by, stopped at some point, and laid her head on a shelf between two files.

“What should I say?” said the typewriter. “It looks like you had a good evening — and an even better night.”

But Amanda Hollis didn’t go into it.

“I’ve done everything wrong,” she said and pushed the files together over her head to form a pointed roof. “I believed that Trimteed Vandal was a big, broad-shouldered man my age, but when he called last night, he turned out to be a puny little retiree who just quit working and has time now to read his union pamphlets, which is why he requested that I send him all of the issues of The Postal Record that I have. And believe me, I’m glad that it’s only 94 and not 914 pieces, and not just because the package is lighter, if you know what I mean.”

But the Remington didn’t understand anything of what Amanda Hollis was telling it, which admittedly was because Amanda Hollis had turned her back to it and was speaking her words into the attic of the paper house.

And so the typewriter was silent and Amanda Hollis continued on.

“But I didn’t just misjudge Trimteed Vandal, I also idolized a man who only has eyes for God. And then” — a brief sob — “then I let a student dress me like a Thanksgiving turkey, though it’s been years since I’ve been stuffed.”

At which point the roof collapsed over her head.

“Well, as far as ‘stuffing’ goes,” said the Remington, “believe you me, that’s not a good feeling.”

But that was a lie of course. And they both knew it.

So Amanda Hollis pulled her head out from under the files, turned around and dragged herself over to the typewriter.

“Let’s write a few keywords,” she said and wanted to get started, but the Remington let all of its type bars drop.

“What’s going on?” asked Amanda Hollis.

“I’m full,” said the typewriter.


“Another dime won’t fit.”

“But …”

“I’ve got to empty my box.”

“I’ll help you,” said Amanda Hollis, already fumbling damply around on the box.

“Hey, you don’t have the key!” exclaimed the Remington.

“But it’s my money!” Amanda Hollis shot back.

“But you have enough!”

“I’ll rough you up!”

“I’ll call your bluff!”

“You think you’re tough!”

And so on.

Until finally Dick Walrus came. He opened the box, took the money out, and laid it in Amanda Hollis’s sweating hands. Then he left to shovel the snow out of the concrete bunker’s stairwell.

When Amanda Hollis saw the coins, she noticed that they were lying in a font of beads of sweat.

“Make a wish,” said the Remington and started clattering away.

“Quiet!” cried William Croswell and turned around.

The next morning, he was gone.



“What happened?” asked Amanda Hollis when she walked through the door and saw the cleared desk in front of her. “Where is William Croswell?”

“Someone picked him up,” said the Remington.


“I don’t know,” replied the typewriter mechanically. “I couldn’t see anything. I wanted to raise my type bars to have a look, but I didn’t have any power. There wasn’t any more money in me.”

“But William Croswell needs his keywords,” cried Amanda Hollis, seeming genuinely distressed.

“Maybe he just moved,” said the Remington.

“Maybe,” said Amanda Hollis and sat down before the machine. And then, as if she had to confirm how well she knew him in her own words: “William Croswell often moved during his lifetime. At first he lived with the old widow Dana, but then he moved in with the horrid Mr. Hancock, and then down the street to the hearing-impaired Mr. Bates, and then to the other side of the city to Mr. Saunders, and from there to Mr. Hayden on West Cambridge Road, and then to Mr. Ford on the same street, then to Pastor Munro, and shortly after that down to the harbor, and finally to a certain Mr. Frost and back to Mr. Ford in the end.”

“How do you know all that?” asked the typewriter.

“No idea,” said Amanda Hollis. “I just remembered it.”

“And you didn’t write it down?”

“No,” said Amanda Hollis, “it’s not the decisive point.”

“What is decisive?” asked the typewriter.

“This,” said Amanda Hollis, taking out her completed catalog cards and spreading them upside down in the roller as if the typewriter were a copying machine, one after the next, until it was full and Amanda Hollis had to turn the knob until she could fill the second row. Then the third. The fourth … And then the cards came out the front. Just spilled over, fell down onto the keyboard, and slid down off of it, directly into Amanda Hollis’s lap.

There they remained.

When Amanda Hollis saw them they reminded her of soldiers on a battlefield.

Then she gathered them up and went down into the archive’s archive.



When Amanda Hollis reached the basement, all of the cabinets were open and empty, and the pipe had also changed and shrunk to a fraction of its former size, and without the fiberglass and foil, it passed through the room naked and thick as an arm, and not even the notion of a voice could fit inside.



What in the world had happened? And: what could she do? She needed a hint, a keyword, something. But none was given.

So Amanda Hollis hurried back to her room, grabbed a sloppy joe, unwrapped it, and took a bite.

The sloppy joe emitted a few pitiable noises, but it was nothing you could put into keywords.

And so she took the second one, unwrapped it, and took a bite.

It screamed. It was heartbreaking, but there wasn’t a keyword to be heard.

As Amanda Hollis held the naked sloppy joe number three in her hands, she briefly considered putting it in the typewriter and turning the roller, but then she realized that wouldn’t do any good, and that at most she could hammer the words “sloppy joe” into the sandwich, so she left it at that, closed her eyes, bit, and watched a keyword spread across the darkness on the inside of her eyelids.

“Catalog cards,” whispered Amanda Hollis, as if she couldn’t believe it. “William Croswell cut up the library’s great book, and from the bound catalog, he made a collection of catalog cards!”

Then she opened her eyes again, grabbed a catalog card, and wrote “catalog card” on it.

“Done,” thought Amanda Hollis and reached for the third sloppy joe she’d taken a bite from in order to put it out of its misery.

Then came a knock at the door.

“It’s open,” called Amanda Hollis, and when she turned around, she saw Dick Walrus standing in the doorway.

“They shot Kennedy,” he said. “He’s part of the archive now.”


First published by

Fiktion, Berlin, 2016

ISBN 978 3 95988 032 9

Project Directors

Mathias Gatza, Ingo Niermann (Publishing Program)

Henriette Gallus (Communications)

Julia Stoff (Management)

Original Title

Münzgesteuerte Geschichte

Translator from German

Amanda DeMarco


Alexander Scrimgeour


Sam Frank

Editor of the original text

Mathias Gatza

Design Identity

Vela Arbutina

Web Development

Maxwell Simmer (Version House)

This book is released under the Creative Commons Zero license. You can copy, modify, distribute, and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.

Fiktion is backed by the nonprofit association Fiktion e.V. It is organized in cooperation with Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, and financed by a grant from the German Federal Cultural Foundation.

Fiktion e.V., c / o Mathias Gatza
Sredzkistraße 57
10405 Berlin


Mathias Gatza, Ingo Niermann

Registered association VR 32615 B

(Amtsgericht Charlottenburg, Berlin)