We didn’t have a view of the front door or the garage from my bedroom: for that, we needed to sit in the family room. So while Ben continued playing Resurrection, Radar and I went out to the family room and pretended to watch TV while keeping watch on the Spiegelmans’ front door through a picture window, waiting for Margo’s mom and dad to leave. Detective Warren’s black Crown Victoria was still in the driveway.
He left after about fifteen minutes, but neither the garage door nor the front door opened again for an hour. Radar and I were watching some half-funny stoner comedy on HBO, and I had started to get into the story when Radar said, “Garage door.” I jumped off the couch and got close to the window so that I could see clearly who was in the car. Both Mr. and Mrs. Spiegelman. Ruthie was still at home. “Ben!” I shouted. He was out in a flash, and as the Spiegelmans turned off Jefferson Way and onto Jefferson Road, we raced outside into the muggy morning.
We walked through the Spiegelmans’ lawn to their front door. I rang the doorbell and heard Myrna Mountweazel’s paws scurrying on the hardwood floors, and then she was barking like crazy, staring at us through the sidelight glass. Ruthie opened the door. She was a sweet girl, maybe eleven.
“Hi, Quentin,” she said.
“Hey, are your parents here?”
“They just left,” she said, “to go to Target.” She had Margo’s big eyes, but hers were hazel. She looked up at me, her lips pursed with worry. “Did you meet the policeman?”
“Yeah,” I said. “He seemed nice.”
“Mom says that it’s like if Margo went to college early.”
“Yeah,” I said, thinking that the easiest way to solve a mystery is to decide that there is no mystery to solve. But it seemed clear to me now that she had left the clues to a mystery behind.
“Listen, Ruthie, we need to look in Margo’s room,” I said. “But the thing is — it’s like when Margo would ask you to do top-secret stuff. We’re in the same situation here.”
“Margo doesn’t like people in her room,” Ruthie said. “’Cept me. And sometimes Mommy.”
“But we’re her friends.”
“She doesn’t like her friends in her room,” Ruthie said.
I leaned down toward her. “Ruthie, please.”
“And you don’t want me to tell Mommy and Dad,” she said.
“Five dollars,” she said. I was about to bargain with her, but then Radar produced a five-dollar bill and handed it to her. “If I see the car in the driveway, I’ll let you know,” she said conspiratorially.
I knelt down to give the aging-but-always-enthusiastic Myrna Mountweazel a good petting, and then we raced upstairs to Margo’s room. As I put my hand on the doorknob, it occurred to me that I had not seen Margo’s entire room since I was about ten years old.
I walked in. Much neater than you’d expect Margo to be, but maybe her mom had just picked everything up. To my right, a closet packed-to-bursting with clothes. On the back of the door, a shoe rack with a couple dozen pairs of shoes, from Mary Janes to prom heels. It didn’t seem like much could be missing from that closet.
“I’m on the computer,” Radar said. Ben was fiddling with the shade. “The poster is taped on,” he said. “Just Scotch tape. Nothing strong.”
The great surprise was on the wall next to the computer desk: bookcases as tall as me and twice as long, filled with vinyl records. Hundreds of them. “John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme is in the record player,” Ben said.
“God, that is a brilliant album,” Radar said without looking away from the computer. “Girl’s got taste.” I looked at Ben, confused, and then Ben said, “He was a sax player.” I nodded.
Still typing, Radar said, “I can’t believe Q has never heard of Coltrane. Trane’s playing is literally the most convincing proof of God’s existence I’ve ever come across.”
I began to look through the records. They were organized alphabetically by artist, so I scanned through, looking for the G’ s. Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Green Day, Guided by Voices, George Harrison. “She has, like, every musician in the world except Woody Guthrie,” I said. And then I went back and started from the A’ s.
“All her schoolbooks are still here,” I heard Ben say. “Plus some other books by her bedside table. No journal.”
But I was distracted by Margo’s music collection. She liked everything . I could never have imagined her listening to all these old records. I’d seen her listening to music while running, but I’d never suspected this kind of obsession. I’d never heard of most of the bands, and I was surprised to learn that vinyl records were even being produced for the newer ones.
I kept going through the A’ s and then the B’ s — making my way through the Beatles and the Blind Boys of Alabama and Blondie — and I started to rifle through them more quickly, so quickly that I didn’t even see the back cover of Billy Bragg’s Mermaid Avenue until I was looking at the Buzzcocks. I stopped, went back, and pulled out the Billy Bragg record. The front was a photograph of urban row houses. But on the back, Woody Guthrie was staring at me, a cigarette hanging out of his lips, holding a guitar that said THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS.
“Hey,” I said. Ben looked over.
“Holy shitstickers,” he said. “Nice find.” Radar spun around the chair and said, “Impressive. Wonder what’s inside.”
Unfortunately, only a record was inside. The record looked exactly like a record. I put it on Margo’s record player and eventually figured out how to turn it on and put down the needle. It was some guy singing Woody Guthrie songs. He sang better than Woody Guthrie.
“What is it, just a crazy coincidence?”
Ben was holding the album cover. “Look,” he said. He was pointing at the song list. In thin black pen, the song title “Walt Whitman’s Niece” had been circled.
“Interesting,” I said. Margo’s mom had said that Margo’s clues never led anywhere, but I knew now that Margo had created a chain of clues — and she had seemingly made them for me. I immediately thought of her in the SunTrust Building, telling me I was better when I showed confidence. I turned the record over and played it. “Walt Whitman’s Niece” was the first song on side two. Not bad, actually.
I saw Ruthie in the doorway then. She looked at me. “Got any clues for us, Ruthie?” She shook her head. “I already looked,” she said glumly. Radar looked at me and gestured his head toward Ruthie.
“Can you please keep watch for your mom for us?” I asked. She nodded and left. I closed the door.
“What’s up?” I asked Radar. He motioned us over to the computer. “In the week before she left, Margo was on Omnictionary a bunch. I can tell from minutes logged by her username, which she stored in her passwords. But she erased her browsing history, so I can’t tell what she was looking at.”
“Hey, Radar, look up who Walt Whitman was,” Ben said.
“He was a poet,” I answered. “Nineteenth century.”
“Great,” Ben said, rolling his eyes. “Poetry.”
“What’s wrong with that?” I asked.
“Poetry is just so emo,” he said. “Oh, the pain. The pain. It always rains. In my soul.”
“Yeah, I believe that’s Shakespeare,” I said dismissively. “Did Whitman have any nieces?” I asked Radar. He was already on Whitman’s Omnictionary page. A burly guy with this huge beard. I’d never read him, but he looked like a good poet.
“Uh, no one famous. Says he had a couple brothers, but no mention of whether they had kids. I can probably find out if you want.” I shook my head. That didn’t seem right. I went back to looking around the room. The bottom shelf of her record collection included some books — middle school yearbooks, a beat-up copy of The Outsiders —and some back issues of teen magazines. Nothing relating to Walt Whitman’s niece, certainly.
I looked through the books by her bedside table. Nothing of interest. “It would make sense if she had a book of his poetry,” I said. “But she doesn’t seem to.”
“She does!” Ben said excitedly. I went over to where he had knelt by the bookshelves, and saw it now. I’d looked right past the slim volume on the bottom shelf, wedged between two yearbooks. Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass . I pulled out the book. There was a photograph of Whitman on the cover, his light eyes staring back at me.
“Not bad,” I told Ben.
He nodded. “Yeah, now can we get out of here? Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather not be here when Margo’s parents get back.”
“Is there anything we’re missing?”
Radar stood up. “It really seems like she’s drawing a pretty straight line; there’s gotta be something in that book. It’s weird, though — I mean, no offense, but if she always left clues for her parents, why would she leave them for you this time?”
I shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t know the answer, but of course I had my hopes: maybe Margo needed to see my confidence. Maybe this time she wanted to be found, and to be found by me . Maybe — just as she had chosen me on the longest night, she had chosen me again. And maybe untold riches awaited he who found her.
Ben and Radar left soon after we got back to my house, after they’d each looked through the book and not found any obvious clues. I grabbed some cold lasagna from the fridge for lunch and went to my room with Walt. It was the Penguin Classics version of the first edition of Leaves of Grass . I read a little from the introduction and then paged through the book. There were several quotes highlighted in blue, all from the epically long poem known as “Song of Myself.” And there were two lines from the poem that were highlighted in green:
Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!
I spent most of my afternoon trying to make sense of that quote, thinking maybe it was Margo’s way of telling me to become more of a badass or something. But I also read and reread everything highlighted in blue:
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand. .
nor look through the eyes of the dead. . nor feed on
the spectres in books.
I tramp a perpetual journey
All goes onward and outward. . and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.
The final three stanzas of “Song of Myself” were also highlighted.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop some where waiting for you
It became a weekend of reading, of trying to see her in the fragments of the poem she’d left for me. I could never get anywhere with the lines, but I kept thinking about them anyway, because I didn’t want to disappoint her. She wanted me to play out the string, to find the place where she had stopped and was waiting for me, to follow the bread crumb trail until it dead-ended into her.