I woke up with the sunlight just before seven on Saturday morning. Amazingly, Radar was online.
QTHERESURRECTION: I thought you’d be sleeping for sure.
OMNICTIONARIAN96: Nah, man. I’ve been up since six, expanding the article on this Malaysian pop singer.
Angela’s still in bed, though.
QTHERESURRECTION: Ooh she stayed over?
OMNICTIONARIAN96: Yeah but my purity is still intact.
Graduation night, though. . I think maybe.
QTHERESURRECTION: Hey, I thought of something last night. The little holes in that wall in the strip mall— maybe a map that plotted points with thumbtacks?
OMNICTIONARIAN96: Like a route.
OMNICTIONARIAN96: Wanna go over? I have to wait till Ange gets up, though.
QTHERESURRECTION: Sounds good.
He called at ten. I picked him up in the minivan and then we drove to Ben’s house, figuring that a surprise attack would be the only way to wake him up. But even singing “You Are My Sunshine” outside his window only resulted in him opening the window and spitting at us. “I’m not doing anything until noon,” he said authoritatively.
So it was just Radar and me on the drive out. He talked a little about Angela and how much he liked her and how weird it was to fall in love just a few months before they would leave for different colleges, but I found it hard to listen very well. I wanted that map. I wanted to see the places she’d pinpointed. I wanted to get those tacks back into the wall.
We walked in through the office, hustled through the library, paused briefly to examine the holes in the bedroom wall, and entered the souvenir shop. The place didn’t scare me at all anymore. Once we’d been in each room and established we were alone, I felt as safe as I did at home. Beneath a display counter, I found the box of maps and brochures I’d rifled through on prom night. I lifted it out and balanced it on the corners of a broken glass counter. Radar sorted through them initially, looking for anything with a map, and then I unfolded them, scanning for pinholes.
We were getting near the bottom of the box when Radar pulled out a black-and-white brochure entitled FIVE THOUSAND AMERICAN CITIES. It was copyrighted 1972 by the Esso company. As I carefully unfolded the map, trying to smooth the creases, I saw a pinhole in a corner. “This is it,” I said, my voice rising. There was a small rip around the pinhole, like it’d been torn off the wall. It was a yellowing, brittle, classroom-size map of the United States printed thick with potential destinations. The rips in the map told me that she had not intended this as a clue— Margo was too precise and assured with her clues to muddy the waters. Somehow or another, we’d stumbled into something she hadn’t planned, and in seeing what she hadn’t planned, I thought again of how much she had planned. And maybe, I thought, that’s what she did in the quiet dark here. Traveling while loafing, like Whitman had, as she prepared for the real thing.
I ran all the way back to the office and found a bunch of thumbtacks in a desk adjacent to Margo’s, before Radar and I carefully carried the unfurled map back to Margo’s room. I held it up against the wall while Radar tried to get the tacks into the corners, but three of the four corners had ripped, as had three of the five locations, presumably when the map was taken off the wall. “Higher and to the left,” he said. “No, down. Yeah. Don’t move.” Finally we got the map on the wall, and then we started lining up the holes in the map with the ones on the wall. We got all five pins in pretty easily. But some of these pinholes were also ripped, so it was impossible to tell their EXACT location. And exact location mattered in a map blackened with the names of five thousand places. The lettering was so small and exact that I had to stand up on the carpet and put my bare eyeballs inches away from the map even to guess each location. As I suggested town names, Radar pulled out his handheld and looked them up on Omnictionary.
There were two unripped dots: one looked like Los Angeles, although there were a bunch of towns clustered so close together in Southern California that the type overlapped. The other unripped hole was over Chicago. There was a ripped one in New York that, judging from the location of the hole in the wall, was one of the five boroughs of New York City.
“That makes sense with what we know.”
“Yeah,” I said. “But God, where in New York? That’s the question.”
“We’re missing something,” he says. “Some locational hint. What’re the other dots?”
“There’s another in New York State, but not near the city. I mean, look, all the towns are tiny. It might be Poughkeepsie or Woodstock or the Catskill Park.”
“Woodstock,” Radar said. “That’d be interesting. She’s not much of a hippie, but she has that whole free-spirit vibe.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “The last one is either Washington, D.C., or else maybe Annapolis or Chesapeake Bay. That one could be a bunch of things, actually.”
“It’d be helpful if there was only one point on the map,” Radar said sullenly.
“But she’s probably going from place to place,” I said. Tramping her perpetual journey.
I sat on the carpet for a while as Radar read to me more about New York, about the Catskill Mountains, about the nation’s capital, about the concert at Woodstock in 1969. Nothing seemed to help. I felt as if we’d played out the string and found nothing.
After I dropped Radar off that afternoon, I sat around the house reading “Song of Myself” and halfheartedly studying for finals.
I had calc and Latin on Monday, probably my two toughest subjects, and I couldn’t afford to ignore them completely. I studied most of Saturday night and throughout the day Sunday, but then a Margo idea popped into my head just after dinner, so I took a break from practicing Ovid translations and logged onto IM. I saw Lacey online. I’d only just gotten her screen name from Ben, but I figured I knew her well enough to IM her.
QTHERESURRECTION: Hey, it’s Q.
QTHERESURRECTION: Did you ever think about how much time Margo must have spent planning everything?
SACKCLOTHANDASHES: Yeah, like leaving the letters in the alphabet soup before Mississippi and leading you to the minimall, you mean?
QTHERESURRECTION: Yeah, these aren’t things you think up in ten minutes.
SACKCLOTHANDASHES: Maybe the notebook.
QTHERESURRECTION: Exactly .
SACKCLOTHANDASHES: Yeah. I was thinking about it today because I remembered one time when we were shopping, she kept sticking the notebook into purses she liked, to make sure it fit.
QTHERESURRECTION: I wish I had that notebook.
SACKCLOTHANDASHES: Yeah, probably with her, though.
QTHERESURRECTION: Yeah. It wasn’t in her locker?
SACKCLOTHANDASHES: No, just textbooks, stacked neat like they always were.
I studied at my desk and waited for other people to come online. Ben did after a while, and I invited him into a chat room with me and Lacey. They did most of the talking — I was still sort of translating — until Radar logged in and joined the room. Then I put down my pencil for the night.
OMNICTIONARIAN96: Someone from New York City searched Omnictionary for Margo Roth Spiegelman today.
ITWASAKIDNEYINFECTION: Can you tell where in New York City?
OMNICTIONARIAN96: Unfortunately, no.
SACKCLOTHANDASHES: Also there are still some posters up in record stores there. It was probably just someone trying to find out about her.
OMNICTIONARIAN96: Oh, right. I forgot about that.
QTHERESURRECTION: Hey, I’m in and out because I’m using that site Radar showed me to map routes between the places she pinholed.
OMNICTIONARIAN96: I have a new theory. She’s going to show up for graduation, sitting in the audience.
ITWASAKIDNEYINFECTION: I have an old theory, that she is somewhere in Orlando, screwing with us and making sure that she’s the center of our universe.
ITWASAKIDNEYINFECTION: Sorry, but I’m totally right.
They went on like that, talking about their Margos, as I tried to map her route. If she hadn’t intended the map as a clue — and the ripped tack holes told me she hadn’t — I figured we’d gotten all the clues she’d intended for us and now much more. Surely I had what I needed, then. But I still felt very far away from her.