I am Book. You are Book. We are all of us the community of Book. Whether we enter the orthodoxy within these walls and live in this sacred place, or we enter the unsuspecting, unseeing world around us, we are all of us the community of Book.
I live in a house that is identical to one quarter of all the houses in town. There are only four floor plans that were used when the paper mill built the town and the houses for everyone at the factory. Everyone worked for the factory, either directly in the mill or in the shops owned by the mill or any of the other mill-owned businesses. Even though there were four different styles, we were actually all the same.
See, that’s what I didn’t get at first. I mean, sure, I guess I expected everyone to be pretty much the same in a small town. I was in the same grade as twenty-four of my neighbors, and we all moved from one grade to the next. We all read the same books, worked the same math, learned the same history, painted the same pictures, and sang the same songs. Why wouldn’t we look the same.
Almost the same. Some of us were girls, of course. And some of us were boys. But it dawned on me one day as we were lining up for class picture in Miss Webster’s Third Grade that I was in the same row I always was, right in front, along with Tommy, Spencer, and Gary. Just like we were in second grade, and first grade. All with the same red and black plaid shirt tucked in our tan corduroys, a sprinkling of freckles across our noses and cheeks, and our hair freshly cut and parted on the right. When we smiled for the camera, we each had one missing front tooth, too.
I looked at the second row, and the four boys there also looked the same as each other, and so did the girls. Every row had identical looking kids. How did the teacher tell us apart? For that matter, how did our parents, or how did we?
On the bus ride home, Tommy, Spencer, and Gary each got out in front of a house that looked just like mine. The same little white fence in front of colorful flowers, two steps to the porch, a blue front door, and three windows: one for the kitchen, one for a bathroom, and one for a bedroom, just like my house.
When I tried to ask my older sister about it, she said I was being stupid and shouldn’t ask questions like that. She said I would get in trouble if I kept at it and to leave it alone. It was funny though, because when she said it, she didn’t sound mean like she usually does when she’s bossing me around; she sounded kind of scared or sad or something like that.
Hart-Benton knew fear when the store clerk told him he’d reached his limit for coffee. He’d have to put it back. No more coffee. Ever. Once your personal limit for consumption was met, you could no longer purchase that item. Rationing, it was called, although Hart-Benton didn’t find much rational about it. There was plenty of coffee on the shelf. Bags of it. The store had so much coffee they must throw away the oldest bags over time if they aren’t consumed, or so Hart-Benton thought. He also knew that throwing away food never happened because food never got old, never expired, all because of the rationing. There was always enough for everyone, up until the time when they’d used all they were allowed, when they’d grown old. Hart-Benton knew, down in the marrow, that running out of coffee meant more than just that he’d had too many second or third cups and used up his allotment early. No, it meant that Hart-Benton himself was old, that soon he’d expire, his time allowed on this earth used up, too many sunrises and sunsets, too many seasons, all behind him.
The room felt disheveled, untidy. He’d expected that. An unordered environment, while not conclusive in itself, always expressed itself in cases like this. In his line of work, investigating potential enforced integration, the internal conflict between a primary or initial personality and a secondary or invading personality rendered the vessel, the physical person, impaired in several ways. A pronounced lack of propriety among them.
A formal interview of the patient would come, in time, but first, there was an investigation. That was the protocol, and he insisted on gathering a clear understanding of the environment. To confront the person without first placing them in time and space produced a biased understanding; and a first impression would also tinge the perception of the place to fit that bias instead of telling its own story in its own way. Not that he heard voices in the room. No, there were no spirits untethered to roam. All spirits needed anchoring. There could be no animas without an animal in which to reside. Inanimate objects were just that, things without spirit.
He started with the bedroom. This would be the place where the patient was most vulnerable. Sleepers experience dreams without inhibitions, or rather only those inhibitions the sleepers truly believe in rather than those imposed by the world around them. Their true selves would be expressed in this place, this room of sanctuary. It was here that he would find evidence, if any existed, of the imposition of alien personalities.
“Come on, you can do it. It’s perfectly safe,” says Daddy. “You won’t feel a thing. Promise.”
“Promise like birthdays?” The little boy looks up at his dad. “Or promise like Mommy’s coming back?”
The dad’s shoulders droop. He takes a deep breath.
“You two come through or step out of line,” says a security guard. He waves a short dark club at them.
“It’s okay,” Daddy says to the boy. “I’ll go first so you can see it’s safe. Just wait for me turn around and then you do it the same way I do. Okay?”
The boy bit his lip as his dad said ‘okay’ again, but this time it wasn’t a question.
The dad lets go of the boy’s hand, adjusts his shirt, and steps through the security scanner. Red lights flash and the sound of sirens fill the air. Daddy is knocked to the floor by the security guard and suddenly there are guards all around everyone in line, shouting and pointing and hitting and the boy cries, an open-mouth scream, wanting for all the world not to have to walk through the scanner and get knocked down.