Olivia was reading a book. Ferdinand had figured that much out, at least. It had been so difficult at first. Things had been happening. His life had been moving along for what seemed like the first time. Then everything was gone. Things kept happening. They just weren’t happening to him anymore.
After what must have been a year watching life happen to everybody else, he got impatient. The year had gone by so quickly – he didn’t remember most of it – but now time had slowed down again. He would wander the white hallways and look wistfully at the black lacy buildings, wishing he were in them instead of shut out. Everything seemed so well-crafted, in the way one relationship built up to the next.
He had been dating Amy, so briefly. She was having another romance now, one that took hold of her and didn’t let go. Ferdinand knew that he hadn’t been a very good boyfriend. He was sort of boring with her, forgot things, wasn’t attentive enough. The problem had been that he was so nervous. She was beautiful in the way that made you catch your breath when the light caught the angles of her face. Every once in a while he would just be staring at her, marveling at the shapes that made her, and she would catch him looking. Her face would turn confused, a little worried, and he would give a weak grin. He hadn’t been a very good boyfriend, but he had been so afraid. So in love with her, after two dates and a couple conversations over coffee. Nobody would have been able to tell that his quiet dullness was only wonder. Nevertheless he remembered it with the sweet ache that comes with memories of the beauty that could have happened.
Anyway, after that year he had set himself to figuring it out. Watching Amy speed through the early throes of love with her new guy was painful enough. He needed something to distract himself. Ferdinand had always been curious about their world. It was a blank, airy sort of world piled up from the white in daydreams that slid through the air. Sometimes it changed. People were always noticing little details – the edging on a coverlet, the sheen of silverware, the cluster of paintings on a wall. Other than those things, though, Ferdinand had noticed that there wasn’t much detail anywhere else. His own house was so faded and smooth that he sometimes wasn’t sure that it existed at all. When Amy had been there – the one time – things had brightened. The colors had spread, lines and curves traced themselves into the woodgrain of the coffee table, and the floor had sprouted smudges and scuffs. She’d been gone so long, and he couldn’t even see the coffee table anymore. Sometimes it felt as though there was a fog in his life, and once she left it had spread until everything was far and white and softly fading.
That couldn’t have been it, though. He was stuck in the margins of everything, watching life go on with other people while he nursed his broken heart in his pale timid house. It had occurred to him that going on a trip might break through his gloom, so he had. He’d gotten into a plane and flown over to a city in Italy, where there was some complex intrigue unfolding. Everyone was tense and passionate and there was a man with a mustache who wanted to kill a young couple. He had mostly been confused, and left early.
Something happened on the flight back home. He craned his neck to peer out the window, and through the scratched glass he could see something bigger and more terrifying than anything he had ever imagined. He was flying past huge bulky cliffs, square tops rising and falling. The colors changed, and there were lines carved up the side of each. When the plane banked to land, Ferdinand stared out the window again. What he saw there changed him forever. There was a person out the window. A giant. She was bigger than anything he’d ever seen, and she was holding something. It was white, and he couldn’t get a good look. Before he could squint to try to make out the designs on the white object, the plane dipped and dove straight into it. The page and its script had rushed at him until suddenly the world filled in around him and the plane was rolling toward the airport. As he was hurrying through the bewilderingly nondescript terminal, he figured it out.
Ferdinand got home, made himself a strong pot of coffee, and took to his sofa with a notebook. He reasoned it out, peppering what he wrote with arrows and circled words, until there splayed on the sheet of paper was an understanding of everything. It gave him a strange sense of pride, though of course he would never tell anyone.
In his imaginings, he had sometimes wondered what it would be like to be a story told by somebody else. He had never imagined that something like that was his life, his world. Nobody knew that their world was just structures made of the words in a book. Maybe he couldn’t even choose what to do – free will couldn’t really exist in a book. He had never thought that his life only amounted to being a fleeting secondary character.
Ferdinand sipped his coffee and pondered. He did that for a month while the idea settled into his mind, and then he put on real clothes for the first time in weeks and left the house. Amy might be written into a relationship, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t try to talk to her. It was hard to push into the black script city, but once he did he thought he could find her easily. There might be time for him to try to change things. He was going to try to change everything while Olivia read. He would do what he could and be glad of it, until she got to the end and closed the book.