Vermillion robes arrive in plain brown packages with no return address and a scent like alder. We check the files and re-check them using a method developed in Manchuria more than a century ago, and still we come up empty. It’s almost as if the afternoon has somehow replaced itself with another very similar in appearance but possessing none of the minor accoutrements we have come to expect – the pealing of an iron bell originating just beyond the hills on the horizon, the banter in the back room concerning who stuck whom with which instrument, the golf club or the porcelain Buddha. I snatch up whatever charity is forthcoming and bide my time, slink about in the shadows until someone gets wise and throws the switch that illuminates the entire area, throws into sudden merciless relief the banister and the people hiding behind the banister as if they expect at any moment to be crushed by a falling meteorite or caught out on the evening news in the company of intravenous drug users with easy to remember names like Bunny or Ron. It isn’t long before the background music becomes tedious, filled as it is with saxophones and vocalists lamenting the paper thin walls of the human heart in short, vicious bursts of language and syncopated gasps not unlike those you would expect of a man suddenly and unexpectedly struck down by tachycardia. Still, we move to those sounds as if they were ocean waves and we were so many isolated stands of kelp close in by the shore and the moon had sunk close enough to the earth to cause a barely audible humming, a harmonic vibration preceding the imminent collision of two like bodies, of two substances identical but for the names we give them and the patterns that appear on their surfaces. Those caused by chance collision and the occasionally violent movement of the atmosphere over unanchored debris, and those caused by someone having a go at them with a stick. Drawing pictures of faces, mostly, with their eyes closed and their lips parted to reveal the empty place where teeth should be. Sometimes animals of a sort that have gone extinct or never actually existed in the first place – with horns that look like modern armchairs and tails so long and elaborate as to render the bodies they are attached to insignificant, nearly invisible. You have to get up close to see them and when you do, there is a moment when you lose all perspective, when you are in danger of tumbling headfirst into this other, lesser world -- this place of mere scratched-in line and shadow -- and never returning. But this vertiginous feeling doesn’t last long. Pretty soon you are home again, doing the dishes, placing the different sorts of silverware in their proper places in the drawer, and you begin to daydream, even fantasize about what it might have been like to stay there, to get lost in those lines and those primitive patterns – yes, daydream about it now in spite of the genuine terror you felt at the time, the way you had clawed at the air itself for purchase, had prayed an inaudible prayer that, looking back on it now, seems thoroughly undignified, the sort of thing a child might say when the rain is pelting his windows.