Monday, November 24, 2008

Buried Fruit

While doing some research on the history of travel, I opened a book in the New York Public Library only to find its pages fall open naturally, revealing a scrap of paper on which had been written a red X. Of what kind of pirate, I wondered, might this be the work? What sentence did this sign announce, and who would execute it? And was it intended for me or had I intercepted it by accident? For of course this ominous mark reminded me of the scrap of paper that sets in motion the plot of Treasure Island, although I had not thought of that book since I first read it in fifth grade.

But then I remembered that it is not a red X that the blind pirate Pew hands to Billy Bones, but a black dot. I could not recall any more of the novel's plot. The only thing that came back to me of that first reading was my initial impression of the book's complexity, of how the many story lines fit together to create a dense but perfectly balanced space. This impression of compact complexity led me, in response to some class assignment, to compare the structure of the novel to a pomegranate; a dense web run through with red seams - a red the color of rubies and of blood - that still carried a scent of tropical climates. Each character was a seed, seeds bundled together in sections to create individual story lines, and together the segments constituted the complete fruit - the complete text, as it were.

I'm skeptical, now, about how apt the pomegranate metaphor is, but I realize that its impression indelibly linked Treasure Island in my mind with an image of crisscrossed red lines.

Not daring to remove the slip of paper, I replaced the book on the shelf. I'll never know who received the sentence next. For myself, I know each of us is a marked man, and I'll be ready for my fateful meeting whenever it comes.

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