My name is Larry Rios. About myself, the only things worth mentioning are that I’m divorced, my parents have long been in the grave, I’m an autodidactic philosopher, and I spend practically every minute of free time with my nose in a book.
Last year, I discovered a small used bookstore on the Eastside, not too far from Big Lou’s Pizza—an overrated pizza joint if there ever was one. The bookstore, at that time, had been in business for only three years, which I’d learned after striking a conversation with the owner.
After I mentioned to the old man my passion for tackling challenging literature, the classics, philosophy, he asked me if I’d ever read Jorge Luis Borges.
“Of course I’ve heard of him,” I replied brusquely, quickly realizing I’d answered a question he hadn’t exactly asked.
He smiled knowingly, his wild bug eyes twinkling in the light, then he said, “Wait a minute, please.”
A moment later he returned with a paperback in his mummy-like hands—what turned out to be a beat-up Penguin Books’ edition of Borges’s The Book of Sand and Shakespeare’s Memory. The cover art, in black and yellow, reminded me of a gentle bumblebee, or rather, a hell-bent hornet. Ironically, it consisted of a honeycomb-esque arrangement of butterflies.
Handing me the slim volume, the owner said, “On the house, I know it’ll satisfy you.”
His inscrutable kindness still strikes me as a quality rarely found in this world.
Allow me now to cut to the chase: I read the book in two days, that very same weekend, so that it wouldn’t occupy my headspace upon returning to work on Monday.
In four sittings I devoured the book, which is really two books in one. So dazzled was I by the prose that in those two days, I ate only two meals daily as opposed to my usual three.
Of all the tales in the book—that dangerous object disguised as merely one thing—“The Disk” stuck out considerably, like a large purple coin among pennies.
Three pages long, “The Disk” is narrated by a hermit woodcutter who’s visited one day by a dethroned king. The king briefly reveals to the narrator, from the palm of his hand, an invisible one-sided disk; instantly obsessed by the mystical object, the narrator asks the king if he could have the disk, to which the king rejects him and swiftly leaves his property. In hasty revenge, the narrator buries his axe into the king’s head, forcing the disk’s ejection from his hand. The last line of the story reads: “I have been looking for it for years.”
Weeks passed and try as I did, I couldn’t extract from my mind the impossible image of the one-sided disk. How any person could flush such bafflement, such nonsense, such derailment from his mind was beyond me. Perhaps only a blind man such as Borges was capable.
Among the last promises I made to my ex-wife, Grace, was to quit smoking. To my credit, I hadn’t taken a drag in two long years. However, not a month passed after I finished the book when I drove to the corner store and purchased a pack of Camels. The familiar burn.
In bed I thought, Perhaps days are one-sided, perhaps air is one-sided, perhaps the moon is one-sided, perhaps the soul is one-sided, but not a disk. Never a disk!
During work one day, I googled the words “comprehension” and “philosophy” and stumbled upon a thread discussing how objects are defined—with an “intentional definition or an extensional definition.” In other words, according to one contributor, “the comprehension of an object is the totality of intensions.”
What, then, is the totality of a one-sided disk if its other side is rendered non-existent? I say “rendered” because I’m now aware of the sly invention of such an object.
Late one night, with a cigarette dangling from my lips, I stepped into my bathroom and spoke into the mirror. It occurred to me instantaneously, horrifyingly, that asking a question to my reflection yielded only one response—the self-same question—which would forever remain unanswered. Then soon forgotten.
This happened next, and is unbelievably true. I lifted the pair of grooming scissors and with the resolve of a seasoned surgeon gently traced, with one of the blades, the outline of my face, slowly. The sensation of the cool metal tickled, gave me goosebumps.
“Perhaps my face is one-sided,” I said to my double, as a madman would say.
I called Grace in the morning and thanked her profusely for all the years she’d put up with me—with my silence, with my isolation, my violence, my melancholy.
“It’s only now, for the hundredth time, that I see clearly the gift you are,” I told her. “The memory of you keeps me breathing.”
Brief silence, then she said plainly, “You’re smoking again, Larry. I can taste it.”
It took that conversation to jolt me into action, which first was to return the book to its rightful home. I had, and never would, any claim to something given to me for free.
When I arrived at the bookstore, I searched around for the old man, but was intercepted instead by an old woman.
“May I help you?” she asked me softly.
“I’m here to return this to the owner,” I said, motioning toward the book I held. “Do you know if he’s in today?”
My words had an awful effect on her, for her face, upon hearing them, sagged deeper toward the lifeless tile.
“He died last month,” the old woman answered solemnly. “He was my husband.”
Sombrely, I offered the widow my condolences. I didn’t have the heart to give her the book, so I placed it on a shelf discreetly then left the store.
Day passed into night, quietly.
Later in bed, I couldn’t help but think to myself, beyond my control, as if landing on punchlines to tasteless, horrible jokes: Perhaps life is one-sided. Perhaps death is one-sided. Perhaps God is one-sided…
Now available from Rogue Planet Press: Lovecraftiana Candlemas 2020

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