For days I’ve been looking for the list. It’s somewhere in the house with the rocker, the lamp with the pink shade, the round mirror, the square mirror, the oval mirror, the postman’s desk, the photograph of doors — things I don’t remember acquiring. I look beneath pillows, scarves, woven baskets. I look in pockets of jeans. The list is forty-five pages and water-stained. It has the names and addresses of everyone I know.
My ex-husband is the master of lists. He wrote our life in a big orange notebook that he found on the street in perfect condition. There are names and addresses of all the couples counselors we saw, our son’s friends from preschool, the date and circumstances of my mother’s death, the graduate student my father lived with when she died, my son’s middle school teachers, friends who moved to New Zealand. Whenever I want to know about my former life, I consult the orange notebook.
The list is the only list I’ve made since my husband and I split up. Claris, who’s my best friend, says she’ll help me write a letter to all the people on the list. It will be a little like a Christmas letter, except its purpose is to let people know I’m coming out of hiding after my divorce. Claris, the angel of announcements, says she’ll invite everyone on the list to a party.
I ask my son if he’s seen the list. He hasn’t and didn’t know I made one. I begin to look through his room, but he pulls down the shade so it’s hard to see. His Mohawk is dyed green and has a faint neon glow.
Claris calls. She’s in her office where, at the beginning of my divorce, I sometimes slept when my son was with his father. During the night the fax machine erupted with messages from foreign countries — all of them announcements for Claris’s newsletter about climate change and famine. I have to tell Claris I haven’t found the list, that I compiled it with a program that turned everything to hieroglyphs, that I got a techie to decipher the hieroglyphs and he gave me just one copy and disappeared. I still have his sunglasses. Claris asks if I made copies, and I have to tell her there’s only one list and it’s somewhere in the house.
Why don’t you go outside? she says. Maybe the list will let you find it if you aren’t looking. Maybe it likes being lost.
I decide to walk to an ashram in the midst of this modern city. Once I went to events there, hoping for enlightenment; but I never became a follower. Since I’m better at guessing secrets than I am at keeping objects, I knew the swami slept with students and wasn’t surprised when the news came out after his death. But the ashram library is still quiet and its incense is still comforting.
The ashram shares a street with modest bungalows and each has a well-tended garden. Long ago I walked down that street, stopped at a lavender garden and turned back. As I turned, I saw the swami walking toward me, stop at the same garden and turn back. I never knew if his walking the same path was an accident or a message.
It’s a small quiet day. I don’t walk down the street, but go straight to the ashram library where a man in white clothes is taking inventory. He’s checking off a long list on paper as transparent as the paper in the books — scented paper from India. Each time he finishes a row he folds the paper and the list becomes smaller.
Sei Shonogan, who wrote in the second century, said women who are alone should live in dilapidated houses. I think of this when I come home and see the rose-colored steps piled with leaves. I decide to sweep them, but as soon as I open the door the list starts to gnaw like a persistent rodent. I shake out beach towels, sift through papers, and open an old umbrella. Inside I find an awl that belongs to my ex-husband. I bring it to the toolshed and when I come back, my son and his friends are blasting music.
Turn it down, I tell them. Their neon heads bob in agreement. And then — among empty yogurt, crumpled socks, errant cigarettes — I see the list in a book I lent my son.
The list! The list! I almost cry. I laugh. Three alien-empowered teenagers with neo-Nazi haircuts look at me while the list rattles in my hand like gourds. Each letter is distinct, spinning in its own orbit, emitting light, leaping like a comet to combine with other letters until the names of all the people I know are replaced by names of people I don’t know, some so far away, they’re living in a different season — and yet someday I may meet them. Their names are stars, the list a sheaf of light, and the boys jump up and down in delight and celebration.