I did not expect to find the edge of the world when I set sail that morning. I just tacked out of the harbor toward wherever the Gulf of Mexico met the first light of dawn. The timing was right and my hiding spot would be useless in the daylight.
Before that day, I had already estimated that the world wasn’t exactly real. I didn’t expect anything quite so literally fake as what I found. Nothing so solid as this solid wall painted to look like the sky.
Now, I stood before a dark, open doorway at the edge of the world. I squinted, but the darkness didn’t resolve into anything. Just deeper darkness. I hesitated to step through, my thoughts a jumble of beliefs and memories, each one updating, updating.
I had sailed through a sudden, violent storm. I had reached the wall at the edge of the world and the door set into it.
Now I was talking to myself. “The edge of the world is a solid wall painted like the sky so as to fool distant observers”.
No, not observers. Just one observer. Just me. Why had I never picked up a telescope and pointed it at the horizon? Had I ever even seen a telescope?
My thoughts kept updating. My mind was the steady clatter of falling dominoes.
My dad started behaving strangely, in the weeks before he died, when I was ten. I’d be washing dishes, or sitting with my math book open – he’d always help me with my math, not because I needed it, but because he liked it – and I’d catch him staring, stars in his eyes, smiling. A bittersweet smile.
I’d say something like “Come to visit the Truman Zoo?” and make a pig nose or pull my ears out like a monkey. Each time he would laugh, apologize for staring, and tell me he loved me. Then the next day he’d get starry eyed again.
There were other strange incidents, but the strangest was the last.
On a trip to the grocery store, my dad parked in the back lot and led me into the loading dock. It was dark and still, unreal. I’d never seen it before. He said we didn’t have much time, that this was a spot without any cameras. I thought he meant security cameras, but since I was a contradictory brat I glanced around for a way to disagree. There actually was a camera in that backroom. A TV camera, dusty and unused.
He snapped his fingers at me, which was unusually sharp. “Sorry, but I need you to watch me now, Truman”. If I had a moment to monitor my thoughts, I’d have noticed how far out of place a TV camera is in the loading dock of a grocery store.
He wasted no time, but quickly swore me to do three things.
First, he had me promise to read the Discrete Mathematics book he had on the bookshelf at home.
Second, I had to promise I would not mention the book to anyone ever, or even talk about it aloud to myself in private.
Lastly and most mysteriously, I promised to remember that the map is not the territory. It sounded like a code phrase.
Delivering this speech, he was at once very rehearsed and very sincere, like an actor breaking character to speak to me, the audience, but it was still something he memorized. After I repeated his words, he said, “Good, Truman. Now let’s go. Keep repeating that in your head. Don’t look at me strangely and keep your mouth shut. Don’t forget what I said.”
We passed on out of the store room to the brightly lit grocery store, and Dad made a big show as if we had come through the loading dock just to surprise his buddy Chuck. But I knew there was something special about that loading dock. Something that made it OK for him to tell me something that wasn’t OK anywhere else. Chuck didn’t look amused at first. He made a face at my dad that I didn’t understand. Then he laughed.
After that, Dad wasn’t strange anymore. He was back to his old self. All the time, whatever he was doing. Whether I was interrupting his work or he was reading me a bedtime story, he had that light in his eyes that told me he loved me. That I could trust that.
It was like that for the whole week until he died.
We went out on the sloop that day, and he had me take the tiller. He said I was even good enough to go out on my own now. The tears in his eyes looked like pride and maybe pride was part of it, but now I think he simply knew what was coming.
The storm came on like a light switch. Earlier he had said it would be a great day for sailing, but he didn’t look surprised when the bad weather came. I notice now that I was confused at his calm demeanor.
Then suddenly he struck a defiant pose. He shouted at the sky, “Yea, though I walk below the firmament, in the valley of the shadow of death, I shall not–” Lightning cracked almost on top of us, and I didn’t hear the last word.
It was all I could do to hold onto the ropes, then. And that’s when Dad was washed overboard. He just vanished into the salt water.
I didn’t look up again but gripped the rail until the boat bumped into something. Miraculously, I was back at the dock. The clouds cleared and light shone on Chuck who said he saw me as he was passing by. We called the police from a pay phone, but they never found Dad’s body.
There was a funeral.
Mom put a stone up in the cemetery.
The whole town showed up. Family I’d never met came, stayed for a day, had dramatic fights and resolutions, and then left again without so much as a Christmas card ever again. Like shadows or footnotes. Like most folks.
“Mom, do you cry about Dad?” I asked after the last aunt and uncle left.
Mom was graceful as always, “Of course, dear. Just not out here in the open. What do you expect?”
Then because she finally looked at my face and saw how I was feeling, she dropped her hands from the earrings she was putting on and said “You know Dad will always be in our hearts. Chin up!”
Then she left for her book club.
I thought she was staying strong for me. Now I wonder.
After a few days I went back to school and all the kids had made me cards. There was a banner that said “We’re sorry, Truman”, like it was all about me, not about Dad.
My best friend Marlon could see I wasn’t thrilled.
“Come on, Truman, let’s get out of here. We’ll ride bikes by the pier,” said Marlon.
We loved riding bikes, and the pier was a sweet spot where we would bounce our wheels off the warps and bumps in the boards.
On the way we passed the grocery store.
“Let’s slow down,” I said, and I thought of my dad and the storeroom and the fact that we were two blocks from the Gulf where no one had ever found Dad’s body. I thought about the words Dad shouted before he died. I shall not what? Did it matter? Where did it get him? So stupid.
I had a sudden urge to go anywhere else.
We slowed to a roll. But my heart beat harder with every brick in the road.
We did get to the steps of the pier. But I couldn’t go any farther. Marlon said, “What’s wrong, Truman, you look really scared.”
“I can’t–” But I didn’t know what word came next.
“You should probably stay away from the ocean, buddy,” Marlon said.
And I did. I stopped sailing. I couldn’t walk on a dock or a pier. I couldn’t even cross the one bridge that leads off the island. Until much later.
When I came home to our two story ranch-style, Mom had packed away Dad’s stuff. I thought she must have worked pretty hard to move it all so fast. Of course, as with all of the house work, she had help I didn’t know about.
I sank down on the couch. Aside from one picture of Dad sailing on the boat, Mom had cleared out everything about him. But she had forgotten the bookshelves.
I thought again of Dad’s last words. They were very Biblical. I had never read the Bible on purpose before, but we’d been to church a few times. I scanned the shelves for the Bible.
That’s when I saw another book, and I remembered that day in back of the grocery store again. Those stolen seconds when Dad was so rehearsed but so real. I still had a promise to keep.
I pulled down Discrete Mathematics And Its Applications and took it upstairs to the writing desk in my room. I didn’t do anything to disturb Mom. I was sworn to Secrecy.
Looking back, this moment was Their first mistake. They probably thought a kid reading a giant math book was weird, but not too weird. Kids do weird things when they’re grieving.
Maybe They could tell I was thinking about Dad; he loved math. So They had no reason to suspect anything when I brought it to the little desk in my room, where I always studied.
I had seen this book, blue with orange and green stripes, up on the shelf for months. I still wonder when he gutted it to put in his own pages.
Because when I opened the cover and flipped to the title page, it didn’t say “Discrete Mathematics And Its Applications”. It said “The Sequences”. That was weird. Sure, sequences are a math subject, but a book should have the same title on the outside and the inside. Dad had removed the pages of Discrete Mathematics so it could carry this piece of the Secret instead.
He had scribbled on the new title page, “For my son Truman, the most authentic person I know”, as if he had given the book to me as a birthday present. Now I know he knew he would be leaving. Now I know it was a parting gift.
I turned the page and began to read The Sequences. That’s how I started on a long path that would take me to the darkened door at the edge of the world.
My mother had other ideas for me.
1. The Discrete Conspiracy
Truman Burbank doesn't know he lives in a TV show. Can his father's secret book set him free?
2. Making Beliefs Pay Rent
A murder in town exposes a crack in 18 year-old Truman's world. Can he use what he has learned to find the killer?
3. The Map is Not The Territory
10 year-old Truman’s mother gets rid of his book. Can he save the last link he has to his father?
4. Inferential Distances
21-year-old Truman is sick of the chaos. But does that justify a life of crime?
5. Loss Aversion
11-year-old Truman seeks the meaning of his father’s last words. Will his obsession ruin his friendships?
6. Politics Is The Mind-Killer
21-year-old Truman takes his grievances to the mayor. Can he fight City Hall?