Paper Trail

He used to leave her notes in the glove compartment.

The first handful were simple 'thanks' for lending him her car. Then they became descriptions of stories he heard on the radio through the day: the secret home cinema found among the remains of six million bodies in Paris' underground catacombs; the guy who conducted studies of shadows for a living (his documents stopped council parks and historic monuments being darkened by needlessly tall buildings); the woman who crafted such convincing fake flowers for her garden that the artificial blooms even attracted butterflies.

Then he left curiously useful tips like which cafes had the tastiest soup and which bookstores had the best-looking boys at the counter. This was how she got addicted to gazpacho and met her husband.

Sometimes he left definitions of crazy words (CALLIPYGIAN, meaning having a nicely-shaped bottom) and strange records (the London couple who kissed for more than 31 hours; the rules meant they had to keep smooching even when they went to the bathroom).

It was a lottery of facts whenever she opened her glovebox.

She guessed he spent a lot of his time in traffic, thinking about things, as he drove around delivering pamphlets. Even though he returned the car in the evenings, she rarely used it. She considered even selling it to him, but then she became pregnant and knew being able to shuttle around in a car was a luxury she couldn't now give up.

He would fill her glove compartment with suggestions for baby names. They were all obviously exotic destinations covered in BBC World Service reports: Odessa (Russia), Tirana (Albania), Kericho (Kenya) and other cities dotted across the globe.

Then one day, he didn't return her car. She rang him until the dial tone exhausted her, with its clinical melody. She went to his house but his neighbours only shrugged when she approached them for clues and details. Reluctantly, she rang the police. They found her car two days later. It had been abandoned by the Cahill Expressway.

She gave birth to a boy whose name revealed no geographical origins whatsoever. She got tired of eating gazpacho - like her baby, she only ate vegetables that had been blitzed into easy-swallow goo. She never knew what was on the news, its mix of horror stories of kids decapitated by their dads and infant soldiers left her feeling unmoored and depressed.

Her glove compartment currently stocked only a spineless car directory and some takeaway menus.

One day, just as she was about to drive her son to childcare for the first time, she thumbed through her well-used directory to locate the street, and out sailed a piece of paper from between MAP J16 and MAP J17. It was a crinkled note and all it said was "Man conducting study of his own shadow. Not sure whether it will be in Odessa or Kericho. Hopes to find it soon." That was the last note he ever left her.

Lee Tran Lam

Written March 2008 for
Settling Scores on a See-Saw; published in October in Herding Kites (Affirm Press).