Boswell’s Secret

Monday, January 1, 2001

You always forget the details.

I was sitting up in bed last night after midnight—so, technically, the first day of the new year—using my little Sony tape recorder to make a cassette letter for my friend Austin. I answered the questions which he had asked me on his last one, but that amount of taping was about all I had energy for after three days of going to bed well after midnight, sleeping in late, and even taking unplanned naps on the couch when I had fully intended to watch TV. The extra sleep tends not to refresh me but rather to make me lazier than I usually am.

I laid the recorder on the bed at my right, among the folds of the sheets and comforter which would normally have been occupied by Lamara, but she was still at a New Year’s party thrown by her boss. I picked up Best American Short Stories 2000, and started reading a story by Percival Everett called “The Fix,” about a man who can fix anything—small appliances and the like, but he also brings a woman back to life—and about fifteen minutes later I was finding that the late-night reading was having its usual effect of putting me gently to sleep. I put the book back on the bottom shelf of the wicker night table, turned off the lamp, and then wiggled onto my belly down under the covers, flipping the comforter up to my neck.

I’d forgotten the detail about the location of the cassette recorder, and it clunked onto the floor at the entrance to the bedroom. Shit. I got out of bed and picked it up. At first none of the buttons I pushed did anything. I opened the compartment and removed the cassette, trying to verify further whether there was any hope that it might still be functional. It looked fine. I shook the recorder gently, thinking that I might hear the rattle of some small internal part which had been dislodged or broken, but there was nothing. I put the cassette back in, rewound it a little, and pressed Play. I heard my own voice talking to Austin, but the volume was very low, as if I were whispering some secret to him.

I was bothered by this silly little incident, to the extent that I had trouble getting to sleep. I positioned and repositioned myself for about an hour, checked the clock several times, and was just falling asleep at about 3.30 a.m. when the third-floor neighbor, she of the black clogs and inattention to civilized sleeping hours, clomped upstairs and (mercifully) immediately into bed. The main thing was the eerie symmetry of having read a story about a man who fixes things, commenting about that story on tape, and then breaking the recorder, thereby putting myself in need of a man who fixes things. Symmetry? Coincidence? Or just a random event completely bereft of significance in a universe that is utterly indifferent to me and my petty plight? But apart from all that, it just does not seem to be an auspicious way to start a new year, by breaking one of the chief means I use to communicate with one of my closest friends.

Tuesday, January 2, 2001

I woke up at about noon, Lamara still not in bed to my right, and to my left a broken cassette recorder on the night table, its tape compartment door agape like a face frozen in death. There was music playing, the first-floor neighbor sullying the silence this time, the volume turned just low enough so that the lyrics were not discernible, but just loud enough so that I could hear and feel the rhythmic pounding of the bass from some boy band. It would have been less annoying if he’d had heavy metal cranked up full blast.

I turned on the radio, NPR on 90.9, and the guy was saying “Boston, Cape Cod, and the Islands.” I removed the cassette and the batteries from the recorder, closed its maw, and then tossed it cleanly into the waste paper basket, a distance of about ten feet. It was time to make a list of things I needed to do today, with number 1 being buying a new recorder. Then, in no particular order: rent movies; pick up shoes at the repair shop; get the oil and filter changed in the car; buy a new case for my laptop; get . . . It was all so pragmatic and dull that I set the pen and paper back down on the night table and got up.

Lamara had called New Year’s Day to say she wouldn’t be home till today, but it was now almost two o’clock in the afternoon and she still wasn’t here. I checked the voicemail just in case I had slept through a call she’d made, telling me that it was late and she was drunk and that the best thing to do would be to stay over at her boss Stan’s place, or something like that. But there were no messages. Just as I clicked the phone off, it rang.

“Hi, Jim, it’s me.” It was Lamara. “Happy New Year, honey.”

“Same to you. I was starting to get a little worried. What’s up?”

“Well, you know Stan. There was like a ton of champagne left over from midnight and he insisted that we all stay there until it was all gone. And then there was dancing and another round of food—I feel so stuffed—and then before I knew it was like four o’clock or something and I was exhausted and a bit drunk still, and so I thought the best thing to do was to stay over again.”

“Makes sense.”

I was getting that eerie feeling again, as Lamara was saying exactly what I had imagined she might say. Then again, staying over was the only logical explanation.

“When are you coming home?” I asked.

“Actually, that’s what I was calling about. I’m just helping them clean up a bit now, and then I’ll probably have some coffee, but then some of us, a smaller group, we’re going to stay for another night—you know, make it a good party. Is that OK? I should be back tomorrow some time, like in the early afternoon or something.”

“OK, no problem. I think I’m going to run out and do a few errands now anyway.”

“That sounds like a plan. I miss you,” she said. “And I missed you on New Year’s Eve. We all missed you.”

“Yeah, right.”


“Just kidding. Listen, I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“OK. I lov—”