ÆÆÆÆ

Emma tapped the knife tip gently against her left thigh a few times as she rattled off the possibilities while staring emptily ahead. As if browsing a card catalog in her head, she rattled off the entries softly to herself as she tapped . . . "You, ewe, ew . . . Hugh . . . youth . . . ute . . ." She noticed that people liked to tap their thighs when thinking or searching for something, and she was fascinated by what it might imply for the psychology of storytelling. She could think of no explanation, and so, continued tapping.

As a man approached the door, she raised the knife with one hand while holding the door with the other. Then, in one quick motion, she reached through the door, received from the man a single canary linen-bond cardstock No. 10 business-sized envelope, and, behind the door so as to not scare the man, she sliced open the envelope in one pass. In the upper right corner where she would normally expect a postage stamp, there was an embossed seal. It featured one letter: U.

It was the letter carrier! Of course! How appropriate! "UU . . . literary U-turn? . . . or wait, for that matter, just . . . 'U' !" she exclaimed.

"Esscusah mi?" said the man.

"Oh sorry, I was talking to myself. Need me to sign?"

"Oh, no Madame. No sign. No sign for special rate letter!" he said with an accent that sounded almost Russian, although Emma always thought Portuguese sounded like Spanish spoken by Russians, so he could be from Russia too. Maybe both? She had to focus.,

Emma's mind was unlike any other in the LOLITAS. While of course all of the members of the guild had some sort of extraordinary literary talent (often more for their pure ideas than for their writing, which struggled and often failed to serve the project of delineating what was truly significant from what was incidental, parenthetical, unimportant enough to have been left out), Emma's mind was from out of time. She wrote and spoke with insight far beyond her years, but that was not so unusual in the world. What made Emma's communications different were their profoundly informative details. It would seem effortless that she so quickly shaped the direction and thrust of a collective decision, using charm, elegant metaphor, irony, a sense of dramatic self-awareness, and subtle shades of pith. It was not in any way effortless.

Effort was the very substance of her being, her every thought, in fact.

It was sometimes fun, of course, to encounter an ambiguity and play with it. Delightful accidents, synchronicities of import, happen that way all the time. But She had learned through hard-earned experience that the price to pay for ambiguity was so high that it must always be used sparingly, but it must nonetheless be used, just as saffron rice could never be saffron rice if there weren’t even the slightest bit of saffron in it. The storyteller’s aim, she maintained, was to exploit the precision of ambiguities. She came up with that phrase herself and it had impressed the Read Team so much that Chuck once had to dissuade Emma from using it as the title of a corporate training coursebook she was ready to publish. "It's not that it's not clever and funny and ironic," she remembered Chuck saying, "it’s all of those! And someone important might get the joke and then it would not be funny anymore for many, many years . . . So knock it off, Em!"

"The letter U . . . Qanat and Tanaq" she said, now assertively and directed at Chuck, "could be words that are intended to have the ‘u’ implied by the Q's presence itself."

"Like with the imperative tense that implies the subject is ‘you’?" Chuck said and then, urgently, immediately, to head off Emma’s pedantic canon-fire, "er- wait, I mean, like the imperative mood that implies the subject is ‘you’."

Emma smiled politely, then faced away from Chuck and rolled her eyes. She felt a little jealous. His condescending critique of her cognitive map was legitimately wrong this time, and it pained her that she had missed this clever hack herself. Had she thought of it in time, she would have retorted "I’m just glad you didn’t use the word ‘man-date’ in that little blurb of yours . . ." But she had a face-saving protocol for this situation, so she said, "You’re learning, Boy Wonder . . . way to spell it out. You’ll soon be the hacker I am and I’ll have nothing left to teach you."

The two remained silent for a minute as Emma read the pale yellow page.

"Emma . . . I know you are a woman of letters, and I know I missed the chance to make that joke a few minutes ago . . . and I know you're disappointed in me for that miss . . . but would you mind telling me just what is going on here? What does it say?"