One Long Panel of Stones – Chapter 1

On the western side of the map, I like to draw mountains. I feel like mountains always feel right on the west. Like they belong there. I tend to include large lakes, too, because the idea of a mountain lake is never not pleasant.

I draw a lot of maps. My co-workers make fun of me for it, they say things like, “You need to make friends, not maps,” or if they’re a bit older, they’ll often say, “Sally, you should find yourself a man, not invent these worlds.”

I’d like to point out here that while I don’t appreciate the assumption that a man would make things better for me, I do find the idea that what I do is make worlds, not just maps. I am not a skilled writer, nor am I good artist, but that doesn’t stop my brain from filling up with ideas. I see the world as something to navigate through, and the best way to navigate is with a map.

I have made hundreds of maps of hundreds of imagined places. It’s perhaps, I guess, you could maybe argue, in a roundabout way, and I should really just come out and say it, but, well, you could argue that what I do is odd behaviour for a 34 year old woman. But what even is normal, I ask? If something is odd than we need to come to an agreement about what normal is, and while I imagine society has an idea of that, I don’t see anyone out there writing essays titled “How to be Normal,” or “What Makes All of Us the Same.”

Anyway, I guess I’m a little self-conscious about all this. I suppose that’s because I’m surrounded not by my fellow oddballs, but by very normal, very unexceptional people at my job. Which isn’t meant to imply anything. They’re all perfectly nice people. But if there was some consensus on what normal was? They’d be it.

I work at a small accounting firm. It’s the type of place people come to when they hit 30 or so and suddenly realize they have no idea what they’re doing with their money and their lives, and they’re usually at least somewhat panicked about the very idea of death. Or at least terrified of growing old. I am convinced we all have a switch in our bodies that triggers this. One morning we’ll wake up and suddenly the idea of growing old is just… there. And it doesn’t go away like it did when you were younger—when you’d have these fleeting moments where you acknowledge you’ll eventually age but then return to the carefree innocence and chaos of youth. Everyone I work with is older, for the most part, and most of them don’t have hobbies outside of the job itself. I’d venture a guess that me doing anything at all would cause suspicion from these folks. But drawing maps of imaginary lands is grounds for avoiding me if we run into each other outside of work, like in the cereal aisle at the grocery, where I once saw the CEO of my company, Randall Stein, avoid eye contact with me for a solid three minutes by reading the back of Frosted Flakes box.

But I can’t help how I see the world.

When I’m not at home drawing, I spend my free time at a small bookshop called Leonard’s. Nobody named Leonard has ever owned the store, nor has anyone named Leonard ever worked there. Gus, the owner, tells me he picked the name because it was already on the awning. Decades ago, Leonard’s was a hardware store, and the sign was well designed and sturdy, so Gus decided to keep it.

I consider Gus a friend, though we also have a working relationship. Or whatever you call it when you have friends who fit into a specific niche and don’t work well outside of that. I wouldn’t, say, invite Gus to a barbecue, because I’m not sure what exactly we’d talk about. But as long as books and history are concerned, we get along well. I guess it’s more like a hobbyist relationship.

I always stop into Leonard’s after work on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Mondays and Wednesdays Gus hosts a local woman’s writing group, called the “Colorado 14’ers,” because, apparently, there are 14 of them, which honestly seems like a lot for a small mountain town like Estes Park. I get the idea they don’t all write. And it’s not that I can’t go in those days, but I find the ladies a little uptight and they tend to be a bit loud. Fridays I just like to go home and work on my maps, and the weekends are too busy to spend any time with Gus.

It’s on a Tuesday that Gus greets me with a smile big enough to cause alarm. “Sally,” he says, teeth still showing, “Have I got the book for you.”