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In which John reads a condensed-for-video version of the end of the first chapter of his new book, "Paper Towns."

Dutton will publish "Paper Towns" in September, 2008


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A Bunny
( - -)
((') (')
Good morning Hank, it's Friday, September 15th, today I'm going to read a cut for time version of the second half of the first chapter of my new book, Paper Towns.

"Here's the thing: I found a dead guy. Little adorable ten year old me and my even littler and more adorable play date found a guy with blood pouring out of his mouth and that blood was on her little adorable sneakers as she biked home. And that's all very dramatic and everything, but so what? I didn't know the guy! People I don't know die all the damn time! If I had a nervous breakdown every time something awful happened in the world, I'd be crazier than a shithouse rat!

That night I went into my room at 9:00 to go to bed, because 9:00 was my bedtime. My mom tucked me in, told me she loved me, and said, "See you tomorrow."

And I said, "See you tomorrow."

And then she turned off the lights and closed the door almost all the way. As I turned on my side, I happened to see Margo Roth Spiegelman standing outside my window, her face almost pressed against the screen. I got up and opened the window, but the screen stayed between us, pixelating her.

"I did an investigation," she said, quite seriously. Up close I could tell that she had a little notebook and a pencil with teeth marks around the eraser. She glanced down at her notes. "Mrs. Feldman from over on Jefferson Court said his name was Robert Morris. She told me he lived on Jefferson Road in one of those condominiums on top of the grocery store, so I went over there, and there was a bunch of policemen, and they asked if I worked for my school paper, and I said that our school didn't have a paper, and then he said as long as I wasn't a journalist he would answer my questions. He said that Robert Morris was 36, and he was a lawyer. They wouldn't let me in his apartment though, but a lady named Juanita Alvarez lived next door to him, and I got into her apartment by asking if I could borrow a cup of sugar for my mom and then she said that Robert Morris had killed himself with a gun. And then I said 'why?', and she told me that he was getting a divorce and he was sad about it."

"Lots of people get divorces and don't kill themselves," I said.

"I know, that's what I was thinking, so it can't be that, right?"

"I guess," I said. I just wanted her to keep talking. That small voice tense with the excitement of almost knowing things.

"I think maybe I know why," she said.

"I think maybe all the strings inside him broke," she said.

And then before I could think of anything to say, she reached up on her tiptoes and whispered, "Shut the window."

So I did.

I thought she would leave, but she just stood there, watching me. I waved at her and smiled, but her eyes seemed fixed on something behind me. Something monstrous that had already drained the blood from her face. And I felt too afraid to turn around and see. But there was nothing behind me, of course, except maybe the dead guy. I stopped waving, and sat down at the floor so that my head was as high as her head, and we just stared at each other from opposite sides of the window. I don't remember how it ended, if I went to bed, or she did. In my memory, it doesn't end. We just stay there, looking at each other, forever.

The next morning I took the screen out of that window, and hid it in the back of my closet, where it remains. I took an elective in poetry my sophomore year because I heard that Margo was taking it. By then we weren't friends really, because she was already the high priestess of Winterpark High School. She was friendly to me, but I never really had anything to say to her really, except occasionally during classes. The great surprise of that class was that I actually like poetry. At least some of it. There's this one poem we read called "Howl", and it starts out:
"I saw the best minds of my generation, destroyed by madness. Starving, hysterical, naked."
I've never seen Margo starving, or hysterical, and God knows I've never seen her naked. But somehow -- and this is why I like poetry -- those words still describe her as she stood outside my window. Her blinkless blue eyes, starving, and hysterical, and naked, staring back at me. I think she was still trying to piece it together - how the strings break, I mean - as she stared at me. Margo always loved mysteries, and in everything that came afterward, I could never stop thinking that maybe she loved mysteries so much that she became one.

Hank, I look forward to hearing the rest of your first chapter on Monday. And then we return to the funny!