The scholar had grown weary of writing scholarly papers and so had decided to write a novel. He wanted to be the next Hemingway, the next Updike, or, at the very least, the next Clancy.
For three years, the scholar slaved over his novel, coaxing it like a child, wrestling it like an adversary, caressing it like a lover. He infused it with meaty, succulent tidbits of knowledge accumulated during his scholarly years, years during which he studied philosophy, geology, astrology and many other ’ologies.
At last, it was finished: a massive tome that spanned centuries and in whose pages roamed and romped and raged no fewer than twenty-three main characters, four of whom he named “Edgar,” in honor of himself.
The scholar was a very good writer. He could turn a clever phrase, elicit a guffaw, furrow a brow. He did not abuse commas and used adverbs sparingly. And because the scholar was respected and had published many scholarly papers, his novel, too, was published. The day it appeared in hardcover, the scholar combed his hair, donned a suit and waited for calls to be interviewed.
There were no calls that day. Or the next. A review was published, then another. There was a problem with the book. The problem was this: the book was a bore.
But: nestled within the book, on page two hundred ninety-five, was a certain metaphor. A few critics (those who had made it to page two hundred ninety-five) found the metaphor and declared themselves … astonished.
Soon, word of the metaphor began to spread. It raced across the United States then leapt over oceans and continents. It spread like a virus, infecting entire populations with its breath-taking beauty and clarity.
The metaphor was unlike any other metaphor the world had ever seen. It was provocative and evocative, incisive and poetic, humorous and grave. It was all these things, and more. Through the vividness of its imagery and the power of its words, the metaphor had captured the essential truth of the human condition and mankind’s place in the universe and his relationship with God.
It was some metaphor.
In the subways, in the desert, on the moors and on bicycles, people of all nations recited the metaphor. Even those who could not or did not read recited it like a prayer or a mantra, having learned it from their televisions, their priests, their in-laws.
Suddenly, the scholar was a celebrity. The New Yorker dubbed him “The Metaphor Man.” The New York Post called him “Mr. Metaphor.” Newsweek named him “Man of the Year,” its cover depicting a perplexed-looking seventy-two year-old academic with a nose like a pickle and a mane of flowing white hair like a prophet’s.
A fan club was formed to celebrate both the metaphor and the scholar who’d created it. The fan club grew into a movement, then an ideology and finally a mythology. Its followers called themselves “Metaphorics.” For a brief, absurd moment, there was even talk of an action figure, one with a nose like a pickle and a mane of flowing white hair, that would, when tipped upside down, recite the metaphor.
But, despite his celebrity status and the Newsweek cover and the fan club, the scholar was deeply unhappy. He didn’t want to be remembered as a jabbering action figure. He had wanted to be the next Hemingway, the next Updike, or, at the very least, the next Clancy. So he locked himself in his apartment, determined to write another novel, this one without any metaphors whatsoever.
Weeks passed without a peep from the scholar. Finally, their patience exhausted, a radical group of Metaphorics forced open the door of the scholar’s apartment. Of the scholar himself, they found no physical trace. What was left was this: a smell, earthy, ancient and tinged with incense, like the white, flowing mane of a prophet’s; the sound, skittery and brittle, like the whisperings of a ghost, the pages of his manuscript made as they blew about the bare wood floor; and the sense of longing and despair that lingered like faded memories of childhood in a dying body, chilling the souls of all who crossed the scholar’s threshold to bear sighing witness to his splendor.