The cracks in the sidewalks spell out people’s names if you look at them from high enough up. I first noticed this when I was up on the church steeple, doing a little carpentry work. Rebecca Stapleton was the first name I saw, down the sidewalk in front of town hall. And then Elva Rice, out by the playground, and Terrence Ribbons by the grocery store.
I called a town meeting to ask people about it, but everyone was as surprised as I was. We went up the ladder and stood on the church roof; a whole town silently looking down.
Rebecca Stapleton put a hand to her chest.
What does it mean? she said.
Terrence Ribbons was as white as a sheet.
Elva Rice kept asking if she was dreaming.
What about me? a voice piped up.
It was the Davis boy.
Is my name out there? he wanted to know.
And so we all started to look.
We craned our necks, from all sides of the church; we found many other names, but not his.
After a while, he started to cry.
It’s all right, I said. We’ll find it.
I split the town up into different teams, and we started going roof to roof. The town is large, and very spread out; many sidewalks could only be seen from certain vantage points.
We found seven or eight other names first, and then—finally—the boy’s. It was all the way over on the other side of town, behind the old livery stable.
I stood beside the boy on the stable’s roof as he spelled out his name on the ground. And then I heard the voices calling.
Help me find mine! they said.
So I helped them search, and we found many more, but still there were many names missing.
Then—suddenly—I had an idea.
Let’s build a balloon, I said.
And so we did. The ladies sewed fabric, and the men built a wicker basket. And soon we lifted up and away. I brought along paper and pencil to map it out.
After three or four weeks, we’d found pretty much everyone. They all had their special place. Jonathan Edwards was by the grain silo; Mary Worth was in the alley behind the jail.
The only name missing at the very end was—by a strange stroke—my own. And I have to tell you, it hit me hard.
Where could it be? I said.
I’m sure it’s not personal, the Levitts called up.
I’m sure it’s out there somewhere, others said.
And so I kept up the quest alone, for days and weeks on end.
I’d be up in the morning, wrestling with the basket and the ropes, tending the fire, floating up one block and then down the next. Slower and slower, staring down. But all I ever saw were other peoples’ names—the same names, again and again.
At night I’d come down and lie in my bed.
Maybe you should go higher up, a voice said.
And so I went higher, and then higher still, but I never caught sight of my name. And then one day, the balloon wore out.
The fabric tore, and I came crashing down.
For weeks and weeks, I lay in the hospital; the doctors said it was touch and go. When I finally got out, I looked like a skeleton.
They gave me a cane and a prescription to fill.
I went downtown, and when I got there, I found everyone gathered in the square. There were lanterns and flags and a big pair of scissors.
They were having an opening ceremony.
It turned out they’d built a replica of the town—the whole town, as seen from above. Every building, every street, every sidewalk was there.
I saw the names, chiseled in stone.
You’re back! everyone said, when they saw me there. We’re having a party, join in!
They brought me champagne and clapped me on the back.
But I knew I didn’t fit in.
I slipped away, and went for a walk, alone with just my cane. I tapped for a while over the names in the cracks. Then I stopped, and stepped off the walk.
I went veering off through the wild places—the tall grass, the abandoned lots. I was looking for a hill, but there were none around; the land was flat for miles.
I was out in a field on the edge of town, when my legs finally gave way. I tried to stop my fall with the cane, but it snapped, and I was on the ground.
I lay there broken, just staring up, and then I started to cry.
Just for a moment, in the clouds, I saw my own name go by.