The Thing That Wasn’t There

Press agencies sent cars, helicopters and cameras to the site; descriptions were broadcast on the radio, pictures on the television. The man who first found it missing was interviewed, every reporter asking him the same question.

“When was it that you first didn’t see it?”

“This morning, shortly after daybreak,” he said. And: “It’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever not seen.”

When word of the monument’s disappearance circulated among the people of the province, they came from miles around to see that it wasn’t there. Its absence had a presence, like that of a missing tooth or an amputated limb, that captivated all who learnt of it.

Each pilgrim, in the spirit of the occasion, carried with her, as if to a potluck or a picnic, something he no longer had. The very old were the best carriers, bringing many things that had once been, but even the youngest children contributed a dead pet or a lost pacifier.

The crowd grew enormous, but initially there was no bother. They were peaceful in the way of those who have recently shared a tragedy -- linking hands, singing songs of solidarity and redemption, sharing food and blankets, tolerating each other’s differences.

Bundled against the chill and leaning on her cane, one septuagenarian made the journey stooped beneath the heavy memory of her dead husband. Whenever she slipped or tottered, her daughter, who had always helped her to carry that burden, steadied her.

A divorced man brought his ex-wife, who came alone but brought her youth. They met in the shadow of nothing, nodded to each other, and walked on in silence, each mourning the loss of someone she had been.

It didn’t take long for leaders to emerge from the crowd. Each leader convinced others to feel as he or she did, after which the afternoon was filled with all the predictable arguments. Those who felt the monument should be rebuilt exactly as it had been opposed those who felt it would be best memorialized by the negative space of its absence. They each became more attached to their opinions in the presence of opposition, holding ever tighter to dear ideas for fear that they would be taken from them.

Press agencies broadcast the debates to television and radio stations around the world. The leaders were so eloquent, their speeches so inspiring, that the entire world, even those who had never been to the mountain, took a side in the argument.

The dispute reached a boil at dusk, destroying the day’s peace and bringing the danger of violence. Leaders each called for order while secretly spurring on their factions until night fell, after which darkness dispersed the crowd - in the dark there was no more nothing to see and nothing more to fight over.

This entry is part of my journal, published June 2, 2003, in Baltimore. Inspired by tourist attractions, such as the Bastille and the World Trade Center, which inspire pilgrimage to the sites where they are not.