A Note from BookBrowse: The "Author's Note" reproduced below is not, as it first looks, a message from the author of the The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards but instead the opening chapter of the novel itself, written from the point of view of the book's fictional narrator.
The truth is beautiful. Without doubt; and so are lies.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
I've lost every book I've ever written. I lost the first one here in Terminal B, where I became a writer, twenty-eight years ago, in the after-school hours and on vacations while I waited for my mother to return from doling out honey-roasted peanuts at eighteen thousand feet.
I used to sit very quietly, right here, at Phil's Coffee Hub, under the watchful eye of Ms. Barlow, or bellied-up to the Formica countertop of W. W. Gould's Good Eats with Mrs. De Santos, or on a small stool inside the cramped Jewels, Jewels, Jewels! kiosk with Mrs. Nederhoffer. Now these people are all gone and I'm as old as they were then.
It was a wonderful time in my lifebefore I became a writer. I had an endless supply of books from Mr. Humnor, the great-girthed man who ran Emerson Books, and I spent many happy hours spying on Mr. Bjorn, who ran Ten-Minute Timepiece Repair.
Mr. Bjorn was the only person in Terminal B who wore a full suit, every day, with a real bow tie. His ancient eyes permanently fixed in a squintthe result, I imagined, of studying the tiny gears of wristwatches all day. When he was not fixing watches, he stood upright to read the big New
York City newspaper. I wanted to be just like him some day.
We first spoke on the day after my eighth birthday. So that I would always know when she would be arriving home again, my mother gave me a gold wristwatch that had been left behind on one of her flights. Its band was three times the diameter of my little wrist, so our first matter of business was to have some links removed by Mr. Bjorn.
When I handed the watch to him, he let loose a fluttery whistle and polished it respectfully to remove the little oily fingerprints I'd already gotten all over it.
"This is quite a watch for a boy your size," he told me. "What's your name, son?"
I did not even dare to speak. My mother smiled her wide smile at Mr. Bjorn and, checking her own watch to see how long she had until her next flight, said, "There are no clocks in this place. Have you ever noticed that?"
Mr. Bjorn's low voice rose sweetly as he spoke to my mother. She had a way of flushing men's cheeks and causing them to stare at the toes of their shoes.
"Yes, ma'am. They don't want passengers getting upset that their flights aren't on time. There is a row of ten clocks over in Terminal A. But not one of them is set to Eastern Standard Time."
I listened intently, for I had never set foot in Terminal A. My mother never flew internationally and did not know anyone willing to look after me over there. I had dreamed about Terminal A many times. I imagined it to be just the same as Terminal B, but in reversea looking-glass terminal, where everyone did everything backward. Or, if it was A, and we were B, perhaps it was the original and we were the copy. Perhaps I was only a reverse version of some other boy, whose life was the other way around.
My mother chided Mr. Bjorn for calling her "ma'am" as he slipped the newly shortened watchband around my wrist. Then he handed me the small bag of removed links in a little plastic bag. "You save these, son. Take care of a watch like this and it'll last longer than me or even you."
My reflection was small in its gleaming curves. "OK," I said.
After that, once every week or so, I would return to Mr. Bjorn's shop, and if he was not too busy, he would open the watch for me and inspect the tiny gears inside.
Excerpted from The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma. Copyright © 2013 by Kristopher Jansma. Excerpted by permission of Viking. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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