The notebooks were filed vertically into the cardboard box. He could only see the spiral bindings of them crowded together. He ran his finger across the tops of them, none of them felt any different than the others, none of them jumped out to be paged through next.
He pulled one out and dropped it on the table. It looked benign enough sitting there, the faded geometric patterns of green hues labeling it as what it was; a notebook. Differently from the first one though, this one had “Political” written across it in black somewhat diagonally. It looked like it was written in a kind of grease pencil or something similar, the lettering heavy in some areas, and in others dots of black that barely touched the rough texture of the notebook as it was scraped across it.
Rather than open it carelessly, he studied the tabs on this notebook. These were marked by political affiliations or divisions. Quite obvious were the well-worn tabs marked Republican, Democratic, and Independent. The lettering of these were marred by many uses of their tabs, but this roughness had caused them to stand out compared to the lesser tabs of unsuccessful political parties.
He tried to pry them apart at different levels, but they seemed to be stuck into a single political party. He stuck his fingers between the tabs and inserted his fingernails, finally getting a hold. He opened several pages like this, but the result was always the same, a viewing screen was visible between each tab, all looking the same, all severely scratched and smudged. As though magnetic, the tabs would again lock together each time he would touch them together while trying to pry a third tab open.
Finally he opened the notebook to the center, the only set of tabs that would open freely. He found the same screen however. It was scratched, smudged, and seemed to have a little bit of jelly in one corner of it. He wasn’t sure if this is what it actually was, or if it was something perhaps more disgusting, like a dried bit of blood, or maybe sweat mixed up in the balls of dust that crept along the sides and hung out in the corners.
Unlike the other notebook, this one seemed to have a cursor right in the middle of the screen, and no arrows on the sides to change pages. But it was a peculiar looking cursor, one that looked like a tiny marble of highly polished steel, but which little of the surface showed between the smears of gunk. It was as though it had ran through several puddles of something along its flight. A large crusty piece of crud was sitting on the very top of it, and it had an overall haze with a few exceptional areas where it shone through the garbage on it.
He immediately noticed that the pictures were moving slightly to the right, exposing a slide show that was coming from the left side of the screen. There was very little difference in them as they began to slide by faster with each viewing. He kept a eye on the other side of the viewer, and there were the same people, the same legislators talking. Some were in a congressional building, suits all highly shined and held down by the ends to appear straight and orderly. Others were outside with family, checkered and collared shirts of bold but not too bold prints while standing in grass, holding onto barbecuing implements and gloves that served as hot pads to keep their hands from burning if they should make a mistake.
It was calming as there became more of the backyard pictures and less of the suit-bearing shots. Smiles generally seemed to be getting larger, more plentiful, and the shirts became more yellow, brighter like the sun. Patches of red were showing on the skins of the partiers where the sun began cooking them from the lack of protection from nature’s effects.
He began realizing that he was looking into his past, his own barbecues with the family. As it moved the parties seem to be getting more crowded, and definitely more loosely photographed. Far less of the spectators were standing erect, more sitting on spread-out tablecloths.
The screen jerked violently suddenly, moving downward towards the bottom of the screen as the piece of crud on the top of the marble had come around and hit the screen, turning the marble. Pictures appeared of a drunken revelry, those once standing were lying across tablecloths, one man staggered sideways out of the picture, and another collapsed face down into the lap of an extremely upset woman.
He reached up and flicked the marble, knocking the crud out of its way, sending it back along the horizontal midline of the screen. Before the pictures stopped swirling in circles the marble spun from the finger hitting it. It turned to the right and slid back across the vertical centerline.
The men in suits were back in the center of the viewer, pulling down their coats once again. The photos now slid off to the left while the viewer went right. It passed over more suit coats and women with large ball gowns that seemed to extend past the edges of the viewer each time one would appear. They didn’t seem to say anything, standing behind the men in suits with grins warm enough to melt your heart.
Behind these family scenes were concrete castles built of large red bricks, monumental sized chunks of wood or cement standing vertically and carved in pleasant curves and fashioned into cylinders. A sunny sky brightened the scene with an illumination that could only bring tears of joy at the happiness and comfort leaking out of the faces of the happy families portrayed.
The crud struck again, veering the silver marble downward. There was the family limousine sitting off in the distance, a wheel jacked up and being worked on by a man in a thin-striped suit, half under the vehicle, a hand draped across the top of the wheel.
The family moved as the motion picture swung in the direction of the auto repair. It was a sideways shuffle that kept the family portrait together, and hurriedly obscured the mechanic as fast as the puffed up skirts could move sideways with the daddy encouraging them along. Mom’s face was painfully stretched as she grinned as wide as she could, trying to attract the aim of the camera.
Suddenly the marble skipped across the screen, across one of its greasy surfaces. Pictures were overlapped and folded over, showing things that one picture had never intended. Children were lost, blending with the casual children from the other side of the screen, sitting on table clothes with picnic baskets alongside of them. Juveniles sharing sunny faces with those of the opposite sex.
Mother’s faces were suddenly stretched out of shape with horrible expressions of anger warping their once-perfect faces of make-up and hair spray. Another woman dropped from the picnic, landing in the lap of the husband, or rather at his feet as he stood tall and pulled on his coat, pretending not to notice the casually dressed woman at his feet. His hands wanted to shake with outrage at the cameraman, but he had control at all times.
He reached for the notebook but misjudged and struck the side of it instead. The marble spun wildly, flying up to the top, then to the bottom. It bounced like a pinball from side to side, top and bottom. All the while the scene was that of various stages of chaos, wars, a depression like view of a prairie scene, flower children hidden behind a semi-transparent shield of broken Plexiglas flying in front of them, then disappearing as it slide beyond them. So many faces of various colors flew by there was no telling one from the other after a few moments.
They swerved across the viewer, some crying, some yelling, old men and women, young children alike. Several globes of earth flew in the air, some green, some brown, some glistening in silver, and finally disappearing as the viewer settled back down into a depression in its center.
He was almost sickened as everything spun in place, pictures swirling around the center under the marble. It finally stopped as he leaned on the counter, a single finger steadying the notebook with its fingertip pressed on it gently.
It pressed on the right side of the notebook, but somehow the marble began a motion to the left. Suits began disappearing once again and ties were loosened. Then he noticed that as he bumped the notebook before he had set it back down on his piece of toast, giving it a lean towards the left. He withdrew the food and it began returning to the middle once again.
He closed it while it was safely in the center and promised himself to clean the marble before he opened it again. He also thought about being more careful to pay attention to it the next time rather than eating breakfast at the same time. He wondered what he would do if he ever lost the notebooks, accidentally dropping milk into the cardboard box holding them or something like that.
The notebooks were filed vertically into the cardboard box. He could only see the spiral bindings of them crowded together. He ran his finger across the tops of them, none of them felt any different than the others, none of them jumped out to be paged through next. He dropped the one he had been viewing alongside the rest of them.