hat spring, the essay “Ah, Did You Once See Borges Plain?” was found missing from the pages of Exacting Clam 11 while the issue was being proofed. Editor Sigh Becker called the police, and they assigned the case to a literary detective—a magnifying glass in a leather jacket—who studied the scene and declared the essay stolen. “Look,” said the detective, studying the new space between pages 19 and 23. “See these frayed edges? These pages were torn fast.” The magnifying glass put his hands on his hips. “Probably joyreaders.”
“Joy-readers?” Sigh said.
“They read for fun, skimming mostly, then ditch the essay somewhere and move on to another.” The magnifying glass squinted. “Let’s hope that’s the case, at least—and that it’s not the alternative.”
“What’s the alternative?” said Sigh.
“Just hope it’s joyreaders,” the detective said.
The police didn’t have any luck tracking down “Borges,” though, and a week later another selection was stolen from Issue 11: the poem “n00b b00n.” The same magnifying glass arrived to survey the scene, but this time they brought along a colleague—a second magnifying glass, this one bearded and smelling of cigars. “I know this is frustrating,” said the first glass, “but the work may still turn up.”
“How’s your security?” said the second magnifying glass.
“Security?” said Sigh.
The second glass looked to the first, and then back at Sigh. “I’d beef up my security if I were you.”
Two days later, happily, “n00b b00n” was found ditched in a nearby lake. The poem was waterlogged, though, and one of the phrases therein—“common safari habits”—was bent and dented and needed to be replaced.
The police had less success finding “Ah, Did You Once See Borges Plain?”. The editors checked with the magnifying glasses weekly, but they rarely had any new leads. The essay wasn’t found until a month later, when it was recovered—along with about twenty additional missing poems, stories and essays stolen from other books and journals—in a raid on a literary chop shop. The essay had clearly already been parted out, though; some sentences had been reduced to single words, while other paragraphs had been reconstituted into new, senseless sentences: “Borges . . . perhaps was born . . . and died,” for example, or “My question was . . . another . . . Rainbow” and “The goal is . . . wondering.” The essay’s author, Kurt Luchs, was beside himself, but he and the editors immediately set to work rebuilding the essay—a painstaking process that took weeks.
In the meantime, Sigh had taken the glasses’ advice and posted a help wanted ad for a security booth. He received several applications, and the booth he hired was energetic and eager. While Sigh’d asked him to simply stand fast at the copyright, the booth insisted on patrolling the issue in full. He’d shine his flashlight on any corner of the page that seemed suspicious, and interview every reader he encountered to make sure they were reading slowly and responsibly. Never again, the security booth promised Sigh, would Issue 11 have to worry about joyreaders.
Christopher Boucher is the author of the novels How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive (Melville House, 2011), Golden Delicious (MH, 2016), and Big Giant Floating Head (MH, 2019). He teaches writing and literature at Boston College and is Managing Editor of Post Road Magazine.