Alice found a white satin ring box, designed like a tiny treasure chest. She could not open the ring box, despite the serious effort she expended.
“Inside this box,” murmured a newly appearing shadow, “is my shadow zoo. And it is beyond dazzling! Shadow-seahorses swimming shadow-seas, and shadow-silkworms spinning shadow-silk, and shadow-sparrows singing shadow-songs.”
“All in this box?” Alice gave a puzzled look at the shadow on the cement floor.
“All in this box.” The shadow echoed.
“One of your kind once said, ‘I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space.’ That clementine-sized treasure chest is very much like a nutshell, and it can hold more than infinite space.”
There was a long silence.
“You might forget how to speak.” The shadow began to ramble to itself. “You might forget that you never actually ever spoke. Would you know how to know anything without words? With- out words, would you know that you do not know? Imagine having, from your very earliest moment, grown up locked in a little crawl space, or a closet, or a lightless room—like this cement room! No school, no conversation, nothing to read or hear, and no one.”
“What about your shadow zoo?” Alice wanted desperately to do something kind and caring, and say something helpful.
“No one knows who I am, not even you.” The shadow was dark on the cement. “Only dust. Floor and dust.”
“I love your shadow zoo, I really do!”
But the shadow was unresponsive. It laid mutely on the cement, pulling its shadowy hair from its shadowy head.
Jonathan van Belle is a bookseller at Powell’s. He’s the author of three books, including the pre-posthumously published Charter Party Companion to Private Holidays (all available in the most spider-infested kudzu undergrowth of Amazon). At the moment, Jonathan is working to build a philosophical community in Portland, with the aim of establishing a permanent residence for the Portland Philosophy Museum.