I will visually scour the book selections of used bookstores, thrift stores, consignment shops, and yard sales with an all-encompassing obsessive compulsiveness second to none. On a recent trip to the Outer Banks, I emerged with three new acquisitions: Cloud Atlas, Jane Eyre, and Einstein’s Dreams. Only the first was an actual title I had hoped to find, but the last one had been recommended to me many years back by my college roommate. But the mystique in this exact copy of Einstein’s Dreams resides not in its author’s words, but those in the inscription penned in ballpoint blue pen ink dated May of 1995:

“To Mark — Enjoy!
As you read the pages of this novel, hear the sound of my voice, low and feathery, in your ears, while my hands caress your body — hot to touch.
And remember, as distracted you become in watching my lips shape the words, you will be brought back to my voice — my moan, my sigh — my noise.

What wonderful irony that a piece of this mysterious couple’s tale lives on presumably well beyond their affair. Presumably well beyond their lives. And what do we, their unassuming readers, fill in between the time of the impassioned inscription and how it ended up in a thrift store some 17 years later? Was it donated mistakenly? Did they fall out of love? If so, was it the bitter kind of separation whereby gifts like this book become painful symbolic reminders of a future no longer possible, of a past that disintegrated beneath their once certain steps… In a book about time’s relativity and the many ways time might be perceived, do we now have grafted over it the suggestion of love’s relativity? There is a delicate charm in the sincerity of the sentiment and the clumsiness of the writing (the missing article in “hot to [the] touch”; the low, feathery voice heard not just in one ear, but both; imaging her voice vs. being distracted by her lips shaping the words). Who held on to this book–Mark or Missy?–and how does the answer to that change the story of the object itself and it’s journey? Were these adults or teenagers? A brief fling or a long relationship? At what point was this gift exchanged? What if fate intervened and took one of these lovers by force through death or circumstance? Their tale takes on a much different meaning in such light, as does the book, which would now be a kind of tragic token of love lost and not simply a bitter reminder of love betrayed.

And though this edition of the book now starts with the inscription, its ending still strikes a proper chord: “He feels empty. He has no interest in reviewing patents or talking to Besso or thinking physics. He feels empty, and he stares without interest at the tiny black speck and the Alps.”