Dave handed the manuscript back to Jim.
"Well?" asked Jim.
"It's interesting," said Dave, "that's for sure. But... well, I'm not certain that I really understand it."
"Hmm." Jim flipped through the manuscript. "I wanted it to be sort of odd and mysterious, but I may have been too subtle. Did you understand the stuff at the beginning?"
"Where the guy finds the box of stuff on his doorstop? No, not really."
"Yeah, no one else has either. I figured that would be a fairly obvious clue, but I guess it isn't."
"What is it?"
"Well... who do you think owned the stuff in the box?"
"Um, the main character?"
"Right. And who put the box on his doorstep?"
"Hmm. I don't know."
"Well, it wasn't the main character, even though the stuff in the box belonged to him. Who else might have had it?"
Dave scratched his head. "I don't know. A friend of his, I guess."
"Close. It was his girlfriend. See, at the beginning of the story, the main character is dumped by his girlfriend. I symbolized this by having him find the things he had loaned to her during the relationship returned to him in a very summary fashion. He puts the stuff into a closet and tries to forget about it, because he doesn't want to deal with it."
"That makes sense, but I didn't realize that when I read it."
"Well, I wanted it to be subtle. I figured that by the end of the story people would have understood it, or at least understood what the story was about."
"What is the story about?"
"It's about loneliness. At the beginning of the story he gets dumped, and then during the story we see how being alone affects him. He can't sleep, he wanders the streets alone, his work suffers, and so on. Finally, at the end, he meets somebody, and it shows signs of turning his life around."
"And the Empty City," continued Jim, "is my metaphor for being alone. When you're alone, romantically and unwillingly that is, you live in the Empty City." Jim sighed. "Which is where I live now."
Dave smiled a half smile. "Yeah. Well, it's a cool story anyway."
Voices echoed in the stairwell. Bert, Peter, and Paul were coming upstairs. They were arguing loudly about Bill's invention.
"All I know," said Paul, "is that it would be really cool if Bill really invented a working Time Machine."
"Hey Dave," said Peter, "Let's go."
"Where are you guys going?" asked Jim.
"Saturn Cafe. You want to come along?"
"No, I guess not. I'll see you guys later."