I Am the Cheese
Adam narrates as he stops at a telephone booth outside a Howard Johnson's. He regrets not taking the medicine earlier, and he is tired and discouraged. He believes that only a call to his beloved Amy can perk him up. It is now 1:15 P.M., though, and she will not be out of school for at least another hour. Furthermore, Adam is discouraged when he realizes he will not be able to reach the motel in Belton Falls by nightfall. He remembers calling Howard Johnson's "Orange Johnson" with his father and mother when he was younger, and feeling their love when they laughed at his mistake.
Adam uses the bathroom, but has a headache and is sick from the hamburger he ate. He calls Amy through a male operator, but she does not answer the phone. He starts off for Carver, a town five miles away, and sings "The Farmer in the Dell" for a little while until he gets too tired.
In another dialogue between Brint and Adam, Brint asks Adam about Amy, and whether she is more than his best friend, and Adam admits that she is. A third-person narrator describes that Adam recalls the night when he and Amy made out under the football stands. Adam thinks about Amy—that she is mischievous, humorous, and talkative, but can also be serious and is a great reader. Adam remembers that they met at the library, and he fell in love with her immediately, especially when she respected his dreams of becoming a famous writer like Thomas Wolfe. Amy told him during their first meeting that he was a candidate for the "Number," without telling him what it was. Adam noticed that his characteristic shyness disappeared when he was around her. Adam and Amy met the next day to pull a "Number," and went to her house, where he briefly met her busy, professional mother.
Adam learned that the Number involves going to the supermarket, loading a shopping cart to the top, and abandoning the cart without getting caught. Amy devised a number of variations, such as allowing only canned goods into the cart. Adam loved watching her skillfully and coolly execute a Number. One night, they broke the record with twelve carts, and he had his first kiss with her.
In their dialogue, Adam tells Brint that he thinks Amy is one of the clues, but that he wants to keep her "separate from everything else." Going back to a third-person account of Adam's interactions with Amy, Adam remembers that he had told her when they first met that he had originally lived in Rawlings, Pennsylvania until he was four.
Adam describes a day Amy called to tell him that an editor from Rawlings dropped in for a visit. The editor said that he did not know of any Farmer family from his hometown and would like to meet them. Adam is also curious why the editor did not know his family, but something about the memory of the family's nighttime flight made him lie to Amy that they had only lived in Rawlings for a few months. Adam is amazed that he lied so easily and created a new "set of circumstances" for his family. Adam does not know why he felt he had to lie.
The narration returns to the dialogue on the tape and Brint asks if Amy ever brought up the subject again, to which Adam replies no. Adam says that he had rationalized the strange situation, telling himself that the editor had a bad memory. Brint calls this Adam's second "landmark," the first being the encounter with the dog, and urges Adam to allow him and the medicine to help him remember more details about his childhood.
The novel is again narrated in the first person. In the rain, Adam pedals toward Carver. A tree gives him little shelter from the storm. He is cold and wet, and his father's package is too, and his map is ruined. A car passes but does not stop for him. Adam argues with himself out loud about quitting and turning back, but he decides to continue on. He sings "The Farmer in the Dell" to help ease his nerves.
Cormier uses this section to develop his presentation of Adam's emotional state. Adam seems secure until the mystery about the Rawlings editor intrudes, giving Adam doubts about his family and past. In many ways, Adam is the typical alienated adolescent. He has aspirations to become a writer and is unable to connect with anyone except a love interest. Cormier has said that he based Adam on himself. Adam is unsure why he is estranged from everyone. All that is clear is that Amy is everything he is not: she is bold, assertive, and not afraid of her own identity. Amy understands Adam as much as anyone can. The Number game even corresponds to Adam's earlier desire to escape his own body and see places—Adam and Amy flee from the filled shopping carts and watch the befuddled supermarket employees from a safe distance.
Adam's attachment to flight and wind develop here because his claustrophobia increases in the Howard Johnson's and the phone booth. Adam likes the wind, not only because it is invisible, but also that it can easily change directions. Adam realizes that, like the wind, he is capricious, referring to how quickly he altered his "set of circumstances" in a lie to Amy. Adam realizes how easily a life can be fabricated. To Amy, Adam's history is the one he has lied about, not the one he has actually lived. Alongside the confusing narrative, Adam's ability to lie brings up the possibility that he is an "unreliable narrator," another convention of the mystery novel, which is a narrator whose description of events is factually incorrect, intentionally or not. At any rate, Cormier throws another twist in the plot with the Rawlings editor and Adam's instinctive desire to lie. The mystery deepens as it becomes clear that not only did Adam's family flee and lie about their past, but that Adam does—or did—know something more about his family than he lets on now.
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