Quentin arrives at the strip mall to find that someone has been there since his last visit; the particleboard window-covering has been repaired where he and his friends broke it. He realizes that the back doors have no hinges, and enters the building. Wandering among the desks in the abandoned office, he notices that one of the calendars is different from the others. While all the other calendars are turned to February, this one is turned to June. Quentin inspects the desk more closely and discovers a bottle of red nail polish. The color is immediately recognizable to him — this is the polish Margo used to paint her nails during their adventure. Examining the bottle, he finds a smudge of blue spray paint that he is sure came from Margo’s fingers.
When Quentin visited the strip mall for the first time, he fully expected to find Margo dead, and was unable to see any of the telling signs of her presence that catch his eye this time: the changed calendar, the nail polish. Now, entering the building with different expectations — thinking, from the appearance of the tape on the window, that someone else has been there — he is able to see things that confirm those expectations. Quentin sees what he is expecting to see in every situation, rather than seeing clearly what is in front of him.
Quentin is convinced that Margo has been staying in the mall, and resolves to stay there until she returns. The idea of sleeping in the rat-infested building disgusts him, and he is a scared by the creaking and darkness of the building, but he is thrilled by the knowledge that Margo has been alive in these rooms.
Quentin is ruled by fear, and time and again has allowed his fear to prevent him from taking action. His decision to wait for Margo despite his disgust and fear is a sign of his loyalty to her, and of her impact on him.
Quentin pokes through the different rooms, and finds only one that seems as though someone has been living in it, an empty room with a rolled-up carpet in the corner. He notices thumbtack holes in the wall and finds an empty box that once contained nutrition bars. The thought of Margo, sitting alone on the rolled-up carpet and eating a nutrition bar, makes Quentin sad in how lonely and unlike Margo it seems. He finds a blanket rolled in the carpet that still smells of Margo’s lotion and shampoo.
The image of Margo staying alone in an empty room strikes Quentin as sad because it does not fit with his idea of her. He cannot imagine a happy scene of Margo in that room, but his failure to imagine it does not mean Margo was never happy there. Though he is developing a more complex understanding of her, Quentin still cannot dissolve his assumptions about who Margo was.
Quentin realizes he cannot know why Margo chose to come to this place, or why she chose to leave. He sees that he cannot know these things, because he does not know who Margo really is— he only knows how she acted in front of other people.
Though Quentin still cannot understand Margo, he is more humble about his limitations than ever before. Recognizing that he does not know her is the first step to knowing her.
Quentin checks in with his father, telling him that he will be spending the night at Ben’s house after prom. He lays on the floor, looking at the sky through cracks in the ceiling, and thinks how strange it is that Margo, who seemed to hate being bored, should choose to be in a place where there was no internet, television, or music. His boredom ultimately leads Quentin back to “Song of Myself,” which he has brought with him. For the first time, he finds that he can read the poem and make sense of it.
For Quentin, boredom creates an opportunity for him to think deeply about something that the stress and distractions of ordinary life have prevented him from really understanding. The constant stimulation and entertainment provided by things like television have kept him from concentration and reflection. Getting away from the paper world Margo talks about requires a willingness to confront the serious thoughts that come with boredom.
Quentin lingers over one part of “Song of Myself” in which a child asks the poet what grass is. Whitman gives many answers: that the grass is an image of his own hopefulness, of the greatness of God, of the essential equality and connectedness of people, and of death. Quentin cannot figure out which of these ideas is most important to Whitman’s message, and the multiplicity of the metaphor leads him to think about the different ways he has imagined and mis-imagined Margo.
All of Whitman’s ideas about grass have some truth to them; it is possible for the grass to represent childhood, God, and death all at the same time. In the same way, it is possible for Margo to be many things at once — some of which Quentin perceives, some of which he misses, all of which have some truth and some falsity in them.
Quentin realizes that the most important question is not what happened to Margo, but who she was. He commits himself to correcting his misperceptions about Margo, and begins hunting more carefully through the rooms around him to discover things he might have missed on his first visit. He finds a stack of travel books with dog-eared pages, and it occurs to him that Margo may have been planning to travel. He spends the night reading these books. Though he has no idea where Margo might have gone, the presence of these books makes Quentin believe she is alive. This gives him comfort and a sense of purpose.
Quentin has grown entangled with Margo to the point where his emotional wellbeing is totally dependent on his sense of connection with her and his confidence in her safety. Quentin’s identity has become totally fused with his search for Margo, just as the adults who urged him to move on from hunting for her feared would happen.