Posts Tagged ‘books’

Borrowed Books – A Short Story

January 19, 2010

I am reading ‘House of Leaves’, a book lent to me by some friends. It is an older book, the outside edges of the page have only faded to cream, not yellow yet, but the wear of several readings is evident in creases along the spines and the outer corners of the pages taking up more space than the spine itself.

Every time I open it, it makes a little crackling sound, a small one and each time I think I have broken some of the glue in the spine which binds the pages together, and each time I have to remind myself of the first page in the book, cardboard like the cover, which one can see the stitches of string struggling to keep it within the book. It will only be a matter of time before I open this book and that cardboard picture page falls out, and I panic about ruining someone elses book, even if it is not my fault through neglect but merely a progression of age, inevitable with enough openings, just like the outside of the pages turning yellow with time, it will come, you can not stop it, but I do not want it to occur whilst the book is in my possession.

I pride myself on the care I take with my own collection, and lend to only those I trust to return books back to me in good condition, so obviously when I borrow a book, I want to do the same – return it in it’s original condition, unsullied by food stains and falling out pages – but I fear that this page, this cardboard picture page showing measuring tapes, string, stamps, a compass, bullet casing and scrawled out words on napkins will simply not be able to hang on that long.

Do I tape it in, preventing the further slipping out of stitches, but clearly marking the events inexorable occurrence, or do I wait until the page has fallen out before breaking out the repair kit? How do I explain to my friends? Perhaps they were aware already, surely the small crack was evident to their own ears when they read it, and while the logical part of my brain tells me they will either think nothing of it at all or forgive me easily, the emotional part of my brains screams out how this book, this single cardboard page, will be the end of our friendship, it will fall apart like the single cardboard page from the book.

I am not a reader who curves the covers around, so front touches back whist I read, I consider it an ugly practice which damages cover as well as increasing damage to the spine, it is this behaviour which causes pages to fall out sooner , killing the book before it’s time has truly come.

I imagine Death of Books, coming down from the realm of the meta-physical, a weighty, leather bound tome with cracks riddling its cover like the desert-dried bottom of a stream in the outback, depressions shaped like letters spelling out its foreboding title, the gilt long since worn out of those letters. The part of me that reads a little too much Terry Pratchett imagines it somehow carrying a scythe also as it reaps the souls of books so old they simply can not stay in one piece any more.

I read with a book open on the table, or my lap if no table is nearby. At this moment I read in a shaft of sunlight, spilling through the window of what a normal family probably would have made their dining room, but my family – which at the moment consists only of a married couple and the occasional bunker who stays a few nights in the guest bedroom – eats off laps while we seat ourselves on a most spacious sofa watching whatever TV show T-J has downloaded for us, so we have no need of a dining table, let alone an entire room in which to house such a table, so instead the empty expanse which stretches a good six meters away from the edge of the kitchen bench is turned into my ‘retro gaming’ area, where our old LCD TV sits atop a worn out black TV unit packed to the brim with my older consoles and the games that play in them, the games I call ‘hoarder’ games, the games you like so much you just can’t trade them back in. The ones you swear you will play again, though where you will find that time no one shall ever know.

Across for the unit is a cheap little living room set, the frames made from varnished cane and the cushions only basic squares wrapped in a faded fabric with a floral design, a two-seater sofa and a single chair, all lined up in a row across from the TV and in the mornings perfectly covered in sunshine, so a wonderful place to read.

I’m distracted now, so I set down the book, leaving it open at it’s current page because I am too fearful to close it and then open I again for fear of the continued wear it will cause, and cast my glance out through the window.

The few little clumps of grass clippings that spill out of the mower have dried in the forceful heat of the last few Australian summer days, little patches of withered, curling brown speckled across a verdant green lawn. Beneath the branches of the several frangipani trees which dot our backyard in no special pattern, several flowers have fallen down, brightening the lawn with their pristine white and yellow, but given a few days that rotting brown will start on their outer edges and work its way inwards, eating the colours and beauty away and leaving a fetid clump of what once was life on my lawn.

What is beautiful now will not be in the end. But that is the way of all things.

With the book down, now is a perfect time to make another cup of tea, my current one grew cold on the window sill and now is barely even lukewarm and the flavour alters as the heat dissipates, becoming less and less appealing to me.

While I wait for the kettle to boil I sneak through the shadows of the living room – which is shadowy still despite the morning sun because out nephew sleeps on the fold-out bed now, since my father has taken over the guest bedrooms as a man in his fifties has more need of a proper bed than a boy in his teens, just as a boy in his teens is still asleep at six thirty, where as a man in his fifties is already up and has consumed breakfast, a cup of tea and started off with the rest of his day by then – to the bedroom I share with my husband.

The carpet creaks underfoot as I sneak to his side of the bed to give him a little kiss on his cheek. His arm is flung up over his face to fend off the mornings light however, so his face is unreachable, unkissable, and my kiss is only a display of affection, not a method employed to rouse him, so I place it on his arm instead, directly above where his cheek would be. His only reaction is to shift his legs a little, the laconic movement the only acknowledgment I receive for my love, but I did not do this for his benefit, but for mine. Sometimes my love simply comes bursting out of me, while others are around I often mask it in a joking insult or a cheeky slap on the rear, but while no one is watching I can place those tender kisses however and whenever I like.

With my loving ritual complete I return to the kitchen, the kettle burbles as the heat created bubbles clamour to the surface, the switch has not flicked itself to ‘off’ yet, but it is near enough to boiling that my manually switching it over will hardly make a difference.

The water splashes down on teabag and sugar, sending its steam swooshing up to my face, and because I am too impatient to let it sit and steep I employ the time saving method of stirring the water within vigourously with a spoon, watching the water turn from an olden day photograph sepia into a murky creek-water brown. A splash of milk is thrown in and it follows the counter-clockwise current I created, swirling around like it is caught in a tiny hurricane. I give it another stir with the spoon to change directions, and the lyrics of the song “You’re so Vain”  make some sense to me as I see clouds form and shift like fast motion photography of the weather within my drink.

The book calls me back now, but the sunlight has shifted, only tiny shafts stretch through the shadows cast by branches of the nearest – and largest – of the frangipani trees. I sit as close to the window as I can without my shoulder touching the pane, rest my drink on the sill and forget about the aging of the book, the slow rotting death of fallen flowers and the consumption of clouds in my ‘coffee’ as I bury my mind in “The House of Leaves”.

This is the only way for me to write short stories. If I create a character, they will become too real to me, and will beg to have more of a world created for them to exist in and then I have gone too far and can not stop, like a stone rolling down hill. Instead I have to take snippets of reality, make the mundane seem magical and settle for that.

For those who don’t know there is a line in the song “You’re So Vain” that says ‘I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee’. If you’ve never heard it before, find it, there are a hojillion covers of it, I suggest the John Barrowman cover, but I am immensely biased on this fact because I adore him so much.

I didn’t originally intend it when I set out, but this whole piece became very death-centric, the book, the flowers, the coffee. Did anyone else get that feel, or was it just me? Comments please, I’d love some constructive criticism because there is always some way to improve.