My ability to track time by the intensity of the light has vanished during our week on the island. Back in my king bed, contorted in the sliver allowed to me by my cat and my husband I figure it is probably time to get up. Any light in early January means I need to get moving.
I wake thinking of the book. Not mine which is gathering whatever the electronic version of dust is, but the one I am reading. I had been slow to enter the pages and slower still to let the pages enter me. It has me now, it is set in Cambridge and Truro and New York in streets I have walked and dunes I have climbed. Despite its familiar setting it is the inner world of the characters that has offered me a sense of place.
This is the book that started the fight on Christmas day. We arrived at our neighbor friend’s door with just a little beer and just a little cheese. This had been a struggle. The cheese wanted to come with us as strongly as our boys wanted to stay home.They wanted to be left to their own devices, a phrase that has become quite literal.
A few houses up the street six of us gathered around a kitchen island, the inevitable location of cocktail parties since the early 90s. We drank and nibbled and talked about NPR podcasts. We were a cliche I enjoyed. I told them about the trashy books I was racing through, because I had just downloaded the “real book” and I needed a certain amount of fluff in the bank before I closed my eyes and dove into the deep end of the book that made my aunt stop reading.
She is a renowned novelist and essayist herself and I turn to her when I am ready for literature. This time, I think the first time, she is talking about a book unprompted. For some reason we are facetiming. She set the phone down on her kitchen table and I could see the desk that had been my father’s and their open pantry door in the background. But no face. When she started talking about the book my cousin stepped into the frame. I am exactly half way between he and his mother in age and I ping pong between which of them feels like my generation. Whatever that means. In any case he seemed able to get his face into the frame and wrap his arm around his mother’s shoulders pulling her tight enough beside them that I could see four eyes. All of them entreated me to read this book. “I haven’t read anything since.” She tells me. “Me neither” he adds. “Get ready to cry.” “To wail, to really lose it.”
At my friend’s house I share the recommendation imagining one or none of them would take on the tears with me. Instead the host makes me repeat myself. “They haven’t read another book since?” He is incredulous. “I’m sure they will, they just loved this one so much they aren’t ready,” Its like a break up, I think. Your lover has left you and you can’t imagine taking anyone else to bed. He is normally more composed than this and while I argue back I wonder about this fight. He is crackling with energy and where I am faking my passion for the entertainment of the other four he seems to really feel it. He is deeply offended by this idea. That there would be only one book. I look to his wife to see if she is interpreting a second level of meaning monogamy. I don’t think so.
I shriek that I am so sad for him that he has never been so immersed in a fictional world that to leave it feels as if he is ripping yourself from a home he never knew he had. Inwardly I change pronouns and feel the phrase out for myself. I think about our moves and the idea of home. I look at our hosts and know they have it, home as a place and a relationship. There is a feeling of fondness and how this is the first time we have left the kids alone for this long. We are going on hour three. They have called every hour as instructed and our early kid has shaved a bit of time between each call so now he is calling at quarter of. When my watch buzzes just fifteen minutes later I know I need to leave, and as I walk to our not so new house I think this particular wife doesn’t need to worry. I’m not sure I have ever seen a couple quite as well suited as the two of them. I picture her face turned to him as he rages against the idea of a single story ever eclipsing others and remember the balance of humor and affection I could read on her face.
Scream as he might there is really only one book after all, and he is already reading it.