A Dreadful Collection of Memoranda
Rachael used to think that antique book-stores had charm.
They were always tucked away on some overlooked street and when she stepped through the door, the same scent of brittle books reached out and enveloped her in a welcoming hug. They were familiar, like family. She loved everything about them.
But that was before the fire.
Now the familiarity only taunted her, reminding her of the things she'd lost.
“I don't know, Matt,” she said as they approached another store. “Maybe we should give this up.”
“Rachael, we've come all this way,” Matt replied. “And this dealer's supposed to have many early editions. Who knows, we might get lucky.”
He opened the door for her, offering an encouraging smile. Even from the other side of the threshold, Rachael felt the draw of the books beyond it.
Once inside, she took a deep breath. The familiar scent wound its way into her nostrils and curled itself around her heart, whispering hopeful promises.
Perhaps Matt was right. Perhaps this time, they would find it.
The bell above the door dutifully announced their arrival, but no clerk was in sight. Rachael and Matt strolled down the aisles. Their hands brushed together in the cramped space. Rachael could sense that Matt wanted to take her hand. But instead, he kept his distance and helped her decipher the faded writing on the spines.
“This place's pretty big,” Matt said. “I think we should split up.”
“Okay,” she replied, running her fingertips along the rows of books. “Let me know if you find anything.”
As soon as he walked around a corner, a veil of abandonment settled over Rachael. Matt's presence had comforted her for the past six months. She wanted him close; only not too close. She knew that he was waiting for her—waiting for her to let him be more than a friend—but she wasn't ready. Nevertheless, his restrained affection soothed her.
Sometimes, it even made her forget about Daniel.
She shuddered. Thinking his name billowed dread up in her throat like a thick pillar of smoke.
“Can I help you find something?”
An elderly man was next to her. This was another element she could always count on among these narrow shelves: a soft-spoken book dealer, his face as worn yet dignified as the books he sold. Rachael relaxed.
“Yes, actually. I'm looking for Wuthering Heights.”
“A wonderful story,” the man said with a smile. “Not too cheerful though, that youngest Brontë sister. A melancholy soul, are you, miss?”
Rachel knew his words were in jest. Even so, they stung. “Just sentimental,” she replied. “I used to have a second edition.”
“A second edition? You don't mean the 1850 edition?”
“Yes. My husband inherited it from his grandfather. I lost it in a fire last year.”
“That's terrible. I can't imagine losing something so special.”
His words, inadvertently potent, were like a slap across Rachael's face. “Yes,” she mumbled. “It was devastating.”
It felt good to express her grief—to pretend she was mourning the loss of paper and ink. But it was more than that. Each night that Daniel read that novel to her, his cigarette whirling ribbons of smoke from the corner of his mouth, their own love story had taken shape right along with Cathy's and Heathcliff's.
She'd told Dan that the smoking would kill him. And it did. One stray cigarette butt, and their story was history. She got out, and he didn't.
The book dealer's regretful voice pulled her back from her painful memories. “Well, I wish I could help you, but I don't have a second edition of Wuthering Heights”, he said. “I have some early editions of similar novels, though. I can show you.”
His china-blue eyes were kind and hopeful, and Rachael could not say no. She followed him towards the front of the store, doing her best to quell the scorching tears that threatened behind her eyes.
Matt was by the counter. He smiled at her expectantly, his face lighting up with the same blatant affection it always did when he saw her. She felt the tears subside.
“I didn't find it,” she said, hurrying over to him.
“That's too bad.” Matt took her hand, squeezing it for a moment, but catching himself, he quickly let her go. “We'll keep looking. There's another dealer on 59th that we can try.”
“I'm sorry,” the clerk said,” but I think that your lady-friend is going to be out of luck.” He paused. “Why don't you let me show you something.”
He unlocked the glass door in his counter. He took out a book, bound in smooth leather, and handed it to Rachael.
“This is an 1897 edition of Emma,” he said. “It's not the same thing that you lost in that fire, I know. But what you lost, miss... I doubt you will ever find one like it.”
She sighed. “I know.”
“So how about trying something new?”
Rachael opened the book, tracing her finger across the worn pages. She looked at the words, forming unfamiliar sentences and foreign paragraphs. There would be no Catherine and Heathcliff in these pages—no words of tragedy and death. It was something new, something unknown.
The notion fascinated her.
“You know, I think you are right,” she said. “How much do you want for it?”
The clerk beamed and named his price. When they had paid, and exited onto the street, Matt looked hesitant.
“I hope you aren't going to regret this,” he said. “Emma is a very different story than Wuthering Heights.”
“I know,” Rachael replied. “But perhaps I'm ready for a different story.”
When they crossed the street, dodging the taxicabs, Matt took her hand again. As they reached the other side, Rachael didn't let him go.
Instead, she held his hand tighter.
A Dreadful Collection of Memoranda was previously published in Flash Me Magazine.
Motivation: Many things that I own, including books, have very specific meanings to me. I was inspired to write this story to express that.
Bio: I live and write in Atlanta, Georgia. My fiction has previously appeared in Everyday Fiction, PseudoPod, Mystic Signals, The Shine Journal and many others.
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