I’m in the public library waiting to have my book stamped and a middle-aged man comes in through the revolving door. Dropping his rucksack on to the desk and thrusting his hand inside, he brings out book after book. Phew, he says to the librarian, we’re competing with Irma out there.
I love libraries. They make me feel safe. I love their order, their stillness, mustiness. I love going in there unsure of what I want and letting the book find me. Sometimes I begin with A other times I dive right into the centre. I mostly go for paperbacks, hard backs are so cumbersome. I like be surprised. I’ll read the fly leaf, scan the mini reviews on the back, even though I know I will eventually chose a book cover whose aesthetic pleases me. Its an object after all, one that I shall be holding in hand for a while. I want it to be sympathetique. I like small books, short novels. I like their intensity, their pared-down-ness. The one I’ve chosen is called The Visitation. A translation from German. The reviews were so startling I had to take it. Though I toyed with Paul Auster’s Brooklyn Chronicles. I’ve never heard of the author – Jenny Erpenbeck I believe she is called. A slim volume. Easy on the suitcase. Perhaps I shall read it twice. A good practice. I often listen to audio books twice, more.
It’s never busy in there. Yesterday afternoon there was the man with the rucksack, a girl with peroxided hair who came in asking if she could use the toilet and the homeless man reading the paper in the Fiction section.
Talking of safety, of cosiness, voices do it too. For me, at least. I have my favourites. I have told you before. Alex Jennings in one of my favourites. He’d reading from Robert Runcie’s Grantchester Chronicles and it’s glorious. A treacly sound. A warm sound. Then I listened to various Somerset Maugham short stories. They’re doing a run of them on Radio 4 extra. He’s a real favourite with Scandinavians. Did you know that? Both of the families I au paired for had his collection. Why would that be? What resonates with them? Engaging stories, it is the language that moves me, and his skill with character in such a short space of time. I remember reading the collection whilst living in Oslo in 1985. There were so few English books, I devoured it. The places where I read books often play into the atmosphere of the novel, resonating, forever colouring my experience of it.
It’s still early. We’ve breakfasted and he’s gone back to bed. It didn’t rain while I walked, though it had done before I left. Hard rain. Splashing rain. Walking back past The Pelican Bakery with its luscious smells ( I walk back that way just to smell them), I heard something that sounded like snoring. Couldn’t be. I turned and saw a young man lying on the pavement by Northgate Terrace, his head jammed awkwardly up against the wall, fast asleep. There was small cut on his face. How can he sleep like that, on the pavement, unprotected from the elements? And the rain came soon after, did he sleep through that too? Earlier on the Prom I’d walked past a group of youngsters, two boys and a girl. The girl and one of the boys were leaning against the railing. She was laughing, smiling, her red-lipsticked mouth gaping. Her décolletage was gaping too, barely enclosed in a floral bodice. Good morning, said the boy, his Oriental face grinning at me. Hi, I said.
More minutiae to resolve, my mind hammering at me. Hammering, bang, bang, no more like tap tap like a woodpecker. I wanted to take the chair to her and rang to confirm. She sounded stressed. Not now, soon, call when you’re back. So it has to wait and I must be content with the flecks of white leather that moult from it. So be it, a tub chair with dandruff. 6.45 am and I shall soon be ready for coffee. Loose ends. Tying the up. Shall do. Will do.
I thought of you last night. Is that enough?