Damaged Goods

August 27th, 2013 § 1 comment

Old books

He softly touches the spine of the old book, the fingers of the connoisseur gently looking for little secrets. It’s been years since Alexandra last saw a man with manicured hands. She has certainly never seen a man’s hands on the book. And even though she hates that he’s touching it she stares at his long fingers on the leather bound volume in fascination.

“It is rare. I’ll give you that. But it is damaged, this discoloration on the cover…”, he says without looking up.

Outside, London moves as quickly as ever but inside there is only the smell of old paper and the silent cries of lost words. And worlds perhaps. He reigns behind an ancient counter, in a grey suit and thin glasses, his hair carefully combed back, with a subtle smell of good tobacco about his person.

Alexandra needs to sell. She keeps telling herself that this is the only way, that nothing else is left, nothing, only the book and it needs to go because it’s this or nothing. There’s nothing else to sell, or do; and the bills keep coming and the bailiffs keep knocking.

Finally convinced that this is the real deal, the man gives her a price without looking at her. Alexandra is shocked by this man’s detachment, his careful strategy. He must have realised as soon as she walked in what the story is. Her old coat – once ludicrously expensive – tells a lot of stories to the trained eye. The scuffed boots. The hand movements. The accent. They all kept blabbering away happily while she meekly offered up the book.

She doesn’t mind that he does not look up. This is the game of a master and she has admitted defeat already by walking into his domain. But she minds that he does not know any of it – how could he really? – and he just offers up this price, what will be this dirty wad of money. Or perhaps it will be nice and crisp fifty pound notes, all counted on the old wood of the counter, with a receipt written out in what she imagines is his careful script. Oxbridge no doubt. Looked down upon as a mere shopkeeper no doubt – once upon a time by the likes of her too.

This man knows the books, no doubt he loves some of them. But he does not know this book. He does not know what this book cost everyone, what it cost grandmother, what it cost mother, what it cost Alexandra. There is quiet despair stitched in its spine, there is the sound of crying when the pages are turned. And yet… and yet she loves it, as only books can be loved. She loves the smell and the memories. She loves the nights she spent leafing through it, the afternoons that her grandmother read from it. She loves that it was always a secret, never to be revealed, never to be discussed, always to be treasured.

“The price I can offer you cannot be higher. This damage lowers the value of the book significantly, I trust you understand.”

Oh, she understands. Better than anybody. This immaculate man expects perfection, where there is none. He expects a blank slate, when all the words have been spoken, all the roads have been taken, all the boots have been worn thin.

“I’m sorry I wasted your time. I’m not selling.”

She exits the shop quickly, but not quickly enough not to hear his quiet sigh. She hides the book in her breast pocket, her heart beats against it all the way home.

What will haunt her for years to come is the simple question of whether she did not sell because of the price or because of the memories.

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