Damaged Goods

August 27th, 2013 § 1 comment § permalink

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.

True love

September 21st, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

I woke up again this morning and went by the hotel. I can’t help myself really. I know it’s wrong, I know that I need to stop doing this, punishing myself, but I just can’t. There is an excruciating pain that fucks me up when I don’t see her, when I don’t know if she is OK, what she is wearing, how her eyebrows are raised. I hide behind the old tree, where we used to hide as kids to kiss, and I can see the office and the reception and the courtyard. I can even hear her alarm in the morning.

Here’s how it goes. I get to the hotel early, about 10 minutes before she sets her alarm. Nobody is up that early and even the young guests are long gone to bed by then. Not that they would see me in their drunken state when they get back from the town. Anyway, I love going there early. I keep thinking that I will catch glimpses of her dreams. Sometimes I stand under her open window and listen to her breathing. I pray that one day she will whisper my name. I pray that I will hear the gentle sound of her sheets while she turns and calls my name, calls me to her, to hold her, to breathe in her scent.

Her scent.

That smell, that smell I miss and go back for every day. I don’t mean her perfume, she changes that often. Not even the smell of her hair spray, or her make up or her body cream. I mean the way her body smells, I mean the way her sweat smells. The smell between her breasts. The smell between her legs. Any smell that is hers, that trickles out of her like mastic trickles out of the tree, drop by drop, to form precious tears on the bark.

When I can, I get into her room. When I know she has gone to town. I just jump through the low window and quietly just stand there, in her room and drink in the smell. I once closed the window, I didn’t even want the smell of the sea to invade the space. I opened her closet and came as close as possible to her clothes. But heaven, heaven was only on her sheets, on her pillow. Bliss, a little bit of eternal happiness. I cried. I still do sometimes when I remember.

Smell is a weird thing. I will be walking in town, somewhere, or even travelling. And suddenly I will smell her. She is nowhere near. There is nothing that smells like her, it’s true, nothing similar but there it is. It stops me in my tracks, it doubles me up. Once it happened to me while I was in Frankfurt for 3 months. I hated that contract, I didn’t want to take the job but there was not other way. Away from her for so long, it was agony. One day, just as I was walking up the stairs to my horrible apartment there it was, her smell. It was so sudden, so vivid, so hugely unexpected. I think I became hard by just drinking in that ghost of an aroma and then I broke down. I hit my knees against the step but I didn’t care. I cried under the yellow sickly light of the stairs, huge sobs, huge tears on the grey steps and not even one fucking German opened the door as I banged my head against the wall and curled up into a ball until I could calm down.

You may not understand but it is physical. It is beyond me. It is as if when I touched her she left something of hers inside me. Whenever I am away from her that part wants to be reunited with her, go back to the source, the woman, the womb. I have a child, a child of love inside me and it pines for her. I hear its heartbeat when I sleep, when I eat, when I swim. It cries in the sleepless nights. I hear its laughter when she is near. I need to go back. I just do. I need to see her again and again if I am to be alive.

I hope. I hope she will never discover what I do but I do hope that she will look for me, she will miss me. I dream that the creature inside me will call her in her dreams. She will get up from her bed, she will open her red door. It WILL be a full moon night. The wind WILL bring her smell to me before I see her walk across the courtyard. And then she WILL be mine.

————

Courttia made me do it

Vial with a conspiratorial sound. Included herein.

June 25th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

READ IT IN GREEK

Humbly, for the Kaliva literary week
June 25, 2010

It arrived one Saturday morning in the post. Without a return address. A package wrapped in brown paper and string.

The detail seemed important.

With string.

The box inside was wooden, maybe a little crude and old-fashioned, however, well made. And inside the box, a bottle filled with red liquid, embraced in velvet. He opened the bottle carefully, fine silver cap which opened and closed with a small conspiratorial sound. He sniffed the liquid tentatively and it reminded him of maybe strawberries. The second time he thought it was lilies but the third time he once again changed his mind. Cinnamon? Oranges?

At first he took it as a joke. He expected some jolly friend to approach him and confess to sending it. He began to tell the story of the little bottle and the package without sender but no one showed the slightest inclination to admit that he had sent it. On the contrary, some even advised him to get rid of it, you never know, maybe an insane killer who randomly sends poison.

When Internet searches did not reveal anything he went by the biggest libraries of the city. He asked old professors and took a sample of the red liquid to a friend who worked in a laboratory. Nobody could tell him for sure what was in the bottle or even what could be in the bottle.

He thought that he could try it. Once or twice he managed to bring it to his lips but his hand trembled and he was forced to admit that he did not have the guts. He caught himself in the mirror, the bottle still in his trembling hand, his face looked bereft of colour. He closed the box carefully.

***

It arrived one Wednesday morning in the post. He was at work. Without a return address. A white envelope and his address written in red ink.

The detail seemed important.

With red ink.

He did not think that there could be a connection with that other item, received so many years ago, with the little package wrapped in brown paper, because he had strived too hard to forget. At first he had left the box on the coffee table but the memory of this failure and his sweaty face disappointed him every day. He then put the box on the bookcase and pretended that he forgot about it, though he felt uncomfortable sometimes when he had his back turned to watch TV.

The envelope had a card inside, off white paper and a gold embossed edging. With red ink in the middle, with two words, written in rather cursive letters.

“Too late”

He stood in the hall looking at the card for a while.

Until his body exploded towards in the living room – almost of its own accord – to confront the gap between the two books.

***

There is no more to this story. What ending? You haven’t been taught well, my stories have no ending. They are just that, stories. If you want and ending then you should have asked me to tell you a fairy tale.

Of course I do not tell fairy tales.

I am only a writer, here see, my hands have stains.

From red ink.

It is probably ink

Come a little closer to see it for yourself.

 

Published in Greek in the blog Η Καλύβα Ψηλά στο βουνό
June 25, 2010

READ IT IN GREEK

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