He entered me on a weak winter afternoon in 2019 when I was buried in seven-month-thick dust. His flesh bulged in odd places and I – I ached for him. But I was gentle (at first, at least). On his first visit, I slid a comic book into the display rack right before he turned towards it. Then, before his next trip, I stacked an assortment of books I thought he’d enjoy on the checkout counter. Initially, he seemed nervous when he realised that no human was ever around but, slowly, he fell into my rhythm. In two weeks, he was spending hours every day roaming the aisles in my dusty womb, sneezing and siphoning the magic into his pen.
Until he vanished. I didn’t see him for a week, then two. A whole month trickled by before he showed up one evening, somehow both groomed and wan. Before I could helpfully thrust an old Reader’s Digest Health Issue at him, a woman walked in, clutched his arm and gave a theatrical gasp.
“Amazing,” she shook her head, making the silver chandeliers in her ears dance.
She turned to my shelves, pursed her lips, stared into my very soul. I squirmed, could she smell my decaying wood? See the flutter of pigeon-wings in my rafte–?
“Quaint,” she pronounced and I beamed: she understood!
“Perfect bookporn,” she said.
Wait, pornography? What…what were they going to do to me?
My friend was nodding, the useless mutt. The Woman scanned the shelves, plucking books. “Gimme,” she called. My friend drew a book out of his bag, handed it to her. She laid the four books down on the table.
First was the book he’d given her: ‘THIS IS UR STORY’, it screamed, followed by his name.
A cold wind blew across my heart. Is this…what… he wrote? Maybe – satire? I desperately scanned the other books.
The Puma Chronicles. The Argumentative Indian. And C+++ made EZ!
Hmm. Quite the polymath.
Then it hit me. The jackets. The books’ jackets. Red. She was choosing books based on their colour.
It took all my strength not to collapse right there.
Then, as if this all was not quite ghastly enough, she pulled a lipstick-kissed cup of coffee out of her reptilian bag, set it down next to the books, held her phone up, knelt by the arrangement, clicked a few unfathomable pictures and left, my imbecile in tow.
I stared down at the table with its bloody pool of books and pathetic coffee-stain rings, evidence of the hour they had spent creating this – this monstrosity. The hours I had spent on him.
And I decided – No. Not again.
This time, he would pay.
I searched the vault. The first editions, mint conditions, signed manuscripts. Nothing. It had to be lovely, precise, deadly. And then, in an old desk drawer, I found it. I left it out there on the checkout counter for him and, soon enough, in he waltzed, discussing a party on his phone.
I’m here, Mrs. Dalloway. I whispered. Come close.
He turned and saw the book on the counter. He stared at it a long moment, his expression neutral. Did he hear it – the whispering? Then he blinked, and the spell shattered. He flipped the book open, raised his phone.
Come ON, boy! I held my breath. And, like magic, his eyes… flicked…across the first line. He leaned into the perfectly crafted noose of words, and stumbled. And was lost.
His phone clattered to the ground. He sat down, clutching the book, and wept.
I had him then. I sealed the door and sicced them on him. The monsters, this time – The Greats. They feasted on his eyes, laid maggots in his hollow sockets and left him to scream. He stumbled through the aisle, blind and feverish, while I flung heavyweights down on his skull, smashing his mind open, fetid conditioning and metallic falsity and tendrils of greed pouring out. He shut himself up in my womb then, ignored his buzzing phone and moaned on my balding carpet, safely crushed under the weight of unattainable greatness. In a month, people stopped calling him. Like centuries-old clockwork, some things just don’t change. It was then that I took his fluttering soul in my palm and sang it awake. It was heavy with idealism, scarred and focused. And all mine.
Svani Parekh lives in Mumbai, India and writes scripts for The BBC, Sesame Street, Turner and Disney (India). Her work has previously appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Lit Up, The Junction and Tinkle Magazine. She is currently working on her first novel. She sends obsessively crafted tweets into the void from @svaniparekh.
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