Wiping an angry tear, he threw off his blankets and stomped to his bookshelf. Old photographs on the top shelf, he couldn’t resist slapping a few of them face-down. The shelf below presented him BOOKS! By the light of a single 40-watt, he skipped his fingers across the tops of the spines, old leather, new paper, infinite words.
Heart pounding, he pulled a favorite old tome from its companions. He collapsed to the floor, opened it, and caressed the inside cover. The first blank page. The copyright page. The title page. Flames Around Life.
TLOT. A wet spot from his eye blossomed on “Flames.” His anger took back dominance and he slid the book back into it’s home with it’s family. His eyes scoured the titles from his cross-legged vantage point, tilting his head sideways. Where was the looked-for book? He pulled another down. Success and Esteem. Chuckling, he tossed it onto the area rug. “How very droll” he mused with an mimicked accent. He selected another. The King and the Faggot-Gatherer. Staring through the umpteenth-edition cover art, he imagined the thicket of old words inside, and lighted the book down beside him. He snatched up another. The Universe Explained Through Cliches. With an inward scoff he tossed it over his shoulder. He stretched for another and brought it down. The Littlest Soldier. A smile squeezed out a few young tears. This book would live the rest of it’s life gathering dust, a cherished reminder on the shelf. But for now he set it aside on the rug so he could select another. He tugged and it fell open in his lap. A Chance Adventure. He closed his eyes and seized breeze through trees. “I’m going to go back there someday” he quoted, barely a whisper in the evening. More! He brough them all down! Time Enough For Endings! A Fool Among Idiots! The Mouse Who Could Fly! Don’t Tip The Doorman! How To Steal Air! Diamonds and Corn! A Dark Walk to Mumbai! STEAKS! The Hat Weaver! A Flight of Stairs! When the Minivan’s Full.
“WAIT!” He took up the last one from the scattered works. Heat rose behind his face and eyes. His smile twisted like plastic in fire. Clawing it open, he raced through the pages. Teardrops coursed around gritted teeth as he reached the passage. Children crying in the backseat of the minivan, as the parents up front shriek and bellow about last week’s breakfast. Words leapt off the page and lacerated him.
“AAAAAAAAAAUUUGGGGGGHH!!” He shot the book across the room, the sound of broken glass accompanying. Regret hit him like a tuning fork. That book had helped him live. The book wasn’t it.
He stood up ready to cradle his lifeless friend. Spiral binding sticking from the closet caught his notice, and instead of the book, he brought his notebook back to the bed. It had been hard to find one with no lines. His favorite books didn’t always keep to the straightest edges.
He opened it to a random page, apparently one he’d randomly opened up to once before, for the purpose of scrawling a hasty suicide note. He tore it out with a wry smile, and tossed it near the trashbin. He wanted to laugh at himself, but wasn’t quite sure what he thought was funny. Flipping back to the first page, he smiled no longer.
Scraps of a story like an engine block overgrown with weeds. He thumbed through. A clunky, uncut poem. An ignorant vignette. Another malformed short story run out of gas. Some pages were stained long ago, brown like coffee which he never drank. Disgust welled up as he surveyed his work, on the backdrop of the classics littering his rug. He bubbled and boiled over, and with an meat-eater’s growl he flew through the notebook pages, tearing them out like fresh-killed chicken feathers.
Audibly panting, he stood and cast wide, jittery eyes over the books, now half-blanketed by the fallen leaves of his own work. He thought himself on the edge of an incredibly deep puddle. Or an infinitely small ocean.
Right at his feet rested a single sheet of paper, white as angels, never folded or crumpled, crisp and true. Clenching fists at his sides, he turned his head toward past the ceiling, to the stars unfathomably, and beyond even those. He took a deep breath of faith, eyes screwed tight seeing only what they wanted in the blackness.
SPLASH! He jumped in! Cool water rushed around him, or maybe it was late wind engulfing his body in movement. He fell, just as he had expected, and fell, fell through nighttime clouds and stars; lava and cellphones; trees; doors; waterfalls; smoke; cars; lights; mountains; lilacs; snow and rain and fire; windmills; wells; paints and bronze and plaster and marble and canvas; computers; swords; wolves and owls and stingrays and lions and red pandas and falcons and dolphins and kittens and otters; monuments; castles; locomotives and zeppelins and ferries; bows-and-arrows; glass; rust; patina; dictionaries and thesauruses and encyclopedias and words words words WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS!!!