This week’s cue word is Useful
A tale of two books
“Why don’t you make yourself useful for a change and take those library books back,” she said over breakfast, “I mean, it’s not like you have anything better to do.”
He looked across at her from his laptop between a mouthful of marmalade on toast and the words not daring to express themselves: Actually, dear, I have my book of poems to finish – but, ah, yes, thirty years of marriage had taught him when the optimum time was to answer her back – and it certainly wasn’t over breakfast.
He bundled the books into his old school bag – the brown leather one he used to take for marking homework in days that seemed as ancient now as the bag itself – and he decided to walk to the library instead of taking the bus, never mind the rain, and each street he encountered reminded him of the years that had passed, and each corner was yet another best-forgotten page, and each road he crossed was fraught with noise and cars and danger and people seemingly neither from the future, past, nor present.
Inside the library he waited at the counter to return his books; and that’s when he noticed her approaching, her head buried in the concluding pages of a paperback as though she was desperate to reach its end before time ran out – and he recognised her straightaway, and his heart thumped and his stomach made a flip, and he opened his mouth to say her name, and in the moment it took for words to travel the ever-decreasing distance between them… his mind conjured the possibilities he had dreamed of since he last saw her.
They had met on a pottery course; each Tuesday evening, nine weeks of clay and kilns and conversation to throw the soul, and at the end of it all phone numbers exchanged… gah! like a bloody fool he had neglected to write down a paper copy as he always did with his numbers, and when his mobile phone died so did she… and with it a love which had blossomed so briefly in an art room in London, and where things you created got fired and cast into shape, and were tangible enough to hold in your hand forever.
“Catherine, is that really you?” he said, and she replied… “Peter?”, and all at once time stood still in a library one minute before noon, and she noticed then the book in his hand – Down and Out in Paris and London – and it was the same book as hers, though a different edition and cover, and she smiled at him, and he smiled back, and outside the library a clock in town chimed noon, and it stopped raining.