Read The Book Online

Authors: M. Clifford

Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Retail, #21st Century, #Amazon.com

The Book (3 page)

BOOK: The Book
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The Library got its name from its peculiar and controversial interior design. The windowless walls of the bar were clothed with pages from hundreds of recycled books. The building had broken ground during a vital junction in the history of the world, when the selfish ways of our forefathers were recognized and recycling was evolving into a powerful tool for allowing mother earth to thrive. Laws were being passed and using paper for recreational means was frowned upon, to say the least. Like the few creative minds of that decade, Marion’s grandfather searched for an innovative solution to the problem and chose to line the walls of his new bar with pages from recognizable books before recycling them for the sake of the planet. At a time when the words
Reduce
,
Reuse
and
Recycle
were fast becoming the mantra of the intellectual world, such innovative design made The Library a custodian for progress and environmentalism. But sadly, like most novelties, the bar was forgotten and its crumbling, fragile façade soon joined the landscape of deserted, but historically protected, buildings along Wilson Avenue.

Tonight, Holden entered the bar like the rest of those before him. He ignored the yellowing book pages that crusted the walls like rotting fish scales, hung his jacket on one of the tarnished brass hooks near the warm wood bar and searched for his best friend.

“There he is.”

The graveled voice came from the thick stone fireplace at the center of the large seating area. Shane was standing on a shelf of stone that circled the base of the column, half obscured by the flat screen television. He adjusted the volume, hopped down and threw an arm around Holden as if they hadn’t just spent every moment of the work week together.

“Glad you could make it out, bro!” he barked, tugging his old friend toward their usual booth. His brash attitude lit up the tiny eyes that were ever shadowed under his tattered baseball cap. The Blackhawks jersey he wore hung from his sloping, definitionless shoulders like a red garbage bag. Unlike Holden’s sturdy frame, Shane Dagget was as thin as they came and not the least bit aware of his shortcomings. “Thanks for getting all dolled up.”

Holden looked down at his raggedy work clothes. He had left the house so quickly, so agitated, that he had forgotten to change. “Didn’t realize this was a date,” he replied, squeezing into the varnished oak booth.

Shane took the cigarette from behind his ear and sparked his butane lighter. “Sweetheart, I thought Friday was date night.”

Holden grinned at his friend’s overt eye batting and attempted to pull the cigarette from his hand. “I just got here. Don’t get us kicked out.”

“Where have you been, Clifford? The ban on smoking was lifted last week,” Shane tugged his hand back, pulled a long drag from his cigarette and spat a laugh of smoke at the ceiling. “I swear, bro, I thought you’d be Mickey the Mope all weekend reading that stupid Book of yours.” Holden pursed his lips and nodded as a smirk curled the edge of Shane’s sly lips. “Don’t look now, but Marion’s been eyeing you like an empty glass. I told ya. That girl wants what you’re sellin’.”

Holden stole a glance over his shoulder and pretended to watch the pre-game arguments on the plasma screen before turning back. “She’s lookin’ at you, Dagget.”

“Not a chance, sailor,” he smirked, digging in with the nickname Holden would never live down. “I’ve been your wingman since we turned nineteen.” Shane paused to release another haze of glorious smoke, “I know when a girl is checking you out and she is check…ing…you…out.”

“Whatever.” Holden rolled his flannel sleeves and cracked his back again, trying to gather what crumbs of comfort were available in the cushionless booth.

Shane delighted in another slow drag before tilting his head curiously. “Hey, weren’t you supposed to have Jane this weekend?” In a glare of unspoken frustration, Shane knew what had happened. “It’s like that, huh? Man.” He slid an empty bottle across the table and clinked the glass with the edge of his full one. “A.D.A.D. right?”

Holden nodded sheepishly. “A.D.A.D.”

Another Day. Another Dollar. Where the phrase originated from, neither of them knew. They picked it up when they were young and somewhere between summer vacations and joining the pipe fitters union, the saying stuck. Eventually, it became the smartest, most carefree response to any situation in life.

Car breaks down? Another day. Another dollar.
Got promoted? Another day. Another dollar.
Wife leaves you? Another day. Another dollar.
Brother goes to jail? Another day. Another dollar.

If the situation wasn’t a big deal, or they didn’t want it to seem like a big deal, they abbreviated. It was hokey and nonsense to them now, but it was how they communicated and it worked.

Shane drank eagerly from the microbrewed lager and used the back of his hand to wipe the froth from his mouth, already searching for a subject to override the topic of Holden’s failed home life. “Numbskull has me pulling doubles tomorrow. I think it’s some new building on Wacker.”

Holden shrugged, uninterested, before glancing back at the television screen to watch the game begin. The opposing team snatched the puck and Holden stared as they glided delicately across the ice like a flock of geese until one of the men went sprawling into the wall. He was too engulfed in the game to notice Shane beckoning the bartender to their table.

“Think I’m gonna run off to the bathroom or something before your girlfriend gets here. Leave the love birds to the branch, ya know what I’m sayin’, bro?”

Yanked quickly back to reality, Holden reached for his friend’s jersey. “Come on, don’t do me like that. I told you…she just needed a ride back to her apartment. Shane.”

Holden collected himself and twisted casually away from the bar to admire the series of book pages that plastered the wall. The gloss that once glued the printed paper to the bar, bonding them together to create a seamless surface, had gradually degraded to a rough, clear texture. The recycled pages were flaking earnestly from the wall. Holden found this a pleasant distraction from the fact that Marion, the librarian, had already strolled up to the booth with her digital notepad in hand looking harmless and polite. He tried not to notice her, but the attempt was a failure from the start.

Marion was beautiful in the sense that she was unattainable and confusing to most of the men that vied constantly for her attention. She had strong features, but her face was still kind and elegant. Holden knew she was special. She had a rare personality and a look that could only be defined as grubby, but gorgeous. To Holden, Marion Tabor was a greasy, bohemian princess. The piece of her he liked best was the delicate Japanese floral tattoos that snuck a glance at him when she leaned to hand over a drink and her short sleeves grew shorter. There was an attraction there. One night it almost led to a
here’s my place
kiss. But Holden came with complications and any woman that didn’t mind adding complication to her life was someone to avoid. That rationalization was the only thing that kept him grounded when she would look deeply into his eyes or reach across the table to take his glass away.

“Hi Holden. Haven’t seen you here in a while.”

He turned absent-mindedly toward her as she swept a flirty tangle of dark brown hair over her ears and his breath cut short. “Work has been busy…” he grunted, clearing his throat. “Taking a lot out of me.” He tried to keep his cool, but instead his voice hung with passive, synthetic neutrality.

“Yeah. You look tired,” she mused, reaching for Shane’s empty glass. “What can I get you?”
“Whatever import you have on tap is fine.”
Marion swooped her pointer finger over the notepad screen and offered him a soft smile. “Okay. I’ll be right back.”

Holden flashed an adjourned expression as she returned to the bar and he tilted his head back to the quilt of overlapping pages. Having been so pulled away at home, so drawn out of his story when he needed it most, his eyes instantly scanned the pages for some form of fictitious freedom, only to discover that the text on the walls was neither literary nor inviting. Beyond the stacked condiments and laminated lists of drinks were a series of shadowed pages quite mathematic in nature with random equations that made no sense to Holden. He passed over them and many others with a glaze of dull consideration until he noticed something of interest.

He tilted in place to an awkward, acrobatic position in order to view a page behind him from a book entitled
Little Women
. He read the series of words and quickly discovered that nothing on the roughly 5 inch by 8 inch page, which was partially concealed beneath an historical account of the Incan empire, described the size of women, their height, their intellect or anything that would lend substance to the innocuous, yet intriguing, title. The mysterious story bore the signs of pre-digital fiction and it kept him enthralled for the few minutes before the librarian returned.

Marion stepped around the boundaries of the bar and walked the drink to his booth while Holden watched her approach with studying eyes. The amber liquid swayed with her hips and it absorbed him. Its ambient gracefulness recalling a sentence from the page he had just read.

 


Why not? I’m neat and cool and comfortable, quite proper for a dusty walk on a warm day.”

 

Much like that language from another time, the approaching beer drew him in. Marion set the drink on the table and Holden nodded a thank you as he happily tipped the cold glass rim toward his welcoming lips.

“So, are you excited about the game?”
“Huh?”
“The game,” she repeated, arching her manicured eyebrows. “It’s supposed to be a good one.”

Small talk?
Holden felt suddenly distant and spoke his reply through a dripping sip. “Is it?”

“You feeling all right? You’re acting strange.”

“Don’t I always?” He faked a charming smirk and pointed a thumb at the wall. “Did you know these pages are coming loose?”

“Yeah,” Marion nodded, wiping down the scraps of garbage Shane left on the table. “I’d just paint over the whole thing, but then the name of the bar wouldn’t make sense, would it?”

Holden snickered. “You’d have to buy new stationary and everything.”

“Right,” she laughed, brandishing a wide smile. “Stationary.”

Instead of leaving, Marion narrowed the space between them and traced a hand across his right arm, pulling aside the fine crop of brown hair. “What is that?” she asked, spotting a blotch of bluish-black ink. “It looks like skin cancer or something.”

Holden tugged his arm abruptly, almost too abruptly, away and unrolled his flannel sleeve to cover up his embarrassment. “Yeah, just kids being stupid.”

Before Marion could ask, Shane skipped his chicken legs back to the booth, just in time to sit and revel in his friend’s discomfort. “Showing off your tattoo there, sailor? Did he tell you it was an anchor or that he got it from his girlfriend in jail?”

Holden shot daggers at Shane Dagget and lowered his head in an understood look of
one more of those and you’re going to get it
. Shane tossed up his hands in innocence and puffed, “I wasn’t going to tell her that you stopped mid-way because it hurt too much…” A boot crashed into his flimsy ankle and a surge of pain shot through his loose tendons.

“You don’t seem the type to give up.”

Holden continued to stare angrily at Shane as he sputtered, “Talk to my ex-wife.”

Gently, Marion pulled back Holden’s sleeve and edged closer to the half-inch wide, geometric blemish. “It looks like the number four.”

“It was supposed to be an anchor but…it hurt. So I stopped. It’s my
four
arm.” Holden’s attempt at a pathetic joke lost its charm on her, or at least he thought it had. Marion didn’t laugh; the hand she placed on his shoulder before walking back to the bar was tender and comforting. Shane rose his arms in defense the moment they were alone because it appeared that Holden was about to lay into him. The serendipitous arrival of a phone call gave him an escape from certain punishment.

The tacky ring tone ceased as Shane flicked his phone open and yanked himself away from the booth through a barrage of flying peanuts. Clutching the phone, he laughed in surprise with one of their mutual friends over the fact that Holden had actually shown up. The crowded bar swiftly filled with jeers and jubilation as the score on the screen shifted. Holden listened to the tumult and was glad he could no longer hear Shane’s opinion of him, no matter how right it was. He knew he was usually unavailable to his friends on the weekends. He liked it that way. In fact, he was debating an escape that moment so he could return home to where the Book was fully charged and waiting for him.

Home was comfortable. The Book was comfortable. It gave him everything he needed. Friends, like life, were unpredictable. In his stories, he knew what to expect. He understood the characters and they didn’t need to understand him. The Book provided him with a life he didn’t have the energy to live himself. The digital lines of text scrolling below his eyes gave him adventure and solidarity. Beyond any person, place or thing in existence, he trusted The Book. He trusted those who wrote the stories; that they had his best interests at heart. It was more than he could say for Shane, who stood by the television laughing into the newest smart phone, leaving his best friend to nurse a lukewarm beer. Holden nudged his drink aside, pushed away from the booth and navigated the crowded bar toward the bathroom to release what he could before trying to escape without notice.

When he reached the dark and dingy room, a line of tottering sports fans told Holden that finding a stall was the easier route. He shut to door gladly and completed the deed he came to do. Although Holden was ready to leave (the odor alone had urged him to), he found himself staring at the pages on the wall, yearning to be drawn away from the languid existence, from the emotionless mirth that encompassed him. Something felt wrong about life. There was a creeping distrust that he couldn’t quite put his sharpened pointer finger on. Sometimes, even the shadow that followed his feet felt irregular. But there, standing before a cacophony of pages that held order despite the disorder, he was freed from his incarceration of doubt. He lost himself and found himself in the thousands upon thousands of sandy pages and printed words that covered the five square feet of wall space behind the toilet. He scanned them slowly as if searching for truth. Searching for wisdom in a single word.

BOOK: The Book
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