The Cabinet of Curiosities
Jar of eyes

The Forever Book

Dust drifts through the air, landing on old, weathered spines and faded pages. I can do little more than watch from my shelf, wedged between an old dictionary and an atlas full of countries that now have other names.


We’re hardly going to talk about dust, even on this long and quiet afternoon, now are we? Not when there are so many other tales to tell each other. Those written on our pages, and the things we have seen from the bookcases and cabinets in which we have spent our years.


A great many years, some of us. For me, especially.


The customers who enter the shop likely do not know that we, the books, speak to each other. We whisper and rustle, and some of us are terrible gossips–though not me, of course.


All books do this, when no one is listening. And no one ever is, because they do not know they should.


No, the customers who visit are in search of a gift, perhaps, for a daughter or mother or brother, or in need of something with which to amuse themselves on a cold night by the fire, while the gas lamps outside sputter and spark.


The door creaks open, and for an instant the sound of horse hooves on the cobbles outside is quite loud, louder than the two chattering almanacs on the shelf below mine.


“Bonjour, Christophe,” says the customer. The words between my covers are English, but one picks up a thing or two. Hello. And I recognize the voice, which is a very good thing indeed. I may relax now; this gentleman won’t pluck me from my cozy spot and regret it forever.


This may seem a great exaggeration, but it is not.


“Ah! Bonjour!” Christophe says in return, coming out from behind his little desk to lead the man down through the crooked paths between shelves, piled high and teetering. As they pass, Christophe’s glittering black eyes flick up to read my spine, and quickly away again before the customer–whose bald head is gleaming in the dim light–notices and takes an interest.


Clearly, I am not kept in the room of rare books into which they disappear, though I should be. Nor am I kept locked away, safe from prying eyes, though I should certainly be that, too.


The constant babbling of the other books soothes my charred covers, crisp and ragged at the edges frm the countless times I have been hurled, tossed, gently placed into the flames. My pages crinkle, warped from the waters of every river marked in the atlas to my left.


I cannot be burned, or sunk, or torn apart. And so I am here, where no one will think to pick me up.


“People will open a book sitting on its own,” Christophe says, in French, but he has muttered this to himself so often I have come to know its meaning. “Here, they will ignore you.”


So far, this has worked. And as I say, I am calmed by the ceaseless talk around me. I do not long for a new…


…well, I suppose victim is truly the only appropriate word.


Cristophe was my last, and this is why he watches me with those obsidian eyes, carefully steering visitors away from my cracked spine. Because he knows. Oh, he knows all too well.


The bookshop is muffled, the voices from the back room too far away to hear, but for the bald man’s occasional exclamation over a book full of delicate paintings of birds. I’d forced Christophe to move that one–its chirping was near unbearable.


The door creaks again.


“Maman! The books!” a child says. There are snowflakes on the shoulders of her scarlet coat, winking like stars in a sky still red from sunset. Up and down the shelves, pages rustle excitedly. Pick me! they say, though of course she cannot hear. She does not know she is supposed to listen. No one does.


I am very still between my dictionary and my atlas. It is no thanks to them that I know so many words, so many places. My own adventures are responsible for that, and it has been a long time since I’ve had one.


“Oui, Madeleine. Be careful, yes?”


“I will!” says the girl, but she is not. Her little shoes kick up more dust from the carpet as she runs back and forth, nearly tipping over a stack of novels having an extremely animated conversation about…cheese, I believe. It’s possible I wasn’t listening quite close enough. For I am watching the girl.


Christophe and his other customer are still looking at birds, and I don’t know how I know this time will be different. That no one will steer the girl away, keep her small fingers from plucking me off the shelf.


The atlas begins to tremble hard enough to shake the mountains within. The dictionary mutters under its breath, words I surely won’t repeat here.


“Not me,” I say. She is still not listening. They never listen.


Her head tilts sideways. “The Forever Book, ” she reads. “Maman? What is im-mor-tal-it-y?”


“Why, it is living forever,” says Madeleine’s mother. “Never growing old or leaving this world for the next.” She shudders, this woman with a brain, for people do not know what they wish for when they seek this.


“Oh!” says Madeleine in her scarlet coat, and I am free, pulled from my cramped place between the dictionary and the atlas. All the other books are quiet now, their whispering silenced by fear.

Her eyes are very blue. My spine cracks and my pages stretch. From the back room, a shout comes, a thump, Christophe falling to the floor as Madeleine, my new owner, perhaps for a great many years to come, begins to read.

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One Response to “The Forever Book”

  1. Heidi says:

    Perfect. So perfect.

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