The Books We Cherished

Intro: This is a story about love, emptiness and our pursuit of happiness through the accumulation of things that we ultimately won’t be able to keep.

He sat on an old wrinkly armchair in the empty house by the Palladian windows. Hands kneaded by time. His tired eyes, staring at the books in the old white wooden bookcase. Overflowing boxes covered the place. His son put a hand on top of his, then started to put the books inside boxes. “I was looking through the books in the market under Waterloo Bridge.” He said, paused, then carried on. “She was just a few steps away, browsing. I remember she had a big book in her hands… Oh I don’t know what book it was exactly, I will get to it in a minute. It was such a long time ago. She was, gorgeous. Suddenly, I don’t know what came over me because I had never done anything quite like it, but, suddenly, I was standing right before her, nervous like a young deer, she looked at me and I said “Hum, that’s a good book” and she said something like “oh you read this? What do you think?” Oh my gosh, I looked at the book, I don’t know the first thing about architecture, it was so embarrassing, so I went red from head to toes, I exhaled some kind of quirky nervous laugh and told her the truth. And you would not believe what, she started laughing and invited me to a cup of coffee.

Our first date was in this restaurant, well, I don’t really count the coffee thing you see, because we had just met and I don’t know, it wasn’t a date I guess. Anyway, the place was tiny and the waters kept flying plates above our heads, it closed down years ago. Ah! We took you and your sister there once when you were kids, remember? You almost choked with your calzone, the waiter was so spooked by the whole thing that they gave you a free coke float and he had a shot of lambrusco or something. We used to go to that place all the time back when we were dating.

One morning, we were in the flat we shared with this other guy, what was his name?… Nah, I can’t remember. I woke up and I looked at her, I looked around our room, it was such mess with all her clothes spread all over the place, you would not believe it if you saw it. But I knew. There was something. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but whatever it was, it was special in that woman. I got up and ran around for hours looking for a ring, it turned out they were way more expensive than I thought they would be, so I went back to the house with something I wasn’t very pleased with and she was mad because I had left without saying anything so she wasn’t talking to me. I must have apologised over a million times and waited a few days for a good moment which seemed to never come. So one day, we were reading in bed and I asked her to marry me, in my head I had this picture of being a pretty romantic thing, you know? I got down in one knee, well I got out of bed… well you understand what I am saying. She kind of panicked, stormed out of the room, can you believe that she threw a shoe at me? And then she locked herself in the bathroom. Some few good hours later, and our flatmate and I having to use the toilet at the pub, she came out and said yes.

After that, we saved like crazy, got new jobs and bought the house. When we moved in it was the best day ever, it took us forever to unpack and had
almost no furniture, except the bookshelf, we got it in an antique store somewhere in Brick Lane. When we left the old place we decided to get rid of all the rubbish so the stupid thing had only two books on it, so I bought an architecture book for her, because of the day when we met. Obviously it wasn’t the same one, but it’s the gesture, you got to look for the gestures. It’s funny because the same day she got me a book too, I remember because I used the title for my password for a while, really good book, you should read it sometime, it’s in ehm.. one of the…”. He turned his head and looked around for a few moments but then he realised he did not remember the title.

“I remember we went into this incredible bookshop in New York, what was the name? It had something green in it, Greenford or something, we bought like five books in there.” The son took a large travel guide. “Oh, that is a fabulous book, we read it the first time driving through South America, we would take turns one reading and the other driving, such hilarious book.

Then your sister came along, and we got all these books about children. I think in the end we ended up throwing them all out, it was so overwhelming, you can’t just get a degree in parenting. We went to the shop and got her first book, technically people had already given us a bunch but we kind of ignored that and decided that this one would be her first book and yes then it became your first book too. We got so many lovely books for the two of you, they are so imaginative in such short period, some of them have such wonderful art work as well. You were so funny pretending to read and making all the stories up and if it was a book you knew, you would tell the story by heart and fool everyone. We thought you didn’t care for books very much when you got older but you got us this wonderful one about traveling, we loved it because it wasn’t a typical travel guide but someone telling you about the places he had been to, a formidable approach.

And like in a flash, your sister was living in France you were getting married, so we got back into our books. Your sister is always sending books and sneaking notes trying to get us to learn French and you with your healthy diet cooking books. You know, it’s funny when your children start looking after you.

I could never say I had enough of that woman and never thought she would go before me and leave me here with all these damn books.”.

His son left, took the boxes to the truck and he stayed seating there in the old wrinkly armchair, in the empty house, staring at the now empty bookshelf. While he sat there he thought of the things he should keep, the things his wife had kept, her memories, the absurdity behind keeping anything if it is not going to stay with us forever and how he only cared about the books, the books they shared and loved.

The son came back in the house as it was time to go. He must take his father to live with him and his family. Because “an old man in such big house would not be able to look after himself properly and they did not have the money to hire a caretaker”, they said.

“Tell me something son, have I ever told you the story when I met your mother?” “No dad, you haven’t.”.


© a_nembrini 2023
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I’m currently clearing out the belongings of a relative, so this really resonated with me. The start drew me in and the progression of the story, telling it through the love of books, was really well done. The end was perfect, even though it definitely made me tearful. The only part I thought might be a little awkward was this : “The son came back in the house as it was time to go. He must take his father to live with him and his family. Because an old man in such big house would not be able to look… Read more »

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