Tiny Kingdom, Part I

Simon never read non-fiction and doubted its very existence. He found the notion faulty. No one has a monopoly on truth. There are many stories, some better than others, but only stories. "Truth is where you look for it," he always said. Cover to cover, stem to stern, all is fiction. Language does not permit the luxury of objectivity. Everything is sticky. Ambition or hubris? Self-confident or cocky? Passion or lust? Who's to say? When asked why he never read non-fiction, Simon would reply, "It's not for me."

For everything else, Simon was your guy. Friends wouldn't bother asking if he'd read it; they'd just start asking him questions. It was his domain, the ruler of a tiny kingdom. He walked into used bookstores like a bachelor into a nightclub. Hungry. Who'd be going home with him tonight? Was it the coy, unassuming paperback or the sturdy, overpriced hardback? If he played his cards right, he was going to start a relationship that would last the summer. One unforgettable summer. Maybe they'd see each other again down the road if there was some unresolved business or loose ends, but most of the time he was a one and done kind of man. Once is enough.

Today it was clothbound copy of The Brothers Karamazov with a sewn binding. Having flirted with her online a few times, he ultimately passed. Couldn't trust online resellers' rating system. Simon's NM--near mint for you civilians-- was a perfect book with a dog-eared corner. He'd been burned too many times. Amazon almost lost him as a customer when they sent him the Garnett version of Anna Karenina instead of the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation he'd ordered. Public domain translations are a slap in the face.  Above all things Simon was a patient man. Though he hated the hunt, he refused to settle. The situation, as you might have guessed, was frequently a source of ire for dear old Simon. But not today. Deep in the City of Books, he'd found his horse.

Settling into the chairs at Stumptown, Simon fussed with his trousers. They rode higher than he liked and he never felt quite comfortable with them.  He was a 35 X 31. All pants were a compromise.

When the barista delivered his coffee, he dumped half of it into the house plant next to him to make room for cream. In his twenties, he'd drank black coffee. That's what the men at the office drank, and that's how a man was a man. Now in his sixties, he wasn't trying to impress anyone. Coffee was bitter and cream helped. A battalion of Half and Half cups fell in the line of duty over the next few hours.

Simon met Ivan, Dimitri, and Alyosha Karamazov that afternoon. He began to know their idiosyncrasies and clues to their enduring character. In a room full of people, Simon was interested more in the people on the pages than the other patrons. Avid readers are of two breeds. There are the lonely souls who find an escape from their humdrum reality in the realm of fiction, and those who are in love with ideas. The common mistake is to assume that it has to be one or the other. Everything is blurry. Was he lonely, seeking refuge in fantasy worlds where authors write and rewrite their Heaven? Or did he simply find the world of the novel more fascinating than his peers? Did he grow or was he stunted by novels? These are absurd questions. Simon was a person. Like all people, he was neither and both.

His eyes grew tired and his glasses heavy. He'd barely made a dent. He slid a bookmark between the pages and closed the cover. It was only 7:40PM. There was an awful lot of night left. The sixty-two year old suddenly found himself outside his literary kingdom. Here he was a serf.

1 comment :

  1. Love this: "He was a 35 X 31. All pants were a compromise." Great detail.