Shelf Life

There was a time when I was clutched tightly and revered, picked up gently and often by familiar hands that turned my pages with eager anticipation of my chapters. I was cherished. The words that are tattooed into my pages inspired and influenced, quoted and recited at podiums and dinner parties alike. I was loved, but more importantly, I was relevant. I sat on a shelf, rubbing covers with the classics, waiting to be chosen. Waiting for an old friend.

Instead we were stacked and set in a box where I found myself in an attic amongst out of date clothes, a toaster oven, and antique wooden chairs. The elements were harsh, my pages wrinkled and warped from moisture and heat. Years went by, my contents lay molded and musty until the day heavy footsteps shook the attic floor. There was light! The box was thrust opened and large, clumsy hands plunged in, yanking me out and inspecting my contents. My bind howled in protest, tight and out of shape from the years of rest.

Any hopes of renaissance was short lived as there I was used as a doorstop, along with others, propping the attic door as the chairs and antiques were hauled down the steps and into the yard. There we sat, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and I, performing work better suited for a brick than a novel. Hope was lost. The children we had watched grow into adults now had children of their own who held gadgets that beeped and illuminated their round faces. We remained on the floor as nothing but weight against a door.

The old house was emptied of its warmth and stripped of its belongings. The first item to go was the dining room table where Mr. and Mrs. Vaughan enjoyed many home cooked dinners in their early days of marriage. Next, were paintings that Mrs. Vaughan had brought home from the gallery and then the chaise lounge where we had spent so many evenings together. Bit by bit, everything was picked through as they came in like vultures off the street to rummage through a lifetime of belongings. The furniture, the lamps, and even the rugs off of the floor were rolled up and taken away with little regard to footsteps that once walked over them.

And we sat, ignored and unwanted by the strangers in the house, discarded by those who knew so little about us. It had been us who Mrs. Vaughan had turned to on those late nights, as she waited in vain for her husband to come home. It was us who were there for her when she was alone, a bottle of wine and a jazz record playing softly in the back ground. And it was us who were there to comfort her after the divorce, her pain spilling out on my pages as she was swept into tears by the whirl of emotion derived from my contents. Like her tears, my pages had dried, but only after absorbing the salt into their being, leaving rippled spots of evidence on pages 163-165.

Yes, I know her well. It was I who was chosen 75 years ago by a young girl in stockings, who saved her coins and spent her allowance on me. We had grown together, in her bedroom, as soft hands turned my pages while her mind began to comprehend my contents. Together we had gone off to college and afterwards were inseparable on vacations and holiday travels. It was I, who–as the golden years set in and my pages yellowed and shriveled as her skin wrinkled–faithfully remained as family became scarce, too busy with their own lives to visit. And finally it was I, who like her had been shut into a box upon her death after 88 years of life, a life we had spent together.

My appearance is not what it once was, my pages are delicate and brittle while my cover is creased and bent, but the story I hold is timeless. With the house almost empty I’m picked from the stack on the floor and my pages are fumbled with little patience for what they offer. I’m passed from one set of hands to the next, as if I were an ancient relic until I am held by what feels like familiar hands. Soft hands that I haven’t felt in ages. Inspecting hands that open me and then, slowly, I’m read. My opening sentences are absorbed, just like so many years ago. The fingers touch and turn my pages, slowly at first but then picking up, eagerly awaiting the story that I am happy to tell again.


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