I’ve always read.
Written words are to my mind what oxygen is to my body, and without them I rapidly begin to suffocate, desperate for their input. It leads me (when there is nothing else around) to read the backs of cereal packets; the ingredients list on shampoo bottles; old receipts – anything to pour a few drops of replenishment into my unquenchable brain.
In large part, my bookshelves are stocked with friends, well read, who I can return to again and again, gratefully immersing myself in their worlds and lapping up the sustenance pouring from their pages.
Some books are less kind. They turn out to be awkward fits, or fights I have to wrestle with, or bulldozers attempting to smash their way in. Some are silly and frothy, bubbling with inanity and tiny, vicious toxins which cling and bite and try to make themselves matter. These books don’t make it to the shelves, as a rule, and find themselves packed into a bag to take for donation, ready to be sold onwards to someone whose mindset is more appropriate.
But occasionally there is a book which overwhelms.
On Saturday I awoke, after going to bed at dawn, tossing and turning from anxiety and overtiredness, and slept for eight hours without noticing. The cramps which woke me made me only grateful that I was home, and could tend to the final expulsion of those hopes without the pressures of work or the need to be professional.
In the gloom of unrelenting rain, I stood shivering in pyjamas in the kitchen, waiting for the microwave to ping, telling me that the warm relief of my grain bag was ready, and retreated to bed with breakfast, tea, and a book, to shift and fidget and try to escape from the pain of my world into someone else’s.
‘The Earth Hums in B-Flat’
The title had grabbed me instantly, calling to my mind like a lover, knowing that its allure was strong, and the imagery it offered up would transfix me. And as it began “I fly in my sleep every night.” I knew that the journey was full of promise.
The hours flowed by and the words poured in, filling me and imperceptibly beginning to dissolve the edges of my being. Each page brought stunning imagery and the story of a child so displaced within her time, with a mind so bright and quick and baffled, that as I read, the wonderings of her ancient soul and the persistent hum in the background – that singing heartsong of the Earth – began to percolate and I started to become lost.
New thoughts, like bright birds with intoxicating songs, fluffed and flaunted themselves just outside the windows of my mind, and seemed to beckon “Come on, take down those silly walls and come outside – the sunshine’s lovely.” And the gaps between the bricks of the things I know to be real, seemed to yawn wider as the bricks themselves lost colour in contrast to the gleaming vista beyond.
The sky there – the bright blue of a child’s transfer – was huge and full of endless promise. The sun sparkling on the impossibly perfect world, turning the sea into a carpet of glittering blue-mirror cats paws, caused the scent from meadows of wildflowers to waft tantalisingly through the cracks to reach me as I looked around at my small, gloomy room, knowing that my constant companions of grief and sorrow and burden would be easy to leave behind.
I closed the book before my fingers itched too much to tear down those walls and create a hole through which I could skip, pretending never to hear the faint snap (lost in wonder at the world before me) as the connection to The Immediate was broken.
I showered, trying to recapture the threads of my scattered thoughts and bring them back into the moment, hoping that the deluge of hot water would warm my core. I turned my face into the spray, wondering if the heat could transfer directly into my jugular and course throughout my being, bringing back feeling and a sense of the Now. I felt for the pools collecting in my collarbones and was faintly reassured by the touch of my own fingers – I was still real – I was still here.
Husby came to find me and ask how I was. I hesitated before telling him “I feel a bit displaced. A bit surreal.” He implied that the late night followed by the sadness of reality probably hadn’t helped. I agreed, turned off the shower and shook a cloud of sparkling droplets away, casting off the remaining tendrils of the story, before stepping out slightly more grounded than before.
And once dressed in some semblance of normality, of normalcy, I wrote. Because in creating the words I can hope to contain the thoughts, to take them, like butterflies, and pin them to the corkboard of the page, where I can admire their intricacy and beauty without having my vision clouded by their masses, or my mind wafted away in the iridescence of their finely crafted wings.
If this isn’t how you experience books, feel free to skip past this and come back another day. You can congratulate yourself on the strength and immensity of the walls of your mind, if you like. But if you understand this, pay heed. Because books are funny things sometimes, and in the darkness of days filled with perpetual rain, losing yourself in them (especially a new and yet untried story) might not always be the best idea, however enticing.
Because there’s sometimes the chance you mightn’t be able to get back.