I have given myself the afternoon off. I have sat for hours in good faith at my desk, all in the cause of a couple of meagre sentences. I deserve a treat, I tell myself. ‘A walk into town,’ I hear myself say.
I check to see if the book wants to come, but there is no reply.
I do all the usual things: walk the long way by the river, sit on Cathedral Green breathing in the silence, take myself out for a coffee. I think about jotting something in my notebook, only to realise I haven’t brought it with me.
At which point I find myself in a second hand bookshop. I do all the usual things here too: check under S for Carol Shields and Helen Simpson, J for Jennifer Johnston and The Summer Book, M for Alice Munro, but there is nothing. The new books: nothing. Ditto the screenplays.
Thank God for the poetry. Today’s selection is not half bad. A Stephen Berg Selected, some Forward anthologies, a pristine Penguin Modern Poets.
And then me.
My own book. With my name on it.
‘Thought I’d find you here!’ The book clamps a large hand round my shoulder, nearly knocking me over in the process.
‘What are you doing here?’ I say.
‘Isn’t it obvious?’
‘But I thought you’d gone out. I called for you.’
‘Wasn’t in. Or might’ve been reading. Anyway, here we all are!’ The book rubs its hands together. ‘You could say it’s a turn up for the books!’ It is grinning right at me.
‘Is it signed?’ says the book.
‘I haven’t checked.’
‘Aren’t you going to? Go on. I dare you.’
I stand there, unable to move.
‘Give us it here,’ the book says.
There is a minor tussle as we play tug of war with the book.
‘Me first!’ I say. ‘I wrote it.’
‘It’s got my name on it!’ the book replies.
There is a polite cough behind us. A frail-looking woman in a yellow cardigan is staring at us over her spectacles. ‘Please could I ask you,’ she hisses, ‘to respect our property.’ She turns on her heels, leaving the pair of us speechless, each of us still with a hand on the book.
‘You go,’ I say.
‘Don’t start,’ I say.
‘OK,’ says the book. ‘OK.’ And then it does something I have never seen it do before. It closes its eyes and takes a deep breath. ‘Mindfulness,’ it says. ‘You should try it.’ It still has its eyes closed.
‘Well?’ I say.
The book opens one eye theatrically, mock-squinting down at my book.
‘It’s a rare one,’ it says. ‘Unsigned.’
‘May I see?’
The book passes my book to me.
I open it at random and begin reading. Not only do I not recognise the poem, I have no memory whatever of writing it.
I try another page. Exactly the same thing happens. I do not even remember the experiences the poem purports to be about. ‘This book is a fiction,’ I say. ‘A lie.’
I look round at the book for confirmation, but it has gone. The lady in the yellow cardigan is regarding me steadily, her spectacles now removed.
‘One of our more popular titles,’ she smiles. ‘I sold two just yesterday.’