Ordinary morning sounds from outside drift into the room where I am working. Birdsong. A car being parked. The noise of distant traffic. I notice that the sun is starting to brighten, casting dark shadows across the garden of my neighbours, into which I stare from my workroom. There is a single robin on their apple tree, marking out its territory with both of its tiny lungs.
Though I have been here for an hour or so, I suddenly realise that the room is spotless. Not just tidy, the books and notebooks and papers all in their places, but actually clean, free of dust.
‘It’s a symbol,’ the book says from behind me.
‘Where did you come from?’ I say.
‘I was here all along. I just thought I’d watch for a while. Until you noticed. You’re welcome, by the way.’
‘You mean it was you?’
‘As always.’ The book lets out a little sniff.
‘It’s great. Thank you. You didn’t need to, you know.’
‘That’s what I came to chat to you about,’ the book says.
‘Meaning?’ I say.
‘What it means,’ the book says. ‘As I say. It’s a symbol.’
‘Does it have to be?’ I say. ‘Can’t it just be what it is: nice and tidy?’
‘Oh, it’s much more than that,’ the book says. It sniffs again, gives itself a scratch. ‘I think you’ll find,’ it begins, ‘I think you’ll find it means we’re done. Or rather you are. We are. Whatever.’
‘What do you mean, ‘done’?’ I say. ‘You mean finished?’
‘I wouldn’t go as far as ‘finished’. I mean done.’
‘Done-done,’ I say, ‘or just done-for-the-time-being-done?’
‘I mean done. Really-done.’
‘Really-done?’ I say. ‘You’ve never said that before.’
‘I know,’ the book says. ‘That’s why I tidied. To let you know.’
I close the lid of my laptop, stand up and give myself a stretch. ‘Shall I make some coffee to celebrate?’ I say. ‘I could even buy some buns. Your favourites?’
‘What are you doing?’ the book says. ‘Just because I said we’re done doesn’t mean there isn’t work to do. There’s always work to do.’
‘But I thought you said -‘
‘I did,’ the book says. ‘But that’s not the same thing as having permission to skive off the rest of the day. I don’t believe you sometimes.’
‘I’m going out,’ I say. ‘To buy some buns.’
‘You’ll regret it,’ the book says. ‘You know you will.’
‘Just tell me,’ I say. ‘How can I be done and still have work to do?’
‘You’ll have to work it out for yourself,’ the book says. ‘Now, are you still making that coffee?’