Padding down the stairs to make my mid-morning coffee, I become aware of a large black bag lying in the hall. It looks exactly like the one my son uses for his trips. But he only left the other day. He couldn’t be back this early, could he?
I call his name into the silence, knowing he will not reply.
I should have known better, of course. Reaching the hall and stabbing the door to the sitting room with my slipper, I see the book sprawled on the sofa, behind a newspaper. A fire has been lit, and, though it is still early, a large glass of whisky perched on the coffee table.
The only sound is of logs catching fire in the log burner, its ticking. The newspaper collapses itself, revealing a very suited-and-booted-looking book, its hair combed and shiny. There is a faint whiff of aftershave.
‘Will you join me?’ the book says.
‘Bit early for me,’ I say.
‘Sit anyway,’ the book says.
I sit. ‘I was on my way to make coffee.’
‘Sure,’ the book says, looking at me. ‘Do you still keep those biscuits I like?’
Setting the tray on the coffee table, I regard the book for a moment. I can feel a speech coming. One of us is going to make a speech, and it is not going to be me.
The book gives a cough, frowns, pretends to find something to clean on its nails. ‘Before I begin -‘ it says.
‘I know,’ I say. ‘I know what you’ve come to say. The suit. The bag in the hall. It’s goodbye, isn’t it?’
The book goes on rubbing at its nail.
It stops abruptly and looks up at me, its eyes misting. ‘There is nothing more to be done,’ it says. ‘I think from here you’re on your own.’ There is a long silence. We cradle our coffee cups like strangers. ‘When you’re ready, you’ll know,’ the book says. ‘You could be ready now.’ Its eyes dart at me. ‘Or never. Either way, it’s over to you now. My work is done. Give my love to the new book. When it comes.’ It says again: ‘When it comes,’ then gives me a smile.
Standing to go the book says ‘Do you have the book?’ Seeing my incomprehension it says ‘For visitors? I need to sign.’ I fetch the book the book.
‘When did I arrive?’ the book says, unscrewing its pen.
‘I don’t remember,’ I say. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Not to worry,’ the book says, scribbling. ‘I’ve thought of something.’
The book hands me the book, pockets its pen, and reaches for its whisky, which it downs in one gulp. ‘To the new book,’ it says. ‘I will see myself out.’ The book slings the bag over its shoulder and marches to the door. There is a slight pause as it stands with its hand on the lock.
I open the book to see what it has written. ‘From your friend the book. Always.’