‘Where have you been?’
‘Out,’ I say.
‘You were out for a long time,’ the book says. ‘Days.’
‘I was away. Then I came back and went away again and came back and went away. I didn’t think I needed to tell you.’
‘You never tell me anything any more.’
‘Stop using words like ‘never’.’
‘Not a squeak. I seek him here, I seek him there…’
‘Is something the matter?’ I say. ‘You seem upset. Even by your standards.’
‘Thank you very much,’ the book says.
‘Do I need to tell you everything?’
‘It would be nice,’ the book says. It looks at me for a moment. ‘It would be polite.’
‘Since when has politeness got to do with what we do?’
‘I just thought -‘
‘I’ve started a new book,’ I say. ‘There, I’ve said it.’ There is a long silence. The book jingles something in its pocket, keys or loose change.
‘I see,’ the book says, finally. ‘And you were going to tell me this when?’
‘When you needed to know. And you need to know now.’
‘But you haven’t finished me yet!’
‘That’s true, yes,’ I say. ‘But it doesn’t mean I can’t start thinking about the next one.’
The book looks at me again. ‘Am I in it?’
‘You’re already in this one.’
‘When? When did you know?’
‘I can’t remember really. I was talking to someone, or looking at the sunset I think. And I just knew. I realised that I had come to the end of one thing and needed to begin another. It’s something I’ve been putting off actually. I’ve been talking myself out of it for years. I’m not really ready to begin it, but I suddenly realised I just needed to crack on with it. To plunge in and see what happens.’
‘Isn’t that a bit risky? Aren’t you afraid?’
‘I am always afraid,’ I say. ‘The trick is to start before the fear can take hold.’
‘You’re worse than I thought you were,’ the book says.
‘I would never have started you if I’d listened to the fear. Think of it, you wouldn’t exist.’