‘What’s happening?’

’Nothing,’ I say.

’Doesn’t look like nothing,’ the book says. ‘It looks like you’re brooding. Are you brooding?’

’I’m fine,’ I say. ‘It’s nothing.’

’So you are brooding, then?’

’I’m fine,’ I say again. ‘It’s nothing.’

There is a long silence.

’How did you tell?’ I say eventually.

’Usual thing,’ the book says. ‘You were looking at pencils on the internet.’

’But I’m always doing that,’ I say.

’Then you’re clearly not in a good way,’ the book says. ‘Anything you want to talk about?’

There is another silence.

’Those books,’ I say.

’This is about a poetry book?’

’An American. I got rid of an American. I feel like I’ve crossed a line, broken one of my rules. I’ve always held on to them before.’

’An American. No point in asking which one?’

’I threw out most of their books, and kept just one. No, there isn’t.’

’May I ask which one?’

’The first one. From the early days, when everything seemed possible.’

There is a silence.

‘The first book of their’s I bought, I mean.’

’Not their best book, if I’m honest. You sure you kept the right one?’

’It’s not their best, you’re right. But it’s the one I love. You want to know why I kept it? It was the one I dropped in the bath. Plus I ordered it from a bookshop. The one on Northcote Road? Before you know who took over? I wanted to remember that.’

’This is all sounding a bit elegiac,’ the book says. ‘It was a book, not a person. Why d’you get rid of the rest of them?’

’The poems had made a kind of hole in my head and escaped,’ I say. ‘I wasn’t able to read them any more.’

’All because the book group hated them?’

’The book group hates everything.’

’So why then? How d’you get that hole? Who put it there?’

’Me,’ I say. ‘I put it there. I made the mistake of loving them too much. By the time I realised they were not the answer to everything I had been wanting to find in poetry, it was too late, I was hooked. I couldn’t back down. Except now I have. By sending them to Oxfam. I tell you, I’m not falling in love like that again.’

’You could have fooled me,’ the book says.

’Me neither,’ I say. ‘Me neither.’