Dec 22 2016

With his bronze skin, bronze hair, and bronze eyes, John looks like he belongs amongst the long pale grasses all around us. When people say bronze they usually mean tan, but I don’t. With his ease handling the horses earlier, and his natural strength as I rest against him now, he seems like a living sculpture of some nature deity. With our picnic things packed away and resting on our rug, this seems like the perfect day and I want it to never end. “Tell me a story John,” I say. “Alright,” he says, trailing his fingertips along my temple.

“It’s about a girl who works in a bookstore. She likes helping people find books, but her job isn’t as easy as people think. Some people are nice, but others aren’t, and because of the people who aren’t nice to her, she starts feeling like she deserves better than what her job can offer her. She came to work in the bookstore because she loves reading, but sometimes she feels like the work she’s doing isn’t helping her to love books as much as she used to.

“One day when she’s putting away some books into an excess stock room she notices a crack in the way between the sales floor and the stock room, between a bookcase and a wall. She pushes at the wall a bit and to the left of the crack she finds another doorway to another part of the bookstore that she never noticed before. She tries to figure out whether she’s ever known or been told about this part of the bookstore, but she thinks that it must be lost or undiscovered. She can’t explain why it’s there, because nobody seems to know about it. Or at least if they know about it she doesn’t know that they know.

“She slides through the doorway and walks down an aisle lined with bookshelves filled with books she’s never seen before, and they’re all more interesting than the books in the store. She wants to read them. Further down the aisle, there’s another door between the bookshelves, and inside is an apartment with everything she could want. She wouldn’t normally snoop but she can’t help looking around, because she feels as though she’s meant to be there. There’s a little bathroom and a little kitchen with a refrigerator stocked with fresh, delicious food. There’s a comfortable sofa just long enough to sleep on and a desk at a window that looks out on a pretty scene very much like the field we’re in now. On the desk is a placard with her name on it, as though she’s the boss of something. But her name is Jane and she thinks it’s a pretty common name so it could be some other Jane.

“She wants to stay there and read all of the fascinating books that are better than the books in the known store, and allow them to inspire her to write works that would have a place amongst them. But she decides not to, because her books would become lost in the unknown part of the store, and because even if they didn’t, people in the known store and wider world wouldn’t know what she was writing about – the contents of her books would be too related to all of these other mysterious books that nobody else had read.

“Then that’s the end of the story,” says John. I don’t say anything. “Did you like it?” he asks.

“Yeah, I liked it,” I say. I’m telling the truth. Besides which, I enjoyed getting told a story by a handsome man. “But I don’t know about whether Jane would have really returned to the regular world. I think that maybe she would have wanted to stay in the unknown part of the bookstore. I’m not sure whether the works she could have written away from there would have been as valuable as the works inspired by the unknown store.”

“I admit, I told the story that she should come back because I want you with me, Jane,” says John. “But what I told you is just a story, and in real life she would need to choose for herself.”

“But maybe she wouldn’t write anything at all if she went back to the regular store. Maybe she doesn’t have time except for that little apartment in the other bookstore world,” I say.

“I don’t know, Jane,” says John, smiling and shrugging, “I hope she somehow would still write.”

I feel longing, as though I were Jane and I will never know whether I had made the right decision. The day has turned cold, and we pick up the picnic rug and toss the crumbs off it.

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