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September 18, 2023

Books Ago

By Ian C. Smith

Silenced stories echoing in this wee cottage room, I shelve books, glimpsing faces from the past as if framed transiently in vehicles’ windows. Finishing Ds, Voices from the Moon, We Don’t Live Here Anymore, by a writer I love, the late Andre Dubus, I imagine his vivid characters old now, living edgily, doing their best, foundering hearts sore, spiralling bizarre events forcing them to their knees.

Liverpool the colour of lead after the Toxteth riots, streets naked, shops boarded up, the frigid air outside my tin-can car smelling of anthracite, heater ramped up, radio playing, not the Beatles, but Procul Harem’s big hit, I became relatively well-off, I mind-punned, simply having driven north from where I holed up in the Cotswolds sleuthing my shattered family’s heartbreaking tales.

Bad hip objecting, Ds just above carpet, I stagger upright recalling how Dubus’ death followed the loss of his leg after stopping to assist a driver in trouble. Constant rain, and moving from a larger place I thought would be my last, handling pre-loved books like keepsakes, has triggered this mood, a mix of returning to an earlier time when knee-deep in life, with an unshakeable morbid dread.

This downsizing into town tests my wavering nerve. I try to embrace the adventure, but though walled in by boxes of books, I feel exposed, an ageing knight in a cardboard castle, wonky-hipped. Britain’s pomp and history on hold, I squandered those overseas days working on my family’s battlefields, an amateur genealogist hefting Births, Marriages, and Deaths on the spoor of a woman who ditched her husband to marry another bigamously. I lived in unglamorous attic rooms then, but buoyed by the zest of chance, that beckoning from unheard voices, their past rites, led to meeting a dear scouse cousin, and more. This vast earth continuing to turn, I reach onward and upward into the Es.

Article © Ian C. Smith. All rights reserved.
Published on 2023-01-16
Image(s) are public domain.
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