The answers to the questions were within and scattered around him. They hid on scraps of paper, in notebooks and pads. He scribbled them down in earnest, never to be read again. Or worse to be read again through the tired eyes of one who had forgotten. One who no longer recognised them.
He wrote his name down on a piece of paper each day and hid it within saffron pages. The answer would always be in the books. He had only to select an edition to find himself again. But soon it was not only his name, but places, people, poems, verse, prose. Scraps became sheets, essays, novellas. Folded pieces of paper within pages, a vellum city, which he tiptoed around at night, as the towers swayed in his presence.
In autumn light, he would shuffle from room to room, his hands filled with lined sheets, folded notes, envelopes stuffed with precious words that he struggled up foot stools and ladders to preserve. Sometimes he unwittingly returned quotes to the very books they originated from. He nestled his thoughts and rumination between the very pages that had inspired them almost instinctively. Inside them he preserved the part of himself he wished to keep immortal.
There had been a time when their wisdom had been entrusted to his memory. The wisdom of his books would be effortlessly shared over wine. He would amaze friends and guests with his ability to orienteer himself around the dizzying collection that enshrined them, even in a haze of alcohol. He knew where each word lay.
Lovers teased him for living like an old man before his time. Friends patiently navigated tomes and limited editions like weary parents who had asked a child to clear away his play things for the last time. Family urged him to assemble shelves, offered Swedish names and their able hands to help contain the chaos he was constructing. He would laugh and refuse. It would not be the same, neatly filed onto shelves. He took comfort in the rustling of loose leaves, felt at peace in the nest of knowledge he had constructed for himself.
As time passed the laughter, visits faded like pencil on paper. He struggled to remember the words he treasured so much, tracing sentences with his fingers, mouthing words like desperate prayers to his mind. The edges of his memory yellowed and became brittle. Fragile. The comfort once offered by the origami city he had constructed turned into a torment. A monument to a fading glory. He gave up the spoken word for written ones hoping to seal them what remained inside him and preserve what remained in the books that he loved.
His mind was treacherous. It tottered and wobbled, escaped him when he most needed it. Made him look like a fool. Books wouldn’t betray him. But even after each memory had been filed away and his untrustworthy synapses had been replaced with rice paper, he would waver like the towers around him. His handwriting became unfamiliar. The words foreign in his mouth. He became lost for them and in the ensuing panic would scribble and squirrel away prose within the pages of once majestic pine. Then he would pine for the thoughts he had misplaced.
His mind housed ghostly voices that drowned his own, too scared and unsure of himself to decide whether to believe one or the other. His faith in himself was unshakeable, until shaken. His mind an Oak, admired for its strength and presence, now it trembled with a breeze, falling memories pooled around him, leaving him feeling old and bare. Which book now housed his childhood? What edition had he selected for his lost love stories?
His name was on the tip of his tongue, but never to leave his lips and he looked around in a panic, at the silent books that towered around him. Bullies keeping his most precious possessions from him. Playing keep away with memories he had treasured. Or at least this was the story he had told himself, feverishly written down and drunkenly espoused to strangers, who politely nodded before helping him home to sit in the shadow of his fading thoughts.
One morning he awoke and nothing was left inside. Empty of words, empty of thoughts, He fell to the ground like a useless draft, balled up and carelessly tossed across a room. The books towered over him. Solemn. Pitying. His sobs shook the room. A collection by Rumi was the first to fall, tumbling carelessly between wavering stacks. They rocked and swayed nudging each other until like dominoes they toppled. His anguished moan was greeted with a confetti of quotes, poems and nostalgia. As they thundered down he remained prostrated at the feet of his once immense knowledge. His name was restored to the world, blanketed in books. His last breath raised the first quote that he’d ever memorised before it came to rest on his lips.
” Life is a balance between holding on and letting go.”
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