This was originally written as a submission for publication in the soon-to-be-printed version of The Books They Gave Me. Turns out I missed the deadline by just under two weeks, but nonetheless I was really pleased with how this piece turned out.
. . .
Mr Blue was a book-seller, once upon a time. He worked part-time at several different chain stores across the city, his favourite one being the furthest away from his home – an independently-owned second-hand book shop hidden across the harbour by the name of Desire Books.
I first visited Desire on a unseasonably sunny winter day that just so happened to also be Mr Blue’s birthday. Neither of us had been scheduled to work for the whole day, so we celebrated this miracle by filling my car boot with an excess of unwanted books and taking a leisurely drive over to Desire Books. We were hoping to swap our pile for a new one of unread (by us) treasures, and on the way there we discussed which particular books we would like to return home with. I mentioned offhand that I’d like to find something by Anaïs Nin, an author whose existence I had only recently found out about but was instantly intrigued by. Mr Blue, who had of course already read most of the body of her work, assured me that I would definitely respond to her style of writing.
As I browsed Desire’s displays for new books to add to the tottering heap of to-be-reads on my bedside table, I took note of all the quirky details in this charmingly tiny store – the floral vintage fabric of the lampshades; the mismatched Scrabble tiles used to spell out each section of the shelves; the cluttered suburb bulletin board, layered with fading leaflets for local businesses. The small square stickers stuck on the back cover of every book to hide the defunct bar-codes, printed with the logo for Desire Books – a simple black and white illustration of a postage stamp, with a single striking word in its centre: Desire.
Eventually I re-joined Mr Blue at the front of the store with an armful of books, who was placing his selection down on the counter to finalise the exchange. I looked at his pile – on the top sat a lovingly weathered Penguin reprint of Little Birds by Anaïs Nin.
“Hey, you found her!” I exclaimed. “You’ll have to let me read it after you’re done.”
He stared blankly for a split-second, before correcting me with his soft introvert’s smile: “Oh, that one is for you.”
He had decided to use part of his exchange credit, on his birthday, to buy me that book.
Mr Blue loved me, once upon a time.
. . .
After almost four years in that foggy bliss, Mr Blue and myself broke up late last year. But I still own that copy of Little Birds.
Sometimes, when I can’t seem to shut off my brain for the night, I’ll crawl out of bed and pull the slender paperback gift from its spot in my bookshelf, hoping that Ms Nin’s warm cocoon of intimate words will lull me to sleep. And always, I will flip the book onto its back and lightly touch the sticker that Mr Blue had attached there so many years ago – a square of paper and glue still steadfastly holding on, even when he couldn’t: Desire.