Her mom had always called it the “magic book,” and growing up it would appear anytime people were sick or stuck in bed for any reason. The magic book contained poetry, prose, recipes, incredibly simple but beautiful drawings of foxes and squirrels and toadstools. It was easy to believe it really was a magic book because just the sight of it would have her feeling better, the anticipation of a woodland story to take her mind off her ills.
All grown up now and still feeling very much a child, she’s going through all her parents things, it must be done, and it falls to her. It’s all just stuff. The smell of her childhood is no longer on these things, they just smell musty, unwashed, the clothes are easily bagged and given to the thrift store. With the exception of the occasional bowl or mug, the kitchen is swiftly dispatched to the thrift store as well. She ought to hold a garage sale but that would take too much out of her. The thrift store runs are smooth, and the furniture she can sell to an antique store that was more than willing to give her a price that included all of it except the books.
“No one buys books anymore,” she is told.
The antique store will be there tomorrow to pick everything up, so the books must be dealt with, the shelves must be empty, the drawers, the nightstands. She is digging through every title, every leather bound and cloth bound edition. Most are going into boxes for donation to the local library which, thankfully, is happy to have them for their upcoming book sale. An occasional volume is stacked near her purse, a book she’s always wanted to read but never taken the time, The Painted Veil, The Screwtape Letters, The Art of War.
She remembers the magic book before she ever finds it. Begins searching for it subconsciously, no longer stacking books near her purse but throwing every book that is not the magic book into boxes. Faster and faster they are tossed, she’s no longer reading titles or checking bindings. She can tell immediately that this book is not it, nor this one, and into the box they go. She’s becoming frantic but is unaware. Her face now contorted by panic, by need, by an overwhelming sadness at the loss of her mother, which is suddenly there with her. The loss.
She begins crying, a copy of Eudora Welty’s The Optimists Daughter in one hand. She has been delaying this. The crying. Not at first, the delaying, that is. At first there were no tears, this was the thing she’d known was coming, if the timing was a mystery. And now it’s happened and she’s here and suddenly there’s nothing to say, nothing more to do once the books are delivered and the furniture removed. The house will be sold by a realtor, the money forgotten in a bank account somewhere, perhaps coming in handy in the event of one of life’s unexpected turns. There’s nothing left to require her attention except the absence.
Surrounded by her grief, her tears having ruined the book in her hands, she stands, slowly, as the though the arthritis affecting her mother was now hers. She lets the book slip onto her pile as she passes her purse and heads towards the kitchen. A cup of tea ought to help, she thinks, as she takes her mug from this mornings coffee and fills it with water.
She is about to set the mug, now full of tap water and a tea bag, into the microwave when she becomes aware that the microwave isn’t quite flat. It has been set on something to boost it up higher in the cabinet, to allow the door to swing freely open. She places the mug on the counter and attempts to life the microwave with one hand, pulling the thing out from underneath it with the other.
And there it is. The book. The magic book. She feels she ought to laugh, to be surprised by this find, yet she’s sure the book was waiting for precisely this time to appear.