May 21, 2012 by David Gillaspie
This was my entry to NPR’s contest. It didn’t win. This one did. Feedback appreciated.
The Burned Book
She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. The question ‘why’ formed on James’ lips, but she couldn’t see it as she passed by.
From his seat, LaSherie looked the same as she did the last time she walked down their burl-paneled hallway. Her act wasn’t tired, just predictable. A gold framed elevator waited on a distant wall.
“Tell me again,” he called after her, “what happened to the first book?”
He knew what happened, had an idea what happened, but he didn’t say so. She burned the book.
“I give you a serious book. The book my uncle was born to write, the book he lived to write, and you kill it?” he said.
The kill shot slopped her. Killing anything hurt the most to mention. She never admitted killing anything, yet killed as much as anyone. It’s a tightrope few navigate outside the Circe du Soliel tent. They walk on anything but air, and they’re still working on that, but not her. She doesn’t even use a net.
“I killed a book?” she said. “That’s what happened? That’s what you tell people, our friends? I killed it?”
When she linked question after question book-ended by the same question, it meant a rough night.
Their divorce was different than most. To begin with, they never bothered getting married. It was their little secret, but it didn’t change the pain of their separations.
One time, she took the tradition of Arab men when she screamed to the four corners of the compass rose the last time, “I DIVORCE YOU, I DIVORCE YOU, I DIVORCE YOU,” pirouetting, something you won’t find Saudi Royals practicing, before her final, “I DIVORCE YOU.”
Good dancing doesn’t make a divorce legal, but she did it well.
“That book came dead on arrival. Unless you’ve got another story, the one you gave me killed itself.”
That’s how it was with her. Everything killed itself. The shrub she mistook for a cactus; the yard when the moss she planted took over; the frog in the hose bucket that crunched under her shoe.
“I don’t expect you to understand. Some books take years to produce, decades,” he said. “You still don’t get it. Some books are once in a lifetime. Maybe two. But not to you. I know what you did.”
She looked less than amazed.
“Did I cut a book up into tiny pieces one snip at a time? Did I soak it in kerosene and torch it? What did I do?”
“Are we still talking about a book, or did you switch lanes from bad librarian to relationship without signaling?” he said.
“Did I drag it behind my car until pages flew off a broken spine? Did I beat it with chains and spit on it until it turned to pulp?”
Words shot across the room, her arms waving like a drunk in a western saloon shooting six-guns. He smoothed his shirt and pulled his jacket flat.
This was their game, firing gun-shot words that bounce off each of them. It was their way, a self-guided path of least destruction. He pretended to write. She pretended to hate what he wrote. He found inspiration in her Virginia Wolfe-like outbursts. She found refuge in his Leonard.
Before reaching their elevator, again, she walked back through the door, and opened the book on the table.
“Your grandmother burned the other one,” she said.
She felt his arms circle her waist, his hands locked in front of her.
“I know. It was a bad book. But burning? You decide.”