‘Ex libris’

I’m in love. It’s a feeling I’m used to. It’s like coming back to an old bedroom, and the sheets and the wallpaper are the same. But it’s dusty, and I know that someone else has been here. Who was she?

It’s not that face to face, passionate kind of love, no. It’s something more akin to companionship. When you have your eyes closed and you know someone’s there with you, and maybe they’re humming, or whistling quietly through their teeth, or knitting – click click click the needles go – that’s how it feels. And you don’t want to open your eyes in case it makes them disappear.

I’m turning the pages with reverence. They’re thick between my fingers, and it’s like we’re holding hands again after all this time. The texture of their criss-cross fibres casts shadows in the low afternoon light. Here, rising from the string-bound spine, is where I find the smell I love: of vinegar, floorboards, being lost. The pages curve gently, their warm yellowness like the flank of a dun pony. They don’t make paper like this any more.

As I’m reading, I smell something else: someone else. Someone I can’t see. The air before me becomes floral, but it’s not the fresh, vibrant smell of gardens – it’s dried petals, stale perfume, lavender soap. She rises from pages forty-five and forty-five six like a whisper escaping. But when I lean in, all I get is the acidic smell of the page.

It’s ok, we can read it together, I say. It’s my favourite book too. I sit back, and she returns, and we do.