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It was great back then on the bedside table waiting for him to come home. I could hear the alarm clock beside me tick, could count the seconds, knowing that each one brought him closer to the bedroom and closer to me.

In the morning he’d brush the dust off me before going to work, lay me down gently making sure my cover didn’t pop up too much. If the back opened he’d put my front face up; if the front opened the back got the same treatment.

He’d care for me and every last page, keep me away from cups of tea on the coaster next to the alarm clock, make sure, when I went into his bag, that my cover wouldn’t catch on a zip or end up dogeared. He would place me in carefully, lovingly, and run his fingers over my covers hoping that as I’d gone in none of my pages had been damaged.

And when he’d read me, he’d stroke my spine with his thumbs and fingers, hold me firmly but deliberately, taking care to open me enough so he could read but not so much that he would break it.

One day I remember, after I’d  been living on the bedside table for a while, the ridge between his thumb and index finger left a dark smudge across the bottom of  a ream of my pages and he immediately went to the bathroom to wash his hands.

He was distraught – I could see it in his face – but then I didn’t mind. I was happy, in fact, that he’d been so engrossed in me that he’d forgotten about what I was and how he wanted to treat me, how he wanted me to look. The blemish was a symbol. It lessened me in his eyes. I was no longer perfect, but for me it was a sign of love that the words on my wide pages could have had such an effect on him.

He forgot I was a book then and we were one. He was reading me, writing me, living me. The blemish was love just as much as they way he’d put me in his bag was love, the way he’d always sweep crumbs off the table in a cafe before laying me down was love, the way he’d wipe off any condensation that had dripped off a beer in a pub was love.

It was love.

I saw it in his face when he’d come home, eager to relieve me from the ticks of the alarm clock, the coaster and the other books that sometimes sat on top of me to protect me from dust and to keep my covers flat and touching the title page or final page, the final page that he never managed to get to, though he flicked to it often, reading the final sentence, knowing that it wouldn’t give away any plot details, only show that the book was complete, that the ending was memorable and would linger long in his mind afterwards, so much so that when I went back on the shelf with his other books I would only stay there a little while before he’d take me down and read me again, delve into my pages like I was a friend he’d missed or a lover he couldn’t bear to be parted from.

None of which happened. Because he didn’t finish me. Or even put me back on the shelf. He’d read me, but the more he read, the more he would flick through my pages, open me up to where the bookmark lay then rest his thumbs on the reams of pages either side of the marker and flick back and forth, back and forth, making me flap and flutter and snap.

He’d read a sentence here, a line there, a paragraph or two, sometimes a page then stop and flick and look at the smudge on my pages then at the other books on his shelves. I longed for him to look down. I did my best to keep my words in his line of sight, but he was too distracted, too impatient to be done with me.

He’d stop halfway through chapters, paragraphs, sentences and turn the radio on or pick up his laptop. His grip on me would grow slack and the eagerness to finish an entire chapter before setting me aside would leave his fingers.

None of which I could do anything about it. I was desperate. I wanted him to remember the way he’d brushed the dust off me, the way he’d carefully put me in his bag. I wanted him to think of the hours we’d spent together, but I couldn’t do a thing. Nothing at all.

And when he’d come home he would no longer rush for me, pick me up, caress me. No. He’d go for the books on top of me instead, the ones he’d used to weigh down my covers. He’d look at them, read the blurb and the reviews, flick through them, read the opening and closing sentences until eventually a bookmark appeared in one of them and I knew I was lost.

It went first in one then another book, shorter books, lighter books, books he could hold with ease, books with stories that meant he couldn’t read the last sentence because it would give the plot away. This while I languished and gathered dust.

Periodically he’d pick me up, dust me down, read a few sentences here and there, but he never gripped me again like he did when he was reading me, like he’d done when I’d been the new book on his shelf, the book he’d picked up so excitedly in the bookshop knowing that he’d been searching for me for years, knowing that I’d be the one, the great book that he could fall in love with and read again and again, the book he could tell his friends about knowing full well that none of them had read me or ever would, especially considering everything they read was so obvious.

Yes. He’d rushed me home, devoured my blurb again and again, picked me up even when  he still had another book to finish. He’d take me to the toilet to get to know me, my title page, my date of publication, my contents, my brilliant and memorable opening lines, though in the end I wasn’t the one.

I was a fad and one that probably lasted shorter than I think. I was a passing phase and now I’m here, unloved, forgotten, covered in dust, the corners of my covers dogeared and wrinkled, my spine snapped, my whole being suffused with a dry, aging, dying smell.

In the end I was glad to go, glad to see the back of that awful bookmark he’d given me once he’d set me aside, an old train ticket, to where hardly matters, just in case he came back to me. As if.

No one picks me up now. My pages are yellow. My words unread. People pick me up once in a while, but it won’t be long now before I’m pulped or sent to a charity shop to be held by grubby old fingers and bought on a whim by someone who likes the pink of my cover and is easily swayed by glowing reviews, yet knows nothing of my contents. Someone who’ll give up on me before they’ve even started and send me to another charity shop where all I’ll have is the memory of his thumb and index finger sweating a smudge into my pages, his mind lost in me and my words.

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4 thoughts on “The Recognitions by William Thomas Gaddis

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