The Book…

 

Part 3

Lowell, Massachusetts, May 14, 1969

 

Johnny Leary was desperate now. He needed a fix real soon. Even though his body was letting him know he desperately needed food and rest, Johnny didn’t care. The shaking and the cold sweats would subside if he could get one more hit he told himself. Just one more, and then I’ll go straight. It was a promise Johnny had made many times before, usually on days like today when he had all of $5 in his pockets. His ‘job’ at the bar would not be paying him again for another week so he knew he had to come up with something. He looked around his ramshackle apartment for more things he could pawn. His eyes glanced towards the stack of books in the corner.  It was not always like this of course, and when he was younger his mom had read to him at an early age all kinds of books. She took special delight in delicately pulling out the older books, which she explained to him had belonged to the grandfather he had never met. “It’s not just the words inside the books that tell a story” she had told him. “Sometimes the books themselves have a story.” For a while he treasured the books as well. Mom never minded when he borrowed them in those days because she knew they always found their way back to the bookshelves. Eventually though, marked gaps in those rows of books started appearing. “I’ll bring them next time,” Johnny always promised when she asked him, but gradually she realized they would not when she saw the condition he was in with every new visit.

These days, Johnny could give two shits about things of sentimental value like old books. In all honesty he did not even think about his mom that much since the last Christmas at her house, when disappointed with his behavior she had told him not to come back until he had straightened himself out. Whatever the hell that meant, Johnny had thought, I’m perfectly fine, she’s the one that has a problem with me. As he scanned the room he started making a pile of the things he thought could get him a few bucks. Records he had bought as little as a year ago, a fishing pole his dad had given him when he was fourteen, a plywood guitar he had once happily strummed along to the Beatles with. And the books. He grabbed them indiscriminately, not even pausing to see which titles they were.

Johnny Leary was desperate now. He needed a fix real soon. He packed everything in a box and headed out the door…

 

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The Book…

Part 2

Harwich, Massachusetts, August 29, 1954

What to take, what to take? Susan Leary was frantically looking around her small cottage trying to decide what treasured possessions to put in the car. A storm was coming. A big storm potentially that the authorities were naming ‘Carol’. It had been two years since Susan made the move from Boston to Harwich, having accepted a teaching job after her father’s passing.  The Cape was beautiful during the summer and it was relaxing being near the ocean. It had been a good decision on her part to take a job away from the city, but oh those Cape Cod winters!  Cold, bleak and empty save for the rest of the full time residents. Still she wanted a challenge, and being a 28 year old teacher living on her own in a small town most of the year (until the summer vacationers started pouring in) was a good fit. If she had stayed in Boston, people in the neighborhood would have no doubt started murmuring about being 28 and unmarried. Perhaps they did in Harwich too, but after suffering so much loss in her life, she frankly could care less. Everything had changed since the war. What she did was her own business.

In some ways she was ready for a fresh start after her father had passed away. The nightmare of selling the house and most of its contents had worn her out. Most of the furniture she sold outright, keeping a few pieces with her to Harwich. Of course she kept a lot of old photographs of the family in happier times, and some odd trinkets here and there. The porcelain tea set, a pearl necklace that had been her mom’s favorite, but not much more in truth. Something about having lived through the war years made her more frugal about possessions. All the government sponsored drives for the war effort had done that. She recalled the scrap metal drives, and calls to conserve everything from rubber to paper. All for the war effort. The one thing from the house that she kept complete were the books. Most she had not read yet, though she was making progress with them on those cold Cape Cod winters.  Some were her brother’s books, the ones she had seen her father perusing that night years before. Others had belonged to her father, some going back to his youth. Dusty, delicate volumes that he had always kept in a particular order, which she had done her best to replicate in her cottage. She remembered how many boxes they had all needed to get them here. But she knew that deep down, the books were what her father would have wanted her to keep.

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The Book…

One weekend recently I was going through some old books on my shelves.  Some are  very old books bequeathed to me, while others were purchased over the years in various used bookstores where I have happily spent many hours on a rainy afternoon. Usually I have a general idea of the type of book I am looking for-maybe an Agatha Christie mystery or a PG Wodehouse comedy, or some account from an explorer traveling the world.  Even if I don’t find any of those,  the pleasure is in the browsing and inevitably I bring home some old gem. One thing I realized  though is that it isn’t always the book itself that makes it a gem. Sometimes it is what happens when you open the cover.

Something my wife and I have always done when we give one another books at special occasions is to write a note just inside the cover. It gives that book a reference in time, and a marker of sorts of the things you were interested in that particular year. But as I open the cover on those old books, and see similar notes sometimes from decades ago,  I often wonder about who those people were. What did that particular aging book, delicately held in my hands all these years later, mean to them at the time as a brand new one? What did it signify about their lives at the time?  Or even, where did they live, and where was the book purchased? I also thought that books are a bit like currency, They can sometimes travel far and wide, changing cities, states, even countries on a whim. It is of course impossible to really know, but I had an idea to write a bit of fiction based on that idea. Almost thinking if that book could speak, what story would it tell. There is no music in this post, just a bit of imagination.  So gather round, while I tell a little story…

The Book-Five Great Modern Irish Plays

Published By-The Modern Library, 1941

The Dedication-(Undecipherable) November 26, 1945

 

Boston, Massachusetts-November 26, 1945

Susan Leary was fretting. Today was her father’s birthday and she wanted to give him something special. There had not been much cause for celebration in recent years, both as a nation and for their family. For any family actually. But with the signing of Japan’s formal surrender on September 2nd, life was slowly starting to become bearable again. Bearable in that the first topic of conversation was no longer ‘the war’. Bearable in that the official letters stopped coming announcing that someone else’s son or neighbor had been killed in combat on some far off battlefield.

Such a letter had come in their family. Susan’s only sibling, her older brother James had perished at the Battle Of Monte Cassino in January of 1944. Though it had not quite been two years yet, it seemed like a lifetime ago now since the news arrived. Susan was devastated, but everyone throughout the entire country was as well. No family was left unscathed. Her father (also a James, but affectionately referred to as Jimmy Sr) was characteristically stoic when the news came, no doubt a result of his own service in World War I, but since the wars end Susan noticed small bursts of emotion occurring. A wistful far away look at a family portrait taken in happier times, before Susan’s mom had passed away. An ‘excuse me for a moment’ retreat to the bathroom when someone made a seemingly innocent comment about the house being quiet. Those were all understandable to Susan, but one evening, when she thought he had gone to bed, she realized he was in James’ room, perusing books that had remained untouched since he had shipped out. This was a different sort of behavior.

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Picture This- “Come On, Let’s Go”

 

 

“Hurry up”, she said.

“Why?” he said

“We need to get there now” she said

“What’s the rush?” he said.

“The train leaves soon”, she said.

“Which train?” he said.

Suddenly she stopped dead in her tracks, contemplating the question. Which train should they take? All around them were hundreds of commuters scrambling around. Some glancing at their watches and cursing inwardly that they were late for work, dodging and weaving through the crowd like Olympic sprinters. Others keeping a firm hand on their lifeblood of coffee in one hand, and the folded up newspaper in the other. Mothers with strollers charging like bulldozers through the crowd. Tourists with all manner of cameras gazing upwards and firing off shots. Seniors doing their best to avoid being run into.

As people moved past in swarms around them, some brushing and bumping into these two solitary stationary targets among this sea of movement she suddenly smiled and turned towards him.

“It doesn’t matter”, she said.

“We can go anywhere we want today”, her smile even larger now as she headed towards the ticket machine.

“Come on, let’s go.”

This was inspired by The Thought Card’s  Picture This Challenge. You can find out more about the challenge here

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle

 

Picture This-The Ship

Picture this: You are on a pier, walking towards your past..

Slowly he made his way towards the pier.  A lifetime of being at sea brought with it aches and pains throughout his body. All he wanted now was to see the ship. His ship. The ship he had sailed on for years. Through stormy seas and snow and ice to calm oceans in tropical waters the ship had weathered it all. He thought of the men he had served with through the years, salty old dogs like him who had signed up for adventure and then realized it was really a glorious hell they were all a part of. He thought of the exotic ports of call he had seen with this ship-Hong Kong, Bombay, Cape Town, Santiago. He thought about how times changed and gradually people stopped using old ships like this, replaced by more modern and streamlined vessels. Oh he tried working those alright, but they were more of a machine. His ship was alive, the way it moved. The way it sounded, creaking and groaning like his old body did now. Suddenly he was standing in front of her again even though she was trapped within the concrete and steel of the pier like a prisoner. It made him sad to think that is how people now would remember her. An artifact, a memento of a by-gone era. After one last look, he slowly turned around and made his way back towards the street. Who would remember the ship the way she was? For that matter, who would remember him now?

This was inspired by The Thought Card’s  Picture This Challenge. You can find out more about the challenge here

Follow Me on Facebook-https://www.facebook.com/SoundtrackPhoto

Follow Me On Twitter-https://twitter.com/SoundtrackPhoto

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle