I look at her, trying to figure out if she truly believes that. she can see my skepticism.
“I don’t know if that’s true,” she says. “But that is one thing we have to believe. do you hear me? learn how to believe that one.” she doesn’t let me speak. “Get the box,” she says. “We’re gonna start in the bathroom.”
We pack away his toothbrush and his hair gel. We pack his deodorant and his shampoo. It’s a small box of things that were only his. We shared so many of the things in here. susan smells the shampoo and deodorant and then throws them in with the other things.
“When you are ready, this is a throwaway box, right?” susan asks. “I mean, this is trash.”
I laugh. “yeah, that will be trash.”
We move on to the kitchen and desk area, where most of Ben’s stuff is also trash. We fill boxes and boxes of crap. I wonder if some of these things are being put right back into the boxes they came here in. We make our way back into the living room, and susan starts packing his books. she sees a collector’s set on one of the shelves.
“May I have this?” she says. “It took me months to convince him to read these books,” she said. “He wouldn’t believe me that young adult books can be great.”
I want them, but I want her to have them more. “sure,” I say. “you should take anything you want. He’d want you to have his things,” I say. “He loved those books, by the way. He recommended them to anyone that would listen to him.”
She smiles and puts them by the door as she finishes packing the rest of his young adult collection into boxes. “Is this a sell or a keep box, by the way?”
“I’m not sure yet,” I answer. she nods. she continues putting books into boxes until she is too exasperated. “Jesus Christ, how many young adult books can one person read?” she says.
I laugh. “He read them a lot. I mean, like one a week sometimes. and he refused to get them from the library. Which was annoying because I work at the library, but he insisted upon going to the bookstore and buying them. I’d bring them home and he’d just let them sit and collect dust until I returned them.”
She laughs. “that’s my fault,” she says. “When he was a kid, my one luxury was buying books. I never wanted to go to the library.”
She laughs again, embarrassed. “you’re gonna be mad.”
“I hate the way they smell, library books.”
“You are killing me, susan. Killing me.” I grab my chest and feign a heart attack.the way library books smell is the best smell in the world, other than the smell of the pillow I have trapped in a plastic bag.
“I know! I know! When Ben was a kid, he’d want to go to the library because they had board games and those chairs with the . . . what are they called? the chairs where they are like this big, soft ball . . . oh, damn it, what is the word?”
“Yes! He used to love sitting in beanbag chairs, and I would make him go to the bookstore with me instead so I could buy books that didn’t smell musty. totally my fault. I’m sorry.”
“You are forgiven,” I say, although I’m still hung up on the fact that she doesn’t like the smell of library books.
I got home and Ben was still in bed. He’d been staring at the ceiling for the past hour and a half. It took me forever to get to the rental place in that huge truck, and then I picked up his car that he left there and headed home, only to remember he wanted dinner. I picked up Mcdonald’s and made my way home.
“You okay?” I called out to him as I got into the apartment. “yeah, but I still can’t move that well,” he said.
“Well, you’ll be happy to know I almost crashed about four
Times in the damn truck going up laurel Canyon. Why do they let normal people drive those things?”
“I wouldn’t exactly say you’re normal,” he said. “But I understand your point.”
I put the bag of Mcdonald’s on the bed and helped him to get to a sitting position.
“I really think I should call the doctor,” I said.
“I will be fine,” he told me and started to eat. I followed suit, and when I was done, my fingers covered in salt, my mouth coated in grease, I took a big sip of my large soda. I lay back, finally resting after the long day. Ben turned on the television and said he wanted to watch something. then it all got fuzzy and I fell asleep.
I woke up the next morning to an empty bed.
“Ben?” I called out. He answered from the living room. I walked out there and found that a whole section of boxes had been unloaded.
“How are you feeling? are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he said. “as long as I stay upright and don’t twist, I feel fine.”
“I really think you should see a doctor. that doesn’t sound good.”
“Quit nagging me, wife,” he said and smiled. “Can I remove some of your dumb books? I want a place to put all of these,” he said. He gestured awkwardly to stacks and stacks of paperback books.
“Maybe we should just buy a new bookshelf,” I said.
“Or maybe you should donate some of these lame classics to the library. do we really need two copies of Anna Karenina?”
“Hey! It’s two different translations!” I said. “you can’t just come in here and throw my stuff out because you need room, you jerk!”
“I’m not saying we should throw it out,” he said. “Just . . . donate it.” He opened the book up and smelled it and then thrust his head away. “Owow!” he exclaimed and rubbed his back. “these books smell all old and gross, elsie. let’s at least get you some new books.”
I grab Anna Karenina out of his hand and put it back on my shelf. “I doubt your books smell all that great,” I said. “any book you have for a long time starts to smell of must. that’s how it works.”
“Yeah, but I don’t buy my books at used bookstores and flea markets,” he said. “I get ’em hot off the presses so they stay fresh.”
“Oh for heaven’s sake! Books aren’t bagels. they don’t go stale,” I said as I pulled one from the stack. It had a teenage girl standing in front of what appeared to be an oversize falcon. “seriously?” I said.
“let’s do a little experiment,” Ben said. “What’s Anna Karenina about?”
“It’s about a married aristocratic woman who falls in love with a count but she can’t—”
“I am falling asleep just listening to you. do you know what this book is about?” he asked me, grabbing the falcon-cover book from my hand. “this book is about a group of kids who are part human, part bird.” He said it plainly, as if the facts spoke for themselves. “this is a better book.”
“You haven’t even tried to read Anna Karenina. It’s an incredibly moving story.”
“I’m sure it is,” he said. “But I like my books to take place ‘in a world where . . . ‘”
“In a world where what?”
“Just in a world where . . . anything. In a world where love is classified as a disease. In a world where the government chooses your family for you. In a world where society has eliminated all pain and suffering. I love that kind of stuff.”
“That last one was The Giver,” I said. “right? you’re talking about The Giver?”
“If you tell me you don’t like The Giver, this relationship is over,” he said to me. “I have a zero tolerance policy on not appreciating The Giver.”
I smiled and grabbed his copy of The Giver. I opened it up and smelled the pages. “I don’t know . . .” I teased. “smells a little musty.”
“Hey!” he yelled, trying to pull the book away from me. But the pain was too excruciating. He was wincing and crying out. I took my keys off the table.
“Stand up,” I said. “We’re going to the goddamn doctor.” “not until you admit you loved The Giver,” he muttered.