That morning, the old plumber packed the tools into the two large plastic boxes and set them on the back seat of the old Volkswagen. After slamming the car door, he placed a book on the seat beside him.
He placed the book next to the tool boxes, bolted the village gate, got into the car, and headed downhill on the dusty, wide country road.
Entering the town by the lake, he passed the first cottages and turned the car left at the second major crossroads. He stopped in front of the biggest summer house in the neighborhood, took with him the things that he had put in the car in the morning and went inside.
“As I promised you the previous time, today I will only tighten the taps and install the auxiliary taps in the upstairs bathrooms. Now both your bathrooms are in perfect condition. All the other things are done, Madam. I hope you won’t need me again.”
The elderly woman that he addressed was the only person living in the house.
“As a thank you for the work, I brought you a gift.” From the little pocket of his work suit, he took out the book that increased the visual centimeters around his stomach. “While I was fixing the plumbing problems upstairs, the door at the bottom of the hall was open so I could see the many bookshelves you have there. I hope this novel adds to your already rich collection of covers and stacks of papers you keep in the room upstairs.”
“The author is domestic and still unknown but she knows how to transmit energies. To be honest, I haven’t read it. I am quoting the words of the bookseller who I bought it from for you last week.”
Without getting up from the chair, the older woman reached out and took the book. She looked at it for a few moments, then nodded a silent thanks.
Around two o’clock in the morning, the older woman still sat in the huge upholstered armchair. With dry fingers, she turned pages between the pastel covers of the novel.
She kept a notebook in her lap in which she wrote down notes from the book. On one of the sheets she wrote: “There are books that insist on changing your life.”
And a little further down on the sheet she wrote another sentence. “The most important thing is the fusion of energies between the reader and the storyteller. The compatibility between these two things spells out the code numbers for the fictitious-real connection between one and the other.”
She tore off the sheet of the notebook and stuck it between the covers of the book.
After half an hour, the only sounds in the dark living room were the old woman’s snoring and the quiet rustling of the pages. The draft from the open windows carelessly played chase with the pages in her hands and the hair on her head.
After the funeral, those who were closest to immediate family came to the house for conversation and a prolonged vigil. Although they were considered one of the most influential families in the country, the old woman’s family held the funeral in an intimate space with just this close circle.
About ten years ago, the media relentlessly connected her family with the escape of the former prime minister. At the time, her husband was a retired foreign minister of three years and a man with a long career as a successful businessman in the region.
In the small group of guests spread out on the luxurious sofas in the salon, a thirty-year-old man of medium height, brownish-olive hair and a strong, muscular structure, sat. About ten years ago, he had often been seen in public with the former prime minister, one of his security guards.
While everyone else remained in the drawing room for some kind of speech, the man climbed the stairs and stepped out onto one of the terraces, which opened up a vast panorama of the lake.
Rain had been falling for days and the lake appeared muddy. The man went inside again and before going down the stairs he noticed that the door of the library had blown open in the wind. He went in and closed them.
He used to come here often. Together, with the former minister, here in this room, and among the countless books, they had had many conversations.
All the wise advice that the former minister had given him, the best practices to apply in life, had been uttered in these rooms. And thanks to this library and its owner, the man met many authors previously unknown to him.
As he ran his fingers slowly along the spines of the books, he pulled a pastel-covered novel from the third-highest shelf. He stood for a few moments with the book in his hands, analyzing the calming colors spread across the cover like a calm sea.
After a few minutes of hesitation, he tucked the novel under his right armpit and left the room.
The drive in front of the house allowed space for only ten small cars. After two years, since the funeral of the old woman and three years since the death of the old prime minister, another delegation of cars parked in front of and around the summer house. Inside, the commemoration in honor of the deceased former minister would start at any moment.
That morning, among the first cars that pulled up in front of the house, a green Volkswagen Beetle pulled in and a twenty-nine-year-old woman got out. She was supposed to open the commemoration with a welcoming speech. The green Volkswagen Beetle looked tiny, nearly invisible compared to the other cars in front of the house.
Next to her car, a red Mazda pulled in and two men in navy checkered suits got out. They looked only slightly older than the woman. She, at that moment, was switching between sneakers and high heels.
Getting out of the cars at the same time, one of them said in a biting burst, “Maybe you should repark. It’s not good to destroy the aesthetics of the line.” He gave the teasing smile half to his friend, half to the woman who held the car keys in her right hand.
“Aesthetics? Well, since this morning I have had some kind of problem with the right side of my body that causes stiffness, so it would be difficult for me to get back into the car. Here is the key, I would ask you to move it.”
At the same moment she pressed the right button which triggered the door lock audibly.
“That is, if you can!” She looked at him with apparent mockery, then directed her steps towards the gate of the summer house, in front of which a small crowd of people had gathered.
There were a lot of people inside the yard. Journalists, delegations, members of the immediate family, as well as several guests of honor, totaling forty in all. There were still about twenty minutes before the start of the scheduled event.
An urgent search for a mirror led the woman from the green Volkswagen Beetle to the second floor. Here, her attention was drawn by a half-open door at the end of the hall, from which shelves of books peeked out. With both palms, she opened the wing of the wooden door. The room was occupied already.
“Oh, it’s you. Please come in. I want to apologize for my friend’s behavior this morning. He sometimes has a bad way of teasing. Such is his trick.” As the man spoke, he glanced up at the woman, giving most of his attention to the bookshelf and looking for something at the same time.
“It’s okay. There’s no reason to apologize on someone else’s behalf.” And her eyes, like his, wandered curiously through the bookshelves.
“Do you do much reading?” He continued to look through the books without paying her the slightest moment of visual attention.
“I used to. These days I spend my time writing. I don’t have much time to read anymore.”
“That’s too bad. I enjoy discovering new stories.” He smiled to himself.
“Contrary to your physical appearance,” she noted. “You give me the impression of a bodyguard more than a professor.” She smiled quietly.
“I don’t give the impression of someone who cultivates the mind?” He joined her in a quiet laugh.
“Two years ago I borrowed a novel from this library. I’ve brought it back with me today to return it but I’m looking for its rightful place. I don’t remember exactly where it was when I picked it up.” He continued to touch the books along the spines, looking for a suitable place for the book he held.
“This book left a strong impression on you?”
“This novel is brilliant. It encourages you to change your views of the world. Read it. I believe it will open new horizons in your writing.” He found a suitable place for it and left it on one of the shelves.
“Really? Would you mind if I interview you? I suspect it would be of great use to me for the book I am currently writing.”
“If you can be fast about it. We’ll have to be downstairs shortly. If I’m not mistaken, you start the speeches?” He turned to the window and glanced out at the cloudy lake expanse.
“Give me three reasons that you single out this book as different from the others.” She quickly took out a pencil and a few blank sheets of paper from a small bag.
His gaze continued to hover over the lake’s surface.
“The author plays masterfully with a series of codes and unique characters that carry the messages with a sort of decoding key. The space on the other hand… The author uses vivid spaces with an insistence of pastel coloring throughout. This, in part, accents soothing notes to heal the reader’s mind. I think the author must know psychology well. We should get going. I think it’s time to come down. You should read and experience it yourself.”
As she jotted notes as fast as she could, the man headed for the half-open door. The next moment he was descending the stairs.
With bold silence in her steps, the woman approached the book that the man had left behind. She opened the cover of the hardback. A sheet of paper with notes in someone else’s handwriting fell to the floor: “There are books, which, in themselves…”
Along with her sheets of paper, she stuffed this note into her small bag and returned the book to its place on the shelf. The novel was called Abstractions of the Mind and the author’s name was Siva Um. She hurried down the stairs and outside to where the microphone and lectern awaited. After a few minutes, the initial speeches were heard: “Dear guests, respected attendees…”
While about forty people tried to pay their respects at a gathering in a courtyard, the sun stretched its arms over the vast surface of the lake. The water no longer looked cloudy.
Entering his office, located on the top floor of the building, the man saw that the mail was left on his desk. He always opened the mail immediately. Tearing open the right side of the envelope, he noticed that it was a book with a note inside.
“Thank you for the interview you gave to me in a private library four years ago. Those notes opened new paths for me. I hope that this book, like the first one, will in turn open new and wider horizons for you in return.”
He looked at the cover. The title was Abstractions of the Soul. In the author section of the novel, Siva Um was written in capital letters. The one and only sentence was written on the first page: “Based on notes given by an unidentified interviewee.” He ran his fingers to the last page to see the picture and biography of the author. There was no doubt: it was the same woman.
He gave a warm smile and placed the book neatly on the desk where the rest of the young author’s books had been for quite some time now. He turned on the laptop and continued working on the project he started last week. The weather outside promised a pleasant morning breeze.
Need more great fiction? We’ve got lots to share at the MockingOwl Roost.
- Selling Books
- Joy, a Diwali Tale
- Of Bats and Ravens at the Black Orb
- For Sale
- A Silent Hello, an Unsaid Goodbye
- The Boy at the Back of the Room
Stanka Bajlozova-Barlamova is 30 and lives in Valandovo, Republic of North Macedonia. She graduated in Philological faculty “Blaze Koneski” in Skopje on department of Macedonian literature and South Slavic literatures. She had published the book “Siluets” (short stories, 2020). Today she works in The house of culture “25 May” in Valandovo and she organizes many culture events in her home town.