A story about a paperback book and the story it can never tell.
It was a paperback much like any other. There are thousands of the same, all telling the same story written within.
It had touched and toyed with the emotions of many, for it was well travelled and had had many owners. It was hardly significant in anyone’s life, yet the story within its cover could have mirrored the lives of many. Hence, the book is very readable except for those whose senses are raw and delicate.
Within its pages, it told a story about love, emotions, sex and the complexity of sexuality. It spoke of heartbreak, rejection, greed, the pain of grief and death, the intimate details of passions and desire and all the other elements of what life is about, but which many humans reject. It balances right with wrong and shows the power of humanity, for while right for one will be wrong for another, without humanity and compassion, we’re fooling ourselves that we are human.
But this short story is not about the story printed on the pages of this simple paperback. It is about the power of the book itself, for within the fabric of its well-worn pages lurks a powerful and simmering energy, soaked up like a sponge from the invisible force and chemistry we humans leave in our wake.
This book could tell a million secrets. It has witnessed sex and debauchery that would make your hair curl, yet sat within feet of human compassion and forgiveness. It has seen when two people are so in love, witnessed betrayal and corruption and had lain within inches of the beauty of human intimacy across all sexualities. The book hasn’t judged one of them, it just absorbed the magic and the energy from the affinity and affection of its readers and those within touching distance of them.
Its pages were already curling and taking on that faint tea stain colour that paperbacks do when they have seen better days. On the second page was a cup stain, a mark from a time when the unworldly traveller got lucky in Bangkok, sipping tea at a bar where lady boys offered more than friendship.
The book witnessed the secrets of that brief liaison. It recognises how lust and mind over matter can have an ending that harms no one, but it isn’t happy about the tea stain.
In its earlier days, the paperback had found itself in a New York gutter. The owner, jobless and homeless and sleeping rough, had been set upon by the mindless. His few belongings were slung to the wind by the thugs, and he was beaten unconscious. Gladly he survived the ordeal, but bruised ribs and ego and a cut eye left him hating life and the rawness of humanity when humans abuse the vulnerable.
The paperback would have ended its days there, for it rained cats and dogs and only survived because it had landed against a sidewalk overhang, saved by a drain that took the bulk of the rainwater that might have turned it into paper mashie overnight.
A skimpy young waitress rescued it, took it home to dry and sobbed her heart out as she read it. She had still to learn many things about life, yet here was a book touching her heart and her instincts, realising that she knew more about life than she gave herself credit for.
She passed the book to her favourite diner customer, a tall, handsome young man, geeky but with a smile to die for. She fancied the pants off him so the book might have been a means to an end. He read the book before passing it on to a friend well before he returned to see the waitress, so the book cannot tell us of what developed.
Fundamentally, the book made no judgement. To the people that read it, it was just a tool to amuse and pass the time. Just paper and within its pages just another story, written by just another author and writer.
Something about the cover drew people to it. Yet it was no work of art or that spectacular. A dull colourless image with a flash of crimson and a startled eye that eyeballed anyone who laid their eyes on it.
The book once lay in a drawer for months, forgotten and alone save for a pen and half a bar of Cadburys chocolate. The young doctor who planned to read it was too busy saving lives and it was rescued when a nurse fell upon it and unzipped its onward liberty.
She read it cover to cover over two days of night duty. Then she gave it to a colleague who did the same over three nights. It was then passed to a patient, an elderly lady with a terminal illness, but still with a twinkle in her eye and a passion for life. The story it told also brought tears to her eyes, for once she too shared passion and love with the man of her life and knew what overwhelming grief was when he died in her arms. The book brought back to her the treasured memories of her life as nature slowly drained it from her.
From there, it passed into the world of business and banking, a sneaky read by a married man living two lives and who really did not have time to read books, let alone have the integrity for the cut and thrust of honest business.
He left it in the underground half read when he missed his stop at London Piccadilly. He was in such a flap he also left his newspaper and the card he had just bought for his girlfriend.
On the tube were two guys who were an item, on their way to the airport to holiday on the Greek Island of Mykonos. They took ownership of the paperback, as in finders’ keepers.
The book now finds itself on a beach, a popular one in Mykonos, alongside Nivea suncream, a damp and greasy towel and an array of beach essentials. The beach is, shall we say, cosmopolitan. As straight and gay sunbathe happily naked or semi-clad together, as the more outrageous will entertain, amuse or court the attention of those subject to temptations. Here, the reality of real life is scattered on the sand, open for man to see and accept if only man could.
The sun is a God to be worshiped and along with the warm Aegean wind, bodies quickly turn a molten golden brown, given only to one’s pigmentation and the right kind of sunscreen.
This is the fifth day on the beach, yet the guys have read only a few pages of the paperback. They each have a bookmark, carefully placed between the pages they are each at, for their intentions are good but their attention span short, given the nightlife and the passion they share together.
One bookmark shows a leanly muscled man, bollock naked and hung like a horse. The other is more discreet, a Greek sculpture looking demure and innocent. The book already knows that these two guys are like chalk and cheese, yet so compatible together.
Four weeks before Mykonos, the book had travelled from the USA, part of a bulk of in-flight distraction brought along by a female student. She was on route to study in Richmond London, leaving her long-term boyfriend space to make his own choices.
The book was supposed to take her mind off him, yet by the second page she was welling up, warm tears stinging her dry eyes. Twice she tried to read more during the six-hour flight, but her emotions got the better of her as her heart ached for what she had left behind. The day after arriving in London, she had lunch at Hard Rock Café, day dreaming as she gazed out across the busy road of Piccadilly towards Green Park. She gave the book to the guy she shared a table with, a good looking man with a strong Irish accent who she had never met before and would never see again.
The Mykonos day was cooling, and as the guys left the beach for the walk back to the road and the bus back into town, others also left, maybe heading back for a shower, a snog and then dinner, before a nap and then the delights of Mykonos nightlife. But not before the pleasure of watching the glorious Greek sunset as they spent the last flicker of daylight sipping wine or zapped up coffee at their favourite bar.
The paperback was becoming the worse for wear. Five days being carted to and from the beach sharing sun cream and damp towels had taken its toll. Sand and sunscreen gritted its pages, and its spine was weak. Within days its pages would come adrift and once that happens, it knew its days would be numbered.
It wondered whether the story told within it would ever make the world a better place, although the hearts it had touched had made a few people better people. The book knew that it could tell a far better story, for it had the will and the reference to do so.
Sadly, books cannot write themselves, and it has yet to be claimed that a book has written its own story.
This book had seen what life is about and while it felt attached to these two guys and the life they were exploring together; it knew the story within its cover would take them ages to read. It wanted to know how their story ended, whether they would be happy and stay together, or whether the chalk would bite at the cheese and ruin a beautiful relationship.
A question it asked about all the lives that had touched its pages, and as wise as such a question might be, the book decided, there and then, that its own purpose had been met threefold. It knew the story it could tell would never be told, for no one knew the story and maybe, no one would believe it.
As the two guys walked the rocky crag back to the bus into Mykonos town, quietly the book slipped from their bag, bounced once and slid easily into a crevice 50 feet above the sea. One bookmark, the one less discreet than the other, dropped to the ground, no doubt to bring a smile to the finder’s face. The other remained in the book.
It and the ailing paperback are still lodged within the crevice to this day. Moisture and heat have baked them as a rock within the rock. The world is oblivious to its final resting place and will never comprehend the energy that lays with it, in time slowly draining like a seeping battery in an abandoned car.
Maybe, one day the magic of writing might bring forth the story the book could tell, the secrets it knew and how it judged no one for being human. Maybe, one day someone will find the book. Then, like the author of the original story they might have a way with words, know about life and have a gift to express more than a thread of words.
Meanwhile, who knows the trillion stories never to be told by the paperbacks circling the globe, or the few that reach into your own life and intimacies?
Come the day paperbacks have the power to write themselves and the day humans realise there is much more to the complexity of life than what they only read about.