Book of You
She is surrounded by books she may or may not have read. Does she like
to read? She assumes that she does. The house she supposedly lives in is
filled top to bottom with them. She takes one off of the shelf: a
screaming comes across the sky. Doesn’t ring a bell.
Nelson knows that she reads. That is the first thing he remembers about
her. He was driving to work, through a green light, and then this woman.
She was reading a book, standing in the street. And what he first thought,
not the obvious question of why this woman was in the street, but rather:
what is she reading? And then he hit her.
She starts with books that look easy, colorful covers. Charlotte’s Web,
Little Women, Johnny Tremain. They are all filled with sadness; death
pervades them. She moves on to war novels. They are straightforward and
the death is expected.
No one saw the accident. The woman over the hood, against the
windshield, pages fluttering in the air. He scooped her up, put her in the
passenger side of the car, and picked up every page of the book, clutching
them in his fists, running in circles around the car. She was awake,
glassy eyed but not dead, at least that. He started driving to the
hospital. It seemed like the next step in the equation: doctors, nurses,
x-rays, tongue depressors. And then he thought of what would come next:
policemen, inquiries, his driver’s license left on the table in his house.
Her voice came, soft as if whispered, can you take me home? This
began to make sense. Yes, he could take her home.
Sometimes she has flashes of the past when she reads. A poor line in a
Mailer novel and she remembers sitting here in this house at some other
time. She remembers a hazy image of herself and the light coming in from
the window of the study, and she remembers thinking, this is a bad book.
There is nothing before or after the memory of reading, only the act
itself. It does not give her clues to her past life but she is fine with
this. She cannot say why, and she would never admit it aloud, but
sometimes she thinks it is better this way.
He slid his hand into her purse, checked the license for the address.
When they arrived, he asked her is this your house? She had no
idea. This, he thought, this is not good.
Nelson arrives after work with flowers and a first edition. He has been
so kind since the accident, never makes her feel bad about her inability
to remember. Sometimes she tries very hard, some memory that will make him
happy. It is almost there, she can almost believe she remembers, but then
Nelson will stroke her hair, open up the pages of the book he has bought
her and reads. The memory falls away, back down inside of herself. She
only sighs, rests her head on Nelson’s shoulder, and stares at the flowers
in the vase while he reads to her.
She slept the rest of that day. He knew it was not the right thing.
Head trauma and sleep didn’t go together. Still, she seemed fine. She had
only a few bruises, some scratches on her arms and legs, a cut over her
left eyebrow where she had hit the windshield. He cleaned her up, helped
her into her nightgown, and sat beside her bed while she slept. He took
the book she had been reading and began to reassemble it. He started with
the first page, Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is
unhappy in its own way. Some of the pages were smeared, torn, but he
slowly put it back into the proper order. As he stacked the pages, he
skimmed over the plot. Russia, adultery, scandal, misery. Sad, sad, sad.
As he continued ordering the pages, he feverishly read over each one,
wondering what would happen, hoping good would come for this woman, Anna.
Finally, towards the end, around page 870, he read about Anna and the
train station. The train, Anna in front of it, then under it. Things
started to make sense to him, a sick feeling in his stomach. There was a
bit more to read but Nelson had no desire to finish, only stacked the
pages. When he finished, he took the book, walked into the kitchen, and
threw it into the trash. He placed some garbage over it, pushed it further
down into the can. When she awoke, he wanted no trace of the book, no
evidence, no memory.
There are so many books in the house. The four walls of every room are
covered with the spines of novels, like wallpaper. It seemed daunting at
first, so much to remember, but she is moving through them faster than she
would have imagined. There isn’t much else to do anyway. Nelson does all
the shopping for her, the errands, the work. He feels guilty; she knows
this. She tells him it is not his fault, but he doesn’t want to listen.
She strokes his hair and says, you have been so good. He only looks
back down at the book in his lap. Chapter Six. She listens.
After he threw the book away, Nelson began to search the house. In the
drawer of her desk, he found her address book. It was nearly empty, the
few names faded, the numbers crossed out and replaced with question marks.
As he wandered through the house, he began to piece together the
essentials of her life. No husband, no boyfriend, no living relatives, no
friends, no pets. A job as a receptionist at a dentist office. A cabinet
filled with bourbon and gin. A drawer of underwear lacking anything
leopard-printed. Dozens of reading glasses scattered all over the house,
left on tables, under chairs, in the shower. And the books, of course,
everywhere. It was touching, the pieces that made her life. He was in a
similar boat, he felt. Not Tolstoy depressed perhaps, but still, he
found an easy familiarity with the details of her unhappiness. The
solitude of a life alone, unfulfilled. He sat down on the chair beside her
bed, ran his finger lightly over the bandage he had put over her cut. She
was beautiful in a way, a librarian beauty that seemed serious and
determined. He took her hand in his, squeezed it tightly, and then she was
For the most part, she has stopped trying to remember. If it comes, it
comes. She is happy. Happier than before? She cannot say. Perhaps. She
would like to think so. Still, with each book that she picks up, she
believes somewhere in a corner of her brain, this is the one. I will
remember with this one. What else are books for but to tell you who
you are? She keeps reading.
Where am I, she asked, who are you? He did not hesitate,
squeezed her hand even tighter, and looked into her eyes. You are home.
There was an accident. I am Nelson. I am your husband. I love you and you
While cleaning, she finds a book in Nelson’s dresser, hidden under his
socks. Anna Karenina. She has not seen it in the house before, but
there is something familiar about it. Nelson has marked parts of it,
yellow highlights on the text. She flips quickly through the book until
she reaches the end, the final passage boldly highlighted. …my life
now, my whole life apart from anything that can happen to me, every minute
of it is no longer meaningless, as it was before, but it has an
unquestionable meaning of the goodness which I have the power to put into
Yes, he thought as he highlighted the passage, yes, yes, yes,
She has read almost all of the books in the house. Nelson brings more
books home, perfect first editions, rare and covered in mylar. She wonders
if it is time that she leaves the house, finds her own books. There is so
much left to read, still so many books unknown to her. Nelson does not
like this. He is nervous. He is afraid, she knows, that he won’t be able
to protect her. It has to happen sometime, she tells him. Yes,
he says, yes, I know.
Tonight, he brought home something new. He entered his new home, their
home, with a handful of tulips and the new book. After dinner, they sat on
the couch and she unwrapped it. A Bible, tattered and yellowed at the
edges. What is it about, she asked, and he told her everything,
most everything. He knew he could not do this forever, that someday
she would remember. And when she does, will she stay? He will tell her,
this he promises every day. Now he has decided. When he has finished, when
Genesis has given way to Revelations, he will tell her.
She rests her head on his shoulder as he opens the old book. He reads,
In the beginning…in the beginning. He stops, tries again, in the
beginning. She picks up her head, stares at his face as he struggles
with the words. In the beginning. She listens, knowing that this
will be the one. She looks with something that can only be love at her
husband and eagerly waits for each word, the story that will finally tell
her who she is. In the beginning…
Kevin Wilson is currently a student in the MFA program at the
University of Florida. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in
Ploughshares, Carolina Quarterly, Shenandoah, and