The phone buzzed. On it was one new message, consisting of a single word:
In the years they had known each other, a ritual had evolved. Whenever either of them felt down, they would mosey over to the other for some gratuitous cat petting and change of scenery. Nothing much happened during these sessions, other than the taking of comfort in not being alone. The cats, by now more used to it than to anything else in the world, merely purred and accepted the elevated levels of affection.
She answered with the customary affirmative response:
“Tell me a story”
“I have no interesting stories to tell”
“You do not know that. I might find them very interesting”
“But all I have are small fragments of things that happen at the margins. Things that happen, and then you blink and they are gone in a jiffy”
“Reality is a ditty”
“Yes. And now you have a story to tell. About that one time I rhymed”
“That was quick”
“Some stories are long, others not. Tell me a short one”
“Okay. So there was this when time, when I was asked to tell a story”
This song. She had searched for it for years, ever since hearing it somewhere, someplace. Not being able to place it in space and time had not diminished it in any way. It had popped up often enough in her head while she was doing other things, a reminder of something she could not – but felt she should – remember. An unknown companion for the longest time.
And here it was, emerging from a random café, being sung by someone on a small stage better at singing than guitaring. She went in, intending to find out what there was to find out. But first, simply to listen.
It was four in the morning, and he was awake. Sleep had yet to happen. He stared at the words of the book he was supposed to know for an imminent but not immediate exam, and they all seemed to blend together in an undifferentiated mass of verbiage. Words, words, words.
And then, small feet tapped across the floor, and across the bed. Suddenly, a small cat was atop him, gradually getting closer and closer to his face, until at last they booped.
Apparently satisfied by this exchange, the small thing rolled into a ball upon him and started to purr. Suddenly, things did not seem all that bad.
She was tired. It had been a long day – possibly the longest day on record – and her energy levels were at an all time low. Yet, as she knew from experience, the only way forward was through, and the list of things that needed doing would not autocomplete itself. With resolute resigned determination she opened the door to her apartment, and
The floor was vacuumed. The dishes done. The laundry folded. The heavy object moved. The letters posted. From the kitchen, the scent of cooking emanated. As she walked through the door to see what was up, a very happy teenager exclaimed
She had a new year’s tradition. It was nothing fancy or showy, but it was important nevertheless.
What she did was, she sat down and thought about all the things that happened over the last year. In particular, those things that only ever happened because of some highly improbable set of circumstances, which nevertheless came into being. The last-minute changes of plans, the unexpected bumps-into, the serendipitous finds five seconds after having given up hope. The overheard pieces of conversation which turned out to be important. The books picked at random which now lived in her heart.
The year had not turned out as planned. And that was alright.
Every place has an intangible, invisible sense of place. A non-trivial aspect of this sense is the ambient white noise permeating the place in question: all the audible and barely audible noises which at all times resound throughout. Take away these background sensations, and the place becomes very different indeed. Libraries do urge its patrons to keep quiet, but they would become eerie places were everyone to actually become totally silent. The miscellaneous scuffling of backpacks, turning of pages, careless footfalls, and not-so-subtle subtle whisperings serve to define where you are. Without these ever-present reminders, it would just be a place where books come to rest, a catacomb of the written word, rather than a gathering spot for the living.