The secret is this: it can only happen when you’re not looking. That’s why it tastes the way it does, sweet and slightly sharp at once, because even then you’re missing it already. It will never happen exactly like this again.
Perhaps it goes something like this: A plan falls through at exactly the last moment. That is how you find yourself midway up a sunny street on this mild Sunday afternoon with the thrill of having nothing in particular to do.
You stretch your fingertips out as far as you can, to see if the edges of this moment can be touched, and you think maybe they could if you could reach only a little farther. Then with someone else's voice in your ears singing of days much like this, you wander through the first open door.
Second hand books downstairs, the sign says, so you follow it. The ceiling is low down there, and the floor tilts at odd angles. There is a hush among the crowded shelves, the other people moving in slow sleepwalking circles, heads to the side reading spines, one foot out, one finger to their lips in a half-admonishment for silence.
There is a woman on her knees in front of Classics, re-sorting books with featherlight hands. She is humming a tune that you take out your earphones to listen to, something unidentifiable and wonderful.
You don’t want anything in particular, except to be here surrounded by these books that somebody loved once. You run you fingers along the shelves not for titles but for their feel, for a thick frayed binding or faded lettering, for a solid weight or an inscription-
I hope this brings you some comfort. I will always be here for you if you need a shoulder.
You lose yourself for a while, in the sacred bookshushed silence. You find - after an hour, maybe more – that you have collected an armful of treasurers, misfits, stories with their own stories to tell. The humming woman rings them up, handling them like old friends. You think, purchases, and roll the word around in your mouth. Things to be tied with a piece of string and wrapped in brown paper, like sausages and hatpins.
There is more to come, though you don’t know it yet; a quiet coffee shop overlooking the aimless crowds, the lost hours within the pages of a pocketsized gem that once belonged to a Peter you will never meet. Knowing and not-knowing, some spent and some still to come.
Outside, a little snatch of the woman's tune escapes you, but it’s already fading and you can’t remember how the rest of it goes.
Published in Sassafras literary magazine, November 2013.