Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Book

The three story bedroom house was quiet and still. In the many suburban neighborhoods that surrounded the home, all the children had been put to bed, all the cars that been shuttered in their respective garages, the land was quiet, a brief pause in momentum before another day. Inside the house, after hours of bright illumination, the talking heads on the TV were finally off, the energy of them was finally settling on the dinning room table and the pale beige carpet like dust, settling down ever so slowly. They were probably still mumbling out there, somewhere in the ether world their voices raged on, but not here, not while the clock ticked quickly towards the new day. The refrigerator mumbled softly, turning on and off in uneven intervals. His wife was asleep, covered below a pile of thick comforters. His “snow queen,” he would jokingly call her, since the woman always seemed to be cold. This was his chance for a little bit of peace, a brief moment before the cycle of his life had to begin again with coffee and an incessant alarm that was objective in its dire warning. Before the newspaper, before the search for work began on the internet. He could look now, but…this was a special time and he would not squander it on the fruitless perusal of classified ads. There were just a couple of lights on in the house: the dim kitchen light over the stove had been left on accidentally, the outdoor porch light his wife insisted be left on throughout the long hours till morning, and one more, the only light he really needed, the soft yellow bulb on the end table, right next to his blue lazy-boy recliner.
He sighed, a long expansive exhale that just kept going and going…did he really have this much air inside? His chest caved in, releasing every bit of carbon dioxide he could manage to push through his open mouth. He felt himself sinking into the plush blue fabric, the chair that had been his companion for nearly fifteen years. How many hours of his life had he sat on this very spot? While the earth continued to spin, while the weather morphed from heat to rain, while a hundred wars came and went on distant soil, he sat here, in this exact spot in front of the TV with his wife on the couch beside him. They took turns picking shows to watch and she always insisted on watching the female news hour, that’s what he called the assembled cast of TV-ready personalities that gave their disgusting opinions on everything from warfare to the newest diet pill. They truly made him sick, they, people who had no real-life experiences to back up what they professed as truth. It was the time of the day he least enjoyed, watching their glossy lips move up and down, chatting amongst themselves. He always felt like a voyeur, an unwanted guest in a living room full of squabbling idiots.
But he had nowhere else to go. His work area in the garage had long ago been crowded out by boxes and old clothes and other things he considered useless junk. The extra room held even more stuff, a lifetime of their acquired memories and the third bedroom had been converted into a gym for his wife. And because his muscles were sore and because he had already eaten and didn’t want to sit in the kitchen on one of their hard-backed wooden chairs, he remained where he was, enduring the six gabbing voices, shrill and ignorant and loud. But thankfully, the sixty minutes passed, just as all expanses of time eventually do, and his wife had started yawning and she stood to turn off the box and she gave him a single kiss on the forehead and walked up the stairs to the bedroom.
This was the silence that he did enjoy, the precious moment that needed to be grasped and held like a beating jewel. It was an endurance race and he was just a little ahead, able to keep his eyes open just a little longer than his wife or the other people on the block. He felt just a little more alone, a little more at peace knowing that every house in the area had their lights off and all the TV sets had fallen silent. He felt the energy of the quiet streets, he felt the wind calm down just slightly, allowing him a little more room to breath and think.
He bent over and reached over towards the small ledge between the legs of the end table. He emerged with a hardcover book, a thick 1000 page tome with a black and white cover of a battle scene. He studied the cover, just as he did every night when he picked the book from its somewhat hidden shelf. It was a scene from the Spanish Civil War. A small group of men in casual clothes and rifles pointing in the direction of an unseen enemy. His new friend had sent him the book four months ago, his new friend who was really just a man he had met while waiting for his car’s tune-up at the local dealership. They had begun talking and the stranger with a full head of gray and a whiter beard had turned out to be a retired war historian. They talked, long after both their cars were finished and ready to go. Not long after, he had received the book in the mail.
He leaned back and stared at the cover, as he had done each night since the stranger had sent it, examining the haunting picture without opening the book. He held it for an hour, studying every detail of the men, their clothes, their posture, their fingers on the triggers of their guns and rifles. He imagined the photographer, not focused on the approaching violence, but on the men at his side. These men where a thousand lifetimes away from the talking heads that filled his living room every night. Here there was no incessant laughter, no incessant opinions and no speculation. For them, there was only the crystal clarity of action, beyond words, beyond thoughts, beyond argument. There was only action and nothing else. It was action that moved them, action that made them great. Tonight, he felt a wave coming over him, a mounting pressure that made his heart begin to beat harder and his palms begin to sweat. A sting of tears came to his eyes, it was a distantly familiar feeling, something that he had known before but had forgotten somewhere along the way. Tonight was the night. It was time to open the book.

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