There they are, hundreds of them. Enough to build the Great Wall of China, and
Hadrian’s Wall. Enough to be seen from space. Probably half a forest there, chewed up and compressed into corrugated fibres. Boxes. Mostly boxes of books. Mostly my books. No, all my books. Dragged around the world. Some must have circumnavigated more than once. On and on. Poor books, squashed, bent, mangled, fumigated, stacked, frozen, baked, steamed, desiccated. It’s amazing they haven’t all rolled onto their spines and dropped their leaves in grief.
“Why are there so many boxes?”
“Well, books are heavy, you have to put them into small cartons.” I know the packers always hate me, even when we buy them lunch, dinner, slabs of coke and sprite and water. So many boxes of books – but half of them are in the attic – when will I see them again? And another half is in storage in the wilderness, and yet another half … I know, that’s three halves, they’re here.
This is my travelling mental health clinic. I need these books. They keep me sane. They help me build the Great Wall of China in my head – or any other edifice I might require – and when I can’t cope anymore, I reach for an old friend, touch its spine, flick over a page, bend my head, sit, and I am absorbed.
“Haven’t got very far then?”
I duck guiltily, snap the book shut. “No, I was alphabetising. Trying to see if I put the plays here and the poetry in that case … do you think the novels will fit in three cases or will I have to expand? And the Latin, I’ll take that upstairs.”
Oh boxes. Oh books. Oh my Shakespeare, I’ll never drown my books, never burn you, never leave you. Oh boxes, keep you safe, keep you dry and bug-free, uneaten. Only devoured by me.