by Sorcha Blaine
It was Ikea furniture - blonde wood with black trim.
The dining table matched the desk which matched the
bookshelves. I could see deep dents in the carpet
where some furniture had stood. Other pieces were
pushed to the middle of the room and tagged with the
new owner's name, waiting like lost dogs at a city pound.
I didn't say yet that it was a beautiful apartment.
A brick wall with an arched window separated the kitchen
from the living room. You could look through the window
and keep track of what was on tv while you cooked, I
thought. Put your casserole on one side while your
friend picked it up on the other.
I didn't say yet that the casserole dish was for sale. And a
colander and a coffee grinder and five matching china cups.
There were labels everyplace: "Towels $2. Washcloths
$.50." Clothes hanging in the closet were individually
priced with white tags on long strings. The clothes were
contemporary and beautiful, for a woman my age. The
woman who'd owned them was too young to have an
estate sale; what was the real story here?
I asked the man overseeing the sale what happened
"She passed away." Said quietly, so the other
bargain-hunters in the apartment wouldn't hear.
The funny thing about death is that it's catching. If
you're around a dead person's things, if you touch their
clothes, if you breathe their air, you'll die too. You'll die,
I moved to the far end of the apartment where the three
bookcases stood. I liked the bookcases. The books remaining
in them were also for sale (Hardcovers $1, paperbacks $.50.)
You can tell a lot about a person by the books they read.
Maybe I could find out why she died. Maybe I could find
out how to stay safe.
The funny thing about books is that you can both
have them and give them away. Once you've read them,
they're yours. Given away, they're still yours. In buying
her books, I thought, I wouldn't be taking that hadn't
been freely offered. I would leave her life intact.
I chose ten.
(I didn't say yet that I already owned a lot of the
books she had.)
I paid for the books and walked out, struggling to hold them all.
A woman opened the door to her apartment and smiled at me.
"Are the bookcases still there?" She asked. I told her
they'd been sold. She stepped into the hallway and locked
"Not very much." I watched as she headed down the hallway
toward the apartment. "Do you know how she died?" I said.
She looked over her shoulder, "Brain tumor."
The books were getting heavy. I took them to my car.
The funny thing about knowing the ending of a story
is that, once you know it, you begin to look for patterns
in what came before. So I look at the ten books beside
me as I write this and I wonder if my random choices
will tell me anything about her life. Certainly I see
an arc of learning:
O. Henry Winners - 1986 She discovered
literature could surprise.
Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald She learned to
The Biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald She became
curious about the process.
The Feminine Mystique She turned to books for
The Bible (A knife through my heart.)
I also bought a five-volume set of classics printed in the
1920's, including Proust and Stendhal and Tolstoy.
I didn't say yet that when I opened Anna Karenina,
I expected to find my name.