The first thing that the book ever felt was his owner’s touch. This — the first touch — happened many months ago inside a bookshop. His owner, though, didn’t read him at all. Instead, she merely scanned his introduction and his blurbs and placed him on a book shelf inside her house. It was the very first time he opened his eyes — he supposed that he must have eyes, although he hasn’t verified this through a mirror, for how else was he able to see the bookshop, the car, and the owner’s house? — and the very first time he saw his owner.
He loved her living room. He loved its clean, powdery smell. And he loved the neatness of his dwelling place, the bookcase. The owner was very tidy and organized and she had good taste in furniture.
Before his eyes were opened, he lived within his dreams. He always dreamed the same story, of course, night after night – the same plot, the same characters, the same setting, the same conflicts, the same issues, and the same denouement.
Sometimes, though, there were anomalies in his dreams – scenes that were unrelated to the story would pop up inexplicably. For example, an image of a very old tree would suddenly flash in his mind. Sometimes, there would be more than one tree in his dreams. There would be two or three or hundreds of them. These pictures would awaken within him feelings of nostalgia, but he didn’t know why.
One day, the owner appeared in the living room looking quite melancholic. She sat down on the couch and she seemed listless. He observed her for a while and was about to speak when she suddenly looked up at his direction and asked, “What is your deepest desire?”
This question, of course, caught him off guard, but he knew the answer right away.
“What are you afraid of?” she continued.
He wasn’t sure how this second question was related to the first.
“Are you lonely?” she asked.
“Well,” he began to whisper.
“Are you tired?”
Not exactly, he thought. He has never been tired. He has never had the opportunity to be tired.
“Are you bored?”
The owner’s questions seem to be coming at him in quick succession, making him suspect that perhaps they were merely rhetorical.
“Do you love me?” and here the owner’s voice tapered off into a soft whisper. But he could still understand her. His ears – he supposed that he must have ears too, for how else was he able to hear his surroundings? – had grown accustomed to her voice. He could hear her even if she went outside the house and stood in the garden.
He knew the answer to the owner’s question. He said, “Yes, of course, I do.” He was dissatisfied with the volume of his voice so he repeated in a somewhat louder voice, “Yes, I do.”
The owner stood up and walked towards the bookcase. His heart – needless to say, of course he must have a heart also, for how else was he able to feel? – raced within his pages. Never in his wildest dreams did he ever imagine that the owner might reciprocate his feelings.
She stopped in front of the mirror. “Do you really love me, Henry?”
This stunned him.
“Do you, really? Then tell me, Henry. Tell me now. Tell me that you love me.”
He didn’t want to hear this. He closed his eyes. He wanted to shut his ears, too, but he couldn’t keep the words out.
“Oh, Henry. If only you knew.”
The book kept his eyes closed for a long time. His eyelids were locked together like a shell guarding a pearl. Until one day, he heard the deep voice of a man. This deeply disturbed him. It renewed fresh wounds in his heart. He also heard his owner’s voice, now no longer sad but happy. She was giggling, in fact. She and this man talked a lot, and he could hear their constant exchange of laughter. Many months passed and he heard another voice — that of a human baby. It was crying most of the time, and he could neither stand or understand it.
One day, just when he thought that he was all alone in the house, he felt the touch of an unfamiliar hand. The touch was rough and coarse and he hated. When he opened his eyes, he saw the face of a stranger looking down at him.
“What’s this?” the man asked.
“A book,” his owner answered.
“I know it’s a book. But what is it doing here? I thought you wanted to dispose all your books?”
“I plan to keep a few print books. Nothing beats touching, and even smelling, a real book, you know?”
“And e-books are not real books?”
“I meant nothing beats actual, concrete books.”
“And tablets and e-readers are not concrete?”
“They are devices, babe. Their books are digital and as such are intangible. E-books are still books, but they are not tangible like print books are.”
“Have you read this?”
“It’s dusty. The pages have yellowed. I haven’t heard of this author before.”
The book then saw his owner standing beside the man, looking down at him.
“Oh, you’re right. I can’t remember when I bought this. I’ve lost track of time.”
“Before our wedding?”
September 8, 2013, the book said, but they didn’t hear him. They seem oblivious to the fact that he has a mouth and a pair of eyes and that he was staring straight at them.
His owner finally held him in her hands and stroked his cover. Oh, to feel that soft touch again. He immediately felt calm and at peace. It was worth all the months and years of waiting for her to pick him up again.
“Tell you what. Get rid of it,” the man said.
“What?” she said. “No. I told you I’m keeping some of these books.”
“Yeah, but not that one. I don’t like how that man on the cover is looking at me.”
She laughed. “It’s only a drawing.”
“Yeah, but it looks ugly. That cover art looks ugly. I don’t think that’s art at all. It’s just a hasty, haphazard, grotesque sketch of a man. The pages look filthy, too. Throw it away.”
“No, I bought this and I plan to read it.”
“Do you have it in your Kindle?”
“So throw that one out and keep the rest. Sheesh. That reminds me, I thought we’re both committed to preserving the Mother Nature. Who knows how many trees were cut for the sake of that book.”
“Not more than one, to be sure.”
“That’s not my point. Print books are products of the mass slaughter of trees. Are you in favor of that?”
“Of course, not.”
“You love to preach about saving the planet but you yourself keep print books in our house.”
“Henry, what is up with you? There are only a handful of them left in my bookcase. Let me keep them. Let me keep this one.”
“That’s called double-standard. No to plastic bags but yes to the murder of trees.”
“Hey! You’re not being fair.”
The book wanted to punch the guy in the face, but alas, he didn’t have arms.
“If you really want us to practice what we preach, then we should get rid of all our print books, without exception.”
The baby cried in the bedroom.
“The baby’s crying,” the man said.
“You can be so insensitive sometimes, you know that?”
“I can’t believe you’re crying over a piece of book. It’s just an object, not a person or pet. Why are you so attached to the thing? You haven’t even read it.”
“Stop it. This isn’t just about the book. It’s about how you sometimes treat me and talk to me.”
“You’re blowing this out of proportion. I can’t believe we’re fighting over some book.”
The baby cried harder.
“You’re such a drama queen,” the man said. “Are you going to get the baby or not?”
“I thought I knew you,” she said.
“I thought I knew you, Henry. You were gentle and kind and sensitive…”
“Oh for crying out loud! I’m not a book that you can read.”
“I thought I knew you.”
The baby’s cries grew sharper and shriller.
“That’s it. This is driving me nuts,” he exclaimed.
He grabbed the book from her hands and tore it in half. Neither of them heard the book’s screams. Then he ripped the pages from its spine, crumpled them, and tossed them on the floor. He went inside the bedroom and slammed the door.
The owner knelt down and wept for her unread book.
The baby has stopped crying. All was quiet inside the house. She stood up and gathered the pages one by one. Then she wiped her cheeks with some of the torn paper. Her face was smeared with ink.
The book was surprised to learn that he was still alive. He was still conscious, but something was terribly wrong with him. He couldn’t think straight. He felt disoriented, stupefied, confused. He tried closing his eyes but the dreams wouldn’t come.
He could still feel – he felt the wetness of his owner’s tears on his table of contents. He saw her above him, bent down, eyes still closed. He wanted to comfort her.
The only thing he could do was speak up, so with what remained of his strength, he screamed as loud as he can, “DON’T BE ALARMED!”
It didn’t work.
“DON’T BE ALARMED!” he repeated. “DON’T BE STARTLED!”
The sound seemed to have reached the owner’s ears for she blinked as he was shouting.
“DON’T BE AFRAID, MADAME. IT IS ONLY I, YOUR BOOK, SPEAKING TO YOU.”
“Who’s there?” the owner asked.
“ME, IT’S ME! THE END OF THE AFFAIR BY GRAHAM GREENE BY MODERN LIBRARY, PUBLISHED IN 2001.”
“Who said that?” A look of alarm shot through her face.
“DOWN HERE! DOWN HERE, MADAME, DOWN HERE. YOU’RE HOLDING ME.”
The owner looked down and saw for the first time the book’s lips open and close as he spoke. He gave her his sweetest smile but she jumped up and freaked out. The man rushed out of the bedroom with the baby.
“What happened?” he asked.
The owner clung to her husband and screamed, “That thing, that book, it’s alive. It’s alive!”