First, I will set the scene, as all good storytellers should. It is late on a Friday evening, but thanks to a shared case of the common cold we are laying in bed. My wife is already asleep in a cocoon of duvet nestled between two hot water bottles. She’s been snoozing for an hour or so now, and my usual replacement companion is curled up in her basket. Tiki is surely dreaming of something quite exciting. Her tail thumps occasionally against the floor as her imagination throws a ball or tugs a rope toy for her. Perhaps she’s dreaming about tomorrow morning’s walk in the park.
As the snuffling sufferer beside me shuffles again, I time the turning of a page so as not to disturb her slumber any more than is necessary. She settles again. New chapter for me.
Unable to sleep, I am instead comforting myself with a book that I adored as a child. I had never owned a copy of it myself, only having discovered it at around age 8 or 9 in my school library. Memories of a dog-eared paperback with a soft clear plastic cover to protect it are all that I’ve had for the past 20+ years. Until today.
In search of a remedy for my cold, I wandered into the town this afternoon. I restocked on the standard supplies – fresh ginger, lemons, a jar of honey, and several sachets of powdered decongestant drink. That ought to do it. But as I headed back there was a sense of needing something else. Fighting the symptoms was one thing, but I am terrible at resting, and so I needed some form of mental stimulation to keep my spirits up. I couldn’t go on one of my usual adventures to the coast or moorland. I was in no fit state to keep up with the dog for starters. Instead, I shuffled into a book shop.
As I browsed the fiction, I felt most of the offerings were either too trashy or too hefty to tolerate in my current condition. Getting toward the end of the alphabetised shelves, I felt a little spark of joy as I spied a copy of ‘Cat’s Cradle’ by Kurt Vonnegut. I snatched it as excitedly as my aching bones could (which was quite slow and delicate in fact) and held it close to my chest.
This is an odd behaviour that I’ve noticed in myself of late. Before I buy a book, I will clutch it against my sternum, hands crossing over my chest as I squeeze it into me. As I tend to pick new books impulsively like this, it’s as though my heart wants to be close to the book that it has chosen.
New pages embraced, I quickly (slowly) complete a lap of the book shop en route to the till. Again, an odd behaviour, but I like to walk past all of the books to give them all a chance to grab my attention. Scanning past the cookery books, I unusually feel no desire to peruse them. Photo books. Design books. Sporting history of the 1980s. Nothing.
Lastly, I swept past the children’s section. Expecting nothing, as I am no longer a child (more’s the pity), I headed toward the till. That was until a childish need for comfort burst out of me like a sneeze, and I laboriously spun back around to find something that would soothe that inner child. It couldn’t just be any kid’s book. It had to be a book from my childhood. It had to resonate.
As soon as my eye caught its cover on the shelf, my heart thumped hard. Hard enough to push Vonnegut away from my chest and clear out of my hand. Before I knew it, he was replaced by a pale blue book with clouds, and I was hugging the paperback so tightly that I started to dog-ear the corners. It didn’t have the clear soft plastic cover that it ought to.
And so now, late on this Friday evening, as my wife and dog are snoring, I am losing myself in the story I found as a child. My adult self is resting, and my inner child is home again in the exquisite pages of ‘Finn Family Moomintroll’ by Tove Jansson. I have the warmth of my bedside lamp and the half a hot water bottle that my wife allows me to share, with my headphones piping Ludovico Einaudi’s ‘Nightbook’ so aptly into my ears. Right now, aside from the cold, I feel content.