I have this fantasy, an elaborate, invented dream world, and every so often I give myself over to it, a willing abdication from the cares and concerns that assail me. I leave Earth Prime far behind and transport myself to a whole other place and time:
I’m a good deal older but still quite vital; an eccentric octogenarian, retired and living in seclusion after a long and distinguished writing career. Not, perhaps, as prolific as I would’ve liked but one can’t have everything.
I live fairly frugally but my house has large, airy rooms and out of date rather than antique furniture. Both my sons have secured good livelihoods and are happy, well-adjusted adults. My wife has numerous interests to keep her occupied—including a couple of grandkids--so most of my time is spent alone, in my favorite room, the library.
Well, it’s more like a combination library/study. Thousands of books and a circular staircase threaded through to a second floor where there are more books, an entire gallery of them, sorted by subject, alphabetized by author. A short, sturdy ladder to reach the ones at the top. Down below, on the main floor, a pair of stout oak tables, arranged in an L-shape, are heaped with textbooks, maps, photos and file folders. Everything labeled and carefully ordered. A high quality office chair for my ailing back…and, over there, two big, over-stuffed armchairs, placed strategically before an over-sized, honest to goodness hearth. The kind you could roast a spitted boar in.
My life’s work done, I can dabble in various areas and interests, researching obscure events and hidden histories, satisfying my tireless curiosity. Or I can choose to do nothing at all; it’s up to me. My reward for decades of dedicated service to the printed word, endless, long hours denying myself all but the most basic amenities. Frequently (I fear) neglecting the needs of my family. Now my days are my own, to spend or waste in whatever manner I decide.
No duties or obligations. A willing exile from the demands of the world.
I take a seat on one of those comfy armchairs, pick up a book from the small table beside me, open it…and begin reading. Quite often, I’ll remain there the entire day, oblivious to the passage of time. I figure I might have five years, ten if I’m lucky. Why not devote that interval to the many, many books I’ve wanted to read but never got around to: Victor Hugo, Proust. David Foster Wallace and William Vollmann. The collected plays of Samuel Beckett. The complete works of P.G. Wodehouse.
The big books, the difficult books, the ones that require all your energy and attention. When you’re younger and the weight of the world is on your shoulders, it’s hard to find the focus.
Thomas Hardy. Nabokov. Gide. Dostoevsky. Tolstoy—my God, Tolstoy. I can’t die without first finishing War & Peace. Please, God. No true bibliophile can.
On low days, sick days, my spirits flagging, life energies ebbing, switch to short stories, poetry. Just in case.
There are no windows so it’s impossible to distinguish between day and night. My hours belong to me and me alone so what difference does it make?
Every so often I have to leave the room, for food and drink, use the facilities. In each instance, the outlines of the room dim alarmingly and I must struggle to keep the perimeter from collapsing inward, the room swallowed by errant fancy.
I know my dream is selfish, solipsistic, vain and, above all else, unattainable. The old dude, surrounded by his books, hefting some classic Russian tome by crackling firelight, that could never be me. Retired? At repose? Me? With my temperament and work ethic? Not bloody likely. I’ll die in harness, scribbling away, a slave to routine right up to the moment my heart gives a funny skip, then stops.
A tired, old man, insulated from the outside world by walls of books. His own private universe. Pathetic, really. To wish for such a thing.
Still…I recall how contented he seemed, the peaceful vibes he gave off. The way he’d smile as he read certain lines or passages, and how much I envied him the pleasure and company of those unhurried words.
© Copyright, 2009 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
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