I inspect from my office window frame the season’s transformation—the red to the gold, the snow to the sun, awaiting escapism. The mundane tragedy of a corporate existence extracts the very life within like the squeezing of an orange. All the good bits inside are expelled for the pleasure of another. For I will never taste the truest zests of the juice. I will remain, eyes glued to the pane, observing what goes about on the other side while the clock ticks… For the larger part of my life, I have been ensnared in a net of black and white– of paper and pens, ethics, and performance evaluations. The delight of maturity in grade school was a predatory falsehood served with faux hopefulness. I, like so many others, swallowed the reality. I graduated college with the ambition of financial prosperity and occupational ventures but found I am a caveman primitively existing amongst folks shackled to their vices. The art of fire, my only spoken language, is lost to all memory. Hidden in the dark, oral stories of long ago and the peril of what the end of the age will bring– haunt me. I will live out the rest of my days behind this bureau until another faux promise comes to fruition. Then, I will depart this world and pass on into the subsequent, not knowing what life could have been if I seized the risks it presented.
Under the guidance of burning wax, I’m wandering the narrow hallways of a castle. I see oil paintings of people lost forgotten— of people who ruled this stone keep long ago. My feet take me to the north hallway where I am forbidden to be. A desolate maple door separates my candlelight from what’s beyond. I can’t help myself. I turn the cold brass knob listening to the creaks in the floorboards beneath me. They’re warning me not to proceed. But I must. I have to. I’ve spent far too long imagining what lies inside but when the doorway opens, I see it. Sitting in the corner of the room right where I saw it in my dreams. A wardrobe like the one from Lewis’ children’s classic. Full of delight to see the country inside, I entered the wooden box and walk to the back like Lucy first did, but wood touches my fingertips. This isn’t meant to happen. Time passes as I search aimlessly through the dark. There is nothing. I step out of the wardrobe. Defeated. But before I have the time to reason, I notice I am not in the same castle I was before. No. This is different. I’m in a room stacked high with things that look out of sorts. There are mountains of books along with antique furniture stacked ornately high above me. A room of junk. A velvet case catches my eye. There are markings around the lid. They’re in another language. Elvish. My heart tells me. I lift the lid and find a single golden ring inside. It’s hung around a silver chain. Could this be? I slip the ring on my index finger and feel myself disappear from the room of odd things. And I find myself wandering back inside the caste with my burning wax, sleepwalking into another world.
A man’s life can easily be summed up in a matter of one sentence.
Jacobb Bouwer was a carpenter who built cabinets until he died. Samwise Smith was a mathematics professor in our town who never married and passed alone. Thomas Thames lived under the riverside bridge for nearly half of his life before dying of a rodent bite. All of these statements are tragedies nonetheless, but why is it, a few words with proper grammar and punctuation are the root of our legacies?
A conclusion has rested in my senses: if a man’s life cannot simply be summed up in one sentence than he’s some kind of traveling gypsy or a foul-minded fool!
I’m Nicolas Fletcher, an unwed elderly man who lives in the countryside with nothing but a bit of old books and a writing quill thank you very much! I’m quite happy being a normie as I’ve so coined and do not intend on gallivanting on some sort of crazy adventure that would lengthen my life sentence!
However, the neighboring estate, owned by the Parrish Family, is just ladened with traveling gypsies and fools alike. The Parrish’s own multiple properties stretching from high-class Paris to bitter cold Switzerland and they tend to them all over different seasons! What madness I say! My skin attempts to crawl from my withering bones every time I see their automobile drive away with luggage synched to the roof. And they’re all so joyous! If you ask me, they’re as mad as it gets. The whole lot of them should be thrown into a looney bin along with their putrid beast named Manny. That dog barks and howls till the crows come home! Do the Fletchers even have employment? No, quite answered. They swim in their pools of green year-round.
I’ve done my time in the working world— a bookbinder. Accumulated a plush cushion to retire on, bought me the cottage I live in now. And in all my years of service, I’ve learned one thing: the rich fancy their leather-bound books with oddity, but they never do seem to read the words printed inside them. It’s a wonder why they would need my services at all. I suppose the idea of a room dedicated to old works of art gets the wealthy going in some way. Certainly doesn’t grant them any intellectual abilities. I clearly imagine them walking around with their big sticks and toting about who has inherited the most money from mummy and daddy. What selfishness!
Although I must confess I’ve stolen a few classics during my time as a bookbinder. It wasn’t like they’d miss them. Goodness knows the spine and imprinted covers is all they look at. Caveman and barbarians they are. So primitive in nature. The act was uncomplicated. When commissioned to restore the torn binding on an antique printing of Aesop’s Fables I could not resist the temptation to switch it with a later printing I’d had in my possession. They would never notice! And they never did fifteen years later. I hadn’t received as much as a postcard or letter describing how unbelievably cruel I am to have stolen their copy. I now treasure the printing and have restored the artwork to its former glory as a seventieth birthday present to myself. I even wrapped it with a neat little bow— a supreme gift.
The way the light trickles through my windows in the early bits of the morning is all I can look forward to after retirement— a marker of another day given to live according to my wishes. It can birth loneliness from time to time, but the feeling passes before it can cement. I’m never invited to tea time— hardly enjoy the drink at all, but the gesture would be splendid. I suppose I’m rather emotionless. I’ve been called a grouch. Or worse— an arsehole! But I haven’t the slightest clue as to why. I’ve done nothing but mind my own business and tut tut! around my own study in utter silence. There’s never been a moment of noisiness on my part regarding any of my neighbor’s affairs. But here I sit, looking out my table-side windows, alone. Sometimes I imagine what’s on the other side of them and daydream. But nothing more.
At least I have Ester. She’s here a couple of days a week to clean for me and bring me food from the market. I lend her books from time to time and she actually reads them! But she’s young. Most likely waiting for me to die off so she can inherit the whole lot herself. I suppose it serves me right for stealing Aesop’s Fables all those years ago.
Old age isn’t as poetic as others might think and the journey up the stairs has become impossible. I’ve resorted to sleeping in the den surrounded by my beloved. The armchair I bed-in isn’t the most comfortable thing, but it relines nicely. I read until I fall asleep. Sometimes I write. It’s the only thing that seems to pass me into slumber. But even my eyes begin to fail me. My rounded spectacles are nearly twenty-years-old and scratched to hell. They don’t build things to last anymore. In thought, I don’t believe I’m built to last any more than my books. At least they can be mended or restored.
“Good evening Mr. Fletcher.”
“Evening Ester. The kitchen needs cleaning today. I spilled coffee by the stove. And don’t forget to wash my bedding. It’s starting to smell rather pungent.”
“Of course,” she nodded, setting her cleaning supplies down on the third step of the staircase.
“It’s drafty in here. Mind opening up a window to clear this gloom?”
“Perhaps going outside would be better? You can see what I’ve done in your garden.”
“I’m seventy-one for goodness sakes!” I barked as I spilled my coffee over my nightgown. “Why on God’s green earth would I resort to such activities? Those are a young man’s sport.”
“Right you are Sir.”
Ester was all too quiet sometimes. Apart from the quick chats about literature, frankly, I knew nothing about the girl. My worried relative in London had set the whole thing up— didn’t want me dying from a fall or letting my house run into shambles. I know why she did it. Money. She’s always asking for a bit here and there. I’ve had to lie and tell here I was poor more times than I can count. That’s all old relatives are good for these days— lending money.
There was a knock at my door.
Post didn’t come until late evening on Sundays. Who could it possibly be ringing my doorbell?
A small brown papered package lay on top of the doormat. It was tied in burlap string and had no return address, just an emerald hand-written label with my address:
Mr. Nicolas Fletcher
21 Little Dove
Perhaps it was a book to be mended, or even a book to be donated. My mind couldn’t settle on which. I resorted to sit back on my plush throne and open the package carefully. Maybe this was karma catching up to me. A bomb. A ticking time bomb sent from those rich snobs whose book I stole. This is it, I told myself. At least I’d blow up in the company of good authorship.
The package tore without a snag. The string untied nicely and lay flat on my lap. It indeed was a book. A purple hardbound book with gold trimmings. There was, however, no name on any part of the book, just ornate swirls of gold. A letter was waxed sealed to the front marked with the letter W. Who could be writing to me? I know no one of the surnames starting with W and I stole the book from a family Benson or Burnson or something of the sort. Relieved it wasn’t a bomb, a opened the letter. It read:
Dear Mr. Nicolas Fletcher,
You’re not an easy man to find these days. I’ve had my secretary rifle through many of Fletcher’s before finding the right one. And to think Knitsley of all places? You truly wish to stay anonymous. I suppose I cannot blame you. Old age thirsts from anonymity. Anyways, enough of the fluff. You’re probably wondering why this book has landed on your doorstep, and as much as it would bring great joy to reveal it’s secrets, I shalln’t. That is for you to discover. I do hope to receive a letter in return when you’ve discovered the secrets…
Inclosed you will find a number of things. Some of them lost and some of them found. I do request that you keep the contents of this book private as it would be in both of our interests to do so. Do you remember as children the game we used to play? The one with… well of course you remember.
P.S. Blink twice, turn in a circle, and hoot like an owl. It helps.
Stay tuned for part II….