Prospero's Half-Life
up to his
    “ I seem to keep doing that,” he said by way of apology.
Samantha smiled, although there seemed to be some impatience behind
it. He kept his breathing under control.
    “ We should stop and eat something soon,” Samantha said, looking
appraisingly at the buildings around them. She pursed her lips.
“Somewhere less occupied”. Richard silently agreed.
    They chose a
relatively untouched book store up the street. The sign declared it
as “Penelope’s Used Books” and the subscript on the cheaply-made
yellow-on-white said that it “used books eagerly”. The front window
had been smashed along with the rest, but the interior seemed
undisturbed. They crossed into cool, darkened stacks, where the
secret smell of aging paper dominated over all.
    “ Do you think the lights are burned out?” Samantha whispered,
and Richard looked intently at the ceiling.
    “ Maybe,” he said, “maybe someone shut them off, before they
left for the last time. You have a flashlight in that pack of
    “ Of course,” she said, offended. “I have two”. She took off her
knapsack and rummaged inside. She handed him the smaller of the
two, an emergency wind-up flashlight. He gave her a look and then
began winding it up. The zipzipzip sound it made seemed very loud in the close
confines of the jumbled shelves.
    They peeked into recesses of the store and were impressed by
how far it went back. Richard had never been much of a reader, but
he was impressed by the sheer number and variety of the books that
were contained within the place. He found a whole section of
westerns, which his father would have loved. It was amazing how
quickly memory could flood back when confronted with familiar
stimuli, and as he fingered the worn-in spines of wide, curved
paperback novels his mind conjured up high resolution pictures of
thirty years past. His father drinking coffee in the morning,
bopping to Stevie Ray Vaughan and reading something by Louis
L’Amour. The sunlight came in a nearby window over top of him,
casting him in a higher contrast than normal, and he seemed to burn
into Richard’s interior sight like the sun. He’d been nine, he
remembers, the same year that he’d watched a group of people
demolish a cement wall bedecked with neon-coloured graffiti. His
father had been sitting on their ratty old couch; the video had
come on the news and his father had lain down the book he was
reading (L’Amour again, How The West Was
Won ). His hands, long-fingered and
powerful. There was something like awe in the way that he was
watching the video, Richard remembered that. Awe and a sort of
stunned stupification.
    Samantha nudged him and he shook away from his reveries. He
ran an appreciative finger down one more cracked spine and turned
away, back into the dim present. They went to the back of the
stacks and found stairs leading up. They were wide, and lined on
the sides with an overflow of paper novels. When the reached the
top they realized that there were even more rooms filled with books. The
main room extended out to the front of the store and had a large
picture window facing out onto the street – undamaged, a rarity.
This room was littered with stacks of boxes of books. Near the back
of the store were two rooms with very old-looking hardcover books.
Samantha decided that they would stop to eat in that room; she
seemed excited at the prospect of digging through what she called
“the collection”.
    Richard ate from a can of cold pasta in tomato sauce and
watched her dig through her treasures. She exclaimed over each
discovery, chattering excitedly over them. Richard paid only a
spurious attention to what she was saying; she seemed to know a
great deal more about literature than he did, and much of what she
said went over his head. He did take notice at books that he’d
actually heard of, however; she pulled a very old edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin out of
a hidden pile and he remarked in surprise. She seemed

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