THE FALLING BOOK. | By: Terry Collett | | Category: Short Story - Friendship Bookmark and Share


Horsham library. Modern, new and spacious. And Tessa Underbridge bespectacled for reading purposes, walks down the fiction section with her boyfriend, Julian following behind. She stoops forward and withdraws a book. Just as she is about to open the pages of the book a loud clatter sounds behind her.

"What was that?” Tessa says, turning round and winding Julian with her elbow as she turns. Julian winded stoops too.

"The book fell off the library shelf," Julian says with effort.

Tessa picks up the book and scrutinizes the cover. Lady Chatterley's Lover is printed in large capitals. "Have you read this?" she asks over her shoulder to Julian rubbing his stomach.

"No. Wouldn't touch Lawrence with the proverbial barge poll," Julian says snooping over Tessa's partially naked shoulder. "I did read Women in Love once," he confesses. "Thought it was a lesbian novel. Bit disappointing in a way."

Tessa stands erect and stares at Julian. "Why should you want to read a lesbian novel?" she asks inquisitively.

Julian shrugs his narrow shoulders. "I thought it might be informative," he suggests. "You know, see how the other half lives as they say." He infers from Tessa's look that she is not impressed.

"Insalubrious, I'd say," Tessa informs." Insipid. You are some times wanting in taste. I think sometimes Mother was right about you. You do have this morbid obsession with fornication."

"I do," Julian confesses. He steps back as Tessa turns round and places his hands over his groin. "But too much, you are right," he adds. "I was thinking," he adds further," maybe I should get out a book on monasticism."

Tessa puts the Lawrence book back on the shelf and holds out the book she had originally selected. "This is what you should read," she says assertively. Julian looks at the cover of the book she holds out to him. Pride and Prejudice. He reads the title to himself and shakes his head.

"Not my type of book," Julian says. "More a woman's book."

"Nonsense," Tessa exclaims. "A masterpiece. Without sex or violence and not a swear word anywhere."

"Just what I mean, a woman's book," Julian says coolly.

"Have you read it?” Tessa asks. "Have you actually placed your manly eyes within its covers?” She holds the book in her right hand like a preacher beginning a sermon.

Julian shakes his head. "No. But I haven't been to bed with a prostitute, but I can imagine what it's like," he says brashly. Tessa's face changes colour and her light-brown eyes darken. Julian smiles weakly and looks down at the carpeted floor. Tessa walks along further in silence. She stoops again and pulls another book carefully from the shelf. She lifts it and opens the book up.

"There are times Julian Kimbill when I wonder about you," Tessa intones in a voice that Julian loathes. "University student and the morals of a sex-starved tom." She walks forward with the book now tucked under her left arm. "There’s a whole vista of books here in which you could learn about the world and its ways. About the thoughts of great minds; about art; about science. "

Julian raises his eyebrows and grins. Tessa shakes her head and moves on along the shelves. She stops and stoops suddenly and Julian almost falls over her, but saving himself in time just nosedives her left arm.

"Art," Julian says, briefly kissing Tessa's arm," is of immense interest to me."

"I know the sort of art you're interested in," Tessa says rubbing spittle from her arm. She pulls out another book and opens it in her hand. "Monet is the artist for you. Not Renoir or Rubens," she adds closing the book and replacing it on the shelf.

"I like Boucher myself," Julian informs glibly.

"You would," Tessa snorts. She crosses the floor to the music section. She runs her eyes over the classical Cds." Pornography no less," she says over her shoulder unaware that Julian is still in fiction. The man behind her raises his eyebrows but says nothing. Tessa blushes and moves with pace to the fiction again. Julian is standing browsing through a book." I thought you were with me," Tessa says. Julian lowers the book and stares over the cover.

"Did you miss me?” Julian asks. "This book," he says nodding towards the book in his hands, "has fifteen swear words on the first page. And that's only the introduction," he lies.

Tessa shakes her head and walks back to the music section. The man has gone. She looks through the Cds again and taps her right index finger along as she goes.

After a few minutes Julian joins her, his hands empty of books. Tessa is crouching down amongst the Mozarts. Julian stoops and kisses her partially naked shoulder. Tessa stands up and glares at him.

"There’s a time and place for everything," she informs him irritably waving Mozart's Don Giovanni in his face, " and this is neither the neither time nor place." Julian looks at the Mozart Cds and Tessa's glare and decides the Mozart the less dangerous.

"Mozart," Julian says taking the Cds from her hand," is fine. But I prefer something a little more modern. What about a little Berg or Poulenc?” Tessa ignores him and takes back the Mozart from his hand. Silence. She moves away with the books and Cds and walks purposefully towards the lift across the other side of the library. Julian follows less purposefully. The doors open and Tessa and Julian enter. The doors close and the lift rises.

"You’re nothing but an idiot," Tessa fumes. "Try and behave like a civilized human being for a while. This is a library for God's sake. Not some seedy night club." The lift stops. The doors open. Tessa walks off briskly towards the art section and Julian follows slowly at a safe distance. She pauses at the art section until Julian  arrives. "Right do you promise to behave?" she asks him quietly. Julian nods and gives a sad expression. "Art," Tessa confides softly," does not reproduce what we see. It makes us see. Well that's what Paul Klee said. And I think he's right." Julian nods over her shoulder brushing his chin over her naked skin.

"I expect he'd have been glad to have known that," Julian says. He moves back as Tessa turns towards him. "I can see where he's coming from, though. Like Monet's lilies."

Tessa frowns. "What about Monet's lilies?" she asks brushing the fingers of her right hand through her dark-brown hair.

"Well," Julian says looking into Tessa light-brown eyes and seeing himself reflected there in miniature and in double," if he hadn't painted them, who the bloody hell would have bothered to go out and look at them." Tessa shakes her head despairingly. There seems little hope, she muses and turns away. Julian stands watching her walk on. He loves the way she walks and studies her legs as she pulls a large book from the top shelf. "Dorothy Parker said that art is a form of catharsis," Julian says. Tessa turns her head and studies him.

"Big word for you," Tessa says. "But, yes, I suppose that's true," she concedes turning her head to one side. "Art does allow for the emptying out of our innermost thoughts and feelings. A sort of purification of the soul and emotions."

"A kind of purgative," Julian suggests. "Allowing for the release of pent up constipated emotions," he adds. Tessa moves towards him with the large book in her hand. She lifts the book.

"Some art," she concedes," some art." Julian glances at the large book waving in front of him.  

"Most art," Julian states. "Most art acts as a purgative." He watches as the book nears his chin. Tessa stares at him and then bites her lip.

"Don’t like the word purgative," Tessa says. "Purification is more the word. When one is emptied of one's deep down emotions andthoughts one is purified. That is the result of art not its function or purpose." She lowers the book and studies the cover. She shows the cover to Julian. "What does this picture do for you?”

Julian looks intently at the picture on the cover of the book. "Nothing. Absolutely nothing," he states. But above the cover he gazes momentarily at Tessa's pouting lips and knows what they do for him, but says nothing more.

Tessa turns the cover towards herself and stares at it. "Why not?” she asks. "Why does it do nothing for you?”

"It’s a pot of sunflowers. What is it meant to do for me?” Julian replies and asks in turn. Tessa's lips move and he watches them and the white but slightly uneven teeth behind.

"Van Gogh poured out his soul into his paintings. Can't you see that that or feel that? "Tessa asks passionately. Julian pulls a face and shakes his head.

"No. Sunflowers in a vase are all I see. Does nothing for me," Julian says lifting his eyes to the waving book and away from Tessa's lips."I mean it's colourful. It has a sort of beauty, but it does nothing to me otherwise."

"It moves me," Tessa states. "It enters me and stirs me up." Julian smiles at the mere thought of Tessa being stirred up but smiles secretly as the book hovers near his chin again. She turns the book cover towards herself again and studies it for a few moments. "I am moved," she states with a sigh. Julian wishes he could move her likewise, but can't, at least not at that moment. She grips the book tightly with the Mozart Cds and the other two books under her left arm. "I’ve got these and you have nothing," she says looking at Julian's empty hands.

"I haven't seen anything I like. I'm not in the mood for reading," Julian says moodily.

"You should be thankful for the library. Years ago there were no public libraries like this, " Tessa informs Julian as they turn and walk towards the lift. "What are you sulking for?” she asks seeing Julian's dull expression. He says nothing but follows Tessa into the lift. The doors close and they descend.

"You are my art," Julian says. "You move me. When I look at you all my deepest thoughts and emotions are brought to the surface and I am purified." Tessa smiles and leans forward kissing Julian's cheek.

"You are a fool," Tessa confides softly. "But for all your folly and weakness, I love you." Julian stands moved. The lift stops.The doors open and they walk out together, her loaded with books and Cds and him empty-handed. She in front now at the desk and he behind studying the shapely work of art.

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