This Autumn Still

This Autumn Still

by Juan F. Lam

Oct 5, 2021

#fantasy

Ask a book-keeper to tell you something about books. Books know secrets, they might say. Books are magic. Books are that door to those particular places or truths that might be otherwise difficult to get to, unless you know where to go. But ask Lorenzo and he will grin, lean in close, and say: books are quiet. Books do not chirp or trill or bark or bubble. Books are silent except, perhaps, when they fall. When they fall they thud wearily and quiet fast. And when they open they only whisper, or flick when a page is turned. But this autumn morning, fresh and still, Lorenzo’s books make song.

The music rings like crystal bells. This is the sound: what snowdrops might sound like, if you could hear them, during a snowfall on the brightest day of winter. Lorenzo carefully places his cleaning rag on the counter of his sitting place and peeks out the window. He sees people perusing the plaza in front of his bookshop, but there is nothing besides. He locks the door. The books sing, and Lorenzo seeks the song. Stepping up the stairs and searching for the soundly fare, he walks and walks and finds nothing. But the music continues. Sixty years of practice tell him he must merely keep searching, almost without aim. The song does not come from one particular place, but every place in his shop that has a book, or a spell, or a scroll of secrets he might sell. In the end he finds nothing until he comes upon a little, final, nook. There glows in gold a book he doesn’t know, its leather-binding glittering with familiar majesty and some measure of impatience. He smiles, at last, and uses the shelf to support him as he sits. When he touches the book, he is gone.

Lorenzo is a proud Italian man, a lover of his country. But it is not home to him — not so much as this place, this special place he has come to. This place, the place between pages, the rhythm between words, the flicker in a flame. And Giana, who embraces him, holds him close in her arms, and tells of all the things she has done or seen, or heard in that interim time. She is the heart of this place. There are trains and telephones, and warm running water. You can forage mushrooms and make stews or soups or broth. You can doodle, sing, weave, or dance. You can make magic. There is no death for the people here, or suffering. Only all the esteemable things of Italy, like love and gelato, with the majorest mark against it being a smidge of unavoidable bureaucracy. But Lorenzo and Giana can not be seen or heard or even felt by the people of this place, though they can kick fallen leaves up into the air like bursts of twirling wind. They cannot doodle, or eat, or pet a dog. It is the nature of the spell that binds Giana to the place, and that binds Lorenzo to Giana.

And here, Lorenzo is young again, and together they make love by fresh springs and venture into the market to watch the people. Lorenzo reads her poems from his place, Giana shows him art from hers. In this way they spend months together, going to and fro. Adventuring and discussing, learning and watching. But the time draws near, and Lorenzo can feel the calling of his place.

So he brings Giana to a stop by a pond, which ripples with a gentle breeze, and she grows sad because she knows their time is nearing. He tells her that he has a gift for her, and she turns her head in confusion. It is a gift that he has come upon through a great many hours of study and many more of patient thought. When she asks him what it is, he does not tell her. He only smiles, and tells her that he will see her in a year’s time. Because this autumn is different.

This autumn, it is Giana who will come into that little nook in the bookshop, and rise up and feel the spines of leather books. And though she will be lonely, she will not be alone. Because it is to Giana that customers will smile or curse or bargain with, and her hand they will shake when a deal is struck. And it is Giana who will drink wine and taste the sweetness of plums as she thinks of her love in a distant place. It is the first time in a long, long, time that Giana will feel the coolness of winter, or the wetness of spring, or the heat of summer. And Lorenzo? He will watch, and he will learn, and he will ponder in the quiet, lovely place, on how to break the spell. And he will wait for his love to return again, and tell him stories and recite poems, and describe wonders. This autumn is special, because for Lorenzo it is this autumn still.

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