Summer has an odd way of lasting forever and vanishing in an instant.
One morning, our grandmother told us that my father would be coming to collect us the following morning. She said this without a trace of emotion. I looked at my grandfather, who did not look up from his newspaper.
My first feeling was one of joy; I missed my parents. But that joy was soon diluted by the realisation that the secret library in the attic would no longer be at my disposal.
Only, the secret library was no longer a secret, and neither were the frequent visits my brother and I had been making. We had both borrowed several books by this time. Nothing that either one of us read was a bore to the other, but we definitely had our favorite subjects. I tended to read more books about history, adventure, and other countries. He was the science man, his favourite subject being dinosaurs. He became so engrossed in one book that he wandered down to dinner one evening whilst still reading. I was already at the table and sat there in horror as he took his chair without looking up from his book.
“What’re you after reading?” my granny asked.
“Book,” he grumbled, still not looking up.
“About?” She was smiling, which I took as a sign that we were about to be cooked and eaten.
That was when he came to, so to speak. He looked up as if he were waking from a dream, and realised that he was caught, and also the futility of an escape attempt.
“And where did you get it?”
I was staring a hole in him. It was no use.
That was it. That was all she said. We ate without saying a word. I could see her looking at me out of the corner of my eye, as if she were waiting for me to say something, but I had nothing to say, and after dinner we went off to bed. As we lay there, I thought about scolding my brother, or perhaps beating him senseless in the quietest fashion possible, but before I could do either of these things, he said, “I guess we can read the books downstairs now.”
“Reckon so.” I couldn’t understand any of it; if it was alright for us to go up in the attic, why had she made a point of telling us not to do so?
Regardless of her reason, we began reading our books in the sitting room. She would take note of which books we had borrowed, sometimes commenting on our choices. Why that book? What did you think of it? And, if we became bored with a book and began to creep upstairs for a replacement, —
“Don’t take it out of the feckin’ attic if you’re not going to read it! I have them all just where I want them.”
And so we had become quite attached to “our” books, and I was even beginning to like my granny just a bit, and now it was all over. Back to our parents, yes, but also back to school and God only knew what it was going to be like this year, definitely not an attic full of books that we actually wanted to read, full of things we needed to learn. I thought about trying to steal a book or two to take home, but felt guilty about it, and in my child’s mind I actually believed that my granny knew where each and every volume was kept. I tried to turn my thoughts to my mother and father and my school friends as I fell asleep that night.
In the morning, shortly before my father arrived, my grandfather shook hands with us and gave us some money. This was how he told us he loved us, and I had no problem with that whatsoever.
Then it was my grandmother’s turn.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” she asked my brother.
“Alright, then.” She gave him a rather large children’s science book that had most likely belonged to my father. He gave thanks and put the book under his arm. She looked at me.
“What about you?”
I hesitantly told her that I wanted to be a pilot. I hesitated because if I had said this to one of my teachers at school, they would have come back with some sort of remark like, “Get your head out of the clouds”, or “Don’t go getting above your station. Who do you think you are?” and I feared the same from her.
She nodded and went to her own bookshelves, which were set into the walls of the sitting room, searched for a bit, came back with a book and handed it to me.
“You’ll need to read this one, I think.”
I read the title.
Wind, Sand, and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
I looked through the book. No pictures. I looked up at her.
“This will teach me how to fly?”
Just then my father came through the door. My brother and I ran to him and he grabbed us in his arms. My grandfather rose from his chair and began speaking with my father about something that didn’t concern us boys. They moved toward the kitchen. Before we left, my grandmother said, “Oh, wait now. I”ll be right back.” She went upstairs again and came down with yet another book and handed it to me. It was a fluffy cloth book, a baby’s book. I gave her a quizzical look.
“For the little brother,” she said.
I looked at my little brother.
“Not that one, you idiot. The new one.”
(to be continued…)