“Books are dead!” proclaimed my guest, who wasn’t really a guest as a surprise visitor who came in with one of my actual guests. He was just that type, just the sort of person to do just that, just to give you an idea.
It is my fault for letting him in, I know. Though I do not take responsibility for his behaviour. That would be asking too much, I think. It would be expecting the whole world.
“Books are dead!” he cried out again, after I faltered in my response, not knowing exactly what he was getting at (but also noting all the books we have weighing down the shelves and invading the little free spaces of our tiny apartment).
“I read for work,” he continued. Incredible. There was an aura of self-induced triumph about him.
And that’s what made me think of the boy.
It was a Saturday morning and the subway car was, as usual, overcrowded – Stephen and I and quite a few others were jammed up close, near a young boy and his mother, who were seated but nonetheless closed in with the rest of us.
The mother sat by the window, the boy sat towards the aisle.
“Eee-er-rect? Ee-rect-a?” said the boy.
His mother ruefully shook her head, but did not discourage him. She smiled to herself and then at us as her son struggled with the ad hanging tantalizingly above our heads, its message as yet a mystery to his young mind.
“Dis-disfunct. Dis-func-sia-in,” he enunciated, carefully, loudly, heedlessly.
We waited. Stephen and I, the boy’s mother and the boy, and the half dozen people to our immediate left and right in that moment became a coterie, a clique, an inner circle facing out. The world be damned.
The boy continued: “E-rect-tile. Erectile! Dis…dysfunct-dysfunction!”
There was so much laughter threatening in that moment to break through. The boy’s mother congratulated him – sincerely, proudly – on his having mastered two very difficult words. Who would dare laugh then, and spoil everything?
And then the boy asked, pointing to the ad: “What is it?”
His mother looked at him. She looked at us. She looked out the window. “Ask your father,” she deadpanned.
So much laughter then, the boy’s merging with ours and I think, not because he understood his mother’s exquisite joke or deft delivery, but because, together, they had elicited a moment of joy out of the drudgery of the everyday. His mother laughed as she pulled him to her, beaming.
“Books are dead.” “I read for work.”
I guess what I’m saying is this:
I wish the boy and his mother had shown up at my house instead.