DAISY CHAINS by BLUE COUTELL an episodic novelette
episode seven: go on, smell the pages
The sidewalk is cracked. Old gum stamped and darkened into the concrete. Ivy walks with a croissant stuck between her teeth, threatening to separate to the ground and Ivy digs in her messenger bag. She pulls out a crumpled list and hands it to Astrid. Astrid’s eyes scan the list, she straightens it out the best she can. Moby Dick, Grapes of Wrath, War and Peace. These are books even she doesn’t want to read. “I’ve been told they are some of the best books of all time,” Ivy says taking the flakey croissant into her hand. “If by ‘best’ you mean boring,” Astrid sighs, handing the list back. “Why don’t we find you books you’ll actually read?” “How do I know what I want to read?” There is a touch of desperation in Ivy’s voice. “Most people judge books by their covers. If they like that, they read the back. If they like the back, they buy the book,” Astrid explains. “What kind of things do you like? Mystery, science fiction, classics, romance?” Ivy chews on her greasy pastry thoughtfully. “I don’t know; I’ve always been a bit of a romantic,” Ivy says, accidentally dropping her croissant on the ground. “Shit.” Ivy kicks it off to the side. Judging by the frown on her face, Astrid could easily tell that it wasn’t the first negative thing to happen to her today. “We’ll find you a romance. A nice shirtless man on the cover.” Ivy stays quiet, in a way that makes Astrid uncomfortable. However, she hardly knows Ivy, so she doesn’t pry. They approach an unassuming shop. There is no sign but the decal on the door that reads: “The Ink Factory”. Astrid pauses with her hand on the knob. “The best part about this place isn’t the books,” she says seriously. “It’s the smell.” Ivy’s brows knit together in confusion. Astrid twists the knob and they head inside. The shop is quite warm, like it was intended to be in for a long amount of time. There are worn sofas of greens and reds that lay in corners, presumably for those who wish to do nothing but read. The scent hits Ivy hard in the nostrils. It smells like aging paper, but the fragrance was so strong she detected musk. Almost like how a basement smells. Astrid grabs her hand, and her heart beats a little faster. There were books from floor to ceiling and across every inch of wall space. It is a grand sight to behold. Astrid leads her to the general fiction section. She slips through the stacks, knowing exactly where she is going in the maze of literature. They stop at “S”. “Sa”. Astrid pulls out a book named Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger. She flips it open and fans the pages toward her nose. “What are you doing?” Ivy asks. The question makes Astrid smile. “Go on, smell the pages,” she says, handing the book to Ivy. Ivy looks at the book suspiciously before grabbing the spine. She fans the pages in the same way that Astrid had, and breathes in the smell of new pages. It smells like paper, but she can fathom the perfume of it. It was not a rose, but it had its own charm. Ivy still saw Naomi everywhere. Yet when she was with Astrid, Naomi seemed to fade to the background. The compression in her chest is always temporarily lifted. “Why that book?” Ivy asks curiously. “Because the man who wrote it also wrote the The Catcher in the Rye. The Catcher in the Rye made me believe in books.” Astrid looks at the cover reverently. “You know a lot about books.” “They help me get away. I’ll make a reader of you, Ivy.” “That would be quite a feat,” Ivy jokes. Astrid slides around to the “P”s. She pulls out The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. “This is a good one. Dark, but good. The woman who wrote it gassed herself in an oven.” “What?” Ivy says in a fit of shock. She grabs the book and shoves it back in the wrong order. “That’s sick. I don’t want anything to do with that.” Ivy feels her hands tremble. Astrid grabs onto them and twists her body to face hers. “I’m sorry, are you okay?” Astrid’s concern plays on her forehead and in her frown. “I didn’t mean to upset you.” “It’s why I was at the train station. I guess it was my oven. I didn’t want to live without my girlfriend.” Ivy can’t seem to meet Astrid’s eyes. “I’m a lesbian, Astrid.” “Oh … I’m sorry about your girlfriend,” Astrid says in surprise. “I don’t—It doesn’t bother me, that you are. I mean, I don’t even know what I am.” Ivy gets on her tiptoes and kisses Astrid, light and fast. “How’d that feel?” Astrid’s cheeks go scarlet. “It was okay,” she says shyly. “Would you do it again?” “It was a pleasant experience … but you’re a very pretty girl.” This cheers Ivy up considerably. “You are too. You remind me a lot of Naomi.” Astrid doesn’t know how to take the compliment, so she tucks her book between her arm and torso. “We need to find you a book,” she says with determination. “Come on.” Astrid grabs hold of Ivy’s hand once more and they weave through the maze to the romance section. “Now, I can’t promise you anything about lesbians, but I have something you might like anyway.” She slides down to “M”. A bright red brick of a book weighs in Astrid’s hand, momentarily she hands it to Ivy. “‘Gone With the Wind?’” Ivy reads. At least it’s one she’s heard of before. “Best genre romance novel of all time,” Astrid explains. “Maybe not the best introductory book, but it’s a wild ride.” The two of them walk to the front and buy their respective books. When they go back outside, Ivy knows she’ll never touch the book, but every time she looks at it, she’ll think of Astrid. She’ll have a reminder of why she’s alive.