ONE HUNDRED FOUR
I compromised. I left the upstairs hall light burning. This was totally reasonable really: both the door to the downstairs toilet-containing cupboard and the way to the full bath upstairs would be thus findable by a confused half-awake foreigner when she got up in the night for a pee. Sid had already installed herself in the new bed and I had first to step around her as I dubiously put another log into what I hoped was the correct aperture. I did like the sound of the door closing on Caedmon’s firebox-what-you-call-it. Thud. It declared: I am solid and I am not going anywhere. Surprisingly reassuring, even though roving appliances have not been a feature of my nightmares so far. Then I had to heave my dog over to claim any part of the bed for myself. She grumbled, of course, and appeared to adhere to the bedding. I managed to lever myself and my iPad in after some effort, thinking, this is going to get harder as she puts on weight. Shopping list: large bed.
I knew that using a computer screen before you try to sleep is supposed to be a bad idea, that it scrambles your hormones which believe they are being stimulated to keep you awake. But the first night in my new hou—home I really had to read LOTR. Maybe tomorrow I could find the box with my rather numerous hard copy editions. Tonight the iPad would do.
I was surprisingly comfortable, once we were both settled, lying on my not-quite-fully-inflated-after-all air mattress with a folded blanket over it, and then an inelegant jumble of sheets and blankets over that, made more jumbly by Sid’s determination that her side was adequately arranged. She had, however, generously ceded me the space nearest to Caedmon, so I had an excellent heat source on both sides, and enough pillows or pillow-equivalents behind me to make lounging positively luxurious. Plus the bedside lamp. Whatever it might be doing to persuade my hormones that we were reading a book and not a computer screen, it was definitely responsible for my having been able to turn the rest of the lights (except the upstairs hall) off.
When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.
Bilbo was very rich and very peculiar. . . .
I’d reread it so often during the awful year my parents were breaking up that the pages of my first, much beloved childhood copy started falling out. One night my mother found me weeping in my closet, on the floor among the shoes, because I’d dropped THE TWO TOWERS in the bath and so many of the pages had come out I didn’t think I could save it. I was eleven years old, and it was nearly nine o’clock: she’d come in to make sure I was in bed and was going to tell me lights out in five minutes. This was Manhattan, and it was a small closet. There wasn’t really room for me and the shoes, my school clothes and winter coat, and a disintegrating paperback of THE TWO TOWERS.
“Come out of there,” my mother said grimly, and I crept out, my heart somewhere about six stories down, because now I was in trouble with her too. “Put a pair of those shoes on. You can put your coat over your nightgown. And wash your face. Quickly.”
“What?” I said, or probably squeaked. I laid the remains of TWO TOWERS carefully down, and rubbed my dirty face with a dirty hand. “Where are we going?” I had a sudden horrible vision of Dad throwing us out, although my dad would never have done any such thing.
“Crack Lit,” said my mother, which was the neighborhood name for the neighborhood bookstore, although the name over the door was Craddock Books. “Hurry up. I think they close at nine.”
They were, in fact, closing when we got there. Lara was cranking the steel shutter down. She looked up as she saw us—looked up and paused, taking in, I think, my blotchy face and my nightgown sticking out from under my coat, and that my mother was holding my hand. I was much too old for my mother to be holding my hand. Everybody in the neighborhood knew that my parents were breaking up, and everybody would include Lara. “We need a copy of THE TWO TOWERS,” said my mother, and I’d never heard that note of pleading in her voice before. “We need it tonight.”
Lara stared at us a moment longer and then ducked under the half-lowered shutter. There was a rattle of a key in a door, and she disappeared inside. We waited. Lara knew her stock extremely well: she was out again in under a minute, and she hadn’t turned the store lights on. She held out a shiny new copy of TWO TOWERS to me. “Pay for it tomorrow,” she said. “I’ve already cashed out.”
“Thanks,” said my mother.
“No problem,” said Lara, and went back to cranking down the shutter.
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