She wasn’t the slightest bit romantic, and literature didn’t particularly interest her, she just loved the books themselves. Especially ones with famous names. She went about things alphabetically, buying herself books, a roomful of them, arranged neatly on the shelves.
Needless to say she took the liberty of calling the room “my library.” Visitors were allowed to look, but not touch. Feasting their eyes on the spines, they all marvelled at her collection.
It’s the things in these books, she said, not the letters on the page, that are dear to me, and important. And all who heard this believed in her love of literature.
When she was alone, she invariably took out a few books, remembering exactly where to find something, and she leafed through them until she found what she was looking for. Sometimes it was a love letter from someone she had left, or a ticket to a place where she had experienced happiness. Or it was hairs from her own head that she had torn out in anger or sorrow. She always knew what the reason was, what the date was. Some books also hid the addresses of those she had once called friends.
Sometimes, when she was sad or drunk, she would read a few pages, the same ones over and over, for hours. Because she liked them so much she would cut some of them out and put them in a different book. So she could look for them again some day.
Often she wrote messages for herself in the books too, and read them aloud every now and then. As if they’d been penned by someone else. That’s how beautiful she found them.
But when she felt despondent because time was passing by so fruitlessly, she smeared her books with jam, or even with butter or honey or saliva. That comforted her during difficult nights and she licked these books every now and then. She even managed to get red wine and fish soup into them, and some other bodily fluids.
The poor books smelt as little of literature as a desert smells of the sea.
Occasionally she fell asleep on her library floor while listing the authors, as well as the publishers and the titles of the books.
She sprinkled dust and other things onto the books, as if she were crowning the heads of the authors with time: the time they had been allowed to live with her. But she wasn’t completely mad, she did exercises to train her brain, where she would state the page count of particular books, getting it right, or nearly right. She could even correctly guess the years they were first published, and, what’s more, their original titles. Now and again she laid the books out as a mattress under her and then she dreamed of their contents too, that is, of the things she was keeping safe inside them. Sometimes they were wet the next morning.
When she died and her estate was sold off, many a second hand bookseller came in for a surprise, and would usually rid a book of her traces as best he could.
“Bücher”, by Zehra Cirak, © Verlag Hans Schiler, Berlin
Translation © Kate Roy