This article is taken from Stand 228, 18(4) December 2020 - February 2021.

Alice Wooledge Salmon Stalking Sartre
So many books. Shelves crammed – editions overspilling – piles on chairs and choking floors – all the floors – everywhere. Even, now, the bathroom.  And opening that door down the hall – oh, God!  Jerking it shut fells several stacks, spraying dust and a fug of degradation.

Coughing, strangling, I manoeuvre a path up the corridor, manage water from a smudged glass.  Into the largest room. Everything much worse than when I was last here. With Alban chuckling, tapping one cover, then another, suddenly confiding, whispering, ‘And sometimes, sometimes, yes, I forge a signature. Yes, yes, I know how to do it. Appropriate pen. And sometimes, I’ve made my own ink. Yes, yes, I know how – know what to do! But now I’m getting on. So now I just have them, my babies, my treasures.’ He’d picked an example off his large and disordered desk, run his hand along the spine. ‘Don’t fret,’ he murmured as he rummaged lovingly among the works, ‘you’re safe.’

The shock of his leaving all this to me! Solicitor’s letter enclosing a list of ‘antiquarian/rare book sellers’, London ‘house clearers’, urging haste, with or without the ‘aid of these services’, as rent would ‘shortly fall due’ on Alban’s flat and the estate had ‘little in the way of funds’ with which to pay. I push aside outdated catalogues – he can’t have had clients since … when? – and extract a couple of volumes from the now chaotic surface of his desk, its leather all but shredded, the books emitting a vaguely chocolate smell.  

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