In a used book I ordered off the web there is a bookmark from Island Books of Mercer Island, Washington. I've just lost half an hour on the Island Books website and wish it existed here in Syracuse. Since we don't have a store like that but I have the bookmark, I'm imagining Island Books and the person who bought this Dani Shapiro book only to give it up.
Still Writing is a nonfiction book subtitled The Perils And Pleasures Of A Creative Life and I wonder if the person buying it dreamed she would become a writer. I imagine her wanting to be like Dani Shapiro, writing memoirs, novels, essays, and maybe someday even a book about the craft. I imagine that woman back in 2013 holding the book in that faraway bookstore — a place in which it seems magic could happen almost regularly — and thinking, yes, it's time to tell my stories. Hearing her voice, I invent her name: Sarah.
I bought the book used from Better World Books, so the end of Sarah's writing story is cleae even if I haven't yet finished Shapiro's book. Sarah didn't write books, essays, stories, or much of anything. She bought the book and went outside into freezing rain. She hadn't worn a hat or a warm enough coat. There was a slight tear in her shoe or maybe the leather just soaked through on the way home. By the time she made it to her apartment she had grown deeply cold. She could not seem to stop shaking. The book felt clammy in her hand as she drew it from the cotton bag she had carried.
The book remained on a table for months. She started reading it a couple times, but it wasn't a page turner. Anyway, Shapiro's seeming effortlessness mocked her. Sarah moved the book to her shelf where it mixed with other books she had or hadn't read. Sarah went to work, met friends for drinks, and on a warm summer evening she sipped coffee at an outdoor table and saw a woman at another table look away each time Sarah looked up.
Three days later Sarah saw her again, this time at a friend's birthday party. "I'm Alice," the woman said. They talked through the evening and walked out of the party near midnight. At a corner where the woman was proceeding straight while Sarah turned left, they talked some more, neither wanting to say goodbye. Alice reached out to hug Sarah who took a chance, held Alice's gaze, and then kissed her. After that, there were very few more evenings when going home led them in separate directions.
Only weeks later, Sarah moved from her apartment into Alice's. Just months after that they found a small house with a view of a mountain that sprang from the earth as if out of nothing, magical and impossible. Having culled books once, Sarah again spread them on the floor of Alice's living room and made three piles: to keep, to go, to decide later. She pulled books from boxes and added them to the piles trying to get rid of as much of her old life as she could. Still Writing went to the third pile with four others. Three of those joined the small stack to keep but as for Shapiro's book, Sarah no longer remembered the day she had bought it. The book and her urge to write her story both went to go.
A postal carrier delivered Still Writing to my home in Syracuse. I'm on page 52 and still reading. I'm already telling my stories, but I appreciate the book's gentle nudge to go on. The book rests on the coffee table. I imagine it waiting for me to finish writing, something for which it waits patiently. Outside the wind blows hard and is full of snow. The bottom quarter of the window is frosted over.
Through the top I see hills, not mountains. These are are drumlins, elongated hills, heaps really, left behind as glaciers receded. The drumlins, dozens of them, are aligned all in the same direction and obscured by trees and the houses built along and atop them. The long slow inclines up one side drop sharply off the other. Our home is nestled in a hollow between several drumlins through which the wind is rushing. The furnace sounds in the basement and hot air blows through the grates. I type my story and send it out into the world where someone, maybe even someone in a bookstore on Mercer Island, might wonder who I am and what the rest of my story might be.