It began with The Brothers Karamazov which I lugged home from the second hand book store one day, it was a Saturday afternoon. This was years ago, but I remember thinking nothing else would do. Never mind that it was my third copy of the book, the third I could think of. Never mind I’d never read the other two, having given up in despair around page 24 both times. This one would be different. On the cover, The New York Times Book Review promised: “One finally gets the musical whole of Dostoevsky’s original.” I needed that. I needed the musical whole.
Feverishly, I read 24 pages then put it aside. The trouble was, there was no place to put it. The bookshelves had long been filled. Not just filled like they were meant to be, as they were when I was young and happy and the days were sweet. Now there were piles of books stacked on their sides along the shelves so you couldn’t even see the ones in behind them, let alone reach one if you needed it. I needed a new book case, desperately, but the thought of going to IKEA filled me with self-loathing and disgust, so no new book case had been procured.
The Brothers were set down on the carpet between the book cases and the coffee table in my living room. It was meant to be a temporary measure. And yet it sat there for several days and soon the entire room seemed to be organized around it. I thought of my mother who had worked so hard to put me through university, what would she think of this errant book just lying there on the carpet? Such thoughts filled me with shame and many a night I went to my poor bed and cried myself to sleep thinking of mother and the rest of the family I never saw any more. I knew deep inside that none of them would just leave a book sitting there on the floor like that. Day after day my shame and grew and my confidence began to crumble.
One day not long after, perhaps weeks, maybe months, I had stopped washing so it was hard to differentiate one day from another, I went to my favourite coffee shop where all I could afford was a cup of hot water. I couldn’t actually afford hot, so settled for lukewarm. I looked down, as I always did in those days, as looking up was too painful, and there on the bench beside me was a copy of Kafka’s The Trial. My heart raced. I felt feverish. Sweat poured from the palms of my hands and the soles of my feet. Like a condemned man, I took the book in a trembling soggy hand and stashed it into my greasy satchel and furtively made my way back to my cheap lodgings.
I lay on my couch in mortal agony, subsisting on saltines and vinegar, and read the entire book without a break. When I was finished, I hardly knew my own name. Without thinking, I set The Trial atop The Brothers Karamazov before I swooned and fell into a treacherous sleep.
It was later the same day I tired of reading a piece on monopedomania in The New Yorker and set the magazine on top of The Trial. The next day, a letter from the phone company threatening to cut me off (again) went on top of the magazine. In the laundry room I found a copy of a biography on Steven Tyler which I mean to get to someday, but for now, it sits on top of the nasty letter from the phone company, beneath a slightly damaged Penguin Pride and Prejudice.
Something sculptural and loathsome and demonic was forming in my living room. Day by day, book by book, bill by bill, magazine by magazine, the tower rose from one foot, to two feet, to six feet, until I had to stand on my tip toes to jam a Pizza 73 flyer between the top of the pile and the ceiling.
By now, the tv was obscured from my favourite place on the couch. A second tower was growing up beside the first, grounded with a two volume set of impressionistic art. Before long, it too reached the ceiling, and a third tower began. And a fourth. And a fifth. You get the idea. Soon my entire apartment was a series of precarious piles of paper and I found myself scurrying around in this maze of my own creation so that I began to feel more like a rodent than a human being.
One night, as I sat in my local bar, nursing a flat beer, my eyes yellowish with fever, reading a stale Paris Review, despite my best intentions I was joined by a local harlot who rubbed my thigh and suggested we return to my hovel for a night of passion. I had been without passion that involved a second party for so long that I unthinkingly said yes. Up the stairs we climbed to my grim dwelling place. She was afraid of elevators. I can’t blame her.
I opened the door to my apartment. She entered and saw the towers of paper rising to the ceiling. She shrieked, causing a percussion that, as if in slow motion, started the crumbling and deconstruction of the towers. Like dominoes they began to fall, drawing the attention of the neighbours and the building manager and soon we heard the wail of sirens in the distance.
I scurried out the kitchen and onto the fire escape, climbing down to the alley where I began to wander disconsolately in the rain. This was weeks ago. I wander still. The only possession I managed to salvage from the ruins?
The Brothers Karamazov . . .
Thanks for reading!