Julian liked Tennyson. He didn’t know why, people would practically run in the other direction when he started talking about him. He would enter into these long winded explanations about the romance, the diction and beauty of Alfred Lord’s poetry. He owned a little book of his poetry, the complete works. He had found it in a used book shop and had to have it. It was worn, probably about forty years old. The cover was red and scratched. The spine must have been gilded at one point but now it was dull beige spotted with age. The pages were frail; he turned them as though handling a precious object, they seemed to break just a little more from the spine as he turned them. On the inside covers, someone had written what looked like their own attempt at poetry, it was terrible. But this made the book all the more precious to him that someone had loved Tennyson so much they had tried to write their own, had worn away the pages with their constantly moving fingers. He carried it with him everywhere.
It was on this day, that he walked down the street and read Alfred’s book as he went, muttering silently to himself the delicate phrases of The Lady of Shallot. As he walked, he began to imagine that he was the Lady’s sweet prince, her “Bold Sir Lancelot.”
“A Red Cross knight for ever kneeled/to a lady in his shield” he whispered.
Unlike Lancelot he would not prove crude or lacking in sympathy, he would not prove phantom. He could see the city streets in front of him, transformed to Camelot, the tall building in front of him as the Lady’s tower. He saw her there, starring out her window and dreaming of the world beyond. Saw her decision to leave her prison and travel down below in search of Lancelot. Because she, “Saw the helmet and the plume” he whispered. He felt the words roll over his tongue and his breath emptied them into the chilly winter air to mingle among the conversations of others. He continued his fantasy, while cruel people tried to knock him out of Camelot.
The Lady descended from her tower, to take a boat along the river. In his version the lady would not die. He, Lancelot, would not dismiss her with flippant words or mocking praise of, “She has a lovely face.” But he would continue and say, “God save her grace, the Lady of Shallot.” Every woman he saw became her grace, moving with great fluidity and wondrous beauty.
He stopped and looked down at his book; he realized that one of the fragile pages, the one containing the poem he had imagined into reality, had torn. He had stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, people continued to stream past him, intent on getting out of the snow. The flakes swirled around him, landing on the torn page he held in his ungloved hand. He stuck the loose page back in the book and closed it, tucking it under his arm. He found that his main purpose now was to repair the book; he knew that the store where he’d purchased it was not far. He walked on, blinking the continuing snowfall out of his eyes. He found it, its small, freshly painted door, buried between a coffee shop and a Chinese grocery.
The door creaked upon opening and the stale yet thrilling smell of old mystery’s, adventures and romances met his nose. There was an older woman behind the counter; her white hair was coiffed on top of her head. Her face wore the look of someone who had been very thin in their youth, her sharply defined cheek bones contrasted with her face’s new found heaviness. He approached the counter but she spoke before he could.
“What can I do for you?” she asked.
“I was just wondering if you had any book glue.” Julian laid his broken tome on the counter. She picked it up and pressed the page into its place.
“It’s pretty far gone this one.”
“We’ve got quite a bit of Tennyson, if you wanted to get a new one.”
“No,” he said, “I’d like to keep this one.”
“I’d be careful if that’s your plan, most of the pages are half out already.”
“I know,” he paused, “Can you do anything?”
“I’m not completely sure why you came to me, book glue won’t do much, I’d say just tape the page back in and be careful with it.”
“Do you have any tape?” he asked,
“This isn’t a stationary store,” she said, “Do it at home.” She then shut his precious volume and pushed it across the counter at him. He picked up his book and looked at the woman but she had already turned her back on him. He meant to say something but decided not to. He decided to walk through the store.
There was a stair case near the counter, he walked up it and discovered shelves to the ceiling, piled high with every book he could imagine. He walked over to the poetry section; there he found the complete Tennyson, spine intact, cover hard and brown. It was barely used, the pages still crisp. He picked it up and put it under his coat.
The women didn’t look at him as he descended the stairs; he muttered an ironic, “Thank you,” as he went outside. He tucked his old book under his coat and took out the new one. He began to read as he walked down the street, only looking up when he heard the screech of tires and shouts.