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Sad Funny Coming of Age

Enough billions to buy every island off the coast of Tuscany, perhaps…

Millions maybe…

I’d even settle for just the yacht on which I’d admire said islands.


An unpredictable woman she always had been, my mother. Some found it endearing; I always preferred the term crazy. Nothing short of excited to see what she had left for me in her will, I sped through the potholed roads through acres of farmland. I hadn’t been back home since I’d turned 18, and I don’t think it will be hard for you to imagine why. My hometown of Paris, ironically enough, with a population of 3,567, in a state I shall not name. As if this story accomplishes one thing and one thing only, that’ll be deterring all of this town’s tourism till the end of time.


I hastily pulled up to her driveway. Much like every other road leading up to Paris, her’s had not been resurfaced in centuries.

A desolate old house with a white picket fence. On a desolate street where suburban 20-something-year old moms take their children out on a leash. In a desolate small town that reeked of depression and disloyal husbands. A boring place for boring people. No millions. No excitement for me here. I’d be lucky if she left med a dead body in the cellar. Not only would that make the trip from New York somewhat worth it, but I’d also feel more at home.


As I entered the house, the door squealed open. A foul stench and a house so dusty and old you’d think she’d been dead for months, and yet, I’d never once been so excited to visit my childhood home.

At this point, you might have an uneasy feeling in your stomach, don’t worry, you’re not alone. You might begin to think my morals questionable, think of me as spoiled, dislike me even. Who do I think I am? Despite growing up in what can only be referred to as a Mormon town -I am not a religious woman clearly, as the commandment respect thy mother means little to me. A selfish, soulless cynic from the city. Yes, you have a point not to like me. That’s alright; I don’t like myself much either - something I inherited from her, no doubt.


As I looked around the room filled with an insufferable quantity of knick-knacks and, well, garbage, I considered myself lucky to have inherited anything at all. Of minimalist nature myself, I never kept much around. My mother was not like me in that sense. She might not have left me millions, but she did leave me what would be a successful flea market or breeding ground for moths - you pick.

As I scanned the room for my last chance at my dream island and the wealth that I am undeniably destined for, a scribbled note laid on top of an old book caught my eye. A bank account number? Of course not; I wasn’t so lucky.


To do:

Buy Eggs

Return Book


Unable to control my eyes as they rolled back into my head, I let out a sigh. I picked up the book, the cover of which was old and faded. So old and faded that I could hardly make out the title - Anna Karenina…I flipped through the pages.

Read it, Love it, Return it - Property of Paris Public Library was stamped on the inside cover, across from it, my mother’s name etched in blue ink with a date, 1964. She had this book for as long as I could remember. In fact, I was about 10 or 12 when she placed this very copy into my small, and at the time, ungrateful hands. As much as I don’t like to admit - I certainly didn’t inherit her love of reading. It’s a classic, she’d say. And what I say to that is, well, Mr. Tolstoy, you sure know how to bore. Soviet names so convoluted and confusing that I too wanted to jump in front of a train by the second chapter. Maybe I was too slow-witted back then, but I can certainly guarantee I am no better now. And yet, I looked at this book with a certain fondness - it was her favorite one. After all, maybe she, like I, could relate to the main heroine more than she led on. She was quite depressed, my mother, you see. So depressed that not once, but on countless occasions, my father would have to tear a noose out of her hands. Needless to say, he didn’t stick around for long. I suppose given all; I couldn’t have been surprised to see, even after so many years, Return Book on her to-do list; she liked to tie up loose ends.


Reading seemed to help her a lot; once she started, she couldn’t finish. It was like she fell into the same hole as Alice, except she never made it out. She loved it more than anything; sometimes, I think more than me. The pills helped too.

I wish I could share with you the brand of anti-depressants she took to get herself out of that rut. Unfortunately, I am a psychiatrist, believe it or not, and I’d be out of a job. Secondly, I wish I knew.

They did wonders these little pills. Such wonders that for many years, many speculated she was injecting snake venom into her veins. It wouldn’t surprise me. If it wasn’t depression, it was something much worse - manic eccentricity.


Now that I’ve painted myself as quite the unloving antagonist allow me to redeem myself. I’m not particularly keen on listening to orders - especially those that come from beyond the grave. Luckily for my mother, I was in the mood for an omelet. And not being one to do things half-assed, a quick stop at the library, and then the liquor store would follow. I may not have been a perfect daughter, or she a perfect mother; in fact, I wasn't doing it for her at all. Rather, I was doing it for some other helpless, depressed soul who could use to read this book. It wasn't going to be me, that's for sure. At least that’s what I told myself.

As I ran outside to my car, I couldn’t help but catch a glimpse of the neighbors across the street - a couple bringing in their groceries, while a toddler screamed bloody murder in the back seat. She was getting fat, he was balding, and I couldn’t have been happier to be leaving this god-forsaken town for the second and final time. As I drove past the countless clones of family homes, each one looking more and more like the next, it became clear to me with just one look why my mother was depressed. I know I would be suffering the same fate had I stayed.


I drove for what felt like hours, each street began to look the same, and for such a small town with nothing to do but get drunk and read, you’d think one of the two places on my list would be on every corner. I’d passed the same run-down, abandoned gas station for the third time, $0.86 a gallon, in your dreams. An eerie feeling overcame me, Paris was gloomier than I remembered it, and nothing was where I’d remembered it. As I continued to drive, I began to zone out, and the only thing that saved me from crashing into a ditch and joining my beloved mother that very same day was a rattling sound made by what I can only assume to be my engine. My car came to a sudden halt as the hood filled with smoke. Great. As my car began to smoke more intensely, I quickly jumped out.

Burning alive is a fear of mine, only second to dying alone in this town. Such a fear, in fact, I stopped smoking cigarettes to avoid lighters, had someone else cook my meals, and only took cold showers.

“Hey, you need some help?” A tall, curly-haired man jogged up to my car, a concerned look on his face - and for good reason.

“Uh yeah.” My mind blanked, “you got any cigs on you?”

The man laughed and raised an eyebrow, “You don’t sound like you’re from here.”

“I’m not.”

“Well, I’m an asthmatic, so I can’t help you there, but I know a thing or two about cars, so I can help you here.” He said, gesturing to mine. As he opened the hood and started inspecting my sputtering engine, I inspected him. Tall, lanky, average face with a nose that stuck out like a sore thumb. And despite his arguably only redeeming quality besides a sense of humor, being that he had a nice smile, he was a 6 in my books—a 9 here in Paris maybe, but a 6 in New York.

“Looks like you’re gonna be stuck here a while, miss.”

“Hm?”

“I’m going to have to call a tow truck. They usually don’t work Sundays, so I don’t know how long it’ll be.”

I muttered something under my breath, something I won’t disclose because I already get the sense you don’t like me much. He looked like he was about to say something, but I interrupted as I so often do. “Is the library far from here?”

“Library? I knew you looked smart.” He said, “It’s a couple of kilometers South.” He said, pointing North. “You could probably walk it. The tow truck ain’t going to be here for a few hours. You can leave your car; I’m here all day.” He gestured to an abandoned fruit stand on the side of the road.

“Strawberries in March? Does everything here come early?” I said. He laughed. Thank God.

“Karenina, huh?” He said, looking at my book, smiling, “You a troubled romantic?”

With a habit of falling in love easily, I wasn’t going to let a 6 with a nice smile in a population of 3,567 get to me. No, my soulmate would be on one of the islands I spoke of earlier. Better not waste any more time.

“Just troubled.” I smiled for the first and last time that day, and just like that, I was on my way.


As I walked, I was filled with a nostalgia of the most unwelcome kind. Worn out faces resembling ghosts that had lived in Paris long before I had left. People I would see and interact with regularly who had a little lasting effect on my upbringing, other than showing up in my dreams now and again to play some meaningless part. Every person I passed seemed odder and on more drugs than the last. Stares so powerful I could feel them burning the back of my head.

A statue about as tall as I, of the Eiffel Tower, seemed to be mocking me through the display of a store window. Travel Agency - up for lease, those still exist? Ironic; these people couldn’t get out if they tried. As I continued to walk aimlessly, it occurred to me that I had no idea where I was going. I pulled out my phone - no signal.

“Excuse me, sir?”

An elderly gentleman with a somber demeanor grunted in response.

“Is there a cafe or something nearby where I could get some WiFi or signal,” I said, gesturing to my phone. “Or a coffee,” I sighed.

“Not from here, huh?”

“What gave it away?”

“We don’t get a lot of foreigners here, and when we do, they stick out,” He replied. Yes, for a town of dreary sleepwalkers, coffee was a foreign request, no doubt. I should get them to try it and be hailed a hero. A free trip from the travel agency sounds promising.

“What are you in Paris for?”

“My car broke down, I’m just killing time until it gets fixed, and I can get home.”

“Ah, so you’re the white Benz, huh.” He grumbled with disapproval.

“News travels impressively fast around here, for a town with no signal,” I said coldly. He laughed. “A few more miles that way.” He said, pointing in the same direction I was walking.

Each time I stopped to ask for directions, kilometers turned to miles, then back to kilometers; a few turned into many, then back to a few.


As I continued to wander, I came across an old ugly building with broken stained glass windows. Orthodox Paris Church. Ah yes, I’d finally made it, the Notre Dame of my city. Maybe today would be the day I’d become a religious woman. If any prayer could get me out of this town as fast as possible, I’d get baptized on the spot.

As I walked the corner, I was struck by a bike. I found myself lying on probably the only green patch of grass in the entire town.

“What the hell! Watch where you’re going.” As the words left my mouth, my head began to spin, my eyes blurry. I looked up to see that I was yelling at a Priest. If you didn’t hate me before, you definitely do now.

“I’m so sorry! Let me help you up.” He reached out his hand. “Are you here for the Sunday Sermon? I don’t recognize you.”

“Why would you. I’m not from here.” I scoffed as I took his hand.

“Oh, I’m sorry about your book!” He motioned to the book a few inches away from me. Anna Karenina’s face was covered in blood, and rightfully so, she got me into this mess. I could taste the blood in my mouth as it dripped from my turned-up nose.

“Why don’t you come inside? We can clean you up, help you.”

“The only way you can help me, father, is if this church doubles as a library,” I said, gesturing to the house of worship. He shook his head no.

“The library is just past that dam, not much further.”

This was my first time hearing of a dam, but the rest I’ve heard before. This time was different, I assured myself, he was a Priest; after all, they can’t lie.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him make a cross-motion as he watched me leave, and I thank him for it.


I made my way towards the dam. My eyes lit up as I reached the corner, a liquor store, finally. The size of my small overpriced New York apartment, albeit soon enough, I wouldn’t care.

“We don’t sell any hard alcohol.”

“What do you mean? You’re a liquor store.”

“We’re a dry liquor store.”

“A what?” I looked at her bewildered.

“The municipality of Paris voted on it a few years ago. Guessing you’re not from here.”

Municipality… what a joke.

“So, I can’t buy anything to drink? Nowhere in the city? What do you even sell here?” My voice got louder, and I could feel myself get progressively more distraught. I’m not an alcoholic, mind you, but come on.

“We have some local wines… sparkling water, ma’am.”

After a few moments of bemused silence, I accepted defeat.“I’ll take a bottle of your finest red, furthest thing from local that you have. I’m in France, after all.” The woman didn’t seem amused, and frankly, neither was I. She handed me a bottle of Merlot - A product of Vietnam. Yes, that sounds about right.


I sat down on the curb and began to drink the liquid anomaly, the alcohol content of which wasn’t enough to sedate a kitten. I slowly began to suspect there was no library in this town at all. I monitored the people pass by me, all carbon copies of one another - a library seemed like a far-fetched concept. A town so bland it bans drinking can’t be much in favour of free thought or expression. I felt that I’d walked into some parallel dystopian universe. By now, you can imagine, I was growing uneasy; after walking for hours, the blisters on my feet started to bleed. I reckon it’s at this point you can start feeling sorry for me. The sound of water was getting louder, and I looked out to see the murky, polluted dam not too far away. It’s not La Seine, but it’ll do. I walked towards it.


I approached the edge and looked over the river. It was getting dark, and this stupid book would be the death of me. Letting out a cry of anger, I threw it into the dark abyss of the raging river.

Now, I cannot explain why I did what I did next, for I don’t truly comprehend it myself. I owed this woman nothing. I was gaining nothing from returning a soaked blood-covered book to a library that, for all I knew, didn’t exist. And yet, I jumped after it, into the neck-deep water regardless.

———————

I hoped that the current would kill me. Slam my head into a rock and reunite me with her. Out of breath, I got out of the river, gripping the book with my soaked palms. I saw the library across the street; the same one I’d passed by many times, the library I’d pretended not to see all day. Despite it all, I missed her dearly.

Something settled inside me. I wasn’t going back to New York, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to no island in Tuscany. I’d be looking for this library for the rest of my life until my feet refuse to carry me further if it meant I could spend one last moment with her. I’d wander aimlessly with it through life until I have no other choice but to sit down and finally read it. For if I don’t read it, and if I don’t return it, somehow, in some way, at least to me anyway, she would still be alive.


The Paris Public Library would never see this copy of Anna Karenina again. I’ve accepted it, hope they do too. 

April 28, 2021 20:54

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