There was an old house.
No more than four blocks as the crow flies. Probably six as the fox.
It was filled with books. It was also a library. The Houston Memorial Library. I don’t know what I was to memorialize there. Maybe a confederate general.
They had book sales every now and then. Those sales felt the best when the fall light was coming in the windows. Cutting through the dust on the glass case. The case that had guns. Knives. A leather kidney-shaped canteen. We’d have walked over, crunching the magnolia leaves that covered the sidewalks in orange and brown herringbone. After the rains, we’d slip on them.
You could see out of the back to the side of a ranch house. The jilt of seeing a sixties car port while rocking on creaking floors with water stains made me think, for the first time, that there are two worlds. There’s this one, the one I’m in, that makes sense. And there’s that one, the truth. That heraldry has tawdry neighbors. And beyond the discolored drapes there was the truth.
As mom would look for books, I’d pretend that I was, too. That I read. That I was planning on having a hundred books of a hundred pages and a hundred bookcases full of words. I’d pull out one with a great spine illustration and Look at this one and my mother, bless her heart, would never be frustrated or short and would always tell me That looks really neat, Micah and I’d buy it for a dime and it would sit on my shelf and I’d never open it.
If I did, I’d smell Houston Street. Fall in Alabama. Knowledge.
One time my momma found a book there that looked old and she bought it. Years later she got to opening it and a letter fell out. It was signed by Charles Dickens and that summer my brother was in Oliver Twist in the community theater and so he was top of mind – Dickens, not my brother – and she had a man at the college look at it and he thought it looked authentic and I thought that was going to be our ticket out and I don’t ever know what happened to that letter. It was probably lost when they foreclosed on our house. Probably got sent to the recycling center or to the dump but for a few coins it allowed a boy to dream about making it and being something and it didn’t matter that it was gone now.
Up here we have the oldest library in the United States. It’s got rare books. Verified letters from Dickens. It’s got all the knowledge in the world in it.
But it doesn’t have my momma and it doesn’t have ten cent books and it doesn’t look like it’s going to fall apart at any moment and all the books have been scoured already for clues to history and maybe that’s why I don’t miss this one much.