I’ve been gathering books on my shelf like shells. Like oddly shaped stones against tarmac and shards of glass that glitter in street lights at night, when I’m tipsy on wine and pretty girls, and the yellow glow makes them look like fairy dust, treasure that I scatter around my room like wishes.
I’ve been hoarding paperback knowledge crammed into student shelves that bow under the weight of an unread personality. I’m buying myself a new image, second-hand steals in dusty corner stores on cobbled streets. Each book: a promise that I’ll learn Spanish, I’ll go diving, I’ll plant a rose bush and make it climb my mother’s house and build her an arch of softly scented memories.
I want to take up hiking, and I want to climb Snowdon and Scafell Pike without my knees shaking, without seeing the clouds too close and losing my breath. I want to sail to France, follow the curve past A Coruña and Sagres, beach myself in Nice and hitchhike to Montenegro. Feel the sun on my cheeks as it sets and not worry where I, as a woman, have placed my feet.
The books have spread from their casings; piled onto the floor. I use them as shelves for my keepsakes, Pāua shells and Virgo stones that promise to calm my anxieties and help me reach my true potential: perfectionism. I group them by colour – they haven’t moved for weeks.
Yesterday, I bought a new book about writing, another about the sea and two more about swimming. I have a book about sharks and one tattooed on my wrist, but I still haven’t cracked the spine, rolled the joint, used its weight to lift me into a handstand before I backflip into the ocean and take a look for myself.
They sit in my room and stare at me, and I touch their vertebrae and their embossed font and build an image of myself from their placement. The mirror they face reflects them into me and my bank statement shows that I’m a gardener now, I can read the tides and flow through asanas without falling. Each pound I spend a step I imagine I’ve climbed to some higher being, this woman I’ve shaped myself to be but haven’t managed to fill.
I have not read a single one.
For my birthday, I placed them all on the floor, face up and spread them like tiles. Then I stepped across them all, tiptoed to avoid the cracks. Felt the textures on each of my toes until I became familiar with their grooves before I let them go.
I took my stones and shook them in my palms like dice. Blew them a kiss and threw them down. Chalcedony for my older sister, obsidian for my mother, aventurine for my brother and amethyst for my younger sister (with a note not to read it as she has a habit of stealing.) For myself the clear quartz. The rest of the books I packed into a box that I could not see through.
I have been reading the same book for two years and have not finished it (I will send it home to myself and open it in a year).
Under my stone, I placed the book on the now-empty shelves. For my 23rd birthday, I want to read, so I will start here.