One by one, they gather around him, the old masters. The shuffling of their feet in the crowded room like the sound of papers shifting in a thin breeze. Their presence like a stifled cough.
They are all here - the grave and the shrill, the poetic and the profound, the daring and the sincere. Row upon row of them, forming a circle around his chair, enclosing him in their accumulated gravity.
Where have they all come from? Who has brought them here? And why? Or have they perhaps come unsummoned, sensing his need with an instinct for language as strong as a hound's for blood?
He realises there will be no excuse now. No reason he can give, no way to blame his own reluctance on the lack of another. In their assembled faces he sees a judgement that contains both wisdom and sternness. From what these voices have to offer, he knows, there will be no reprieve.
And yet what is it that he is supposed to learn from them, exactly? What is their advice, their message? Do they even have one? Are they not, rather, a crowd of stamping feet, muddying the precious clarity of the still puddle that is his mind? A collection of clear, swift rivers, that, taken together, make one restless sea?
The high brows of the masters frown down upon him. Yes, it is true. This too is an excuse. The truth is he ought to be grateful for their presence, grateful that they are here for him. He tries to listen to what they have to say. As their voices fill his head, he can feel himself being not rewritten, but erased, as though the page of his thought were turning blank, its whiteness taunting him to start anew.
When he is sure that there are enough of them (or as many as he can bear), he stands up from his chair and says "Thank you for coming. I am deeply grateful to have you with me."
People turn to stare at him. The librarian looks outraged, shushes him to silence. The books say nothing, their spines glowing softly in the ripened dusk.
Categories: Fiction, Whimsy