This story was inspired by a writing challenge hosted by D. Wallace Peach, who blogs at Myths of the Mirror. Her challenge: write a poem or story about a TBR (To Be Read) pile – those books many of us have accumulated but haven’t read yet.
To Be Read
It had taken nearly eight months, but Jane finally made it through the TBR pile that had been stacked by her bedside. As she picked up the remaining book from the floor, she could see the ring of dust her pile had created on the carpet like the chalk body outline in a crime novel. Her daughter would be pleased that she could finally vacuum the floor properly, but Jane couldn’t help feeling the loss of her friends.
She opened her book and started to read.
At first, when Anne invited her mother to come live with her, she had resisted. Jane valued her independence and knew that their individual daily habits could cause friction. But when Jane’s health deteriorated to a point that that even she realized that she could no longer live alone, she consented. Within a few weeks, Jane’s home had been emptied and put on the market. Anne told her mother she could keep anything she wanted, but Jane knew her daughter’s house was small, and space was already at a premium. A few items of clothing, her favorite teacup, and her pile of books was all she brought with her.
A few weeks after Jane moved in, Anne realized the large stack of books by the side of her mother’s bed would be a permanent fixture. Clean, orderly spaces calmed Anne and gave her a sense of control. Books should be on shelves and floors kept clear of clutter. Knowing that her mother would bristle at her beloved books being referred to as clutter, Anne tried to appeal to her practical side.
“Would you like me to find space on my bookshelves for all of your books? That way, you can see each one easier.”
“No, thank you, dear. I love to see all my books out in the open, patiently waiting their turn. They give me something to look forward to.”
“But, what about your safety? Books on the floor could be a hazard. You could trip on the pile and break your neck.”
“What a novel way to die,” Jane replied.
“Very funny Mom, but I do worry about you.”
After several similar conversations, Jane finally agreed to read her way through the stack of books and not add any more. Anne assured her, after the pile was gone, she could check out all the books she wanted from the library or download them to her Kindle. Knowing that this was probably the best compromise she could hope for, Anne willed herself to stay silent despite her continued dismay at the pile. She vacuumed around it as well as she could and – when her mother wasn’t looking – she tried to neaten the stacks.
Over the next several months, Anne was happy to see that her mother was keeping her word. Slowly the TBR pile shrank in size and the floor around her bed started to clear. Anne was confident that, once the pile was gone, her mother would see the wisdom of keeping the area clear.
Before going to bed, Anne opened her mother’s bedroom door to say goodnight. She wasn’t surprised to see that Jane had fallen to sleep reading. She was still wearing her glasses and the bedside lamp was on, casting a ring of light around her. The book she was reading had tumbled out of her grasp onto the comforter. She looked so peaceful. Anne marveled at her mother’s joy of reading and was happy that, despite her poor health, she was still able to do what she loved.
As Anne crossed the room to her mother’s bed, she smiled when she noticed that there were no more books on the TBR pile. She made a quick mental note to make a trip to the library as promised. Anne reached for her mother’s glasses and was startled when her hands brushed Jane’s cold face. She quickly tried to find her pulse but felt none. Her mother was dead.
Anticipating this time would eventually come, Anne knew what she had to do. Holding firmly against her grief, she picked up her phone to call 911.
Anne sat down on her mother’s bed to wait for the paramedics and allowed herself to feel the full weight of her loss. Through her tears, she looked around the room and hoped that her mother had been happy living with her. Curious to see what her mother had been reading, she picked up the book from the bed.
She was surprised to see that it was the book by Mitch Albom she had given her mother when her dad died. Anne had hoped the messages found in The Five People You Meet in Heaven would provide her mother some peace after losing her husband.
“Oh Mom, you knew, didn’t you?” Anne cried. “You knew it was at the bottom of your stack, and you saved it for last.”
Anne saw a pink post-it note peeking out of the book and opened it to the marked page. A paragraph had been highlighted and her mother had drawn little hearts and stars around it.
“Lost love is still love, Eddie. It just takes a different form, that’s all. You can’t hold their hand… You can’t tousle their hair… But when those senses weaken another one comes to life… Memory… Memory becomes your partner. You hold it… you dance with it… Life has to end, Eddie… Love doesn’t.”
When Anne heard the knock on the door, she closed the book, kissed her mother’s forehead, and tousled her hair one last time. Before going to the front door, she walked into her bedroom and placed the book on the floor by her bed, to be read later.