A friend brought me lilacs today, at work. It was a perfect gift; unexpected, my favorite flower, carefully wrapped in, what turned out to be a brown paper dress-pattern and tied with thin black ribbons. Had they not been living things, I would have kept them in their wrapping. Instead, I put then in a mason jar on the desk. All day, buying books, the scent of them would catch me, unexpectedly, and I would let the book in my hand rest where it was, and close my eyes. The next moment, I'd have to open my eyes to look at the lilacs again. The flowers were beautiful, open and closed, in thick, heavy bunches of pinks and purples, bending the narrow stems, one vivid green leaf draping down the side of the jar.
Had I said that these are my favorite flower? How did she know otherwise? As I said, the gift was perfect. The weather today was wet. The sidewalks smelled of summer storms when I stepped out to smoke. The neighborhood was crowded today with umbrellas, blessedly free of buskers, people talking on their phones, and kids aggressively shilling for charities. Everyone hustled by in the rain. Most of my Saturday scouts still found their way to the desk to sell. My morning was a busy one. I couldn't get to my usual transfers to the other stores for buying. Odd, the rain seems to discourage customers, but never sellers. There were more rather desperate people, hauling in bag after bag, even damp arm-loads of books, more even than is usual for a warm Saturday. And it was still warm, even with the gray skies and the rain, thus, I suppose, the pleasant smell of the sidewalks. It wasn't an unpleasant day. In many ways, it was a better Saturday than I had expected, though so many sad books; battered, wet, negligible, would have lowered my spirits eventually, had I not had the lilacs.
I've been a bit preoccupied the last few days; with thoughts of absent friends, unhappy anniversaries, all the time that has passed since. I haven't been able to settle into a book. Another friend and coworker, who sometimes scouts for books before she comes in to work on Saturdays, brought me books this morning from a sale. She brings me good and useful books, always, and today, she brought me a present as well, a book. She often does this, picks up something at the sales she scouts and brings it in for this coworker or that, just to please and amuse them. Often these are silly things, amusing old titles, rendered campy with time, silly puns on the names of the people with whom we work, quaint travel books. Today she brought in a guide to Tokyo, circa 1953, full of amusing American innocence; describing sushi as "a kind of rice sandwich," offering coupons for expensive cameras, even an add, unselfconsciously suggesting dinner at Tokyo's then "Best German Restaurant." (Evidently fine German dining having survived the fall of The Axis.) For me, she brought the gift of handsome hardcover, Dickens and Women, by Michael Slater, now Emeritus Professor of Victorian Literature at Birkbeck College, University of London, past President of the International Dickens Fellowship and of the Dickens Society of America, and former editor of the journal "The Dickensian." This too was a perfect gift; unexpected, a book I've never read about my favorite novelist, by an authority I've already read and respect.
Imagine it. Two women, with whom I happen to work, neither owing me anything, neither needing to, both handing me, rather shyly, such lovely things. It seems April needn't be as cruel as all that after all, so long as one has a book to read and one's new friends prove generous and the sidewalks smell of summer storms and the scent of lilacs catches you and you can close your eyes for just a moment...