Reading through my dinner break this afternoon, I remembered almost too late that I had intended a visit to the barber. I'd already eaten and had no excuse but my book. By scrambling up and out of the gyro shop, I managed to trot -- I do not run these days unless chased -- the two blocks to my barber, have my head buzzed and my eyebrows trimmed, and still make it back to the store in a timely enough way to punch the clock and be at the desk as scheduled. However, I had to go back to the barbershop and retrieve the book that I'd had with me. Somehow, even though I had held it in my lap throughout, I'd left it behind. I have no idea when I might have set the book down and left it. Now what I was reading does not, just here, much matter. What matters is that I always have a book. Wherever I might be, at home or abroad in the wide world, I have a book. More usually, if I'm carrying my bag, I have at least two. My husband has long since ceased to question why I might need a book with me when we go to the movies, where it is now too dark, and too loud, to read, even before the previews start. Even if we are only going to the grocery store, should he notice me without one, he will ask me if I've forgotten my book. As above, the title does not much matter. It certainly doesn't matter to him. He is now just so used to me, at rest or in motion, with a book in my hand as to find the sight of me without one unnatural.
In the early days, he might have wondered aloud, why I felt the need of a book when we went to a restaurant together, or when on an errand of less than a mile, or when we went to bed. We have been together many, many years now and I wonder if he wonders about much anymore. He had cause back then, as I was, if anything, even more forgetful than I am now. Many books were left behind as the credits rolled, or with my umbrella after the check had been paid, or in our car. His frustration with me was not so much then that I felt the need of a book no matter where I went, but that I left them behind so often. If I'm to be honest, he did not ask why I brought a book as frequently as he had to ask where I had left it and should we go back to retrieve it. Once, on being taken back to a movie house, I asked the manager politely if anyone had found a book after the last show. There was a sudden interest among the ticket takers and popcorn baggers as the manager walked slowly to his office and returned with my book, which he then wordlessly handed back to me. Only when I was back in the car did I notice the Christian tract he had slipped into my copy of The Best of Gay Fiction Three.
For most of the years I've had with my husband, I did not drive. This meant that we went nearly everywhere together, which is a nicer, more romantic way of saying he took me nearly everywhere we went. In those days, if I went anywhere after work or on my day off, to a bookstore, say, as I seldom even then went anywhere else, I very well might have walked, taken the bus, or ridden my bike. Never the less, dear A. came to count on being called to come and fetch me, and all the books I'd bought. When we lived in exile, in Southern California, I often braved the oppressive heat, setting off on my bike on my day off, determined, for the day, to be wholly independent, to not so load my handlebars with books as to be unable to come safely home. Just out for a ride, as I'd insisted I only intended to go, I somehow would find the road led inexplicably to The Book Baron, or some other scene of temptation. I might even tell myself I'd intended only to stop for lunch nearby, I might even eat my lunch first, and I might even go into the used bookstores, convinced that as I had no money to spend on books and had already spent the little money I had on lunch, that I would do no more than browse a bit, perhaps put something on hold, and then bike home. You know, of course, how this story ended.
Often as not, dear A. would simply gather up his geometry books, or whatever he was studying, or the papers he had brought home from his job, and rather than indulge the pretense that I was going out for either the exercise or to enjoy the blistering sun, he would simply put my bike away, ask me if I had my shopping list, and start the car. Having sternly warned me "not to be all day," he would then sit in his car, the air-conditioning blasting and the radio tuned to one of the smooth jazz stations I refused to listen to when riding with him, and then, while I wandered the aisles hurriedly -- I felt -- checking titles against my lists and examining new arrivals, he would either review his work, entertain himself with pencil and graph paper, or doze quietly until I stumbled out, canvas bags full of bargains I would then insist of showing him, as if to prove his patience fully justified. Usually, he would just roll his eyes at this and ask where I wanted to stop on the way home to get dinner.
Now that I've had my own car for some years and can go where I will, when I choose, I can even sneak the books I buy into the house without the need of any explanation being offered. (These tend to end on the disordered piles either in my office or on my nightstand, and are thus cleverly hidden, though I'm not sure why I think he will never notice them, or why I still feel, each time, as if I'd gotten away with something, but I do.)
Truth be told, I rather miss those hurried expeditions to the bookstores, dear A. waiting in the car while I ran the aisles. The only time this really happens nowadays is when we go to a suburban multiplex. He knows there's a little bookstore on the way home. He seldom even asks. He just pulls in automatically, turns off the engine, turns on the smooth jazz, and warns me that he's going to be hungry again in an hour or so. Happy days, revisited.
As for leaving the books I carry behind, I seem to do so rarely now. Perhaps I've become less scatterbrained over the years. Perhaps I carry more valuable books and so remember them better. Umbrellas I still forget, but books, not so much.
And as to why I can not leave the house, or even any room I happen to have been in, without a book a book in my hand, like my husband, I no longer even question this behavior. The opportunities to read seem not so abundant as they once were, or perhaps the reading still left for me to do would seem to require more time than I can imagine myself having hereafter. As I say, I don't know why I do this. I only know I have always done it. I always will. My hand is empty without a book in it. I don't think that that is such an unusual feeling. If it is, pray don't bother to point this out to me.