Last Sunday I was woken at 7am by a commotion in the next room. For a fleeting second I wondered if my son was planning to take over Peirene HQ for band practice. I turned around to put the arm around my husband. He was not there. He’d probably gone for a run – one of his long list of New Year’s resolutions. About to slide back in to sleep, I was overcome by a sense of unease. I’d better check what’s going on next door.
Books were lying in a big heap on the floor. My husband was balancing on a ladder to reach the top shelves.
‘We need more book space,’ he declared. I nodded. ‘So I am reorganizing, sorting through and…er… deprioritizing books that we don’t need any longer.’
I stopped nodding. ‘Do not touch my books,’ I said.
Some marriages survive because of different bathrooms or separate duvet covers. Our marriage has endured for 20 years because we don’t mix books. We don’t even share books. We often have two copies of the same book. We stop short of having individually allocated book cases, but we have assigned ourselves distinct shelves. I don’t like my books sharing space with other books. And I organize my books my own way, thank you very much. He knows this.
‘I wouldn’t dream of touching your books,’ he said. Reassured, I went back to bed.
Fifteen minutes later he brought me a coffee. ‘I like to move a few of your books. Just to another shelf,’ he said with a sly smile.
I sat up straight. ‘I have told you already…’ Then I softened. ‘OK. You can move some.’ I told him exactly which ones. I felt like a generous, kind-hearted wife. After all, I was willing to compromise to make my man happy.
When I checked later on, he had done as he had been told. He’s a good man. He loves me. He would not jeopardize twenty years of marriage.
On Monday morning on the way to my desk, my eyes fell on the shelf closest to me – my shelf. I froze. There were his books instead. A scream of horror escaped my lips. I called him at work. He laughed nervously. ‘I thought you might not notice.’
Needless to say, for the rest of the week our marriage has been on the rocks. However, come Friday, we had established a temporary ceasefire. We are sharing for the first time in our lives a shelf. On the left are his books, on the right are mine.
It’s fine for the moment. I’m biding my time. He will start a new job soon and then – when he is travelling on business – I will buy the complete works of Maurice Blanchot (my current favourite) and restore the shelf to its rightful owner.