Norm has knocked us up a bookcase from the old floorboards of the Memorial Hall and each time I slide a book on to the shelf a cream-coloured puff of powder drifts from below the shelving. He said the insects are long gone. Powder post beetles, he called them. They sound exotic, like tiny rare insects making dust fine as talc, flitting away when they are grown. I told him I could imagine them with transparent iridescent wings, perhaps a glow like fireflies in the forest. "Nah, love," he said, "they're borers."
I shelve Prey and Dark Rider and Coma and Pet Sematary and soon I can't bear to see another cover promising supernatural thrills and chills. As I am about to check the spelling of cemetery in the dictionary - was all that schooling wasted? - I see a different kind of book in the pile. The cover has small writing and a picture of a woman in a dark red dress. She's lying on a couch. But when I look closer, because the picture is also small, I see she's not, in fact, lying on a couch. She's from a different world. Her world has divans, not couches. And she isn't lying on the divan. She's reclining on the divan. Her dress is draped in elegant folds across her slender thighs. Her high-heeled shoe dangles from her foot. I bet she never wears knickers with stretched elastic that slither down and end up in a smiley under each bum cheek.
After I've wiggled my hands down inside my jeans and hauled my undies back up to their rightful position, I open the cover. Inside is an inscription:
To my dear M, remember Paris. With love from Veronica.
I've never met a Veronica in Gunapan. I know a Vera, who makes the best ham sandwiches at the CWA but wants to sniff everyone's breath before they go into the hall because she's the last standing member of the Gunapan Temperance Union. But no Veronica. Maybe the 'M' lives here. Could it be Merv Bull? He doesn't seem the type to recline on a divan in Paris. I flip the book over and read the reviews on the back.
An elegiac work that brilliantly explores the chiaroscuro of love. Hmm, I think. Elegiac. Exactly what I would have said. The dictionary is on the upper shelf of the bookcase and I pull it down.
"Gabrielle," I call into the office. "Have you read The Paper Teacup?"
"Oh, well, it's absolutely marvellous, Gabrielle, you must read it. I found it rather elegiac."
Gabrielle doesn't answer. I wonder if I pronounced the word correctly. I tiptoe over and peer around this doorjamb to see if she's doubled over with laughter at this idiot who can't pronounce elegiac. Over her shoulder I see her typing elliejayack into the computer's search engine. I creep back to the bookshelf and start shelving more Night of the Beast and Death Visitor books.
Ten minutes later Gabrielle leans out through the doorway. "I don't like sad books. Give me a good thriller any day."