Monday, 17 October 2011


I have no idea who left the book on the table, for all that the obstreperous woman in the nurse's uniform keeps telling me otherwise.  I found it there two days ago, back when it was winter, and I puzzled over it for a while then.
"What day has thirty-six hours?" I asked, watching my reflection in the full-length mirror.  I have to watch it, as every now and then, when it thinks I'm not looking, it sneaks off to do things by itself.  Yesterday I had to wait twenty minutes for it to come back before I could find out if I had a smear of jam on my face.
"Is that a riddle?" said a small boy outside my door, eavesdropping on my conversation.  "Can I answer it, grandad?"
I ignored the child, who was apparently speaking to some unseen parental figure, and let my fingers caress the cover of the book again.  It had a dust-jacket on, all dressed up against the ravages of time in blue and yellow, and the plasticky paper squeaked beneath my fingertips.
"Grandad?  Grandad, have you gone deaf again?"  The small child, still talking to its invisible guardian was now stood in front of me, watching me probe the book.  "Grandad, can I answer your riddle, please?"
I waved an impatient hand at the child and the bones in my wrist ground together audibly.  I winced, and the child took a step back.
"Go away," I said severely.  "My hand is trying to drop off."
"Aww, grandad!"  The child whined, making me glad I didn't know it.  Then it scampered out of the room, running off on some unspeakable errand.  I allowed myself to feel relief, and then turned my attention back to the strange book.  The 36-hour day.
"What kind of day has thirty-six hours?" I murmured, intending it only to be to myself, but somehow the child had returned with a man, who I assumed must be his grandad.
"Where did the book come from?" said the man, his voice gentle and patronising.  I immediately thought of the obstreperous nurse.
"I don't know," I said.  "It was just here.  I was just going to use it."
"Use it for what?" said the man, ignoring the small child who was jumping up and down whinging still about wanting to play riddles.
"I'll show you."
I lifted the book in both hands, and then drew them apart, letting the book choose a page to fall open to.  Without looking down at it, I laid a finger on the page, and then found the next full sentence after where my finger was.
People came and poked and pushed, and shoved things in and out and over her.
I read the line out loud, and both the man and boy looked a little surprised.  I was surprised myself, it was an aggressive omen.
"What does that mean?" said the man.
"I don't know yet," I said.  "The art of bibliomancy is in the interpretation of the oracle's words.  At face value, some woman, or possibly a girl, shall be assaulted by people.  It sounds unpleasant."
"Bibliomancy's not real, dad," said the man, but the child now cowering behind his knee clearly knew better.
"Of course not," I said.  "Of course not.  Now, where is that nurse?"
"She's in the cupboard," said the child, pointing.  "She was there this morning."
And indeed, the nurse was in the cupboard, bound hand and foot and gagged.  When, after many expressions of shock and horror, the man had dragged her out, woken her up, untied and ungagged her, he asked her what had happened.
"People!" she spluttered.  They'd gagged her with her own outsize knickers and it looked as though she hadn't like the taste.  "They came in and overpowered me.  They pushed me down and poked and prodded me like I was some kind of exhibition.  Then they... they shoved me...."  It became clear that she was uncomfortable talking in front of the child, and I felt a momentary pang of sympathy for her.
"Where was my father while this was happening?" asked the man, rather tonelessly I felt.
"You'd taken him out for the afternoon," said the nurse, going bright red.  "You said it was his birthday yesterday."
Hah!  I don't have birthdays any more, age is for the old.  The man looked disappointed though.
"That's worrying," he said.  "They might not have been after you, you see...."
"They knew my name," said the nurse.  "And they kept saying a word, over and over again.  I didn't understand it.  Bibliomata."
"Machines powered by books," I said.  "Now we're in trouble."

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