Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Even his silence is orderly

He's still a fine bookbinder, but he's old now, and can't do all the work on his own. I like sitting with him at the big table, with vise clamps and glue and the smell of leather. Sometimes we don't talk the whole day. I can't tell you how much I like him, I like the way he touches the leather, I like that he's neat, every petit fers and mullen and marbling comb in its place, every pot of aqua regia and myrabolan tannin wiped clean after use, every endpaper cross-catalogued by colour and texture and age, and then filed away in square drawers — in a cabinet he built himself. I like that he keeps his letters from Edgar Mansfield close at hand in a wooden box on his worktable. He collects moss and mushrooms and photographs them. People come to his door with specimens, squares of moss in little boxes, like jewellery, or envelopes of fungi from all over the world — from Bolivia, India, New Zealand, Peru. He puts samples under a microscope and draws what he sees. Sometimes he uses the shapes in his designs, carving them into the leather of the books, a beautiful effect, almost marbled. When we sit together I feel even his silence is orderly, as if he says to himself, Okay, today we will not talk about what happened in 1954, today we will not talk about what happened when my wife went to the doctor, today we will not discuss the pain in my knee or the grief that bulges out suddenly sometimes from being childless, today we will not discuss Jakob B√∂hme, or spores, or what the rain reminds me of. It is a good feeling, to sit at a table with a man and not talk about specific things together. He thinks and I think, we keep each other company, and at the end of the day it is as if we'd had hours of intimate conversation.


— from The Winter Vault, by Anne Michaels.
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