This story is about a couple who haven’t met yet, a cat, and a truck. Oh, and two books. That’s very important.
The first Book first, perhaps. This is not just any old book, though, hence the capital ‘B’. It’s the Book that contains all things. All details of the world and the vast universe beyond. All knowledge that man has amassed throughout history. And a record of every second that every person that ever existed lived, has lived, is living … and will live. That’s some Book, I can tell you. Though I can’t tell you where it’s kept. That information – and the identity of whoever writes in the Book – is strictly on a need-to-know basis. For the purposes of this story, we don’t really need to know.
On to the couple.
Andone Gertatu is a librarian who works in the municipal library of a small town in the Basque Country, in the north of Spain. Quiet, solitary, Andone loves his job because he loves books – the feel of them, the smell of them, the colour of them, the concept of them. If he could spend the rest of his life only reading books, he would die a happy man. But he would die an even happier man if he could meet the woman of his dreams. He hasn’t met her yet because he hasn’t really been trying, though if the truth be told, he hasn’t been dreaming about her either. But he’ll know her when he meets her.
That’s where Elixane Jarrera comes in. And she’s the woman of Andone’s dreams because … well, she’s very nice, kind, interesting, funny and – the clincher – a lover of books, too. She’s just moved to Andone’s town to begin work in the finest bookshop there. Today is her first day; she’s rather excited about it.
It is written, then, that this very morning, the paths of these two young people will cross, at the door of the Corner Café (Izkinako Kafetegia in the local lingo) at precisely 8.31 and 11 seconds. They will bump into each other as they enter the café. Elixane will drop the book (lower-case ‘b’) she is carrying. Andone, being the gentleman that he is, will pick it up for her. Noticing that it’s a book he’s read and loved, he will comment on that fact to Elixane, who will smile because she loves it too. And as Andone hands it to her, their fingers will touch. There will be a tiny shock of static electricity that passes between them. They will laugh. And the rest will be history.
However – and it’s a big ‘however’ – what’s in the Book is not written in stone, as we shall see; there are certain forces that can disturb an otherwise perfectly smooth passage of foretold events.
The ‘however’ has to do with the cat. It’s a black cat, so we will already have an idea in mind of what might happen. Because black cats generally have a not-entirely-justified though not-entirely-baseless bad reputation. This cat – which doesn’t have a name, so let’s call him Katu (the local lingo again) – is a stray but quite tame. He likes nothing more than to stroll along the pavements of the little town, getting a pat or stroke wherever he can. On this particular morning he’s out and about early, sauntering in the direction of the Corner Café, where customers will often throw him a little cheese, perhaps ham.
If we go back to our couple, we’ll see that they’ve both set out from their homes on their way to work, unaware that although they’re happy to be heading towards jobs they love, something much more important is going to happen to them this morning – if the Book is anything to go by, at least.
It’s a bright, crisp spring morning. On the walk, along suburban streets that will be described as ‘leafy’ in a month or so, they’re accompanied by the quicksilver trilling of blackbirds. And here the colour black has no significance to the story whatsoever. It’s just that blackbirds have a beautiful song, and these seem to be heralding something equally beautiful.
Elixane is the first to see Katu. Seeing her too, Katu makes a bee-line for her, confident that she’ll give him some affectionate attention. At least that’s what he thinks and hopes. Only she doesn’t, because Elixane suffers from ailurophobia. That’s not the local lingo this time but a word that comes from Ancient Greek, meaning an intense fear of cats. She freezes, and as Katu gets closer, shrieks. In her blind panic, she turns on her heel, fleeing back the way she came.
Past Andone, who’s walking down the other side of the street. He watches her desperate flight with a certain degree of curiosity; it’s not something you see every day. He would stop to ask if he can help her, but being a fast runner, she’s gone before he can open his mouth.
Feeling slightly frustrated, Katu spots Andone and crosses the street; maybe this human can provide what he craves. Indeed Andone does, because he’s an ailurophile. He tarries, spending several minutes petting a purring Katu before proceeding towards the Corner Café for his breakfast.
And so the meeting that was written in the Book fails to take place. What does happen, at precisely 8.31 and 11 seconds, is that a truck, out of control because of faulty brakes, careers off the road and into the Corner Café, demolishing the entrance. Luckily no one is hurt, though the driver, one Benat Zortetxarra, vows never to let his brother-in-law, who is a mechanic, anywhere near his truck (badly damaged but salvageable) ever again. When Andone gets there, the siren of a precautionary ambulance can already be heard in the distance.
So the black Katu has been a force for good this time. But the Book has to be amended – with a kind of cosmic Tipp-ex – and a new page inserted for later in the lives of Andone and Elixane, though not much later. In fact only days. For it is (now) written that the two will meet next Friday when they go to see a re-run of the film ‘You’ve Got Mail’ at the local cinema. They will buy tickets for adjacent seats.
And during the interval, Elixane will accidentally drop her book.
Hazel B says
Editing pre-written passages. Sigh. Where is my White-Out.
Phil Town says
Wherever you left it I suppose, Hazel. 😉
Ken Frape says
I came across this story of yours almost by accident today.
I really think it has some kind of special quality, dreamlike gentle and soft.
The Book is a very cool notion where basically everything is in it and yet, things can get disrupted by unexpected events.
Great stuff, Phil.
Phil Town says
Thanks, Ken – really appreciate your kind words.
Lyn Blair says
What a quirky, fun story. I could hear mandolins playing at various times gently in the background. The narrator looked a bit like Anthony Quinn, wearing a dark beret. I loved how the details of the encounter changed in the Book, a reset of sorts. I mean…the cat–who knew? Delightful, simply delightful. You captured my heart with this one.
Phil Town says
Thanks very much, Lyn. Glad this one hit for you.
(It would be great to have the great AQ narrating this!)
Mike Van Horn says
A unique storytelling tone and a fascinating concept. A triple twist in such a short story.
Can the couple ever get together, since he loves cats and she fears them? Can their shared love of books overcome this?
This may be the first story I’ve read about the Basque region of Spain.
Phil Town says
Thanks very much, Mike. On the cat issue, I’m thinking … dog?
(The first story about the Basque region? Then also the best! 😉 )
Jane Bolton says
Love the wit of the narrator- and by extension, you . Thank you for the word snack!
Phil Town says
Thank YOU once again, Jane, for being so positive!
Rosalyn Birchley says
I enjoyed your story- but do we have a logical problem? How can it be true that everything that will happen is written in the Book, and yet those truths can be changed and that the Book will reflect that change. To say that X happened and then that X did not happen is a logical contradiction and so is necessarily false.
Just nitpicking for the heck of it- but a fun read
Phil Town says
Thanks, Rosalyn, for the read and the positive words. Yes, the Book is a record of past, present and future, but there are moments when it fails, when certain circumstances and forces align. As I wrote:
“However – and it’s a big ‘however’ – what’s in the Book is not written in stone, as we shall see; there are certain forces that can disturb an otherwise perfectly smooth passage of foretold events.”
John Notley says
You’ve done it again, Phil. What more can I say except repeat how much I enjoy reading them. John
Phil Town says
I’m thrilled that you enjoy my stories, John. Thanks for the kind words.