a bus full of books

I HAD TO GO to Portugal to pick up some books. The address was somewhere between Porto and Povoa de Varzim. It was a seaside street, ruled by proud white castles of houses. Matteo, of all people, answered the door and we shook hands. Then someone else, another Milanese writer, told me I should relocate to Portugal and that the beach was “full of people like us,” in other words other Italians. I had to drive back to Estonia though. Business demanded it. On the other side of the street there was a canal, and some local yogis were filling it with birthday cake. Deep channels of cake, cream, different kinds of colorful toppings, so that it almost resembled a floating chocolate garden. They were hanging decorations above the canal, too, in preparation for a major street festival. But I was expected back in Tallinn within days with a shipment of books, and set out shortly after toward Madrid. When I got to Barcelona, I parked my car and went for a walk. On one back street, I passed an aerobics class in session. I could see Linnea inside stretching. “You can stay and watch me,” she mouthed to me through the glass. “I don’t mind.” As she stretched, I caught sight of her undergarments. There was just something about the pattern of the lace on her skin, the way her golden braids dangled down her back. I decided to curl up right there, outside the window glass, and sit beside her as she stretched. Later, a door opened and I watched Linnea and the others file out of class. A nurse had come to administer fresh COVID-19 booster shots. I remained at a distance, though I could see the tiny glass vials of the Pfizer vaccine piling up. I didn’t want anyone to know of my secret affection for her. An old colleague happened to turn up and we started to talk about people we had known from the old days in New York. I told him about the bus full of books and the ride in from Portugal. He asked me what book it was and I told him all about it. You should have seen his eyes as I relayed its plot twists and turns, its heroes and villains. He said it sounded like a very good read.

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