saint naram’s

WHEN THE SNOWS had at last thawed, and the water levels risen, all of the streets of the town were flooded, and locals took to traveling from shop to shop on flat-bottomed boats, turning this provincial backwater into a Venice on the Baltic. I had been signed up for some kind of book-related event, but honestly I hadn’t paid much attention to whatever it was my agent was talking about. Things took a more serious turn when Lata showed up and told me that she was the one they had selected to interview me. The producers it seems didn’t know that we had been lovers. She was perfectly cast, actually, we were about the same age, and she was also a journalist, or at least a former one. There were two couches, two water bottles, two microphones. Everything was ready to go. But first, I had to slip into something more appropriate. I went into the dressing room, but Lata followed me in. She sat on the couch as I undid my zipper, bubbling with exuberance, like a sparkling wine. Hadn’t we agreed that we weren’t going to do this anymore? Hadn’t we agreed that it wasn’t what we wanted? I changed my pants and then my shirt, and then I noticed a passenger ship passing by the house, the way some of those larger boats sail around in the canals of Amsterdam. I took my chance and leapt from the window and landed on the top deck. Not long after, we sailed up the Thames and I disembarked in London. I took a bus up to Saint Naram’s Place, not too far from Notting Hill, in search of a very special bookshop that someone had told me about. Only the most in-the-know writers who have been vetted by the writers’ union have been to the very special book shop at Saint Naram’s Place. You had to get off at the square and then walk up two blocks. It’s lovely little house made of wood and brick that’s been open since the 1860s. The windows are full of musty books and old LPs, and it’s had Christmas lights blinking in the windows since Thatcher was prime minister. I went up the steps and inside and asked the owner, a burly old man with a mustache in a gray suit, about Saint Naram. He told me that nobody actually knew the source of the name. “Some say it was named after the Sanskrit word for ‘human being,’ but others say it’s the Sumerian word for ‘beloved.’ There was also a theory that it was originally ‘Saint Maran.’ ‘Maran’ means ‘death’ in Sanskrit, you know.” “Wait. Saint Death? That doesn’t make any sense.” “No, it doesn’t,” said the old bookseller. “But nothing here does. Anyway, how can I help you? Are you looking for a special book at Saint Naram’s? You have come quite the long way, sir.”

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