Few things are more significant than a flirtatious schoolyard punch in the arm. Or more meaningful than a cassette tape with amorously selected recordings by Alphaville, Duran Duran, Scorpions, or whatever else gets your stinger on. Or more fraught with anxiety than trying one’s own graceless hand at prose or blank verse or, when passion eclipses good sense entire, end rhymes. If you gush the unsayable in end rhymes and still land that date or go to the prom or sit together on the bank of the creek beneath the trees, then your beloved has more than a passing interest in you, to overlook such foolishness. Nothing hums with greater mystery than these magical rites. Except giving a book to your crush. Talk about delicious innuendo! All those zesty words and sentences. All those delicate images and feelings. All those musky characters. What better way to say everything without uttering a blessed word? Book giving is a powerful prayer.
Many years ago, when I was a college student at Chico State, I gave a copy of Ethan Frome to my girlfriend’s roommate during winter session. This was terribly risky, I know. And lest you think I’m a total idiot, the obvious irony of giving to a shy attractive woman a book about a disastrous love affair wasn’t lost on me, either. We were, the two of us, sharing an apartment. At night our sleeping bodies lay separated by a measly common wall. We shared breakfasts and dinners in the kitchen. We shared good mornings and good nights in the hallways. And now that I’d given her one of my favorite books, we were sharing a New England winter, too. Ethan, Mattie, and Zeena occupied us for days. What a glorious sled ride it is to share a book!
Now it’s not always clear what one sees in the rush of confused intimacy. And when you add twenty years to the mix, one’s perception is bound to be distorted. But this Ethan swears on your future grave that something epic happened. One night, when a point of interpretation came up, my dear sweet Mattie consulted our little white book. It lay there on the countertop. She opened it to a passage and smiled “See” and began reading in a language like birdsong. Rapt, I stepped beside her and, looking over her shoulder, said “Yes.” But all I saw were black marks on the page swarming like ants. That, and the shape of her slim brown wrist. An inward motion of wonder or anticipation or trespass was upon us. Mattie’s voice dropped to silence. With a furtive glance, she slowly closed the book. A hush of togetherness. And then it happened, the greatest, most exhilarating thing—the hair on her arm, like soft blond duff, horripilated faintly as though someone’s breath were on it. I swear.