July Tale

July Tale by Neil Gaiman
From A Calendar of Tales

The day that my wife walked out on me, saying she needed to be alone and to have some time to think things over, on the first of July, when the sun beat down on the lake in the centre of the town, when the corn in the meadows that surrounded my house was knee-high, when the first few rockets and firecrackers were let off by over-enthusiastic children to startle us and to speckle the summer sky, I built an igloo out of books in my back yard.

I used paperbacks to build it, scared of the weight of falling hardbacks or encyclopedias if I didn’t build it soundly.

But it held. It was twelve feet high, and had a tunnel, through which I could crawl to enter, to keep out the bitter arctic winds.

I took more books into the igloo I had made out of books, and I read in there.

I marvelled at how warm and comfortable I was inside. As I read the books, I would put them down, make a floor out of them, and then I got more books, and I sat on them, eliminating the last of the green July grass from my world.

My friends came by the next day. They crawled on their hands and knees into my igloo. They told me I was acting crazy. I told them that the only thing that stood between me and the winter’s cold was my father’s collection of 1950s paperbacks, many of them with racy titles and lurid covers and disappointingly staid stories.

My friends left.

I sat in my igloo imagining the arctic night outside, wondering whether the Northern Lights would be filling the sky above me. I looked out, but saw only a night filled with pinprick stars.

I slept in my igloo made of books. I was getting hungry. I made a hole in the floor, lowered a fishing line and waited until something bit. I pulled it up: a fish made of books – green-covered vintage Penguin detective stories. I ate it raw, fearing a fire in my igloo.

When I went outside I observed that someone had covered the whole world with books: pale-covered books, all shades of white and blue and purple. I wandered the ice-floes of books.

I saw someone who looked like my wife out there on the ice. She was making a glacier of autobiographies.

“I thought you left me,” I said to her. “I thought you left me alone.”

She said nothing, and I realised she was only a shadow of a shadow.

It was July, when the sun never sets in the arctic, but I was getting tired, and I started back towards the igloo.

I saw the shadows of the bears before I saw the bears themselves: huge they were, and pale, made of the pages of fierce books: poems ancient and modern prowled the ice floes, in bear-shape filled with words that could wound with their beauty. I could see the paper, and the words winding across them, and I was frightened that the bears could see me.

I crept back to my igloo, avoiding the bears. I may have slept in the darkness.

And then I crawled out, and I lay on my back on the ice and stared up at the unexpected colours of the shimmering Northern Lights, and listened to the cracks and snaps of the distant ice as an iceberg of fairy tales calved from a glacier of books on mythology.

I do not know when I became aware that there was someone else lying on the ground near to me. I could hear her breathing.

“They are very beautiful, aren’t they?” she said.

“It is Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights,” I told her.

“It’s the town’s Fourth of July fireworks, baby,” said my wife.

She held my hand and we watched the fireworks together.

When the last of the fireworks had vanished in a cloud of golden stars, she said,

“I came home.”

I didn’t say anything. But I held her hand very tightly, and I left my igloo made of books, and I went with her back into the house we lived in, basking like a cat in the July heat.

I heard distant thunder, and in the night, while we slept, it began to rain, tumbling my igloo of books, washing away the words from the world.


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