Chapter no 46 – Many Lives of Nora Seed

The Midnight Library

Nora came to understand something. Something Hugo had never fully explained to her in that kitchen in Svalbard. You didn’t have to enjoy every aspect of each life to keep having the option of experiencing them. You just had to never give up on the idea that there would be a life somewhere that could be enjoyed. Equally, enjoying a life didn’t mean you stayed in that life. You only stayed in a life for ever if you couldn’t imagine a better one, and yet, paradoxically, the more lives you tried the easier it became to think of something better, as the imagination broadened a bit more with every new life she sampled.

So, in time, and with Mrs Elm’s assistance, Nora took lots of books from the shelves, and ended up having a taste of lots of dierent lives in her search for the right one. She learned that undoing regrets was really a way of making wishes come true. ere was almost any life she was living in one universe, aer all.

In one life she had quite a solitary time in Paris, and taught English at a college in Montparnasse and cycled by the Seine and read lots of books on park benches. In another, she was a yoga teacher with the neck mobility of an owl.

In one life she had kept up swimming but had never tried to pursue the Olympics. She just did it for fun. In that life she was a lifeguard in the beach resort of Sitges, near Barcelona, was fluent in both Catalan and Spanish, and had a hilarious best friend called Gabriela who taught her how to surf, and who she shared an apartment with, five minutes from the beach.

ere was one existence where Nora had kept up the fiction writing she had occasionally toyed with at university and was now a published author.

Her novel e Shape of Regret received rave reviews and was shortlisted for a major literary award. In that life she had lunch in a disappointingly banal Soho members’ club with two aable, easy-going producers from Magic Lantern Productions, who wanted to option it for film. She ended up choking on a piece of flatbread and knocking her red wine over one of the producer’s trousers and messing up the whole meeting.

In one life she had a teenage son called Henry, who she never met properly because he kept slamming doors in her face.

In one life she was a concert pianist, currently on tour in Scandinavia, playing night aer night to besotted crowds (and fading into the Midnight Library during one disastrous rendition of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 at the Finlandia Hall in Helsinki).

In one life she only ate toast.

In one life she went to Oxford and became a lecturer in Philosophy at St Catherine’s College and lived by herself in a fine Georgian townhouse in a genteel row, amid an environment of respectable calm.

In another life Nora was a sea of emotion. She felt everything deeply and directly. Every joy and every sorrow. A single moment could contain both intense pleasure and intense pain, as if both were dependent on each other, like a pendulum in motion. A simple walk outside and she could feel a heavy sadness simply because the sun had slipped behind a cloud. Yet, conversely, meeting a dog who was clearly grateful for her attention caused her to feel so exultant that she felt she could melt into the pavement with sheer bliss. In that life she had a book of Emily Dickinson poems beside her bed and she had a playlist called ‘Extreme States of Euphoria’ and another one called ‘e Glue to Fix Me When I Am Broken’.

In one life she was a travel vlogger who had 1,750,000 YouTube subscribers and almost as many people following her on Instagram, and her most popular video was one where she fell off a gondola in Venice. She also had one about Rome called ‘A Roma erapy’.

In one life she was a single parent to a baby that literally wouldn’t sleep.

In one life she ran the showbiz column in a tabloid newspaper and did stories about Ryan Bailey’s relationships.

In one life she was the picture editor at the National Geographic.

In one life she was a successful eco-architect who lived a carbon-neutral existence in a self-designed bungalow that harvested rain-water and ran on

solar power.

In one life she was an aid worker in Botswana. In one life a cat-sitter.

In one life a volunteer in a homeless shelter.

In one life she was sleeping on her only friend’s sofa. In one life she taught music in Montreal.

In one life she spent all day arguing with people she didn’t know on Twitter and ended a fair proportion of her tweets by saying ‘Do better’ while secretly realising she was telling herself to do that.

In one life she had no social media accounts. In one life she’d never drunk alcohol.

In one life she was a chess champion and currently visiting Ukraine for a tournament.

In one life she was married to a minor Royal and hated every minute.

In one life her Facebook and Instagram only contained quotes from Rumi and Lao Tzu.

In one life she was on to her third husband and already bored. In one life she was a vegan power-lier.

In one life she was travelling around South America and caught up in an earthquake in Chile.

In one life she had a friend called Becky, who said ‘Oh what larks!’ whenever anything good was happening.

In one life she met Hugo yet again, diving off the Corsican coast, and they talked quantum mechanics and got drunk together at a beachside bar until Hugo slipped away, out of that life, mid-sentence, so Nora was le talking to a blank Hugo who was trying to remember her name.

In some lives Nora attracted a lot of attention. In some lives she attracted none. In some lives she was rich. In some lives she was poor. In some lives she was healthy. In some lives she couldn’t climb the stairs without getting out of breath. In some lives she was in a relationship, in others she was solo, in many she was somewhere in between. In some lives she was a mother, but in most she wasn’t.

She had been a rock star, an Olympian, a music teacher, a primary school teacher, a professor, a CEO, a PA, a chef, a glaciologist, a climatologist, an acrobat, a tree-planter, an audit manager, a hair-dresser, a professional dog walker, an oce clerk, a soware developer, a receptionist, a hotel cleaner, a

politician, a lawyer, a shoplier, the head of an ocean protection charity, a shop worker (again), a waitress, a first-line supervisor, a glass-blower and a thousand other things. She’d had horrendous commutes in cars, on buses, in trains, on ferries, on bike, on foot. She’d had emails and emails and emails. She’d had a fiy-three-year-old boss with halitosis touch her leg under a table and text her a photo of his penis. She’d had colleagues who lied about her, and colleagues who loved her, and (mainly) colleagues who were entirely indierent. In many lives she chose not to work and in some she didn’t choose not to work but still couldn’t find any. In some lives she smashed through the glass ceiling and in some she just polished it. She had been excessively over- and under-qualified. She had slept brilliantly and terribly. In some lives she was on anti-depressants and in others she didn’t even take ibuprofen for a headache. In some lives she was a physically healthy hypochondriac and in some a seriously ill hypochondriac and in most she wasn’t a hypochondriac at all. ere was a life where she had chronic fatigue, a life where she had cancer, a life where she’d suered a herniated disc and broken her ribs in a car accident.

ere had, in short, been a lot of lives.

And among those lives she had laughed and cried and felt calm and terrified and everything in between.

And between these lives she always saw Mrs Elm in the library.

And at first it seemed that the more lives she experienced, the fewer problems there seemed to be with the transfer. e library never felt like it was on the brink of crumbling or falling apart or at risk of disappearing completely. e lights didn’t even flicker through many of the changeovers. It was as though she had reached some state of acceptance about life – that if there was a bad experience, there wouldn’t only be bad experiences. She realised that she hadn’t tried to end her life because she was miserable, but because she had managed to convince herself that there was no way out of her misery.

at, she supposed, was the basis of depression as well as the dierence between fear and despair. Fear was when you wandered into a cellar and worried that the door would close shut. Despair was when the door closed and locked behind you.

But with every life she saw that metaphorical door widen a little further as she grew better at using her imagination. Sometimes she was in a life for less

than a minute, while in others she was there for days or weeks. It seemed the more lives she lived, the harder it was to feel at home anywhere.

e trouble was that eventually Nora began to lose any sense of who she was. Like a whispered word passed around from ear to ear, even her name began to sound like just a noise, signifying nothing.

‘It’s not working,’ she told Hugo, in her last proper conversation with him, in that beach bar in Corsica. ‘It’s not fun any more. I am not you. I need somewhere to stay. But the ground is never stable.’

e fun is in the jumping, mon amie.’ ‘But what if it’s in the landing?’

And that was the moment he had returned to his purgatorial video store. ‘I’m sorry,’ his other self said, as he sipped his wine and the sun set behind

him, ‘I’ve forgotten who you are.’ ‘Don’t worry,’ she said. ‘So have I.’

As she too faded away like the sun that had just been swallowed by the horizon.

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