Chapter no 50 – Perfect Life

The Midnight Library

Ash’s gangly handsome boyishness had only been modestly dented by fatherhood. If anything, he looked healthier than he had done on her doorstep and, like then, he was wearing running gear – though here the clothes seemed a bit fancier and more expensive, and he had some kind of fitness tracker attached to his arm.

He was smiling and holding two cups of coee, one of which was for Nora. She wondered how many coees they had shared together, since the first.

‘Oh, thank you.’

‘Oh no, Nor, did you sleep in here all night?’ he asked. Nor.

‘Most of it. I meant to go back to bed but Molly was in a state. I had to

calm her and then I was too tired to move.’

‘Oh no. I’m so sorry. I didn’t hear her.’ He seemed genuinely sad. ‘It was probably my fault. I showed her some bears on YouTube yesterday before work.’

‘No worries.’

‘Anyway, I’ve walked Plato. I’m not in the hospital till midday today. It’s going to be a late one. Are you still wanting to go into the library today?’

‘Oh. You know what? I might give it a miss.’

‘Okay, well, I got Mol some brekkie and will drop her off at school.’ ‘I can take Molly,’ said Nora. ‘If you’ve got a big day.’

‘Oh, it’s an okay one. A gall bladder and a pancreas so far. Easy street. Am going to get a run in.’

‘Right. Yes. ’Course. For the half-marathon on Sunday.’


‘Nothing. It doesn’t matter,’ Nora said, ‘I’m just delirious from sleeping on the floor.’

‘No worries. Anyway, my sister phoned. ey want her to illustrate the calendar for Kew Gardens. Lots of plants. She’s really pleased.’

He smiled. He seemed happy for this sister of his who Nora had never heard of. She wanted to thank him for being so good about her dead cat, but she obviously couldn’t so she just said, ‘ank you.’

‘For what?’

‘Just, you know, everything.’ ‘Oh. Right. Okay.’

‘So, thank you.’

He nodded. ‘at’s nice. Anyway, run time.’

He drained his coee and then disappeared. Nora scanned the room, absorbing every new piece of information. Every cuddly toy and book and plug socket, as if they were all part of the jigsaw of her life.

An hour later, Molly was being dropped off at her infant school and Nora was doing the usual. Checking her emails and social media. Her social media activity wasn’t great in this life, which was always a promising sign, but she did have a hell of a lot of emails. From these emails she divined that she was not simply ‘stopping’ teaching at the moment but had ocially stopped. She was on a sabbatical in order to write a book about Henry David

oreau and his relevance for the modern-day environmentalist movement. Later in the year she planned to visit Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, funded by a research grant.

is seemed pretty good. Almost annoyingly good.

A good life with a good daughter and a good man in a good house in a

good town. It was an excess of good. A life where she could sit down all day reading and researching and writing about her all-time favourite philosopher.

is is cool,’ she told the dog. ‘Isn’t this cool?’ Plato yawned indierence.

en she set about exploring her house, being watched by the Labrador from the comfy-looking sofa. e living room was vast. Her feet sunk into the so rug.

White floorboards, TV, wood-burner, electric piano, two new laptops on charge, a mahogany chest on which perched an ornate chess set, nicely stacked bookshelves. A lovely guitar resting in the corner. Nora recognised the model instantly as an electro-acoustic ‘Midnight Satin’ Fender Malibu. She had sold one during her last week working at String eory.

ere were photos in frames dotted around the living room. Kids she didn’t know with a woman who looked like Ash – presumably his sister. An old photo of her deceased parents on their wedding day, and one of her and Ash getting married. She could see her brother in the background. A photo of Plato. And one of a baby, presumably Molly.

She glanced at the books. Some yoga manuals, but not the second-hand ones she owned in her root life. Some medical books. She recognised her copy of Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy, along with Henry David oreau’s Walden, both of which she’d owned since university. A familiar Principles of Geology was also there. ere were quite a few books on oreau. And copies of Plato’s Republic and Hannah Arendt’s e Origins of Totalitarianism, which she did own in her root life, but not in these editions. Intellectual-looking books by people like Julia Kristeva and Judith Butler and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. ere were a lot of works on Eastern philosophy that she had never read before and she wondered if she stayed in this life, and she couldn’t see why not, whether there was a way to read them all before she had to do any more teaching at Cambridge.

Novels, some Dickens, e Bell Jar, some geeky pop-science books, a few music books, a few parenting manuals, Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, some stuff on climate change, and a large hardback called Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape.

She had rarely, if ever, been this consistently highbrow. is was clearly what happened when you did a Master’s degree at Cambridge and then went on sabbatical to write a book on your favourite philosopher.

‘You’re impressed by me,’ she told the dog. ‘You can admit it.’

ere was also a pile of music songbooks, and Nora smiled when she saw that the one on top was the Simon & Garfunkel one she had sold to Ash the day he had asked her out for a coee. On the coee table there was a nice glossy hardback book of photographs of Spanish scenery and on the sofa there was something called e Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers.

And in the magazine rack there was the brand-new National Geographic with the picture of the black hole on the cover.

ere was a picture on the wall. A Miró print from a museum in Barcelona.

‘Have me and Ash been to Barcelona together, Plato?’ She imagined them both, hand-in-hand, wandering the streets of the Gothic Quarter together, popping into a bar for tapas and Rioja.

On the wall opposite the bookshelves there was a mirror. A broad mirror with an ornate white frame. She no longer got surprised by the variations in appearance between lives. She had been every shape and size and had every haircut. In this life, she looked perfectly pleasant. She would have liked to be friends with this person. It wasn’t an Olympian or a rock star or a Cirque du Soleil acrobat she was looking at, but it was someone who seemed to be having a good life, as far as you could tell these things. A grown-up who had a vague idea of who she was and what she was doing in life. Short hair, but not dramatically so, skin looking healthier than in her root life, either through diet, a lack of red wine, exercise, or the cleansers and moisturisers she’d seen in the bathroom, which were all more expensive than anything she owned in her root life.

‘Well,’ she said to Plato. ‘is is a nice life, yeah?’ Plato seemed to agree.

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