Chapter no 51

The Midnight Library

A Spiritual Quest for a Deeper Connection with the Universe

She found the medicine drawer in the kitchen and rummaged through the plasters and ibuprofen and Calpol and multivitamins and runners’ knee bandages but couldn’t find any sign of any anti-depressants.

Maybe this was it. Maybe this was, finally, the life she was going to stay put in. e life she would choose. e one she would not return to the shelves.

I could be happy here.

A little later, in the shower, she scanned her body for new marks. ere were no tattoos but there was a scar. Not a self-inflicted scar but a surgical-looking one – a long, delicate horizontal line below her navel. She had seen a caesarean scar before, and now she stroked her thumb along it, thinking that even if she stayed in this life she would have always turned up late for it.

Ash came back home from dropping Molly o. She hastily dressed so he wouldn’t see her naked.

ey had breakfast together. ey sat at their kitchen table and scrolled the day’s news and ate sourdough toast and were very much like a living endorsement for marriage.

And then Ash went to the hospital and she stayed home to research

oreau all day. She read her work-in-progress, which already had an impressive word-count of 42,729, and sat eating toast before picking Molly up from school.

Molly wanted to go to the park ‘like normal’ to feed the ducks, and so Nora took her, disguising the fact that she was using Google Maps to navigate her way there.

Nora pushed her on a swing till her arms ached, slid down slides with her and crawled behind her through large metallic tunnels. ey then threw dry oats into the pond for the ducks, scooped from a box of porridge.

en she sat down with Molly in front of the telly and then she fed her her dinner and read a bedtime story, all before Ash returned home.

Aer Ash came home, a man came to the door and tried to get in and Nora shut the door in his face.



‘Why were you so weird to Adam?’ ‘What?’

‘I think he was a little bit put out.’ ‘What do you mean?’

‘You acted like he was a stranger.’ ‘Oh.’ Nora smiled. ‘Sorry.’

‘He’s been our neighbour for three years. We went camping with him and Hannah in the Lake District.’

‘Yes. I know. Of course.’

‘You looked like you weren’t letting him in. Like he was an intruder or something.’

‘Did I?’

‘You shut the door in his face.’

‘I shut the door. It wasn’t in his face. I mean, yes, his face was there.

Technically. But I just didn’t want him to think he could barge in.’ ‘He was bringing the hose back.’

‘Oh, right. Well, we don’t need the hose. Hoses are bad for the planet.’ ‘Are you okay?’

‘Why wouldn’t I be?’

‘I just worry about you . . .’

Generally, though, things turned out pretty good, and every time she wondered if she would wake up back in the library, she didn’t. One day, aer her yoga class, Nora sat on a bench by the River Cam and re-read some

oreau. e day aer, she watched Ryan Bailey on daytime TV being interviewed on the set of Last Chance Saloon 2, in which he said he was ‘on a spiritual quest for a deeper connection with the universe’ rather than worrying about ‘settling down in a romantic context’.

She received whale photos from Izzy, and WhatsApped her to say that she had heard about a horrid car crash in Australia recently, and made Izzy promise she would always drive safely.

Nora was comforted to know she had no inclination whatsoever to see what Dan was doing with his life. Instead, she felt very grateful to be with Ash. Or rather, and more precisely: she imagined she was grateful, because he was lovely, and there were so many moments of joy and laughter and love.

Ash did long shis but was easy to be around when he was in, even aer days of blood and stress and gall bladders. He was also a bit of a nerd. He always said ‘good morning’ to elderly people in the street when walking the dog and sometimes they ignored him. He sang along to the car radio. He generally didn’t seem to need sleep. And was always fine doing the Molly night shi even when he was in surgery the next day.

He loved to gross Molly out with facts – a stomach gets a new lining every four days! Ear wax is a type of sweat! You have creatures called mites living in your eyelashes! – and loved to be inappropriate. He (at the duck pond, the first Saturday, within Molly’s earshot) enthusiastically told a random stranger that male ducks have penises shaped like corkscrews.

On nights when he was home early enough to cook, he made a great lentil dal and a pretty good penne arrabbiata, and tended to put a whole bulb of garlic in every meal he created. But Molly had been absolutely right: his artistic talents didn’t extend to musical ability. In fact, when he sang ‘e Sound of Silence’, accompanied by his guitar, she found herself guiltily wishing he would take the title literally.

He was, in other words, a bit of a dork – a dork who saved lives on a daily basis, but still a dork. Which was good. Nora liked dorks, and she felt one herself, and it helped make her get over the fundamental peculiarity of being with a husband you were only just getting to know.

is is a good life, Nora would think to herself, over and over again.

Yes, being a parent was exhausting, but Molly was easy to love, at least in daylight hours. In fact, Nora oen preferred it when Molly was home from school because it added a bit of challenge to what was otherwise a rather frictionless existence. No relationship stress, no work stress, no money stress.

It was a lot to be grateful for.

ere were inevitably shaky moments. She felt the familiar feeling of being in a play for which she didn’t know the lines.

‘Is anything wrong?’ she asked Ash one night.

‘It’s just . . .’ He looked at her with his kind smile and intense, scrutinising eyes. ‘I don’t know. You forgot our anniversary was coming up. You think you haven’t seen films you’ve seen. And vice versa. You forgot you had a bike. You forget where the plates are. You’ve been wearing my slippers. You get into my side of the bed.’

‘Jeez, Ash,’ she said, a little bit too tense. ‘It’s like being interrogated by the three bears.’

‘I just worry . . .’

‘I’m fine. Just, you know, lost in research world. Lost in the woods.

oreau’s woods.’

And she felt in those moments that maybe she’d return to the Midnight Library. Sometimes she remembered the words of Mrs Elm on her first visit there. If you really want to live a life hard enough, you don’t have to worry . . .

e moment you decide you want that life, really want it, then everything that exists in your head now, including this Midnight Library, will eventually be a dream. A memory so vague and intangible it will hardly be there at all.

Which begged the question: if this was the perfect life, why hadn’t she forgotten the library?

How long did it take to forget?

Occasionally she felt wisps of gentle depression float around her, for no real reason, but it wasn’t comparable to how terrible she had felt in her root life, or indeed many of her other lives. It was like comparing a bit of a snie to pneumonia. When she thought about how bad she had felt the day she lost her job at String eory, of the despair, of the lonely and desperate yearning to not exist, then this was nowhere near.

Every day she went to bed thinking she was going to wake up in this life again, because it was – on balance, and all things considered – the best she had known. Indeed, she progressed from going to bed casually assuming she’d stay in this life, to being scared to fall asleep in case she wouldn’t.

And yet, night aer night she would fall asleep and day aer day she would wake up in the same bed. Or occasionally on the carpet, but she

shared that pain with Ash, and more oen than not it was a bed as Molly was getting better and better at sleeping through.

ere were awkward moments, of course. Nora never knew the way to anything, or where things were in the house, and Ash sometimes wondered out loud if she should see a doctor. And at first she had avoided sex with him, but one night it happened and aerwards Nora felt guilty about the lie she was living.

ey lay in the dark for a while, in post-coital silence, but she knew she had to broach the subject. Test the water.

‘Ash,’ she said. ‘What?’

‘Do you believe in the theory of parallel universes?’

She could see his face stretch into a smile. is was the kind of conversation on his wavelength. ‘Yes, I think so.’

‘Me too. I mean, it’s science, isn’t it? It’s not like some geeky physicist just thought, “Hey, parallel universes are cool. Let’s make a theory about them.”’

‘Yeah,’ he agreed. ‘Science distrusts anything that sounds too cool. Too sci-fi. Scientists are sceptics, as a rule.’

‘Exactly, yet physicists believe in parallel universes.’

‘It’s just where the science leads, isn’t it? Everything in quantum mechanics and string theory all points to there being multiple universes. Many, many universes.’

‘Well, what would you say if I said that I have visited my other lives, and I think I have chosen this one?’

‘I would think you were insane. But I’d still like you.’ ‘Well, I have. I have had many lives.’

He smiled. ‘Great. Is there one where you kiss me again?’ ‘ere is one where you buried my dead cat.’

He laughed. ‘at’s so cool, Nor. e thing I like about you is that you always make me feel normal.’

And that was it.

She realised that you could be as honest as possible in life, but people only see the truth if it is close enough to their reality. As oreau wrote, ‘It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.’ And Ash only saw the Nora he had fallen in love with and married, and so, in a way, that was the Nora she was becoming.

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