Erstwhile abductor Howard Desseray and his interim life partner Tally Dolcet sat comfortably around the hearth of their beloved fireplace, basking in this traditional symbol of a home's emotional warmth and security.
In Medford*, of course, it was never cold enough to have a fire, but the hearth still radiated its familial warmth, oozing forth a flameless bond far greater than a literal fire's emanations.
It was the couple's reading hour, a sacred event in the Desseray-Dolcet domicile. The quiet minutes ticking imperceptibly away, the only sound the sussurant turning of pages, accompanied by the muted gurgling of the couple's sipping either prune juice or Jagermeister, depending on the day's diet.
Tally's reading taste leaned toward such olden classics as Marquis de Sade's Justine, John Cleland's Fanny Hill, Matthew Gregory "Monk" Lewis's The Monk, and DeLaclos' Les Liaisons de Dangereuses.
Howard, previously a fan of The Bobbsey Twins, Pollyanna, and Heidi, now preferred studies in existentialism, theology and world religions.
So reading hour was one of those "she with her Emily Dickinson, he with his Robert Frost" type situations.
Suddenly, Howard broke the spell.
With knitted brow, he looked up from Kierkegaard's Either/Or and said, "Tally, I hate to interrupt, but it just dawned on me that normal people don't do this anymore."
"You mean sip Jagermeister in front of a fireless fireplace? You're probably right."
"No, no, my beloved Cupcake of Life. Reading. I mean, I'm not sure people read much anymore, certainly not from actual books with spines and covers and shit."
"Well, I guess that particular means of sipping from Wisdom's trough probably is going the way of big cats and albino rhinoceri. I don't know what we can do about it, though. Maybe people like us can keep literacy alive -- and, hey, don't forget about book clubs! You can hardly back out of your driveway without colliding with an SUV transporting its pilot to a book-club gathering!"
"It's 'rhinoceroses,' not 'rhinoceri.' And I hate to burst your bubble, but I doubt book clubs will save what our nation considers literacy. I've been to one of their meetings, so I know about book clubs."
"Howard! I had no idea you were a book-clubber!"
"Oh, I wasn't in the club. I was there to abduct a young man who was still living with his very wealthy mother, the same mother who had pretentiously named him Virgil Marcel. I had to replace my 1965 Buick Riviera's manifold, and I figured Virgil's mom would pay anything and in a hurry to keep her bookish little boy under her roof. As usual, things didn't work out the way I had planned."
"What book were they reading?"
"That's not the point, and I don't remember the title."
"How about the author."
"Tally, I don't pay attention to that stuff. The author was a woman, can't remember her name, but I do remember reading on the jacket that she was the head of the linguistic department at the University of Chicago. All I remember about the plot was the main character was a linguistic scholar at a fictional prestigious Midwestern university, was granted a grant that funded her research in Paraguay where she would attempt to create a gender-free language that would translate easily into Guarani, Spanish and Yupik."
"Hmm. Sounds interesting, anyway . . ."
"Oh, wait! I also remember she meets a guy in Paraguay's largest library, but I can't remember the name of the library. This dude has fled his lackluster, generic, lockstep, cookie-cutter, insipid, hamster-wheel, pedestrian, quotidian -- "
"Nuther words, pretty much the same thing every day."
"Yeah, but he found his bliss in Paraguay and developed a passion for the mandioca esculenta industry, and his success turned Paraguay into Paradise, for him at least, tarnished only by a botched sex-change operation he underwent after losing a bet at one of the country's finer coffee shops. Anyway. Boring stuff. That's all I can remember."
"Don't worry, I can Google it. Now tell me what happened at that book-club meeting."
Howard gazed into the fireplace devoid of flames, wood, ashes. He sighed.
"Nah. Actually, I just got to the 'or' chapter in Either/Or. Took long enough. Plus, nobody wants to read about a failed abduction at a book club meeting."
"In another post, maybe."
*A few miles from Townsville