The Kindness of Strangers
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Categories: Modern, Not an expert

The Kindness of Strangers

A softcover book with uncut pages against the background of a cheap desk, Murphy's "Ottoman Warfare," and Harrison's "Writing Ancient Persia"

On Friday a book arrived from the Magazin, which is what Austrians call the closed stacks or off-site storage of a library. Unlike other things which come from a magazine, it was not packed in an airtight box and covered in oil or grease, but I did have to do something else before it was ready for action: cut the pages open. The top and lateral edges of many pages were still solidly fixed to their neighbours, and I had to separate them a flick of my trusty Laguiole.

The book answered my question about shipbuilding terms, and helped me finish a footnote. But how long, Sandahl, did you wait for me? Seventy years, from the half-built times after the war, through years of revolt that turned into drugged smugness, then haughty pride growing across the sea as enemies blustered and clashed until suddenly there was only one which claimed the victor’s name but was strangely transformed as kings raged in Babylon and methane bubbled upwards from the Arctic depths like a beating heart beneath the floorboards. Thy author perished. The handwritten cards and typed slips from which thou wert born were reckoned quaint, yet no-one came to read the ‘checker’s rolls for which thy author had waited patient while the torpedoes and fire-bombs were falling. And all that time, nobody opened thee to “rivet” and read. How many patient librarians kept thee from dust and water? When wert thou banished to thy exile in the Magazin? And all so that thou wouldst be there when I summoned thee.

I am not the most adventurous person, and it is possible to strip the romance from anything if you look at it the wrong way. But I can call dead men from the vasty deep, and they answer when I call them. While that brings madness, I am not sure how much of my world is sane.

Edit 2023-03-09: fixed formtting broken when WordPress introduced the block editor

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