My husband, Phil, yells from the car, sending me flying down the hallway. My gaze bounces from one surface to another; the floor, the top of the shoe rack, the bookshelf, the telephone table… where is it?
“We’re going to be late!”
“I’m coming!” I shout, grabbing it off the telephone table, where it lies half-buried under the morning’s mail. Shoving it into my bag, I fluster my way through the front door, lock up, and run to the car.
Brown eyes, dark with annoyance, glare at me as I slide into the passenger seat. “What kept you?”
“I’d forgotten something…”
“Like I can’t guess what that was. Really, Suze, it’s not like you need it. We’re going visiting, and you know as well as I do—you aren’t rude enough to get it out at your mother’s… or even my mother’s.”
I turn my head to look through the passenger–side window. He’s right, of course, but knowing it’s there, in my bag, calms me—like the exit sign in an overcrowded room.
The countryside passes by, flat agricultural land giving way to the rolling hills and valleys of the East Yorkshire Wolds. I enjoy the journey, but every now and then, when the view disappears behind a line of houses, my fingers begin to itch, and I hug my handbag closer, playing with the zip and wondering if Phil would mind me taking it out for a few minutes. In fairness, he probably wouldn’t complain… I’m just not sure I can take the mocking that might follow.
I decide to ‘test the water’. Opening my bag, I rummage inside, fingers brushing against its side. Bumpy leather, which I know is a dull black, with worn areas on its raised texture; smoothed by constant use. The elastic closure sits tight in its factory-provided groove, and I run a nail beneath it… so near…
“What are you doing?” Phil asks, taking his eyes from the road for a moment, to pin me with an ‘I know what you’re up to’ stare.
I move my hand quickly, picking up a small, rounded tin before withdrawing it to show him. “My lips are dry… I thought I’d put some Vaseline on them.”
He purses his own slightly, running the tip of his tongue over first the lower, and then the upper, a smear of saliva making them shine. “It’s that time of year. Mine are dry too. I should probably use some myself.”
I raise the tin higher, my mouth curving. “Only if you want to explore your feminine side—this is the pink-tinted stuff.”
“Haven’t you got any of the clear with you?”
I know I haven’t, but… Obligingly, I begin to hunt, taking out the biggest item in my bag… so I can have a better look.
Heartbeats quicken as I transfer it to my lap.
After a show of searching, I shake my head and zip up my bag again. “No, sorry.”
Leaning forward, I put my bag on the floor of the car, kicking it lightly into the deeper recesses of the footwell. Then I straighten in my seat, and gaze out the window with solemn concentration, posture casual, as I slide it closer. Lying flat in my lap, its weight comforts. I run my fingers along its length, my mind contemplating all that resides within.
“That was sneaky,” Phil states, his voice laced with humour and, thankfully, understanding.
Silence is my best defence.
After a minute, he sighs. “Oh, go on then… you might as well. We’ll be at your parents’ house in half an hour. Just don’t give yourself a headache or make yourself sick.”
My smile is full of gratitude, my socialising-triggered anxiety, which rises as predictably as the moon, easing abruptly. I glance down at the black oblong cradled in my hands, stroking it with an affection that most reserve for a pet.
I take my time, easing the elastic—slow and steady, over the lip of the case. Anticipation claws at me, almost painful. Until, with a single snap, my addiction is released.
Raising the cover, my lips open on a sigh of satisfaction. The flick of a switch, and pleasure-filled eyes linger on the list in front of me. Page one of seventy-five. Page one of a universe-worth of worlds, several civilizations’ worth of characters, a library’s worth of reading.
This is my kindle: leather case, battered and worn, paint coming off the keyboard, cracks in the plastic and shiny areas on the surround, where reverent fingers have caressed. But so much more: it is a place I can hide in, escape to… whenever I need… wherever I crave.