Karina is addicted to books. This is her story.
The familiar, musty-book smell comforts Karina as she pages through her old friend by the light of a full moon. The paper is soft from years of fingering.
She slides deeper into the nest made of pillows and blankets, hiding from the draft let in by poorly-insulated windows. Drawing the drapes would be the smart thing to do, but that would mean turning on a light to read, and that would be a shame on a night with a full moon.
She turns to the first page for the third time that night.
Reading helps her forget how out of place she feels in this little house on the edge of campus, even after a full semester of college. It also helps her forget that today she becomes an adult.
Goodnight light. And the red balloon.
No balloon for her today. It has been years since she’s had balloons for her birthday. She doesn’t mind. They stopped really scaring her by the time she was nine, but they never stopped making her nervous, though she never showed it. Balloons are pointless anyway. Kind of like birthdays.
Goodnight nobody. Goodnight mush.
She whispers the words to the empty room and leftover instant oatmeal clinging to the bowl and spoon on the table. It has been a good evening. No one to bother her, and no exams to cram for. She likes having so little company. The moon and the picture book are more than enough for her.
And goodnight to the old lady whispering, “hush.”
She used to imagine her grandmother was really an old lady bunny like in these illustrations. When she was little, who could blame her? She never saw grandmother; her only connection was the books that arrived every month. It was more comfortable imagining grandmother as a sweet bunny in a rocking chair than a real crotchety old woman anyhow. Grandmother had to be more like the bunny in the picture than Dad’s description of her. How else could she be the sort of woman who would send such treasures with such regularity?
Karina closes the book and smooths her hand over the cover. The edges are worn down, the corners rounded, but the book has been well cared for. She places it on one of the nearby cardboard boxes that are still waiting to be unpacked. As soon as winter break starts she will have a chance to release more old friends from their dark cardboard dungeon.
She draws her knees to her chest and turns away from the boxes, back toward the window. The moon has been a good friend. She had stayed with her through every move with Dad, no matter how dark and dirty the apartment, or how clean and safe the neighborhood. And she has followed Karina here, so many miles from wherever Dad is now.
Sure, she waned as the days passed and disappeared for a night or two, but whenever that happened Karina had the distraction of a new friend arriving in the mail. Even when she came to college, the books kept coming with every new moon. Then the moon would wax and come back full without fail.
Two hundred twenty-two times. Two hundred twenty-two books. This was her breath of life, the steady heartbeat that kept her alive and moving through time. Eighteen years without fail, the moon brought light and the books brought life.
Karina pushes herself up off the floor and takes the dishes to the sink. She runs water into them to soak and submerges the tip of the single birthday candle to make sure it is fully extinguished before tossing it into the trash.
Happy birthday to me.
It had been a good birthday. Only one phone call to deal with this year: Aunt Tina, who still insists on leaving a voicemail of herself singing “Happy Birthday.” Everyone else has learned to text.
At least she has a decent voice.