I want to have an affair. But I can’t figure how to go about starting one. I mean, here I am a married middle class housewife with no idea how to meet not just a man, but a man who would not mind the diamond on my left ring finger let alone the other man who gave it to me.

Now if this were a novel, I would go for a long walk with my poodle. I’d be letting my mind travel through endless daydreams as I hiked and my mind would of course settle on the idea of having an affair.

That’s when something original and funny would happen that would slam me into contact with the perfect man. Perhaps the dog would poop on someone’s front lawn despite my telling him no, stop it. I’d be cursing myself for forgetting the doggie bags… again, and praying that he would hurry before anyone would notice.

My eyes frantically dart around making sure no one’s looking when the door to the house in front of me opens with a bang. Out steps a neatly dressed male with startling green eyes and thick black hair combed back just so. He smiles at me, revealing perfectly white and straight teeth, but the teeth disappear right quick as he registers why I am standing in front of his house.

“I’m so sorry sir,” I start.

But he cuts me off, “Don’t tell me you were going to leave that there.”

I stammer, because of course, if he wasn’t standing right in front of me, I would have. But now – “No of course not. But I – um, well he doesn’t usually go when I’m walking him – so I, um, I.”

Well, I don’t know how even the best romance novelist could turn this encounter into the beginnings of a hot affair. That’s the problem, isn’t it? Life isn’t a novel. But I have always expected it to play out like one, ever since I finished my first classic novel, turned the last gilded edged page, heard the resounding thunk of the hard bound cover, felt that empty, satisfied feeling followed immediately by a longing for more, a desire to escape again into pages of a life that makes sense, where characters are consistent, and if not consistent then developed, where plots unfold like a blooming rose, even the unexpected expected on account of ample foreshadowing, where endings are happy and if not happy then poetic, fitting, beautiful. Not like life.

When I was a little girl, my mother had a book case that reached the ceiling. The shelves were enclosed with glass doors that you pulled up, then pushed back into the shelf to expose the hard bound books inside. I wasn’t allowed to read them, not even to touch them until I was old enough. As I awaited the time when Mom would let me choose my first classic novel, I studied the gilded lettering along the spines, the thickness of the volumes one against the other, supporting each other by their proximity.

I killed time reading Beverly Clearly and, later, Scott O’Dell. Sometimes, at extremely desperate moments of boredom, I picked up a Sweet Valley Twins paperback that I could zip through in a day. But none of these simple reads compared to the passion of words awaiting me in the tall book cases.

“Why can’t I read them now?” I asked Mom.

“You’re too young to understand them.”

“My reading level is like high school level. Sister Innocencia said so.”

“You won’t enjoy them. Wait until eighth grade at least.”

I had to satisfy myself by reading the titles while smelling the musty pulpy paper smell of the books: Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre were bound in forest green and the letters were silver. Gone with the Wind was navy blue with gold letters. The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing was orange, not attractive at all, but for the title. Green Dolphin Street was frayed at the top of its light blue spine and I could barely read the letters which were rubbed off in spots. Desiree was black almost, and the author’s name had faded completely. The books were old, collected from library sales, antique stores, garage sales. Some were older than my mother, which to me was pretty darn old.

By the time sixth grade came around, I was bored with the books I was forced to read. The Island of the Blue Dolphin could only be read so many times. Where the Red Fern Grows and Lilies of the Valley were dog eared and bent like old battered slippers. The stories were rich and beautiful – but I wanted, needed something more than the simplicity of their language and images. Finally, Mom relented.

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Contact me at serena@serenajcavanaugh.com