Edie put her hand out, took a breath and slowly, slowly pushed open his
bedroom door. The room inside looked as if he had never left it. The bed was
unmade, the curtains half drawn, the carpet almost invisible under trails of
clothing. There were single trainers on shelves, mugs and cereal bowls on the
floor, scatterings of papers and books everywhere. On the walls the same posters
hung haphazardly from nuggets of blue gum: a Shakespeare play from a long-ago
school outing, Kate Moss in a mackintosh, the Stereophonics from a concert at
Earls Court. It looked, at first glance, as it had looked for a large part of
his twenty-two years. It looked as if he was coming back, any minute. Edie
stepped through the chaos on the floor - ah, that's where her only bone-china
mug had got to - and pulled the curtains fully apart. One side, obviously
accustomed to doing this, rushed headlong to the left and slid triumphantly off
the pole to the floor. Edie looked up. The finial that stopped the end was
missing. It had probably been missing for months, years, and Ben's solution had
been simply, pragmatically really, not to touch the curtain. In fact, on
reflection, he would have had to thread the curtain back on to the pole just
once, when the finial first fell off, and this small sign of enterprise and
efficiency on his part made Edie think that she might cry. She picked up the
fallen curtain and held it hard against her, swallowing against the crying.
'He hasn't gone to Mongolia,' Russell had almost shouted at her that morning.
'He hasn't died. He's gone to Walthamstow.'
Edie had said nothing. She had gone on jabbing at a hermetically sealed packet
of coffee with the wrong kind of knife and said nothing.
'End of a tube line,' Russell said unnecessarily. 'That's all. Walthamstow.'
Edie flung the coffee and the knife into the sink. She would not look at
Russell, she would not speak. She hated him when he was like this, when he knew
perfectly well what was the matter and refused to admit it. She didn't hate his
attitude, she told herself: she hated him.
'Sorry,' Russell said.
Edie pulled the curtain up now and covered her face with it. It smelled of dust,
years and years of grimy London dust, silting in through the window frames like
the fine silt from a tea bag. She hadn't acknowledged Russell's 'Sorry'. She
hadn't looked at him. She had remained silent, distanced by emotion, until she
heard him go out of the room and down the hallway - fumble, fumble by the coat
rack - and out through the front door, letting it crash behind him the way they
all had, two parents, three children, for close on twenty years. Twenty years.
Almost all Ben's lifetime, almost a third of hers. You come to a house, Edie
thought, pressing the dusty curtain against her eye sockets, carrying almost
more life, more people than you can manage. And then, over time, almost
everything you have carried in begins to leak out again, inexorably, and you are
left clutching fallen curtains at ten o'clock on a Saturday morning instead of
applying yourself, with all your new reserves of no longer required maternal
energy, to quality leisure.
She dropped the curtain back on to the floor. If she turned, slowly, and half
closed her eyes, she could persuade herself that Ben had left his room in a mess
as a signal to her that he hadn't really left it. That this notion of his to put
all the essentials of his life into a duffel bag and carry it off to live with
Naomi, in a spare room in her mother's flat in Walthamstow, was in truth no more
than a notion. That he would begin to miss things, his childhood home, the cat,
his pillow, his mother, and would see that life was not to be lived so
satisfactorily anywhere else. But if she made herself open her eyes wide, really
wide, and looked at the calibre of things he had left, the outgrown garments,
the broken shoes, the discarded or irrelevant books and discs and papers, she
could see that what Ben had left behind was what he didn't want any more. He had
taken what represented the present and the future, and he had left the past,
leaving it in such a way as to emphasise its irrelevance to him. Edie bent down
and began, without method or enthusiasm, to pick up the cereal bowls.
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