The Bad Book Affair
Here we are, then, said George, opening the creaking, paint-flaking, hinge-rusted, wood-rotting brace-and-ledge door to the former chicken coop that was now home to Israel Armstrong (BA, (Hons.)), certainly Tumdrums and possibly Irelands only English Jewish vegetarian mobile librarian.
The king of Siam, said Ted, striding in. Lets have a look at him, then.
Israel lay on his metal-framed bed in the middle of the room, dirty quilt pulled up around him, broken-backed books everywhere, empty bottles of wine and Jumping Jack cider stacked around like giddy sentinels. A row of broad shouldered peanut butter jars stood lined up on top of the rickety shelves next to the bed, staring down disapprovingly at the squalor below.
Israel raised his head wearily and dismissively from his book as George and Ted entered.
Quite a sight, eh? said George.
Ach, for goodness sake, said Ted.
Morning, Israel! said George.
Israel placed his index finger on the page of Infinite Jest that he was currently reading and rereading and rereading again, looked up at his visitors, returned to the book.
This what hes been like the whole time, is it?
Well, I only came across him last week, said George. I was wondering why I hadnt seen him for a while. Hed not been in the house, and I hadnt seen him leaving for work.
Hmm, said Ted, going up to the end of the bed, like a doctor on his ward rounds. Whats with the auld face-lace then?
I think hes growing a beard, said George quietly.
Thats always a bad sign, said Ted.
He might look all right with a goatee, said George. I wouldnt have thought it, said Ted. They look all right on goats, but . . . Maybe a mustache.
Ach, no, said George. No one has a mustache these days. They went out with the Troubles.
Mores the pity, said Ted. I had a nice mustache once. Back in the day.
Sorry. Excuse me? Can I possibly help you two? said Israel, rubbing his forehead as if in great pain. You do seem to have just barged into my home here.
Ive brought Ted to see you, said George.
I can see that, said Israel. And do neither of you normally knock before you enter someones home?
Dont ye dare get sharp with me, said Ted.
The door was open, said George.
Bit of fresh air is what ye need in here, said Ted.
Yes, agreed George quietly. It is a bit . . . rich, isnt it. Its damp, I think. And the chickens, maybe.
Thats not chickens, said Ted.
Well, his personal hygiene, said George, whispering. He has let himself go a bit, recently.
Lost the run of himself entirely, said Ted, picking up a discarded tank top thrown on the bed and rubbing it disdainfully between forefinger and thumb.
I think its because of the split with his girlfriend, said George.
Ach, said Ted. He needs to pull his finger out. He glanced over at Israel. Mind ye, difficult to pull your finger out if its never been in.
Hello? said Israel. I dont want to appear rude, but could you leave, please? Is that too much to ask? A little privacy here, in the comfort of my own home?
Excerpted from The Bad Book Affair by Ian Sansom. Copyright © 2010 by Ian Sansom. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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