Words make me hot

If I ever have an affair, it will begin in a bookstore.

Published March 12, 2001 8:21PM (EST)

Words make me wet.

There is something about thoughts fixed in a black typeface that pulls at me, loosens my very center. Just an hour ago I wandered through a bookstore, and my legs tremble still at the memory. My palms came away moist when I cupped myself with my hands. When I walked out the door, my lips were parted. I could not close my mouth; my throat felt filled up with words I needed to breathe into someone else.

Literature has always had this effect on me. I can't read enough; I pull facts and people and worlds inside, inhaling the words like air or water. There are times when I feel as if I am drowning in print. Reading creates for me an altered state, like tripping on a drug -- the light is that much brighter when I raise my head, heavy with thoughts I did not have before this book lay gently in my lap and drew me in.

Even after thousands of books, my appetite is only whetted. Desire makes me wanton, ever ready for another read.

Foreplay: I hold a book lightly with my fingertips, press my palms against the front and back covers, take in a deep breath and hold it as I read the jacket description, fan the pages and select one to read, skimming several others before I balance the book on the heels of my hands, savoring the weight. As I reluctantly put it down, I exhale and my fingers lightly trail across the title.

If a sentence catches me, a specific arrangement of words captures my curiosity, makes me hungry for more, I will decide to take a book home. This process fascinates me: Why this book and not that one? I imagine it is like choosing lovers at a masquerade party, deciding by some set of unconscious standards which one will share my bed and undivided attention for an hour or two.

I cradle the chosen book against my chest, nestled in the crook of my arm so that it presses simultaneously against forearm and nipple, next to my heart. Or I might hold it pinched between thumb and index finger, my arm hanging loosely by my side so that the book brushes against my thigh as I walk to the checkout counter.

The tragedy of my life is that I am married to a man who reads computer code instead of books. He brings me flowers occasionally, the ones wrapped in cellophane you find at the grocery store, and I smile, kiss him on the cheek and thank him for his thoughtfulness. I want to say, "Don't bring me flowers or chocolates." I am indifferent to jewelry and lingerie. But how I long for a carefully chosen volume of poetry, an anthology, biography or work of fiction purchased simply for its anticipated ability to part my legs.

I have often thought that if I were to have an affair, it would begin in a bookstore. There would be a man who watched me over the stacks, seeing the books I stopped to pick up and lightly caress before returning them to their shelf. He would choose me for the books I choose as much as for the ones I pass over.

He would stand just behind me and hold a book out to me, like an offering, and it would be the perfect book for the moment I was in, with the exact truths I needed in that place in my life. All he would have to whisper is "Let me read this to you," and I would shudder and be his.

The walls of his apartment would be lined with books -- floor-to-ceiling bookcases filled to overflowing, stacks balanced perfectly on the coffee and end tables, more precariously on the bedside table. Lying there naked, listening to the cadence of his voice as he read each page, I would be transformed.

If he were wealthy, there would be a night when he would arrange for us to have the bookstore to ourselves, the way some lovers rent out restaurants to be solitary diners. We'd be solitary readers. He would turn the lights down low and we would wander about, kneeling reverently on the carpet to read a page here, a paragraph there. We would copulate in the aisles, surrounded by books with millions of people pressed between the pages.

And if he were a writer, he would trace stories on my body, cover my torso, face and limbs with words. And each morning he would lick my skin blank, only to begin again.

By Cathy Allison

Cathy Allison is a writer in Vancouver, B.C.

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