The Last Books in the World

February 9, 2011
In the not-so-far away future, Stella Maddox fidgeted in her sneakers. Dew from the early morning grass was beginning to seep into the fabric of her shoes, and the equally moist air caused sweat to form just above her upper lip. The sky all around her hugged the earth tightly, filling her vision with a deep purple and the occasional watery grey cloud. Piano notes drifted into her ears, melancholy melodies echoing around her thoughts. As she wiped the sweat off her face and shifted her feet, a man dressed all in black approached the nearby podium to address the recent death of her great-grandmother. A hushed silence fell over the crowd of people that surrounded Stella, and the piano notes seemed to melt into nothingness as the man took a deep breath.
However, this breath was not followed by a single word of kindness toward the deceased woman, nor a colorful anecdote about her past days. Because, in this harsh reality, we no longer have the ability to speak.
The chasm separating the present and this new reality of complete silences toward dead great-grandmothers, while slim, is filled with all the advancements the current world could only dream of accomplishing. Along with the plethora of daily household gadgets that are supposed make life easier, such as germ-free soap pumps, self-cleaning carpets, tile floors that never scuff and feather dusters tricked out to the point of frivolity (not to mention the elimination of the endless television commercials to inform of such innovations), other important advancements have been made as well. There is no more war, no more cancer and no more annoying, yappy dogs that bark at all hours of the day. All the dumps of the world have been effectively eliminated, and the nuclear sludge that had been festering in the depths of the earth has been reutilized to create beneficial products to better society, such as soap pumps and feather dusters.
Speed is the focus and drive for this new era. In this world, a day seized is a day that has been maximized to the point of absolute efficiency. Frivolity is not found in vacuum/mop hybrids, but in such trivial things as the occasional, self-indulgent whim. It was for this reason that not a single word was spoken at the mourning service.
It was for this same reason that the rich, purple sky was merely a programmable backdrop; the grass beneath Stella’s feet a projectable landscape and the melodic piano notes nothing more than a glorified radio wired to her cerebellum, controlled by the twitch of her pinky. Communication was no longer the basis of human interaction and relation, but yet another effective means of speeding up the day. So, as Stella stood there with her shoes squeaking against the sodden grass, she did not hear the man speak a single word. Rather, the fastest, most easily understood words appeared over his head. They flashed by in seconds, the mourning only lasting a total of three minutes.
“we r gathrd here 2day 2 pay rspects 2 mrs maddox,” the words streamed by, the mans fingers twitching as the typed his next statement before it appeared. “a womn who cntributd alot 2 r skool systm & hlpd betr r futr leadrs.” Stella let out a slight sigh, the only sign that the death of her beloved great-grandmother had any emotional effect on her. The man went on to list her family members, and what each would receive as part of the will. After the three minutes passed, the crowd quickly dissolved and Stella was left standing up near the front of the podium along with her mother and father.
The man carried a cardboard box, carefully wrapped in clear packing tape and neatly labeled “ms maddox: belongings.” Stella took the heavy load from the man, and felt the weight of it in her hands. It was around ten pounds, she conjectured.
The man walked off, and left the three alone with the box. They made their way to a picnic bench, and eagerly ripped off the packing tape. To their dismay, inside was nothing but big, heavy books. Around thirty of them. Stella let out an exasperated sigh. Not a single thing of any value. No cell phones or fast-absorbing towels. No feather dusters. Nothing. Nothing but a few dozen stupid books.
A tad defeated, they began pouring through the old literature. Stella picked up a particularly heavy book with a torn cover and water stains. She could barely make out the lettering on the front.
“how do u dcode these thngs again?” Stella asked her father. He furrowed his brow.
“i lernd about thm n skool i thnk the part w/ the ‘by’ n frnt is wht they calld the ‘title’, & the othr part is the prsn who wrote it,” he replied. Stella squinted at the cover of the book, then set to work trying to remove all the dust from the cover. The lack of feather duster in the box once again made her upset.
“’j.k. rowling’ writtn by ‘harry potter & the chmbr of secrts’,” she said. Her family nodded in agreement, then continued rifling through the text hoping to find a hidden treasure like an all-purpose pocket knife. Curious, Stella opened the book.
The pages were thick in her hands, and the paper was soft to the touch. A slight smell of dust and ink filled her nose as she began trying to read the first page. It was like it was written in another language. There were so many big words, and she found it nearly impossible to decipher. Still, intrigued by the detailed picture of a baby with a lightening bolt scar inked on the page, she tried to read it.
Slowly, she began to get used to the verbose language, the detail and thought put into each page, each sentence. It had seemed like hours had passed in the few minutes that she spent jumping into the world of the boy who had lived. She had gotten to page four when her father pulled her back into reality.
“rdy 2 go?” he asked. Stella had trouble figuring out what he had said at first. Then, coming to her senses replied.
“I think you are wrong about the books, Daddy,” she said. Once again, his brow furrowed. “The words after the ‘by’ is the author of the book, and the other words are the title, or what the book is called.” Her father still seemed puzzled. He stared at her for a second before saying anything. Stella sat there in silence, wondering why her father was looking at her in such a way. Finally, he spoke.
“what r u tryng 2 say,” he asked. Stella didn’t understand. She thought back to what she had told her father, and thought that she had made herself quite clear. Suddenly, it dawned on her.
“sry just wntd 2 tell u smthing about the book nvrmind,” she said. Her father looked relieved.
“scrd me 4 a scnd rdy 2 go?” he smiled.
“k” she said. Stella’s parents put the books back in the box, and just before Stella was about the slip the Harry Potter book into her bag, her mother carelessly snatched it off the table. Stella’s heart lept, but she said nothing. She watched as the books were covered up once more with cardboard, and resealed with packing tape.
“grnny was alwys crzy,” her mother said as the three stood up and walked away from the table. “she kpt those books evn tho they r so hrd 2 read.” The father nodded in agreement.
“i wantd the dustr but u kno grnny,” he said, putting his hands in his pockets. “nevr 1 that aprec8td how far we have come alwys lykd the past bettr.” Her mother nodded. Stella couldn’t help but feel the presence of the books in the box behind her, space gradually filling the distance between them.
Quietly, the family walked across the grassy field. Just as Stella stopped walking, intent on going back to retrieve the books, her mother put out her right hand out. A metal door materialized, and her fingers gripped the handle. Her father looked back and motioned for Stella to come along. Her feet froze for a second, her father a few yards ahead and the books a few yards behind. She shifted in her sneakers. Her father waved his hand once more, and Stella found herself taking a step forward. And then another. Her feet were heavy as she made her way toward the door. Her mother stepped through the doorway, followed by her father. With a heavy heart, Stella did the same.
She looked back to see the purple sky and green grass begin to dissolve. The picnic bench with the cardboard box melted into nothing more than a brown puddle. The purple sky began to drip onto the grass, and then the entire sea of color was drained into the middle of the floor. Slowly, the colors were nothing more than a swirling mass that was slurped up into nothing. White-washed walls were left, and the drain glimmered with the remnants of the green grass and purple sky. Stella let the door slam behind her, the metallic clang echoing through the room, making the last drips of color fall away.

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