Couples were talking, lips moving but no sound issued from those cherry red lips. I was caught in the opening chapter of some dystopic novel set in the near future and the author was playing with me. I felt my throat tighten, I’d forgotten to buy a pint – then I caught a glimpse of the founder members of the PCBC. Their furtive behaviour should have warned me – I was entering the danger zone – the reading of books is banned.
“I’m getting a drink.” I said “Does anyone want a top up?” They stared into their half full glasses and shook their heads. When I went downstairs to the bar I glanced at the sign placed over the counter. “Books are dangerous, books can lead to crime. The reading of books or any book extract is forbidden. You have been warned.” The barman looked closely at my hands when I handed over my ten pound note. My hands were soft , worn smooth from the turning of pages. Had he noticed?
We talked in hushed tones, in code fearful that the innocent looking couple a few feet away were actually members of the state-run Book Squad – tasked with tracking down book readers wherever they may be. We talked about the progress of one of our member’s pregnancy, the prospective home birth and the radical home alterations planned. We exchanged views on the new people in Poets’ Corner, work and the latest TV drama: all the time we were, in fact, talking about books.
I was sure that no would realise that “I know, the baby’s due in November – time’s just flown”, and “We’re moving the bathroom up stairs – I can’t cope running up and down the stairs – not in my condition.” were references to the Hell sermon in “A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man.” I did think we were sailing close to the wind when one of our group mentioned the new car they’d just bought and that it was a Qashqai. I was sure someone eavesdropping would realise they were talking about “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”
We all needed another drink to settle us – well I did. Then we came to the point of the meeting: what book would we choose as the first for our book club. We decided on a secret ballot, self consuming paper and invisible ink. The winner was “The Dry”. A few copies had been circulating via the dark bookcase and Harriett Gilbert had secretly chosen it as her book of the year before she was incarcerated for reading a bed time story to her youngest.
Anyway, after that momentous decision we drifted away, one at a time, so as not to arouse any suspicion. When I got home I bolted the front door, turned the TV up loud and settled down to read “Wind in the Willows”. I poured out a large glass of milk. I mean how subversive can you be!