Fiction | Short Story

Between the Pages

“We had no faces and no names in the margins—no facts that could be traced to the world outside the one we had built together.”

I walked up the transparent steps to the library, past the dispensers of vapes, nodes, and flavor pods. I had never known how sharp anticipation could be. But now I was the most retrograde thing of all: a woman in love with books—and a man. And I was about to do a dangerous thing.

Our new world has no place for love. In school, the magister had taught us that love was a historical artifact. He had then smiled, revealing the painted black teeth that marked magisters in those days. “And we, of course, have transcended history.”

But I was enamored with the lost world. I grew a tree with tiny oranges on the deck of my unit. I still read books. I had fallen in love.

I never went to the library two days in a row. Today, though, I would.I would sit and read The Tempest and wait.I felt spasms in my heart, like when my console had a message for me—but far, far stronger.Somehow, I pulled the red-bound book from the shelf.Somehow, I opened it, and tried to pretend that I wasn’t waiting for steps on the concrete.

He had started it, but I had realized it.One day, I saw some new pencil marks in my favorite copy of Pride and Prejudice.In cramped, mannish handwriting, next to the lines where Mr. Darcy declares his love for Elizabeth Bennet: Completely ridiculous—but also sort of wonderful.Someone had read this?Someone—like, like me?

So I replied in the bottom margin: No, completely wonderful.I left the book out on a table, with a bit of paper (yes, I still carried that) sticking out.

The next week: OK—I’ll give you that. Where to next?

There were no marks of his in The Tempest yet—only mine from yesterday.I hadn’t known I was even going to do this yesterday, not at first. I waited in the silence of my drumming heart.

Long forgotten by all others, the fifth floor had become our playground of ghosts and hints. Together while apart, we read Dickens, Douglass, and Dante. The giga-trawlers of the Just scan every emessage, but paper—glorious paper!—evaded them. Just as they watched everything, the cameras scanned the library floor.But what did they care about two people writing in books no one else read?

His face was a stranger to me. But I knew his words and his jokes, his interests and amusements.I caressed the paper that he once held.During lottery-assigned copulations, I imagined that those were his arms around me.

O, wonder!

And then there were steps.And then the drumming deepened.I tried to keep my eyes on the page.It could not be him.It could be him.How would I know? We had no faces and no names in the margins—no facts that could be traced to the world outside the one we had built together between those pages and within our dreams.The paper in front of me seemed like a plane dotted with ink in strange, alien poses.

The steps—like he was looking for something—by the Shakespeare volumes.We had agreed that we would read The Tempest next.

I coughed.

The silence of a caught breath.The drag of his foot as he slowly turned.

I ostentatiously propped the book open, the way people did in old “movies.”

He turned the corner.His face was perfectly ordinary.I would have passed it a million times without noticing.But now everything about it seemed completely wonderful—from the slightly uneven nostrils to the gray-and-black stubble to the freckle just below his almond-shaped eye.

“Is that—The Tempest?”

“Yes.Do you want it?”