The Floating Book

In this extract from The Floating Book, love letters are the cause of the breakdown of a deliriously happy marriage. The problem is that the German husband, Wendelin, has chosen as a receptacle for his letters a cabinet he bought from Ca’ Dario, a palazzo which his Venetian wife, Lussièta, believes is haunted. Each day Wendelin leaves a fresh love letter in one of the drawers of what Lussièta calls ‘that box’. And he has decided to write in Italian, despite the risk of mistakes and misinterpretation. This turns out to be an almost fatal mistake, because he writes letters that are easy to interpret in sinister ways by a young woman infected with fear …

What’s more, it was wrong from the start, this strange plot of writing to me. He should not have needed to write to me for I lived in his soul and he lived in mine. The looks that flowed between us were so fluent we scarcely had call to talk. There was no need to scratch it out in ink, as if I was a person separate from him. He had only to smile and I was glad; he had only to sigh and I felt the air departing from my own breast.

So it was wrong of him to write like that, even when the notes seemed so bright with love at the start. I put it down to his love of books and written words
. It has carried him to excess, I told  myself, so that he forgets there are things so fine they may not be trapped inside a sentence.

 … He acts as if he does me a big honour with these letters. I’m supposed to be humble and pleased. I am not. I swear there are days when I think he hates me because I do not love his precious box and what comes out of it.

I nearly did not go there — to the box ­— on the first day. When I woke to find his note on my pillow (which was curt; it just said ‘look in the drawer of the cabinet’) I should have feigned not to see it. I could have said, if he asked, that the cat had stolen it away, or the wind blew it off. But I was afraid of this new man of mine, who seemed to place more value on that stick of wood than on me.

When I saw the note he had not yet left the house, so I knew he was listening for me from downstairs, and I dared not drag my feet. So I jumped out of bed as quick as I could and walked like a ghost in my chemise to the room where he keeps the box. One of the drawers was a tiny bit open, like an eye that winks, but not very well. I wanted to touch it as little as possible. I saw a flash of cream and I snatched the letter out of the drawer like a cat catching a sparrow.

I left the room straight away. I did not want to read that letter with the cabinet watching me. Yes, it was a nice letter, but nothing could console me for the way of its delivering.

 The next one was nice; the one after seemed somewhat less so, and now …

This morning, before he left, he snatched me out of the bed and kissed me hard on the lips.

As soon as he was gone I went out into the hall, spread my arms, and turned around and around and around, like an octopus dancing in the sea, until the bitterness of his kiss was blown away. I wish I could unravel all my fears this way, as I used to when I was a child.

‘You always …’ he says to me now.

When he starts with this, I am lost. There’s no gainsaying those dreadful things he says I do …

When I first saw his face in the glass, I did not think it would end like this. I think now that I did not know him at all. When I add these thoughts to the words I must read each day …

‘I lose all sense of right and wrong when I look at you,’ I read. ‘Sometimes I want to squeeze the breath right out of you.’

Extract from The Floating Book copyright © Michelle Lovric, 2003


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