The Old Book

On one of my days off I had some time to kill. On those days off, that was really the only kind of time I had. Most days I would spend time reading or watching movies or surfing the internet, just escaping into some kind of entertainment that would make the seconds tick away until it was time to go back to work. It’s not that I looked forward to going back to work. But work is something I was getting paid to do. I wasn’t paid to sit on my couch and rewatch Back to the Future for the 83rd time.

So on that particular off day, during that particular time kill spree, I found my way to a used bookstore. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, I was just looking. I’m one of those guys that likes stories. And even though the means of printing books these days is far more accurate than it was in the good old days, older books still seem to be more important. It’s almost as if, by being older, those books have a closer connection to the author. As if, by holding on to those antique texts, you can obtain a clearer meaning from the writer’s words.

Most used bookstores don’t carry anything out of the ordinary. In fact, most of what you’ll find are books from maybe ten years ago with torn dust jackets or missing covers. I found myself walking down the aisle marked MYSTERIES, glossing over dozens of innocuous novels. But then something caught my eye. On the top shelf, I noticed an old, leather bound book that just didn’t seem to fit in with the others.

Curiosity grabbed hold of me and I couldn’t help but reach up and grab hold of this volume. Immediately, the most striking thing about it was there was no title; not on the spine and not on the cover. From what I could tell, it was just a book. It didn’t glow. I didn’t open it up and get whisked away to some fantastic far away land. But I did open it up.

Upon flipping through the first few pages I noticed the smell. It was that smell that you only experience when you go into your grandparents’ attic. A strange mixture of cedar and moth balls and ancient dust. In a way, it’s as if I had been transported back to a place I knew, but hadn’t experienced for many years.

Those first few pages were blank. There was no copyright, no authorship, and still no title. Then I came across the handwritten words that shook my very foundation.

My Son,
I can never fully express how deeply sorry I am. I can never expect you to forgive me either. I’ve made many mistakes in the span of my life, but I’ve always done everything with your best interests at heart. My only true regret is that I haven’t tried to contact you sooner.
I’m fighting a losing battle now, but I couldn’t quit this fight until I let you know, somehow, just how much I love you. In spite of everything, I have always considered you the greatest blessing in my life. I guess a boy just needs his mother.
The pages in this book contain the story of our lives, your mother’s and mine. I hope that you’ll read them and find it in your heart to forgive me, even if it’s long after I’ve gone. Good-bye, son.

Before I could realize what was happening, I saw a tear hit the page I was reading. I could only assume the letter was written from an ailing father to his estranged son. I’m not sure why that one page touched me as deeply as it had. Perhaps I was missing my own father and wishing I had one more chance to tell him I loved him.

It didn’t seem like this book would be a mystery, but I was intrigued nonetheless. I wanted desperately to find out about the man who wrote that letter. What choices did he make that caused his son to be so far away from him? Had something happened to the boy’s mother? Had he blamed his father?

The book had no price on it. I had hoped that meant it was free, but the cashier charged me five dollars anyway. I figured a true story about real lives would be well worth that small price.

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