The Best Book
©Kelly McGrath April 2014
Matthew walked into the shelter, he had been living this life for far too long at this point. Another rotation, another shelter. He would do anything for the people here, they were his family. But like all families you couldn’t always choose who came by to say hello. He had been with this one now for going on five years. There had been little to no variation in the faces in that time, but unfortunately, the same could be said for the other shelters too. It was part of his rotation. Some people didn’t understand it but it made sense to him. Move around and you didn’t get too comfortable, didn’t get connected to people. He may know them and they may know him, but there were never any expectations from them or from him. Easiest way to not get hurt.
He nodded his hellos to the regular faces; the stench of earth, city and hard living permeated the air around them and everything they touched. It wasn’t their fault, just the cards that life had dealt them. A few cots dotted here and there for the ones who got in early enough or were too sick to brave the cold another night. One night was all they had to get some heat into themselves before it was back out on the street again. Some were sitting down playing cards at old rickety tables that had probably been donated as third-hand about ten years ago. Other were talking amongst themselves about areas best to stay away from for one reason or another, while others just sat by themselves eating the little bite of food the shelter had been able to provide. Going to his usual seat by the administration desk, Matthew picked up a book out of the donation bin. It looked like it would be a good one, tattered and torn, it had definitely seen better days. Dog-eared and falling apart at the bind. It even seemed like there were a few pages missing. The cover, once vibrant, dulled with age and use, a note inside ‘To My Darling, I hope you like this as much as the last.’ He hoped it had made someone happy, be the type of book that just warmed you to the core.
Flicking through the book, the pages still think and heavy despite the condition, he hoped it would warm more than his cold heart in the nights to come.
Picking up the book and the cardboard cup of tea the dirty-blond girl must have left next to him; he nodded his goodnights and left the shelter. Waiting until he had crossed the threshold before he started tearing out the pages. One-by-one reading them before stuffing them under his coat to chase away the nights cold from both his body and his soul.