The Marked Book
The boy begins by saying he has killed a spider, a Goliath among spiders, a monster dangling from the ceiling on a strand of gleaming silk, the grossest thing he has ever seen. The father asks how he has killed this spider. The boy flinches. His misgivings are plain. The father asks him again how he has killed this spider. A book. A library book? From your shelf. Which shelf? The boy leads him into the den and lowers his head. He points broadly at a bookcase, eight feet high. The father asks, which book? I don’t remember. Which shelf? I don’t remember. I put it back. I thought you’d be angry. You used the cover? No, I opened it up. I shut it inside. The father imagines one of his first editions fouled by this unpleasantness. It is an abstract kind of panic. He briskly flips through a few volumes of The Story of Civilization, reprioritizes, then inspects Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, Chronicles of Golden Friars, and Tanglewood Tales. He has decided that, with the way his shelves are arranged, the book in question must either be from “History” or “Horror.” The boy is only four feet tall, how high could he reach? Are you mad, Daddy? The boy has otherwise outgrown the use of “Daddy,” so the father recognizes it as a social calculation. No, of course not, he says. After he puts his son to bed, he returns to leaf through further volumes. He feels as if he has inherited a minefield and must tiptoe accordingly. There is a sense of growing dread; each flip of the page could reveal the mangled spider, a stain with eight legs. It does not turn up that night.
In the months that follow, the father tends to avoid the books from that case entirely. He’s read them already, at any rate, and if he never finds the