The Marked Book

The Iowa Review - - CONTENTS - Sean Gill

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

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