Something inside the copy of Alexander of Macedon, A History interrupted the clean stack of bound leaves of the nearly new book. It still retained a remnant aroma of fresh print against a matte paper finish. The only indication of this edition’s previous use was the glossy inventory control sticker on the spine, easily removed if I pulled carefully and slowly. “Nearly new” was the category I selected, and the online book mart delivered. The bump of whatever was inside the pages was another story, separate from the condition and title of the book.
A crisp two-dollar bill lay between pages 124 and 125. It was hard to imagine a paper so thin as currency imposed such a presence within the thick stack of pages. But there it was, inviting me to ponder its arrival, and to determine what to do with it.
Acquiescing to my laziness to remain in my recliner, I thought of using it as a book mark for now, at least. The note had lost its smell of money, that unique aroma of aliphatic aldehydes, found in cotton or linen, combined with the oils from the many hands that may have touched the bill during its journey through transactional life.
But this bill was different. It was new, and its fresh print aroma, untainted by human hands, never had a chance to develop its intended olfactory identity. It claimed a closer relationship to the pages in which it lived for so long. Uncirculated and smelling like one of many chapters, I wondered if this federally reserved note had lost its ability to engage in commercial transactions and resume its functionality as legal tender. Was it any less valuable because of its bookish stink? Might some controlling authority on the authenticity of money deem the bill counterfeit, due to the smell of its skin? Was this currency profiling?
A greenish depiction of one of the great political philosophies was enshrined in the engraved print on the backside of this enfeebled medium of payment. It was a declaration, one of independence from an overpowering entity who had overstayed their presence and required recompense for dubious promises of protection in the form of recurring and burgeoning taxes.
Who was the former owner who placed this currency in a book? Was it a well-heeled, quirky eccentric who bookmarked their readings with two-dollar bills and lit cigars with ones? Was it rainy day cash? Or was this just one tiny part of a library of bills buried between the million leaves of a bookcase wall hiding a fortune, book by book?
I imagined the $100 dollar bill to be within the exact middle of The Fountainhead, as if to entice the reader to continue, and the $500 dollar bill inside the front cover of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, as if designed to indict the potential reader before they even read the first word.
The denomination selected may have contained an underlying message for the subject matter of the book. Did the two-dollar bill indicate a dual standard of Alexander the Great as brilliant as well as lucky? Was this the reveal of a secret rating system to inform, perhaps to warn, of the value of each selection? What would be the price in a book on Armageddon? I wondered at the value of inserted content in a Bible.
The second shipment of used books arrived the following week. Used books are a personal joy not understood by all. They are objects of affection, having moved its last reader in ways unexpected. They are seasoned lovers ready to teach new ways of imagining life in all its emotional colors. I fingered through Susannah Cahalan’s Brain on Fire and took a second look at the photo of the perky, blond young woman who authored the work. A girl you would want to know, court, and perhaps commit to a lifetime of happy moments. All in a moment. Her story of suffering an unknown brain disease and her journey through recovery guaranteed the depth of her character and assured the reader’s compassion from the first page.
Wedged between a blank page and a second photo of the captivating blond author, this time with the physician who correctly diagnosed her condition and saved her life, was a folded sheet of graph paper, one that was ripped out of a familiar Field Notes book. For a moment I thought it might have come from my own note book. I unfolded it carefully, six times. It revealed a simple message written in a playful script. Adorned around a circle of drawn hearts were the words “I Love You!” How fitting if this was once the author’s first copy, given to her physician/savior as an intimate act of gratitude. For a moment, I fancied it was meant for me, the next reader in line. The handwriting matched the dream of her hands.
I kept the fantasy as I turned to the first chapter.
John Bonanni spent a career in the theatre on Broadway, Radio City Music Hall, among others. His articles appear in Adelaide Literary Magazine, Inspired Living, Poor Yorick Literary Journal, San Antonio Review, and the Raven’s Perch. He completes the MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at Western Connecticut State University in 2019.