I could tell you that I bought a bookcase, but that wouldn’t be much of a story.
I could tell you that I found a bookcase on the street, which has the advantage of being true, but that wouldn’t be much of a story either. Not told in that way, at least.
What if I told you this:
It was the first year of the pandemic. You couldn’t even walk into an IKEA and, anyway, I wasn’t keen on leaving the county (or the city, or the house) to visit a store full of people. I had my eye on bookcases. The IKEA website listed a bookcase of the necessary dimensions at an affordable price, which I nevertheless could not afford.
Even if I could have afforded it, who was traveling to spend money on bookcases at a time like this? With the economy and society itself seemingly on the verge of collapse? You know, maybe this was a time to cut back on needless spending and keep a little something in reserve for when we’re all desperately outbidding each other on ebay for semi-used toilet paper next month.
No, I would not be buying a new bookcase.
I tracked secondhand listings in my area, always on the lookout for a bookcase of the correct description. There were quite a few bookcases, mostly of the wrong dimensions, mostly in “nearby” cities too far away for transporting large furniture by car.
I found the right bookcase in my city, but it was on the far side of the city, and the woman kind enough to consider transporting it for me ultimately determined that it would not fit in her vehicle. I considered taking a furniture dolly and walking that bookcase several miles through the city to get it home, but the major thoroughfares and spotty sidewalk coverage along the best route dissuaded me.
Periodically, I went back to the IKEA site to admire the new bookcases and see if they had been marked down to $0 with an insanely affordable delivery option added.
And I circled the neighborhood by foot and by car, once or twice per week, going as far as I’d want to walk a furniture dolly home through the streets, hoping that a bookcase with a “free” sign on it might appear on a sidewalk or driveway somewhere within the territory.
Weeks and months passed. Full beards were grown, and shaved, and grown again. Countless canisters of disinfectant wipes were consumed. Caterpillars became butterflies. Babies were born, and people (too many people) died.
And I began to lose hope.
Oh. I haven’t mentioned, have I, what I wanted the bookcase for? I had these old magic books here and there—some in a cupboard, some in a box, some elsewhere—that I dreamed of having together, readily accessible, in one beautiful, inviting spot along a bedroom wall. It felt like a way of honoring the younger me who had begun collecting the books decades before, and of getting back to something that had mattered to me.
I wanted a magic bookcase.
I stepped outside on a Monday afternoon. It was later than usual, not my typical time, because my gusto for scanning the neighborhood had faded and the inertia of home was strong. I set out on what I was sure would be just another uneventful walk.
And there, at the end of a driveway two corners from home…
I first spotted it from the back side and could not help but note its resemblance to a bookcase. Stung by prior disappointments, I did not allow myself to jump to any wild conclusions. Perhaps it was an armoire or a desk standing on its side.
Once I walked around the front and saw that it was a bookcase, in good condition, with all the shelves, seemingly of the correct dimensions, with a big “free” sign on it, I could not hurry home for a hand truck and a hank of rope fast enough. A schoolchild passing on the sidewalk paused to look at the bookcase in a half-interested way, and I briefly assessed his physical fitness and ability to best me in a footrace. Then I took off.
And so it was that, not five minutes later, I tied the bookcase of my dreams to a hand truck and pulled it a mere 0.1 mile down the sidewalk toward home. Not even a street crossing was necessary.
Upon further inspection and measurement, it was the exact IKEA model in a discontinued color. Not exactly an obscure model, you’ll understand, but challenging enough to find for free within walking distance of one’s house during a pandemic that has stores closed and everyone locked down!
I cleaned the bookcase, and secured it to the wall, and consolidated treasures onto it from various locations, with space to spare. That night, I kept waking up to admire its silhouette towering over me in the dark, still in total disbelief at my good fortune. That feeling, the feeling that the day and the experience had been somehow charmed, has not left me.
So, that’s the magic bookcase. That the magic is in what it contains and in how I came to acquire it strikes me as fitting. It wouldn’t be half as magical if I’d just bought the thing at a store.