The Golden Age

Oh,’ she said in a voice that said, ‘How could you?’
Seven hundred dollars!’

At first it was only an overdue book notice.
It wasn’t even for seven hundred dollars.

The notice was in an official style I didn’t recognise.
It was ornamented with exotic graphic motifs in brown ink.

It said that I had The Golden Age
and to return it within a period of three days
or pay for its replacement.

There was no mention of a fine.
But the replacement cost was in the hundreds.

I recognised the title.
It was a book I’d read
and I’d definitely borrowed it from somewhere.
Was it still on my shelf?

I looked at the address of the library that had issued the notice.
I didn’t recognise it.

We had travelled to the islands the year before.
Perhaps it was one of the stop-overs?

The notice came with a sticker featuring the same graphic
in brown ink with the word ‘RORLI‘ above it.

I assumed it was an acronym
but for what I’d no idea.

I peeled the sticker off the backing paper
and stuck on my suitcase.

It took several attempts to get it square with the leather
corners of the suitcase.

I hadn’t realised how furry calf-skin could be.
As I removed the sticker to get it even
it came away half covered in hair.

The calf-skin was a russet gold
and the sticker with its dark brown emblem
went well with it.

Perhaps I would collect more stickers
and they would fade over time
and my suitcase would have the look of a classic,
a world-traveller.

I delved further into the package
in which the overdue library notice came.

It was becoming clear I was the target
of some marketing scheme for the island.

The notice itself opened into what appeared to be
an aeroplane-ticket for RORLI.

The thing was so cunningly designed it could have
had innumerable pockets hiding who knew what.

I began to explore, opening now the tickets at the fold.
After a couple of folds I found a packet of red pills.
I waved them in front of me.

Don’t!’ she said.
Along with the red pills I found blue and yellow pills,

more stickers, a book of blank cheques,
a stamped return envelope, and all of this
tucked into the fly-leaf of a thick volume.

I was about to turn it over and check the title.
It would not have surprised me to find it was the book
for which the original notice had been issued.

Look!’ I said.
Rorli,’ she said.
She explained it was a small island nation in the Pacific.

They’re crazy,’ she said, as if to say, ‘They are known
to have gone crazy in colonial times

Just then we were interrupted by the smiling faces
of a man and a woman.

The woman had an hibiscus flower behind her ear and
wore a long flowing dress.

The man wore a white shirt without a tie, with the sleeves
rolled up, and black dress pants.

I tried to conceal what I had received in the post.
The man extended his hand.

Both of them were still smiling.
I’m W___ C____ C____,’ he said, ‘A friend of your mother’s.’

I shook him by the hand, with the package, the book
and the drugs tucked under my arm.
His eyes were drawn to the RORLI sticker on my suitcase.

For an instant a shadow passed over his face.
It might have been embarrassment, but he said nothing.