He had waited twenty years to return it. Iain Banks’s The Bridge had sat amongst his modest collection of books, nestled in its protective plastic cover in between the Da Vinci Code, whose spine was cracked right down the middle, and Railways of the World, which he had once been given for Christmas.
An ex-girlfriend had taken it out of the library for him, insisted he give it a go. “It’ll do you good to free your mind from engineering for once.”
He had tried – really tried – to get through the book, but found himself unable to get past the mechanics of the eponymous bridge. “How can you have a bridge with no end? It has to be properly anchored to something or it just wouldn’t be rigid enough as a structure,” he complained. “The book has no regard for reality at all.”
“You really need to carry on till the end – it’s all explained.
“Don’t tell me,” he had said, scrunching his eyes up and placing the back of his hand on his forehead. “Is it – all a dream?”
“You need to get to the end of it to see what the explanation is. But really – it’s just a book. Just relax and enjoy it.”
They’d broken up six months later, although not over his lack of interest in The Bridge, or books. And one day, twenty years later, his wife had taken the kids out for the afternoon and left him with a list of errands that included returning their books to the library before they were fined. They’d been left lying on the bookcase in the living room, and looking at The Bridge, standing proudly behind Aliens Love Underpants and a Horrible Histories book, he decided that he would give it back as well.
Walking to the library he thought of how much his children had enjoyed reading, and thought about the scant number of books he had read since they were born, the struggle to find time for reading in his own busy life.
Arriving at the library, he was surprised to find it not just closed, but shut down. He dimly recalled the fuss that had been kicked up in the local paper, and cursed himself for not having gone to the nearest “Ideas Store” (they weren’t event called libraries any more – when had this change happened, he wondered) right in the centre of town.
He decided to sit down and let the autumn sunshine warm his face before he set off again and the cold of the stone step outside the shuttered door slowly seeped through his jeans. He tucked the children’s’ books under his legs, opened The Bridge, and began reading page one, again.
(I wrote this after randomly generating the first line from the Writing Exercises website – well worth checking out if you’re unsure how to start a story.)