La Primavera, by Sandro Botticelli

Based on a real story that will happen very soon.

“With searing heat, crushing pressures, noxious gases and everything suffused in an eerie, reddish glow, Venus seems less the goddess of love than the incarnation of hell.” Cosmos, Carl Sagan

The first package came with the dandelion burst of early spring. On his way to the blue door, the delivery man stepped on the flowers that covered the green front lawn. He knocked twice, softly, as if he didn’t expect anyone to answer it, and left the heavy parcel on the new doormat. A few more dandelions were crushed on his way to the truck, leaving a yellow trail behind him.

Still holding her morning coffee, Antonia opened the door and picked up the package. The unexpected weight made her spill black drops on her pink pyjamas, but she didn’t mind. Tomas had ordered new books to add to his already sizable collection. She tried to peek through the sides of the box, but they were effectively sealed. Her curiosity would have to wait until the evening, when Tomas came back from work.

The four packed bookshelves that took up two thirds of his bachelor flat hypnotized Antonia when she first went home with him, almost two years ago. She kept going back to the claustrophobic studio to delve into that messy library, excavating volumes from behind other volumes, from nooks between the furniture and, once, from the cupboard shelf where he kept fifteen jars of anchovies — allegedly a key ingredient in many recipes.

Every time they went on a date, Antonia found a copy of an exciting and rare book she’d never heard of. Every time Antonia discovered a new author in that cluttered flat, she felt closer to Tomas. Their private book club extended from twice a week to full weekends, to entire weeks in a row, to months on end — culminating in a simple ceremony, filled with close friends and obscure quotes.

Their books jolted for forty minutes in the back of a truck, cramped in large boxes, until they got to their new home just outside the city. Antonia and Tomas took two weeks to sort them by world region, inspired by their favourite bookshop’s organisational system. After the task was finally over, they agreed not to buy any more books for, at least, three months.

The brown package next to the fridge showed that it had taken Tomas less than a week to break his promise.

Antonia didn’t read much into it and went back to writing her thesis, unenthusiastically. Her research was about solid surfaces and tiny creatures that live under our feet. Lately, however, her mind had been far from the ground. Since she had started reading about the cosmos, she could only think about the beauty of gigantic balls of gas creating and recreating the universe. While looking down made her anxious about her future, raising her chin to the stars made her feel insignificant, small and relieved.

Venus was her favourite planet: the hellish place where it is always raining sulphuric acid. Diabolic, it fooled humans for so long that it became the symbol of beauty and love. Maybe that made sense for some people, but Antonia’s experience with love had been mostly serene — her heart was definitely closer to Earth.

That evening, they took two chairs outside to enjoy the last minutes of sunlight. It was finally starting to get dark after eight. A mild breeze carried a strain of Antonia’s dark hair across her face. Gently, Tomas replaced the rebellious curl behind her ear, while holding one of his new books with his left hand. His purchases had been satisfactorily justified: he was supporting an independent press.

“At least I didn’t order it from a big, evil company. This publisher is struggling to stay in business; these are hard times. Someone had to help. Besides, look at these beautiful covers”, argued Tomas, brandishing the new book as frantically as an evangelical pastor with a Bible: “Yes, I think it was the right decision”.

Antonia knew Tomas wasn’t talking to her anymore. While her partner tried to convince himself, she read the synopsis and added a few more titles to her imaginary reading list.

Tomas organized the books carefully, making sure the spines were perfectly aligned according to an imaginary line. He took a step back and spent a few minutes staring at the bookshelf, like a proud father. Antonia felt that, at any minute now, he would start applauding his collection.

After the sacred moment of contemplation was over, Tomas felt so at peace that he even finished the broccoli that accompanied the chicken with peri peri sauce. Broccoli was always in the hot seat for him. It’s not that Tomas was fussy about food in general; he would eat anything if you cooked it with three cloves of garlic. But broccoli was different. It was impossible to know in advance how he would feel about it: one day he would be Pollyanna, the next Bartleby.

Maybe it was the nice early spring evening, maybe the pile of new books. The point is that Tomas was in the mood for broccoli. The dish was followed by warm apple pie with custard — Antonia’s madeleine. The dessert awakened her memory and the couple spent the next few hours exchanging stories about their childhood games, adventures and evil deeds.

Antonia remembered the day when she tried to climb her parents’ bookshelf and the entire contents came crashing down her 3-year-old body. Worried about the noise, her mother came running and, in tears, excavated her little girl from under 15 volumes of the Barsa Encyclopaedia. When Antonia emerged, with a mere scratch on her right arm, they sat on the floor next to the mess of creased pages and couldn’t refrain from laughing.

For the next six months, not a week went by without a box full of books arriving on their doorstep. The trail of crushed yellow petals was long gone, replaced at first by a corridor of flattened, pale-dry grass and dust, then by a muddy and slippery path that made the delivery man curse every generation of Tomas’ family since the Cambrian explosion. The early nights kept the chairs inside the house, most of them now supporting the weight of new colourful and carefully arranged spines.

Tomas had a wide repertoire of excuses to convince himself that it was fine to buy new books, despite financial and physical restrictions. There was always an independent publisher in need, a trilogy to be concluded, or a hole in his reading that had to be repaired immediately. Sometimes the urgency came from a good review in the paper or by a trusted podcaster. The Christmas holiday was time for a long classic; a trip to the beach demanded a light novella or a book of poetry.

On his birthday, his relatives wrapped books selected from a list previously shared by Tomas. He took the author’s gender and country into consideration, adding balance and variety to their growing collection. It was a great risk to disobey the list, but Antonia cared about birthday surprises and tried to do so. So far, she had been successful in finding interesting alternatives — or maybe Tomas was too nice to say otherwise.

The eight bookshelves that enclosed their claustrophobic living room were no longer able to hold their library. Chairs, side tables and a shoe rack were called upon for backup. The idea to separate the books by world region worked well at first, but now their organisation resembled a game of War. South Americans started invading European corners, led by the Bogotá39 generation; Scandinavians found a warm refuge in African lands, while Nigerians were stretching their borders into Asia and Indians made the leap to the Russian steppes. Cornered, Gogol took his overcoat to the kitchen, where he found Gabo laying the foundation for a new Macondo.

The unstable library geopolitics got even more delicate when the shelf that held the heavy “Time and the Wind” trilogy fell on Paraguayan territory. It also broke to pieces the seashell Antonia had kept since their first trip to the beach together.

“It’s impossible to live like this!”, she snapped for the first time: “These books are everywhere, there’s no room for the rest of our stuff. Soon they’ll take over the house and we’ll be homeless.”

Tomas collected the seashell pieces scattered around the room and placed them in a ceramic bowl; he would try to glue them later. Then he held Antonia in silence, his mind working out a way to save his beloved library and his marriage.

“I guess we can donate some of them. And I will try to buy fewer books, I promise.”

Fifty books were selected and sealed in a box, destined for the local charity shop. Two chairs were released from their heavy duty and now guests had a place to sit when they came to visit. Struggling, Tomas set himself a two-book limit per month.

Peace was restored.

It was early spring again: time for dandelions to be crushed by the delivery man’s heavy boots. A new face knocked on the blue door — the previous one had retired early due to back problems. Antonia took the heavy parcel and threw it on the kitchen floor. The floorboards creaked loudly and the entire house trembled. An old globe rotated on its axis and rolled from the table, knocking over a lamp on its way to the carpet.

Tomas’ promise to buy fewer books had lasted only two months, four days and nine hours. After that period, he seemed to want compensation for his good behaviour. Heavy boxes started to arrive more frequently than ever. Soon, it was impossible to walk around the house without tripping over a pile. Most of their socks now had holes and their toes were covered in bruises.

At first, they had to move the furniture around to cover the cracks in the walls caused by shelves that had collapsed under the weight of too many books. Now there was no room to move anything around. When they sat down to read in their favourite armchairs, Antonia could only see the tips of Tomas’ dishevelled blonde hair sprouting from behind a pile. The columns of paper blocked not only their view of each other, but interfered with their communication.

In retaliation, Antonia abandoned the books about the cosmos and started learning every possible recipe with broccoli as an ingredient. Every time a parcel arrived on their doorstep, Tomas was faced with a flowery green dish at the table. A new Hillary Mantel was met with a broccoli gratin; a Lima Barreto got cold sesame noodles mixed with the cabbage’s cousin; poems by Vikram Seth were paired with a green cocktail with vodka and ginger.

Antonia no longer asked Tomas if he was in the mood for broccoli. She just cooked with obstinacy and resignation — the white chopping board now had a permanent green stain. She cut the stalk, separated the flowery heads, washed them mechanically and followed the recipe instructions. Tomas knew that was her revenge and decided not to complain. Feeling sick, he cursed the Roman Empire for bringing Brassica oleracea italic into their lives.

The neighbours watched, terrified, as the little house trembled violently under the weight of daily deliveries, releasing a nauseating scent of broccoli every time the blue door was opened.

It was Thursday evening when it happened.

The house collapsed loudly around midnight, a thunderous sound that violated the peaceful clear darkness and hushed the cheerful creeks and peeps of night creatures. Sleepy and too full from the broccoli tempura, Antonia and Tomas didn’t move from their armchairs. It was inevitable.

Hard covers, bookshelves, lamps, paragraphs, sentences, walls, commas, ellipses and part of the ceiling rained down upon their bodies. A global army of writers covered the couple with their stories, mixed with wood and plaster.

It took only a few seconds and it all sank on the spot where there was once a small house with a blue door.

Venus glowed above the crater, triumphal.

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