It is on white nights like these, when the snow outside is pushing at the shutters, and the windows are licked with frost, that Marika takes down the book. She turns the pages and she disappears, into all the sun-filled days.
There’s Erzsi in the early mornings, when soft light kissed away the dew and tempted them all outside, with blushed cheeks. There she is in the late afternoons, when a ruder heat descended, flattening them, sending them sprawling—on the yellow lawn, in the forest pool, beneath the canopy of acacia trees. There she is in the slow-ebbing evenings, when the spent sun dipped toward the faded hills, and they lounged on the terrace, basking in the last of the glow.
Marika looks at the pictures, and, fleetingly, she feels them looking back.
Her relationship with the book is curious. She made it herself, with searching fingers and ink-smudging tears, with paint and glue and snippets and fragments. She took photographs when no one knew photographs were being taken, so the pictures within its pages appear like whispered secrets. The cloth cover is painted with f lowers, swirls and strokes of bright white, blooms that haven’t faded. Unlike the real f lowers, the ones outside that twine the veranda, and wither and die as night falls. She remembers mixing the colors, the crick in her neck as she bent awkwardly over her square canvas, how she’d heard Zoltán’s gentle laugh as he spotted her tongue peeping from her lips in concentration. The lettering was an afterthought, and as such the words are arranged haphazardly between the petals in a lilting, lifting scrawl: The Book of Summers. A name that came from the delight of the first, and the anticipation of all the others to come.
Marika loves and hates the book in almost equal measure. For when she turns the pages she is a time traveler. When she turns the pages she is bound in chains.
The photographs thrum with life, and tempt her closer. She smells coconut cream streaked on pale skin to ward off scatterings of freckles. She smells wood smoke lingering in hair, as though there had been a dance through licking flames. She smells cherry sherbets with a taste like a sweet prickle. She dips her head over the pages, caught too much in the moment, and now the only scent she can catch is a papery one. Dry and musty and lifeless.
She hears a voice calling her name. She closes the book and sets it back on the shelf. She goes back to the life she has now. The life she chose, once, above all else. And all that is lost stays between the pages of the book.