"Do you know where my Collected Hughes is? I can't see it on the shelf."
It's poetry evening next Thursday and the subject is an easy one: 'Animals'. Ted Hughes has written a series of poems on animals. Beloved is looking for 'his' Hughes.
That he can't find it, means nothing. He can never find anything without asking me for directions first.
And no, I am not currently borrowing 'his' Hughes.
In close to twenty-five years of marriage the only thing we haven't married are the books. We each still have our own bookshelves, in separate rooms.
When we got married, both for the second time, we had supplies of every kind of ordinary household utensil, from pots and pans to linen, porcelain, silverware and glassware. We kept the best and/or most useful of everything and amalgamated it. There were many items resulting from the break-up of previous households neither of us wanted to keep. "After all", we said, "it doesn't do to carry the past into a fresh start".
Everything surplus to requirements went to charity shops or the local dump. We had a wonderful few years scouring antique dealers for large and small pieces of furniture, rugs, pictures, china, all to become part of our 'present and future'. The future is with us, the results of our collecting frenzy all too visible. Charity shops are once again the beneficiaries.
Books have remained strangely immune from the 'togetherness' bug. We have both continued to buy books, very few of which have been given away. Sometimes we look at the shelves and one of us will suggest that the other could surely very well do without their collection of Lilliput or Gibbons' Decline and Fall. (If you don't know what they are, don't worry, you haven't missed a lot).
"Absolutely not", is the heated reply. "I have kept them this long, they haven't bothered you before, why do you want me to shed them now?" We guard out treasures jealously.
We both sigh: "Well, perhaps not just yet, but if you feel that you really don't need the entire series on 'The Celts in Britain' any more . . . . . . . .". That particular edition has long been superseded by a new one based on modern research but who is to say that modern research is necessarily more accurate.
Whichever one of us owns it, doesn't need to be told that their edition is no longer fit for purpose. Neither of us says it, we are friends, after all; not only that, but we both suffer from the same disease: we both hoard books.
As for Collected Hughes? It's exactly where it should be, on the poetry shelves under 'H'. I put it back there after I'd borrowed it.