(This time of year I am reminded of other winters growing up in the old farmhouse which provides the setting for this imaginative story. There really was an attic book "room" and I really did discover A Wonder Book by Nathaniel Hawthorne there.)
Dora had developed a rhythm for this work of secret admiration. First, all the doors had been locked downstairs, not that there was any real danger of anyone attempting to enter; no neighbors were closer than a mile and she wasn’t expecting company. Once she entered the small attic door on her knees—such a prayerful position—she repeated the rhyme of her childhood as if a prayer to the books themselves. The books were in fact characters from the theater of her childhood and they were, each one, well loved. Once inside the attic of books, Dora forgot time and lost herself in a barrage of ideas, pinned in their respective boxes like butterflies, forever preserved albeit illegally in the current world. As she perused the makeshift shelving, so carefully installed by her childhood self, she re-imagined a world in which it was still acceptable to hold in your hand the literal ideas of others, made solid by the act of printing on paper. In her younger days, Dora had studied the history of print; from the invention of paper to the printing press, both incredible leaps in world communication and the spread of ideas. She remembered feeling slightly dangerous as she discussed the events leading up to the practice of printing common stories, imagined by the ordinary citizen, with her peers and their professors. “But why did they take so long to ban the practice of using trees to print when the capability of digitizing the publishing world existed so long ago?” She vividly remembered asking her professor of Antiquity and Ruins one day when she felt her most brave self drawn out by the topic. Just as vivid was the professor’s answer, of course in the form of another question aimed at her. “Which do you think is the easiest to control or censor—print or digital publishing of information?” The question had stumped her, and sometimes still stumped her. She would have become lost in the archive of her own mind’s stacks on the topic of censorship had she not heard Charlie whimper pathetically. “You’re right Charlie, the fire needs tending I’m sure. Let’s check on the dough too.” With a slight hop of his front legs, Charlie willingly turned around and headed down the well-worn stairs of the old farmhouse, painted red by a loving hand ages ago. Dora let the child-sized door of the attic swing mostly closed, the small latch not quite closing completely; a tiny thread of light from the old “energy efficient” bulb (from the first quarter of the 21st century) leaking through the sliver of space and converging with the more consistent modern light of the retrofitted house. Normally Dora was a stickler about latching and camouflaging the attic door, though who would even care or have cause to inspect her old bathroom so carefully, she couldn’t imagine. Tonight, she followed Charlie to the comforts of the fire and yeasty bread, both blossoming, without a second thought about unnecessary precautions. Downstairs the warm smell of yeast rose to meet her eager nose,; Dora inhaled deeply and Charlie, standing on two legs, enjoyed the air equally, sniffing short exploratory breaths as his nose led him closer to the old fashioned glass bowl on the counter. “Charlie Boy, don’t even think about it. You’ll just have to wait until it’s out of the oven like the rest of us.” After a brief check on the fire, once it was alive fully and casting large shadows on the walls of the living room, Dora revisited the kitchen to assemble the “pizza pie” as her east coast friends were fond of calling it. She sang as she worked. Charlie skittered along the old linoleum, following Dora at every turn. “When the moon hosts your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore!” Dance-like, Dora and Charlie worked like this, so familiar with each others’ company that seldom did they fluster or miss a step. Dora wondered if life could get better than this moment, right now.
After sharing the pizza, Dora nestled into the warm room, under her favorite cotton (oh the luxury of cotton!) blanket, with Charlie curled in behind the curve of her knees, head rested on her calf. She found her mind couldn’t rest though; still thinking about books upstairs and the difference between print and digital text, Dora turned to look at the fire and noticed the book sitting on the side table. “Oh!” she gasped audibly, startling Charlie, who raised his head, on alert. How long had it been since she had seen a book in three dimensions out in the “wild” of the public? Maybe never, unless you counted those on display at the Museum of Non- Compliance. She realized then that she must have inadvertently brought it down from the attic when she checked on the fire last. Looking around shyly (who would be observing?) Dora reached slowly for that book, caressing it with both hands as she lifted it close. The Wonder Book by Nathaniel Hawthorne. She inhaled its fragrance, such a mix of unfamiliar and vintage scents. For a moment, she was lost to joy as she opened the frail copy of text: the pages could only be turned carefully to avoid crumbling or breaking. She admired the type face—an art form all its own. It seemed to match Hawthorne’s writing style perfectly. And cousin Eustace Bright’s return to Tanglewood placed her so immediately on her own farm— in front of her fire. She had already read, “The Gorgon’s Head” before she realized the dwindling fire and Charlie’s snores. Not willing to disrupt his sleep, she snuggled deeper into her blanket and tucked The Wonder Book under her arm. She fell asleep immediately. Even as Dora opened her eyes, she knew someone or something was in the house aside from Charlie, who was sounding an alarm of short and insistent barks in the kitchen. Thinking quickly, she pushed The Wonder Book between the back of the old couch and its fusions; as she rose, she dropped the blanket and it fell conveniently over the hiding spot. Quietly she crept to the hall to see what might be happening in the other room. Charlie appeared to be barking at nothing, but she knew this could not be. After watching him, she began to see that he followed a path, that of a 2 foot tall small and agile robot. . . the kind designed for “searches and seizures for the safety of all”. . . as it smoothly rounded corners and gathered digital information. Dora had heard of these “Safety Bots” and had always considered them innocuous. Now she had a different opinion. She wanted a safe society as much as anyone, but now that one roamed her home uninvited (why hadn’t she locked the door?), the hair on the back of her neck stood on end and she could feel sweat droplets trailing down her back. The smoke from the chimney must have alerted the Safety Bot—citizens were allowed four fires per year, if non-paper was used to start it. Safety Bots had been know to check for compliance, but Dora had never experienced one before. She knew, though, that anything out of compliance would be called in. Then the Safety Commission Officers would be sent to deal with the situation. That would be the end. Of everything. Charlie’s barks brought her back from her own thinking to the present: he was barking incessantly—not his usual behavior. And his nose pointed at the door to the utility area where she kept her stash of old college books—a habit frowned upon by the Safety Commission, but not technically a safety breach; the lines were blurred. Charlie surprised her—she had considered him one of the smartest dogs and most loyal. She hadn't questioned his loyalty.
It was then that Dora noticed the Safety Bot had been headed up the stairs until it turned and followed Charlie’s pointing. It reached up with its robotic arm extension, opened the door and began exploring. Charlie trotted over to Dora and sat obediently, looking up at her with sparkling eyes. “Good boy, Charlie,” she whispered. After 10 minutes of waiting, the Safety Bot returned to the kitchen, issuing Dora a printed ticket and exiting through the front door, as it entered. Out of Compliance: Paper, 8 textbooks Return to the Museum of Non-Compliance within 2 days. Fee: $218 Immediately, Dora picked up Charlie and covered him with kisses. “Oh you smart, smart dog! You sent the ‘Bot on a wild goose chase, didn’t you? What a good dog!” Charlie basked in the attention.