READ THIS FIRST – 8

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Dad’s boots are under the coat rack. You can have them, if you like. There’s a good few years of wear left in them, if you repair the inner seam on the left one. You’ll get good at repairing things here, if you aren’t already. Like I said before, books are fragile things, especially when they’re old. Spines crack, stitching comes loose, and no one else is going to fix it.

All the stuff is in the workshop on Class 0. First you’ll need to remove the damaged cover with a sharp blade. Use the piece of straight wood to make sure all the pages are lined up together, if they’re loose, then clamp them tight. You might need to sew some of them back together – there’s a sewing kit in the box. Make the holes first with the punch pliers. Don’t pull the thread too tight or you’ll tear the pages when you try to open the book. Cut the new cover out of leather, using the old one to get the size right. Put glue up the spine, wrap it round the pages and clamp it all together for a day.

Sanna was really good at fixing books. She had clever fingers. That’s what Dad used to say. “You’ve got clever fingers, baby,” and she’d light up with pride. She was Dad’s daughter – they had the same sensitivity, the same love of beauty and need for praise. Mum and me were the practical ones. Well, someone has to be. The Collection needs both kinds of people. Maybe that’s why we were chosen in the first place.

The man who was here before us was one of the founders. He was very sick, or maybe he had been sick before the war, I’m not sure. He knew there weren’t medicines any more to make it better, so he started searching for someone to take care of The Collection when he was gone. He looked for nearly a year before he found us. Mum and Dad were part of a group living in some caves in Greece. There wasn’t enough food to go around – Dad was cutting his rations so Sanna and me could eat. She was barely walking then, but I could help carry water and watch the fires.

I don’t remember the stranger arriving. First he wasn’t next to my fire, and then he was. He had a nice smile so I wasn’t afraid. He started talking to me, I don’t remember what about, and Dad came running over to pull me away. The stranger held his hands wide, but he started coughing and folded in half. There was blood on his lips when he straightened up again. I remember that very clearly. It gleamed in the firelight.

He and Dad talked for a long time. Mum came back from fishing with Sanna, and they all talked for even longer. Then Mum and Dad both cried a bit, and I helped Mum put everything we owned in a blanket. Dad was too weak to carry it, so Mum put it on her back and I took Sanna. We followed the stranger to the back of the cave, to a door I’d never seen there before. And after that we were warm, and fed, and safe.download

He died a few months later. We wrapped him in our old blanket and buried him on top of a mountain, like he wanted. Leibowitz, he was called. I don’t have many memories of him, beyond a soft voice and a kind hand. We had to be careful when we touched him. His skin was so pale and thin, and bruised so easily. Towards the end he could hardly breathe for coughing. If he hadn’t had The Collection, he would have died much earlier.

Sensitive people don’t do well in the Cold.

 

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