Every time I reach for my Concise Oxford, the yellow book falls flat on its face. It’s been sitting on my shelves for a few years, its bright and cheerful cover facing out, much to the displeasure of the other volumes, squeezed tight like sardines.
The now familiar thump on the shelf makes me reach out for it, open a page at random before replacing it in the same position, guaranteeing a fall next time I struggle for a word or a synonym.
It arrived, unannounced, in a familiar Amazon box. At first I thought it was a mistake: I hadn’t ordered anything, certainly not a children’s book, until I saw the typewritten note “Thought you might like this” – Sue.
It came, to borrow from Queen Elizabeth II, during my annus horribilis, at a time when I wasn’t sure which way to turn. Regardless of physical distance and time zones, sofagirl managed to make her presence and comfort felt, and “The Heart and the Bottle” by Oliver Jeffers was part of the plan to cheer me on. I think.
It’s the story of a little girl, her mind and eyes full of questions and wonder, until she faces a loss so big she decides to store her heart in a bottle around her neck, to shut the pain out.
The girl grows up, with no more wonder and no more questions, until she meets a child on the beach, a curious little thing whose questions she can’t answer because, she realizes, her heart is stored away. No matter how hard she tries to get it out of the bottle, she has forgotten how she got it in there in the first place.
“The bottle couldn’t be broken.
It just bounced and rolled…right down to the sea.
But there, it occurred to someone smaller and still curious about the world that she might know a way.”
And there is a reason why I want this little gem to keep on falling in my hands time and again. Every line prods me on not to hide, not to varnish my feelings with a coat of defense: hurt and joy in equal measure keep the wonderment alive. What if we hide for too long and everyone forgets where we are, including us?
It’s not much of a children’s book after all. Or, like most books, it prompts different emotions at different stages. I am glad the little girl found me. In the end, when I decided it was time to re-enter life, I went with my heart. And now, when I forget, the yellow book falls flat on its face to remind me that glass bottles are never the way to go.
All images copyright of Oliver Jeffers