They realized, more or less at the same time, that they were starving. They set down the books and looked at each other. How long has it been? she asked him, when did we eat? Did we? he asked, did we eat? We must have, she said, we must have, people do. Alright, of course, he said, what was it? What was it we ate? But she couldn't remember. Oh! she said, oh, look here, look at this one, and she picked up a book and blew off the dust. Look! Just look at this! and he came over to look and then he found the even more amazing one, under the stack she had made. So, what with one book and another, no one ate for a while longer. No one remembered to think about it, so no one could have said for how much longer.
By the next time they remembered food, they had gotten shaky. She tried to lift a huge pile of books from a table and had to sit down, hard and fast, pinned under the books. He stood up quickly to help her, concerned, and stumbled against the table where she had piled the books. Honey, he said, I'm sorry. You okay? Yes! she said, yes, I'm fine, nothing was damaged. Good, he said, relieved, what have you got there? Just look! she said, and he came over to sit beside her. He looked and she showed him and he found more to see and she was amazed and he turned the pages, turned the books to the light, turned her face to his, turned them both to the books they turned over and over. They forgot food again. They forgot they had forgotten. They found more books and forgot more and more.
He made a bed for them when their eyes got too dark to see. He made it of books and he helped her to it and lay down by her and she pulled pages over them. She was cold now, very cold, but the book bed was very comfortable, so comfortable, the most forgiving and yielding and loving bed she had ever known, and she curled around him, growing warm and blissful. I'm happy, she said, I'm so cozy and happy to be here with you. Yes, he said, it's wonderful, isn't it wonderful? but something was tugging at him, something was nagging at him. He had to sit up to think, had to sit up even though his head felt light and empty. I think I wouldn't have ever thought, he said very slowly because his thoughts were starved now too, I wouldn't ever have thought books made a nice soft bed. Well, she said, wrapping her arms around him to hold herself against the shaking that swept over her in waves now, these aren't ordinary books. No, he said, no, that's true. I mean, he said picking one of the books up and holding it to the light, I mean, just look at this! and they did look for a long time, at that book and then at another and another and they got emptier inside themselves until they had no choice but to slip into unconsciousness on their pile of bound words, open books spread protectively above them.
He was having trouble waking up. He fought his way out of dreams too rich and too disturbingly bright to be remembered in waking life, he fought his way out because his heart was crying out that he must check on her, make sure of her. But he couldn't do it, he couldn't wake her til he pulled out of her arms the book she still clung to in sleep. It came away from her with a great sound of tearing and she awoke with a gasp of horrible pain. What have you done, she asked, why did you do that? He held her close, pressed against her where she was raw and bleeding now. I couldn't wake you, he said, was it a good book? It was perfect, she said simply, where is it now? Over there, he said, but don't look. I think it's dying. Poor thing, she said, poor, poor thing, and she hid her face against him. Then she looked up, and she was focusing on him, right on him for the first time in days. Wait, she said, wait. I didn't know books could die. I don't believe they can. These are special books, he said, they don't behave the way you'd expect. They're the best books, she said, the very best.
He was opening his mouth to agree when for some reason the thing that had been nagging at him came sharply into view. The bed! he said, the bed is so comfortable. Yes, she agreed, it's the best bed. But it shouldn't be, he said, you know perfectly well it shouldn't be. No, she said slowly, I know it should not be. Sleeping on books should hurt, he said, even sleeping on very good books, even on the best books in the world, should hurt. These are strange books, she said, starting to turn over the ones on her legs. Oh, she breathed, oh, look at this-- But he took her hands in his and made her look into his eyes. It hurt and he felt the books under him flinch with pain, but he did it. They don't behave the way we'd expect, he said. No, she agreed, no, normal books don't die when you put them down. So, she asked, what are you saying? We're starving, he told her, we'll die if we don't eat. Do you mean, she asked, fear and panic rising in her eyes, you don't mean we have to-- No, he said hurriedly as he felt the books hold their breaths and lean forward in dread, no, of course not. We couldn't. We never could. But do you suppose...and he reached out, took a large book, and brought it slowly toward him, do you suppose you can eat books, after all? Because if we can, we never, ever have to go, he said, and he took a large bite.
Turns out you can eat books, or they could, if you can find, as they did, the right sort of books. Not all of them taste good, not all of them sit well inside you, but some are quite nourishing. We do, though, or they did anyway, inescapably become what we eat, and over time they became the sort of love story in which they had never believed. The sort of happy-in the-end story they had disdained, had believed themselves above and beyond, but which they found was not at all hard to believe in when they ate words and slept long and sound and deep on a loving bed of books. Turns out that was the very kind of book they loved best to have for dinner, and if they should have noticed, become alarmed at the sheer number and preponderance of that very sort of story in the stacks and racks around them, well, they just didn't.
And they lived, if you can call it that, very happily ever after. They certainly called it that.