Elemental Need


Anne Michael

As for me, the dawn had arrived more still than the day before, the sky tinged with pale peach streaks against a whitening backdrop, the birds singing almost conversationally behind me. The smell of wet corn flakes lingers in my nose as the dogs dreamed, snorted, yipped and growled in their sleep. The hum of the refrigerator and air conditioner sounded gentle and yet somehow loud against the tip, tip, tip of my fingers on laptop keys. It seemed at the outset that it would be an ordinary day.

Comfort and predictability. I need these things but never so much as in the morning. I’ve been this way since the age of six. In those early years I loved to wake at 4:30 or 5:00 a.m., long before the sun rose and anyone else was up. I learned to brew coffee, to have it ready for my parents when they woke at 6:00, but mostly because I loved the homey smell that filled my head with its rich and heady fragrance. The world was mine at that early hour. I would sit wrapped in an old plaid wool stadium blanket atop the big radiator in front of the dining room window, watching the world come awake, the moon setting, the sun rising, reveling in the morning sounds, and imaging what was happening in each house as the lights came on. I spun amazing tales in those predawn hours. The magic of the world, muffled in soft gray and those colors that only happen in the dawning of a day, became my kingdom. My imagination could run unfettered and free, unbound by others’ expectations, needs or obligations. Now, all these years later, that need is so deeply ingrained that I cannot face the day in any other fashion.

My day, a Tuesday in May, started as any other with the usual reluctance to get out from beneath the warm covers as I was snuggled up deliciously against my husband’s back. This need was brought on by the determined and relentless buzz of the alarm clock, and it was not voluntary. The dogs greeted me sleepily and sought their places beneath my chair at the kitchen bar as I started my usual morning chores of brewing coffee, making breakfast and filling now empty water and food bowls. They patiently waited for me to sit at the computer with tea mug in hand. They wanted more time to sleep since they don’t greet the dawn as enthusiastically as they once used to. They like being able to count on a bit more during the time I spend writing before the sun rises. Comfort. It seemed the watchword for the day, an almost driving need.

On this particular day, I did all the things I needed to do: I went to work, held classes, did paperwork, attended meetings, made phone calls, stopped at the dry cleaners and before I arrived home, made a stop at the grocery store. All ordinary things until I got to the market. After strolling leisurely through the aisles picking up those things needed for several days worth of meals, I entered the aisle in which greeting cards, magazines and books are sold. As is my habit, I looked over the books, checking to see if Dean Koontz’s Forever Odd was out in paperback yet or if Clive Cussler, Piers Anthony or Sue Grafton had something that was new or not yet read. Just as it has been for many weeks, there was nothing I wanted in that small sea of books whose  brightly colored covers like hookers on a street corner glittered in the harsh light beckoning potential readers. Just as I finished my perusal, my eyes darted back to the one that did not shine with an almost circus like intensity—Phantom by Terry Goodkind.

The author’s name seemed familiar, but I could not remember whether or not I’d read anything by him. The cover was nothing extraordinary, at least not in the same way as the rest of the books that were screaming for attention. In fact the color scheme was dark and muted. But aisle three in the Sweet Bay Supermarket held me as though with chains. I could not move away from this book until I touched it, so insistently did it seem to tug at me. I picked the book up from its place in the rack to read the back cover. The synopsis didn’t make me want this book, but the touch and feel of it in my hands was riveting. The silken texture was seductive. Just to hold the book was a pleasure. Oh, that did it! I was hooked. I knew didn’t need another book. My stack of unread books was already burgeoning, my shelves filled to overflowing, I didn’t need to spend the money, but I could not leave this book behind.

As I walked toward the checkout stand holding it, reveling in the splendidly soft feel of a cover reminiscent of raw silk, and the polished cotton and old flannel feel of the unopened pages against my roving thumbs I was reminded of characters in a sci-fi novel who cannot help themselves as they are drawn into danger by soft whispers and safe-looking places or relentless curiosity. The book felt as fine as the morning and just as necessary. I had to own it, just for the way it felt and feels to this moment. I fervently hope that it reads just as beautifully and as compellingly.

My ordinary day ended in an extraordinary way—with pleasure as ephemeral as a sunrise and as elemental as breathing. This book with its siren call could not be denied. It has forever been said that one cannot tell a book by its cover; I can’t wait to find out if that’s true or not.

At age 10, Anne realized she was never going to get to be Miss America since reading a book was not an acceptable talent. So she went on to get a job and raise a family. Along the way, she fixed meals, picked up toys, helped with homework, and collected a drawer full of rejection slips for her “great American novel.” It was not all bad, however, since she ended up wallpapering a closet with them. She currently designs and creates greeting cards for her tiny company, The Frog Prints, LLC, and also works full-time as a Training Specialist. Anne is currently tethered to reality by a loving spouse, two dogs, one cat and the occasional hurricane that blows through Florida, although falling headlong and happily into a book is still her favorite “talent.” She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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