Three books at once, that is how many Alfred Highland was reading. This did not exactly point to a great intelligence, more of a fear of commitment. A familiar strain that ran through his entire life.
His mother chastised him on a weekly basis for being nearly 40 and unmarried. He took it in stride, and told her he was just not willing to jump into anything without giving it a lot of thought. The truth is he never went on more than two dates with any given woman (and three or four men). After that, they became monotonous, and he moved on.
He never had any trouble picking up women. He was tall, friendly, funny, and had an athletic body shaped by an inability to stick to one sport/exercise regimen at a time. Women flocked to him and marveled over his golden hair, his perfectly white smile, and his bright-blue eyes. His type of woman was any woman; he was not fussy.
What Alfred did for work varied depending on when you asked him. He never stayed at any one job for more than a year before he got bored and needed to find something else to hold his interest. His current line of work found him traveling around the country, photographing the scenes of grisly highway auto accidents for a major insurance company. When pressed about which one, he was forced to explain that he had signed a non-disclosure agreement, and could not say.
A current assignment found him in a bit of a pickle. He had packed his clothes; he had chosen the pants, shirts, ties, etc. days before. Then he changed his mind. Then he changed it back. Now they were in the suitcase, it was too late to change his mind. Or was it. Yes, it was. The problem was the book.
He was looking at a six-hour flight, during which he would not be able to sleep. He found sleeping on airplanes impossible. It was all about his need to change positions continuously, something that was just not going to work while cramped in the tight space and airplane seat afforded.
He also did not want to make conversation with whoever was seated near him. A six-hour conversation sounded horrifically boring. Music was an option, but creating a playlist to last all six hours would require weeks of decisions, changes, purchases, no…Music was out of the question. His preferred method of passing the time was reading.
The problem was finding the right book. Something too short would leave him with the possibility of having to pass hours just twiddling his thumbs. Too long and he would never finish; the book would go back on his bookcase, never to be read again. No, that would drive him nuts in a way that would tickle at his brain, but never actually force him to finish.
Experimentation told him that around 330 pages are perfect. However, there is more to consider. There is always more to consider. Genre, for instance. He enjoyed a good mystery, especially those written by James Patterson. But those books had a hidden trap. As the suspense increased, as the answer neared, he would read faster, turning pages at an accelerated rate. He would finish early and be stuck chatting it up with the boring bastard seated next to him.
There was an entire shelf dedicated to books he had borrowed from friends, and would probably never actually read. Maybe he could take one of these, but what if he lost it five states away. He would have to buy his friend a new copy to replace it. That just seemed silly. What a waste of time and money that would be.
How about non-fiction? Out of the question for air travel. Books containing true stories always led to long sessions with Google or Wikipedia to confirm the information held on the page; or just to help him visualize the “characters” in the work. Wasting all that time (and money) on an airplane, surfing the net, was a ludicrous notion.
This thought process went on for a week, interrupted here and there by normal life, until he had it narrowed down to three choices. He had started all three already, just to get an idea of what he was in for. The first was a comedy of sorts about a dwarf spy infiltrating an American family. The second was a work of modern day fantasy taking place in the London underground. The third was a saccharine take on teenage lust and imagination. The decision was almost impossible.
He had flipped coins. He had dropped all three books in a box and picked one at random. He did eeny-meeny-miney-moe (three times, each time starting with a different book), all to no avail. He was still not sure when the cab pulled up out front of his apartment building, waiting to take him to the airport.
On his way out the door he grabbed at a random book, and stuffed it in his carry-on bag, determined to be surprised on the flight by his choice.
He started reading it during the cab ride, and was half-finished by the time they called his section to board the plane.