After a couple months the pain still hadn't gone away, so I went to see a doctor.
I tried to show him where it hurt --right where my ribs ended above my abdomen on the left side-- and when he probed the spot with his fingers it hurt so acutely that I let out an instinctive yelp.
What happened? he asked.
I read this book, I said.
The doctor raised his eyebrows and waited for some additional explanation.
I shrugged. It was by some South African writer, I said, and it felt like something broke inside me.
Did anything else happen around the time you read this book? he asked. Any falls? Any unusually strenuous activities?
I shook my head. I'm not a man who engages in strenuous activities. I hadn't yet begun to fall. There had just been the book.
Oddly, the doctor asked if I had wept while reading this book. I admitted I had.
Was it a particularly wrenching cry? he asked.
I said that it was not; it was a quiet cry.
When exactly did you first notice the pain? he asked.
The instant I closed the book, I said.
Did you close it forcefully? the doctor asked.
I replied that I could not recall having done so.
The doctor, I could see, plainly thought that I was crazy, but was nonetheless intent on doing his job as diligently as possible. He listened to my breathing with a stethoscope and thumped my back, which elicited more yelps.
May I ask, he said, what this book was about?
I don't really know, I said. I guess it was about a lonely, broken man and dying dogs.
Sounds cheery, the doctor said. Perhaps you should be reading other sorts of books.
He backed away and tucked his stethoscope into the pocket of his white jacket. I'm afraid, he said, that this sounds possibly pyschosomatic, but just to err on the side of caution let's send you down for some x-rays.
Later, after I had returned from the laboratory and was sitting again in the doctor's office, he bustled in, clipped two sheets of film to a light box above his desk, and said, I'm afraid we're missing something from your story. You have two broken ribs, and one of them is a pretty thorough job. A man doesn't break two ribs like this and have no recollection of how he came to do so.
He tapped his pen on his desk and stared at me in silence.
Honest to God, I said, I read a fucking book.