I've never remembered a time in my life without F&SF, The Monthly Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Collections of short stories packaged into a small paperback, sent to the house in the mail once a month for as far back as I can remember. My mother read them religiously, and while my father didn't care for them, he still kept the subscription bill paid.

And it seems that after a long, long while we had so many paperbacks built up that there was just no room for them on the bookshelves. And so, along with an unused backgammon board and a chess set, the books were kept in a large trunk that held a place as out coffee table. Oh, the smell that came from the trunk. It was ancient, at least a hundred years old. The smell of old paper and old books wafted from it, and filled the house with such a wonderful smell.

I was still young then, too young to read, but I was interested. What was in these books that kept my mother reading? What magic was it? And so, after a time, my mother would read stories from the books to me before I went to bed. I would fall asleep dreaming of dragons and spaceships and Greek gods.

And the coffee table got fuller and fuller, and soon my mother didn't have time to read to me. Didn't have time to read herself, I don't think. There were problems with my father, and things began to change. The trunk, my favorite piece of furniture, was soon placed in the attic, and the smell of old books began to fade from the house.

The times, they were a'changing, Bob Dylan might have said.

But when I got old enough, she knew. She trudged upstairs, handed me her favorite issue, and let me read it all by myself. It was wonderful.

After many, many years, money got tight in the family, and my mother ended her subscription. The last issue arrived, and after being read was put in the attic with the rest. By that time, I was old enough to read any of the stories that I wanted, and I often did. I would wander up to the attic, open the trunk, and root around until I found one interesting. Those books would mean more and more to me the older I got.

I can't remember being much older than thirteen when I asked the question for the first time.

"Mom," I had said, "You ever think about renewing your F&SF subscription?" And she looked at me in that way she had, and she smiled in that knowing way she did, and she gave me the answer she always would:

"Tell ya what, Dan. You go on up to the attic, and you start reading. And you read ALL of those books up there, and then I'll renew it." And that was the end of that.  We both knew the gravity of that. There was no way that anyone could ever read through those books. So it was dropped for the time. I'd ask again, every once in a while, and every single time I received that same answer.

The years went by, and I got older. My mother and I grew apart, as any mother and her teenage son will do. The books lay in the attic, forgotten in the trunk.

And then she got sick, and everything changed. At first it was hard to notice. She was tired all the time. She went to bed early. I didn't know, though. I was still so young.

But after a while I could tell. It was her eyes. Sunken. Tired. And that's when I got scared. Dad was long gone by that time, and she was all I had. She got worse and worse, and after a while she couldn't even get out of bed. I was the man of the house then, and even though I was in high school i had to take care of her. I rediscovered the forgotten trunk of books, and would read stories to her each night until she fell asleep.

It was hard on me. I was in highschool then, and I had to come home at lunchtime to make sure she was eating. She didn't often.

"Mom," I asked her again one night, "You ever think about renewing your F&SF subscription?" She shined a smile at our old joke, and repeated her famous answer.

"Tell ya what, Dan. You go on up to the attic, and you start reading. And you read all of those books up there, and then I'll renew it."

The next morning she was gone.

And I trudged up those stairs. I opened the trunk, and I pulled out the first book I could grab. I sat down.

And I read.
And I read.
And I read.

There were hundreds. There was no way anyone could EVER finish them all.

But I read. And I went to school, and I read there. And I got a job to pay for the funeral, and I read at work too. And when I got into college on that scholarship, I read there too.

I finished the last page of the last book today. I'm older now, and things have changed. When I filled out my subscription card, I used the address of my own house. I've got my own trunk being used as a coffee table, and it smells like old books. I've got kids of my own now, and when I find the right story, I read it to them before they go to bed. I fill their heads with wonder and amazement, and hope they love every minute of it the way I did.

And when they're old enough, I'll hand them that issue. I'll let them read it all by themselves, the way I did. I'll pull the trunk up to the attic, and I'll cancel my subscription.

And when they ask me if I'll ever renew, I know what I'll tell them:

"Tell ya what, boys. You go on up to the attic, and you start reading. And you read ALL of those books up there, and then I'll renew it."

The question will be dropped. There's hundreds of books up there. There's no way anyone could ever read them all.
Uploaded 12/18/2010
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