It was raining today in the city, and maybe nowhere else but here, so forceful a rain did it seem, long grey veils of it, washing down. 
     The low places in the sidewalks filled up with water and people out walking made split-second decisions about whether to go around puddles or whether to splash right on through them.
     May gazed from the window of the bookshop where she worked part time.  The wet street looked silvery and corrugated through the glass.  Because May felt like weeping, the raindrops halting down the window looked like tears.  Like everybody weeping at once.
     She turned away, thinking that Barbara was going to get awfully wet and was it worth it, really, to take her umbrella and walk all the way to Little Italy just to buy them a couple of squares of tiramisu to go with their tea?  Barbara did this often.  Too often, May thought.  She wanted her cup of green tea, but she didn’t need a great slab of something sweet to go with it.  Well, it was Barbara’s store, after all.
     As she turned away from the window, her eyes fell upon a huge brick-like book she hadn’t noticed on Wednesday, a giant one-volume paperback edition of Richardson’s Clarissa, published by Penguin Books.  She pried it from the shelf and riffled through it.  Fourteen hundred pages.  All in letters. An epistolary novel, she thought to herself.  A novel made of epistles.
     And for some reason, the ungainly book seemed suddenly remarkably appealing to her.  She read the back cover: “How Clarissa, in resisting parental pressure to marry a loathsome man for his money, falls prey to Lovelace, is raped and dies, is the bare outline of a story that blossomed in all directions under Richardson’s hands”.  
     The outline, thought May, is decidedly more lurid than it is bare.  But there was something so absurdly funny—and deeply appealing—about the author’s story having “blossoming in all directions” under his hands.  May felt strangely attracted to the book.  It promised to be a huge edifice of words, a wash of milky, repetitive, undemanding language that she suddenly knew would be just what she was looking for.
     The bell over the front door jangled and Barbara came in from the rain, bearing the white cardboard box May knew would contain the desserts. 
     “How’s everything been?” Barbara asked, shivering out of her raincoat and leaning her sodden umbrella in the corner. “Quiet?”
     “Very,” May replied, clutching her Clarissa.
     “What’s that?” asked Barbara.  May held the book out to her.
     “Clarissa?” Barbara lifted the tiramisu carefully from its box and lowered it onto plates. “What for?”
     May gazed at the big book and felt defensive.  “I feel it could help me with my English”, she replied.
     “How?” asked Barbara, thinking it strange that a young law student from Hong Kong should find anything helpful about such a juggernaut of a book.
     “I don’t know”, said May quietly, looking glumly at her Tiramisu and accepting a cup of tea.  Barbara reached for the book, held it up in the dusty light and glanced at the back cover.
     “Nobody back home is pressuring you to marry a loathsome man for his money, are they?” she asked gaily, giving the book back.
     “No”, May replied quietly.  They ate their tiramisu and drank their tea and looked out at the rain.  May opened the book again.  “I was still silent, looking down, the tears in my eyes”, she read to herself.  This was what she wanted.  An endless rush of clear language, animated to no purpose, eventful without incident, soft and sheeted and continuous as the rain against the window.