The Librarian

I’m bad about returning stuff. Sure, the borrowing? Not a problem. But once it enters my apartment, well, it’s good as gone.

Such was the case with Humble Rhodes, a 789 page thumper of a biography about the first ever transsexual, double amputee, head transplant recipient to receive the Rhodes Scholarship.

Don’t ask, if it’s on the New Release shelf, I’m game. The book turned out to be pretty unremarkable, but its location was a brain boggler. So when I got the notice email from the library, I called back to explain right away.

Whoa, the girl on the end, Sidney. She said it was her very first day on the job but her voice, it was like a thorn dipped in honey. Soft, with a bit of a rasp like she’d done too much screaming at a rock concert. She had this sweet giggle too, and I told her I’d come right in to pay for the book because I just had to get a glimpse of her in person.

Now, picture a librarian. Old, with a hair bun and glasses on a chain. That’s what I saw when I walked in and I nearly spun around and hauled tail the other way when I heard that giggle. I stopped and the door behind the counter opened.

Now toss out that old librarian image.

Olive skin, shiny black hair. Eyes that belonged in a painting.

“Excuse me, but um, you can’t block the entrance. Fire Code 1203.”

That voice. The way she bit her smile…I made my way over to the circulation desk, shoving my way through a summer camp procession in the process. Old librarian woman scowled

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“I’m Jason Stewart.”

“Hi Jason. Humble Rhodes, right?”

She remembered my name, no I said my name. But she remembered the book. Wonderful. I shook my head with a smile. I produced the replacement by way of Amazon Prime

“I was hoping I could replace it?”

“I think we can work that out.”

“I was also hoping you were free this evening.” I usually wasn’t so brave, but something was has happening here. Another bite of her lip. She eyed the computer monitor.

“I don’t know, Jason. How can you explain, DECISION POINTS?”

Crap, she had the power, my checkout history at her fingertips. I shrugged, “Research?”

She eyed the screen. “ANTIGUA?”

“I have a sense of humor?”

She shook her head, then slapped her palms on the counter. “You know what, I’m intrigued.”

***

We kept it casual, the Mexican place downtown. I helped her get seated then took my spot across from her. If Sidney the Librarian looked hotwith a headband and sweater, which she did, that sleeveless white shirt  she wore could scramble the Dewey Decimal System. (Sorry, I was hoping she liked nerd humor).

But the soft dining light caressed her shoulders. I smiled back across the table.

“I love this place.”

She reached for a menu.  “So, Jason, do you come there to polish up?”

“I’ uh, I’m sorry?

She shrugged, then looked at me from over the menu. “Learning Spanish. All those ebooks you borrowed?”

I managed a timid nod. We ordered Margaritas, when they came I took a quick sip. Sidney placed her chin in her hand.

“You’re such a romantic.”

“Yeah?” I said, trying to fend off the creeping uneasiness sliding up my spine. I mean, she was gorgeous, and the voice and all, but I couldn’t shake that something was off here, her acting like we were married.

“Okay, I have to ask. What’s your favorite Nicholas Sparks book, I saw that you’ve read them all.”

Well, my face felt pretty Nicholas Sparks right then. But so what? So she knew what I read, it wasn’t like she knew what I was thinking, right? She stirred her drink, then reached out and grabbed my hand.

“It’s THE NOTEBOOK, isn’t it? That’s mine. I saw you checked it out twice.”

I shifted things a bit.

“Uh, so what about you, Sidney, what’s your story?”

“I’m finishing up my masters,” she said, drumming along the table with her fingers. I waved for a refill. Because those eyes, no longer Mila Kunis but Lizzie Borden, as she went on, “Bilingual and a musician. How did I get so lucky? Tell me, did you teach yourself guitar from those books?”

“What? No.” I tried to swallow but my throat was closing. Sidney just kept on, with plans and my checkout history and I was ready to bolt.

“…and you like baseball. Me too you know, three brothers. Maybe we could catch a game after dinner?”

I was on my feet. She looked up, wounded.

“Que pasa? Que hice?”

A mariachi band fired up just then and I took the opportunity to scramble. I had to get away. “Uh, Sidney, this is weird.”

A hand flew to her neck. I couldn’t hear what she was saying over the music. I just started for the door but she chased after me, her voice was pitchy, almost a shriek behind me. “Jason, please, I know you so well. I know you like poetry. Steinbeck more than Hemingway. Grisham over Patterson. Sure, you read Atlas Shrugged, but we can get through it. Please!”

I ran home without stopping. I cut up my library card. In fact, I gave up reading all together.

So now I watch cable. It’s safer that way.

 

 

 

–Pete Fanning/2016

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