There were five people in my class. Douglas Mandrake, Felicity Garbo, Sienna Chord, Jacob McClintoc, and me. There was also the professor, Dr. Hamilton. He was a wizened old man with a ridiculously long grey goatee and a balding head. He wore penny loafers and lime green socks that showed at least four inches of scrawny ankle before reaching his trousers that hung by black suspenders polka dotted with smiley faces. His shirt was a horrendous rendition of the angel wing collared 70’s-tastic rayon creations that probably never even made it’s way into fashion. His smile, which he tended to leave his dentures out, met his eyes as they gleamed at us. He possessed a cane, a wizards’ staff as our class liked to joke to ourselves, that was carved with all the various forms of plant-life. He was our library instructor. He would send us on rotation to the six libraries in the area, reserving the public library for last.
“It is a treat, students, to work at the public library, for there, the world becomes vastly different from the meanderings of non-fiction. The basic concept, whether you wish to work by Harvard Yenching, Dewey Decimal, Library of Congress, or what have you, is that you must instinctively understand in the fiction world that not all fiction resides in the same spot.” We watched him, just ever so slightly puzzled. Of course fiction ended up in the same spot. It was on the other side of nonfiction, always and forever never to interrupt one another’s paths, as long as you didn’t get into any religious debates, or UFO accounts, supernatural, or those few things that tended to be placed as either historic first hand accounts or subjective “documentary” evidence.
“This week you will each receive the opportunity to go to this state’s largest public library to help the head librarian. She is currently looking for a new apprentice and I, as her good friend, would like to make her proud enough to call one of you hers. She is in the midst of cataloguing a new collection she received three years ago and is going to place that collection in the hands of her new apprentice. It would be a great honor, and I hope you seek this privilege,” he eyed each one of us. It felt like Osiris was weighing my heart against the feather of truth here. I had told myself not to get wrapped into a public library. They were small, usually only up to date on failing young adult fiction and the latest glossy issue of the tabloids. They were seriously underfunded and always needing repairs. I had already found myself a spot in the academic library at the university where I was comfortable. These books were faceless, devoid of character and easily allowed me to escape back to my family in the evenings. Out there, in the wilds of fiction, I might never come back.
I scoffed at my melodramatics. I had fallen down that hole once before, where I could lose myself in a three foot stack of books and finish them all in one day. I swore to myself that I would not do that with my family, that I would be there for my son when he wanted me to see his little league pitch, and my husband when he wanted to show me what new language he had learned for his clients.
I snapped out of my revelry in time to hear Professor Hamilton tell me that I was to see Mrs. Chyril Englewood on Thursday, the last day of the public library experience to provide my services for the cataloguing of the new collection. “Yes, sir,” I responded quickly, acting like I had been paying attention. He eyed me warily before nodding. I knew I could never fool him. He knew it too.
“But mum, why do I have to go to practice this early in the morning?” Dante asked me. We were sitting in the Leaf, it’s cool grey interior enveloping us in an almost clammy atmosphere that morning. My windows continued to fog up as the morning fought its way between the last grips of winter’s chill and the humid kiss of summer’s heat. “We’re so close Dante. I have this last internship. Today is the last day that I have to go to a new job site, and then for the rest of this semester I’ll be able to drive you to practice at the regular time,” I reached over and hugged the copper headed boy. He tugged on his ball cap, trying to duck under my reach. His curls sprung up underneath it. “K, mum,” he grumbled as he tugged at his backpack and lunchbag. “I love-” the door clicked shut, “you…” I tried to say. It had been hard on him, my irregular schedule. I was trying to complete my classes, homework, tests and my portfolio and it left little room for my little pitcher. Three more weeks of actual classes, and this one last day of internship work and I’d be done. I’d be able to spend a few days with him while I went to find work at a library, seeing as work at the university library had just been a temporary work-study program, and then it would be a regular schedule.
I breathed a tedious sigh. This had been quite the set of years. I flicked the windshield wipers over once more in a futile hope of getting more of the vapors on the glass to dissipate. I leaned my head against the headrest. The bite of my hairclip pinched into my scalp. Closing my eyes I could hear a slight grinding sound coming from the engine. Today was not a good day to be having engine trouble on top of everything else. I had been able to finish the last of my homework assignments, all that was left was this last day of interning, then dead week, then my presentation of my Thesis. I had a hard copy of my second to final draft…and to my utter bitterness, last night, when I had finally finished typing up all of my edits that I had meticulously handwritten on that draft, well wouldn’t you know it, my computer crashed. Hard core. Like it’s never coming back from those death throes. I should have known better than to run that machine for so long. I had been using it since probably high school and hadn’t upgraded the software. I could hear my husband now when he would get home this weekend from his conference in California. “Now can I run Linux on it?” Oh he would be so eager. It wasn’t that I was against the new software. I had learned how to deal with all the various forms of search engines, cataloguing databases, and websites for Library studies, EBSCOhost and such what nots…but I still didn’t care for the unfamiliar. Linux scared me to no end. At least with Windows, I knew why it was crashing, because it was Windows and I was running a super old version of it, which was my fault. However, with Linux, if that thing crashed, or started acting funny, I wouldn’t have a single clue as to what was happening. I guess I needed to get a grip.
I opened my eyes to find Dante staring at me through the window. I rolled it down, wondering what was up. “I forgot my phone,” Dante said as he reached inside for his smartphone. He dodged off, waving to his teammates before I could say anything to him.
I still couldn’t believe at his age we had let him get a smartphone. I felt safer knowing he could get ahold of me in case of an emergency. I liked it that he could listen to his favorite music if he wanted, or read a book. Still…an elementary school kid with a smartphone? I remembered growing up and I was in my Sophomore year of high school when I finally got a cell phone. Not even a really good one. It was one of those pay up front phones that you got out of the sales aisle at the grocery store and put minutes on it. I had it when for once I decided to hang out with my friends and the Senior of the group who had the only car discovered that she had completely dumped all the transmission fluid out ten miles from home and twenty miles from my place. We ended up hunting down our arch-enemy (I call him arch enemy because he was a pompous idiot that liked to call me four-eyes) in the trailer park that we were able to scoot the car into and made him let us use his landline to call my folks and her folks to come pick us up. Yeah, then I was told that I could only use my phone for emergencies when stuff like that happened. My folks didn’t like me using the land line because it cost them money, so…well, no social life after that really.
If I wanted it so badly, I was always told that I could go and get a job if I wanted to have a real cell phone, or fashionable clothes, or go to a party. If I got a job I could have the money to buy all the trinkets at the field trips and afford the uniforms for soccer. I never really wanted to work, because I didn’t want to flip burgers or stock shelves. I wanted to sit in my room and read. My folks weren’t being unnecessarily harsh – now that I look back on it, they just wanted to teach me the value of money and also the fact that we had moved half-way across country in the middle of my junior high years, dropped their old jobs, found new ones that paid them only half what they had been making and our house was a renovation nightmare that ate into their budget hardcore. But they were happy, which when your parents are happy, usually you can be happy too.
By that point the mist on the windows had finally dissipated and I could see the sun coming up over the baseball field fence. I knew it. I was going to be late to my internship opportunity. Not the best move when one wants to get hired off the bat. I had dressed in the typical hire-me-now-I’m-desperate uniform of a black past-the knee length pencil skirt, tucked-in white blouse and black tailored jacket with nylons and low black pumps. My hair had been pulled up, like I had been taught long ago and I had my golden heart-locket on for good luck. My husband had given it to me as a present when Dante was born as a congratulation and I had my boys’ pictures in there.
I threw the car into reverse and backed out of my parking space. The radio djs were talking about the middle east wars. Such a depressing topic, I told myself as I flicked the volume to mute. I pushed the car into drive and eased my way out of the baseball lot and the amassement of students that were slowly filling into the elementary school for various other extracurricular early morning activities. One little girl in a pink jumper tripped in front of me. Her books went flying, Dr. Seuss and Frank L Baum all over the road. Oh boy, this is turning into a long day. I stopped and waited patiently as her friends helped her collect her pencils and erasers and books off the road while the safety attendant held up traffic on the other side of the road.
It didn’t take them more than a minute to pick up everything, but I could still feel the tension in the back of my neck as I kept staring at the car clock as the seconds ticked by. I knew that getting on the road any later that 7:34 would mean serious back up at every light to the Public Library that was in downtown. I had, after several years of traveling down the same road to my husband’s work and Dante’s daycare, discovered when all the lights on Broadway Lane turned green and you could drive all the way down six blocks before hitting the next red light. Just my luck. I hit every red light all the way to the Public Library.
I parked the car in the rear of the library, in staff-parking. I had received my pass that I hung on my rear-view mirror that let me park there so that I wouldn’t get a ticket. I picked up my purse and my portfolio that contained my crisp, newly printed this morning letter of recommendation and resume. My heels clicked down the back stair case. The place looked empty. The back hall was small, sterile. It was a muted grey-yellow with beige carpet. The place smelled of fresh paint and condensation. Some of the ceiling tiles showed signs of water damage and mold growth. My face soured. Such was the life of the Public Library, the last entity in the state to get decent funding. Schools weren’t having any better luck. I guess the big-wigs didn’t believe that education and opportunities for academic growth were useful towards career development. That showed evidence just by the price of undergraduate and graduate studies programs. My mind raced down bunny trails as my eyes followed signs pointing me to the front of the building.
Finally, I emerged from the back hallway into the stacks. The shelves were enormous, standing at least fifteen feet high, all grey metal with sliding ladders on each one. These held research material, journals, encyclopedias, the general material that was not to leave the library under any circumstance. I continued through the stacks and noticed a shift in temperature and light. I had entered the main rotunda where the stacks turned into fifteen foot mahogany shelves. Little brass plaques under the directory cards indicated that the shelves had been a donation by the local carpentry club, funded by a D.W. Simil. Not bad, I told myself as I eyed the decorative dovetail joints. Brass rolling steps were mounted to each shelf. The smell had changed from paint and condensation mold to my favorite smell, print and book dust. It smelled of home and memories. It didn’t help that I had taken over the entire dining room with bookcases back home and turned it into a personal library, so yes, it actually did smell of home.
I spotted the centralized desk in the middle of the rotunda. It was bright and airy, and distinctly warm. It didn’t help that it was directly under a three story skylight. Once at the desk I was able to look around. It was empty and quiet. The sun had burned the room golden, but that was starting to yellow as it moved on. Above the racks and recessed back over the metal stacks was another two floors to the library with more shelves that wrapped about half way around the rotunda. On the western wall was the grand double door entrance and a massive stained glass window over it with small niche windows cut out sporadically all the way up that wall. I looked at the stained glass window in amazement. In it were warped so many characters from classic novels that I recognized that it was almost dizzying. There was Dracula and Captain Hook, Alice from Wonderland, The Tin Man and Toto, Curious George, Red Fish and Blue Fish, Pierre, and many many more. It didn’t gleam across the library, but I knew about the time lunch rolled around that the library would be bathed in blues and reds and greens. How had I never been in this library before?
“Mrs. Oppenheimer, I presume?” A shrill, cold voice snuck down my spine. I spun around and closed my mouth, knowing that I had been gapping at that window. I found a shrewish woman in a pink sweater cardigan and baby blue button up shirt with fawn brown pants and impossibly white high heels. Her black hair was cut in a bob and thin green rhinestone glasses hung from a beaded chain. She actually was not bad looking. She appeared to be a retired pageant queen really. She had the high cheek bones and the full lips with moderately symmetrical eyes and decent make up.
I was intimidated at once. “You are Ms. Cheryl Englewood?” I asked, trying to throw out timid in the trash and put assertive in it’s place, but knew I was failing miserably.
The woman’s grey-green eyes twinkled. “No, I am Ms. Krimshaw. I am currently covering for Mrs. Englewood while she is away on um, an errand. We hope she will be back by the end of the month,” the woman answered.
My brows furrowed as I processed her statement. “Yes, ma’am,” I responded, not asking any questions, which I wasn’t sure if that was the best way to answer, but I also wasn’t sure if I should pry. The woman had made it sound like a delicate matter, and sometimes, though just trying to be polite, I found out about things that I would have rather not known.
“You are the first to not question me about Ms. Englewood. We will see how you do. If you can keep up with me today, I will take your letter of introduction and resume that you have in your portfolio and look it over this evening. Please, follow me,” she motioned for me to come back around the desk to check in and give me a badge.
“Dr. Hamilton mentioned work on cataloguing a shipment of books?” I asked, trying to show that I understood why I was there.
Ms. Krimshaw glanced at me over her glasses, unimpressed. She sighed. She sounded disgusted with me already. Was I really that late? “Yes, yes. Your colleagues asked the same question. Here,” she handed me my name badge. I tacked it onto my business jacket pocket and followed the woman out of the circulation desk. “The books are in the backrooms. We received a shipment under donation from Simil. He’s the guy who gave us all the shelves you see here,” she motioned to the wooden shelves stacked high with books. “He’s always sending us donations, but this? This is a little beyond us,” Ms. Krimshaw ducked through a hallway that was hidden at the north side of the rotunda and unlocked a door. She pushed it open and watched my face when she hit the lightswitch.
Shock and awe. It was like finding the Arc of the Covenant, and then realizing that there were snakes everywhere. I was looking at a room the size of a small aircraft hanger and it was stacked with wooden crates of books from floor to ceiling in five double rows down the center of the floor. I could live in this room for the rest of my life sorting books and probably not get half of it done. “Yeah, Douglas left after he saw this. Felicity actually threw up on my shoes – those were Roger Vivier. I think I honestly could have shot something. Jacob gave it a half go and got through about ten books before heading to lunch and not coming back. Sienna didn’t even show up. She apparently was forewarned about this, where as it looks like no one cared enough to tell you,” Ms. Krimshaw stared me down, her eyes begging me to turn tail and run. I could tell that my face had drained of color. It was that funny numb feel like when you hadn’t moved in a long time. I took a steadying, deep breath and looked at her. Make it or break it, I wanted a job, and I was here to get a grade, so I might as well tough it out.
“Where will all of these books go when they are catalogued?” I asked her, taking a tentative step into the room. I felt the air temperature drop. The room was climate controlled and moderately dry. They didn’t want mold to grow or the spines to crack. Someone knew how to store books.
“Simil left us with instructions that if we could get the first two crates catalogued, that he would put in for the raising of a fourth and fifth floor to the building to accommodate all of these books and that we could then use this room for all of the children’s picture books he had waiting,” Ms. Krimshaw lead me over to the first crate. On the side in dripping black letters was stamped DWSimil. My heart sank. That was going to be quite a tedious job. I tried to regain my composure.
“What will we do with the first two crates of catalogued books?” I ventured a peak into the open box. On top lay new shiny hardback jackets for Rick Riordan and Frank Herbert. I picked up the first book on the pile, The Son of Neptune. I had just finished reading that book to Dante the week before. I smiled.
“You seem amused,” Ms. Krimshaw looked tired.
“I just read this to Dante. He likes Percy. I’ve read him all of the books, and the Kane kids. I like them to. They get to meet gods. Riordan also actually does his research, so his material is pretty believable,” I told her, my fingers gliding over the embossed letters.
“Hmph. Well, for now, we’re moving what we can into the stacks. Riordan, seeing as you’ve read him anyway, as you know, goes in the young adult and Herbert goes in Adult Sci-Fi,” she told me. She picked up Chapter House and looked it up and down like a piece of meat.
“I’ve read that one too. I like Dune and Children of Dune the best out of all of them, but Chapter House is pretty good,” I was trying to make conversation, anything.
“Really, what about this,” she asked, handing me Holes. I had never read the book, but it wouldn’t hurt to open it.
“No, I haven’t read it yet. Classic literature was never really my forte,” I told her as I went to flip through the page. Ms. Krimshaw stopped me. I looked up at her, a little perplexed.
“Might just read that on your lunch break, alright. We need to get to work. Beatrix is already here. She was getting coffee up in the lounge but will take over the circulation desk for us for now.” I watched as she bustled over to a computer that I hadn’t noticed in the corner right next to the door. She turned it on and it flicked over to a black screen with green letters. It was all I could do to keep from groaning. The thing was ancient. It had to be from the early 2000s at least, if not maybe 1998, but that would be pushing it.
She typed in a few command lines and a table popped up. She dug out a stack of indexing cards and the small cataloguing typewriter that was hidden in the computer cabinet. With a flip, the end of the cabinet raised up to make a tiny table that she was able to set the typewriter on. I was not good with typewriters. Somehow my lines always went screwy. “Well, here you are, Mrs. Oppenheimer. Your lunch break is at 12 sharp. You can find everything you need for putting on the jacket covers, the stickers, and our alarm tags for inside the spine in the little closet over there,” she pointed to the complete opposite end of the room. There was a storage locker tucked behind a pile of books that looked half completed. This was going to be a freakishly long day.
“Good luck,” Ms. Krimshaw waved to me as she headed out the door. I heard the latch click. I panicked for all of two seconds as I dashed to the door. The handle gave way and the door swung open with easy. My face was washed with warm, humid air. I guess the door wasn’t locked, the jam was just loud. It probably wasn’t a good indication that I was already terrified about this job if I was afraid that my boss had locked me in the room.
I stared at the warehouse full of books around me. It boggled the mind to try and imagine just how many books were probably in that room. I kicked my heels off and put them neatly under the computer desk so that I wouldn’t lose track of them and dug myself into my job. I decided to finish the job at the end of the room where the stacks of partially bound books were accumulating dust.
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