If lost is what you’re looking for there’s no better place than the library; the shelves are the perfect hiding spots and the atmosphere is quiet enough to mark the location of any interruption, inside everything is easily avoidable. I didn’t want lost though, my search was for an employee and I simply ended up that way; I wasn’t used to looking for people.
I take a breath, pick up the stack of books I’d set on the desk where the librarian usually was to retrace the aisle where I’d found the majority of my current weight. Dewey Decimal had been completely disregarded; I struggle carrying the books I’d managed to find, and get hot thinking about how I hadn’t been able to locate all that I’d wanted. If I ever catch my breath I plan on giving the first employee I come across a very strong opinion on the matter.
My thoughts race, ‘One stack, two stack, three, four, if I was a criminal I’d be out that door; taxation is theft so stealing library books is getting what’s owed. Even in systems designed to be free dollars end up responsible for knowledge.’
Sometimes I think I’d prefer frustration.
The place seems abandoned, at least as much as my hopes, so I set the books on the ground, sit behind them. I need the rest, close my eyes, absentmindedly thumb a page, another; paper slices through skin. But I don’t care, had I heard something other than my wince? A rustle of a page that I wasn’t responsible for, maybe even a giggle? I stand with my burden and there it is again, a definite laugh from close by.
I go one way but hear a crunch, another laugh and its further away, I turn, speed-walk the edge of the aisles until I find a guy, late-twenties, sitting cross-legged with a chest-sized book across his lap and a half eaten apple in hand. He doesn’t notice me, flips a page and drags the fruit away from his mouth with a squench; juice rain fall, bitten into existence, splattered atop, across, into paper. “Hey!” I try to warn him but it’s too late, he turns the page and smashes blots of wetness into a bigger shape than before.
I shudder. “You cold or something?” He asks after gulping and rubbing his rug-arm hair across lips.
“No.” I look over my shoulder for the librarian, when I turn back the man has apple between teeth; he dog-ears a page then slams his book. “You just ruined ev…why? What makes that okay?”
“Don’t worry, it’s just the numbers.” He stands, when stretched full he casts a shadow over me, “Is there something I can help you with?”
“Have you seen a janitor, anyone that works here?” I’m desperate enough to ask even though I know he hasn’t.
“I haven’t seen Jim lately, or looked in the mirror, but I am the librarian.”
“No you’re not.”
Indignant, he stomps a foot and drops the huge book he’d been holding; its binding rips, the sound sent shockwaves of bumps over my skin. “Why ain’t I?”
“Sorry, I wasn’t trying to be mean, just…” I trail off to pick up the book, only get the cover before I pulled up; my force causes a downward shift in the paper, the glue that’d withstood so many tests of gravity fails – THUNK. I tear my eyes from the white block between us; his eyebrow is arched. “Oh god Esther is going to be so ma-“
“No, you misheard, it was just a vacation; today’s the end. She told me to come back.”
He nods, “O-kay. You’re who she told me about. ‘1st regular in 10 years’ she said, but I never got a name.”
I don’t register a word after ‘retired’. “No, her and I had come to an understanding.” The top book starts to slide off my stack, I do nothing but the ‘librarian’ catches it “Whatever you’d call it.”
“Were you fucking her?” He asks and I want to drop the books I’d held onto to but don’t, respond to his ridiculousness with silence; he continued, “Didn’t think so, and since there’s no penetration, neither of us need to worry. I can help with whatever she did.” I follow him to the desk, he sets down what I’d dropped. “Whaddya’ need?” He asks over the clickclack of him logging into the computer system.
I use the last of my strength to lift the books above the counter, have no choice but to let them SLAM down. “Drop these on my head.”
We can’t see each over the tower I created; the librarian peeks his head over. “What?”
“You said you’d help.” I cross my arms.
“Anything short of fucking I said.” He pushes the books to the side, the tower leans left, totters right then stabilizes. “Senseless violence is past that. Sometimes equal. Just can’t do it.”
“I pay my taxes.”
“You’re an employee of the public. Are you gonna help your people?” The argument had worked with Esther.
“I mean…” He exhales, looks to the ceiling, “Maybe. Tell me why.”
This is my big moment, Upton Sinclair revealing himself to be a journalist, Batman unmasking in front of a crowd of people that know Bruce Wayne; “I was born with the ability to recall the entirety of any book that’s dropped on my head.”
The librarian nods, “How many times have you done it?”
“There isn’t a need to count.”
“Any of those books mention concussions?” He snorts.
I sigh. “Grab a book.”
“Look man, I have stuff I should be-“
“Afraid to be wrong?”
“Don’t be childish.”
I shake my head, “Who’s being childish, me, or you, the person who won’t do what old woman Esther used to?”
“Fine, fine.” He lifts an eyebrow. “How about one of the books you ruined?” I let him get away with not counting what he’d done, “That was the illustrated ‘N’ encyclopedia; we’ll get the ‘M’.”
“There’s no way you were reading an encyclopedia.” I say over his shoulder as we walk.
“You’re ignoring a keyword; I like the pictures.”
I roll my eyes, grumble, “You’re a Neanderthal.”
“Saw one of those.” He veers down an aisle with a ladder rolls it to the end and slides out a book, “Is there a height requirement?”
“Top of the stacks always works.”
“You have gear for this? Goggles, sweatband, neckbrace?”
To answer I crack my neck, line up below; the book is huge, bigger than Esther would’ve let me try but I have confidence in my ability. “I’m waiting.”
“Yeah, like I told the first officer, you can check our cameras, the tapes have sound. He asked me to do it. I don’t know… the lady that worked here before me told the dude was a know-it-all. Who knew that just meant crazy.”