This is a continuation of a story that began at: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/01/09/teaser-to-a-novel/
Part 2 can be found at: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/01/13/novels-teaser-part-2/
Part 3 can be found at: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/novels-teaser-part-3/
Part 4 can be found at: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/novels-teaser-part-4/
Part 5 can found at: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/novels-teaser-part-5/
Although I feel “on a roll” writing-wise, this will likely be the last installment of this tale for a while. Reality demands attention.
SYNOPSIS: The character “Nig” is adding a final postscript to a enormously long letter to his friend “Kaff” in South Africa, describing the America he has returned to after spending a year away. (The two teens have devised a shorthand that allows them to write with the frenetic speed of their thoughts.) Because the letter has consumed so much time, “Nig” has been unable to keep a diary, so he wants to make a copy of the letter at the local library before he sends it.
This postscript demonstrates how Nig cannot even go make some copies at a copy machine without turning it into a tale. Most do not approve of this tale-telling behavior, and call it a “tendency” of Nig’s, however his friend Kaff does approve, and calls it an “ability”
Even when I walked into the library, just before closing, I still had a big smile pasted across my face, and of course Lilac noticed.
Most folk call Lilac “Widow Stetson,” and she’s one of a crew of librarians who have never changed since my mother took me to get my first Library Card at age three. They are something people in Weston joke about. In fact, back when I was still little, I over-heard Deacon Paulson joke to old Myles, the Unitarian Minister, that the library’s air must be full of formaldehyde, cos no one in there ever got any older. Old Myles laughed he wasn’t sure about that, but agreed Widow Stetson had looked fifty-five back when she was widowed at age thirty-nine, and still looked fifty-five now, as she pushed seventy.
If I was eight when I heard that, and am eighteen now, Lilac must now be pushing eighty, but she still looks the same. Same out-of-fashion clothes, tiny blue details on white, crisp and clean and looking brand new. Same old face, without make-up and with silver-rimmed glasses. Same big nose. Same sharp blue eyes. Same hairstyle from 1898, sort of like an upside-down pyramid, getting wider and wider to a flat top, so she still looms taller than me and can make me feel about five, even though my eyes are three inches taller than hers, now. There’s never a hair out of place, in that hairstyle, and it is thick, snowy hair, but there is one thing about her hair that does change. You would never call her hair anything but gray hair, but sometimes it’s got tints of sky blue in it, and other times it’s faintly cobalt, or even a daring mist of maroon, but usually it is a sort of lilac tint, which is why I call the lady “Lilac.” Not to her face, of course, but when I talk about Lilac with my friends they all know whom I’m talking about. I haven’t a clue what her real first name is.
. Lilac’s weird, cos she never looks like she approves of me, but is always interested in what I’m up to. I used to think she was only interested so she could tell me to stop it, but now I think I just puzzle her, and she likes a puzzle even if she doesn’t approve of it.
Anyway I walked in chuckling to myself, and right off the bat Lilac commented that I seemed awful pleased about something, and without really thinking, as familiar as can be, I just told her I was glad I didn’t have to solve other people’s problems. She didn’t look like she approved of that answer, yet at the same time there was a glint of warmth in her old eyes, and all of a sudden it occurred to me I hadn’t walked into that library since before I went to Scotland, and hadn’t seen her in over a year, but everything was exactly the same. I really liked it that nothing had changed, cos maybe I’m getting a little fed up with everything being so different, and a warm feeling made me smile, and suddenly I realized I was still very stoned.
That got me feeling shy, and maybe a bit paranoid, so I turned to the copier and tried to look business-like, but I was actually looking around the place and thinking how I sometimes used to just about live there at times, when I was a kid.
As you go in the door there’s brass spittoons to either side which I guess guys used to actually spit in, and then to your left’s a Victorian reading room, a cavern with high windows and ceilings like a church, and to your right’s a counter with absurdly huge, round wooden pillars like Greek columns on either side, and absurdly stern librarians behind the counter, and straight ahead is the copier, looking ridiculously out of place. Beyond it is an “L” heading off over the hillside, totally jammed with tall shelves of books. Under the “L” is a children’s library downstairs, where I actually used to spend most of my time, cos it was warmer and cozy and had a sunny window seat with cushions. I didn’t like going upstairs cos it was colder and had no cushions and also seemed full of old people’s vibes, while downstairs didn’t feel that way. There were downstairs librarians who were younger and more cheerful, and upstairs librarians who all seemed frosty when I went up. Lilac seemed the only librarian who worked both floors.
I didn’t much like Lilac cos she always noticed when a book was even one day late. The fine is only two cents a day, but two pennies was a lot when my allowance was a nickel a week. A nickel could buy me a candy bar, but when I went to the Library, which was usually during the drab days after Christmas at winter, I hardly ever got to buy a candy bar, and it was all Lilac’s fault.
Also Lilac caught me every time I damaged a book, which was pretty often. Sometimes I’d leave a book up in my tree house and it would get rained on, or I’d be eating as I read and spill a bowl of black bean soup into the open pages, and sometimes I didn’t even know how I’d done it; the binding would just be split or pages would be loose. That was partly because I was always taking out odd, old and brittle books, and sometimes those books were fragile and it wasn‘t my fault they fell apart. They‘d‘ve fallen apart even if Lilac took them out, but Lilac still stuck it to me.
I’d often take out the limit, which was six books at a time, and Lilac would always frown when she saw me bring them back, and would go through them carefully, so I never even got away with even a drop of cocoa on a page. For a while I owed the library so much money that they wouldn’t let me take out books any more, but that just meant Lilac had to put up with me hanging around until closing, which was five o’clock downstairs and nine o’clock upstairs, which meant that lots of times I’d just take a downstairs book upstairs so I could keep reading. It was against the rules to take a downstairs book upstairs, but once I was into a book I couldn’t put it down, so I’d break the rules. I’d hide the book under my coat and tiptoe up a back stair that was wicked steep and curved, like stairs in a Dunrobin turret, and at the top I’d crack the door and wait until no upstairs librarian was near, and then dart into the back “L,” and keep on reading. So I reckon it was the Library and its rules that first made me a law-breaker.
I tended to read in binges. Sometimes I just couldn’t stand to be indoors and Lilac wouldn’t see me for months, and then suddenly I’d need a place to hide. Most bullies don’t follow you into libraries, and I could just read until my eyes couldn’t take it any more.
Lots of times Lilac didn’t approve of what I was researching. I think that was because one of the first things I researched wasn’t a book but the beautiful, bronze statues of Greek gods that were up on the high windowsills of the children’s room. They were all stark naked, but most were discreetly turned so you couldn’t see between their legs, but when I was around five curiosity got the better of me and I climbed up the shelves to get a better view, and Lilac caught me. I don’t think she ever trusted my research after that.
When I was on a reading binge I used to read every book in a series, rapid-fire. For example there were something like thirty Thornton Burgess kiddy books about Reddy the Fox and other animals, and I went through them like a Wrenchhead going through a case of beer. Lilac seemed to disapprove, as if I was wolfing and scoffing down gourmet food without tasting it.
She didn’t like it when I got involved in baseball books, cos in both the upstairs books and downstairs books other boys had scrawled rude and even pornographic cartoons in ballpoint pen, and she couldn’t tell if I had added any new ones. She also didn’t like it when I got involved in woodcraft, cos they had a great collection of books by Earnest Thompson Seton, some from before 1900, and I took them all out into the woods. I wondered where else you were suppose to take books about woodcraft, but Lilac didn’t like grass stains on the pages, and a smear of fish guts really got her mad.
One time I got interested in the books in the girl’s section. Lilac didn’t mind so much when I read the “Little House In The Prairie” series in something like three days, but I went on to read a whole series of romance books for schoolgirls. I just wanted to know how girls thought, but Lilac gave me a disapproving frown, when I took them out six at a time every day for a week or so, when I was thirteen. Usually she asked a few questions about what I was researching, but she had no questions when I took out those girl’s books, and I got only stony silence as I went through that phase.
I was always interested in war, but one time I got fascinated by the advertisements in the wartime National Geographics. The library had every National Geographic ever printed, and they were kept upstairs. I think they were up there because downstairs schoolboys were very interested in pictures of African boobs. In fact the entire staff acted very suspicious every time I went to look at the old National Geographics. Lilac probably figured she knew what I was looking at, and sometimes she was right, but another time I was honestly only interested in the wartime advertisements, because they were so weird. I must have told Lilac what I was looking at, because she would never touch the subject of what boys looked for in National Geographic’s with a ten-foot pole, but I do remember her giving me an incredulous look as I commented on the wartime ads.
Then, when I was a senior in high school, I started taking out every book I could find about drugs. There were lots of rich doctors living in Weston, so the upstairs library had some good references. At that time lots of other kids were snitching their parent’s pills, and I was pretty worried and wanted to know what the hell they were taking. That was one time I felt guilty, and even a little like I deserved Lilac’s disapproval, but all the rest of the time I didn’t care a hoot what she thought, nor even consider she might be measuring my character by what I read. After all, she was just a librarian, and who cares what a librarian thinks?
But now it hit me that maybe I did care what she thought, as I stood there clicking a handful of quarters by the copier, stoned out of my gourd. I had the weirdest feeling of nostalgia, which didn’t make any sense, cos how can you feel nostalgic about something you haven’t even left? But I didn’t get to think about what I was feeling, cos suddenly Lilac was at my elbow. I figured she was going to tell me it was closing time and I had to leave, but instead I heard her telling me the copier doesn’t take quarters any more: now it ran on dimes. That astonished me, cos the price of everything else went up while I was in Scotland. I was too stoned to calculate quickly, and she seemed impatient, so maybe they were closing after all. With asperity she asked me how many copies I had to make, and looked down at my letter to you, so of course she sees all the squiggles of our secret shorthand. Her face takes a real critical expression, and she looks at me and asks me “Is that Arabic?” I say, “It’s shorthand,” and then blush and feel I need to explain, and blurt out, “Sometimes my hand can’t keep up with my brain.” She gives me this real incredulous expression, and I’m thinking it is probably because my brain is crawling at two miles an hour, and its pretty absurd to talk of it going too fast. She then pries open my fingers, takes eight quarters, and hands me twenty dimes, closing my fingers when she’s through. Then, as she’s walking away, she mentions, “Anything over twenty-five copies and the price goes down to five cents a copy.”
I tell you it was hard making copies when I was so stoned. The dimes kept slipping from my fingers and rolling away on the floor, and I kept blushing more and more, as Lilac watched me with that critical look. I was glad to get out of there.
And that is the end of my big adventure, which I will sarcastically call “How Hard It Is To Go Make Copies.”
So now I have made a copy of this entire letter except this last part. So you’d better save this part, for when I become famous. You have the only copy. However the postage for this letter will just about bankrupt me, so I’d better get to work on some serious art. Already the morning is half-past, and from now on I’m getting serious, writing-wise. No more of this fun stuff, writing to you, which will never earn anyone a cent.
Forgive me if this writing is a long-winded bore. If it is, get revenge by writing an even longer letter back to me, about your own life.
PS It’s now the afternoon of July 20 and I am just heading out to mail this cos it took me that long to scrape together airmail postage but I thought I’d check the mailbox first. Got your half page note of the 18th.
You’ve got a lot of nerve, you bum. Here I write a book to you, but you don’t even tell me what you’re up to in your measly half page. Instead you pester like Pest, bugging me for a copy of “The Party Woods.”
All I can say is there’s no money in that drivel. I’ve got to focus on lyrics for songs. Now quit bugging me for that and write me a longer letter.
(Continued at https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2015/03/07/novels-teaser-part-7/ )