Locked with HimBy: Ellen Dominick
If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino.
I picked up the slim book, brushing the dust off its cover. A train rushed towards me in the illustration, billowing smoke behind it. This was an original 1981 edition. Signed by Calvino himself. I was lucky to even be touching it.
The pages flopped open in my hands and that smell of paper and ink hit me in the face. How many times would I have read it then? Five? Six?
It didn't matter. One of the perks of being a librarian was that you never needed a library card.
The stacks were so quiet that I could spend my days reading book after book, undisturbed. It was like having an unlimited pass to all the literature I could ever want.
The sharp sound of stiff, crisp pages hung in the air. No one ever wanted the books that were down here. Everyone hung out upstairs, where the popular books were shelved. That's where dozens of copies of Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter were shelved.
But down here? I only ever saw anyone if they were lost. Normally some young kids looking for the bathroom. Every now and again there would be a nerdy graduate student, looking for some obscure tome. If they were guys, they'd never be able to look me in the eyes. If they were girls, they ignored me and tried to navigate the maze of the stacks on their own. Good luck with that.
Of course, most of the time they never thought I was the librarian. I guess brown skin and books are not supposed to mix. Sorry for not being skinny, pale, and bespectacled.
I gently pressed the book open, trying not to crack the spine. I smoothed the pages down, passing my hand over the paper. It was time to start reading.
"You're still here, Penny?"
I jerked my head up. Right when I was getting started…
"Oh, hi Linda," I said. I started to put my head down again when I finally processed what she said. "Wait, why wouldn't I be here?"
I grabbed my phone off my desk and checked the time. It was nowhere near closing hours.
"You don't know?" Linda asked. Then, after a moment she hit her forehead with her palm. "You've been cooped up down here all day haven't you?"
"It's only supposed to be the worst freak blizzard in the last 50 years. It's supposed to snow over 3 feet!" Linda said. "Almost everybody's already gone home. I figured you were gone, but I wanted to come and check. Good thing I did."
Linda glowered down at me, with her hands on her hips. She was already decked out in her coat and snow boots. Obviously, she was ready to get out of here.
"So," Linda said," you coming?"
"Go on ahead without me. I have to check for stragglers anyway," I said. "You know how they get lost down here."
"You sure?" She said. "I don't need to read on the news tomorrow morning that you got trapped in here all alone."
"Don't worry about me, I'm a big girl. And don't you have to go pick up your little sister from school? She shouldn't be out in this weather."
"Fine," Linda said. "But pinky swear that you'll be careful."
"Pinky swear? What are we, in elementary school?"
"No, but I know you won't beak a promise."
She was right. Linda knew me for all of my life. All twenty-two years. I didn't break promises.
"Fine," I said.
We hooked our pinkies together and hugged.
"See you after the storm," Linda said.
I waved goodbye as she walked down the long corridor of the stacks and went upstairs.
The large doors slammed, echoing throughout the library. Then I was alone again. Just me and the books.
I leaned back in my chair and stretched my arms wide. Honestly, I wasn't in a hurry to get back home. My tiny apartment was okay, but it wasn't anything compared to the rows and rows of books surrounding me in the stacks.
There, the walls were so thin that I couldn't sleep because of my neighbors bumping and grinding throughout the night. Here it was so quiet I could miss a snowstorm. Which would you prefer?
Still, no one wants to get caught in a blizzard. So I had to make my way home. I stood up and walked to the farthest edge of the stacks.
That area was really deserted. We were lucky to have it. It had old first editions and even original manuscripts, all open to the public. Not that it mattered, because I hadn't ever seen a library patron back there even once.