Born under a rock, Mitch was covered with slime and green stuff.
A lively tapping, once over and then over again. A march, really; an index finger and stiletto pencil demarcating passing time, slowly scoring and gouging a dog-eared copy of In Our Time. My mind strolled the static tables, taking quiet note of pairs and singles and beehive groups trekking across a scholar's wasteland; straining eyes scanning stacks, removing volumes, frowning and replacing them. Always, it seems, they scramble unsure in the wake of the proper words, hoping someday to overtake them. I absent-mindedly grasped a cardboard-sleeved, sub-par Starbucks coffee blend I'd picked up at the campus store for an egregious price, and, once again, tried to take a drink from a cup I'd emptied hours earlier. I was supposed to be researching the eleventh century Investiture Conflict in the Holy Roman Empire. I chose to waste my time in thought. I regret nothing.
At the table next to me, an average-sized, bespectacled, clean-cut young man surreptitiously searched for the hand of the girl sitting next to him. She tried to hide her smile as she found his, their hands interlocking. He leaned over confidently and whispered in her ear. She laughed, at first surprised and loud, and then abashed and quiet. The look she shot him expressed mirth and chastisement. A pretty young brunette walked by, glancing inquisitively at the couple and then the empty seats across from them. He nodded imperceptibly; she grimaced and released his hand. I returned my attention to the poor copy of Hemingway's prose and resumed the cadence.
Tap, ta-ta-tap, ta-ta-tap-tap-tap, tap, tap, ta-ta-ta-ta-tap.
A few more seconds; gone. I supposed my eyes swim in an inky sea in perpetual search for equilibrium; constant insomnia had poked holes in the deck, but still, somehow, I remain afloat, adrift, awake. The librarian bit her lip in silent contemplation as she handled the returns with deft familiarity. She sorted them swiftly on to a small fleet of metal racks, with the occasional heavy tome prompting a wheel to squeak in protest. An awkward student approached the circulation desk, his eyes scanning the area as if there were more than that one sedulous woman. He spoke softly, but I could imagine it quite clearly. Excuse me, ma'am. Yes? Her brow furrowed in well-concealed secret irritation. How can I help you? I have a fine to pay. Her eyebrow cocked in homage to that ancient librarian conflict between needing money and needing books on time. She typed a name quickly into the system; Dviorak, or Dumas, or Dostoyevsky.
The traffic outside passed intermittently, their frequency dictated by the lights outside the laundromat. East Johnson is only rarely deadlocked, and today, Sunday, it hummed happily along. I reached the final word with a relieved sigh. Wading through The Brothers Karamazov is swimming in the rip tide. I did admire Alyosha, though; the pure impossibility of his existence fascinated me. A virgin in every sense to every sin in every eye, and, by virtue of that, entirely sinful. I shut the cover as the buzzer dinged, rising from my seat to leave Dostoyevsky forever across from me.
Hello? Mitch? Suddenly back in the library. Oh! Hello! Sorry, I was totally lost in thought. What's up? Haven't seen you in ages. Oh, not much, same ol', same ol'. Her demeanor and her conversation begged an obvious question. She spoke it. Do you have a pencil I could use? Or a pen? Or whatever? Or whatever? Well, it just so happens I have a quill made from the extinct heath hen and an inkwell of the finest iron gall around here somewhere. I rummaged through my backpack. I just hope it hasn't spilled! She giggled, but it sounded force. I found an weathered Bic pen and reached to give it to her, but it slipped from my fingers and to the floor. We reached to grab it at the same time, and my head, face down, made an accidental thud as it landed softly on her chest. I jerked back in surprise; she did the same. She giggled nervously; this time not so forced. I smiled amused, and joked, Geez. I hardly even know you. She waltzed off gracefully.
Across the reference desk a group of four gathered in casual debate, bouncing ideas off each other with indifferent difficulty. No one wanted to be there, doing that, and in their present company. One guy shifted his weight anxiously from one sandaled foot to the other, trying to nonchalantly get a glimpse down his neighbor's v-necked carmine sweater. She acted as if unaware, although it appeared as if she was shrinking shorter...and shorter...and shorter. The corners of her mouth crept upwards coyly, her breathing increased, and her obviously blue eyes obtained a peculiar glint. A boy, tall and lank, accoutered in hooded, zippered sweatshirt, observed with invisible amusement, all the while shuffling wrinkled papers from arm to arm. The fourth, a short, downcast girl, paid none of them much attention. From beneath heavy mascara and thick eyeliner, she either stared beyond me...or at me.
I should visit the library more often.