Cora ran her fingers through her coarsely curled coiffure. Her once a month regularly permed, roller set and stiffly sprayed hairdo, like her life, was coming unglued. Even her starched white blouse tucked into her pleated, belted and understated black slacks showed signs of disrepair. Her cuffs, frayed at the edges and tattooed from the ink in her stamp pad, no longer in its normal spot, next to her piles of library pockets, but tossed in the bottom of a brown carton resting on the floor near her feet, her perfectly sensible feet in her perfectly sensible regulation black lace up rubber soled leather shoes. Library shoes. Her walk softly and carry a big Shhh shoes.
Cora ran the feather duster over the empty shelves with one hand, using her free hand to sweep the dust from her eyes. It was the dust, she told herself, that made her weep. Just the dust. And the emptiness. The bittersweet mixture of shelves symmetrically lined up like domino soldiers, that with the slightest breath, could lean back one into the other, into each others arms, trusting that someone, something, would break their fall. The bittersweet mixture of slightly mildewed air and the hush hush hush of the carpeted rooms now empty and still. The silent sunset streamed through the half moon window pane catching the dust motes by surprise in their unexpected afternoon shower.
In the corner, the Card Catalog stood sturdy and strong. The heavy oak cabinet lined with drawers
decorated on each end with a brass pull and brass plate. A to An...D to Di...Z to Zo. A to Z.
The M to Mi drawer sticking out as in M for Mutiny and beckoning to Cora. Earlier, Cora had
cleaned out all the cards and filed them in shoe boxes next to the carton on the floor with
her stamp pad and pockets. As she went to push in the drawer, she noticed one card she must
have missed, still standing, held in place by the brass rod that slid through the bottom of
all the cards in each drawer. She almost ripped it out, but the librarian in her shuddered
at the thought, so she carefully unscrewed the brass knob on the front of the drawer and
slid the card out. Ah! A Title Card. Death Of A Salesman. Author. Henry Miller.
Subject: The Illusion Of Success
Cora takes several slow studied sensible steps in her sensible soft soled shoes to the check out
counter. Laying the card down, she pulls out a card from the stack in the box, turns it over
and with a black felt tip pen X's out the front, flips the card over and writes. C to Co.
Title. Death Of A Librarian. Author. Unknown Subject: Out Of Circulation. Cora places the card on the counter, gathers up her carton and shoe boxes, stuffs the feather duster into her pocket, pulls down the shade on the front door, pausing only long enough to see the tail end of the loop in gold gilt paint, the "Y" in Library, as she turns her key in the lock and raises one hand in the air to wave her last good-bye. "Y" she thinks. "Why?"
Cora lives in a small town, made smaller still by the new highway and the bypass that has passed them all by. One by one businesses close, foot traffic a thing of the past, even the elementary school two blocks down from the library is shuttered since it merged with the local co-op. Al, the grocer on the corner, can barely compete with the new store out on the highway with its endless aisles and gas pumps and wi-fi cafe.
Cora knows the importance of new technology. The need for invention. The thirst for knowledge and new solutions for old problems. The ebb and flow of economics. The rise and fall of the dollar. The fickleness of fashion. The history of trends and fads and failures. The rise of civilization. The mixture of cultures and the evolution of industry. The recycling of the old with the new. The speed of the passing of time. The effort to keep up. To be current. Cora's mind was not tired. Cora's thinking was current. Truly, Cora's mind was buzzing.
Cora is a librarian. A book keeper. A volume master. A registrar of words. Lit from within by Literature. The written word. The stories. The tales. The Fiction and the Non. History, Architecture, Music and Dance. Atlases and Maps. Guides, How-To, Cookbooks for Living. Comfortable words for grieving. Deep dangerous details of mystery and intrigue. Light hearted comedies and silly stories for the beach.
Author. Title. Subject.
But a library, Cora knew, is not simply a repository for books. A library is a living, breathing, give and take, to and fro, seek and ye shall find soul searching soul soothing comfort inn. A quiet place, indeed. Outside voices hushed and inside on the shelves voices longing to be heard, waiting for someone to pick me, just pick me. Lured in by the title on the spine, or the color of the book jacket, or the font in the text, or the coziness of a familiar author, the intrigue of a sensitive subject, and often just a random grab. A stab in the dark. A quirk. A tease.
In days long past, Cora maintained the decorum, the hushed silence, the whispers, and the reverence for the books in her care. But Cora was more than a librarian, she was a champion story teller. Cora could captivate the young minds and hearts seated on the floor in a semi circle on Saturday mornings when she read to them of Pooh, or the Giving Tree, the wonders of Roald Dahl and the maniacal magic of Willie Wonka. Her voice took on the characteristics of the characters and her face transformed the verbiage into real life drama.
She studied with the ESL learners as they struggled with the vagaries of the English Language, pulled heavy reference tomes for the college bound and the maps and atlases for the happy wanderers in her midst.
But her favorite part, her crown jewel, the cornerstone of her kingdom, was the Card Catalog. Pulling open a drawer, running her fingers through the cards, searching for an author, a title, a subject, she always always found herself placing one finger to hold her place, as she veered off into uncharted territory. A new name. A subject that piqued her interest. An author's name that rang a bell. A related topic. New. Something new each and every time she opened a drawer. Unexpected. A surprise. Often, something she did not know she needed to know more about until right this minute. Oh, yes, she had attended the community college to keep up on her courses and she knew how to use online searches. But she knew in her heart, that on the way home she would stop by her own library, her own Card Catalog and...what was it Robert Frost had said?
"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
But be one traveler, long I stood
To where it bent in the undergrowth..."
Cora stood right now, right this minute, at the apex of two roads and like the highway versus the short expanse of the mostly boarded up Main Street ahead, long she stood...until the boxes became so heavy and her arms so tired, and her sensible shoes so clumsy on her feet, that she took the familiar path that led toward home.
Late that night, Cora curled up in bed holding a book in one hand and reached for her reading glasses. Her eyesight was not all that was failing. Her life. Her life was failing her. For here in her favorite spot in her favorite hour, in the sweetness of twilight with the silence of the eve and the warmth of her bed covers, her capricious self took over. The imp, the elf, the fairies of the forest could scamper and dance and play. In the dark, in the solace of the printed page, she lost herself in the fantastic, the imaginary, the fictional repertoire of characters, the ones residing in the minds of authors, equally burdened with a story to tell. A chapter unfinished. An arc, a rise, a climax, the denouement, and finally the last gasp of words. She knew, deep in her own unfinished story, how very difficult to place a period at the end of the sentence on the final page. To land. To be emptied of the lives and loves and loss, so close, so dear that to abandon them now left but one question. What's next? Where do I go from Here? How do I get to There?
Extinct. Out of print. Unpublished and unread. An unfinished manuscript. The grains of sand slipping by one by one, suddenly in a furious rush to the end. Wasted. How much time she wasted in dreams and fantasies and wishful thinking and hope. For there, beside her bed, her own journal. Her story. She bought the book with the empty pages. She made a library pocket and pasted it inside the back cover. She designed the cover and wrote the dedication page. She even took a small picture of herself and pasted it on the back fly leaf with a small space for her bio. And finally, she tucked in a brand new manila card from the card catalog. Unfortunately, the cap on her pen has fallen off in the drawer and the ink long since dried.
Cora had always believed that just one more page, she would finish just one more page and then she would begin her story. She would close her eyes and sing the first line of a lyric. The beginning of a sonnet. A soliloquy in silence. Here she spoke openly and honestly about herself, her heart open to unseeing eyes. To be herself in the daylight was unacceptable. To be open to criticism and careless off handed remarks.
Cora was a librarian. A book keeper. No more.
Her hair now gray. Her job extinct.
Out of Circulation.
"Two roads diverged"...and Cora jumped out of bed and raced down the stairs to find her carton, her shoe boxes and a new pen.
The grains of sand slipping by one by one, suddenly in a furious rush to the end. Like slipping down the stairs, a careless random gesture she could only blame on the excessive length of her pajama pants and her preoccupation with her pen. She caught herself as she fell, tripping over her own story. The story fully formed in her head, that same head banging on each and every riser of the staircase, slipping away as easily as her hand slipping off the railing, then losing her balance, and coming to rest at the edge of a wooded glade, time no longer on her side, and what would have been her life story an unfinished mess in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. What a waste. What a terrible waste.
In her grief, in her loss, in the midst of the enormous sadness of never seeing her own name under C to Co in the Card Catalog, to not be remembered for her faithful treasure of the written word, Cora felt the branches enveloping her, the mighty oaks opening their arms to comfort, and the realization that she was not alone.
Eunice Everlasting, Yard Yeti Extraordinaire, sat in the moonlight, her floral pompadour resting against the bark of an oak, and her feet curled up beneath her.
Cora sat down on the semi circle of crushed acorns and fallen leaves.
"Tell me a story", she said to Eunice.
So Eunice did. A wonderful story of the rain falling from the sky and soaking into the ground below their feet, coaxing tiny seeds to unfurl their outer coat, to rise into the air, sprouting roots and stems and branches, tender leaves breathing in and out, giving way to strong and hearty wood, to build strong cabinets or tissue thin sheets of paper. As the tree breathes wisps billow into the sky meeting clouds bloated with rain and the cycle begins again.
We take what we find Here and simply follow the raindrops There.
Together they turned and walked through the woods hand in hand, all the way into the heart of Cora's tiny town. They turned at the clock tower and strolled past Ace Plumbing. A light left on in the studio on the second floor lit their way. They did not see the Not-Yet-A-Yeti, another nocturnal nomad, watching over them. But she saw them.
Stopping in front of a boarded up storefront, Eunice pulled Cora into her massive chest for a final hug. "This, dear Cora, this is the rest of your life waiting for you to write it. You have been Here before, and if you check your pockets you have everything you need to be successful There."
Cora watched as Eunice disappeared into the night. Under the light shining overhead, Cora reached into her pocket and found a shiny new pen and a packet of library pockets. She did indeed. Have everything she would need. The next day, Cora collected all the books from her shelves at home, put her shoe boxes and her carton in a red wagon and pulled it through town. For the rest of the week, she built shelves, polished the windows. pasted library pockets in the backs of her books, set up a counter and set out a clipboard and pen. Her last task was to return to the library to buy the Card Catalog and to center it in the middle of her new space. She covered the windows with paper and went home to bed, wearing her new nightie and slip proof socks.
The following morning, Cora opened her own bookshop lending library. The counter was filled with
freshly baked pastries and treats. A coffee pot gurgled in the corner and a teakettle sat beside
a collection of hand painted mugs. Two easy chairs sat smiling across a low table with a
multicolored sofa stretched out in front of the fireplace. In a small alcove near the back
was a colorful semicircular rug and shelves painted in primary colors filled to the brim
with Pooh and Good Night Moon and Where the Wild Things Are. Cora's own books lined the shelves in the main room and each had a library pocket and a matching card in the Card Catalog. Out in back, one door opened onto a small patio with tables and chairs and a long garden path.
Cora pulled down the paper from the windows to let the sun shine in. Painted across the front window in loopy gold gilt letters...
...The Book Garden...A Garden Of Prose...
Cora sat at her counter, her ink pad and stamp nearby, and pulled out her storybook. She realized that what her story was missing, what it needed most, was character. Or rather, characters.
For what is a story worth if it is never read?
A story is never ever a story until it is shared.
And on the pocket inside the back cover of each and every book, Cora Crocus, Yard Yeti Extraordinaire, with her wantonly wavy white hair, curled high on her head, dressed in a riot of color and her painted toes peeking out of her ivy colored sandals, stamped the following...
"Two roads diverged in a road and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
Chapter 18 | Chapter 20