At the risk of sounding like my son and most of my students, I didn’t mean to.
It was an innocent-enough trip to our local library. I had patiently (well, almost) waited through my day of teaching, preparing supper, and seeing my son through bath time and bed time, the extra drinks and stories, and the repeated pleas for “just one more goodnight!” Every time the road got bumpy, I reminded myself that it was library night … the evenings when our library stays open until nine o’clock and I can sneak away after my routine is done.
This is my quiet time, and being that I claim no formal religion, my weekly visits to the library have always been like stepping into a church. I am transported back to my childhood, when I walked reverently between the stacks and imagined that some day I would read each and every one of those books. Whenever I move to a new town, my first stop is never the DMV, or the grocery store, or the post office—it’s to sign up for my new library card.
So. At promptly 7 p.m., dear son being whisked off to dreamland and dear husband in charge of listening for him, I snuck down the street to the library. Feeling quite grown up, I returned my books on time for once (not having to put any coins in the conscience box!), and went straight to the shelves. I’d read a review of an old ghost story online recently and I wanted to look for it. Trouble was, my post-childbirth memory has never really returned, and I couldn’t remember the author’s last name. Another lesson firmly learned in childhood is that if you need the answer to any question, find a librarian. I went to the front desk to do just that.
Our little library is overseen, as many small-towns are, by a group of hard-working and extremely elderly women and men. This particular night it was the frailest, sweetest-looking of them all. Knowing this, I should have gone right back to the shelves and found something else to read. However, I am known for my stubborn streak, and I really wanted that book. It sounded creepy, and that was exactly what I needed to escape from my kindergarten reality. Still, in my defense I can say that I did hesitate before plunging to my doom.
“Excuse me,” I asked nicely, “do you know the author of Hell House?” Oops.
Before I asked this question, you could have heard a pin drop. Afterward it was as if all the air had suddenly gone out … probably down the bottomless pit that had just opened up beneath me that they’re able to conjure up for just such requests. She looked at me as if I had come in buck naked with an iron cross around my neck.
“NO!” She fairly hissed. A small amount of steam escaped from her ears. Then, seeing my obvious disappointment, she relented somewhat. Looking from side to side to be sure no one else was within earshot, she said in a stage whisper, “I can give you a book of ghost stories by … Edith Wharton.” Oh my.
Even though this was a little like asking for codeine and being handed baby aspirin, I was sufficiently ashamed of myself to give in. I took the Edith Wharton, about nine hundred years old and retrieved from underneath the counter, which I suppose is where they keep the (ahem) adult literature. As I left, the librarian looked slightly exhilarated, as if this little exchange had transported her to the wild side for awhile. She had slipped the bonds of ancient literature and had gotten in touch with her inner naughty librarian for a minute, all thanks to me.
That was a little more scare than I was prepared for.