Library


My father taught me that libraries are warm and safe.  I have a regular library now.  This particular library is made out of a special kind of granite.  There are no windows.  That's so the sunlight won't damage the precious books.  The granite is thin, flesh-colored.  When the sunlight hits, it glows.  You feel as if you're inside a lit candle.  The librarians are kind.  They never ask for a student ID or a library pass.  It will close, soon, for the holidays.  Even the public library is closed on Christmas Eve.  That is going to suck.
      When I walked up and down town today I made sure I looked as if I were going somewhere.  A man stopped me on the street.  He looked like General Custer.  He held a sign that said "Jesus."  Just that one word, not "Jesus Saves" or "The End Is Nigh."  I thought he would say something kind, so I let him catch my eye.  He pointed to me with a red finger.  He shouted.  "You are going straight to hell!"
      Only homeless people seem to know about me.  Or maybe others see it, and just don't want to say.  I stay away from kids, the ones who travel in bands.  They smoke dope, they always have some poor dirty dog on a string.  I have nothing in common with them.
      There's a soft, salmon-colored couch on the top floor.  It's in a corner.  Students crash here all the time.  I can pull my pretty kelly green coat (someone left it here one night.  It's beautiful, the color of spring grass.  It matches my eyes) over my body and sink into this couch and sleep for hours.  It's a deep, deep slumber.  There's no falling, just soft, sweet sinking.
      One librarian knows.  Well, I think he's an assistant.  He's always shelving books.  He talks to me about poetry and a television show he likes called The History Detectives.  He knows every Robert Frost poem by heart.  Some of them are beautiful.  Some, I have to say, seem kind of silly, like little morality limericks, but I'd feel like an idiot saying that to him.  Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to be his girlfriend.  He probably has one already.  Maybe they rent a basement apartment together, in some beautiful old house, and they have only a few shabby but elegant pieces of furniture.  They have books up to the ceiling.  At night they read poetry and listen to the wind outside.  He has beautiful eyes, they are a very light brown.  His hair is cut in wisps, and I like the way it falls in light curls, touching the nape of his neck.  His shoulders are sort of stooped.  It could be from bad posture.  I think he is maybe in his late twenties.  Early thirties, even.  Maybe he can't tell I'm under eighteen.  I think I sound older than I am sometimes.  My dad said children who read a lot are more poised, more precocious than their peers.  It was my dad who showed me how useful the library can be.
      These are the things I think about, in the library, when I'm afraid of getting caught sleeping.  I try to read.  I hold a big book in my hands.  I think of stories, some true, some not.  I close my eyes, and see a fireplace.  A log is burning.  There is a smell of chestnuts roasting.  I have no idea what that smells like but I can imagine it.  Sometimes the vision is clouded.  There is my dad, sick.  He's coughing.  It's an awful, racking sound, like something dirty is lodged deep inside and it won't come out.  I do think of him a lot, but only in flashes because I don't want to think too hard.  People might not believe me if I say this, because he drank and drank and never even tried to stop, but he was a good dad.  He used to wake me up early in the mornings.  We'd walk out to Dot's Coffee Shop, and we'd order waffles, and then we'd go out and watch the sunrise over the freeway.  He could make a sunrise over the freeway as beautiful as a sunrise over any ocean.  It was just the way he made you see things, sometimes.
      I see him.  His tie is too shiny, stained with something brown and smelly.  His eyes, weirdly lit, like he thinks he's some kind of prophet.  Telling me there should be a day like Sunday just for me, because the day I was born was more important than the day God rested.  Nutso.  But, I could almost believe it.
      Somewhere there are people he knew.  He talked about his house when he was a boy, about a shiny banister and tea cups in a hutch.  But it could be a story.  With him, near the end, I didn't know what was a story and what was real.
      Sleep doesn't always come, but it's hard to think.  The lights are off.  The librarian is gone.  Crackle of a fire.  A polished banister, my dad is sliding down, and his mother is waiting to catch him.  She has green eyes.  Or maybe my mom does.  Newspaper folded into funny shapes.  He could do that, too.  Origami.  Birds, flowers, trees.  Okay, not trees.  I think of a tree, in the moonlight, every leaf shivering.  Sleep, sleep, someone's breath on my face, and a coat of green around me.  
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