The Library Card
by RACHEL GOLD
I waited on the steps of the new library. This is a lie. The library is not new, the library had been there since I was born but it was recently renovated. Recently being twenty years ago. So I waited on the steps of the not so recently renovated library. I was waiting for my mother because I had a fine of twenty dollars and they would not take a credit card. I am not sure why I asked as I did not have my credit card on me anyway, and in fact had not owned one in quite some time now that I thought about it, although I had a tendency not to dwell on such things. All I had was my old library card, a relic of a forgotten era, and the vague notion of taking out a collection by Grace Paley only to find that I was persona non grata for apparently never returning a book on screenwriting ten years ago when I had grandiose notions of the way my life was going to be. That is how at thirty-five years old I came to be waiting on the not so recently renovated steps of the library for my mother and her crisp twenty-dollar bill so that I could pay my fine and take out my intended book. But did I even want the book anymore? I wasn’t sure. But I also felt bad not paying the library, even though the librarian was very hostile towards me, as most people are when they have the smallest bit of power.
Mother was pulling up now in her beaten up SUV, a gas guzzler from the late 1990’s that was completely out of fashion now with all the small little cars and the electric cars that were helping pave the way to a cleaner, better, planet. But tell that to mother, who enjoyed overpowering the nonexistent yuppies in our small suburban town. I had tried to convince her to get a new car, one that didn’t break down every six months, but she held fast. She did not like change and she liked the perceived height that came with a truck.
She pulled up so close to the curb she was nearly on top of it and rolled down the window.
“Honestly, I don’t see why they couldn’t just give you the book, isn’t that their job?” she said, hand extending a crisp twenty-dollar bill. I was tempted to tell her to forget it; we could just go home and I could find the story collection online probably, but at the same time I felt guilty. I did not want to be a story that the librarian told to her little librarian friends, about the person who lost a book on screenwriting ten years ago and fled when she heard how much she owed.
So I took the money, my mother still rambling, and walked back up the not so new, but becoming very familiar, library steps and pushed the door open and waited my turn in line.
But now there was a different librarian working at the checkout counter. He looked familiar but I could not say why. I relayed to him the situation, pointed to the collection of Grace Paley stories that lay just beyond my reach behind the desk. He asked my name, took the money, and wiped my record clean.
He turned around to get the book, but I told him not to bother, and he asked me if I was sure and I said I was sure, I changed my mind but I wanted to make sure that I paid my debt to society. I said this all very formally because I meant it, but he seemed to think I was being ironic and so he laughed and I took pleasure in this because it had been a long time since I made anyone laugh. I spent most of my days listening to mother rant and reading message boards about trashy television shows, feeling gratified when my comment got a like and an LOL and angry when someone disagreed with me. I wanted to say more to the librarian, but I was afraid of ruining the moment so I left.
Mother was already gone, if she had even been there in the first place. Nice day, the endless rain had finally ended so I could walk. Walking cleared my head, or was that just a fiction I liked to tell myself? I was unsure. These days I sometimes felt overly encumbered by my thoughts but just as often I could not remember what I used to think about. So I walked, down the library steps to the sidewalk that the town constructed some time ago, possibly around when the library steps were renovated.
Next to the library was my school. I pressed my forehead against the cool, triangularly shaped iron fence. I saw the tire swing being swung and I swore I saw an old friend and started to wave, but then I realized that my old friends were my age now, and after squinting, I realized that the children were not playing on a tire swing, but in fact were taking turns spinning on a green plastic disk, an object I could not recall being there twenty minutes ago let alone twenty years ago. An attendant was looking at me strangely so I decided to move on.
I was walking over the little brick bridge that crossed the little pond. In the winter it would freeze and we would skate, or did until someone had an accident and fell through. I cannot remember who. We were on the local news. That I remember. Mother taped it on the VCR. I wondered if she still had it. I would like to see it because I could not remember the name of the person who fell, or what had become of them and now it would bother me. What was his name? Was it even a he? I paused and looked out into the murky blue water. There was a swan and her little swan babies and it all looked very serene and peaceful. As scenic as a Norman Rockwell painting. I heard a joke about him once, back when I lived in the city, but I can’t recall it now. Once I lived in the city, now I live here.
My father loved this pond, we would come here together, mother too. Now he is decaying in our garage. Or at least his stuff is. Boxes of it. I helped mother pack away his clothes, books, collections, all the little things that make up a person. Seventeen years ago, we haven’t looked back since.
It is easy to do this, I did it when I left New York. Mother called and for once I answered. She said she needed me desperately and I needed her too at the time I think. My friends were marrying and finding new careers that were out of my orbit. I ran out of money because I spent it on unnecessary things that felt necessary at the time. So I left said things, with a thoughtful note to my landlord, and went to Penn Station with just enough money for my train fare, and my book. I left the book on the train though; perhaps it was the Grace Paley collection. I have not read anything in quite some time but I have this familiar pull towards a particular author on occasion and I am baffled whenever it happens. Anyway, I have not been back since. Mother doesn’t like the dirtiness of the city, although you would not be able to tell from our house. Even though we got rid of father’s things it has somehow become more and more cluttered. Mother says she is too weak to clean. I keep meaning to get around to it, but my days fill up somehow between waking and going to bed.
The pond reminded me of our house, with all the piles of the decaying brown leaves floating by. I suppose fall is over now, but it is still warm out, confusing me.
“Natalie?” A not so young man approached me, jerking me out of my reverie.
“Hello,” I said cheerfully. I assumed he was calling out to me because there was no one else around.
“I heard you moved back here!” he said.
I nodded, excited to be recognized and talked about, although I did not remember him.
“So what are you doing now? You are a writer, right?”
“Oh, I freelance mostly,” I said, and because I wanted to be perceived as polite, I asked him the same question.
“I teach theatre at the High School. You know people still talk about our performance in Oklahoma.”
“Really?” I asked. I was surprised to learn this.
“Yes, people still talk about our kiss!”
“Our kiss?” I felt heat rise to my face. “I’m sorry, I think you have me confused with someone.”
He looked at me puzzled.
“I mean, I have never acted, never in all of my life,” I felt like it was necessary to add, although I was not quite sure it was true.
“But you are Natalie Deegan!” he paused, “don’t you remember the audience and the standing ovation? We were given a stunning review in the paper, people still say it was the best performance the high school has ever done.”
“Really?” I responded. I was quite perturbed that this man was going on and on. I looked at the road adjacent to the bridge as the cars moseyed by but no one seemed to think anything was odd.
“Yes. It is insulting to me in a way now though,” he said.
“Oh?” I asked feigning interest.
“Well, as I am the drama teacher I do hope that my students’ plays can at least reach our level,” he said with a wink that made me feel both uncomfortable and sad.
“I must be going,” I said: “Mother calls.”
He gave me a strange look. “Right, well I do hope to see you around more Natalie.”
I bowed and turned.
I walked up the hill and around the bend, which led to our street where I pulled out my library card. The lamination was peeling on the corners but there in my confident child’s handwriting was my name and address. Natalie Deegan, as it turns out I was.
I approached my house, had I indeed been the star of Oklahoma? Had I kissed the man at the pond once? I am sure I would remember, but I cannot remember most things so it would not be a surprise and maybe it is better this way because I cannot recall what my dreams used to be. I hardly remembered wanting to be a screenwriter, but I must have. I took out a book on it after all.
I passed through the garage, past all of father’s boxes, into the kitchen, which was rather hard to navigate given the piles and piles of paper that covered the floor, the little spindly table, the chairs. I took a big pile of papers off and added them to the growing collection on the floor, feeling as if I were saving the table from certain doom. I continued through the kitchen into the living room where around the garbage bags I could see Father’s old study off the living room, which was mine now. Mother was asleep on her faded mauve chair, just as I had left her this morning. As if she never got up to give me the twenty dollars to pay off the library. Maybe she hadn’t. I walked closer to the chair and with a jolt I realized that mother was not there, sitting in her chair. It was just her afghan and fuzzy purple robe. It occurred to me that I was not even sure when the last time I’d seen her was. I would not dwell on it. I put on her robe even though I was not particularly cold and it smelled like skin. I went to my office where I noticed on the shelf was the library book on screenwriting. Maybe I would take it out later. I essentially owned it didn’t I?
I shook the mouse to wake up my computer, which had gone dark in my absence and I resumed what I had been doing yesterday, opening up a word document and staring at the blank white screen.