Today I gave our dog Hazel a haircut. Her fur was matted around her cheeks and eyes, and I feared she couldn’t see. She was patient and obedient throughout, like any dog, but it didn’t help. I butchered her hair. She ran and hid under the coffee table as soon as I was done.
“What happened to her?” Katriel cried forlornly after school. “Why is she bald and zig-zaggy?” I told her forget the dog, hair grows back, right now we needed to go. To the library.
We met Cannelle, Jacob’s native-speaking French tutor, in the lobby and she whisked him away for ‘amelioration‘. The girls ran towards the computers and courtyard. I picked out a book and settled into a cushy chair.
The first three pages of A Spell of Winter recounted the death of beloved Uncle Joseph, back in Ireland in the late 1800’s. Joseph’s mother sat by her dead child for days while the community brought more and more flowers to try to hide the smell. Soon the entire town begged for Joseph to be buried, but the grief-stricken mother could not bear to physically part from her son. At last the townspeople forcibly shoved the mother into a closet, while two brothers rushed poor, stinky Joseph down the creaky, narrow stairs. Unfortunately they failed to navigate a tight bend in the staircase, and Joseph’s body slammed into the wall. With a sickening pop, Joseph’s arm broke loose and tumbled down the stairs, solo.
Well! This was quite a story. But just then I noticed two exterminators talking to the librarian. I lost interest in Joseph and his flailing arm and wondered what rodents were nibbling through these stories, too.
As I eavesdropped, a young mother passed, clutching a little girl and an infant in a chest carrier. Just as she crossed paths with the exterminators, she stopped and warned the toddler in a loud, shrill voice, “I need you to stop picking up dirty items off the floor and putting them in your mouth, OK, sweetie?” She said this as if she expected her toddler to agree whole-heartedly to the request. When the toddler did not, she bent down, her infant swinging precariously close to the floor, and shoved her fingers into the child’s mouth.
I realized all manner of humanity was on display right here at the library, if I focused on the present-day dramas and not just those printed on paper. One guy wore a t-shirt that read, “The Dear Hunter”. That phrase really set my mind to work. Was this guy searching for a smart, obedient spouse…at the library? Whoa! Or was the phrase more sinister? Might he be a sniper sent to kill someone else’s spouse? Hmm…
I wandered some more and spied an enormously pregnant woman engrossed in a huge tome at rest atop her bump aptly titled, HEADACHES. Alan Case typed earnestly on his lap-top, emblazoned everywhere with ALAN CASE, TARBELL REALTORS, ALANFORREALESTATE.COM. Groups of teens huddled together, texting and talking, while their books and laptops gaped open with such headings as AP Statistics; Human Anatomy; Neurochemical Substrate. One lady stared intently at The Polarization of Light. I noticed my own son laughing with Cannelle and gesturing wildly, like a true Frenchman might, albeit without a cigarette. My twins wore headphones and played ‘Phonics Frenzy’, while Annalise and Elizabeth walked by, silently wording numbers as they bounded around the edge of the library arm-in-arm, like Laverne and Shirley.
“What are you doing?” I whispered. “We’re adding up the perimeter! 522 feet so far!” they giggled.
I left them to it and walked over to the Computer Assistance Volunteer, a young guy with a nice smile. I asked him to tell me the craziest thing that had ever happened in the library. He told me about Cevdet, a Turkish man who had come in desperate to learn how to donate a kidney after having had his own son saved through organ donation. I thought back to Joseph and his wandering arm. “Were you able to help him?” I asked. The CAV nodded. “Yes. But it took a surprisingly long time to figure out how to donate a kidney!”
After an hour passed, I gathered up my children and drove home. I felt a renewed sense of optimism. Maybe Jacob wouldn’t flunk French! Maybe the world is a decent place. Maybe libraries will remain free, tech-savvy havens, where people intent on raising their I.Q. share space with stories that stay with you for a lifetime, sometimes.
Just like Hazel, my poor, shorn dog who greeted me on my return. I was reminded of why I adopted her last year. Her worded description did me in. Who can resist the phrase: Mainly Couch Decoration With Occasional Bursts of Pep.
That phrase is why I brought Hazel home. They’re the same string of words I imagine might be whispered about me, as I’m carted down the stairs and out the door for the last time. And they’re why I got up off the couch this afternoon and went to the library. For my Occasional Burst of Pep.