I liked picking up library books and turning to all the dog-eared pages. I liked trying to see what was so special about those pages, what made them speak to people. If the dog-ear was small, that usually meant it contained something the reader wanted to come back to. If it was big, that meant it was somewhere the reader stopped. Libraries were gyms for the mind, and books were well-used equipment.
The small dog-ears were more interesting, but I liked wondering why people stopped on the big-ears too. Usually it was at the start of a chapter, but not always. Was there a natural break in the narrative? Did something interrupt them? Did they lose interest (but no–if they lost interest, they wouldn’t bother dog-earing it)?
I thought about what kind of people read the books. I scanned dog-eared page after dog-eared page, analyzing passages, soaking in beautiful words, learning new things. It was the best way to know a person’s soul.
One day I saw a woman drop off a book I had on reserve. This never happened before–I never had a face to a series of dog-ears before. How would this change how I read? Already I formed expectations, anticipations. The woman was fit, with broad legs and hips, short brown hair, freckles on her shoulder. She had a series of tattoos–not of one thing, but of many little things. A bee here, a bluebird there, a Pacman, a quote in typewriter font I couldn’t read from that distance. Each tattoo like its own dog-eared page, its own little story. Yes, I already thought I might know her, or someone like her.
She smiled politely at me as I entered the library, and I tightened my lips in a half-smile, looking downcast. Her cheeks were rosy, like all her freckles had their own little glow.
The returned book sat on the returned shelf. It was Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I sat nearby with a book I forget the name of, and watched Thoreau’s tome sit in wait. Every so often I paced around it, glancing at the pages, delighting at the little pockets of the corners where I knew dog-ears hid. I watched the librarians, who helped customers, and chatted, and laughed. Do your jobs! Damn you!
Eventually one of them, clicking her nails on the desk, sighed, rose, walked over to the returned shelf, ran her fingertips along the spines, hummed, checked her phone, cracked her neck–
–then started putting the books away.
Alphabetically! Damn you, Thoreau! Damn you, letter T! Why lag so far behind? Be bold! You are one of the most common letters! You appear twice in the word ‘letter’ alone! Why settle for the back half of the alphabet? Damn you damn you damn you!
She put away Stein, then Steinbeck. Finally! It was Thoreau’s turn to shine.
Except she scanned Walden, glanced at her scanner, and then moved onto the next book. No! I stood up from my seat, the book I pretended to read spilling onto the floor. I nearly ran for Walden, fled for Walden, like Thoreau himself. But I composed myself when I realized she had to put my book on the reserve shelf, no doubt saving it for after.
The wait, lord, it was infinite. Universes were born and died in the time I waited. But at last, the librarian lifted my holy tome from the returned shelf and transferred it mere feet away to the reserved shelf.
I swept right in. I had waited too long for subtlety. I needed to know who this woman truly was. Finally, a face to a series of pages. I saw her body. Now I could see her soul.
Day 198’s three random prompt categories were, “A dog-eared page,” “Gym equipment,” and, “Maybe this time.”
I’m intrigued. There’s going to be a part 2.