“You can spend minutes, hours, days, weeks, or even months over-analyzing a situation; trying to put the pieces together, justifying what could've, would've happened... or you can just leave the pieces on the floor and move the fuck on.”
― Tupac Shakur
Yesterday was a long day at the library, that’s what I told the police. But I’ll get to that.
For some reason we always seem slow at the library after summer reading. The business of all the kids during the day drops off when the program ends. The absence of so many little bodies and their adult keepers leaves a gaping hole in our day. Think of the last day of school, all the assignments, tests and papers have been turned in, but there is just that nagging feeling that you have something you should be doing. A void of inactivity that will soon become routine once again.
The staff seemed almost restless. Betty was back after medical leave, planted at the circulation desk organizing carts and checking people out. Under doctor’s orders she could not lift anything heavy or move faster than a snail, so that’s where she lived until books were delivered for cataloging. I could see her go to stand to do something, remember the circumstances, and sit back down again. I would have put her in the computer lab, but growing up with actual cards in the catalog had made her ambivalent about learning anything more than email.
After losing Dave, Darling had picked up most of the shifts downstairs in the computer lab. The subterranean kingdom of computer science does not suit the energetic young man. Every time I went down there he was pacing up and down the aisles of monitors, tapping keys to keep the screensavers off as a small game between the machines and himself. The only reprieve he received was to help Betty retrieve a book from a patron, take a break or shelve when myself or Ava gave him reprieve.
Ava shelved. The backlog of shelving she had put off for the children’s department during the summer reading program had caught up with her, especially as more books were coming in now than were going out. Cart after cart, she put them behind her only to find one more in its place. I helped when I could, but I had other things on my mind.
I was meeting Natalie after our phone call on Wednesday. It occupied my thoughts and I could not stop thinking about it. Finally, the time to meet her had come.
“How’s it look down here?” I said.
Darling looked up and waved his hand at the computer lab, “All these new computers and only three.”
I recognized one of the people in the lab as Brad, a local college student that had been in the class I had lectured to last month. He seemed to be having fun with something, his tounge sticking out the side of his mouth in concentration. The other person was fairly non-descript, your average afternoon computer user here to check his email. The final guy had a can opener tattooed on his face. He made me worried, especially after our last encounter.
“You okay with helping Ava close up?”
Darling waved me on, “No problem. We got this, go take care of your business.”
“Thanks,” I said, “If I finish early I’ll swing by and check on you two.”
“No need, boss. Have a good weekend.”
From upstairs I heard a woman’s voice. Only one person had a voice that carried that far in the library. I sighed and braced myself to deal with Carol Anne Kinney.
The board president talking to Ava as I made my way up the stairs. I hoped to slip past them to my office, grab my things and leave, but it was not to be. I sometimes think Carol Anne can smell me.
“Mr. Banned,” she said, “What do you have to say about this?”
I had no idea what she was talking about.
“I have no idea what you are talking about, Carol Anne,” I said.
She pointed toward Ava, “This young lady had tragic circumstances happen in this building. You need to do something about it.”
I looked at Ava, who shrugged her shoulders from where Carol Anne could not see.
“If you are talking about the events of summer reading, I will-”
“There was a damn snake loose in the building, Mr. Banned, that is more than an ‘event.”
“I agree. As did the police and animal control. I will have a full report, both from myself and the police, at the board meeting on Saturday.”
“Well, it had better be good, young man. If that girl loses her child over something you let happen, I’ll do everything I can to remove you from your position. I don’t care who your family is.”
The anger built in me. I felt my face turn red as I stared into the woman’s eyes. I envisioned all the horrible things that could happen to her, a book case falling on her, falling down the steps, being picked up and beaten against the circulation desk like a doll until they eyes fell out. Common library accidents.
“As much as I would like to continue, I have somewhere I need to be. Good day, Ms. Kinney. Ava, you okay to close up?”
Ava nodded at me. Carol Anne turned to face the younger woman and gave her a hug. I walked straight out the door without bothering to gather my things. I would get them later, after I met Natalie.
When I got to the diner, Natalie was not there. Janice Folder, the waitress, spotted me and motioned to the bar.
“Coffee?” she asked, already pouring me a cup.
“Thanks,” I said, “Have you seen Natalie?”
Janice let out a breath, “Yeah, earlier. She left this for you.”
She handed me an envelope the produced from her apron. It was letter-size, white, and had my name on it in Natalie’s loopy scrawl. Janice left to give me privacy. I sat down and opened the envelope from the end, pulling out the single sheet of paper.
I am sorry about not meeting you, but I just can’t. Not after what I saw the other day.
I was coming to the library that day to tell you I found a new job. It’s in Baton Rouge. Starts on Monday.
Please don’t come to find me at home, I’m already on the road.
I wanted us to be more, but I guess you can’t always get what you want. Maybe this is what we need.
I will always be your friend.
I read the note several times before putting it away, folding it and putting it in my back pocket. I went to pay for my untouched coffee, but Janice waved me off with a small smile.
I left the diner not sure where to go. So I walked and kept walking. Every so often I would take out the note and re-read it until it was burned in my brain.
I stopped by a gas station and bought a lighter and a pack of cigarettes, my first in months. Creature comforts, old habits. The cigarettes burned my throat and brought tears to my eyes. That’s what I told myself.
I ended up in the city park. I sat on one of the stone picnic tables and watched the sun fade behind the pine trees just beyond the little league park. I took out the letter and read it for the last time.
Then I used my new lighter to burn it, leaving it in one of the park’s barbeque grills. If I kept it, I would just reread it, over and over. I would go crazy with what-ifs and should haves. I still had hope but learned a long time ago how my mind works. Move on or face sitting still.
On the way back to the library I told myself I needed to leave this life behind. Follow Natalie and win her back. Call Elliot and see if the offer still stood. Anything was better than whatever was crumbling beneath my feet.
All that disappeared when I walked in the library.
Ava’s body lay on the floor in front of the circulation desk, a knife sticking out of her chest.
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