Welcome to Bannville, MS, home of the Banned Library and set right in the middle of the dark piney woods where drugs, violence and dark forces are as abundant as the humidity. Our narrator on this journey is Evan Banned, one time director and current owner of the library now trying to bring it back after it burned to the ground and then, right after it reopened, was closed due to funding. Will Evan get the library back on its feet? Does Evan have a place in the community with the library closed?
“Mr. Banned,” a woman said, “May we talk for a bit?”
I looked up from Feast of Crows, a book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, and looked at the speaker. She was older, fifties maybe, with grey showing in her hair and a blue wrap around her shoulders. I stood and gave her a hug.
“Since when do you call me ‘Mr. Banned,’ Mrs. Sara?” I said as I motioned her to the booth across the table from me. I signaled to Janice for another cup of coffee and the waitress smiled at me.
“You've done so much, though. Not that little boy who used to run around my yard in your diaper making mud grenades with my good spoons,” Sara Pickens said, smiling at me, “I hope I wasn't disturbing your meal.”
“No, never,” I said, “Just a piece of pie on a warm summer December day.”
“Isn't it silly, this weather,” she said, “Your grandfather Aubrey used to call it ‘a damn fickle wind,’ but don’t go telling your mother I said that. What will she think of me?”
I laughed with her and Janice came with another cup of coffee and a small pitcher of cream, just like Mrs. Sara liked. Janice Folder always knew what patrons of the Bannville Corner Diner wanted or needed. She showed that when she put a cup of coffee, pecan pie and two aspirin on the counter when I walked in. Must have seen me walking from the library. I looked at the old building, still closed. Also possibly a crime scene. I needed to ask Officer Albrecht about that.
“What can I do for you, Mrs. Sara,” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” she said, spilling a little milk on the table, “Its not much, but I… Well, since Michael passed I haven’t been able to rake the yard like I used to and those damn oaks, don’t tell your mother that either, but those damn oaks are shedding something strong this year and the rain just sticks them together…”
“No problem,” I said, “I’d be happy to help out with your yard.”
“Oh, no,” she said, “I've got the Henderson boy with that. He’s what I need help about. I think he’s been stealing from me.”
“Why do you think that?” I thought about Davey Henderson. Nice kid who I watched grow up each year when he would come to Summer Reading. Other than that, he kept away from the library.
“Evan, I don’t want to just accuse the child, he’s so sweet, but I saw how he was eyeing my trash can last week and you know how those kids like taking the trash cans and hitting them into the mail boxes?”
“They do?” I had not heard about this.
“Oh, yes. I heard it on the news. New trend they call ‘trashing.’ They lean out the car window and pick the can up and get some speed up and boom,” she clapped her hands together. I wondered which hand was the trash can.
“I see,” I said, trying to hold a smile, “Did you drive over here today, Mrs. Sara?”
“Oh, no, I walked into town.” Mrs. Sara lived six blocks away from the main city center, but had lived there long enough to remember being alone so far out of town.
“Would you mind if I walked you back, then I can look around your yard for evidence of the garbage… what did you call it?”
“Okay. Can I ask, what made you come talk to me, Mrs. Sara?”
She smiled at me, “After everything you've done for this town, catching that horrible girl who killed Irma Belford and then that evil Bob Simmons, I figured this would be easy for our little librarian. I suspect more people will come to you for help, Evan. Just like they did for your grandfather.”
“Solved a lot of problems, did he?” I did not remember much of my Grandpa Aubrey Banned and dad did not speak of him much, but in pictures I resemble him.
“Oh, yes. Some say he was the heart of this town. So sad when he died. Offshore was it?”
“Not too sure,” I said. The circumstances of my grandfather's death were debated, but the easiest explanation was he went out on the Gulf in a fishing adventure and they hit a storm. Nobody had given me a straight answer, but I had not asked much. Guess I should have asked more, given my own Gulf adventure.
We finished our coffee and walked the six blocks to her house. The red brick building stood tall, circled by a small ring of oak trees and a white picket fence. Mrs. Sara once told me her husband had told her he would find her a house with a fence and when he could not, he built one. The gate stuck off center and the posts bent and swayed in the wind, showing Mr. Mike’s wish to please his wife and his lack of carpentry skills.
I found the old metal garbage can behind the new, larger green can with wheels. The city had just contracted with a company and now required the green cans be used.
“Oh, my. I forgot all about that,” Mrs. Sara said, her hand to her forehead, “And to think I almost accused the poor Henderson boy. Thank you, Mr. Banned.”
“Evan, Mrs. Joyce,” I said, giving her a hug, “Don’t worry about it. I can’t keep these new city regulations in my head either. Is there anything I can do while I’m here? Your gutters or anything?”
“So much like your grandfather,” she said into my shirt, hands around me quaking a little with age. She pulled me down and kissed me on the cheek, “Thank you, but no. I’ll have the Henderson boy take care of it, thank you.”
I carried out her trash and a few other small chores and had a cup of coffee with her. The kitchen still smelled of stew and Chesterfield cigarettes, the mix of lives. The cigarette smell slid away, however, as the smoker was no longer present. I did not sit in Mr. Mike’s favorite chair, but looked at it and smiled remembering him telling me about cooking possum and squirrel for dinner while Mrs. Sara tut-tutted over a pot on the stove. The pot still sat on the stove, empty now.
I left her as dark fell and walked through the town. ‘More people will come to you for help,’ she had said. If they were as easy as today, I might not mind.