She stood in front of me and her hands were shaking she was so mad. The little gold chain attached to the arms of her glasses vibrated against her wrinkled and spotted neck. She hated me in a special way most people reserve for nuclear reactors and texting in a movie. The best part? I had no idea why.
"I was here yesterday and nobody helped me," she said.
Now I knew.
"There was a bit of an emergency and I had to run out. I'm sorry," I said. "We were a bit distracted."
"No one was here at all."
"I'm here now. What can I do for you?"
She tapped at a paper on the desk. The writing on it was a childish scrawl with scratching of a fat red marker. "Write a note. My grandson had a project due today but you weren't here to help me do it. You should take responsibility."
"Ma'am, I left. The books were still here." I don't know why I said that.
"Just write the note. Be responsible. Leaving your job? You should be ashamed. Kids have projects due."
"I can write a note saying we didn't provide adequate help, that's true," I said. Giving in a little is better than a fight about whose responsibility a kid's homework is. Poor bastard.
"Nobody was here," she said and pushed paper toward me.
"Yes, ma'am, but I doubt that'll be enough."
"Do you have children?"
"Figures. Just write the note."
I scrawled something about the library not being staffed to properly help individual students. I also kept talking because walls melt at the sound of my voice. "If you come by earlier and bring your grandson, I'm sure we can help him. Got some great books and stuff."
"I don't think we'll be back here." I have converted another.
As she left, she held the door open. Charlie Miller and his group file in, the little children feet making a soft cadence with their rubber shoes. Mattie Farmer follows them, does not herd them. She walks to the circulation desk with a distant smile. The last time I saw her she was panicked. Today she is calm and together. Her hair is in place and her face is flushed and warm yet empty.
"Excuse me, Do you have One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish?" she said.
"Yes. Do you have the book? The children love it when I read it to them." Her voice fell out of her mouth. The words formed with empty joy, a false mechanic of her throat. My heart fell.
"We have an old copy," I said.
Her face went dark and wrong. "That's wrong. That will not do."
"We don't have another copy. I'm sorry, Mattie. I'm so sorry." I felt my throat burn and my eyes sting. I looked at the children and they looked at me. Nothing I could do.
"Why are you sorry?" she said. "There are other books. Maybe you can read it to us one day. Maybe we can show you how special it is. Everything is fine."