Adolf Henderson walked through the doors of the library on a mission. The door creaked and something sticky made him flex his fingers a few times. The library always felt like that.
It's dark in the library, just on the side of too dark to read. Little pools sprout from lamps spread around the building. Those little green lights on desks and tables. The library windows stretch high to the cathedral ceiling where a few skylights stare down like the eyes of a dead god, but the light from them never seems bright. The building seems to absorb and mute.
Henderson's shoes clip on the library floor. One, two, one, two, one, two, a steady rate he learned in the Army.
His eyes search the building in the dim light. Signs hover and cover spaces in the library, mostly in English. He spots the one that says "Circulation Desk," and thinks it was in another space at another time.
Bam! the book lands on the desk. All books dropped from more than an inch in the library sound like this, but Adolf Henderson does not remember that. His face winces, oops did I make noise, but a little voice on the inside tells him he did well. He got the woman's attention.
The librarian is not large nor small. Not tall or short. She could be standing or sitting behind the large wooden desk, the glow of a computer screen on her not thin and not fat face.
Yes? the librarian saying it with an easy, husky voice that drifts in silence like a ship a sea.
Adolf points at the book. He says, Returning that. Got a letter it's late, but we didn't check it out.
A hand snakes to the book, wraps around it in a warm controlling embrace and pulls it in. Her voice is low saying, Oh yes, this one.
Was her tongue forked? No, no, no, Adolf thinks to himself. He wants confirmation, another person here at the library to nudge and say, take a load of this, what I'm about to do.
I'm not paying a fine. I didn't check that out.
It came to you then?
I've never been in here. Not in a long time.
Which is it? Never or in a long time.
He tries to take her in. She's smiling but the smile has a down turn. Her eyes hold him and keep him locked in a way he hasn't felt since basic training. One old drill sergeant demanding answers to inane and impossible questions. What's all this dirt doing in my hole? was a favorite.
I don't want to pay a fine, he says and he says it low.
Then don't pay the fine, Mr. Henderson. The librarian puts the book under the desk in some dark place he can't see and keeps that look. Is there anything else, sir?
No, thank you, he says.
That night Adolf Henderson leaves the bed he shared with his wife for twenty-three years before the cancer. He still sleeps on his side and gets out on the same side and walks quiet even though no one is in the house to listen.
His footsteps make tapping sounds on the linoleum in the kitchen. Quiet little sounds that do not sound like pages turning.
The book is open and the pages turn in a wind Adolf Henderson cannot feel. Behind him he hears the sound of something, a quiet whisper of scales on tile.
He never paid a library fine again.