In the stacksI went to the library today. It was a compulsion that drove me there. A feeling. A need... I climbed the stairs, three flights, to the top floor. Its darker there, lonelier, moodier - like me. Its different. There’s no hum of computers. There are no teens doing research. No librarians shushing or printer squealing loudly as they spit out ream upon ream of useful information. Its warmer. More comforting. More alone.
The old stacks are stored there. Newspapers for generations that never made it to microfilm clutter shelves, gathering dust. Books, old books, older than me, some older than my parents, piled high upon shelves. Their bindings are fading, the spines are cracked. The pages are yellow with age, printed lightly with the oil of thousands of fingers that have caressed them over the years. It smells soft here. Like paper, of course. But of age. And time. And knowledge. It smells of memories.
I wander through the shelves, row upon row of them. I squint my eyes in the yellow light of overhead bulbs, shaded windows high near the ceiling and the seemingly endless towers of shelves full of the thoughts and researches of people long gone. I breathe deeply, pulling the smell into me, resting against them on occasion, hoping to pull it onto me somehow. My fingers trace lightly the covers. They run the ridges of uneven pages with my own special brand of love.
I look there, unsure, almost, what it is I am looking for. What it is that I am needing. I know I will find it when I am meant to, its how it always is with me and books. With me and memories. With me, and everything I touch. Wait. Hope. Everything comes in time. I am not drawn, as I normally am, to a corner this once. It is a shelf in the middle. High up. I must use a step stool to reach the book I am wanting.
It is pale blue, and large. Much larger than a normal book. It is heavy in my hands despite its age and its soft crumbling pages. It is bound tightly so that I hear a soft crackle as I open it. My hands flutter over the pages lightly. I do not look at the title. I do not look at the author. On occasion I will stop to read, though, soft words, almost soft enough to be smudged away with my hand were I to choose to do so.
As I turn the pages I see a woman in a picture. She is standing on the edge of a bluff, her hands at her side, her hair pulled away from her face. There is a building behind her. A tall one. And dark. The black and white of the photo seems to enhance her grace. It enhances what looks to be fading light. The trees in the back of it seem both comforting and intimidating in their strength at once. I begin to turn the page, but something makes me look closer.
She looks like me. So much like me it is frightening when you begin to press the resemblance. The hair. The eyes. The mouth. She even has that look I hear about myself so often, as though I am lost in a though or a memory of the past that only I know. I trace the outline of her face, lightly. I feel a stirring in my chest. I feel a tightness in the corner of my eyes. I feel like I am aching, burning. Like I should slam the book shut and run from this room and forget about this woman who is so like me and this book that has called me to it. Instead I cry. I shut my eyes and on the inside of my lids I feel the heat of tears slipping down my cheeks gently as I see for the first time what this woman does.
I can see mist rising in the distance, cool wind ruffling my hair. I feel the chill of the evening coming. The sun resting behind me on my shoulders. The grass is wet beneath my feet. I smell the rain. And I turn to the building, the tall dark house behind me and I feel more than I am prepared to.
She- I am walking back to it, heavy in my chest, my eyes swollen from tears. I approach a door, one that is old, wooden and nicked from the abuse of weather and time and children running through it without care. Crossing the threshold seems almost too much to bear, though, and I lean on the doorframe and try to breathe.
I collect myself and go up the stairs. Once, twice, a third flight of stairs again and I cross into a room with another heavy door, a cold stone floor and a bed made for lovers. There is a window, a great open window that looks out on the bluff I have left, the forest, the lake that shimmers beyond. I approach that window tentatively. I can feel the sobs rising again in my throat and m chest as I do.
I reach it, and as I do I fall. In my grief my legs can support me no more. I lay my head against the wall, dark stone, so cold it nearly feels wet. I weep. My fingers run over the wall lightly, tracing the pockmarks and lines. It feels grainy and wet against my cheeks. I hear myself moan lowly. I cry. As I do I close my eyes again and I see something. I see what she is missing. I see her pain, my pain. It is brief, all to brief.
Eyes. A smile. The whispered word love. A warm laugh.
I pull sharply away, gasping, and I can see myself again surrounded by the stacks. The books and newspapers surround me. My hands are wet from the tears, I’ve had my hands over my face. As I look down I see my tears have fallen to the page and the image of the woman is dimmed. She is a faint blur now, a house and the setting sun are all you can really see.
I close the book lightly. I walk to the shelf. Slowly, heavily. I feel as though I am grieving. I slide it back to its place, high up. Away from the ground. Away from the prying eyes of those who would not know to look for her. I walked slowly out to my car and sit there with the sun streaming in through my windows.
In my head I hear it, that word, love. I hear the laughter. I feel so cold. I finger the edge of my shirt. What did I see. Why did I see it? Why am I so very sad?