Simmons Library was a melting pot of haves and have-nots, a mixture of homeless people and older residents of nearby neighborhoods. Many of them with heads down, engrossed in various books. Others using computers, particularly printers which were available for internet usage.
Gwen didn’t like to think of herself as particularly well off, sometimes she struggled but did dwell in a house. Close to six years since Ted passed. Her biggest problem, a car loan Ted took out. Too big a car for her and too uncomfortable in traffic. Blood pressure went up, gave her shaking fingers, not like reading one of those bodice ripper tales she occasionally stumbled across among Simmons stock. Mind, only to demonstrate wide reading, balance out proper literature.
Too embarrassed those few times she couldn’t find her vehicle in car parks. Needing to ring someone or get a smirking shopping centre security person to help her find where she’d parked. Wasn’t dementia. Too young for such problems. All those parking bays looked similar. Simply forgot, level purple 2 or blue 3. No need to get in a knot with worry about a bigger darkness looming. Still she loved reading, and this was a search for new books.
You could tell when Fredrick arrived, he announced to everyone, ‘My name is Fredrick…in house of books.’
On departure, ‘Fredrick is leaving. See you tomorrow…with bells on.’
Don’t stand too close as spit accompanied second half of his name. At least he didn’t smell homeless, an aroma of campfire grit, road dirt and general unwashed. Gwen wondered how this young man kept so clean. Mostly shaved, without disheveled or matted hair. Yet his general noise did annoy students cruising between textbook shelves, who responded to loud announcements with barely stifled giggles. Elderly neighborhoods didn’t pay him too much attention. Caught in their own animated exchanges. But quietly or else the librarian would tell them to be quiet. This was often done with a finger over lips, and a repulsive Shhh… or she would walk up to them and demand they leave the library as they were making too much noise.
Watching Frederick flick magazine pages Gwen decided he might be hungry. After all a café served low-cost treats right inside. She justified approaching him and making this offer under a guise of building bridges between disparate community groups, like clothing drop boxes, or charity donations. She and Ted used to do deliveries for Meals on Wheels. In his brand-new shiny car. Gwen congratulated herself on not being incapacitated like those people.
Chuffed with her offer, Fredrick smiled widely. ‘Oh, thank you, be nice.’
‘Cappuccino, extra hot, with one sugar.’ His too loud order.
Random shush noises, and a titter in response. Luckily the librarian didn’t pay much attention to the café orders.
‘That’s right, Fredrick, your usual order,’ said a teenage barista. With what Gwen thought an expression bordering on interrogative.
‘Would you like a cake?’
‘Oh no, too fattening,’ he replied, patting his thin belly.
Soon Fredrick sipped and uttered too loudly, ‘aaah…’ getting froth on his lips, and licking nosily. Attracting glaring looks other patrons. He slowly stirred liquid, in a sensual manner and winked at Gwen. She was not used to this response.
Another grey-haired woman on an adjacent table waved demurely at Fredrick.
‘Hello Daisy! Love you much. See you again soon…in a bathroom…with bells on.’
Gwen detected a smirk across her lips, as if history exists between these two. Yet she remained silent and too polite to enquire how Fredrick knew Daisy Heatherton. Again the librarian did not pay too much attention, as if she was used to Fredrick making a little too much noise.
With a half empty cup, he asked, ‘can I see where you live?’
‘Why not, and meet my cat, Hendrix.’
Fredrick’s head wobbled reminiscent of Reggae dancing. ‘Love Jimmy Hendrix.’
‘I’d like to get some books before we go.’
Almost jumping up right away, ‘I’ll show you…Fredrick knows good ones.’
He bends much quicker than Gwen might manage.
‘This book is about …two brothers, one is called Clay. Funny name. Not clay as in pottery.’
‘Yes, I’ve read Zusak’s The Book Thief. So, Bridges of Clay, worth a read. Thick book, though, how will I manage to carry it?’
He winked and laughed, open mouthed. ‘Fredrick help…with bell’s on!’
Back outside, caught in an icy wind, Gwen leads Fredrick across the busy highway, taking his hand like escorting a much younger child. Only a few blocks from her street, she notices uncollected local newspapers on ground near letterboxes. Don’t residents know about half priced discount vouchers? Valuable resource, too precious to waste.
Fredrick remarked about collecting newspapers, ‘…you want to spend vouchers… with bells on…’so Gwen didn’t take too many this time.
She’d barely bent over before becoming aware of whoop-whoop of a police car. What just happened, did she stumble? Nope, else Fredrick would be helping her up. Thud of doors, swish of polyester uniformed legs as they confront her. Is she being targeted for lack of youthful vigor? Or her escort? This must be akin to Ray Bradbury’s protagonist in that short story, The Pedestrian. Except Gwen stood in late morning sunshine, rather than night-time with flickering televisions creating jumbled colors from various peopled buildings.
‘Helping yourself to someone else’s mail, are you?’ Came a gruff confrontation.
‘Just picking up discarded papers. I wasn’t helping myself to other’s people’s mail. You have no right to confront me about this.’
‘Where do you live?’ Asked a younger, more pleasant, faced constable.
‘Just down this hill, in Jackson Street.’
‘Not at John Paul Age Care Village?’
‘No. I am still in my own house. Down there.’
Police then launched into string of questions meant to establish if she was an escaped Alzheimer case. What day; Prime Minister’s name; this highway is called? They weren’t asking rather interrogating. Despite also enduring this intrusion Fredrick looked nervous, his trembling arm brushing hers. Maybe authority figures caused him anxiety. Gwen hated to think he might be targeted by anyone with a grudge, poor harmless Fredrick. Yet there wasn’t anything she could do to take away the fear which obviously existed in poor Fredrick.
‘Did you go through proper steps to buy this book?’ A grumpier one asks. She wonders if good-cop bad-cop is a real thing. Or just a crime fiction construction device.
‘I took the correct steps to borrow it from the library. Fredrick helped me to pick it out.’
‘Is he your son? Nephew?’
Animated head shakes. ‘I am her much younger lover. She is taking me back to her place to make soft, gentle love. I’m excited…’
A hopefully unnoticed glance into his groin region and Gwen accredited truth in this statement. Cheeks hot, quivering at consideration of notions she can still affect a man in such a way.
‘…Afterwards, I will enjoy a long hot shower,’ Fredrick ran his fingers across on just visible chin stubble. ‘Use a lady razor for a nice shave, and maybe even dry my hair with a blow dryer. That will be my bell ringing reward.’
She couldn’t believe that earlier panic had been shaken off, he was talking to the police as if they were close friends. If she’d know this about Fredrick, no doubt she wouldn’t have taken him home from the library. She began to wonder how many other women he’d asked to see their houses, and if this trick was the way he kept so clean.