"Hmm. You said you wanted another western…" The librarian scanned the upper shelves. "Ah. Here. Lonesome Dove. I think you'll enjoy this one." He pulled the book from its tier and handed it down to the man beside him.
"What's your name, again?"
"Absalom. Always liked ‘Absalom.’ That's my son's name,” Mr. Danberg said, scanning the book.
"Hm." He held it at arms-length and peered down his nose. His mouth hung slightly open as he scanned the blurb on the jacket's inner fold. Snapping it closed, he smiled up at the librarian. "No, thank you."
Absalom’s shoulders dropped with his sigh–an oversight he quickly corrected.
“Alright,” he said, with a tight smile, as he re-shelved the volume. “How about Riders of the Purple Sage?”
“Read that one already.”
“Da–Mr. Danberg, you’ve read most of these, I believe. Why not something new? We have some westerns that have only been on the shelves for a month or so–”
“I don’t want no ‘new’ western!” The old man’s head quivered under the strength of his conviction. “I don’t like ‘em. More like scary stories than…adventure.” He scowled at the nearby table. “Heroes should be good, and villains should be bad.” He raised a trembling hand and slashed the air with it.
“In that case, what about Dragon Teeth? It’s definitely an adven–”
“Dragon Teeth? That don’t even sound like a western! No. No!” His forehead furrowed as he squinted his eyes, pacing and mumbling to himself.
Absalom paled and watched light reflect off wispy, silver-white hair as the man moved back and forth. His bowed head accentuated slightly hunched shoulders that held the echo of strength. He ambled stiffly, bones shuffling under the weight of a long, thin frame; scowl and mutterings firmly in place.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Danberg. I believe I misunderstood,” Absalom swallowed. “I bet you’d enjoy a Louis L’Amour.”
“Louis L’Amour?” the old man halted, face whipping up. “I like Louis L’Amour. Have you read Hondo?” His eyes danced and a grin spread wide across his face.
“Yes,” the librarian answered, his mouth turning up in a small smile, “...my dad loved that book. I wanted to know why he liked it so much, so I’d sneak his copy and read a chapter here, a chapter there, until I’d finished.”
“Good, isn’t it?”
“Remember when Hondo tells Angie about his wife that passed away? About her name?” The smile froze for a moment, “…My Evie passed away, too,” and it evaporated.
“What’s your name, again?” Mr. Danberg asked.
“Absalom. That’s my son’s name.”
Absalom clenched his jaw and swallowed.
“It sounds like you’ve already read that book, too,” he said in what he hoped was a neutral tone. “Would you like a different one? The Quick and the Dead is another fan-favorite.”
“No. It’s…good, I’m sure, but…I believe I’ve read it.”
“Then how about Lonesome Gods?”
“No. No, thanks. I believe I’ll just take Hondo,” he shook his head.
“But you just returned it, Mr. Danberg,” Absalom said, gently. “You borrowed that one, last week. I haven’t even re-shelved it, yet.”
Mr. Danberg’s brow drew in concentration, and he stared at the floor. At his sides, his hands pulsated into fists.
“I bet I could find another adventure-western that you’d like. You can get a cup of coffee, bring it and the book to your room, and settle into your favorite chair to read. How does that sound?”
“Young man,” Mr. Danberg said, finally, “I don’t want a different book. I want Hondo."
Absalom opened his mouth to protest, but Mr. Danberg cut him off.
“You know why I always get that one? Because I remember it. I remember that story. I…I can’t remember where my house is…or my family…
“My Evie… I remember my Evie. She passed away a long time ago. And my son…
“What’s your name, again?”
“That’s my son’s name. …He’s tall, like you, but not as old: he doesn’t have any grey hair. He’s stronger, too. You’re too skinny.” He looked around. “My son would like this place. He reads all the time. Reads and works.” Mr. Danberg smiled. “He’s a good worker. A good boy.”
Absalom clenched his jaw against the salt water that threatened his vision. The muscles in his face pulled tight as he smiled.
“Mr. Danberg?” a female voice called from the end of the aisle. A woman in her late-thirties wearing fuchsia scrubs approached them. “It’s about time to go. Did you find what you wanted?”
He opened his mouth, but the librarian saw confusion play across his features, stealing his words.
“We were just heading to the main desk to get it,” answered Absalom with a nod.
Behind the desk, he scanned the book and double-checked its information.
“I bet I know what that is,” the woman beside Mr. Danberg grinned. “You got Hondo, again.”
“That’s right,” he said, eyes wide and mouth opened on a smile. “How did you know?”
“Just a lucky guess,” she winked, as Absalom handed the book to Mr. Danberg. “Let’s go. They’re looking for us outside.” She cocked her head toward the glass doors where they could see a tall, white van waiting in front of the building.
“Will we see you, this evening?” she tossed over her shoulder as she walked Mr. Danberg toward the entrance.
“As soon as I get off work,” Absalom nodded, holding the door.
“Is he your boyfriend?” Mr. Danberg asked as they exited.
“No, no,” the nurse laughed, patting his shoulder. “He’s coming to see you.”
They continued to talk as they reached the van, but Absalom couldn’t tell what they said. He watched as she helped Mr. Danberg into the van, then held up a finger to the driver and jogged back to the building.
“Was everything okay? He seemed to be having a good day,” she asked as Absalom opened the door for her.
“Yes, I think so. The mood swings were minor. Very minor.”
“Good. You looked a little upset when I came to get him, so I just wanted to check.”
“Thank you,” Absalom nodded. “...He remembered me, a little. He didn’t recognize me; but he remembered me.”
She offered a sad smile, but remained silent.
“I know not to count on it happening again; but still…I’ll take it. Thank you for bringing him, every week.”
“It’s my pleasure. I'm glad you set this up for him. I think it’s good for our residents to get out, sometimes, if they’re able.”
He opened the door for her as she walked back to the van.
“Have a good afternoon, Mr. Danberg,” she called.
“Mr. Danberg’s going with you,” he grinned. “Please, call me Absalom.”
He watched as she closed the van door and it pulled onto the street.
“Bye, Dad,” he whispered. “See you, soon.”