They called it spring. Intellectual crocuses sent shoots peeking through encrusted snow. After years of unrest followed by martial law, curfews began to be relaxed. The generation who came of age during the darkness began to explore the potential offered by their rediscovered liberties.
The young man known as ‘Roach’ entered the library. Though warm outside, he wore a hoody pulled over his shaven head. He stepped to the counter and asked for Twigs.
From her desk, Madeline looked at him. “Twigs? A book…? Oh, uhm… You mean Dorothy?”
“Twigs, Dorothy, Scarecrow… all the same to me.” He stopped to think. “Or Sharky. There’s something sharky about her, don’t you think?” The harsh sound of the ‘shhh’ cut the silence of the library. People looked up. ‘Where’s security when you need them?’
She pointed at the stacks. Roach sauntered off, looking down each aisle as he passed.
Seeing her, he waved discreetly and approached.
“Hey, Twigs! How’ve you been?”
“Wow, Roach. I’m good. Nice surprise.”
“Thought I’d pop in. You look busy, so I won’t keep you.”
“Yeah. On the clock and all that…”
“You wouldn’t have anything for me…?”
Dorothy had what friends called a ‘Mona Lisa smile.’ “Chill for a minute, okay? I’ll get it.”
Roach stared at the packed shelves. How could anyone read so many books?
Soon, Dorothy stepped to his side. A Manilla envelope changed hands. Only the most observant would suspect anything unusual had happened. She stepped away and returned to re-shelving books from the cart. Roach strolled out of the library staring straight ahead.
Nearing the end of her shift, Madeline saw another figure enter.
Being skinny, Ciggy appeared taller than actual fact. Over-sized clothing accented his boney frame. His friends claimed his clothes flapping in the wind kept birds away. He’d never been seen without his signature, army surplus trench coat.
Ciggy always had a cigarette dangling, lit or not. People asked if he smoked it, or it him. He enhanced the mystery, answering with a smile. Thinking lighters undignified, Ciggy only used matches.
Madeline smelled tobacco and glanced up to see Ciggy striding by. His cigarette danced like a conductor’s baton to a silent melody.
“Excuse me… Sir?” He turned. “You can’t smoke in here.”
“I’m not.” His cigarette bounced as he spoke. “Not lit.”
Unfazed, Madeline said, “Read the sign. No tobacco. Lose it.”
He looked at his signature prop. “Okay…” He drew the final syllable out like a song. With a flourish, he plopped it into his shirt pocket. “We good?”
Madeline hesitated and nodded.
“Perhaps you can direct me to one of your staff?” Madeline waited. “Is Otter working today?”
“Yeah, blond hair. Conservative dresser. Pixyish?”
“You mean Dorothy?”
“Right. Dorothy.” ‘Of course…’ “Where might we find Miss Dorothy, today?”
She pointed into the library’s main room. ‘He’ll find her.’
Dorothy smiled when she saw Ciggy. She caught his eye and he leaned into the turn as he veered toward her. His coattails accented the movement.
She held up her hand and he stopped mid-stride.
“I have something for you.”
She turned away and Ciggy flopped into a chair by a table strewn with magazines. He hopped to his feet when she came into sight. She brushed by without pausing, and passed a Manilla envelope to him. Ciggy deftly slipped it into his inside pocket, and headed out.
Madeline watched his cigarette bob as he walked by to exit. She left her station to find Dorothy.
She found her re-shelving books.
“Tell me how you got this job?”
Dorothy looked up, startled. Madeline pushed by her, scanned the shelves, pulled several books out and reinserted them elsewhere.
Dorothy stared at her shoes. “I know I’m not good at math... I count things differently…”
Madeline interjected. “It isn’t math, Dot. The point is to organize information. Yes, Dewey uses numbers… It isn’t random. But so people can find a book…”
“I get that… Mad… in theory…”
“Maybe dyslexia and decimals defeat you.”
Dorothy nodded. “I’m not dyslexic though.” Madeline looked doubtful. “I see things differently…”
Madeline murmured agreement.
“At my thrift store, they organize clothes by color. If I want a yellow skirt, I go straight to it.”
“Uh huh…” Madeline continued, “So… why become a librarian?”
“My Daddy …”
“…made a donation, in exchange for your getting a job?”
“Maybe… But that sounds…”
“Corrupt?” Dorothy’s eyes widened. “That quid pro quo might be described as such. But in your case… I doubt it. Likely your father was over solicitous for his little girl.”
“He wants to help…”
“Have you had lunch?”
“Take a break, then.”
Dorothy cocked her head and smiled her little smile. “Okay…” She walked into the break room without looking back.
A few minutes later, Madeline knocked on the head librarian’s office door.
“Hi, Dale. Dorothy is a problem.” Madeline couldn’t hide her exasperation.
Dale looked up. “Yes?”
“Or, maybe I’d better say, I have a problem with Dorothy.”
“I’d like to put it… Oh, well… She’s incompetent.”
“Some people see library work as a skate. They camp out, don’t do the work, and think ‘no prob.’” She adopted an attitude. “I mean, ‘It’s a library, right? So what?’”
Dale suppressed a chuckle.
“This isn’t brain surgery. I get that. But…”
Dale stopped her. “Take a breath, Mad. I admit Dorothy is… green. But she’s here. Let’s find a good fit.”
“Like shoes for a fish?”
“See? Hopeful signs. I expected to hear ‘shoes for a snake.’”
Madeline spoke under her breath, “Is she dyslexic?”
Dale blinked and they nodded together.
“Maybe the used book shop? Can she make change?”
A smile accompanied her shrug.
The used book shop sold books the library didn't need. The reasons varied, from overstock to the library’s implementing mandated anti-disinformation standards. They accepted donations but space limitations ruled. How many mysteries, or self-help authors, were necessary?
Sales revenue exceeded the attendant’s wage, so for Dale, it was a wash. She expected Dorothy to thrive in the low pressure job.
Dale understood Madeline’s curiosity about Dorothy’s hiring. She said, “Orders from on high,” pointing further up the food chain. In other words, “It’s out of my hands…”
Short of arson or an egregious dereliction of duty, few got fired. Dale had tolerated less desirable employees than Dorothy.
Dorothy embraced the job and given free rein, decorated the room to her particular taste. She didn’t arrange the books by color. The shop felt attractive and warm. Library customers browsed for lost treasure. All seemed well.
Madeline hadn’t worried about Dorothy fitting her new job. But the parade of ‘characters’ stopping by asking for Dorothy raised flags of every color. Young men, sporting names like Trip, Snuff, Tex, and Choom, asked for ‘Blondie,’ ‘Squirrel,’ ‘Puff Girl,’ and more. Each of them sought Dorothy.
Madeline felt these oddballs’ behavior to be, well, odd. They came to say ‘hi,’ and stayed a few minutes. But though they arrived empty handed, and bought nothing, most left with a Manilla envelope. What was Dorothy up to?
When a man named ‘X-specter’ inquired about ‘Mona,’ Madeline directed him to Dorothy’s shop. She then called security.
When X-specter left the store, Steven, the security guard, intercepted him before he could exit.
“Excuse me, sir. Do you mind if I inspect your package?”
He hesitated, glanced at Dorothy, who nodded, and gave the Manilla envelope to Steven.
Steven pulled a used book from the envelope. It had a black, leatherette cover. The page edges were gold. He flipped through the book and found no contraband. The pages had few pictures and were covered with dense, numbered text in double columns.
Steven held the book up to X-specter. “What’s this? You get it from the library?”
“No sir. From her.” He pointed at Dorothy.
“You buy it?”
“No sir. She lent it to me.”
Steven approached Dorothy and asked, “This a bible? Where did it come from?”
“Not the library?”
“Of course not.”
“You know these are banned for containing disinformation?”
“The law says I can own it. I just can’t buy or sell it.”
Steven nodded. “Yes, technically, that’s the law.”
“Okay. So? I didn’t sell it.”
“Why are you transporting and distributing banned books?”
“My friend asked to borrow my book. There’s nothing wrong with loaning it.”
“You lend a lot of these?”
“I’ve observed you passing things to people.”
“I’m not doing anything wrong, Steven. This is a lending library. I lent it to a friend. It’s a good book.”
Steven looked at Madeline, watching from a distance. He shrugged. Waving him off, she turned away.
Steven returned the Bible to Dorothy, who handed it to X-specter.
“Thanks, Mona!” He asked Steven, “Can I go now?”
Steven said, “Yeah…”
X-specter and Dorothy grinned. He exited with a spring in his step. Steven gave Dorothy a hard look, but couldn’t think of anything to say. He walked away shaking his head.
Dorothy returned to her desk and smiled her little smile.