“You have any idea how this section is organised?” I ask, looking at the shelves lined with slim, emerald-coloured boxes that remind me of DVD cases. I pick one at random and read the label, ‘SER-☘️-🐕’
“Hannah, I just work in the cafe here, I'm not a librarian," Lyra says, running pale fingers through her spiky purple hair.
“Ladies, this is the Quiet Zone,” says a woman in a fitted grey suit with matching grey hair, pointing a dove-grey fingernail to the sign above our heads.
I look up at the sign, then down to her name tag. “Sorry, Agnes. I can’t figure out how this is organised.”
Her slate eyes assess me.
“Uh, maybe you could help?”
“Fine,” Agnes says. “Follow me…quietly.”
We reach a large, silver-framed graphic attached to a wall. It’s a matrix with rows and columns, ranging from softer colours on the left that deepen into darker, more vibrant colours on the right. And strange symbols at the head of each column.
“This is Melinoe’s periodic table to the unconscious,” Agnes says, standing on the left side of the graphic. “Named after Melinoe Göttin, who catalogued and cross-referenced common motifs, symbols and settings, across millions of dreams to create a Dewey Decimal system of Dreams.”
“It’s beautiful,” I whisper.
“You’re such a dork.” Lyra says, “You think spreadsheets are sexy.”
“Each row represents a motif. This row,” Agnes says, tracing a path from sea-foam green through to emerald, moss, and ending in an inky seaweed green, “represents Serendipity. It includes Chance, Happenstance and Luck.”
“Oh, is that why the cases were all emerald green?” I ask, “We must have wandered into the Serendipity section.”
“Across the top, the columns catalogue symbols and shapes.”
“Why is there a naked dude?” Lyra asks, pointing to a genericised image of a human body.
“That refers to the dreamer’s body, or parts the body. Eyes, teeth, hands.”
“There was a shamrock and a dog on the case I picked up.”
“That refers to Luck, as the motif, combined with animal symbology, and dogs in particular.”
“Alright, so let’s say my friend wanted some, uh, alone time, with Santiago Cabrera…” Lyra begins.
“What? I didn’t say that you were the friend who wanted some sexy time with—"
“We don’t stock dreams with specific people, for obvious reasons.” Agnes says.
“Hannah, for sure we can get that on the black market. My friend Cyrus has a dark web—”
“Though you can select regions, like Spain, or professions, such as Musketeer, painter, or pilot of a space ship.” Agnes says, a hint of a smile flickering.
“Okay, well, thanks for explaining that. I think I’ll just go for a book this time,” I stammer, as I lead Lyra into the Bestsellers section.
“Right, your turn to pick,” I say. “Surprise me. But nothing too heavy or horror-y.”
I sit on a plush yellow chair as Lyra scans the tables stacked with books. We have very different tastes in movies, books, and men, but she knows what I like and I trust her to pick something interesting that I’d never pick for myself.
“Jackpot,” she says, tucking two books into a cloth bag and handing it to me. “No looking till you sign them out.”
We head to the check-out area, waiting in a single line that’s serviced by two librarians, one man and one woman, each standing behind a desk.
“Look,” Lyra whispers, jabbing me in the ribs with a sharp elbow.
“Ouch!” I shout. The customers in front turn to look at me. “Sorry,” I mumble.
“That’s HIM,” she says, nodding toward the male librarian, a slim man with curly brown hair and blue eyes. “The guy who worked at the used book store. The one you had a huge crush on but were too chickenshit to ask out.”
“Yeah,” I croak, my throat suddenly dry, my heart racing. I figure I have a 50-50 chance of not having to talk to him.
“You know, he looks a LOT like Santiago Cabrera. Except for the eye colour, he could be his twin.”
We’re next in line and I’ve got everything crossed, hoping I won't land at the desk of Mr. Cabrera’s American doppelgänger.
“Next,” calls out the woman. I nearly collapse with relief as I start towards her. But Lyra pushes me out of the way, turning to wink as she reaches her desk.
I’m backtracking a few steps when I hear him say, “Next.”
He’s looking at me with a soft smile. I’m not sure my legs are strong enough to walk the five steps over to him.
“Did you find everything you wanted?” he asks.
“I uh, yeah.” I say, noticing his name tag, Ethan. I place the bag on the desk and reach inside. Our hands brush against each other as we grasp the same book. I withdraw mine, blood rushing to my cheeks, skin tingling.
“I remember you.” he says, the scanner making a single beep as he draws it across the bar code. “You came into my book shop last September, asking for A Confederacy of Dunces. You were wearing a white skirt.”
I stare mutely back.
“The next time you came in, you were wearing a blue sundress, and said you were ‘just browsing.’”
“I like old books,” I say, finally getting some control over my mouth and vocal cords. “I love the smell of used book stores.”
“Me too. It’s the scent of all those accumulated lives, packed together in one space.”
I notice Lyra sitting in a chair near the check-out area, gazing intently at my interactions with Ethan.
“Hey, let me know if this is any good,” he says, as he turns the biography of Santiago Cabrera over in his hands. “People have said I look like him, can you believe that?”
“Oh, oh no," I say, glancing over at Lyra. She smiles devilishly.
“You don’t see a resemblance?” he asks, holding the book up to his face, so that Mr. Cabrera’s visage is next to his.
“I, yes. Yes, there’s a striking resemblance. If you ever get a movie made of your life, he should definitely play you,” I laugh, relaxing just a bit.
“This is a good book,” Ethan says, as scans the second one. “Your partner is very lucky.”
“My, what? I don’t have a partner,” I say, squinting at the title of the book in Ethan’s hand. Sexual Energy Ecstasy: A Practical Guide to Lovemaking Secrets of the East and West.
If I could kill Lyra with a stare, she would be a smoking pile of ash now. Instead, she waves and smiles and gives a thumbs up. A third beep interrupts my homicidal thoughts. I whip back to face Ethan. He’s scanning a green case. Lyra must have grabbed it from the Dream section when I wasn’t looking.
“What’s that?” I ask, dreading the answer.
“It’s a dream,” he says, raising one eyebrow, “about getting lucky with a librarian.”
I wish for a chasm to open in the floor and swallow me whole. My humiliation is now complete.
He slides the bag back to me. I can’t meet his eyes. I mumble thanks and drag it off the desk, but it snags on something. Ethan is holding onto one of the handles.
“If that dream doesn’t work, I’ll be here tomorrow. I finish at five."