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American Drama

Unsuccessful Installments—George Davis

 What excuse can I use? My library book is overdue by sixty-four days. Five cents times sixty-four is three dollars and twenty cents. If it cost a nickel to go around the world. I couldn’t get out of my dooryard. I am flat broke, and my father won’t lend me any more money. He says I haven’t paid him back since I was five. 

  I called my very best friend, Salvatore Pignetti. Maybe he can lend me enough money to pay for my delinquent book. “Hi, Sal, how’s it going?” 

  “What is it you want now, Michael?” Did I say best friend? Why would he question my phone call? Could it be he knows what I want before I ask? 

  “How do you know I want anything?” 

  “You never call me unless you want something. That’s why.” 

  “Well, thanks, pal.” 

  “Come on, Michael. Why’d you call me?” 

  “I called to say hi. That's all.” I lied. Sal knew me almost better than I know myself. 

  “I bet.” 

  “Okay then. I need a loan.”  

  “How much?” 

“Four dollars.” I might as well get a little to buy candy and gum. 

  Sal told me to come over, and he would let me have the money. I went around to his home, a small cape on Biscuit Lane in Cumberland Falls. 

  Last night’s snowfall was over the one-foot mark. The two town plows were trying to keep the main drag open, neglecting the less-traveled streets. But, as they say, "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." I must make it to the library this morning if it means shoveling all the way down Main Street. 

  I trudged the half-mile to the library only to find it closed due to the blizzard. Another day, another nickel. What is this world coming to, when a public library closes due to a Maine snowstorm? In my day, it would have been a serious misdemeanor. Everything remained open regardless of winter conditions. 

  I know what the matter is, Miss Springer didn’t want to get up this morning. She was an old maiden lady who thought the world revolved around her. If she didn’t show up for work. The world would stop revolving. The stock market would crash, and planes would fall out of the sky. But, this morning she apparently decided to test her theory. 

  Why are all the stores closed today? When I was a young man, snowstorms did not deter businesses from opening to the public. But, then, back there, men were men and women were steelier, if that’s a word.  

  Words are inadequate to describe how I am feeling right now. I know. I should have taken the book back in the two-week period and saved myself all that money. However, I placed the book where I wouldn’t be able to miss picking it up, and returning it promptly. I placed it on my nightstand, and then put two back issues of Life magazine on top of the book.

  Today, after discovering my error, I felt sorry I had done what I did. Too late. It’s overdue, and I have to pay the fine. 

  The next day, the sun was out, and all the streets were plowed. However, it was Sunday and the library again was closed. 

  Monday I rose, showered, dressed, and went downstairs for some breakfast. Today I would take that book back to the library if I died trying. 

  I opened the morning paper. The headlines said Good Morning and Merry Christmas. I forgot the holiday. I don’t do Christmas. Not that I’m irreligious or anything. I have no one to enjoy the day with. I am alone. 

  Tuesday, and today. I will definitely return that book. I went into the living room to watch the news on TV. The newscaster said: The Bickford-Cumberland Falls library will be closed due to a fire. It didn’t look as if I’d ever get that darn book back in its place. 

  Finally, two weeks later, I took my book back to the library. Miss Springer, the assistant librarian looked up. Her half glasses resting on the end of her aquiline nose, and said, “Michael Johnson, do you realize your book is sixty-five days?” 

  “Yes, Miss Springer, I do.”

  “Let me see how much is due. Why did you keep the book so long, Michael? You know the rules. One must not keep our books past their due date. Now look, it is going to cost you more than the book probably cost when it was new. You owe $3.30. Do you have it?” 

  “Yes, Miss Springer.” I gave her the money and had to listen to the stories of her youth,  

“Michael, when I was a young girl.” That must have been a hundred years ago. “I was very careful not to be delinquent in anything that was placed in my care.”

  “Yes, Miss Springer.” 

  “My homeroom teacher always said, ‘Man is but an infinitesimal pebble on the beach of time.’ In other words, Michael, we are not so important that we can abuse our privileges.  Do you understand what I’m saying?” 

  “Yes, Miss Springer.” 

  “Then you need to be a little more fastidious, Michael. After all, you are thirty-five years old. And, that may account for some of your actions, but not all. When you get to be my age…” a hundred and twenty? “You will know better. Now take this receipt. I expect the next book you borrow will be returned on time.” 

  Two years later, I was in the same boat. I found a library book that I had not returned in a year. The fine would be astronomically high. But worse, I’d have to face Miss Springer again, and go through her whole life’s history all over again. I mailed the library a check for ten dollars and told them to buy another copy as my dog ate their copy. I lied, but I got away with that excuse in high school. Truth is, I have never owned a dog. 

  “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.” 

― George Washington 

April 27, 2021 10:33

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