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Contemporary Fiction American

The Oak Brook Public Library was shaped like a UFO.  Or maybe one of those tiny shortbread butter cookies that Potbelly Sandwich Shop puts around the straws on milkshakes.  Either way, the undulating curves of the building hid me from the lightly trafficked road out front, and the darkness of night concealed me from anyone looking through the nearby fields.  

Despite my rush, my hands fumbled with the ring of keys.  I couldn’t pick out the one that opened the main door in the darkness, and I dropped the whole jumble with a metal clang.  I froze, waiting for someone to call out, but heard nothing other than the gentle chirping of crickets.  

I shrugged my heavy backpack higher up on my shoulders, reached down carefully to pick up the keys, and took a deep, calming breath.  Flipping through the ring until I came to one slightly larger than the rest, I slid it smoothly into the lock.  It turned with a click.

I was in.

The curved glass walls provided beautiful natural light that made the various reading nooks and crannies such a pleasure during the day.  At night, they meant that I didn’t even have the luxury of turning on my flashlight without risk of being seen.  Luckily, I knew the layout of shelves in the hub and spoke format like the back of my hand.  

Besides a few red LED lights on the various emergency exit signs, the moonlight that shone through the windows was all the illumination I had.  Luckily, the moon was round and full, providing just enough pale glow to outline the long circulation desk before me.  I was grateful there was no one there to watch me climb awkwardly over the wooden counter.

Two low shelves backed up to the circulation desk and held books put on reserve, divided by slips of paper with the name of the patron who requested them.  I slid further along the shelves until I bumped into a metal cart full of books ready to be reshelved tomorrow morning.  Working by feel, I unzipped my oversized purse and pulled out the books I’d lugged along.  I shuffled them in among the other books.

Suddenly, I heard a metallic click behind me and froze, crouched beside the cart of books.  The front door swung open, and the overhead light came on as someone flipped the master switch.  

“Come out, hands where I can see them,” shouted a deep male voice.  

I wondered if I could stay low and shuffle out the back door before being spotted.  It would be a 50-yard crawl, but certainly more manageable with the lights blazing down on me.

“I know you’re in here,” said the man.  “You set off the motion tracking alarm.  Right now, it’s just trespassing.  Don’t make this any worse for yourself.”

Damn, I thought.  It hadn’t even occurred to me that there was more security than the deadbolt on the door.  It should have.  I was in one of the wealthiest suburbs of Chicago.

He had me dead to rights.  I lifted both arms in the air and slowly rose from my crouch.  The police officer was standing just inside the main entrance, one hand hovering near his belt and the other touching the radio on his shoulder.  He hit me with a hard stare as I rose that turned into a look of mild confusion.

“Ma’am?  You’re the trespasser?” he asked.  “No offense, but you look like you belong in a library.”

I sighed and adjusted my glasses with one shoulder since my arms were still high in the air.  “Not many sixty-year-old women breaking into libraries these days?” I joked.  “I know I do, officer.  Not just look it, either.  I belong here.  Can I put my hands down, please?”

He nodded, and I relaxed.  Still looking cautious, he sauntered over to where I was standing, his eyes taking in the books, my open purse, the clutter behind the circulation desk.  Finally, when he was about six feet away with the wooden desk between us, he stopped, looking me up and down again.  “Can I see some ID?”

“Of course, officer.  It’s in my bag,” I said, my voice rising a few notes at the end like I was asking for permission.”

“Get it.  Slowly.”

Moving as cautiously and steadily as possible, I retrieved two cards from the outside zipper pocket and placed them face up on the counter between us.  

He took them both and held them between us, scanning the cards while keeping me in his line of sight.  “Myra Sokoloff?” he asked, reading the name on my driver’s license.  I nodded.  

He flipped to the other card and frowned.  “Is this some sort of a joke?”  He held up my work ID and compared the tiny square headshot to my actual face.

I chuckled a little but stopped when the officer didn’t join in.  “It depends on your point of view, I suppose.”

“So you’re telling me I was dispatched down here to catch the head librarian trespassing in her own library?”

I gave him a sheepish grin.  “I was recently hired.  Technically, I don’t start until tomorrow morning.”

His eyes narrowed.  “So what brings you in tonight then?”

I huffed out a laugh.  “It’s complicated.”

The officer cocked an eyebrow at me.

“I grew up less than a mile from here, walking distance from the old library.  I practically lived there when I wasn’t in school.  But when I turned 11, my family moved to Boston.”  

I paused, collecting my thoughts, and the policeman spun his finger in a classic hurry-up gesture.  “Ma’am, I don’t have all night.  Just the Cliff Note’s version, if you please.”

“Fine.  Long story short, I accidentally packed a box of library books before that move.  I’ve carried them with me for more than 40 years through maybe a dozen states until I moved back here to Oak Brook.  And I happened to stumble across the box just last night in my attic.”

“The night before you started work as the new head librarian.”  He finally cracked a smile.

“Exactly.  I wanted to start on the right foot.  The books had to come back.”

“So you broke in here--”

“Not quite.” I held up the keyring and wiggled it a bit.

He smirked.  “So you snuck in here to put the books back.”

“That’s pretty much it.”

“Can you show them to me?”

It was so much easier with the lights on.  The books were bound with cloth covers in faded primary colors.  From the sides, it was clear that the pages had yellowed slightly from age.  They stood out in sharp contrast to the colorful paperbacks on the return cart.  I removed about a dozen and stacked them atop the desk.

The policeman flipped open the first one, taking stock of the buff-colored paper pocket glued inside the front cover holding a slip of lined paper with a column of stamped dates.

“I always loved Anne of Green Gables,” I said upon seeing which book had ended up on top.  “I read it more times than I could count through the years.”

“Well, I suppose the library will be happy to have another copy.”

Shrugging, I shook my head.  “Probably not.  I suspect it’ll end up donated or in the used book sale.  That copy has been out of circulation so long; I doubt we could enter it back in the system.”

“So if the library won’t keep it, why’d you bother in the first place?  What was even the point?”

I blinked in surprise.  “Well, it’s the right thing to do, isn’t it?  You can’t just keep a library book forever.”

The officer shook his head and flipped the cover closed.  “Ma’am, I think you’ll make an excellent new head librarian.  Have a good night.”

I stood in the library, surrounded by all my books, and smiled.

April 29, 2021 14:19

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