Author's Note: This story alludes to a real children's book - I've noted the Title and Author of that book in the comments below.
“Don’t you remember?”
He looked up at me with big eyes. “No. That’s why I’m asking you.”
He had a good point, if I had been a librarian for any number of years over zero. Unfortunately for him, however, today was my first day. And I had no idea what I was doing.
I looked down at the big stack of books in my arms that I had been instructed to shelve, and then over at my tiny petitioner. “Okay,” I said, glancing around. None of my coworkers were in sight to help us. “Do you remember what color the front is?”
“Um…” I could tell he was thinking hard. “Red. Lots of red.”
“Okay, let’s - ” I started.
“ - and some yellow.”
“And some green!”
I scratched my head. “Well, that narrows it down. Do you remember any other colors?”
He thought hard again, then shook his head.
“Okay,” I said. “Do you remember what the book was about?”
“What was it about?” I prompted.
“A little boy!” The words came out proudly.
This was not going well. “Do you remember the boy’s name?”
A head shake.
If he couldn’t remember the boy’s name, I had a feeling he wasn’t going to remember the author’s name.
“What did the boy in the book do?”
“Um…he played!” His face was so hopeful.
I took a deep breath. “What did he play with? A ball? A kite?”
“He played in the snow!”
Now we were getting somewhere. I gently set my pile of books down and walked over to the nearest computer kiosk. He trailed behind. Sitting down, I scooted the chair closer to the desk and clicked the filter for “Children’s Books” on the screen. I typed the word “Snow” into the search bar.
I looked over at him. He looked back at me. I looked back at the 208 results.
“What else do you remember about the book?”
More thinking. A scrunched-up face. Then a huge smile. “A snowball!”
I stifled a groan and ended up coughing instead.
The smiling eyes changed to reveal a concerned stare. “Are you okay?”
“Yep,” I assured him. “Remember anything else?”
A little shrug. “Um…footprints!”
Footprints. Why did that ring a bell? I felt like a very distant memory, lost in a thick fog of other distant memories, had stirred in the back of my mind.
“Footprints in the snow?”
I thought for a moment. The children’s book about a wolf? No. The children’s book about a little girl? No.
The voice spoke up again. “And…crunch crunch crunch.”
Crunch crunch crunch. The fog thinned, just a tiny bit, like a breeze in the distance was starting to clear the air.
Crunch crunch crunch. I knew that line. I looked at the first ten results on the database page. Nothing looked familiar. I clicked over to page two.
“Did you find it?”
I looked over at the stack of books I had left on the floor, then glanced around the room. My coworkers were still all out of sight.
A little impatient sigh came from my left, and I looked back at the screen.
A little boy playing in the snow. A snowball. Footprints. Crunching.
I closed my eyes, hoping it would help the fog clear.
A memory flashed by. I must have been about three years old. I was bringing a book to my granddad’s easy chair; climbing up in his lap so we could read it together. The book had red on the cover.
Crunch crunch crunch. I could hear his gravelly voice reading the line, and I heard my three-year-old self giggling. It was snowy outside.
“Did you fall asleep?”
I opened my eyes. My new friend was watching me intently.
“Nope, just trying to think about what your book could be.”
His eyebrows furrowed together, and I could tell his little mind was working hard.
“I can’t remember any more,” he finally said. His face looked dejected.
“That’s okay,” I said quickly. I didn’t want him to feel bad. “Why don’t you go look over there in the children’s book section, and I’ll keep looking here on the computer?”
His eyes lit up. “Okay,” he said and started to dart away.
I called after him, “Walk, please!” Then I had an idea. “Hey, are your parents here? Maybe they’ll know which book it is.”
He turned and pointed. “My mom’s over there.” I looked across the room and saw a young woman with three other little kids. She looked like she had her hands full.
I turned back to the computer. “Okay. Let me know if you find it,” I said, and he threw a hurried “I will!” over his shoulder on his way to the children’s section.
I closed my eyes again, and pictured the living room in the house where I grew up. My grandad’s easy chair was sitting by the window. It was big and soft and covered in plaid, a lot like granddad.
Snow was falling outside. They were the huge, slow, sloppy snowflakes - as a child they’re the funnest to watch, but as an adult you know the air is warming up and the snow will turn into rain.
I heard my three-year-old self giggling. Crunch crunch crunch. I could squint through the fog and see that we were reading the words together, and I was helping granddad turn the pages. There was a page with a white background and a red splotch.
Footprints. I could see tiny footprints in the snow on the pages. I remembered seeing a traffic light. The fog cleared a bit more.
I opened my eyes and looked at the list of book titles on page two. Nothing there. I clicked on page three.
“I found it!” I heard the excited words and winced at their high decibel level, but couldn’t help smiling at his eagerness. Little footsteps ran towards me on the striped carpet.
“That’s great!” I exclaimed. He held up his treasure for me to see.
I saw the little boy in red on the book’s cover. All of a sudden I was three years old in my granddad’s arms, rocking in his easy chair while we were reading the beloved story out loud together. The huge snowflakes were falling outside the window, but we were safe and cozy.
Some time later I watched my fellow book enthusiast leave with his family, clutching the book close to his chest.
He smiled and waved at me from the door. I waved back, then paused. It had been a good first day.