Rain fell yesterday morning. I stood in my dusty garden, thinking, Bring it on.
Halfway through the morning, the light held the thin green translucence, like we moved in a piece of sea glass that was alive.
All afternoon in my library, people wandered by, singly and in pairs — nothing more. Most had tidied up, wearing sundresses and ironed shirts — all with masks — as if swinging by the library was an outing. Which, perhaps, it likely was. We spoke with the same underlying uncertainy and loneliness, and a tender care with each other.
At the very end, I loaded up two bags for a 10-year-old hungry for books — my good deed for the day.
10 weeks ago I never imagined closing the little library where I’m the director and chief window washer — and yet, in mid-March, I suddenly taped a sign on the door, locked up, and went home.
Wednesday, I opened the door, the windows, wiped down the desk, and opened. A hummingbird appeared first, darting around the ceiling. Shortly afterward, a couple wearing masks came in. They wanted library cards and novels, and I listened to their story of driving north from Florida. In her house, she had caught hummingbirds with her hands, and stood staring at the crazed bird while her husband and I talked. In April, they had driven north, on interstates that were nearly empty. They were here to stay.
Shortly afterward, a trustee appeared, seeking a novel. Then we stood outside, spread apart on the grass. As a little rain slowly fell, we talked library business and money and raising kids and town gossip, standing near the library garden perpetually in need of weeding.
Another woman pulled into the parking lot, got out, and exclaimed, “You’re open!” Just before I walked back into the library, the hummingbird darted from the building, disappearing into the blooming lilac bush, hungry, beating its wings for dear life.
You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.
A woman stops in my library — new to town and looking for basic info about an internet connection and where to buy food. She’s getting the lay of this corner of Vermont’s territory. Early afternoon, the school kids are paired up around the library, working on projects — some seriously, some intently goofing off.
It’s drab November, and the woman stays for a long while, using the library’s internet connection. Her friend calls the library and arranges to meet in the parking lot, exchanging a microwave. School morphs into after school by then, and the kids merge back into the library. A parent takes three crying girls aside and demands the drama to cease. A little boy chats with the woman in the library who pauses in her work and answers his questions. The kids pull out their newest craze — the chess sets.
Through all this, I keep introducing the woman to anyone who comes in the door.
When I leave at 5 p.m., darkness folds around the library. The woman has left with an armful of books; the children have all gone home. A few adults are picking up yet.
I turn down the heat in this library — a kind of living room lined with books. Then I head home myself.
The library might have been the first place I was ever given autonomy. Even when I was maybe four or five years old, I was allowed to head off on my own.
Yesterday, a woman came into my library with old photos and book donations. She arrived at a quiet time, and we sat and talked, our conversation winding around to her grandmother — a midwife who studied via a correspondence course while raising a brood of children.
In those days, the quarries in Woodbury were running at their peak, shipping marble and granite via rail all over the country. The midwife was called to the quarries’ terrible accidents — where men’s flesh and bones were mangled and crushed by stone.
Thin November sunlight flooded the library. I was in no particular rush to return to my work. A sugarmaker with her husband, she was glad of the pause from her work in the woods, too. She mentioned that now, as an adult, she has so many questions she’d like to ask her grandmother — what made you want to be a midwife? what did you see? She remembers her grandfather coming in from the morning milking and eating her grandmother’s maple cream by the spoonful.
Here’s a line from Elliot Ackerman’s novel Waiting for Eden, regarding training for overseas deployment:
Communication, we were told, would be our only defense against the stresses of isolation and confinement.
On a rainy day, I’m at a cataloging class at the state library. Through the open window, rain pours from the roof. I admire the library world for its insistence on precision and order, its intensely democratic approach, the unapologetic quest for knowledge and creativity.
In Vermont, numerous tiny one-woman libraries like my own hold the same democratic importance as the large city libraries. Such a complicated network laces this system together — like Z39.50, the mysterious (for me) way library systems speak to each other and exchange information.
Later in the morning, the rain stills. Through the open window, robin sing. The teacher pauses, says, Spring’s here, and waits for just a moment, a subtle acknowledgment of the beauty of communication.
The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.
When I was vacuuming tiny gold stars from the library’s rug yesterday, in the hour when the tired after school kids were getting picked up and before the adult readers appeared, I noticed the carpet, hard-worn when I arrived as the sole employee, was even more shabby. A splotch of yellow paint, snips of pink yarn, dog hair that perpetually sloughs off a few small patrons. The carpet has been used by all sizes of feet.
The walls are covered with kid art, colored paper chains hang from the ceiling, donations for the pie breakfast book sale line the walls.
Although I was so tired I considered lying down on the floor before the reading group, the adults arrived with incredible enthusiasm. The kids made popcorn and kicked a soccer ball in the other room, with a strange sound like someone banging her head against a wall I (futilely) tried to ignore.
I heated water for tea. What do goals mean in a lifetime, anyway?
Here’s one of mine: heat water for a thousand cups of tea in this one-room library.
I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.