To Be Longing For
by Mark Patrick
(American in Singapore)
A librarian once told me, "To forget a book is forgivable, but to forget the words is a travesty." I am returning a book late, and I haven't finished reading it, so I ask the librarian if she can tell me about the ending. She can only explain that we all define endings differently. An ending is wherever you stop. I tell her I stopped halfway through the first chapter.
She takes the book. People always want their books back, and I don't like the look librarians give you when you have their belongings. To be longing for. She smiles as if she knows I am the kind of guy who can't finish anything. I explain that the story began well, but I thought it wouldn't end well, so I stopped reading.
The book was worn from so many others borrowing it, only the final pages still somewhat crisp. I wasn't the only one creating his own ending. The first page had a yellow stain on the right side and the bottom of the page had been bent oddly, like origami was a better alternative than starting this story.
The librarian watches as my eyes roll upward, the way they do when I search for memories. It's strange that memories are held in the upper part of the eye socket. Like a book being written and re-written every day, that I can just glance up and read from whenever I need to. The librarian waits, as if I might return that book as well.
She asks, very casual-like, the only way a librarian can act cool, if I want to check out something else. She's cute.
I tell her I want another book, but I'm not sure which one. She hands me a thin paperback, and asks me to finish this one in three weeks.
I take the book, only twenty-three pages. I always check the page count. I open it to the first page as if I plan to read the whole story in front of her. I almost do to prove I can. I tell her how I felt when I read my first book over one thousand pages. When I crossed the 1,000th page mark, I couldn’t remember what I had read in the first five hundred pages.
The librarian asks me to keep my voice down. I dated a librarian once, always asking me to keep my voice down wherever we went.
I look into her naked eyes. She’s not wearing glasses. I ask if I can have an extension on the twenty-three-page book. I tell her I don't understand why writers are allowed to have block, but readers aren’t.
When she doesn’t answer, I take the thin book and walk away as if following a winding creek. Straight lines never get you anywhere. I choose a chair facing the librarian. Libraries are quiet. All that reading and thinking and not a sound other than a page turned to remind you where you are.
I open the cover and lick my lips. I read with my lips, so people know I’m reading. Do writers move their lips? Sometimes I read aloud without knowing it, but today I want to share the book with others around me.
The librarian walks over to tell me I am acting inappropriately. I tell her the truth—that I imagined this story written, but never spoken. I am the first to speak these words.
She isn't amused. If you want to amuse a librarian, tell her she's cute. Don’t break the library rules by amusing yourself with your own voice.
She pauses and says thanks and her face goes red. All that blood to the face will make you pass out. I put out my arms to catch her from falling, and read the story in her eyes. She imagines she falls, but doesn't move.
I say excuse me and nod toward the thin book. I open it to page seventeen as if I were almost through and tell her I need to finish. I wish I had emphasized "finished" in a more tactful manner because her face fades back to white, library floor white. I can see she wants to run, but librarians can only walk fast. I don't know if it is the long skirts or the rules.
She sits in her chair and doesn't look up. I turn back to the first page to start over. The first line of the book says, Kiss her. I re-read it, this time using my lips to mouth the words, a different sentence altogether. I remember the true reason why I read with my lips. Because reading with the imagination never follows the words.
People around me look more focused, as if they're only pretending to read. The pale librarian studies something on her desk, is still pondering something when I stand and run toward her.
The only way to prevent my mind from racing back in the other direction is to pick up my feet and let momentum carry me. So I run the eight meters to her desk with the book in my hand. I have broken the rules.
She breaks the rules when she looks up and doesn't scold me.
You gave me this book and I haven't finished a page, I say. I read the first line with my imagination and it was about you. I don’t want to continue a story about you without me in it.
She holds out both palms as if to ward me off, but I grasp her hands and don’t let go.