While the boys were at martial arts and Princess at her aunt's, Bean and I picked up James from work, then went to the downtown library.
The enormous stone building looked ominous and unwelcoming in the waning, wintery sunlight. We walked into the basement children's department to pick up some books for our homeschool studies. Children were running around, arms full of books and videos.
"Do you know offhand who the author of 'The Boxcar Children' is?" I asked the librarian.
She replied, "Wa"-something which my brain decided was too hard to handle with her British accent. I stood there looking like an idiot, so she got up and helped me find it. When we got to the letter 'w' it hit me. Warner. Then she assisted me in finding volumes on germs. Her accent and the wooden bookshelves on the walls made me feel like Harry Potter might be hiding around the corner. We were nearly ready to leave when I found "The Tapestry" on display. It begged to be taken home, so I checked it out too. I can't easily deny a pleading book, especially a children's one.
I suggested going upstairs to the adult section and James readily agreed. The marble stairs disappeared under our feet as the slightly musty smell of old architecture and worn books met our noses.
Large wooden columns extended far above us. The hush of voices, whispering, seemed to welcome me home.
I left Bean in his carrier with James, who was checking out the antique books for sale, to go on my own quest. The stacks welcomed me like childhood friends playing hide-and-seek. Anticipation grew as I turned corners, searching for new treasures. Couldn't find a specific author--certainly they had at least one volume? Olly olly oxen free!
James joined me and a hobbit directed us to the right section. We made our way down the row, passing a table with two high-school girls illuminated in shades of pink and red paper. Hearts grew out of scissors, chatters and laughs. I squeezed by, half expecting the Queen of Hearts to appear and shush them.
Turning to the right, the hiding author appeared. I beckoned to him, and spied others needing a vacation from their relative solitude. Pages leapt at me--scented sharply with fresh ink, or with the slight mustiness that comes with the wisdom of old age. Mysterious. Beckoning. Each page longed for human touch, for my touch. Words had been dripped onto the pages, mixed with sweat, blood, tears. Then frozen-- suspended in time and space, waiting for my eyes to thaw and set them free.
The pile in my arms grew to barely managable proportions; I painfully decided it was enough.
I turned to my husband and we agreed it was time. I hurried down the aisles, staring straight ahead, ignoring the cries and calls of the volumes on either side. Pulling away from those attempting to keep me from fleeing, I burst from the aisle, relieved.
At the desk, vacation passports were scanned, return tickets issued. "Beep. Beep. Beep."
We went out into the frosty air. The sun was nearly down, but I could feel the warmth coming from the tales in my arms. We hurried to the van to escape the chill.
I released the stack of books at my feet, buckled my seatbelt, and leaned back, smiling. Satisfied. Content.