Andy Plattner ~ Library

Wayne knows that the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library down­town opens at 10 a.m. on Tuesday-Saturday and nev­er one min­ute ear­lier, not even when it’s rain­ing and there are a dozen plus-cit­i­zens wait­ing to get inside. The build­ing is eight sto­ries, cube-shaped, neu­tral-toned. He’s read up on the archi­tec­ture: it’s known as Brutalist, tak­en from the French words beton brut, or “raw con­crete.” Chinese elms line the street out­side the entrance. They have minty-look­ing leaves that swim pret­ti­ly in the morn­ing breeze.

When he first start­ed show­ing up at this library, Wayne arrived emp­ty-hand­ed. Now he car­ries a note­book like some of the oth­er patrons. He has tried to make jour­nal-type entries but every time he’s start­ed an entry, his own life doesn’t seem all that inter­est­ing to him. He’s nev­er wished to be a writer and that is true now more than ever. He doesn’t believe that the oth­er peo­ple with note­books in here are pro­fes­sion­al writ­ers. Writing in note­books is just some­thing they’ve come here to do.

Before enter­ing the library, all back­packs and brief­cas­es are searched for drugs and weapons. The secu­ri­ty guard who looks like Lou Rawls will see Wayne and his note­book and wave him on through. Wayne some­times finds him­self on the sec­ond floor of the library where there are knee-high, four-per­son tables and even short­er wood­en stools. These tables are sit­u­at­ed near the shelves that hold cur­rent edi­tions of hard-copy mag­a­zi­nes. The mag­a­zi­nes are about beau­ty or health or fit­ness or the enter­tain­ment indus­try or pol­i­tics or America or great things to do in an America city or inter­na­tion­al des­ti­na­tions or inter­na­tion­al pol­i­tics. There are signs on every floor that read,

No Eating No Drinking No Sleeping

On one occa­sion, Wayne broke the sleep­ing rule. He’d been scratch­ing out a sen­tence in his note­book and then he laid his head on his arm for only a moment. There came tap­ping on the table. A secu­ri­ty guard. “Wake up, please.”

Wayne sat up, cleared his throat. He said, “I was. I’m … awake.”

This morn­ing he’s not sleep­ing when his ex-wife Jackie sits down across from him at one of the sec­ond-floor tables. “Hi, Wayne,” she says.

Hello?” He has his note­book open in front of him.

Pretty morn­ing out­side.”

Why yes, I think it is.”

I heard you might’ve lost your job.” She speaks in her reg­u­lar, non-library voice.

I guess I did.” Wayne glances at the table to his right; a bald black man wear­ing eye­glass­es sits in silence, reads a news­pa­per.

Jackie has shoul­der-length, shiny blond hair, and clear blue eyes. He hasn’t seen her in a year. She stud­ies his face. “Marcy Freeman said she sees you stand­ing out­side the library wait­ing for it to open. Every morn­ing. Looking lost.”

I’m wait­ing for the library to open. How is that lost?” Though he knows bet­ter, he speaks in a non-library voice, too.

She nods to the note­book. “What are you doing, scrib­bling down your last will?”

He’s not in love with Jackie any more. But her pres­ence has changed the rhythm of his heart­beat. “So, I was down­sized,” he says. “That’s all, it’s done. You have the day off or some­thing?”

Hardly.” She toss­es her head. She wears a silky, cerulean blouse. “Just took a break to walk a few blocks. See about this. You appear to be OK, any­way. Marcy made it sound like you were stand­ing around out­side, star­ing off into space.”

I’m not sure I can deny that.”

I’ve nev­er thought of you as a poet.”

You shouldn’t now.” She shakes her head. He turns the note­book back a page, to some stuff he’d writ­ten the day before, push­es that in her direc­tion.

 

A man with a red face and a white beard sits erect in a chair turn­ing the pages of a nov­el fast. It seems like he’s look­ing for a cer­tain pas­sage. It seems to be of the utmost impor­tance.

A man sits at a table with his head bowed, his fin­gers to his fore­head. There’s noth­ing on the table in front of him.

The sun­light pour­ing in through the east win­dow this morn­ing is pret­ty over­whelm­ing.

 

He says, “Not fan­cy. I just see some­thing and write that down. A few of the guys in here are furi­ous. Can fill a note­book in an hour. You ought to see them go. You didn’t have to come over here and check on me.”

She push­es the note­book back to him. “Actually, I did. You have leads on any­thing? Come on, let’s get mov­ing here.”

I don’t stay in the library all day. At noon, I ride the train back to Midtown, go to my apart­ment, get on the Internet, send emails, make calls. I have about two to three rock’em-sock’em hours a day. I do all that in the after­noon. In the morn­ings, you let work­ing peo­ple do their things, be pro­duc­tive.” He gives a quick smile, one she doesn’t return. “When you ask for a favor, always do it lat­er in the day …” He shrugs. “There’s research about that.”

Why haven’t you called me? I can ask around, too.”

Would you ask me? If the shoe …”

A secu­ri­ty guard arrives at their table, smiles, and holds a fin­ger to his lips. He nods in a polite way to Jackie and moves away from the table. She leans for­ward, says, “This is loud?” Wayne decides to write some­thing:

 

Jackie doesn’t seem to under­stand the rules of the library.

 

He holds up the note­book so she can see. She whis­pers, “Ha, ha moth­er­fuck­er,” then sits back again. Wayne sets the note­book in front of him. He writes:

 

A wom­an I know sits in the chair across from me.

That blue is her col­or.

 

He feels his heart sink. He doesn’t show it to her, then turns the page.

Then he writes:

 

Jackie needs to get back to her own office.

 

He holds the note­book so she can see it. She says, “OK, sure.” Since he’s been out of work there have been moments where he has felt the despair that some­one who once worked but now doesn’t is bound to feel. When he thinks about the job he once had, he some­times thinks of it as triv­ial. With Jackie sit­ting across from him now, he under­stands why he had a job. He almost feels like he did when he had a job. While he’d had a job, he wasn’t ambi­tious. But with a job came expla­na­tions, answers. Wayne isn’t philo­soph­i­cal. When Jackie left, some of those went with her. There was a rea­son his job specif­i­cal­ly was down­sized. He sup­pos­es she can put togeth­er a lot of this on her own.

Things OK with you?” he says, try­ing to sound offhand.

What? Yes. Yeah,” she says. “Right now, as far as my plans go, I’m ahead of sched­ule. Don’t you wor­ry about it.” She glances past his shoul­der. Across the floor are the micro­fiche file cab­i­nets; they are metal­lic, bright red and bright blue. Maybe the guard is stand­ing in front of those right now, hold­ing a fin­ger to his lips.

I’ll come to see you if the well runs dry,” he said.

His expres­sion might’ve turned syrupy because she appears impa­tient. “Just don’t feel sor­ry for your­self.” It’s a famil­iar accu­sa­tion.

He nods to the note­book. “I’m not,” he says.

Hooray,” she says teas­ing, look­ing a lit­tle tired.

They sit with­out speak­ing. Her eyes go to the note­book, to the page that has the line about her get­ting back to her own office. “What am I miss­ing out on?” she says, once again in a nor­mal speak­ing voice. Judging by her expres­sion they’re both sur­prised by what she’s said. He under­stands she’s not talk­ing about a life with him.

Well, this, I guess.” He isn’t talk­ing about him­self.

She prob­a­bly under­stands as much, is glanc­ing now in the direc­tion of the infor­ma­tion desk. “I’ll come back here in a week. If you’re still here, I’m drag­ging your ass back to the street.”

OK,” he says.

I got­ta go.”

I know.”

I mean, it’s writ­ten right there.” She points. “Don’t get up.”

He does, part­way. “Jackie.”

Sweetheart,” she says. She touch­es her fin­gers to her mouth in a blow­ing-you-a-kiss ges­ture though she doesn’t puck­er her lips.

Then she walks past the oth­er tables, for the top of the stair­case, starts down. There’s her head and shoul­ders and then her head and then she’s gone. It turns silent. He sits again, turns his note­book back a page.

A wom­an I know sits in the chair across from me. He can’t help but pic­ture Jackie; he thinks of them study­ing togeth­er in a library, back when they were in col­lege. He wants to write anoth­er line but instead he mur­murs, “Don’t you wor­ry about me.” The bald guy glances his way, but he’s a reg­u­lar, too and gets who Wayne is talk­ing to. There can be some mut­ter­ing to one­self here; secu­ri­ty for­gives it. Wayne thinks of books they both read in col­lege, tries to recall the title of one in par­tic­u­lar, a nov­el that mys­ti­fied him at the time. About a sales­man in the Industrial Age. Will Jackie remem­ber? If he phones her about such a thing she’ll prob­a­bly accuse him of want­i­ng to talk about some­thing else.

He clos­es his note­book, car­ries it at his side as he heads for the infor­ma­tion desk. The old­er gen­tle­man seat­ed there is smil­ing as he approach­es.

~

Andy Plattner has a new sto­ry col­lec­tion, Dixie Luck, forth­com­ing with Mercer University Press.