09/28/2021

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.