I really must renew my library card, decided Mr. Jaspers. He stated this aloud although nobody was in the house. Nobody has been in the house since the cable company came to shut the cable off.
Mr. Jaspers hasn’t borrowed a book in over six years and his eyesight really isn’t what it should be to engage in reading again. Ah, but the occasion may arise, he theorized, where I will need to check out some particular novel urgently; I could, in fact, be shanghaied by an expired card. Nope, I can’t take that chance, he concluded.
Although it’s been some weeks since he’s ventured from his house, an industrious spider has even spun a web from the corner of the porch to Mr. Jaspers’s doorknob, and his library card has been expired for over three years, he determined that this action must be executed today. Promptly.
Something about today felt special, like a tectonic shift was underway. A portal was opening. A message from above convinced him he must leave the house and go on this mission to the library. He’d been alone so long now.
Mr. Jaspers took his hat in his hand and set out for where he last remembered the library was situated. A silky string of spiderweb caught on the shoulder of his tweed coat as he opened the door. He carried the string out into the sun, where it glimmered electrically in the afternoon light, and then dragged it like a parade ribbon down the street behind him. A trolley thundered by, big wheels roiling in the steel slits. The cacophonous clatter of the pedestrian herd surrounded him. The chaos of the city hit him like a blast of air. Brutish. Lonely.
He began muttering. “Now, just where is that darn library? All this noise is just intolerable. It’s so hard to get your bearings. Maybe if I ask someone. But I don’t know any of these people. Excuse me, now, hey you!”
A man in a pinstripe suit stopped abruptly, squashing a dime that was laying on the sidewalk. “Yeah, what is it?” He barked. His hair was slicked back with grease and glistened finely in the gilded afternoon light. “Come on now, I’m in a hurry.”
“I was wondering, perchance, if you could be a gentlemen and help an elderly chap out,” Mr. Jaspers started. “You see, I need to renew my library card due to its status as expired. In the last couple of years I haven’t taken to the pleasure of reading so much as I’m bothered by a touch of cataracts. I used to love to go and read the classics, the newspapers from all sorts of cities, and books about air flight, with my wife, you know, even though she used to complain like mad about the draft in that old tomb and wear those crazy fox scarves — that’s before she passed, of course, but don’t worry, that was long ago — however, it seems since I last visited the library you might say I have lost my way. I think if I go today and renew my card, well, it’s a funny thing to say this out loud, but I feel like I may see her again. Yes, that’s right.” Mr. Jaspers took a deep breath and paused, like a news reporter in the field waiting for the anchor in the studio to fire off another question. “It’s true, I didn’t know what it was about today that felt so special but I’ve placed it. I know why God was telling me to go. Now, do you reckon you know which streets to take to the library?”
The hurried gentlemen was not impressed by this specter of love. He had a hurried, non-gentlemanly scowl on his face. “Of course I don’t know where the library is! Why would I know where the library is? Am I a librarian?”
“Well, no.” Mr. Jaspers was nonplussed. “I just thought… perhaps.”
“No perhaps. No.” The man yelled, then fled, jack-hammering through his fellow pedestrians, knocking them down like pins in a bowling alley.
Mr. Jaspers stood there flummoxed. Well, that’s not a very kindly way to treat somebody. He surely must be a singular man to be so busy and important. I better not get in the way of all these people with such important things to do. I could get hurt, he thought.
“Now, what was it I was doing? Ah, the library. I’ve got to find the library.”
From some fading, hazy recollection he navigated through the city streets, encountering all the neglect and horror of the high rise, church and liquor store and dropping it into a box of memories to be discarded later, with the others, until he surprisingly found himself in front of the stately library, staring at it with mortal confusion, his feet planted in the cement like a stone statue.
Now, what was it I came down here to do?
The sight of the Greek pillars, the vertiginous mishmash of bikes locked to the poles, the rush of people around him, the smell of the peanut vender roasting his 5 o’clock batch, the crash of all these things made his head spin. He buried his face in his hands until his vision steadied and he became less dizzy.
“Isn’t this the most unbelievable folly I’ve gotten myself into,” he mumbled to himself. “I have no idea what I’m doing here. It’s a hard life that keeps on going.”
Taking it all in, everything became funny. Growing old was funny. Forgetting why you’ve walked all the way down to the library is funny. Laughter poured out from under his shirt sleeves. He stood there cackling wildly, letting it all out.
A woman stopped and eyed Mr. Jaspers. There was something about his appearance that was familiar, his voice especially. She searched her memory but couldn’t place this old man among any of the people she ever knew. Of course, most of the people she knew are dead too. The man looks lonely, she thought. What a pity. The lady shook her head in sadness, then bundled a fur scarf around her neck and proceeded silently into that old tomb of a library.