Stacks/ Jerry’s halfway through his second volunteer shift at the library, wheeling his cart between the stacks. Collecting books to be shelved is the only thing he knows how to do so far, and all these words, more than anyone could read in five lifetimes, seem to press in on him from all sides, the dusty quiet their home turf, him, never a reader, their natural prey. When he retired from driving he told his wife Thelma he wanted to do something that would keep him up and active, and here he is. Odd where life takes us.
At the mouth of the reference section a hardback with one of those pebbly, blank, olive-colored covers falls from his cart and splays on the floor, the pages all crumpled and mashed into the carpet, crushed like a Japanese sedan between an eighteen-wheeler and the highway median. How many of those did he see during his years behind the wheel? They all blend together. The years and the accidents. Orange cones and crackling road flares. Thinking back he remembers how after a while he forgot about the people inside. For him, driving his route, each day indistinguishable from the last, those accidents got to be nothing more than parts of machines scattered along the road, toys a big toddler had smashed up. Even when she was still around he could never tell Thelma stuff like that. Thoughts that seem to come from nowhere but are undeniably yours. To do so would have been to change something important between them, an unspoken understanding they’d had, the mental image of the person she’d imagined him to be.
Bending down for the book he realizes that these are the secrets he’ll take to his grave—not murder, theft or adultery, but these thoughts he has that no one will ever know.
/Alas Jerry picks up the olive-colored hardback and a small greeting card slips out. Three flowers, arranged vertically like the buttons of a collared shirt, bloom on the front of the card, one yellow, one red, one blue. Somehow, the card is not bent from the book’s belly flop onto the carpet. It feels wrong to open the card but he does anyway and sees that the whiteness inside is stitched with threads of looping handwriting. He reads:
Hello My Darling!
I saw these scrapbook stickers and decided that I absolutely had to get them for you! I miss you and I wish that I could see you before I leave, alas, we will have to wait till the september reunion. Have a great summer! Especially at convention! Ah I can’t believe that I am missing it. Takes tons of pictures.
I miss you!
P.S. Please email me while I’m in India!
After reading three times, Jerry smooths the crinkled pages of the hardback and slips the greeting card back in place, where it belongs.
Later that night in bed, as he feels another piece of the world soundlessly slipping away from him, Jerry stares at the fuzzy black ceiling and repeats the word in his head, the only word he remembers from the card, the word that for this night is his talisman against forgetting.
Alas, alas, alas.
Steve Gergley is a writer and runner based in Warwick, New York. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in A-Minor, After the Pause, Barren Magazine, Maudlin House, Pithead Chapel, and others. In addition to writing fiction, he has composed and recorded five albums of original music.