Delores Delia Yeats lived like a postcard; methodical, deliberate and painterly. She kept her life tidy as a tightly wound watch. She liked her hair straight and modest, not a strand awry. She kept it shoulder-length, bangs four inches from her eyebrows—she measured daily. She wore carefully curated sweaters in unostentatious hues and unassuming skirts of inoffensive fabric. No frills. Brown, please. Earth colors were the color of her aura. Tuesdays, maybe, if she were feeling ribald, she’d wear a bracelet of some pastel persuasion. That was spicy enough, thank you.
On Mondays, Delores Delia Yeats mailed her post and slipped her fondly eyed literature into the deposit slot of the library. Today, being Monday, she clicked up the rock walkway of Colonial Square and admired Autumn. There were leaves, now, on the cobblestones, and she stepped upon their dead orange hues in reverie. She slipped down a gentle slope southward, tripping lightly along a long path of deep green lawn. On either side were rows of the most mossed and ancient of trees, yawning skyward and twisting backward, interlocking their branches like swirling fingers, forming a tunnel of leaves, stealing daylight and spilling shadow. “Lover’s Shade” was its sobriquet, an endearment not endorsed by Delores, for one needn’t be concerned with exploits of lovers. Though she did dream, now and again, in the quiet of her moonbeam nook, of dark men with light eyes. But that was irrelevant in the freckled motes of leaf light, and now, she was gliding under the last canopy of dappled shade and emerging upon Brine Street, into a bath of sudden sun, where the post and library and fire department were lined neatly in a row.
Approaching the post office, Delores walked the steep stone steps to the fine oak door and pushed inside, made her way to the wall of bronze post boxes, slipped her letters in the slot and sighed at the satisfying swish. She spun on her heels towards the doorway and made her way back to the sun, nodding to the Widow Willow as she did so. She was tapping her toe on the second outdoor step when it dawned upon her that the Widow Willow hadn’t returned her nod. She paused. Odd. Willow always reciprocates a nod. Her foot hovered delicately above the second stair and she shrugged a wayward shoulder. No matter, must be preoccupied in the mind, as one becomes.
Delores clicked back down the steep steps to the leaf peppered sidewalk and turned right to continue to the library. The good ol’ girl, she mused, seemed to dream out loud as it hushed closer with her quick steps. Its luscious burgundy brick tableau blushed through a curtain of auburn leaves. Its belfry, a gothic shadow, sprawled like spilled ink across a watercolor sky. She clicked up the moss-heavy brick steps to the new glass and aluminum doors (an insulting replacement of the authentic mahogany). She wouldn’t be borrowing another book until Thursday, so today wouldn’t be a browsing day. She instead made her way to the depository box set in the bricks of the vestibule near a defunct payphone used only for nostalgia. The depository
box gleamed a heavily polished steel, and along its top ran a rounded handle. Delores pulled the handle and the grind of old metal groaned ghostly in the vestibule’s mausoleum hush. A rush of crisp, crinkled air brushed her eyes and tousled her bangs in a bouquet of mildew. She breathed deep and slid one, then two, then three books away.
The fourth she held at the precipice. She pulled it back. Had she finished reading this one? She hadn’t. No, she was sure of it. She let the slot scrape back. It echoed like a hollow phantom. She regarded the cover fondly—It was a dark painting of a house on a hill in the shade; a yellow light in a window in an attic was aglow with a shadowed female leering crookedly from the edge; on a craggled tree in the foreground, a noose swung in a thunderstorm wind.
She remembered. She had slid her eyes along the first paragraph when a troubling spider lowered luridly onto the page like a nightmare willow, and several minutes were spent in the escaping of said creature to the weeds outside. When all was through, she’d slipped up a disparate book in mistake of the first and read it thoroughly. When through, she slipped out the second and onto the third. But this novel, in her hand, the spider one, sat abandoned like a wet shoe in a moonbeam. No, this mustn’t do. This mustn’t do at all. It must be remedied. Returning an unlived literature? Unheard of. She wouldn’t be able to dream well. But it was due today. And today was Monday. She paused. She clicked her heels on the 1940 linoleum and sucked her teeth. Finally, she decided. Yes. She’d merely have to break her habit, walk inside and check it out again. That was the thing.
In a surge of thrilling rebellion, she stepped away to the glass doors, pulled them open, and stepped lithely inside. The soft air whirled her skirt around like a child and wrapped her up in a bouquet of prose. She approached the counter with a wisp of pride. She set the book down softly and stood perfectly straight with her shoulders square and true. She waited patiently for a librarian to notice.
An ancient woman known as Edina slid along beyond the counter in a haze of cobwebs and sour perfume, while a younger version with dough-eyes and sunbeam hair wiggled kittenish at a scanning machine. For moments, the two librarians went about their breathing without so much as a glance in the direction of Delores Delia Yeats. First, Delores thought it was mere insolence on the younger’s part; a lack of tact inherent in her youth. But as the elderly Edina made little more effort to acknowledge the perfectly visible Delores standing patiently at the counter in full overhead light, inches away from her quivering elbow, Delores flustered.
She cleared her throat with theatrics. When that garnered no response, she repeated the gesture, louder, with an operatic, “Excuse me.”
Edina’s pearls clattered like bones as she leapt in violence. She spasmed vibrantly. Her eyes wildly stabbed at Delores as if she’d popped up and yelled an obscenity. Edina’s voice wavered like a gramophone.
“Graciousgoodlord! You’ve driven me out of my skin, woman!”
Delores quavered, slightly alarmed at Edina’s extremity. “I, well, I meant nothing of it, of course.” She was relieved, anyway, to have been noticed. She composed her teeth. “But I do wish to check this book out for longer, if I may.”
Edina peered at Delores with odd, squinting lids, as if through a dull window. “Do what, now?”
“The book.” Delores managed between tightening lips. This tomfoolery was grinding her mind into a foul shade of mauve, and she was beginning to itch. “I wish to check it out again. I haven’t finished, you see.”
Edina pulled her eyes away from Delores and dropped them to the book on the counter. They landed like a leaf on the noose and thunderstorm wind. She seemed to remember herself then. “Oh! Book! Yes! Yes I see. You wish to, you wish…to…oh…what was it, now?”
Delores felt a twitch in her eye. Was this a dream? A joke? “I wish…” she slithered, “To check. This. Book. Out. Again.” Her emphasis was careful and deliberate, but not rude. Oh no. After all, the poor woman must be infirm. She was proud of her own restraint.
Edina blanched. She looked like a tired raincoat. “Check out? Check it out again? Check what out?” Her eyes met the book on the table and her color returned. “Ah! Yes. Lend you this literature. Absolutely we will. What a charming little ditty it is, too. Right away.” She scooped the book from the table and carried it hummingly to the computer a couple of heel clicks to her left. The moment she was out of Delores’ aura she slipped into a slow haze. Her humming trailed away. Mindlessly, she passed the book over the scanner, paused, looked at it slowly, looked back towards the younger woman and turned back to the computer. She turned her furrowed eyes again at the book, unable to comprehend exactly why it was there.
“Is there a problem?” Delores oozed.
Edina turned to Delores, shocked again as if she had sprung upon her from behind a shadow.
“Oh! You startled me! May I help you?”
Delores hissed sharply between her teeth. Her eye convulsed rapidly. Her pills. She’d need them when she arrived home. She steadied herself and put her hand over her eye until the convulsions dulled to a pulse. She stepped over towards the computer on the counter and faced the woman. Edina looked at Delores as one would the shambling corpse of a harlequin. The look would have been comical if it hadn’t been accompanied with a trace of loss; a disconcerting searching look of a troubling memory from far away. Delores thought for a brief moment that maybe the woman was senile, or having an episode. Nonetheless, she persisted.
“I’ve told you.” Delores pleasantly smeared, “I wish to check this book out again. I’m not sure which letter in that sentence is difficult for you to comprehend. Now, if this is a joke, a silly little jest, I do insist that it desist post-haste.”
“My dear darling lady,’ Edina hummed, “whatever are you on about? We’d be more than delighted to lend you a book. Do you have it with you?”
It happened without a warning. The fist of Delores Delia Yeats landed on the counter so hard the echo rang through the air like a rifle shot. A little metal mesh cup upended and its contents of neatly sharpened mini pencils spilled and danced across the counter, rolled off and clattered to the floor like hollow hail. Some patrons on tables glanced up as if mildly interested. Most didn’t even seem to hear it.
Edina watched the pencils clatter and seemed nonplussed. “Now how in the land did those get away?”
The violence of the angry fist on the counter didn’t seem to register at all. Edina shrugged lightly, looked at the book in her hand, paused, shrugged again, turned and vanished to the back.
Delores stood with her fist still on the counter where it had impacted (throbbing and bruised, now, for sure). Her mouth lulled a crooked incredulous “O” shape as she watched the old ninny pass the Young Thing and nod somewhere in the direction beyond where Delores was standing. The young girl stood up from her chair, adjusted something that was most likely her underwear, and went through a knee-height swinging door. She rounded the corner and leaned down, inches from the pale knees of Delores, and proceeded to pluck up the pencils one by one. Delores slid her fist off the counter and peered down at the sandy blonde hair at her feet. “Might there be something wrong with mademoiselle?” She purred.
The girl tilted her head slightly up to see what the noise was and gasped so deeply she choked on her surprise. She fell backward and her rear thumped hard on the linoleum. Good, thought Delores. Now you’ll have a bruised bottom. Serves you right.
“Where did you come from?” Heaved the youngling.
Young lady, I’ve been standing here this whole entire time! I’ve been waiting, very patiently, to check out a single book, and, quite frankly, the service has gone quite to pit around here, if you ask me. Ignoring guests? Little jokes? I never. I never.”
The girl looked up with a glazed, frosted azure gaze, squinting towards yet almost through Delores. She seemed unable to adjust her vision.