Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Library Card

It was 10:02 AM.

“Wonder what’s keeping Mr. Lake? He’s two minutes past the hour,” sardonically thought the librarian who was pulling her daily past due report.

Within seconds of the thought, Mr. Lake burst through the entrance of the library. Flashing a smile, he held his convenience-store coffee in one hand and waved with the other.

“Good morning, Miss Ptacek.” How he loved to pronounce her last name.

His daily greeting irritated her. She had told him on numerous occasions to call her by her first name, April.

“Good morning.” She never called him by any name.

He headed straight to the daily periodicals, grabbed the Wall Street Journal and took a seat in the worn-out orange plaid chair. Even though he received the subscription at the office, he preferred to come here. It wasn’t Starbucks, but it was away from the office. After glancing through the headlines, he specifically researched the price of his stocks and mutual funds, as he did every day. Most of his portfolio had been going down lately. At least he had a sizeable amount still held in the bank. While his return at the bank was ridiculously low, as he made known to his banker, the FDIC insurance gave him some peace of mind.

He sipped his coffee and casually perused the paper after recording his stock prices on the notebook he kept in his pocket. He had one eye on the paper and one eye on the librarian. She looked nothing like his wife. Mrs. Lake had long brunette hair, deep green eyes and a tall and lean build. She was one of the most beautiful creatures he had ever laid eyes on. He stared at her every morning as she slept, never waking before he left for the office.

April Ptacek was short and slightly overweight. She kept her hair cut short to keep her dry-ends from splitting. She had thick glasses and hardly ever applied cosmetics to her face. Everyday she wore a short-sleeve tight cotton t-shirt, in various colors, with either khaki pants or a denim skirt.

“Yes, this is April Ptacek from the library calling. You have three books overdue. Please bring them back as soon as possible. Your late fee is one dollar for each book and each day they're late. Please note that there is a waiting list for A Thousand Splendid Suns. Thank you.”

April hung up the phone and started to dial her next number on the list when she noticed Mr. Lake standing in front of her.

“So, do you have a lot of calls to make today?”

April looked up at the man. Don’t you have anything better to do? “Yes, there are quite a few today. It’s Monday. Everyone forgets to bring them back by the weekend.”

“I bet you get some real hotheads on the phone, huh?”

Why was this man talking to me? “Not really. People are generally nice.”

Mr. Lake nodded. April waited for him to say more. “Can I help you with anything, Mr. Lake?”

Trying to think of something to say, he asked, “Yes. Uh, just wondering if you had any recommendations for some summer reading?”

It was August. “Well, of course. I always post my summer picks on the board right over there.”

He glanced at the board, “Oh. Okay. Well, I guess I’ll take a look then. Thanks.”

She sighed. “What kind of books do you like to read?”

"About anything really. Mystery. Humor.” He hadn’t read anything but legal briefs in years, so he wasn’t sure what genre he liked anymore. What was the last book he even read? Perhaps it was The Sound and the Fury in college. He hadn’t really enjoyed it.

“Humor, huh?” Why did this man insist on visiting with her everyday. Aren’t lawyers supposed to be too busy to be messing around at a library? “Hold on.” She left her desk and retrieved a book from a nearby shelf. “Have you read any Bill Bryson?”

He hesitated, “Maybe. Not sure.”

“Here, check this one out. He’s a very witty writer. It might be a nice break from depositions, or whatever it is that you lawyers do.”

He took the book from her hand and read the insert. “The Life and Time of the Thunderbolt Kid, huh? Sounds intriguing!”

Intriguing? A non-fiction memoir of a kid growing up in Iowa sounds intriguing? “Well, it’s entertaining, at least.” She added in a pedantic tone.

Then he looked into her eyes and gratefully remarked, “Thank you very much, April. I really appreciate the recommendation.”

His heartfelt thanks caught her off guard. Suddenly she felt guilty about all of the harsh thoughts she aimed toward him. She smiled, sincerely. “You’re very welcome, Mr. Lake. Anytime.”

“George. Please just call me George.”

“Okay, then, George. Can I see your library card?”

George Lake had come in every day for well over ten years but had never obtained a library card. April recognized the anxiety in his eyes. Yesterday she would have made him suffer through an explanation as to why he didn't carry a card. But not today.

“Lost it, didn’t you? No problem. Let me type you a new one.”

He gently took the card from the librarian, held it in his hands a moment and carefully placed it in his wallet. This man was accustomed to receiving high-end gifts. Plasma TVs. The I-Pod phone. A trip to the Caribbean. Even a new Gator for his vacation home in Colorado. But none of those gifts gave him the feeling this new library card did.

“Two weeks.”

“What?” he asked in somewhat of a daze.

“Return the books in two weeks. Or, I’ll be calling you!” April joked with him.

“Right! Two weeks.” He picked up his coffee and newly checked-out book. “See you tomorrow. April.”

He walked out of the library with a particular hop in his step. April watched him leave.

“See you tomorrow. George.”

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