Thursday, August 10, 2017

Friday Flash Fiction: Library Eyes

Someone sent Chuck Wendig the link to the Magical Realism Bot last week. It's a sort of random concept generator, and he posted it as our key to this week's flash fiction. I'll put the line I saw the first I glanced at it at the end of the story. Chuck gave us 1500 words, I stopped just paste by usual 1000.

Library Eyes

Clara headed for the register, pleased with her finds. The decision to check out the funky-looking thrift store had been a good one, and she had a half-dozen outfits on one arm, and a pile of books in the other. She laid them on the counter, then caught sight of the basket of old spectacles. She could use a new pair of reading glasses, and rummaged quickly through the basket while the clerk rang up her purchases.

There! That pair was the right strength, and kind of cute in an old-fashioned way. She slid the glasses across the counter just as the clerk entered the last item, and pulled out her wallet as she added the glasses, consulted a chart to calculate the sales tax, and hit the “total” button on the old-style register.

“That’ll be $21.63, with tax.”

“Really?” Clara’s math had suggested a higher price.

“Half-price day for skirts and books, ma’am. Your lucky day.”

“Guess so,” Clara said, laughing, and took the large bag in exchange for a few bills. She dropped the change into a tray by the register, and headed for home, eager to start reading the books.

Sorting out the purchases, she gave the new glasses a good cleaning, and laid them atop the book she intended to read with her dinner. For some reason, she felt drawn to use them, not the glasses she’d been wearing for the last month. Maybe that’s my mind telling me the glasses the doctor gave me aren’t right, she thought, and sat down with a bowl of spaghetti, opened the book, and put on the glasses.

The glasses worked marvelously. Clara read and forked food into her mouth, until she realized she’d left her glass of wine on the counter. Not bothering to remove the glasses, she took a step toward the kitchen, and stopped.

What she saw through the newly-polished lenses wasn’t her kitchen, a little blurred from the magnification, but something else entirely. It was a beautiful library, all oak shelving and polished brass fittings. She turned her head, and saw a different library, this one plain, but still full of books, alluring, enticing books. Clara recognized the cover of one of her well-loved childhood favorites, and without thinking, took a step forward, reaching for the book.

She was in the library.

Worse, she had no idea what library, or where. Still, there was the book. Clara pulled it off the shelf, looked around, and saw a comfortable-looking chair. What could it hurt to read for a while? It had been so long since she read the story. It would be like having her childhood back, for a little while.

Two hours later, a librarian came by to whisper that it was closing time. Clara stood up, and only then remembered that she had no idea where she was. The glasses worked fine for reading, as long as she kept her eyes on the book, and she had pushed them up on her forehead when the woman spoke to her. Now she laid the book on the table.

“Would you like to check that out?”

Clara picked it up again, uncertain, and looked at the stamp inside the cover. She quickly set it down again.

“No thanks. I’m just visiting from out of town. Out of state, actually.” She smiled vaguely and headed for the door.

Once outside, Clara considered her options. She could explore Wenatchee, or she could put on the glasses and try to find her own library. It would be after closing time at home, she realized, but if she could get to the library, at least she’d be in the right town. Even if she set off alarms. She could always claim she’d fallen asleep somewhere in the building.

The Wenatchee library stood on the edge of a park, and she walked into the green space and sat down on a bench. Pulling the glasses from the top of her head, Clara put them on and looked around.

Rows and rooms of books blurred past her eyes as she moved her head. In seconds she felt her stomach rebel, and hastily pulled the glasses off again. She’d have to go after this more carefully. She stared at the trees until the queasiness abated, then put the glasses back on. This time she moved her head slowly, taking time at each library vision to look and try to identify it.

After half an hour, one thing was clear: there was little hope of finding her home this way. The glasses appeared to have no end of libraries to show her, and they weren’t in any particular order as far as she could tell. Of course, in most cases, she had idea what library she looked at, but she recognized the Library of Congress, followed by the tiny branch library in the town where she had grown up. She could think of no connecting tie to make them adjacent, but she lingered on the familiar library. Too bad that town was even farther from home than Wenatchee. Her bank account would stand for a bus ticket, she thought, still tempted to step forward into the book-lined room.

Then the realization hit. She didn’t have her purse. She had begun this journey from her own kitchen, and had nothing with her but the clothes she stood in, not even her cell phone, which sat on the table next to the book she’d been reading when she stood up.

She had the glasses. That was all.

At that moment, Clara caught sight of a stunningly beautiful library, and again acted before she thought.

If she couldn’t get home, she would enjoy what she had: a free pass to every library in the world.

She took a step forward into Oxford’s Bodleian Library. They hadn’t allowed her in when she’d tried to visit years ago. Now they couldn’t stop her. With a happy sigh, Clara began to explore the long rooms, breathing in the history, just looking at the books.

Best pair of 49-cent glasses she’d ever bought.

***
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

The rather formidable Bodleian entrance I didn't get past in 1986.

And what did I see to spark this story? This: "A woman finds a pair of spectacles that let her see every library on earth." Obviously, I had a new entry in my collection of library stories.


2 comments:

  1. Great! I loved the way she realised she was stuck. I haven't been to the Bodleian either. When you come over...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good idea! Will they let us in? I have some vague memory of access being limited, but that's probably to the stacks or something, not the whole building. I was young and foolish when I was there, and didn't realize that I would rather explore the library than the tourist stops.

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