Hanging at the Library

by Wendy Thornton 

            Erasmo sits inside the library meeting room, waiting for the night’s reading to begin.  The airy room with paneled walls and stained glass windows reminds him of the inside of a church.  Rows of metal folding chairs are arrayed in a semi-circle around a desk with a podium on it.  Erasmo sits in one of the chairs and nods to the people on either side of him.
            Tonight a local author is reading her new book about women who changed local history.  Erasmo doesn’t know anything about the writer.  He doesn’t care.  He comes to all the readings.  Young, dark, his face a plane of interest, he generates excitement just by being there, sitting in the front row, perched on the edge of his seat as if waiting to receive a sermon.
            Erasmo likes to imagine himself a writer, though he very seldom actually does any writing.  He is a straight A student at the local community college even though English is not his primary language.  He will get a scholarship to the state university; there is no doubt.  But his mother says she will not help pay his living expenses unless he goes into Law. 
His mother imagines that with a Law Degree, he will one day be the first president of a free Cuba.  Now that Fidel is gone, she knows this is even more likely.  Her entreaties have taken on the flavor of obsession. 
His mother makes fun of him.  “How are you ever going to make a living with such silliness as writing?  I pay only for Law School.”  She always says these words, Law School, as if they should be capitalized.  “You want to write, get yourself a good waiter job.”  Ersamos tells her money isn’t everything.  She snorts like a horse.  A single parent, she wants to know how soon he’s going to be self-supporting.  She loves him, he knows, but she is tired.
            He tries to imagine how she will survive when he moves away.  Their lives have been intertwined for so long, like vines wrapped around each other.  He has never been able to take a single step without his mother outlining the path for him.  He fears she will fall apart without him.  He cannot imagine this short, stumpy, gray-haired woman really having a life of her own.  Perhaps she will sit in the glow of the television in the family room – they are not allowed in the living room – and knit blankets and hats for him for the rest of her life.
            Besides Erasmo, there are four people waiting for the reading, three middle-aged women, and one bearded young man.  Erasmo has seen the women before.  They nod and smile at him as he takes his seat.  He thinks they would like to adopt him for their own son.  All the women have notebooks and pens at the ready.  Erasmo and the bearded man have no method of taking notes. 
            Tonight’s speaker, whose name is Elaine Felder, enters the meeting room with an armful of books, crosses in front of the chairs and dumps the load noisily on the desk.  She is a small woman, no more than five feet tall.  She wears a stylish blue dress and very high blue heels.   Usually, the library speakers are low-key, dressed down, deliberately unstylish.  They like to establish their street cred.  Apparently, Elaine Felder doesn’t care about street cred.
            Erasmo reads Elaine’s short bio from the flyer he picked up at the door.  She has just received a book contract from a major publisher for her second book.  So, she’s a player.  Shaking her dark, curly hair off her forehead with model-like style, she jumps up to sit on the edge of the desk, her feet dangling.  Erasmo thinks she is too thin, that her face looks pinched.  When she smiles, the smile looks ripped out of her. She looks out at her audience.  “Well, hello,” she says in a voice that sounds forcefully cheerful.
            The audience members answer nervously, “Hello.”  Erasmo knows the three women do not like audience participation.  They like it when a writer comes in, reads, maybe shakes their hands at the end and gets out.  They are busy women who squeeze writing into their real lives.  Not like him.  They are not voyeurs. 
            Elaine looks at the bearded man.  “What are you doing here?” she asks sharply.  He shrugs and does not reply.  Everyone else in the room turns to look at him curiously.
            Elaine opens one of her books. “My name is Elaine, and I’m going to read about one of the first women settlers in the county,” she says.  “This woman was a remarkable pioneer, who simultaneously raised three children, two of whom went on to become senators, while creating a brand-new city.”
            “And I suppose she didn’t have any help from a husband?” the bearded man says.
            “Well, of course she did, Kyle,” Elaine answers.  “You know that her husband was one of the founders of the city as well.  What’s your point?”
            “You’re just not giving the man credit?”
            “Men get plenty of credit.”
            Erasmo is excited.  He thinks perhaps there is a story unfolding here.  He wishes he had a notebook like the ladies.   Are these two getting a divorce?  Were they living together?  Erasmo is continually amazed at the casual nature of relationships in his adopted country.  People seem to come and go in each other’s lives like fireflies flitting around on a darkening lawn.  It is so very seldom that he gets to see the collision of these bugs.
            Elaine opens her book and begins to read.  But the man called Kyle interrupts again.  “Just like your book, Elaine.  You don’t give anyone credit.”
            “Kyle, you didn’t write my book.”
            “No, but I did all your research.  I worked so you’d have time to write.  And the minute it gets published you dump me?”
            “Could we discuss this some other time?”
            Erasmo hopes this scene will continue.  It’s the most interesting thing that has happened to him all month.  He’s been engrossed in Business Law, History and Sociology.  He is so bored he could cry.  He’s been drinking a bit much lately.  If he had something else to occupy is time –
            The bearded man, Kyle, stands up and shouts, “No, we can’t discuss it later.  You owe me.  You owe me.”  He pounds his right fist into his left palm.  He is right next to Erasmo, so close Erasmo could almost reach out and touch him.  The women in the room mutter nervously, but Erasmo isn’t worried.  He’s too drunk to be worried.  He finds the whole situation fascinating.
            “Kyle, let’s talk outside,” the author says.
            Kyle pushes a folding chair out of his way and it crashes into another one.  He lunges forward.  “No,” he barks, “I want witnesses.  Tell me why you threw me away like last night’s dinner?” 
            “We can discuss this in a reasonable way - outside,” Elaine repeats, her voice calm, soothing.  But Kyle will not be soothed.  His face reddens and his hands clench.  He crowds forward to the front of the room, and puts his arms on either side of Elaine’s small body.  He is easily six four, Erasmo thinks. 
            Erasmo himself is small but he thinks he could take Kyle.  If only he weren’t in such an impaired condition.  He is sorry that he can’t force himself to do anything to help the poor woman, but he can’t seem to move.  Kyle, the angry one, plants his palms flat on either side of Elaine Felder on the desk, and leans towards her until his face is inches from hers.  There is something at once both intimate and threatening about the movement. The petite author is totally trapped.  She can barely move.  Kyle begins to scream at her.  “You owe me, you owe me, you bitch!”
            From the angle where he is sitting, Erasmo can see the woman’s hand move across the desk behind her.  She grasps a sharpened pencil with her small fingers, adjusts it vertically, and pulls it back towards her.  She looks coolly into the eyes of the hysterical Kyle.  “I think you need to calm down,” she says.
            Kyle speaks through gritted teeth.  “I think you need to tell me who you’re sleeping with,” he hisses.
            Erasmo is embarrassed for Elaine Felder.  Imagine being a famous writer, at least a locally famous writer, and being put into such a compromising situation.  He would be very unhappy if he were in her high-heeled shoes.  Here she was, celebrating her very celebrity, and this lout was bringing her down.
            “Back off, Kyle.”  Erasmo is amazed that her voice is calm, that she shows absolutely no fear.  Again, he wishes he could help her, but he is paralyzed.
            “Tell me,” Kyle shrieks.
            Erasmo sees the pencil come up in Elaine Felder’s fingers, and then she slams the  point down into the back of Kyle’s hand as hard as she can.  Kyle jerks back screaming.  The three women around Erasmo leap up from their chairs.  One of them runs out of the room.
            Kyle pulls the pencil out of his hand.  “You stabbed me,” he shouts, incredulous, staring at his the hole where the pencil was.  A tiny rivulet of bright red blood flows down the side of his hand onto the rug.
            “You ruined my reading,” Elaine says calmly.
            Erasmo takes it all in.  He watches as library personnel come in, grab Kyle by both arms and escort him out, protesting all the way.  He hears sirens in the distance.  The author says, “I’m sorry, folks, it looks like we’re going to have to reschedule this reading.”  Her voice quivers.  The women nod their understanding.   One of them goes up to Elaine and puts her arm around the author’s small shoulders, whispering to her quietly so the others can’t hear.
            Erasmo feels gypped.  He would be more impressed with this Elaine woman if she would go back to her reading.  That would demonstrate real bravery.
            He hopes he will remember all this.  In his mind he is already framing the scene – the author’s calm, tiny features, the big man’s bloody hand.   She probably kicked him out of their house as soon as she made a profit on her book.  He’s probably a furniture-maker or construction worker who didn’t even get to take his tools with him.  Now he has nothing.  He is bereft.  He can’t make a living with a hole in his hand.
           Erasmo knows he will not be a good lawyer.  Somehow he will have to convince his mother of this.  Though she refuses to listen, perhaps he can convince her just by telling her about this encounter.  He will tell her, “Mother, I never once thought who would sue who.”  Instead, he believes stabbing someone in the hand is a good way to get their attention.

WENDY THORNTON is an award-winning freelance writer who has been published inRiverteeth, Epiphany, MacGuffin and many other literary journals and books.  Her memoirDear Oprah was published in July 2013, she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and been Editor’s Pick on Salon.com multiple times.  Her work is published in England, Scotland, Australia and India.


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