Life at the Library

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

The power of a book

Life at the Library


One day, something happened to Candice. Her life changed without warning. It was her twentieth birthday, so there was cake.


A grand and glorious cake, her mom took a cake decorating course. It was the middle of summer so her mom made a sand castle cake with brown sugar turrets and pink shells made out of candy. “Candy for Candy,” her mother cried. Candice was her real name, but everyone called her Candy.


Candice was rummaging in the box of grandma’s old clothes for something to wear to the library where she worked, when her mom came in with the cake. Beautiful and bright with the candles lit. “Make a wish,“ her mother cried. So, Candice shut her eyes and wished for a dark green jacket where she could move her arms. Then she blew out the candles and they ate. It was wonderful!


“Call in sick, Candy,” her father hollered from the kitchen. “Don’t go to work on your birthday.”


The library was peaceful and calm. The library had shelves of books that wrapped around the walls and went way back in the cubbyholes. There were books in the basement. Books under the eaves. Comforting and quiet and arranged in the exact right order because she put them there.


Candice couldn’t tell that to her family as she rummaged in her grandma’s old clothes and pulled out a gray wraparound skirt and a sleeveless blouse so her arms could move. Then, on that fateful day, her mom wrapped Candice a piece of the cake and she walked to the library. Candice breathed deep of the hallowed halls as the walls held safely around. Then Candice loaded the returned books onto the rolling cart.


“Excuse me, miss.”


A man stood in a shaft of sunlight. He was young and sweltering inside a business suit. His neck was choked by a collar and tie. His hair combed to the side. His brow wet with sweat as his green eyes searched hers. “Can you show me Miss Patterson’s office?”


Her armed bulged from her sleeve as she pointed to the office down the hall. Miss Patterson was head of the library.


His eyes flicked to her name tag. “Thank you, Candice,” he nodded politely and walked on.


The light held his presence. Candice stood in a dazzle of light and felt his manliness. His maleness bound up in a suit. She breathed in forest and pine. Felt the grip inside her stomach. Knew with utter gut wrench - she was in love.


Love that jumped from her chest as she stood in the sacred halls where one whole wall was romance novels. Where floor-to-ceiling shelves of books had covers of handsome men in hunting jackets. Men who talked to ladies in flowing dresses. Ladies who bulged from their blouses, but stood poised and slender, with shining hair, refined and beloved.


Not with thighs wrapped under a granny tent backing a rolling cart into the hall. Pointing like a stoop with a sagging arm, never saying a word. That day Candice  stood in a beam of light as it shifted out of sight, out of reach, out of hope.


Not you. How ridiculous. That torrent of never ever, all the way to the second thing that changed her forever. Ida found her sobbing in the bathroom.  


* * *


Ida cleaned the library. She started at five in the morning and cleaned until they opened. Mostly she was gone when Candice got there, but that day she had to wait on the man spraying for water bugs.


There was a bench in the bathroom for changing your muddy boots into your library shoes which were clean and quiet. Candice had collapsed on the bench and was gulping her tears, when Ida inched down beside her. “I’m in love, “ Candice cried, “but its hopeless.”  


Tough and old, scrawny and hard, Ida put her arm around Candice, “What’s hopeless?”


“He’ll never see me, or notice me, or fall in love with me, because I’m big as a house like my grandma. Big all my life. Big as a bucket of lard.”


“Who said that?”


“Everyone! Mom says I’m just like her - broad side of a barn.”


Ida tilted her head, “What if your mother lied? Not on purpose, but just repeated what she’d heard all her life. See, when I was growing up, my mama was big, my grandma was big, and I was big, too. They said it was natural. But when I got twenty I thought - what if it wasn’t true. What if grandma ate too much and mom ate too much and I did too. What if I stopped?”  


“How?” Food was a friend. A kind hand on your forehead, late night turning the pages with sugary sweets until you got to the kiss at the end.  


Ida’s hawk eyes crinkled. Her voice had sanity and calm. “The first thing I did was to read a book. Of all the books in the library, it remains my all-time favorite.”


Ida reached in her bag and pulled out a book. She’d made this cover out of an old quilt so Candice couldn’t tell what it was. Maybe it was The Power of Positive Thinking, by Norman Vincent Peale, because she’d put that book on the shelf over and over and they kept checking it out. Or maybe it was For Whom the Bells Toll by Ernest Hemingway. She’d studied him in college and he’d won the Pulitzer Prize and then the Nobel Prize, so it had to be good.


It was the big book - Alcoholics Anonymous.


* * *


“His name is Henry Harrison and he works for the railroad.“ Miss Patterson stood in the center of the break room and spoke in her library voice. “He’s working on the railroad museum and because we have their history books in the back room, he’ll be here three days a week.”


Candice had sobbed her guts out until she was spent. She’d returned the books to their proper shelves and wrote out the over dues. Now she stood calm, and appeared sensible while Miss Patterson informed them Henry would work right there in the library, because he worked for the railroad and they were a railroad town.


They were a railroad library, in a way, because when old Mrs. Appleton died, she left her railroad mansion to the town and they turned it into the library. So they’d stored all the train photographs and timetables and posters of faraway places, until the railroad could build a proper museum. And because of this, Henry would work there three days a week.


That day Candice inhaled to the tips of her toes and started the rest of her life. That day, Ida took her to her first meeting of anonymous over eaters who’d found sobriety in eating. Who’d found serenity and calm in eating one day at a time.


Folks who knew what it was like to eat on and on and not be able to stop. To wake up sick and do it all over. To promise and swear and cry, then go off on a binge.


Food was a friend and Candice could not stop until that day when she met him. When she stood bursting out of her grandma’s old rags and sobbed never ever, no hope, not me, big as a barn all my life.


In the next three years Candice lost 120 pounds. She bought stylish clothes, finished her college degree and started on her masters. She moved out of her parent’s house because she had to, and cooked for herself. All that time she worked at the library, advancing to her own small office down the hall from Henry.


“Hey, Candice,” he’d throw his hand up as he passed. Her door would be open, her hair long and shining from some new shampoo and she’d smile, sort of toss her hair, nonchalant.


“Hey, Henry,” she’d smile, glance down pretending to be busy as the walls of the library vibrated and she inhaled the pine of his cologne. She’d pop a sugarless breath mint and watch as he disappeared into his workroom.


Sometimes, she narrowed her eyes, willing him to swirl back around. Hey Candice, will you marry me?


Sometimes she’d go into that room of history where Henry was head down into his books and cross to the filing cabinet. “How’s the history book coming?” she’d ask, because he was writing a book about the history of trains to go in the museum when it ever got built.  


“Pretty good,” he’d say, then stretch his arms and she’d wet her lips and swivel around, maybe have on this blouse that fit real nice. This time for sure, slender enough, attractive enough by now, and she’d feel nervous inside her gut. He’d go right back into his reading. Head down, his hand in his hair.


Sometimes, he’d travel west for the railroad and be gone a few weeks. Candice would go into that empty room so she could feel him. Breathe him, touch on the books where his fingers had turned the pages. She imagined him sitting there, stretching back in that distracted way. Sometimes she imagined him coming up behind her and kissing the back of her neck. In the romance novels she read where they’d sweep you off your feet. So, she’d stand there, shut her eyes and get ready.  


Candice dreamed of glorious dates. The two of them on a sailboat skimming the waves. Walking through the woods, holding hands. Then they’d find this old inn where they’d have to stay overnight because, see, his car broke down. There was this comforting fire, but only one room, and one bed, so they’d have to share . . .  


The third year, close to Christmas, Candice got to the library door with all these decorations and he ran to open it. She smiled when she passed. He smiled politely. A man being a gentleman. She felt the nearness, the closeness, inches way.


He ran his hand through his hair and it staggered her, how close she was to the edge. How close she was to stuffing sweet things nonstop into her mouth. For all her pull up the ladder, she was one bite away. Someone had chocolate chip cookies in the break room and she had to get out.


* * *


One night he worked late. “Closing time, Henry,” Candice called because she had to lock up and had the keys in her hand. Then she walked down the silent halls;  breathed deep of the lemon polish as she closed all the doors. Jane Eyre - winked from the corner as biographies and philosophies settled into sleep. Reality and fantasy wrapped safely around as Candice trembled. He’d never worked late before.


Henry walked her out to her car. The street lamp caught him in an angle of light. He stopped and looked in her eyes.


“I’m leaving, Candice,” he said. “I wanted to tell you first because you’ve always looked out for me and helped me. ”




“Out west. I’m getting transferred because I’m getting married.” His face lit up in the lamplight. He grinned, “It’s been a long distance romance up to now, but not for long.”


“I’m happy for you,” she said. Hollow and cold as she took in a breath.


“I just wanted to thank you,” he nodded politely and walked on.


“Good night,” Candice called as she stood shaking beside her car. Then she drove by the house where she grew up and just sat there. The windows were lit. She knew that inside that house were her parents who loved her. Who did the best that they could with cake, and warm fudge, and big bowls of Ice cream. Wrap around dresses still in the granny box. Who didn’t understand that when she got started she could not stop and it was killing her. Candice drove home and called Ida.


The next day Miss Patterson got Henry a going away cake. It was shaped like a train with gooey fudge icing. When Henry came into the break room, they all sang “Happy Trails” like Roy Rogers. Candice smiled and gave him a hug. She took a piece of cake into her office and threw it in the trash can. The icing smeared down the sides. The sweet tranquilizer of peace smeared down the insides of that smelly can. Candice stuck her finger in the frosting and smelled it. She inhaled the dreams of all the ladies in romance novels with happy endings. She licked her tongue into that dark divine and closed her eyes.


Ida found her salivating into that rich dark chocolate, “If you’re doing it for him you’re missing the point.”



* * *



A year went by, a whole year of climbing back. Candice advanced to a bigger office in the library, plus, it came with a raise. She dated three separate men and one was half-way likable. She swore off romance novels. It was mysteries, now, all the way. One day she stood in the peaceful halls and felt the wrap around books and all their questions. She felt the answers waiting between the pages. Then it happened.


Miss Patterson stopped her in the hallway. “Henry’s coming back,” she said. “The romance didn’t work out.”


Candice stood in a shaft of sunlight as it hit her. The glow, the know inside herself. That day she vowed that if Henry came back and ignored her - she would get over it. She would not loose herself, but love and take care of herself. Grow up. Sort out the books and return each one to its proper shelf. Make out the over dues.


Life at the library was orderly. It was quiet and sensible. Wrap around books on the walls of sanity and peace where she wanted to stay. 

Submitted: August 08, 2021

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