“What took you so long?” The Keeper spoke with impatience. I never used to hear that from them, but now it had become more common.
“I had school.”
With those words, I felt freer. Free, trapped within this place. I tried to hide those feelings, because I knew how the Keeper would feel about them. But here, I could say anything and it would be all right.
The Keeper would always be able to say what they wanted, because of this place. The corner of their lips twitched down, then up. They folded their arms in front of their chest. “Oh, right. It’s Monday, isn’t it?”
“Tuesday,” I corrected. “We didn’t have school yesterday.”
“I miss school.”
I wasn’t surprised. I did think it better to change subject.
I followed the Librarian through the shelves. I didn’t watch him when we arrived at the space between two of the tallest bookshelves. I had seen it many times before. I looked at the bookshelves as the opening appeared. I felt relaxed as he gently shoved me through the opening, which disappeared behind me with the rest of the library.
I walked down the stairs, trusting in my familiarity with the space between the steps more than anything else. There were sixty seven steps, all in complete darkness. I had done this often enough I could feel the hum surrounding me.
Warning those below someone was coming.
When vision returned, I was in the chamber. The entrance was behind me, a hole within the walls of bookshelves. It looked like an extension of the library. Once, it had been.
The Librarian was a mountain. I had never known a larger person in my life. With wide shoulders and arms like mountain roots, none of the books were beyond his grasp. Occasionally he stood on a small step stool to reach the very top of the shelves for dusting. The stool always creaked and everyone always stepped away from it. I didn’t worry about him falling. If the stool broke, the Librarian wouldn’t fall. He just couldn’t reach the top of the shelves.
“Did you want to see my new pocket pet?” I asked him.
He shifted and looked down at me, silent as ever. I pulled the one I had in my pocket out to show him. It rested in his palm, completely engulfed.
“I bought four of them,” I continued.
This told him everything. Things I couldn’t say out loud, that I wouldn’t say out loud. He nodded and returned it to me.
I was ready. “What do you recommend today?”
I did the same thing I always did: return the books I had checked out. I trundled over to the main desk, only really approaching when it was the Librarian. None of his assistants meant anything to me. I didn’t know them well enough. They had to know who I was, I came to the library almost every day. One of the women there smiled at me. Occasionally I smiled back, unable to help myself. Still, I never approached until the Librarian stepped behind the counter.
I pushed my books forward, as well as my library card. One by one, the Librarian swiftly entered each one into the system, filing them somewhere under the counter where I couldn’t see the rest of the process. He returned my card. I felt the thrum of the plastic as I only ever did when he returned it to me. Shifting the strap of my bag on my shoulder, I began to peruse the shelves again.
An hour later found me in the small section of foreign language books that still remained. There had been many more, once. Books in other languages, rather than books about them. I read these books anyway. I didn’t know another language, though I knew a lot about them. Now the section was encroached upon by history books and the culture of our state. The latter had become a much larger section than it needed to be. I wondered how many different ways one could read about a single subject without reiterating the same facts. I still occasionally checked one out. Just in case. It would look good on my record, alongside my variety.
While I stood there, pulling out random books, the Librarian eventually moved beside me.
Much like the other common folk, I made sure not to bring any undue attention to myself when I went to enter the Vault. Just another reader, another student, another well-behaved member of society. No one for the Official to notice.
This is part of the reason I stopped writing in my diary. Why I burned everything I had written before. No one could know what I did on my own days off. No one would ever find out what actually happened here. I would not be the one to betray what little we could keep. Even if it means I can’t write about the Keeper anymore, or their father, the Librarian.
Our names are unimportant.
I was always aware of the irony – wishing a government official was actually less well read. People always said reading helps you open the mind.
This is why she always worried her well-loved government might one day destroy her well-loved library. The days she had off she spent hours of within the walls, reading every single book she could pull off the shelves. And many more she couldn’t. She asked the Librarian to do that for her. He was as tall as a mountain. None of the books were beyond his grasp. Every single novel he handed to her made her eyes sparkle. It’s hard to imagine a woman like her is actually so stupid as to blindly follow the government.
This was why she was in the library, every single day. To read all of the books before her government destroyed it.