The young woman settled at the table with the volume she wanted to read, while the Keeper and I returned to our pocket pets. I tried to distract them with other conversation, so they wouldn’t spend as much time with the new devices. Keep them new for as long as possible.
Then, after my hour was up, I would say my farewells and ascend the steps once more. Sixty seven steps upward to take with my eyes closed. I waited at the top of the stairs, hands against the separation between the passageway and the Library. I was right on time. The Librarian opened the way in only a minute and I stepped out, back to pretending I was searching for another book. I picked one up soon after (I had decided upon it the last time I was here) and meandered my way to the front to check out.
I did not see the Official. My way home went without event.
“I wish she would be sent somewhere else,” I couldn’t help but gripe. “It’s not like others aren’t sent off to do things all the time.”
“It depends on what the person’s role is,” the young woman told me. “The Official watches over this sector. We aren’t to be rid of her unless we begin to be rid of the entire establishment.”
Those words made me feel uncomfortable. I wasn’t the only one, because I could hear the old man cough from where he was sitting. Our conversation hadn’t been all that quiet. The Keeper said nothing.
Like that, the young woman dropped the subject. She ran her hands over the top of the tome, the hard look in her eyes fading into the same sort of monotonous dread that the rest of us knew all too well.
It was not the first time someone had said something of that nature. It always ended this way, with nothing coming of it. No one here knew what to do, even if we felt as though we had the courage to try. I certainly did not. I’d never had that sort of courage. I had spent it all in keeping the secrets of the magicians around me. I spent it for the Keeper, as it didn’t matter if they had courage or not. They would live here, out of sight, as long as this lasted.
Their father would live, in full sight of everyone but them, as long as this lasted. And there was nothing they could do about that.
The Keeper reluctantly let go of their pocket pets long enough to scramble up one of the ladders and grab a sheaf of papers, bound in ruby leather. They dropped it down into the young woman’s hands. She caught them, though the suddenness of it obviously startled her. “Thank you.”
“I thought you were going to be here sooner.” The Keeper almost sounded accusatory, but they might have been. The Keeper was very adamant that their time not be wasted, whether it was waiting for someone to show up or how they spent their time within the Keeper’s presence. Keeping the Keeper happy was each of our prerogatives.
Even if the Keeper’s prerogative should have been the same toward every person who entered this place, in case of coming across someone with a bad enough temper that they would take a perceived slight out on the entire Library.
The young woman’s lips turned down. “The Official was in the cooking section. I didn’t feel like being obvious about my escape.”
None of us liked talking about the Official, for good reason. The Keeper had never even met the woman. They never would, because the moment they did would mean the end of everything. The end of this library. The end of their father. The end of them.
The sound of the passageway being accessed caused as much heart failure as it did anything else. Even while knowing the sound would be different if it was someone the Librarian hadn’t let in himself, the sound always made me panic. If for some reason someone came in who might let the regime know what lay down here… I wondered if the old man thought that about me – some child who showed up here so often. Did he think I was trustworthy?
Were all of us waiting for the other to break?
I recognized the woman who entered. She had the odd habit of touching her forehead in greeting, even if she didn’t say a word to the person. I watched as she went through the motions toward the old man, myself and the Keeper. I instinctively returned the gesture, as if that was how one was to respond.
The Keeper merely waved her over. “I found the volume you were looking for.”
The young woman joined us.