Cover image courtesy of Ms Photoshop
Harold would have never imagined what happened. His day began without conflict. After his getting dressed, eating scrambled eggs and ham with a glass of milk, and finishing with a cup of coffee, he walked to the university library where his friend, Ivan, worked. Ivan lived in the same apartment complex as Harold. When Ivan gave Harold a visitor’s pass so he could browse through the book stacks, Harold was happy. He would have had little to do if not for the opportunity to visit the library.
He had an idea for a short story about a young man who met his favorite author in a used book store. The store was in a very small town and all of the books were old and dusty but, as chance had it, he noticed his favorite novelist looking at books there. The novelist was known to never give interviews but the young man was lucky to have a chance to ask the writer a few questions. Harold felt excited about his new story idea. His best bet for receiving inspiration was for him to write it at the university library.
For the past month, Harold went to the library every day. He moved to the east coast two months ago and met Ivan several days after he moved in. Ivan was an older man who retired from teaching but still worked part-time in the library. They talked about literature. Harold would occasionally give a copy of one of his stories to Ivan and they would discuss the story’s good and bad points. Part of Harold’s burst of creativity came from his knowing he could give his next story to Ivan and learn more pointers on the craft of literature.
As Harold entered the library, he noticed a woman he had seen there on other days. Perhaps he had noticed her at least ten times. She always dressed well, wearing tucked-in shirts or tucked-in sweaters. She walked like she knew exactly what was on her agenda. Harold never followed her but he was curious as to whether she worked there or was a student. He was tempted to walk in her direction and find out the answer to the mystery but he decided purposefully to go to another part of the library. He went in the elevator and got off at the fifth floor. The study rooms on the fifth floor had the least amount of students and he could concentrate on his story with few distractions.
Right before he put the first word on paper, he heard two people talking. One was a man and the other was a woman. Harold did not look up yet to see what they looked like but he listened to what they were saying.
The man said, “Things will get better. You’ve managed this far. Don’t give up.”
The woman said, “I know. I have a plan. I hope it works.”
“Make sure you think through whatever it is you decide. It’s important to be level headed.”
“I’m usually impulsive. That’s my problem.”
“Think about this. You’re able to look good every day. Put the same amount of emphasis on your behavior.”
“I always tuck in my shirts and sweaters in the months when the weather is cold but I am not so consistent during the rest of the year. Sometimes I’ll wear something tucked in and sometimes I won’t.”
Harold looked up. The woman talking was who he saw when he walked in the library. Was he experiencing a coincidence or something metaphysical? She turned her head and glanced at him. He stopped looking at her and continued concentrating on his story.
The woman said, “I imagine someone is listening in on our conversation.”
The man said, “That’s to be expected when you’re in a public place. It’s not like we’re in a secluded area.”
“Well, maybe he was looking at me because he thought I looked good. He heard me talking about my clothes. I’m wearing my shirt tucked in and my sleeves rolled up and he might think I work here.”
“Maybe he just happened to look up just to put faces to the words. He’s not looking at you now.”
“He’s probably embarrassed because I’m talking about him.”
“Come on, leave him alone. He’s not bothering you.”
“Well, maybe I should find out.”
Harold looked up again and she was staring at him. Something about her was intriguing but he sensed she would keep talking about him if he stayed. If he left now, he would seem obviously planning to avoid her but he took that chance. He got up and walked out of the room.
He went to another part of the library and she was not there. Something about what she said seemed strange and he could not understand why. He made himself forget her and he was able to write some of his story.
An hour later, he figured he ought to eat some lunch. There was a cafeteria in the library. He went to the first floor and walked through an empty room serving as midpoint between the library and the cafeteria. From what Ivan told him, the room would soon be an area where people could sit at tables and eat.
Suddenly, from the other direction, the woman approached him. She had her hand extended and she smiled. She said, “I’m sorry about what I said. Hello, I’m Anna.”
They shook hands. He said, “I’m Harold. I left because I didn’t want to bother you.”
They stopped shaking but she continued to hold on. She said, “You’re not the one bothering me. I have some issues I am dealing with and I have to figure out what to do.”
He said, “I understand. I go through problems also.”
She sighed. “My problem is somewhat big. I need a solution and fast.”
He shrugged. “Would you like to talk about it?”
“I can do that but I think we ought to get to know each other first. I’d like to ask you some questions.”
“What do you think of this country?”
“I’ve lived here my whole life. It’s hard for me to be objective about it. I haven’t had any problems.”
“That’s good to hear. Do you get by? Do you make enough money so you can live satisfactorily?”
“I have a steady income from a trust fund related to an inheritance my grandfather gave me. I don’t have to work. I feel satisfied. Why are you asking about money?” He noticed she was still gripping his hand. He tried to let go but she continued to hold on.
She said, “I figured I could ask you about money and you could decide not to answer if that was your choice. I guess I can tell you my problem. My parents want me to get married because they are from the old country and they think that an education is not enough in this world. They think women need husbands to provide support. I need to figure out what I need to do so they will still pay my college fee and let me stay in this country.”
He asked, “You’re from another country?”
“I was born in Czechoslovakia but I’ve lived in the United States for four years. My parents say I need to get married so I can be sure I can stay in this country. They say they will make me move back in Czechoslovakia if I don’t do what they ask of me.”
Harold was nervous. He said, “I can ask some of my friends if they know any people desperate to get married. Is that okay?”
“Why are you so nervous? You act like I’m going to hurt you or something. I’m just asking you questions. I figured you could help me.”
“I’d be more willing to help if you let go of my hand.”
“Why can’t I shake your hand? According to my belief system, it is wrong to disconnect from energy that is harmonious.”
“What do you mean by that? Are you saying you will never let go?”
“I don’t plan to let go.”
“But you will eventually let go?”
“I didn’t say that.”
Harold figured he was part of something that might have been planned earlier and he had not recognized the signs. Right now, he was in a trap. He knew she could not hold on to his hand forever. Eventually, they would separate. In the meantime, he needed to determine whether or not he should continue going to the library. If he decided not to do so, he could avoid another trap. However, his predicament would make a great short story as soon as he could get his hand free so he could write it.