Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: JOY (12/07/17)
- TITLE: Heiroglyphics
By Jan Ackerson
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Maureen sits behind the counter of the library, tsking over the condition of a returned book. It was obviously exposed to water; Maureen wonders if the patron actually showered with the thing, so mottled is the cover, so warped the pages.
She closes the book and sighs, eyes shut, contemplating the decline of civilization. When she looks up and scans the tables, she sees Dave Abernathy in his accustomed spot, writing as usual on a yellow legal pad. He writes with a Ticonderoga #2 pencil; it scritches across the paper with a sound just barely within Maureen’s tolerance. Occasionally he stops and erases a word or two before tearing off one page and starting another. Sometimes he puts the pencil down and interlaces his fingers, then extends both hands together in a stretch that cracks every knuckle.
The library isn’t busy today, so throughout the morning, Maureen’s glance falls on Mr. Abernathy again and again. Why doesn’t he use the computer? she wonders. He can’t be more than sixty. Surely he’s familiar with computers. That thought leads to several others: How old is he, in actuality? What is he writing? Can he write well? Why doesn’t he write at home? And then, to her great surprise: Is he married?
That thought annoys her, so she gets off her stool and strides around the library, straightening things that don’t need to be straightened. By the time she returns to the circulation desk, Mr. Abernathy is gone, but one yellow sheet, slightly crumpled, has been left behind. With a snort, she picks it up and heads toward the wastebasket when her eye is caught by the word chignon. What a word for a man to know! She uncrumples the paper and starts to read.
Marie spent her day surrounded by friends—the books she had treasured for years. As she turned the pages of one dear companion, a few silvery strands slipped from their chignon, caught by a mischievous breeze. Her delicate lips twitched in a half-smile; this was her favorite passage. One hand drifted to her throat and played with a button at her collar while her pretty ankles crossed and uncrossed. Her dove gray eyes…
Maureen gasps; her hand travels to her bun and she re-tucks a few wayward strands. There’s an odd feeling somewhere near her heart, and she feels an urgent need to look at her reflection. When she steps into tiny restroom for employees, she locks the door and heads straight to the mirror, startled to see not only dove gray eyes but her own white teeth; she’s actually smiling. The feeling between her ribs swells, presses outward.
She composes herself and walks to her desk, the sheet of yellow paper clutched to her blouse. There, she begins to read again, further down.
Don had silent friends, too—his den was filled with pads of paper, all crowded with the words he wrote from his library table. Those words had kept him company for years, but now he thought perhaps he’d like to share them. And if, in the process of sharing his words, he also might share a moment, a meal, a touch…his thoughts returned often to Marie. Sometimes he looked up at her from his writing, not minding that her attention was elsewhere. And sometimes, he felt eyes on his work, and hoped they were Marie’s eyes…but would their eyes ever meet? How could a shy and quiet man ever get the attention of such a perfectly lovely woman?
Maureen is absurdly conscious of her breathing, only because the feeling swelling in her chest is constricting all the autonomic processes of her body: not only her breath, but her heartbeat and her very thoughts. Only one word squeezes out of her astonished brain: the name of this feeling. It’s joy, as foreign to her as hieroglyphics.
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