Library Blues by Linda S. Gunther
Brenda approached the information desk. The hefty, red-lipped college librarian looked up, threw her head back and sneezed into Brenda’s face. It had just been 24 hours since the mask mandate had been removed inside the campus buildings. Brenda quickly turned as if she had no question. She wanted to ask what time the library would close on Christmas Eve. But all she could think about was getting away from the woman and wondered if the library staff was regularly tested for the COVID virus.
So disgusting, Brenda thought as she headed to the fiction section. She knelt down by the bottom shelf in the "F" aisle and pulled out F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The slim-necked bottle half-full of brown liquid which she had stashed in the back of the shelf was still there. She couldn’t hide it in her dorm room. Her roommate Greta was anti-drugs and alcohol. And, the RA’s did regular unannounced random sweeps. It was always quiet in the library at this time of day, a perfect hiding place for her booze.
She looked up and down the aisle. Satisfied to see no one, she twisted off the cap, and took a long slug of the Jameson whiskey her Irish uncle had secretly given to her last weekend, a week before Christmas. Hot to her throat, yet smooth she thought of Professor McCallam, his salt and pepper hair, his dark sultry eyes, the way he stood at the front of the college classroom full of fire. Her crush had turned into a daydreamed love affair over the last six weeks of Twentieth Century English Lit.
She pushed the whiskey bottle to the very back of the wood shelf and replaced the worn edition of The Great Gatsby in front of it. The sound of the bottle clanked somewhere behind the shelving. Oh, shit.
Tip-toeing around the corner, she hoped not to be noticed by the careless librarian. She headed to the "J" aisle of the Fiction section. Where had the bottle gone? She bent down, pulled out P.D. James' A Taste for Death, and awkwardly stretched out her arm to the very back and between the cabinets. Her chin on the edge of the shelf, she blindly groped around for anything that felt like a glass container.
Did the damn thing break? Her fingers skipped around the wood flooring. Nothing but clusters of dust, and maybe a dead insect. Gross, she thought. She started to pull her arm out. Damn it! She was stuck. Her hand had jammed in the narrow space between the "F" and "J" bookshelves.
The shuffle of shoes came towards her. Brown loafers that squeaked a little. Argyle brown and beige socks. Cuffs on the tan chinos. Her head lifted, her knees flush to the floor, her arm strained out, her hand trapped. It’s him! Professor McCallam looked at her, a puzzled grin on his face, his shoulder length straight hair flopped down over his cheeks.
"You're in my lit class? Yes?" he said.
Brenda felt the sweat break drip under her arms. Her throat went dry. "Brenda Dishtal," she said. In her head it had sounded like Brenda Dish Towel. "Brenda Dishtal," she repeated more clearly. She pulled on her arm but it remained stuck, her wrist bent forward awkwardly, the pain sharp.
He looked down at her, his eyes narrowed, the grin on his face gone. "Are you hurt? Can I help?" he asked. He placed his leather briefcase on the floor and knelt down next to her. His after-shave smelled like vanilla. She breathed it in.
"Oh God," she said. "I-I was looking for a book and got my hand stuck."
He hesitated. "You got your hand…"
She interrupted. "I know it doesn't make sense." she spit the words out not knowing where to go with her next comment.
"I see," he said, and pulled five or six P.D. James' novels off the bottom shelf, placing them in a pile on the floor next to his briefcase. He reached into the shelving, to the very back of the shelf, his face close to her forearm. She could feel his breath on her skin. She thought she noticed him glance at her arm, which was tanned and golden from outdoor swim practice.
His head went further in and came out quickly. "Okay," he said. "Now, I want you to relax your fingers, and let your wrist flop loosely without any resistance.
I have no resistance, she thought.
“I think, then, I could free you,” he said. “Can you do that? Totally relax the wrist."
She saw the slight growth of whiskers on his chin. Tiny gray and black specs. Manly, she thought. His teeth were a translucent perfect white. His gums, pink. Healthy mouth, I like that. The scent of his after shave enticed her.
"Yes, I think I can relax," she said. The pain seemed to sharpen, a contrast to her head swimming in ecstasy.
“Good,” he said, and pushed a few more books from the bottom shelf onto the floor. He stuck his head back into the narrow shelf space. She bit her lip.
"Relax it," he said, his voice muffled. She imagined being on a beach, the professor holding her hand as they moved into the water, laughing as they splashed and played in the turquoise shades of the Caribbean surf. Her wrist went limp.
She focused on the back of his head, the beautiful shape of it, his shoulders shifting highlighting the defined muscles under his shirt, as he worked on her wrist. She wanted to touch his hair. He took hold of her forearm just above her trapped wrist.
He reached further and gently wriggled her hand, tilting it to the left and up, easing it out of the tight space. She blinked and looked down to see the deep crease across her wrist. No blood. Thank God. He sat up next to her and ran his index finger across the indented reddened line.
“How does it feel?” he asked, as he continued to skate his fingers across her wrist.
Her mouth fell open. His touch on her skin was like an opiate, one that she might have taken some minutes ago and was on the verge of its full effect. Her mind retreated, her body floated. The whisky shot she had consumed earlier came back to warm her chest again.
The professor patted her hand. “Can you move it?” he asked.
She stared at her wrist. She didn’t want the time with him to end. She turned it to the right and then left. “Yes, I can,” she said. “It stings a little but I-I think I’m good. she said, her voice cracking.
He grinned. “Not broken then, he said and started to rise from the floor. Her eyes locked on the subtle movement of his body as he stood up. His chest lifted first. His long legs straightened. His straight dark hair swung back and forth as he brushed off his tan chinos then took her hand to help her up. She had been rescued by the gallant Professor McCallam, and she was grateful. She stood close to him.
His head suddenly jerked back. “Achoo!” He let out a legendary sneeze, his checkered shirt sleeve immediately at his nose.
“Dust. I’m allergic to dust,” he said and wrinkled his nose.
He held onto the bookcase with one hand. “Achoo!” A more humongous sneeze escaped, shaking his whole body, and the bookcase. Out came the rattling whiskey bottle landing near the P.D. James books on the floor by his leather bookcase.
They both looked down at the bottle just as the red lip-sticked librarian came around the corner towards them.
“Everything alright here?” the librarian said, strands of loose hair dropping from the red bun on the top of her head.
The professor kicked the whiskey bottle behind his briefcase. The librarian came closer. She gave Brenda the evil eye, her lips curled up at one side.
“Professor McCallam, hello. Did I hear some kind of loud noise coming from this area?” She smiled, her eyes sweeping from his head to his shoes and up again, a flirtatious smile on her face.
“No. No. We’re all good here. Didn’t hear any loud sound,” he said, and pretended to look around.
The librarian nodded, and started to walk away, her wide black flat shoes shuffling on the wood floor. At the end of the aisle, she hesitated, turned to take another look at them, shrugged and finally left, her shoes shuffling again; the professor and Brenda frozen in place.
“I know this looks bad,” Brenda looked at him not knowing how he’d react.
“Tell you what...just to be safe, I’ll take this and give it to you later,” he said.
He picked up the whiskey, placed the bottle in his briefcase, pivoted and started down the aisle away from her.
“Professor,” she called to him.
He turned and raised his eyebrows. His hand went to his chin.
“Um, shall I come to your office tomorrow to retrieve it?”
“I’ll let you know,” he said, waved and disappeared.
Linda S. Gunther is the author of six suspense novels: Ten Steps From The Hotel Inglaterra, Endangered Witness, Lost In The Wake, Finding Sandy Stonemeyer, Dream Beach, and most recently, Death Is A Great Disguiser. Linda’s non-fiction essays and short stories have also been featured in a variety of literary publications.
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