flash fiction

Please note: this story carries the usual fiction disclaimer. It does not reflect actual events involving real people in any way whatsoever.

The librarian stands in a bright shaft of December sunlight, dust motes floating like misplaced ions in a hazy force field around him. He is weeding the 800s, the literature section, and it’s a project that has consumed most of his time off the reference desk during the last two weeks. The 800s require an artist’s touch when it comes to withdrawing books, as much of the material there does not become outdated or superfluous, as books in the 300s, 500s, and 600s often do. In this area of the collection, therefore, one must go beyond the traditional formulas of weeding, or “deselecting,” as the librarian’s boss likes to call it. The librarian enjoys wielding control over this subjective area of the library’s current weeding program. But today his mind is elsewhere.

As he stands in the aisle staring blankly at the volume of Stephen Crane’s poetry he holds in his hands, the sharp odor of urine suddenly drifts up his nose. Seconds later, one of the library’s homeless regulars slouches by. The librarian nods at the man, who inexplicably sports an orange hardhat set at a jaunty angle atop his head. A striking pheasant’s feather pokes up out of a small hole in the right side of the hardhat. The man grunts a greeting, then collapses into the chair of a nearby study carrel, the hardhat producing an audible thud on the desk as he rests his head on his arms and almost immediately begins snoring.

The librarian is distracted because he received a phone call from his ex-wife this morning before he came to work. After they exchanged trite pleasantries, she told him that she was getting married next May. When he heard this news, the librarian dropped the phone’s receiver, which landed on the cat’s back, causing her to screech and tear off into the bedroom. “Hello? Hello??” the librarian had heard his ex-wife’s tinny voice calling out from the floor. He had hesitated before picking the receiver up. The divorce went through less than a year ago, and he had just begun feeling a little more stable again.

“What happened?” she asked, once he picked up the phone.

“I dropped the phone and it landed on the cat,” he answered.

“Oh. So are you mad at me?”

“No, why?”

“Well, are you going to say anything nice?”


“Thanks. You’ll be getting an invitation.”

He had said he had to be getting to work, and thanked her for calling. The thought of attending her wedding filled him with a molasses-like dread. Of course, there’s no rule saying he had to go, although he knew she’d be disappointed if he didn’t. But the librarian thought he could probably live with that.

As he wrangles with this dilemma in his head, he dimly hears his name being paged over the library’s PA system. He looks at his watch, and realizes that he was supposed to be on the reference desk ten minutes ago. Crap. He walks quickly back through the stacks toward the desk, already hearing Carol’s nasal voice in his head, chastising him for his lateness.

Sure enough, when he arrives at the desk, she immediately flies off into her hackneyed rant about responsibility and respect for his coworkers, etc, etc. He smiles and nods along, assuring her that it wouldn’t happen again, that he’d been waylaid by a needy patron. As usual, she appears only slightly mollified, and strides off toward the reference office. The librarian sits at the desk then, eyes pointed forward, and waits for someone to ask him a question.

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