The library was 17 stories tall. (“The library has a far more stories than that, get it?” the library director would say). Not skyscraper height by any means, but in our city’s modest skyline, it towered over its neighbors. We were used to navigating by it, and even when one was just out for an aimless walk, one would eventually arrive at its door, simply pulled there by the gravity of the building. Latin phrases were carved into the edifice, most likely about knowledge and learning, though I was pretty sure that the word sanguis was used more than a few times.
A friend of a friend was a children’s librarian there. Sometimes, I’d see her there, and we’d talk, but most of the time she was in the children’s room, and I had no viable excuse for entering that sanctuary. So, I usually just wave to her on my way to the elevator.
The elevators are the quietest I’ve ever experienced. When you reach your floor, they both do and don’t “ding.” There is no audible sound, but somehow you feel it in your feet and your brain fills in the sound. I didn’t even realize they were silent until somebody else pointed it out to me. Now, I can’t help but wait for that strange moment to arrive.
I like the 11th floor, the shelves arranged in a spiral. There’s usually a slight breeze and it smells of real pine, not air fresheners. At the very center is a book by Borges. Ley lines radiate from there into associated topics.
But today, the 17th floor is my destination. I’ve never been up there before. Once, I’d ridden the elevator up, but the doors refused to open, and then it decided I belonged on 13 instead. I found a fascinating history of the fig, but I was still disappointed that the library believed it knew what was best for me. Today, there will be no stopping me. I have an invitation.
The doors open with their silent ding. A woman in a suit is there to greet me. She is rather short, and the suit is too big, but she carries herself with a certain gravitas.
“Welcome. Excuse the formality, but may I see your invitation.”
We both know the doors wouldn’t have even opened if I didn’t have it, but no system is perfect, and the library does not leave things to chance. She puts on her glasses to examine it closer.
“Lisa recommended you. Quite a surprise that. I don’t think she’s recommended anybody before. I mean, not surprising, considering most of her patrons are covered in chocolate,” she wipes her hands on a handkerchief at the thought, “Anyway, follow me.”
She leads me to a study room. It contains a desk set on which a typewriter and a stack of blank paper are sitting. The outer wall is a window looking down on the city, and the view is spectacular.
“Hopefully, this window will do. Based on your past activity, we calculated it as optimum, but these predictions are an art not a science, so let me know, and we can find you a different view.”
No, this is the one. I can see the museum, and Founder’s Park. I can vaguely make out my favorite bar, and the rock club where I first saw the band Missing Parrot play.
“You know what’s expected?” she asked.
I hadn’t known before, but now I did.
“How long do I have?”
“As long as it takes. A day, a year. Forever. Come and go as you wish. But the library will know when you’re done, and when that happens, your access will cease. Do you understand?”
“I do,” I say.
I stare out the window for an hour. At first everybody below seems so small, but eventually, I realize they’re all huge. Bigger than life.
Finally, I start to type.