500 words or less: library (a writing experiment).01 Aug 2006
(I open a book at random and pick a word. Today’s word was library.)
Each day in my research at the library I filled out my request form and
passed it through the dark slot in the wall that said STACKS. Each day
during my year-long tenure at the University I waited and listened for
the groan and thunk of the dumbwaiter in the corner of the library, as
my books came magically up from the stacks in neat dusty piles.
What kind of bright magical world was there down below the dumbwaiter,
below the library? I imagined robots, simulacrums, ageless golems, giant
metal library drones, rushing from one crowded aisle to another,
gathering books with precision and speed. And were there more than
books in the stacks? Did they have truffles or unicorns, neutrinos or
the square root of negative one? If only I asked, what would they give
I filled out my request form and sent it down the slot to the stacks.
Under the heading that said Requests I had written: RABBIT.
The dumbwaiter was silent for minutes, ten, almost twenty. Then from
under the floor I heard a knocking, the turn of machinery, moan, a sigh,
a rush of air and the doors to the dumbwaiter opened by themselves.
Inside the space that smelled of oak chips and snakeskin was a single
slip of paper; it was my request form. Somehow disappointed, I picked
up the form and let the doors of the dumbwaiter close behind me. So it
was all just books and librarians after all.
The library in the morning was bright with the sun filtered through the
windows and the skylights in the ceiling. As I emerged from the corner,
from the dark behind the shelves marked 648 – 652.3, a mark on the form
in my hand caught my eye. In the light I stood and smoothed out my form;
it was strangely dirty and creased as if it had been passed from hand
to hand and folded and saved over a long time. I smoothed it out and
turned it over. On the back, as if drawn by a hand with a thousand years
of patience and practice, was a pencil drawing of a rabbit.