Books Like Bodies

Posted: October 11, 2012 in Fiction

It became normal for me to wake up to my mother crying. Not in the full weep of a tragedy but in muted groans that were inexplicable, though I knew the reason why. Father had left a year ago and mother had not grown accustomed, as adaptable as she was, to the silence that remained when he left. They were life long partners up to that point, had met when they were still children on the play ground. Were both from the same neighborhood. They both would tell me that they “just knew” they would be together. They just knew it. The passing of time and the changes it brings, however, are often imperceptible. And as you get older, the dreams you have change you. Father’s dreams changed him.

She’d heroically wipe the tears from her eyes and proceed with her day. She’d get me out of bed with a gentle scratch of the head, “C’mon, it’s time to get up,” she’d say. On the days I was obstinate and unwilling to get out of bed, even after the third or fourth time being told to do so, she would bring me a warm wet towelette so that I could wipe the sleep from my eyes. She was patient that way. Even when I made us late, she’d tell me to do better next time. God only knew what she endured when I was away at school.

In the year of my father’s departure, when school had ended I usually walked home. Father had taken the car when he left and mother had no way of getting another one. When she could find a ride for me, from an uncle or a friend, I had it easy. We had made plans to the effect that if my ride was not there by the time school was out, I’d have to walk home. I’d walk straight home avoiding as best I could the black side of town. There was a deep seated fear I could not explain. Nothing ever happened to cause the fear but the congregation of young male black bodies terrified me.

Today I do not feel like walking the extra mile it takes to avoid the black side of town . With all the courage I can muster, I’m walking along 2nd street fully anticipating Huisache St up ahead. From a distance I can already see them assembled. They are raucously laughing and engaging each other in conversation. From a distance it appears as though my fears are for naught. You see there’s nothing to fear. As I pass the intersection, the vitality of their conversation wanes and they fall silent. Some mind their own business, talking amongst themselves. A few others are looking right at me.

Yo, what’s up little man,” one calls out to me.

I don’t answer and keep walking, my eyes fixed on the pavement under my feet.

Hey, I’m talking to you!” he’s angry now. 

Not wanting to make eye contact, or even turn their way, I begin to run as fast as I can away from them. I can hear only the faint crackle of laughter behind me.

Laughter and the one voice just behind me shouting: “I’m coming after you! Run, run little man!”

The grip of fear I am in creates this beleaguered bubble of existence. Everything’s becoming unreal. I have tunnel vision and can hear nothing but my own chaotic breathing and the beating of my heart pounding in my ears like drums. When I come to the railroad tracks ahead, it will take everything with in me to turn around. The rapture of fear I am in leads me to believe that the instant I stop running and look behind me, there he’ll be waiting to grab me. But there’s no one. Exhausted now, I think I’ll rest by the recycling facility.

Sitting against the wall catching my breath, a trail of fear-laden tears running down my face, all I can think about is how much Father would be ashamed of me. For running and not standing up for myself. The deep masculine voice I have not heard in a year reminds me that when I run away in fear, I might never stop running. For a brief moment I cry into my hands. I cry for everything; father leaving, for mother having to raise me alone, her mornings spent crying, for having to walk home, and not having powers to stand up to the guy who made me run away.

Hey there, little man, is everything OK? What has you crying this fine day?”

My head shot up out of my hands to see an older black man standing above me. His eyes were deeply set behind his glasses. His hair was a pale gray and white and in every place a man could have hair, it was unkempt and overgrown: his nose, his ears, his eye brows.

I did not want to reveal the source of my fear and crying so I lied and said a dog had chased me down the road, and that I was hiding and resting. He kindly invited me inside for a drink of water and time in the shade. Once inside, he gave me a chair to sit on and a glass of water to drink. I glanced around the cavernous room where large mounds were neatly aligned into separate stacks for paper, plastic, cardboard, and glass. And there to the right, beyond the other piles, were stacks of old books. Some of them were on the two book shelves that were there like at the library, others were neatly stacked along the base boards of the wall. And curiously, there were still others strewn across the floor. Books like bodies laying there with their guts ripped out, some of the pages of text still visible from under the book covers.

Perhaps noticing my repeated glances toward the stack of books, he called out,

Jairus, come out here.”

On my way, pop!” a voice replied from behind one of the stacks.

Jairus appeared from behind one of the larger stacks of card board. He was sweating profusely, and his shirt was already drenched from the labor he was doing. He was youthful, large and overbearing, full of girth and muscle. When he got close to me, he called out: “Hey there, little man, we meet again.”

I instantly knew that it was him, even though I had not even taken the time to look his way when he called out to me up the road at the intersection. A fear gripped my heart, and I’m sure my face showed it too.

Jairus, take him to the stacks of books over there.”

Looking at me he said, “You can take one or two books with you, if you find something you’d like to read.”

Thank you, sir”

Walking toward the books, Jairus asked pointedly.

Why wouldn’t you answer me? I just wanted to see how it was going.”

I was afraid, I said. I was afraid so I ran.

Afraid of what though? I just asked you a question,” he said laughing.

I don’t know why I was afraid, I just was.

Well, that’s in the past now little man. Next time stop and say hi and maybe you won’t have to be afraid.”

He began to explain to me the reason for the books. He told me that these books were from the public library, the books people hardly checked out. They’re taking up too much space there, he explained, so they get rid of the older damaged ones. The books on the shelf there are the ones that just came in this week. The books stacked on the floor are the ones we are gonna recycle next.

What about those right there? I asked, pointing toward the mangled stack of hollowed out books.

Well, little man, those are the ones we’re almost done with. We tear out the pages and put them into the shredder. Then the covers we put into the proper stack, usually the card board stack.

You can take a book home with you if you want to, no one’s gonna read them here. Pop already took the one’s he likes home.

As a matter of fact, he continued, I think you will like this one.

Jairus placed a tattered copy of Aesop’s Fables into my hands. It was moldy and broken at the spine. You can keep it as long as you want, he reminded, and when you’re done reading it, or if you get bored with it, just toss it out into the trash.

He smiled and foretold: But something tells me you won’t be able to throw it out.

Jairus,” called out his father, “it’s time to close up shop son.”

Alright Pop!

Walking toward the door, he asked: ‘What’s your name little man?”

Junot, my name is Junot. It’s good to finallymeet you Jairus.

It’s a pleasure to meet too you Junot. I’ll see you around little man.

  1. Mel says:


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