The Last Word – a short story

library

(A writing exercise in which the first word was “shelf”.)

 

“Shelf seven.”

The words struck David’s ear drums like so many flies on a glue strip, their significance dying almost on contact.

“Did you want the catalogue code, too?”

The glue strips over-burdened, David’s head tilted to one side, involuntarily signalling his very real lack of comprehension.

“Sir?”

David’s irises shrank to pin points, his brain doing its best to pull focus back to the moment at hand. Emerald green flecks glinted in the near spotlight that bathed the librarian.

David fought not to shake his head in the hope of releasing the cob webs that had yet again taken hold of his brain. He wet his tongue, a dry mouth crusting his silence.

“Perhaps you could write that down for me,” he smiled at the eternally patient woman behind the counter.

Despite David’s complete lack of social graces, he was an easy patron for the woman. He knew exactly what book he was looking for, rather than simply presenting her with a laundry list of random words that only may have appeared in the book title or subject matter.

Slowly drawing a scrap of paper from a tidy stack, the woman dragged her pencil in tight arcs and lines. With each stroke, David was certain that he could hear the graphite crack and flake from the pencil’s tip until finally, the room went silent again.

Looking up, he caught the librarian’s eye, which crinkled as she slid the paper across the counter.

David smiled as he swiped the sheet and dissolved into the stacks, leaving behind a rapidly dissipating vapour trail of Old Spice and anxiety.

Moving swiftly down row after row, David had the sensation of being swept along by a rainbow-glittered tornado, the multicoloured book spines flashing by, muted here and there by cellophane wrappers designed to keep fingerprints and legibility at bay.

Despite his knowledge of perspective—a Grade 8 art class quickly coming to mind—the stacks seemed to narrow the further he journeyed into the bowels of the bibliographic beast. And all the air was drowned in the musty thoughts of insistent authors in cacophonic sensory overload.

David’s chameleon-like eyes worked in solitude, taking turns glancing from the dampening destiny sheet clutched between his fingers and the digital tattoos that graced the spines.

His left eye was first to light upon the congruence, a match that was shortly confirmed by his right eye. Binocular certitude.

This was the book.

Taking a deep calming breath that did little more than trigger a coughing spasm, David rubbed his hands against his trouser legs, only to realize he was smearing pulped paper onto his leg. The librarian’s note had given up the fight to remain whole under persistent perspiring assault.

Without being aware of his actions, David flipped the book’s pages through trembling fingers, eyes scanning for familiar references.

The red wagon on Bakersfield Hill.

The mustard-stained tuxedo on prom night.

The tow motor accident at the soda factory.

The surreal night at the library looking for a book available nowhere else.

It was all here, written in black sans-serif letters on egg-shell pages. So alien to see it captured on vellum and yet so familiar to a constantly refreshing memory.

Clearing his throat, David flipped ahead in the book, trying not to glance at the intervening pages, instead saving his energies for whatever he found on the last pages before the Appendix.

David smiled as he struck the back cover and realized there was no Appendix. He’d had emergency surgery shortly after his 21st birthday.

But the smile faded just as quickly as the memory as he peripherally espied the final words of the book to his left.

As though resisting a coiled spring, David turned his gaze upon the final paragraph, his temples literally throbbing with the rush of blood to his brain.

His eyes all but excised the first word. Then the second. Then the third.

Words became phrases. Phrases became sentences. Sentences revealed thoughts. That’s how writing worked.

The stacks rang with raucous laughter. Library patrons became meercats at the disturbing intrusive sound, unable to identify its source or direction.

They remained unaware that in the darkest corner of the library, a man had just learned how his life would end.

An ending, it turns out, that was pretty fucking funny.

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