WEDNESDAY: The Merton Library


Copyright is held by the author.

THE MERTON public library was a melting pot of the haves and have-nots, a mixture of homeless people and the wealthy older residents of the nearby neighbourhood, plus the inevitable hodge-podge middleclass. The rain, though, or a threatening of snow would guarantee larger numbers of seats filled. But the library boasted comfortable in all ways, there were sofas and love seats in the reading rooms, and large tables made of very solid oak for the researchers in that section of the old building.

Sarah often thought about the two things she loved best, this library, and people, especially those who frequently visited the Merton. She looked up from the multiple research tomes in front of her to calculate the ethnic mix of the room’s current inhabitants. Never surprised that just one room held a healthy share of Asian, middle easterners, lots of Hispanic and the usual Anglo and European mix.

There was Luiz devouring a book on how to interview, guess he’s looking for a new job. She thought this as she craned her neck to see the cover of the book. It looked decidedly corporate, a photo of a suit and tie type guy on the front, smiling a perfectly dental record of teeth. Nope, she decided, this was not a short “how to,” Luiz was looking for a career move up.

It was then he looked over at her, catching her out, and he smiled his own brilliant and natural set of teeth, his handsome and brown face lighting up the room, well, maybe her room.

“You almost done over there?” He whispered in a tone of voice that said he was a guy with a long history of whispering in a library, this one, for sure.

“Almost, why?” Sarah not any less a devotee of The Merton herself, whispered as appropriately with just enough timbre to be heard by Luiz’s eager ears, but not loud enough to perforate the ear drums of the old guy, Mr. Hemmings who sat across and two chairs down from Luiz. He hardly looked up from his Brief History of the World Volume II.

Luiz raised his hand, five fingers, five minutes, he gestured, not wanting to push his luck with whispering. And Sarah nodded and piled her neat stack of notes and with them, her own books back into her briefcase with the reference materials to be returned placed on the side table meant for such things. Luiz had less to assemble and was with her in quick time, maybe breathing a little faster for the effort or from his own eagerness. He was hoping for her attention for several weeks, the darkening windows and the suggestion of sleet were not going to stop him, now.

“How about there?” He pointed to the corner luncheonette across the street. His eyes dived down to look up into her eyes, making him seem shorter when they were actually the same height, five feet seven. He said as much, “Ah you’re taller.”

Sarah responded almost automatically, “Nu uh, the same.”

“Yeah, but not when you wear heels, then you’d be statuesque.”

“I never wear heels.” She smiled and so did he.

Sarah handed over her large umbrella and Luiz drew her closer, their breath coming out in a stream into the just below freezing rain. This weather always descended her mood into a kind of melancholy that went along with near holiday joys. Decorations were already in a smattering up on Fifth Avenue and she would find the time to see them, but the quieter little streets held the less than festiveness that is natural when entire families cannot celebrate together. This year Sarah would be alone with her mother and father at their house one block down from the library. She said this to Luiz as they settled into a small booth across from the counter.

“I forgot to check the time.” Luiz looked at the menu. “Let’s have some dinner, okay?”

Luiz then remembered she had told him something, and hurried not to be rude, to respond to Sarah’s remarks about visitors for the holidays.  He told her, “we’ll have many of my mother’s family, her brothers and sisters and cousins.” His voice conveyed a subtle message, when he blurted out an invitation to Sarah and her parents

Sarah was still in that other quiet place, thinking of roast turkey and the farmland outside her grandmother’s dining room table far from the city. She looked at the dinner side of the menu. “I’ll have the open-faced turkey sandwich.” After they ordered Sarah leaned forward to say, “I saw the corporate job book today. Are you planning an interview?”

“I’ll bet I never told you my last name, did I?” He touched her arm where she had reached out. “It’s Luiz Rivera, my father’s family is in Puerto Rico, except for a younger brother and my mother and her big family are here.” Then he said, “it would be great to have you with us.”

She noticed his brow, creased as he looked down briefly, he’s thinking of his family and waited because she knew Luiz would tell her about the job book. “Yes, tell me about the book you were studying.”  

“I have an interview next week, on Wall Street, an investment bank, not the biggest but still that address…”

“Yes, of course, how exciting. I have a good feeling about this.” She didn’t know right away, but when she was alone later, she would remember what she had said, and knew it was because she could feel his success. It was coming now, and nothing would stop it.

“Why did you say that?” He asked her.

“Because you are smart, you are healthy and you like people.” She wondered whether she should have said this, her voice, to her, sounded reluctant but her thoughts would not stay still. She believed in him.

Their coming together happened earlier, and over a much longer period of time. Sarah remembered and told him throughout their dinner, her first recollection of Luiz at the age of seven, coming, alone, into the Children’s Hour, which Merton librarians had created for neighbourhood elementary school boys and girls. “You were seven and I was six and I thought that was perfect.”

Luiz sipped some of his hot tea which Sarah thought an unusual choice for a young man. She listened very hard, intent on the rhythm of his voice, the rising up and down of his tone as he breathed out the English, he learned at age five or six.

As though by magic he picked up on her thought and said, “I have no accent because I learned English before the age of 10. I read about accents a short while ago, that ten is sort of the cut-off point. You retain a portion, however small, of your first language pronunciation if you’re over the age of ten. My cousin Gabriel has that Latino intonation.” He had interrupted her and now wanted most to get back to what she wanted to tell him about their first days in the Merton. “Tell me why it was perfect, Sarah.”

She luxuriated in him saying her name. “I knew some things about myself even when I was just six. I knew we would share this evening someday.”

“How could you know such a thing?” She was a mystery yet was happy to know he could spend the rest of his life unravelling her thoughts; all, not just those about him.

Sarah thought as he was forming the question and knew he would ask how was it that they would be together.

“I see things, when I’m reading a story, the characters jump out at me and the greater the description, the deeper I see into them, not just what they’re doing but then why.” She stopped to catch her breath because it isn’t every day that you confess such a thing, never having done this before, though she was satisfied that she would tell Luiz anything.

Luiz rubbed his head in concentration, “I remember. You told me when we were children, you told me this. Then I thought it was because books, everything, influences a young child with all of its colour and actions; that would not be true for everyone. For you it would be a defining gift.” He left off telling Sarah he was thinking how, if they had children, they might inherit this gift.

Sarah reached across the table and touched Luiz’s hand. It was warm, like his smile. “Tell me, Luiz, tell me about the future.” She hadn’t meant to be bold, but she sensed the need for this urgency, that it would carry them forward and faster, and they needed to be quick or lose their chance.

If you didn’t know Luiz, the way that Sarah did, you might not see his own life force surging forward with the same energy as hers. To outsiders, people saw life in slow motion, slogging through thick and heavy syrup, but it was only a moment for Sarah and Luiz.

Luiz said, “it will be wonderful, the interview, they were so excited on the phone when they called. Imagine, a conference call, all seated around a big glass table in a glass walled room.”

Sarah squeezed his hand. “Yes, it will be all of that.”

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