“Down the hall and to the left, that door,” she pointed as she escorted me to the ‘stack,’ her term for where all the old newspapers and magazines lay unmolested.
Anywhere else, am certain, it would be called the ‘morgue,’ the place where old, dead newspapers are left, numerically cataloged to die in pieces, and in peace, withered away by time, ravaged by mice and pack rats or simply forgotten and sealed off from the rest of the known universe. In this event, whatever one might call it, it was an old, but well framed mine shaft, hidden some 15-feet beneath the floor of the towns public library.
I am marveled at what I’m seeing!
The shaft is not very deep, much more a hollow then anything else, less than 50-foot by 30-foot and around 8-foot in height. It is then that I realize that dug-out is purpose made and it makes me smile.
“A secretive piece of heaven, hardly visited,” I whispered unknowingly.
A metal folding chair, a seat filled with a light layer of dust held parliament mid-room, waiting for my company. It beckoned me to drag the rickety and tattered card table, a long-time companion, sitting still folded and dirty covered over, to keep us all company.
It feel like home, the one we ate at as children while the older folk sat at the big table, enjoying Thanksgiving and Christmas turkey. I shared the memory aloud and I believe it felt grateful for the long forgotten jog it felt of days such as that.
Above me swayed a single light bulb. It too, along with the green enamel pan-shade, were touched by the ever present dust of age and forgotteness. I spent a few minutes cleaning both and eventually having to feel my way to the stair case, up and out, because the bulb could no longer live with out its outer garment of filth.
Unceremoniously, the librarian tossed the now dead bulb in the trash and handed me a new one. She felt no concern for the aged bulb and I had to turn away before I said anything, knowing it was her family and not mine, for I’m but a visitor to her bookish Queendom.
New bulb in place, I moved quietly through the four aisles of papers, each cased in a heavy wooden frame and guarded by a chicken-wire window. Each top paper is coated in a fine grit, thicker than the grit that has found its way between the hundreds of pages beneath it.
I sneeze as the finer silt becomes airborne and I know I am right where I must be and in love.
Eighteen-fifty, the oldest broadsheet I will find and I am joyful as I sit down, my friends surrounding me and we enjoying one another and our contemplative company. My mustered-colored Carhartt coat still on, a flask of brace from the chill tucked in my bib-over all pocket and I feel like I have all the time in the world, as I read and take notes.
From time to time, the light above me sways causing my casted shadow to quiver, dance and dodge among the stacks of magazines and century-old penny-dreadful reading material. It too, my shadow that is, is enjoying the freedom we have found underground.
And while I can see them, I know tiny eyes are watching me, curious as to what the human beast is doing and might do should one of the small rodents grow brave enough to investigate the activity that its generation, and the one before, has never seen. Courage in a mouse doesn’t take much time to muster as I find three visitors seated at the edge of the card table watching me and each without fear.
They are my company in this chilled room, a secret garden that I’ve been given privilege to behold. Soon, I am jolted from my lettered revery of a kind female voice reminding me that the library closes in 15-minutes.
Folding up the table, I also fold the chair, whereby I place them against the far and bare wall. I imagine that they will chat among themselves, along with the mice and now-handled newspapers and magazines of the day a visitor came and stayed all day.
I draw one final breathe from the antiquated air, pull the door closed and leave a fantasy world behind me.