No one else was working that day, but lyle told me that if I chose to come in and re-sort the World religions section, he’d give me a day off some other time. this seemed like great currency to me, and since Ben was going to have to work that day anyway, I came in. I tend to like alphabetizing, which I realize makes absolutely no sense, but it’s true nonetheless. I like things that have a right and a wrong answer, things that can be done perfectly. they don’t often come up in the humanities. they are normally relegated to the sciences. so I’ve always liked the alphabet and the dewey decimal system for being objective standards in a subjective world.

Cell phone reception is terrible at the library, and since it was empty, I had a spookily quiet day, a day spent almost entirely in my own mind.

Around three, as I found myself pretty much done piecing together the World religions section like some three-dimensional puzzle, I heard the phone ring. I had been ignoring the phone the few times it rang that day, but for some reason, I forgot all that and ran to answer it.

I don’t typically answer the phone at work, I’m often with people or filing or working on larger projects for the library, so when I answered this time, I realized it completely slipped my mind what I was supposed to say.

“Hello?” I said. “uh. los angeles Fairfax library. oh, ah. los angeles public library, reference Branch. Fairfax Branch, reference desk.”

By the end of it, I’d remembered there was no need for me to answer the phone in the first place, making this that much more of a needless embarrassment.

That’s when I heard laughing on the other end of the phone. “Ben?”

“uh, uh, Fairfax. reference. uh,” he said, still laughing at

Me. “you are the cutest person that ever lived.”

I started to laugh too, relieved that I had embarrassed myself only in front of Ben, but also embarrassed to have embarrassed myself in front of Ben. “What are you doing? I thought you were working today.”

“I was. Working today. But Greg decided to let us all go home a half hour ago.”

“Oh! that’s great. you should come meet me here. I should be done in about twenty minutes or so. oh!” I said, and I was overcome with a great idea. “We can go to a happy hour!” I never got out of work in time to go to a happy hour, but the idea had always intrigued me.

Ben laughed. “that sounds great. that’s kind of why I’m calling. I’m outside.”


“Well, not outside exactly. I’m down the street. I had to walk until I could get service.”

“Oh!” I was thrilled to know that I’d be seeing Ben any minute and drinking two-dollar drafts within the half hour. “Come down to the side door. I’ll open it.”

“Great!” he said. “I’ll be there in five.”

I took my time heading to the side door, passing the circulation desk and front door on my way back there. I’m glad that I did because as I passed the front door, I heard a tapping on the door and looked up to see Mr. Callahan standing sad and confused, with his hands cupped around his eyes and fixed against the glass.

I walked up to the door and pushed it open. It was an automatic door turned off for the holiday, so it gave great resistance, but I got it open just enough to let Mr. Callahan in. He grabbed my arm with his shaking, tissue paper—like hands and thanked me.

“No problem, Mr. Callahan,” I said. “I’m going to take off in about ten minutes and the library is closed, but is there something you wanted?”

“It’s closed?” he asked, confused. “What on earth for?”

“Martin luther king day!” I answered.

“And you still let me in? I am a lucky man, elsie.”

I smiled. “Can I help you get anything?”

“I won’t be but just a minute, now that I know you’re in a hurry. Can I have a few minutes in the young adult section?”

“The young adult section?” It wasn’t my business why, but this was out of character for Mr. Callahan. the fiction section, sure, new releases, definitely. World Wars, natural disasters, sociology. all of these were places where you could find Mr. Callahan, but young adults was never his style.

“My grandson and his daughter are coming this week and I want to have something to read with her. she’s getting too old to find me particularly entertaining, but I thought if I got a really good yarn to her liking, I could convince her to spend a few minutes with me.”

“Great-granddaughter? Wow.”

“I’m old, elsie. I’m an old man.”

I laughed instead of agreeing with him. “Well, be my guest. It’s over to the left, behind the periodicals.”

“I’ll only be a minute!” he said as he headed back there, slow like a turtle but also just as steady.

I headed to the side door to find Ben wondering what the hell I’d been doing.

“I’ve been here for two minutes and twenty-seven seconds, elsie!” he joked as he stepped in.

“Sorry, Mr. Callahan came to the front door and I had to let him in.”

“Mr. Callahan is here?” Ben’s face lit up. He had never met Mr. Callahan but had heard me talk about him, about how I found his devotion to his wife to be one of the more romantic real-life sentiments I had ever witnessed. Ben always said when he was ninety, he’d treat me the same way. I had only known Ben for about three weeks, so while it was a sweet thing to say, it was also foolhardy and arrogant. It was naïve and intoxicating. “Can I meet him?”

“Sure,” I said. “Come help me put a few last books in order and we can go find him.” Ben came with me to finish up, contributing in no way to my reordering of the books. He hung back and read the spines as I told him all about finding Buddhism: Plain and Simple stuck up in a nook of the ceiling.

“How did you get it down?” he said, only half listening to me. His attention seemed focused on the stacks.

“I didn’t,” I told him.“It’s right there.” I pointed above us to the thin, white book stuck precariously between the metal grid and the popcorn panel. He walked toward me, standing right over me. our bodies were so close that his shirt was touching mine. the skin on his arm just barely touched mine. I could smell his deodorant and his shampoo, smells that had become sensual to me because of how often I smelled them in sensual situations. His neck was craned upward, checking out the book in the ceiling.

“Those tricky bastards,” Ben marveled, then he turned back to face me. He could now appreciate how close we were. He looked at me and then looked around us.

“Where’s Mr. Callahan?” he asked. He asked it in a way that clearly let me know he was asking something else entirely.

I blushed. “He’s a few walls over,” I said.

“Seems pretty private back here,” he said. He didn’t move toward me to grab me. He didn’t need to.

I giggled, girlishly. “It is,” I said. “But it would be—”

“Right,” he said. “that would be . . .”

Was it getting hotter? I honestly thought maybe it was getting hotter. I thought it was getting hotter and quieter, as if the air itself was becoming more intense around us.

“It would be crazy,” I said, matter-of-factly, doing my best to stop this before it started. He wouldn’t. I knew he wouldn’t. right there in the library? I was certain that I was the only one actually considering it. and so I put my foot down. I stepped away slightly, put the book in my hand into its place on the shelf, and announced that we needed to go check on Mr. Callahan.

“Okay,” Ben said, putting his hands up in surrender. He then put one arm out as if to invite me to lead us there. I walked in front of him, and when we were almost out of the World religions stacks, he teased me.

“I would have done it,” he said.

I smiled and shook my head. I had never felt so desirable, had never realized how feeling that desirable made me feel like I could do anything in the world.

We found Mr. Callahan right where he’d said he’d be.

“What is all of this?” Mr. Callahan said to me as he saw us coming up to meet him. “I thought there would be a few books back here. this section is bigger than the new releases!”