The bank teller cashes the check somewhat hesitantly. she has no reason not to cash it, but I imagine she doesn’t often have a twenty-six-year-old woman come in and cash a fourteen-thousand-dollar check. I ask for it in hundreds.
It won’t fit in my wallet, so I have to take it in a few money envelopes. I get in my car and I drive to the biggest bookstore I can find. I walk into the store feeling like my purse is on fire, and my mind is reeling. I am wandering in circles before an employee asks if she can help. I ask her how to find the young adult section, and the young woman leads me to it. she splays her hand out to show me the shelves—stacks and stacks of books, brightly colored with titles in large display print.
“I’ll take it,” I say.
“What?” she says back to me.
“Can you help me get it to the register?”
“The whole section?” she asks me, shocked.
It’s too many books to fit in my car, too many books to take anywhere by myself, so the store agrees to have them delivered. I take three stacks myself and put them in my car, and then I drive myself to the Fairfax library.
I see lyle the minute I walk in, and he comes over to me. “Hey, elsie. are you okay?”
“I’m good,” I say. “Can you help me get some stuff out of my car?”
Lyle asks me how I’ve been and if I feel like coming back to work. He seems eager not to talk about my “episode,” and I am thankful for that. I tell him I will be back at work soon and then we make our way to my car.
I open the trunk.
“What’s this?” he says.
“This is the beginning of the Ben ross young adult section,”
“I’m having another truckload delivered tomorrow and donated to the library in Ben’s name.”
“Wow,” he says. “that’s very generous of you.”
“There’s only one stipulation,” I say.
“When the books start to smell musty, we gotta get rid of them. donate them to another library.”
Lyle laughs. “What?”
I grab a book from the trunk and fan its pages in front of lyle’s face. I smell them myself. “smell how clean and new that smells?” I say.
“Sure,” lyle says.
“Once they start smelling like library books, we’re gonna donate them to another library and replace them with this.” I hand lyle the rest of the cash. It’s wrapped in an envelope, and I’m sure it looks like we’re dealing drugs.
“What the . . .” lyle says to me. “put that away!”
I laugh, finally seeing this from his perspective. “I should probably just write a check . . .”
Lyle laughs. “probably. But you don’t have to do this.”
“I want to,” I say. “Can we have a plaque made?” I asked.
“Sure,” he says. “absolutely.”
“Awesome.” I put some books in his arms and grab some myself, and we head into the library.
“You’re sure you’re okay, elsie?” he asks me as we head into the building.
Ana comes over for dinner. We eat, just the two of us, on my couch and we drink wine until it’s time to stop. I laugh with her and I smile. and when she goes home that night, I still have Ben in my heart and in my mind. I don’t lose him just by having a good time without him. I don’t lose him by being myself with her.
I give myself time to adjust, and then one morning when I feel up to it, I go back to work. the air in los angeles has officially cooled down and hovers around forty-five degrees. I put on a jacket I haven’t worn since last winter and I get in my car. While a part of me feels shaky about this next part, the part where I start my job again for real and I put the past behind me, I walk through the doors. I walk up to the admin offices and I sit down at my desk. there aren’t a lot of people in the office yet this morning, but the few that are clap for me as I walk in. I see there’s a major donor pin on my desk. they aren’t clapping for me because I’m a widow back at work. they are clapping for me because I did something good for the library. I am something to them other than a woman who lost her husband. there is more to me than that.
The day goes by as days at work do. I find myself enjoying
The camaraderie of my job for the first time in months. I like being needed here. I like talking to people about books. I like it when kids ask where to find something and I can squeeze in a mini-lesson on the dewey decimal system.
Around noon, the boxes of books are delivered and brought to my desk. I don’t have the shelf set up yet, so they sit on the floor, burying my desk. I recognize some of the titles. Ben used to have some of them before I gave them to susan. others look new to me. some look pretty interesting; others look mindnumbingly stupid. as I take stock, I laugh about the fact that my husband used to love to read children’s books. life never turns out like you think. you don’t think you’d end up with a man that likes to read literature aimed at twelve-year-olds; you also don’t think you’ll lose that man so soon. But if that’s the case, I have many more surprises left in my life, and they can’t all be bad.
I call susan and tell her about the books. I can’t tell if she’s laughing or crying.
“You actually said to them that the books can’t get musty?”
“Yep,” I say from my desk. “they have to donate them someplace else.”
She laughs, even if she’s crying. “I might finally take out a library book then,” she tells me. I laugh. “actually,” she says. “I want to do it too. I’ll add to the fund. I don’t want them to ever run out of fresh-smelling books.”
“Really?” I ask, excited. “oh, man! We can make it the Ben and susan ross young adult section.”
“No, your name should be there too. oh! and steven’s! It should say the ross Family young adult section. For the four of us. Cool?”
I try not to acknowledge the tenderness of the moment, but I can’t help but be overwhelmed.
“Okay,” I say, my voice small and quiet.
“E-mail me later and tell me where to send the check, okay? I’ll call you this weekend.”
I hang up the phone and try to go back to work, but my mind is fluttering from one thing to another.
Mr. Callahan doesn’t come through the doors all day. I ask nancy when she saw him last.
“Oh, geez,” she says. “It’s been at least two months.”
When five o’clock rolls around, I excuse myself and head to Cedars-sinai hospital.
I ask the nurse at the front desk where I can find Mrs. lorraine Callahan. the nurse looks her up in the computer and says there is no lorraine Callahan currently admitted. I get back in the car and drive down the street from the library. I find the house I think is Mr. Callahan’s.
I walk up to the front door and ring the doorbell. It doesn’t seem like it’s ringing so I knock on the door. It takes a few tries before he comes. When he does, he opens the door and looks at me through the screen.
“Elsie?” he says, disbelieving.
“Hey, George, can I come in?”
He opens the screen and makes room for me at the door. the house looks disheveled and sad. I know that lorraine is not here.
“How are you, George?”
“I’m fine,” he says, not really listening to my question.
“How are you?” I say, this time more sincere, more pointed.
His voice turns to a quiver. “I can’t even get out of bed most days,” he says. “It’s not worth it.”
“It is,” I say. “It is worth it.”
He shakes his head.“you don’t know,” he says.“no one does.”
“No, you’re right about that,” I say. “you two were together for so long. I can’t begin to imagine how lost you must feel. the thing is though, George, you may be old, but you have a lot of fight in you. lorraine wouldn’t want you to go down this easy.” I grab his shoulder and focus his eyes on mine. “C’mon,” I say. “let’s go get a beer.”