Mary Jo scanned the last book in the stack into the computer and flipped it shut. She smiled across the circulation desk as she slid the pile over to the elderly lady on the other side. “You picked out a lot of books this week, Mrs. Crosby.” She tapped the latest book by Lisa See. “This is a really good one,” she added.
Mrs. Crosby put her library books into a tote bag and set it on the floor beside her. “I’m going on vacation with my son and his family later this week so I’m taking out a few extras.” She looked at her watch. “Oh, it’s after nine. I’m so sorry to keep you open late tonight, dear. You must want to head home.” The older woman picked up her bag.
Mary Jo came from behind the desk and they both walked toward the front door. “It’s not a problem. I love being at the library.”
After wishing Mrs. Crosby a lovely vacation and watching to make sure she got safely to her car, Mary Jo locked the library’s front door and returned to the desk to turn off the computer. After the screen went black, she wandered slowly through the library, shutting off lights as she went and deciding which section she would sleep in that night.
No one knew it, but Mary Jo lived in the library. It wasn’t for financial reasons. She wasn’t broke and, until six months ago, she had rented a charming one bedroom apartment at the other end of town. But her lease expired and she realized that she just didn’t want to renew it. She didn’t want to be anywhere except the library. She worked the closing shift alone every night, so it was easy to hide the fact that she was sleeping there. She simply unrolled her sleeping bag in a different section each night after she locked the doors and turned out the lights. And the library didn’t open until ten, so she had plenty of time to hide her things in a closet in the back of the basement and head out to spend the morning running errands or doing laundry before the daytime librarian arrived. There was even a small kitchen, and a shower in the employee bathroom. If anyone noticed crumbs from her dinner or the damp shower, they hadn’t mentioned it.
Before setting up her camp for the night, Mary Jo decided to call her mother from the office telephone. She hadn’t told her mother that she was living in the library, just that she was having some phone problems and would call her instead of the other way around for a while. Luckily, her mother hadn’t questioned six months of phone trouble.
“Hello?” Mary Jo smiled when she heard her mother’s southern accent. Her mother hadn’t lived in the south since she moved to California before Mary Jo was born, but she had never lost her drawl.
“Hey, Momma. How are you doing?”
“Hey, Honey. I’m doing all right. How about you?” She paused to cough and Mary Jo winced at the rattle in her mother’s chest. “What’s new with you, baby?” her mother continued, slightly out of breath.
“Nothing new. The library is still the same. I was just calling to check on you. Your cough sounds like it’s getting worse. Have you been taking all your medication?”
“Don’t worry about me, honey. I’m doing just fine. I’m taking my pills and going to my doctor’s appointments. They gave me one of those fancy oxygen tanks and it helps a lot.”
That didn’t sound just fine to Mary Jo. “They put you on oxygen? Why did they do that if you’re feeling all right?”
“I don’t know, honey. They just thought it would help me breath better, I guess. Listen, baby, the girls are going to be here any minute for poker night and I have to mix up a pitcher of margaritas. Call me tomorrow and we can talk longer, ok?”
“Ok, Momma. Have fun playing poker. I hope you win.” I thought occurred to Mary Jo as she was about to hang up. “Momma? You’re not still smoking, right? Now that you’re on oxygen? ‘Cause that is really dangerous.”
Her mother laughed. “Well, I certainly don’t smoke while I’m using the oxygen, honey. Talk to you tomorrow.” And she hung up.
Mary Jo leaned back in the office chair. The conversation with her mother left her feeling anxious. She would have to pick a happy section to sleep in tonight if she wanted to get any rest. Mary Jo firmly believed that the section of the library she slept in affected her dreams. If she slept in the biography section, she dreamt of presidents and famous actors and athletes. If she slept in the mystery section, her dreams were whodunits. If she wanted to dream about Babar the elephant and Junie B. Jones, she slept in the children’s room. She loved the luxury of selecting her dreams like a book and it was one of the reasons she continued to live in the library. Tonight, she wanted to pick a section that would let her dream about good health and happy familial relationships; a section that would convince her that her mother wasn’t dying of lung cancer.
After heating up a can of soup in the kitchen and slurping it from a mug as she looked over the library’s latest issue of People magazine, Mary Jo decided to spread her sleeping bag out in the self-help section. She figured all the books on taking control of your own destiny and transforming your life was just what she needed for a good night’s sleep.
Mary Jo was often overwhelmed by how many ideas and how much creativity was sandwiched between the covers of the library’s collection. Each night she laid in the dark, listening to all the authors whispering around her; letting the words wash over her and lull her to sleep.